Things I kinda meant to blog about

April 23, 2009

1. Our obsession with climate change is killing off animals left and right

EU policies promoting a market for biofuels triggered the destruction of Indonesian rain forests in favor of palm plantations. Meanwhile, the forestry industry has argued that their monoculture plantations in Asia, Africa, and South America deserve credit as carbon sinks, but the data show that these biological deserts are actually spewing out carbon dioxide. [...] Conservationists now have an apparent ally in the White House, so let’s tell him to slow down and get those forest protections in place before the carbon-conscious spill any more blood.

2. Global Warming, Thirsty Energy: 7 Dimensional Chess

Captures my ego-induced paralysis in the face of potential ecological catastrophe – and makes me think of Star Trek chess – a twofer:

Many of the new problems produced by human-induced global warming worsen each other. Trying to keep track of the interconnectedness is a little like trying to play — or even imagine — 7-dimensional chess.

For example, the growth of corn-ethanol biofuel has been shown to raise food prices … which in some places forces poor farmers cut down more forest … which releases more greenhouse CO2 into the air (about 20 percent of mankind’s annual carbon emissions are believed to come from deforestation) … [et cetera]

Where’s Brent Spiner when you need him?

3. One in ten computer gamers are ‘pathologically addicted’

The report found that poor school performance and a pathological addition to video games were strongly linked, but Dr Gentile warned that the research had not investigated which came first.

“It is certainly possible that pathological gaming causes poor school performance, and so forth, but it is equally likely that children who have trouble at school seek to play games to experience feelings of mastery, or that attention problems cause both poor school performance and an attraction to games,” he wrote in the findings, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science.

4. JG Ballard died

Although most famous for the autobiographical Empire of the Sun and the controversial Crash, Ballard also embraced technology, science and the environment as subjects for his writing and worked as an assistant editor on the Chemistry and Industry magazine.

Iain Sinclair, an author and friend of Ballard, said “He was one of the first to take up the whole idea of ecological catastrophe. He was fascinated by celebrity early on, the cult of the star and suicides of cars, motorways, edgelands of cities. All of these things he was one of the first to create almost a philosophy of.” (Daily Telegraph.)

Years ago I read The Crystal World, about some crystalline thing that grows out of control and consumes the world. It was unsettling. Then I tried reading Crash, about people who get off on car crashes, but it was too gross “adult” for me at the time. Then they made a movie about it – the one with James Spader, not the one where Matt Dillon feels up Thandie Newton.

5. Remembering the Past is Like Imagining the Future

From the physicist who brought you universes where time runs backward:

As it turns out, the way that the human brain goes about the task of “remembering the past” is actually very similar to how it goes about “imagining the future.” Deep down, these are activities with very different functions and outcomes — predicting the future is a lot less reliable, for one thing. But in both cases, the brain goes through more or less the same routine.

Update 4/23/09: I figured something like this was going on — Sean Carroll, the time physicist mentioned above, is writing a book. Congrats to him on its recent appearance on Amazon! Also: pre-order my book! Chapter 99 totally bites off Sean’s Sci Am article about time. I probably should have credited him. Oops! Sorry, Sean! :(

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