Archive | February, 2014

Bright Idea

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Turning Around Human Failure

Posted on 26 February 2014 by admin

There are far too many stories about mistakes human beings have made or are making.   We have all heard about how our products harm us, how we kill other species, and how we foul our planet.  While this article tells a story of replenishment and rebirth, it also offers a laundry list of blunders we have made when we introduce invasive species into an environment.

Under bright ideas there is normally a focus on an individual who did something right, in this case we are focused on a country, Kazakhstan.  Formerly a part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is now an independent nation.  It is also the location of a part of what remains of the Aral Sea that was once the fourth largest lake in the world.

The Soviet Union diverted two of the largest rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya that fed and replenished the Aral Sea’s fresh water.  It redirected their water to provide irrigation to new cotton agricultural areas.  In the 1960s the lake, which was mistakenly called a sea, covered an area of 68,000 kilometers (26,300 square miles).  By 2007 it had shrunk to less than 10% of its former size and split into three remaining lakes, of which the North Aral Sea is in Kazakhstan.  The before and after videos of the Aral Sea that are linked below, are striking.

In 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan pledged 1% of their budgets to help restore the Aral Sea.  In an effort to improve its North Aral Sea, Kazakhstan completed an eight-mile long dam across the Berg Strait, a deep channel that connects the North Aral Sea with the South Aral Sea.

In a second phase it built a concrete dam separating the two halves of the Aral Sea.  By limiting the outflow from the North Aral Sea into the South these two dams are responsible for the replenishment of fresh water in the North Aral Sea.  The water level has risen significantly, the salinity of the water is dropping and a small but successful fishing industry has once again been launched.

While this restoral of the North Aral Sea by Kazakhstan is meeting with success it is but one of a number of lakes or areas that are being affected by ill-advised diversion of water for irrigation.  Wikipedia identifies the Mesopotamian marshes, the Sistan Basin in Afghanistan and Sistan and the Sudd, a large marshland in Africa as bodies of water that are similarly threatened by agriculture.

It also identifies lakes in the United States that are drying up due to irrigation projects and other natural causes.  These include the Dead Sea, Salton Sea, Lake Chad, Mono Lake, Tulare Lake, and Lake Mead.  Without remembering the tragic history of other ill-considered irrigation projects, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.  If we follow Kazakhstan’s example however, we can restore a number of areas to their past grandeur.

Another present day disaster is a plan to build a second canal allowing access to and from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  This construction will destroy the environment in Nicaragua and more specifically disrupt the ecology of lake Nicaragua.  A recent agreement between the Nicaraguan government and a private company based in Hong Kong, China, anticipates the creation of the new 186+ mile waterway.  Construction begins in December of 2014.

Our misuse of our environment is not limited to destroying lakes in the name of progress or agriculture.  We have repeatedly meddled with our surroundings by introducing foreign species that have created more problems than they’ve solved.  All of these species are prodigious breeders and crowd out or destroy the more timid native species.  These include:

  • Our introduction of the Japanese vine Kudzu to help control erosion that we have watched throughout the Eastern and Southern U.S.
  • Release of the European rabbit from Spain and Portugal that now thrives all over the U.S.
  • The unwittingly transport of the zebra mussel from Russia on freighters only to see them spread all over the Great Lakes in Michigan and Canada.
  • Bringing in the small Asian mongoose to control rats in Hawaiian sugar cane plantations.  They now seriously infest Hawaii and Puerto Rico in addition to being a major problem in Japan.
  • Africanized honeybees from Tanzania inadvertently interbred with European honeybees in Brazil.  These very aggressive bees have now spread to all of the Americas.
  • One hundred Starlings that were released in New York City and have led to more than 200 million of them in the United States today.
  • Two varieties of Asian carp that were brought to the Southern U.S. to be raised in aquaculture facilities that escaped and now infest the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
  • The snakehead fish released in the U.S. by fish markets and aquarium owners now exists in the Potomac River and ponds/lakes throughout the U.S.  As a “top-level predator” with no natural enemies they kill entire populations of native fish.
  • Burmese pythons released in the Florida Everglades by pet owners who could not continue to care for them.  They are now all over Florida and grow to such a large size they have been known to attack alligators.
  • Cane toads, that are native to Central America, were introduced in Hawaii to help control sugar cane beetles and other insects.   They have now spread to all of North America and Australia.

Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”  According to Churchill we are awash with opportunity.  Our mistakes are many but our opportunity to find solutions is unlimited.  We must follow the lead of Kazakhstan, speak up, resist that which is ill-considered and insist that humanity does the right things.

Use the links listed to obtain more information on these topics or see the source documents that were used.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp_mlKJiwxg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC5UIEx83fo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKsK13NDkpg

http://www.nature.com/news/conservation-nicaragua-canal-could-wreak-environmental-ruin-1.14721

http://www.takepart.com/photos/10-worlds-worst-invasive-species/kudzu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUssO68D2eM

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Ongoing Battle For Sentient Animals

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Jerry

Researchers have identified a group of animals that have greater intellectual and emotional faculties, for example human beings, elephants, porpoises, great apes, and a family of birds known as Corvids.  (See Beyond Animal, Ego and Time Chapter 6, Human Uniqueness).  Society tries to protect human beings while some animal activists try to protect these other species, more lately the great apes.

After considerable progress, activists are pleased they’ve all but stopped experimentation on great apes in the U.S.   Recall the National Institute of Health (NIH) ended the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories.  It has retired the majority of its 360 chimps used in medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all wild and domesticated chimpanzees subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.  Although skirmishes continue in the U.S. the public pressure remains.

The situation in the European Union (EU) is marked by continuing controversy.  The EU issued a directive regarding medical research using non-human primates like chimpanzees.  While the 2010 EU directive was thought to give balance to the issues of minimum animal welfare, intensity of pain to be inflicted and ended most research involving great apes, it contained a provision that explicitly allowed ongoing research with great apes.  It said that research could continue if researchers could not use any other species of animal.

Activists perceived this was somewhat of a loss with EU governance groups and have now redirected their efforts to the local political level.  The EU directive required member states to enact these rules by the start of 2013.  It also said these states could not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by making the state’s law stricter than the EU directive.  Activists have delayed adoption of the directive in several states and are getting cities and municipalities to pass new restrictive laws and regulations to defeat the spirit of the directive at the local level.

In addition there is a petition that began to be circulated in the EU in November of 2012 that already has over a million signatures.  These signatures are being validated.  If they prove genuine, the European Commission and Parliament must hold hearings.   This would lead to another round of open and public debate on the issues.

Now another frontier has been opened up in the saga to protect chimps and great apes in the U.S.   A group called the Non Human Rights Project has filed court suits looking to free four chimps from their captivity.  The intent is to acquire “legal personhood” for these animals.  While New York lower courts denied the suits, they are collectively on appeal.

An article entitled Lawsuits Seek ‘Personhood’ for Chimpanzees in the December 2013 issue of Science magazine identifies Boston attorney, Steven Wise, as one of the people leading the charge.   “In 1993, Wise attempted to sue on behalf of a dolphin that had been transferred to a Navy facility, but the judge ruled that, as nonpersons, animals don’t have the legal “standing” to sue.  (More recently, a federal judge dismissed a 2011 lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when it tried to argue that Sea World had violated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by keeping orcas as “slaves.”).”

It is doubtful American courts will grant ‘personhood’ to nonhuman primates anytime soon.  These efforts however, maintain the pressure on society to recognize there are species of animals that are much closer and have similar cognitive and emotional capabilities to humans.  This should lead to greater adoption of laws and regulations that at least create new categories of rules to take their awareness into account.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents used to prepare this posting.

http://www.nature.com/news/biomedicine-the-changing-face-of-primate-research-1.14645

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6163/1154.summary?sid=3efaff36-1beb-48fc-b483-465cc7f49507

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/chimpanzee-personhood-nonhuman-right/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-do-nonhuman-mammals-fit-in-our-moral-hierarchy/

http://science.time.com/2013/12/10/courts-say-chimps-arent-people/

 

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Self-Talk May Increase Competitiveness

Posted on 06 February 2014 by admin

No one knows what makes a country overtake its peers and emerge as a world leader in a variety of measures, e.g. GDP, innovation or educational competitiveness.  A recent study in the January 2014 issue of Science indicates that what people in a society say to themselves may make a difference.

The article in Science magazine about the research done by Hall, et al. indicates, “members of a group associated with unfavorable stereotypes can evoke behavior that conforms to those stereotypes.”  One remedy is to have each of the group recall a situation or incident in their lives where they experienced “autobiographical self affirmation”, for example when they had the positive experience of success or where the individual was recognized for an accomplishment.

