Monday, August 24, 2015

Whither UT and ORNL?

Here's my (and others) NPR  opinion on what we ought to be doing more of at UT and ORNL.

As the Instapundit would say: Read (or in this case, Read and Listen to) The Whole Thing. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Meadow of Flowers

Nanga Parbat: Rupal Face
Thirty-six years ago, in 1979, we voyaged to Kashmir, to Gulmarg; the Meadow of Flowers. As we climbed the slopes of Mount Apharwat,   the mighty Rupal Face of  Nanga Parbat hove into view - the highest mountain face on Earth, rising  15,000 feet above its base. I remember ridge upon brown ridge, on top of each other, like ascending brush strokes,  culminating in that  crystal peak that Hermann Buhl first summited in 1953, solo, without oxygen, in an insane 40-hour effort,  spending the whole night 'asleep' standing on a narrow ledge, the vast abyss a couple of inches away.  Then later, in 1970, when the greatest, Reinhold Messner, finally conquered the Rupal itself, did he abandon his brother to die on the descent? What motivates the human spirit to these extremes? And, after our voyage, the paradise that is Kashmir slowly sank into chaotic, benighted conflict....

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Desecration of the Isles

Bald Eaglets on Saltspring Island, July 2015

The Gulf Islands, in British Columbia, lying off the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island, are of outstanding natural beauty and ecological importance. Eagles soar above Arbutus and Cedar, and Orca whales fish in the Southern areas.

In 2010 National Geographic Traveler gave these islands top rating for destination stewardship, citing a "Wonderful mix of breathtaking scenery, functioning local communities, and a close-to-the-ground tourism experience.” I'm surprised. What I witnessed in my latest visit there was negligence and decay. 

The islanders are  laid back, smiling  and very pleasant. They think they are protecting the environment, but their demeanors change when you start to suggest they clean up their individual acts a little.  Clear cutting seems to be the norm here - you buy a piece of pristine property (prices seem to have gone down recently), get rid of as many trees as you like to create a waterscape view, sell the wood, then erect or half-erect  anything you like: trailers, piles of refuse, unfinished "building projects".  

Rusting hulks fill the island harbors. 

The rest of BC hardly helps them. Logging masters BC. Pulp mills pollute the air. Anchored tankers grace the sounds. Overfishing depletes Chinook salmon (the Orca staple). 

Canada has become environmentally unconscious, it seems. 
Sad, for such a breathtaking land.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

True to our Values

OK, who do we back in the Middle East conflicts? I mean, we’ve got to back SOMEONE, haven’t we? We have to remain true to our values, don't we? 

This year is the 50th anniversary of little-discussed, but classic example of these values, when the US backed the genocide of about a million “Communist” villagers by the Indonesian military, with the CIA supplying lists of names to the perpetrators. The genocide was celebrated by many over here, and by Time Magazine as “the West’s best news for years in Asia.” 10 years later we went one better, supplying not only political backing but also 90% of the military equipment Suharto needed to massacre another 100-200,000, this time in East Timor.  And it wasn’t just a Cold War anomaly, because Western support for that regime continued well after 1990, into the Clinton years.

Don’t expect our choice of who to back in the Middle East to be influenced by such petty considerations as the potential genocide of those who live there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

FIFA? What about Britain?

So we're all delighted that FIFA appears to finally be getting its come-uppance for long-established corruption. Now what about Britain? The above book convincingly demonstrates that the country of my upbringing has, over the last 30 years or so, become ruled by an oligarchy of sickening corruption, an unaccountable network of people who wield massive power and reap sickengly huge profits at the taxpayer's expense. Case after case of multi-billion dollar  thievery from those running  the state-corporate nexus is documented and referenced.   Now, unlike the author, I am no socialist, and do not yearn for the 'good old days' when the unions held the country to ransom. But privatization only works when real and fair competition brings efficiency up and prices down. In Britain, time after time, enormous monopolistic government contracts have been awarded to  companies who simply  raise prices to cream off profits with no investment. Those doing the awarding get their rewards in the revolving door system. 
And the hypocrisy of what's said and done is incessant:

Here's one of my favorites:

Tony Blair, Chicago speech of 1999: "We cannot turn our backs on the violation of human rights within other countries....."

Tony Blair, 2011 onwards: Paid  more than $13M  for advising the dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (who massacres strikers, bans and attacks by arson any press criticizing him, tortures and kills the opposition etc etc) on how to present his country to the world in a positive light.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fireflies Beware!

Photinus pyralis.
My favorite time of the year in East Tennessee is June, around dusk, when the male   Photinus pyralis  fireflies execute their J-shaped flight motifs, flashing on the upswing. Females, near the ground, respond  a couple of seconds later.  [Marvellous chemistry that, as somehow the breaking of a chemical bond is transformed into an electronically excited state]. But there is much intrigue, back-stabbing and derring-do going on among the fireflies in my back yard. Photinus beware! The evil femme fatale, Photuris, lurks! The female of this species mimics the flashes of Photinus females, attracting the eager male Photinus. To their doom! Once a male is close enough, the stronger Photuris female pounces on him and devours  him. 
She gets a good meal containing chemicals that protect her from Phidippus jumping spiders. Ok, then, say the male Photinus : we'll approach and land, but cautiously, quite a way away, and we'll very slowly crawl towards her, signaling. The problem with that, though, is that it gives time for one of the other Photinus males to get to her first. 

Sissies! Throw yourselves at her, guys! You may get eaten but it'll all be over quickly and you only live for two weeks, anyway.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Find that Missing Matter !!!

So the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is about to start looking for "dark matter"; that is, apparently, the 85% of the matter in the universe that exists but is, err,  NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. I think that is a very good idea indeed. Moreover, I know 85% is about the right figure because that is about the percentage of the things I have owned that have, over the years, mysteriously disappeared.

So I have sent an e-mail to the LHC guys, asking them to please locate  that pair of spectacles that inexplicably went missing on a flight from Bangalore to Hyderabad a few years ago. I mean, I looked in the seat pocket and under the chair and everywhere, and there they were -  just GONE! After that I am asking the LHC wizards if they could kindly return  the about 20 sweat shirts that have mysteriously disappeared in various trains, buses and restaurants. Then, finally,  there's that lamb chop that was on the dinner plate last week that vanished into thin air when I had to pop out to  answer the phone. I would be so grateful to get it back intact. Grady (our lemon beagle) did happen to be in the room at the time but insists he had absolutely nothing to do with it.