Archive for March 3, 2009

Ewen Callaway, New Scientist

conservativeAmericans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography. A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states. “When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different,” says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds. “Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by,” Edelman says.

Political divide

Edelman spends part of his time helping companies such as Microsoft and AOL detect advertising fraud. Another consulting client runs dozens of adult websites, though he says he is not at liberty to identify the firm. That company did, however, provide Edelman with roughly two years of credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that included a purchase date and each customer’s postal code.

After controlling for differences in broadband internet access between states – online porn tends to be a bandwidth hog – and adjusting for population, he found a relatively small difference between states with the most adult purchases and those with the fewest. The biggest consumer, Utah, averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users; Montana bought the least with 1.92 per 1000. “The differences here are not so stark,” Edelman says. Number 10 on the list was West Virginia at 2.94 subscriptions per 1000, while number 41, Michigan, averaged 2.32. Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year’s presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

Old-fashioned values

jesus-loves-porn-starsChurch-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code’s religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds. Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don’t explicitly restrict gay marriage.

To get a better handle on other associations between social attitudes and pornography consumption, Edelman melded his data with a previous study on public attitudes toward religion. States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behaviour.”

“One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more,” Edelman says.

Journal reference:

[“Jesus Loves Porn Stars” image inserted by me 😉 ]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

GR014943AT 500 metres tall, Earth’s largest sand dunes are already monsters – yet they are set to grow bigger as the world warms.

Giant sand dunes are thought to form when smaller dunes crash into each other and pile up. To investigate if anything limits their size, Bruno Andreotti at the Denis Diderot University, Paris, and colleagues calculated what the atmospheric flow looks like around giant dunes. They found that the thickness of the lowest layer of the atmosphere – the boundary layer – controls dune size, with a thicker layer leading to larger dunes (Nature, vol 457, p 1120).

“Once the dune becomes big enough to interact with the boundary layer it creates waves in the air. These waves feed back and interact with the sand below, keeping a lid on the dune size,” explains co-author Brad Murray of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Warmer air increases the thickness of the boundary layer, which explains why Earth’s largest dunes are found inland, in the hottest part of the desert. It also suggests that if global warming heats the planet in the right place, then dunes could get bigger.

[New Scientist]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

melindagates1

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has banned iPods and iPhones from his household, the software billionaire’s wife, Melinda, has revealed.

The rivalry between Microsoft and Apple, and Gates and Apple founder Steve Jobs, is legendary, but the pair have made valiant efforts to conceal any animosity. A rare public appearance together at a conference in 2007 was described by journalists as a “love fest”.

But behind the scenes, Apple is the forbidden fruit in Microsoft quarters.

“There are very few things that are on the banned list in our household. But iPods and iPhones are two things we don’t get for our kids,” Melinda Gates said in a recent interview with Vogue.

But the rule has evidently been difficult to follow for Gates now that the Apple wundergadgets are the talk of the town.

“Every now and then I look at my friends and say, ‘Ooh, I wouldn’t mind having that iPhone,’ ” she said.

Melinda Gates, 44, is the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organisation with about $US35 billion in assets. The Vogue interview centred on her efforts to enhance global health care and to reduce extreme poverty.

The couple have three children, Jennifer, 12, Rory, 9 and Phoebe, 6.

Gates’s no-iPod rule probably has nothing to do with the quality of the product. In a rare comment on the iconic music player, Newsweek reporter Steven Levy revealed that, when he showed Gates the iPod for the first time in 2001, before it was released, Gates said: “It looks like a great product.”

Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who has taken over the day-to-day running of Microsoft now that Gates has stepped back to focus on philanthropy, also forbids the use of iPods in his household.

In 2006, asked by Fortune whether he had an iPod, Ballmer said: “No, I do not. Nor do my children … I’ve got my kids brainwashed: you don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”

At Microsoft’s headquarters for its Zune music players, which have not yet been released in Australia and have struggled to dent the iPod’s market share in the US, an “iPod Amnesty Bin” invites people to throw away their iPods. The bin features a picture of an Apple with bites taken out of it above the tagline “bite me”.