While the first, or poor group, responded by doing better on batteries of tests after self-affirmation, wealthier people saw no performance enhancement.  They did not respond to the poor group’s negative stereotypes.  The study observed,  “As one would predict, the performance-enhancing effect of self-affirmation was not observed when wealthy people (whose average annual income was 10 times that of the poor participants) were tested.”

This suggests complacency in the wealthy.  It also shows the poor’s way of overcoming negative stereotypes, improving their self-image and increasing their competitiveness.  There is no reason to assume this same self-affirmation is not at work in entire countries.  If we think about the economy and wealth of the United States, the oft-mentioned thought of ‘American exceptionalism’, and the continued deterioration of the U.S position in a variety of rankings, other countries may soon usurp U.S. world leadership.

The October 2013 issue of Scientific American contains an excellent graphic that displays an index that is based on the combination of population size, gross domestic product per person, and the Global Innovation Index that looks at 84 data points of each of the 142 economies studied.  This chart and the Global Innovation index are the product of Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The category “Leaders” is headed by Switzerland that has had the highest Innovation Score for two years running.  This country of eight million has a per-person GDP of $45,285 and is number one in industry-university research collaboration. In the rankings the United Sates, that has the largest economy, ranks fifth.  In the absence of such a large economy and the resulting GDP, the U.S. may not rank as high against the other 142 countries. Switzerland is in first place, followed in order by Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Closely following but still in the Leader category are Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, and Ireland.  Also in the leader category, but leading the middle in descending order is Canada followed by Luxembourg, Iceland, Israel, Germany, and Norway.  Heading up the bottom of the Leaders category are New Zealand, Korean Republic, Australia, France, Belgium, Japan, and Austria.

Another group is labeled “Learners”.  These countries are marked by more rapid growth but small population size with the notable exceptions of India and China.  At the top of this group are Malaysia, Hungary, and Latvia followed by China and Costa Rica.

Of note is the rapid development and growth of Costa Rica and Uganda that are listed as the two most improved countries. Costa Rica is distinguished by its ranking as third globally in the density of new business registrations.  Uganda is singled out because of its high R&D funding from abroad.

Following those at the top of the Learners category are Moldova, Montenegro, India, Mongolia and Vietnam.  Moldova stands out because of its second highest rate of trademark registrations relative to GDP in the world.

Because these results may be biased by the size of the U.S. economy let’s take it out of the equation.  Surely students in the U.S. are just as smart as anyone else.  Let’s look at comparisons of students and how they perform on the same internationally administered tests.   Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance reported that on the same tests administered internationally, U. S. students were not “progressing to catch up to their foreign peers”.  On these tests American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading.

The report continued by saying “Students in Latvia, Chile, and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than their American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Columbia, and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate.”

Does this mean the quality of education in the U.S. is not as good as that found in other countries?   A recent article in the December issue of Scientific American written by Harold O. Levy states the popularity of U. S. university advanced degrees has risen as more and more foreign students go to America to study.

Levy cites statistics that show “Citizens of other countries now receive more than half the Ph.D.’s awarded by U.S. universities in engineering, computer science and physics, on top of earning one third of all college degrees in science and engineering.  In certain subfields, the disparity is much higher: in electrical engineering, for example, foreign students received 65% of all doctoral diplomas in 2001.”

Levy warns that in a study conducted in 2002 about 30% of these foreign students had no declared intention to stay in the U. S. after their education.  They indicated they were more interested in returning to their home countries.   This study took place before the 2007 collapse of the U. S. job market.  This contradicts the American self-talk that reinforces the thought that there is a brain drain of the brightest of the rest of the world immigrating to the U.S. to stay and work.

Another report, this one released by the Institute of International Education in 2013 was entitled Open Door Report on International Educational Exchange.  This report states “Students from the top three places of origin – China, India, and South Korea – now represent 49% of the total number of international students in the United States.”

In addition, the report states, “There were increases in the number of students from 16 of the top 25 places of origin.  These 16 are Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.”

If colleges and universities in the U.S. are still in demand internationally, the quality of our college and university educations are not the problem.   Let us turn once again to look at innovations more closely without considering the size of our economy.  A December 2013 report by the World Intellectual Property Organization is entitled Global Patent Filings See Fastest Growth in 18 Years.

