May 20th, 2009


Magnets Map Pollution

Here's a clever idea -- using magnets to map pollution so it can be cleaned up.

Polluted Waters Bear Magnetic Signature
Joseph Boyce of McMaster University in Canada and a team of researchers have come up with a way to identify contaminated sediments by their magnetic signature. By simply towing a magnetometer behind a boat, the team has shown they can scan the bottoms of harbors, lakes, and even entire coastlines for pollution, much like a treasure hunter sweeps a beach with a metal detector.

Color Choice in Art

haikujaguar has posted a brilliant analysis of the color symbolism within the illustrations of her latest book, The Admonishments of Kherishdar. The pictures are beautiful and evocative, taken from important moments in the story arc. (If you haven't read the stories yet, you should; the discussion has some spoiler-ish parts.) This is very useful discussion for artists or art fans who enjoy digging into the deeper function and meaning of art and how it works.

Fieldhaven Flowers & Fruit

Late spring (and a lot of rain) bring flourishing jungles of life here in central Illinois.

Near end of bloom: lily of the valley, white spirea, violets, black raspberries, white columbine

Full bloom: honeysuckle, rugosa roses (dark pink and white), red clover, poppies, wild strawberries, chives, comfrey, petunias, marigolds, blue lobelia, pansies, torenia, moss rose, snapdragons

Did you know that chive blossoms are little pink balls of tiny flowers and they don't smell oniony but rather powdery-sweet?

Beginning bloom: blackberries, iris, white peonies, million bells

Green fruit: pie cherries, wild strawberries, saskatoon serviceberry, Criterion apple, mulberry, black raspberry

The black raspberries along the south edge of the ritual meadow are covered with tiny green berries. If nothing kills them, gods and weather willing we will have mucho fruit there in a few weeks.

Uncut sections of grass are hip-high on me now. We are mowing large parts of the butterfly meadow so it can be raked and de-thatched. This part of the yard is usually allowed to grow tall grass and wildflowers such as Queen Anne's lace, thistle, and milkweed for benefit of wildlife.

The upside-down tomatoes are mostly thriving. They have not flowered yet. Interestingly, the Black Prince has begun to flourish vigorously after a slow start; it was the biggest of the transplants except for the Sweet 100 Cherry (which barely survived, but looks less pathetic now). Most of my herbs are thriving. Miraculously, none of the basil has died on me yet! The thyme that I sowed as seed is about half an inch high now. The rosemary caught a fungus and died horribly, though -- and I know it wasn't just me, because 1) usually I grow rosemary quite well, and 2) I saw many other rosemary plants by that same company with the same fungus. I'm peeved because I cook with rosemary a lot, and I was going to try and overwinter it indoors this time. And nobody seems to have rosemary plants from a different company this year. *snrk* Perhaps I shall see if there is seed still available.

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Discussing Taxes

I found this interesting article that considers the drawbacks of raising taxes and what to do about that. I am not really a fan of high taxes, although I believe that rich people and companies have done an unfairly thorough job of dodging their share of taxes, leaving the burden on middle and lower class people who can least afford it but have fewer loopholes. The thing is, that point this article raises -- that people resist when they feel the taxes are unfair -- applies everywhere not just at the top. Tax structure needs to be fair, and perceived as fair, or people will balk and cause problems. Big tax increases are rarely a good idea.

I think a good solution would be to give people more control over how their tax money is spent. They should be able to indicate on their tax forms what government projects they wish to fund, and what they wish to avoid. Do you want to fund roads, education, national parks, and the space program? Do it. Do you want to fund the military and government offices? Go ahead. Maybe you don't want your money to go towards abortion or warfare; mark the "never fund this" box. After a couple years, maybe you realize that something is falling apart, and you aren't happy about that -- give that project your support next time. The system would need some "overflow" controls so that one or two things didn't get funded to the total exclusion of everything else; maybe say "Mark these items in order of preference" so once a certain program was fully funded, any further money aimed for it would be shunted to the next item down. Crucial core items should also be funded before fringe benefits. But in general, people would probably be a lot more willing to give the government their money if they had more control over how it was spent, so they wouldn't feel as much like they're just getting robbed.

Prenatal Selection

I saw this article today ...

Prenatal Selection of Boys Is Growing
Gregoire Alix, Le Monde: "Social preference for boys leads women in certain Asian countries to practice selective abortions. Familiar in China and India, the phenomenon is growing in Vietnam, where the sex ratio at birth (SRB, or the number of boys born per hundred girls) rose to 112 in 2007, seven points above the 'natural' level of 105. That's what demographer Christophe Z. Guilmoto, director of research at the Paris Population and Development Center, has shown in a study published in the on-line scientific review Plos One."

... and thought: good. This is an extremely unpopular opinion. What is good about parents using selective abortion to choose the sex of their children?

1) It prevents unwanted children from being born into families that would treat them badly. Abuse of girls is a serious problem in misogynist countries, and it tends to be even worse in families that wanted a boy but were stuck with a girl. It is worst of all in China where parents are only allowed one child.

2) It helps reduce the human population. When boys significantly outnumber girls, the number of breeding couples is limited by the number of girls. Fewer girls will likely mean fewer babies in the next generation. Since China is trying to reduce its population and India would benefit from doing the same, this is helpful. I could wish for more ethically elegant methods, but it's their country and they have a right to pick what works for them.

3) It encourages better treatment of girls because they will be in scarce supply, thus making them more valuable. Young men who treat young women well have a better chance of attracting a mate, and young women can be more picky if there are lots of extra men around. People who disapprove of how those countries treat females can make all kinds of hay by encouraging young women to expect better of their mates -- those girls will be in a stronger bargaining position and it may stick.

4) From a societal-level perspective, it's kind of a dumb idea, because who are all those precious boys going to marry later? But it's a mistake that comes with its own consequences; no outside intervention is required. They'll figure it out when the pinch hits the marriage market. Let them. People need to learn how to handle technology appropriately, and different societies may arrive at different solutions.

Also, this has already been explored to excellent effect in science fiction; see Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan" series. I think the most attention to the "girl drought" came in Komarr and A Civil Campaign.

The Venus of Hohle Fels

janetmiles tipped me to the discovery of a new "Venus" figurine. These are paleolithic art objects -- this one is a pendant, very unusual -- depicting female bodies with large bellies and breasts. I have long been interested in these as potential relics of Pagan religions from the past.

Ivory Venus Figurine From The Swabian Jura Rewrites Prehistory

Sociological Images has a post about people's reactions to the figure, with attention to body image and sexuality.

More material on this find is welcome, if other folks have read different articles.