But any rivalry from Microsoft’s side has been outweighed by Apple’s highly successful “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” advertising campaign, which has relentlessly bashed the Windows-based PC since 2006, labelling it boring, bland and uncool.

Microsoft fought back last year with an “I’m a PC” campaign featuring celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld but the ads were criticised for not doing enough to mention Microsoft and Windows.

Research shows Apple’s campaign did lasting damage to Microsoft’s brand and framed the public perception of the PC. A ranking of global brands by CoreBrand, released last year, showed Microsoft slipping from 11th in 2004 to 59th in 2007.

But if there was any love lost between Jobs and Gates, that was far from evident when the pair appeared together for the first time in 10 years at a US conference in 2007.

“What Steve has done is quite phenomenal,” Gates said, commending him for taking risks and producing products with “incredible taste and elegance”.

“Bill built the first software company in the industry,” said Jobs. “Bill focused on software before anyone.”

The pair traded compliments several times during the 90-minute joint interview. When asked for the greatest misunderstanding about their relationship, Jobs joked: “We’ve kept our marriage secret for over a decade now.”

Check out the funny Melinda Gates “Dirty Secrets” spoof on the UKMac site.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Crisis Unseen

By Saul Landau
Saul Landau’s ZSpace Page

enviroThe medical dictionary defines crisis as “the turning point of a disease for better or worse.” Doctors with cool heads understand their procedures may produce recovery or death for their patients. The mainstream economic crisis “experts,” however, have offered Washington politicians a less than helpful way of responding to catastrophe: panic and denial. Indeed, the gurus and politicos apparently made their diagnosis without even glancing at the larger context or at recent foibles.

After the November election, liberal Democrats began to scream for rapid bailouts and threw money at bankers who then shocked the lawmakers by behaving like bankers. They took the taxpayers’ money and spent it on themselves. “Let me tell you about the very rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. “They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.” (“The Rich Boy,” 1926)

In mid November, the very rich of the auto industry flew in lush corporate jets to DC to beg money from the impoverished public. The car CEOs displayed an unusual candor in revealing their stupidity, arrogance and greed at Congressional hearings. They characterized as “unfair” their competitors’ (Japanese carmakers) tactics — like innovation.

No Senator asked, even rhetorically: “Why not gradually phase out rather than immediately bail out this industry? Even by producing ‘green’ cars as the core of the US economy, doesn’t the future of the automobile seem incompatible with the future of life on the planet?” The most environmentally friendly car still needs for its production massive amounts of steel and other metals, rubber, plastic (petroleum products) and acids  not to mention the ingredients needed to build levels of parking garages, highways and other quintessentially un-green operations associated with this so 20th Century transportation.

bushfireThe legislators did not refer to the larger crisis. The worsening environment has become the context not only for current economic collapse, but will induce devastating hardship in the near future. Think of the hits that the insurance and reinsurance businesses will take, the serious shortages of food and other needs. Respected scientific bodies have stated unequivocally that burning fossil fuels (like coal, oil and natural gas) and cutting down forests have created a global peril. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which in 2005 the White House called “the gold standard of objective scientific assessment,” issued a joint statement with 10 other National Academies of Science: “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action’s that all nations identify cost-effective steps to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.” (Joint Statement of Science Academies: Global Response to Climate Change [PDF], 2005)

The stimulus bill does not address the need to decrease  now — heat-trapping pollution. Scientists have now reduced their internal debate to how much and how fast the heat-trapping emissions will bring doom.  They project devastating impacts on the economy from rising seas flooding coastal cities and contaminating water supplies; extreme heat, droughts and floods will increase in frequency and strength. People will die; property will be destroyed: agriculture will become problematic.

