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Home country: USA
Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Paul Krugman- The Timidity Trap

There don’t seem to be any major economic crises underway right this moment, and policy makers in many places are patting themselves on the back. In Europe, for example, they’re crowing about Spain’s recovery: the country seems set to grow at least twice as fast this year as previously forecast.

Unfortunately, that means growth of 1 percent, versus 0.5 percent, in a deeply depressed economy with 55 percent youth unemployment. The fact that this can be considered good news just goes to show how accustomed we’ve grown to terrible economic conditions. We’re doing worse than anyone could have imagined a few years ago, yet people seem increasingly to be accepting this miserable situation as the new normal.

How did this happen? There were multiple reasons, of course. But I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, in part because I’ve been asked to discuss a new assessment of Japan’s efforts to break out of its deflation trap. And I’d argue that an important source of failure was what I’ve taken to calling the timidity trap — the consistent tendency of policy makers who have the right ideas in principle to go for half-measures in practice, and the way this timidity ends up backfiring, politically and even economically.

In other words, Yeats had it right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.



Live video stream from the International Space Station

Live video from the International Space Station includes internal views when the crew is on-duty and Earth views at other times. The video is accompanied by audio of conversations between the crew and Mission Control. This video is only available when the space station is in contact with the ground. During "loss of signal" periods, viewers will see a blue screen. Since the station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, it experiences a sunrise or a sunset about every 45 minutes. When the station is in darkness, external camera video may appear black, but can sometimes provide spectacular views of lightning or city lights below.

Audio stream too.


The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will "Significantly" Restrict Online Freedoms

In October, Senate Finance Committee chairmen Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Max Baucus called on Congress to fast-track legislation that would give President Obama's trade representative, Michael Froman, power to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a broad-reaching, secretive trade agreement that, among other things, would create new internet regulations that concern open internet activists.

Today, 25 tech companies, including Reddit, Automattic (WordPress.com), Imgur, and Boing Boing, sent an open letter to Sen. Ron Wyden urging him to oppose any form of a TPP fast track.

After thanking Sen. Wyden for his staunch defense of "users and online rights," and congratulating him on his appointment as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the coalition wrote, "These highly secretive, supranational agreements are reported to include provisions that vastly expand on any reasonable definition of 'trade,' including provisions that impact patents, copyright, and privacy in ways that constrain legitimate online activity and innovation."

Of particular concern to tech companies are Froman's copyright enforcement proposals. "Dozens of digital rights organizations and tens of thousands of individuals have raised alarm over provisions that would bind treaty signatories to inflexible digital regulations that undermine free speech," they wrote. "Based on the fate of recent similar measures, it is virtually certain that such proposals would face serious scrutiny if proposed at the domestic level or via a more transparent process."


The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage


Everyone knows that the United States has long suffered from widespread shortages in its science and engineering workforce, and that if continued these shortages will cause it to fall behind its major economic competitors. Everyone knows that these workforce shortages are due mainly to the myriad weaknesses of American K-12 education in science and mathematics, which international comparisons of student performance rank as average at best.

Such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom. There is almost no debate in the mainstream. They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?

The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce. How can the conventional wisdom be so different from the empirical evidence? There are of course many complexities involved that cannot be addressed here. The key points, though, are these:

Science and engineering occupations are at the leading edge of economic competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world, and science and engineering workforces of sufficient size and quality are essential for any 21st century economy to prosper. These professional workforces also are crucial for addressing challenges such as international security, global climate change, and domestic and global health. While they therefore are of great importance, college graduates employed in science and engineering occupations (as defined by the National Science Foundation) actually comprise only a small fraction of the workforce.



The Myth of Gay Affluence


Who are America’s gays? To hear it as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have it, gays are a privileged set, living it up in cities across the country. As the justice wrote in his dissent to Romer v. Evans—a landmark 1996 case that overturned a Colorado state constitutional amendment prohibiting legal protections for gays and lesbians—“Those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities.” Even more ominously, to Scalia, they have "high disposable income," which gives them "disproportionate political power… to not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance, of homosexuality.”

The pernicious insinuation—that gays and lesbians are one the wealthiest demographics in the country—isn’t a new cliché. Some of the most ingrained public images of LGBT people are their cosmopolitan, highfalutin lifestyle; gays, so the story goes, live in gentrified urban neighborhoods like The Castro in San Francisco or Chelsea in New York, eat artisanal cheese, and drink $12 cocktails.

But like most stereotypes, the myth of gay affluence is greatly exaggerated.

In reality, gay Americans face disproportionately greater economic challenges than their straight counterparts. A new report released by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 29 percent of LGBT adults, approximately 2.4 million people, experienced food insecurity—a time when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family—in the past year. In contrast, 16 percent of Americans nationwide reported being food insecure in 2012. One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children. The LGBT community has made huge political strides over the past decade, but in economic matters they still lag far behind the rest of the country.

“I think we have this sense, borrowing from the campaign, that ‘it gets better’,” Gary Gates, a law professor and the author of the Williams Institute’s report, told me. “And that’s true: It is getting better, but it’s not getting better everywhere all the time. Things in rural Alabama look very different from Seattle, and as more LGBT people come out, they are disproportionately more likely to come out in Alabama than Seattle.”



