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The Latest Threat to Global Food Security: Salt

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Salt build-up from irrigation has destroyed other societies. Brian Merchant writes in Motherboard:

Eating too much salt in your diet can beget a litany of adverse health effects—blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer. That’s well documented. It’s not as well known that consuming too much salt can have similarly dire effects on the environment, and, by extension, our food supply. Salt degradation has caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage, mars an area of cropland the size of Manhattan every week, and has hit nearly one-fifth of the world’s farmland so far.

“Salts have damaging effects whether they are in excess amounts in the human body or in agricultural lands,” Manzoor Qadir, the lead author of an eye-opening new study on the subject, published by the United Nations’ Institute for Water, Environment and Health, told me in an email conversation.

“If salt degradation goes on unchecked, more and more land will be highly degraded leading to wasteland,” he said. “Restoring such lands will not be economically feasible at all.”

When farmers irrigate crops with water—even “good quality” freshwater—salt comes along for the ride. Without proper drainage systems, the salt can then accumulate in soil whenever water evaporates and leaves it behind, or plants suck out the ‘pure water’ and leave salt concentrated in the root zone. Once enough salt accumulates, it can cause a host of problems to the crops—not entirely unlike how a salt-heavy diet adversely impacts people.

“In terms of effects on crops, salt-induced land degradation results in reduction in plant growth rate, reduced yield, and in severe cases, total crop failure,” Qadir told me. This happens especially quickly in arid regions, which suggests the process may be accelerated by climate change.

The UN report brings some fairly astonishing findings—his team estimates that 2,000 hectares of farmland (nearly 8 square miles) of farmland is ruined daily by salt degradation. So far, nearly 20 percent of the world’s farmland has been degraded, an area approximately the size of France. . .

Continue reading.

This particular threat has been known for years if not decades, but again no action is taken: very like global warming in that it’s an enormous problem that is quite foreseeable and whose cause is known, but we find ourselves paralyzed into inaction, encouraged in that by those making money from the status quo.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 6:02 pm

The US and gender equality

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A post at ThinkProgress by Bryce Covert begins:

The United States moved up a few slots in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report this year compared to last. But it still falls at number 20, behind less developed countries including Nicaragua, Rwanda, the Philippines, Burundi, and South Africa, as well as more developed peers like the Nordic countries, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, France, and Canada, among others. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Everything you know in politics is wrong.

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Jot down your guess as to the correct answer to each question for your home country—that is, if you’re in the US, answer the question for the US; if you’re in the UK, answer the question for the UK; if in Norway, Norway, etc. Then I’ll give you a link that shows how accurate various nations are at answering the question.

  1. What percentage of girls 15-18 give birth each year?

  2. What percentage of people are Muslims?

  3. What percentage of people are Christians?

  4. What percentage of people are immigrants?

  5. What percentage of people voted in the last major election?

  6. What percentage of people are unemployed and looking for work?

  7. What is the life expectancy of a child born in 2014?

Write down your answers. If you just look at the correct answer, you’ll just think, “Right. I knew that.” Having written down your answer beforehand makes that a bit harder.

[I just figured out what might be the psychological mechanism might be behind that mistaken feeling that you already knew it. If you write down an answer and then the correct answer is different, you experience a sort of surprise---"Huh! I didn't realize that!" If you hit it spot-on, and you're right, you think, "Right. Just as I thought."

Now consider what happens if you have no particular answer in mind: you look at the correct answer, feel no surprise, and figure that, there being no surprise, you must have known that already---and no learning takes place, BTW. Whereas the "surprise" feeling when you see the correct answer after committing to an incorrect answer by writing it down is simply the felt effect of learning something: a little re-wiring taking place in the brain.

But without committing to an answer, no surprise is felt, and nothing is learned. It seems one must prepare the ground of the mind for new ideas to take hold. One example: when I taught Euclid's Elements, I asked students to read the proposition (the statement of what is to be proved or constructed) and then, without looking at the theorem, attempt to solve it on their own---spend at least 5 minutes in the attempt. Even though most might not be able to do it, when they read Euclid's theorem, it will really sink in. And in playing over chess games or go games, you always try to figure what the next move will be before you look at it, and if you're wrong, you try to figure out why. And I wrote this post about the same sort of thing in learning how to edit one's writing.]

You can find the answers here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting: Corporations taking over news brings overt censorship

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Verizon is publishing news on-line now, but they are explicit that no articles on net neutrality or domestic surveillance—for obvious reasons: Verizon is involved in both in a way that the public would not like, so better just block that. From this post at The Verge by T.C. Sottek:

Verizon is backing a publication called Sugarstring that covers technology, culture, and entertainment. All of the advertisements on Sugarstring are for Verizon. The color palette — red, everywhere — screams Verizon. Its about page, which says “Sugarstring publishes thoughtful tech-focused stories that track humanity’s climb towards the new next” appears to have been written by a corporate robot employed by Verizon. Every page brandishes a badge to let you know that the content you have just consumed has been ᴘʀᴇsᴇɴᴛᴇᴅ ʙʏ ᴠᴇʀɪᴢᴏɴ. There’s just two things Verizon won’t be presenting, which happen to be two of the biggest stories in the world right now: stories about how Verizon is fucking over America.

As The Daily Dot has learned, Sugarstring expressly prohibits its reporters from writing anything about domestic surveillance or net neutrality. (But reporting on foreign surveillance, The Daily Dot noted, is just fine!) If you’ve been reading the news for the past year, you’ll know that Verizon is heavily involved in both of these areas. As the country’s largest wireless provider it was one of the first companies implicated in the NSA’s scandalous call record collection program. And as one of the country’s largest internet service providers it has thrown its weight behind killing net neutrality and making the internet worse for everyone.