It reports “for the first time, China tops the ranking at number 1 for both the source (filings by China) and the destination (filed in China) for the four types of Intellectual Property (patents, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs).”  The report continued, “Of the top five IP offices worldwide, the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (SIPO) was alone in recording double-digit growth for each of the four types of IP.  Continued rapid filing growth in China is the main driver of IP growth.”

In a press release from WIPO on the same topic, they identified countries that led the pack with the most patent filings in their own country and in other countries.  The article stated, “Among the top 20 IP offices, China (+24%) saw the fastest growth in filings in 2012, followed by the offices in New Zealand (+14.3%), Mexico (+9%), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (+7.8%), and the Russian Federation (+6.8%).  Several offices of middle-income countries, such as Brazil (+5.1%), India (+3.9%), and South Africa (+2.9%), also reported growth in filings.”

The emphasis of the Utility patent model filings were as follows:

Country                                         Areas of filings

Israel and the U.S.                             computer and medical tech

Belgium, India, Switzerland                organic fine chemistry

Brazil                                              basic materials chemistry

China and Russia                              material metallurgy tech

Japan, Singapore, Republic of Korea    semiconductors

France, Germany and Sweden            transport-related tech

Of the top 20 countries with the most filings for Trademarks, the IP office of two middle-income countries, Turkey (+24.1%) and China (+16%) reported the highest rates of growth.  The report also states “Mexico (+5.5%) and Russia (+7.9%) also exhibited strong growth in class counts for 2012.  In raw numbers China filed for 1.58 million Trademarks, the U.S. filed 599,896, Germany filed some 387,503 and France filed 384,665.

In 2012 there were Industrial Design patents containing an estimated 1.22 million designs.  Those countries experiencing double digit grown in their industrial design patent filings were Russia with 29.5% growth, followed by China with 26.1%, Turkey with 12.4%, Brazil with 12% and Korea with 11.8%.

Many of the same countries keep showing up with significant growth numbers.  Someday they may catch up with the U.S.  Going back to our beginning premise we need to look at self-talk in the U.S. to see why America may be slipping in its world standing in so many categories.

On December 3, 2013 the BBC News ran a story reporting the results of a new (November 6, 2013) Pew survey.  The report states, “For the first time in 40 years, a majority of Americans say the US plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did a decade ago.” Forty-eight percent of respondents mistakenly saw China as the world’s top economic power.  Only 31% correctly identified the U.S. as having the largest economy in the world.

Other findings of the survey showed that more than half of the participants said the US should mind its own business.  A majority of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans (53%) and independents (55%) agreed we should mind our own business.  Forty-six percent of Democrats agreed.  This was the first time in 50 years that a majority of Americans expressed this view.  They viewed involvements around the world as a mistake.

So these views of a declining U.S. could help explain a possible deterioration of optimism in Americans.  If they believe the country is over extended, has less influence around the world and no longer has the largest or strongest economy, this says our self-talk may be self-defeating.

It is impossible to make a hard and fast declaration of what the citizens of the U.S. are saying to themselves or how this might be affecting their actions.  We can see however, other countries redoubling their efforts to make the most out of their potential and seeing considerable opportunity to improve.  While the beginning premise may be flawed, it at least should stimulate further thought by each of us. The least that can be done is for Americans to redirect their self-talk to our positive accomplishments.

As a footnote, the process of self-affirmation and its beneficial effects on the individual is cited in the book Beyond, Animal Ego and Time.  It is described in Chapter 15, which is entitled Enhancing the Life Experience.  Described as a tool to be used in contextual reformation and mood management, it is mentioned in the text on page 212 of the paperback version of the book.  The author heartily recommends the tool for uplifting one’s mood and returning to a more optimistic disposition.

Use the following links to obtain more information or in most cases access the source documents.

http://comments.sciencemag.org/content/10.1126/science.343.6168.230-b

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-it-comes-to-inventiveness-how-do-nations-compare/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-142-nations-capitalize-on-science/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/education-olympics-how-do_n_1707968.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/us-students-still-lag-beh_n_1695516.html

http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v309/n6/full/scientificamerican1213-13.html

http://www.iie.org/Who-We-Are/News-and-Events/Press-Center/Press-releases/2013/2013-11-11-Open-Doors-Data#.UvKvl12S06U

http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2013/article_0028.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25193054

http://www.people-press.org/2013/12/03/public-sees-u-s-power-declining-as-support-for-global-engagement-slips/

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