Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cool It

Cool It - Bjorn Lomborg 

I tried to like the book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg. I patted myself on the back for approaching it with an open mind. The opening paragraphs of the preface seemed inviting: “That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.” Seems reasonable enough, so I dove in.

In chapter 1, Lomborg talks about polar bears and one comes away with the idea that polar bears are increasing in numbers, not decreasing as is generally discussed in the media. The polar bear “story” is vastly exaggerated and based on emotional claims - this is the take away message. Okay.

In chapter 2, Lomborg talks about rising temperatures and postulates that fewer people will die when the temperature rises. The argument goes something like this: the decline in cold-related deaths will be larger than the rise in heat-related deaths. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? It did to me and after this I stopped reading the actual book and started reading more about the book and found that the book is quite controversial and is surrounded by lots of heated debate. 

There is quite a dissection of the book at Lomborg Errors with rebuttal by the author here. In addition the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty charged the book as containing misleading data and flawed conclusions. Ultimately the findings were rejected by an oversight body. In terms of spending time trying to parse what side is correct, this book is going on the back shelf for a while. Proceed with caution on this one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Departures: Rifle Ceremony and Blondie Bonds with the Locals

South Africa Travel Ad in Departures magazine - Do elephants greet humans this way?

If the Departures magazine is just going to show up in front of us, then it’s fair game to make fun of. This time, two country ads caught our attention. The first ad is from South Africa and shows a group of four people greeting (or at a standoff?) with an elephant with the text reading “Elephants have greeting ceremonies for friends returning from voyages. Secretly, I hoped that when I come back, they’ll remember me as much as I’ll remember then.” The group of four is carrying rifles. Some greeting ceremony. This ad does nothing to want to make us go. Koyaanisqatsi anyone?

The second ad is for Panama and it shows a blonde (American?) getting a stripe painted down her nose and now she has the bragging rights of have so “done” this culture! Again, does nothing to attract us; next time just use a picture of the landscape please.

Panama Travel Ad in a Departures magazine - Blonde tourist in Panama

Monday, June 15, 2009

Il Divo (the film)

We caught the Italian film, Il Divo, about Giulio Andreotti at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) last night. Andreotti is an Italian politician of the centrist Christian Democratic party who served as Prime Minister to Italy a number of times between 1972 and 1989. In 1991 he was name Senator for life. Andreotti is a controversial figure and if his nicknames are any clue (Beelzebub, Hunchback, the Black Pope, the Fox) he inspired and still inspires a lot of emotion. His party was ultimately brought down by corruption and Andreotti himself investigated, accused, convicted, and acquitted of ties to the Mafia.

The movie takes place from 1992 until the start of his trial for collusion. The film (in Italian) with English subtitles is a biopic (with fictionalized episodes) is very stylized and surreal at times; don’t expect a dry biographical sketch here. A trailer for the film is here.

The World Without Us

The World Without Us, a book by Alan Weisman, is a thought experiment to piece together what might happen to the earth if humans vanished overnight (poof! all gone). What would happen to structures we built, the waste we’ve disposed of, the nature we keep at bay, the landscapes we cultivate, etc. From the vantage point of such an unrealistic event as all humans disappearing instantaneously, the author looks at the numerous stresses that the Earth is under from humans. If you don't like the sound of that last statement, then you probably will not be interested in this book. You'd have company as many reviewers thought the author cared more about the environment than people to which I say this was a thought experiment after all. 

The book is an interesting read, a little depressing but mostly fascinating. You’ll be hitting the Go button in your favorite search engine searching for this or that mentioned in the book. I started to have too many book darts to count. There were many interesting subjects discussed in the book; some that stood out for me include: 

1.The Voyager Spacecraft Golden Record is a phonograph record included with two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The phonograph includes symbolic instructions on how to operate and when it plays it is meant to communicate what life on Earth is like. A pretty tall order. The NASA Voyager Mission page has samples of images and audio clips. 

2. Nurdles. What are nurdles? They are plastic pellets (under 5mm in diameter) that go into making lots of everyday stuff. They are as indestructible as they are handy and apparently they hang around in the environment for a long time being a major contributor to marine debris. One of the saddest examples of marine debris is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - pile of trash twice the size of Texas floating in the ocean.

3. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) is a movement that encourages humans to voluntarily go extinct to avoid “the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth’s ecology.” The motto of the movement is “may we live long and die out” and it’s not all doom and gloom for VHEMT volunteers as they believe we will live out the last of our years happy and content.

4. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico where transuranic radioactive waste is to be interred for 10,000 years. Here’s a short video about the site. Basically, human-related waste from nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are being stored in stable salt formations a half mile underground. The part that was the most intriguing to me was how to design a marking system (including both site design and site messaging) to warn future humans to stay away. One example.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Seattle Gum Wall

Seattle’s Gum Wall reminded us of Juliet’s house (supposedly) in Verona that we saw with its wall of love notes and gum. It has been cleaned up since. I’ve never seen the Seattle Gum Wall before today when some friends mentioned it while we were at the Pike Place Market. The Seattle Gum Wall is located here with more explicit directions on the Market Theater’s location page which is what is housed behind the gum wall.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

National Geographic Magazine – Stop With the Dumb Ads!

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the National Geographic magazine ads to be getting dumber. Take this ad for “free safes”. The ad is part of a two page spread. The first part of the ad (not shown) gives you no-nonsense financial tips such as “cash is king” and “buy a good safe”. This is followed by part two of the ad (shown above) to let you know that safes are being “doled” out. Someone or something has just opened up its heart and decided to give away safes. Wow, how generous. Oh, by the way the free safes come stocked with 4,100 coins that cost about $2,000 payable in easy monthly payments. The ad also points out that if you bought a dollar coin in 1975 it would be worth 5 times more today. Yup. More reasons for getting the safe. Who cares that you could have equally said that if you invested 1 dollar in the stock market it would be worth almost 10 times more today.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Movie Weekend: Star Trek, Up, and Angels & Demons

Star Trek Movie PosterUp Movie PosterAngels and Demons Movie Poster
It was a movie weekend definitely as we dipped into popular culture and sampled a few movies. The first was Star Trek: The Future Begins. It was better than I hoped for and better than past Star Trek movies that I can recall. The relationship between Spock and Uhuru seemed a bit unnecessary but that’s quibbling. The next movie we saw was Disney / Pixar’s Up. This was definitely the best for the three and probably the one we’ll be talking about years from now. It’s cute but not cloying. The last movie we saw was the Angels & Demons. It seemed fairly true to the book if that’s what you were looking for. I read the book years ago and as I was watching the movie I was struck by the ‘orderliness’ of the plot as it unfolds a little too neatly. The shots of Rome were fun and the snippets of Italian were a relief to hear. However, if you have to see one of these three movies, go for Up.