The irony in Verizon’s censorship is palpable. The following passage from Sugarstringappears in an article on the internet’s “morality police.”: . . .

Continue reading.

Think what will happen when more corporations get into the news game, hiding things…


Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

Consent Bro: Meet the guy who teaches frat brothers what ‘yes means yes’ means

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Very interesting story—and you know, it might just work. Most people are decent, and they will act decently if they understand what’s involved. But there is a long way to go—one guy in the article asked if a woman asking to see his room was (in that request) consenting to have sex with him? I am not making fun of him: he’s young, he doesn’t know the rules, he’s undoubtedly seen many movies and from them tried to figure out the rules, and the question he asked was serious: based on his current level of knowledge and awareness, he was thinking a request to see his room might well be a request for sex, just coded somehow.

At that age, there is a lot of wishful thinking, as you may recall. But I think that helping them understand the rules and the steps will help a lot. Ignorance leads to many mistakes, I’ve observed, and leaving it up to children to educate themselves doesn’t really work—and in much of the country, sex ed is underfunded, disliked, and filled with misinformation, doing little or nothing to actually educate the young about sex and how it can be approached. Social norms of accepted good behavior once was taught as etiquette. That is no longer taught nowadays, and for the most part it seems young people try to pick up the norms of good behavior from their peers, so it is no wonder that they often learn the wrong lessons.

Update: If there really is a cultural shift to a new mindset of sexual etiquette—the full consent ethic, which offers as a carrot that fully consensual sex is better in every way—it will be interesting if it turns out that the meme becomes dominant and established by being disseminated by the frat houses in training their members. Ironic, in a way.

Another update: I had not realized that Antioch was the first.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Autopsy Finds Black Man Killed By Utah Cops Was Shot 6 Times In The Back

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I predict the police officers will suffer no sanctions. That’s how much of a police state the US already is. If they decide to shoot you, they suddenly “fear for their safety/life.” Nicole Flatow reports in ThinkProgress:

Last month, 22-year-old Darrien Hunt was shot and killed by officers in Saratoga Springs, Utah, while carrying a toy sword. Police claimed Hunt lunged at them, but a new state autopsy released by Hunt’s lawyer finds that Hunt was shot 5 times in the back, and a sixth time on his left hip towards the back.

The autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Officer corroborates an earlier private autopsy commissioned by Hunt’s lawyer Robert Sykes that also found he was shot in the back, although Sykes would not initially release a copy of that autopsy. A toxicology report was also released showing that Hunt had no drugs in his body, although officers noted in their original report that Hunt “apparently liked hallucinogens and had taken acid approximately three weeks” before the shooting, according to the Deseret News.

At the time of his death, Hunt was wearing an outfit that bore a striking resemblance the Japanese anime character Mugen, from the series Samurai Champloo. The weekend prior to his death, Salt Lake City hosted the annual Comic Con event at which attendees dress up as comic book characters in a practice known as “cosplaying.”

In the weeks after his death, his family found drawings of a number of Japanese anime characters, including several carrying swords. Friends at his funeral called Hunt artistic, shy, and gentle.

“It shows a familiarity, if not a fascination, with that kind of fantasy world,” Hunt’s lawyer Randall Edwards told the Guardian. “It gives some context – and potentially some explanation – to why you have this kid walking down the street with a samurai-style sword on his back.”

Officers say they received a call reporting a “suspicious” person and believed Hunt was carrying a real sword. His mother said it was a souvenir blunt-edged Japanese sword known as a “katana” from a gift shop. Utah has an open carry law, meaning that residents are permitted to openly carry guns even if they don’t have a permit. Police are therefore likely to encounter other individuals walking down the street with guns, and it’s unclear at what point they would be considered “suspicious.”

Hunt died about 100 feet away from the site of the police car, and police have conceded that Hunt traveled away from the officers during the incident, suggesting he was indeed running away.

Saratoga Springs is 93 percent white and 0.5 percent black, and Hunt’s mother, who is also white, believes Hunt was killed because of his race. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 12:26 pm

Mission creep toward a police state: The Patriot Act grows…

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Radley Balko writes at the Washington Post:

One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.

Civil libertarian critics warned that the federal government already had this power for national security investigations. The Patriot Act provision was far too broad and would almost certainly become a common tactic in cases that have nothing to do with national security.

But this was all immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and there was little patience for civil libertarians. The massive Patriot Act of course passed overwhelmingly, including the sneak-and-peek provision, despite the fact that only a handful of members of Congress had actually read it. (Not to mention the public.)

More than a decade later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an analysis on use of the sneak-and-peek power. Just as critics predicted, it’s now a ubiquitous part of federal law enforcement.

Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003. The 2010 report reveals 3,970 total requests were processed. Within three years that number jumped to 11,129. That’s an increase of over 7,000 requests. Exactly what privacy advocates argued in 2001 is happening: sneak and peak warrants are not just being used in exceptional circumstances—which was their original intent—but as an everyday investigative tool.

And as critics predicted, it is overwhelmingly used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. But even if you’re a cynic, it’s pretty shocking just how little the power is used in terrorism investigations.

Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

So since the Patriot Act passed, the number of of sneak-and-peeks each year has grown from about 16 per year to over 11,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, not only have the number of sneak-and-peek investigations unrelated to terrorism increased on a massive scale, the percentage of sneak-and-peeks that have anything to do with terrorism continues to drop. In other words, sneak-and-peek is increasingly ubiquitous while the justification for granting the government this power in the first place — terrorism — is not only irrelevant to the tactic’s increasing pervasiveness, it gets more irrelevant every year.

Lots of lessons here. A few that immediately come to mind: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:48 am


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