Plight of the Pangolin: The Most Trafficked Animal on Earth Needs More Protection

When it comes to wildlife crime and trafficking of illegal animal products, elephants and rhinos take the lion's share of media attention. But the little pangolin, an insect-eating mammal that lives in tropical parts of Africa and Asia, is often overlooked, despite being the most heavily-trafficked mammal species.

A new report by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the Chinese Public Security Bureau and the Chinese Academy of Sciences details the plight of the pangolin.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) reports the pangolin as the most trafficked mammal, and most pangolin species are hanging on for survival.

Among the eight pangolin species, six are classified as endangered or near threatened on the IUCN's Red List.
The new report's co-author Chris Newman of WildCRU said that the pangolin's use of a natural defense mechanism makes it more susceptible to trafficking.

"When in jeopardy pangolins roll into a ball and can conveniently be bundled into a sack so that pangolin contraband is easy to transport and often goes unnoticed," he said.


Animal Migration Routes Maintained by Knowledge of Informed Elders

A new model of animal migration patterns suggests that an entire migratory route can be changed if just a few so-called "informed individuals" are removed from the larger group.

A team of European researchers report that a migratory route can disappear completely if enough informed individuals are removed.

Using bluefin tuna in Norway as a base, the researchers modeled the migration of bluefin through the region. Until the 1950s the region was saturated with bluefin tuna as they migrated through the waters there each year. The predictable presence of the fish supported a thriving fishing industry. But suddenly, over the course of just 4 or 5 years, the fish stopped migrating through the region.

This sudden erasure of a migratory route was the inspiration for the new migration model, which was developed by Giancarlo De Luca from the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste (SISSA) and an international team of researchers from the Centre for Theoretical Physics of Trieste and the Technical University of Denmark.


Oceana Report Names Nine 'Dirty" US Fisheries, Highlights Huge Bycatch Waste

Ocean conversation group Oceana has named nine "dirty" fisheries that, combined, throw away more than half of what they catch and are responsible for more than half of US bycatch. Bycatch is wasted edible fish and drowned animals that are thrown back into the sea.

"Anything can be bycatch," Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. "Whether it's the thousands of sea turtles that are caught to bring you shrimp or the millions of pounds of cod and halibut that are thrown overboard after fishermen have reached their quota, bycatch is a waste of our ocean's resources. Bycatch also represents a real economic loss when one fisherman trashes another fisherman's catch."

Oceana's report, "Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in US Fisheries," reveals between 17-22 percent of US catch is discarded every year. US bycatch could amount to up to 2 billion pounds every year.

The group said that some fisheries discard more fish at sea than they bring to port and that adequate monitoring of fishing operations' discarding practices is not in place.

"One in 100 fishing trips carry impartial observers to document catch, while many are not monitored at all, leading to large gaps in knowledge and poor quality data," Oceana reported.



How Animals See the World


ome animals, including your pets, may be partially colorblind, and yet certain aspects of their vision are superior to your own. Living creatures’ visual perception of the surrounding world depends on how their eyes process light. Humans are trichromats—meaning that our eyes have three types of the photoreceptors known as cone cells, which are sensitive to the colors red, green, and blue. A different type of photoreceptors, called rods, detect small amounts of light; this allows us to see in the dark. Animals process light differently—some creatures have only two types of photoreceptors, which renders them partially colorblind, some have four, which enables them to see ultraviolet light, and others can detect polarized light, meaning light waves that are oscillating in the same plane.

“None of us can resist thinking that we can imagine what another animal is thinking,” says Thomas Cronin, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies visual physiology. But while guessing animals’ thoughts is a fantasy, looking at the world through their eyes is possible.


“We will never know what a cat would experience,” says Dan-Eric Nilsson, a zoology professor at the University of Lund in Sweden and coauthor of the book Animal Eyes. But we can come close to seeing what it sees. Unlike humans, cats are dichromats; they have only two kinds of cones in their retinas. They see similarly to humans with red-green colorblindness, Nilsson says. To model a cat’s vision, one has to pool everything that’s red or green into one color.

The cat’s eyesight has a lower resolution than our own, which means it sees objects slightly blurrier than we do. Human vision is among the sharpest of all animals, thanks to densely packed cones at the center of our retina. Nilsson says cats’ daylight vision is about six times blurrier than ours, which is not depicted in the image above. However, cats have more rods than humans, so by moonlight, the advantage is reversed.


NASA's Spitzer Telescope Brings 360-Degree View of Galaxy to Our Fingertips

Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic presented Thursday at the TEDActive 2014 Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed from more than 2 million infrared snapshots taken over the past 10 years by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

"If we actually printed this out, we'd need a billboard as big as the Rose Bowl Stadium to display it," said Robert Hurt, an imaging specialist at NASA's Spitzer Space Science Center in Pasadena, Calif. "Instead, we've created a digital viewer that anyone, even astronomers, can use."

The 20-gigapixel mosaic uses Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope visualization platform. It captures about three percent of our sky, but because it focuses on a band around Earth where the plane of the Milky Way lies, it shows more than half of all the galaxy's stars.


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