The raging February fires of Australia offer Nature’s most recent illustration of human helplessness when flames and high winds combine. A display of such destructive power along with hurricanes and California fires — should help to end the idiotic babble about the virtues of man controlling the “free market.” For those who think tax cuts for corporations and dribble down economics will work, Disney should make a new film called “The Flintstones Return,” where both animals and people work for the giant entertainment corporation in a deregulated world.

queensland-floodAs Nature demonstrates human inability to “control” it for fashioning economic production models, the US President assumes greater power in national security affairs. Obama comes to office at a time when the idea of the United States controlling other areas of the world has become ridiculous. It’s time, as Pat Buchanan wrote, to “liquidate the empire.”

Congress follows the same foolish path. Instead of placing the present economy and foreign policy in its larger and more vital environmental context, without which all else becomes moot, deal-making Members of both Houses bickered about cutting a couple hundred billion here and there from the stimulus package as economic indicators  and voter fear and anger — continued to flash disaster signs. Republican Senator John McCain righteously mounted an attack from the Senate floor on February 6, parroting Rush Limbaugh. “This is a not a stimulus bill. It’s a spending bill.” McCain and fellow Republicans still demand tax cuts, which have failed to stimulate anything more than the prostates of a few very rich and old men.

“Are you kidding?” replied the Democrats. “When the government spends money it automatically stimulates the economy, stupid.” But to what end? The righteous Democrats like the blinder mice across the aisle did not address the greater crisis within which exists the downward spiraling world economy.

Aside from pitying the poor polar bears deprived of food by arctic melting and the thousands of other species now endangered by the warming and melting, the venerable Solons appear to have gone not back to their home states, but rather to the state of denial. By limiting debate on Obama¹s stimulus to how much spending and where it was going and not to the environment, the context for all economic and other activity, Congress took a virtual leave of absence from its responsibility  to say nothing of its oath of office.

CHINA-DROUGHT-RESERVOIRIndeed, it took a federal lawsuit to force government agencies to address global warming implications of their overseas financing activities. In August 2002, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the city of Boulder, Colorado, sued (Friends of the Earth, Inc., et al. v. Spinelli, et al.) the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for illegally spending $32 billion to finance and insure decade long fossil fuel projects without assessing the projects contribution to global warming as demanded under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Between 1990 and 2003 these projects “produced cumulative emissions that were equivalent to nearly eight percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, or nearly one third of annual U.S. emissions in 2003.” So much for the environmental consciousness of two Bushes and Clinton!

Finally, in August 2005 a federal judge allowed “cities suffering economic and other damages from climate change” to sue the government. Shockingly, the court heard expert testimony that climate change is both real and caused by human activities, and therefore “pollutants can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.”

hurricane“We can no longer consume the world’s resources without regard to effect,” Obama declared on January 20. The February 2009 settlement of the global warming lawsuit should compel federal agencies to stop backing fossil fuel projects. It should compel the President to put such guidelines into the stimulus plan.

Obama alone, however, cannot challenge the inapplicable axioms that Congress and the media still assume work as guidelines to policy. Few of these brilliant observers and actors seem to reflect on their immediate surroundings.

Look at Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, or downtown Mumbai. In almost every major city of the world, monstrously tall office buildings dominate the area. Those who work in the millions of offices inside the edifices produce nothing useful for the world  certainly not food or clothing. Yet, the corporate lawyers, brokers, advertisers, accountants, etc. require their space to be heated and or cooled 24/7, 365 days a year.

Even if sun and wind energy eventually replaced harmful fossil fuels, one would think that a few visionaries would ask questions about why immense investments should continue to pour into such non-productive entities.

Does President Obama need a “Department of Future Planning and Office of Dealing With the Crisis of Climate Change” to assemble a team of thinkers to put questions to the public and challenge law makers to deal with the overarching crisis that threatens the future of life?

Indicators point instead to him amassing a national security management team to run the empire. Escalating the US military presence in Afghanistan, for example, might well turn the man who admired President Lincoln into a caricature of Emperor Napoleon  but without scoring the initial battlefield victories. If, however, he returns to the humility that characterized many of his campaign speeches and his Inaugural Address, Obama could not only help save this economically depressed nation; he could inspire the world. When he addresses Congress in his State of the Union speech, perhaps Obama will appeal for public support and intellectual guidance to face the most serious crisis in the history of the world: the changing environment.


Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by Counterpunch A/K. His DVDs are available at
www.roundworldproductions.com

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

geoengineering

Here in Australia we might have the first serious signs of climate change with record heat, dwindling water reserves and devastating bushfires and floods; Europe, Asia and the Americas all have their own telltale records of rain, storms and hot and cold temperatures. With the outlook dimming that governments around the world will succeed in halting the seemingly unstoppable global warming train, a certain desperation seems to set in amongst the science community, including those who previously strongly argued against geoengineering (see image above) as a technological fix to save the planet. Climatologists have hit a “social tipping point”, despite some still arguing that endorsing the concept might scupper whatever little hope is left that a post-Kyoto protocol might be successfully negotiated and implemented.

But it’s not only this political argument that causes warranted resistance to going ahead with geoengineering technologies. Apart from the additional technological challenges, deep concerns against it are warranted based on the environmental risks involved (see article links below). After all, it was us messing around with the climate that got us into our current predicaments, and while we might have lots of creative ideas how to engineer ways of fiddling with the global thermostat, we don’t have a clue about the possible consequences. We simply do not have anything in terms of climate change theory and practice that resembles a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of the planet’s climate.

Nevertheless, the number of voices calling for geoengineering being seriously considered as a Plan B is growing. One temptation of course is that it is relatively cheap compared to the cost of slashing emissions – a few billion dollars versus at least 1 per cent of global GDP, and that attracts the economically thinking to the plan while at the same time many climatologist are becoming very worried about time running out. But even if we would go ahead with attempting to engineer our climate against political, environmental and technological concerns, public resistance would have to be overcome and a lot of implementation questions would have to be answered.

In 2007, a commercial firm called Planktos wanted to dump iron filings into the ocean off the Galapagos Islands, and last year a research ship set off to seed the Southern Oceans with iron. Both cases triggered strong protests from environmental groups fearing for the health of the ocean’s ecosystems. The Planktos furore was swiftly followed by the London Convention on the Prevention od Marine Pollution (ratified by over 80 countries) extending its remit to include geoengineering and imposing a ban on commercial fertilisation. As a follow-on, interested parties met last month to begin to set up experimental standards.

But it’s not just commercial and other organisations wanting to play with our climate; individuals do too. Already in 2005, Yuri Izrael (former vice chair of the International Panel on Climate Change) urged Vladimir Putin to immediately release 600,000 tonnes of sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere as a sunshade – fortunately that didn’t happen. And in November 2006, Gregory Benford (astrophysicist at the University of California, Irvine) wanted to use private funding to “cut through red tape and demonstrate what could be done” by injecting chalk-like substances into the Arctic stratosphere to reflect sunlight – fortunately that was prevented too.

All these cases highlight that international regulation would be needed before any attempt is made to implement geoengineering technologies. It seems that for example only a handful of countries (because of their size and location) have the ability to deploy atmospheric sunshades – including Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, the US and the EU. If any of those would seriously consider going it alone, it could not only lead to considerable and little understood environmental consequences but also amount to at least a serious diplomatic incident or even falling foul of the UN Convention of the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD). After all, the cooling of one large region on Earth could lead to wild weather in another.

The obvious choice for regulating geoengineering initiatives would be the UN; given its track record of failure to unite the world behind serious efforts to curb greenhouse emissions, it is doubtful it would have much success. That makes tweaking the Earth’s thermostat yet another potential hazard and contributor to the uncertainty of future life on this planet – as if greenhouse gases causing rising sea levels, mass extinctions, vast new swathes of uninhabitable land and extreme weather conditions aren’t enough to be worried about.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]