Fixing the World

There is a single causal thread that runs through all the serious problems we face today, and there’s something we can do, right now, that will stay fixing them all. There are too many people. We have outstripped the ability of our planet to support us.

It’s surprisingly easy to address. We don’t need to kill people; we may need to stop having so many babies. That, too, is a lot easier than you might think, because the single most effective contraceptive is education. Simply educating girls and women will reduce the overall birth rate, especially in places where such education has been denied.

We don’t even have all that far too go. Current estimates put our growth rate at about 1.13%. If we can reduce that rate to -1 or -2% per year, we’ll see significant declines in just a couple decades. Each far world citizen means that much less energy expenditure, that much less liklihood of famine, a little less fossil fuel burned.

Reducing or birthrate won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible. It won’t solve all our problems, but it might give us the time we need to come up with better approaches.

I don’t know how many people should live on our planet, but it’s pretty obvious that between us, or crops, and our food animals, we’re not leaving room for anything else and our ecology is starting to collapse.

We also need to work on eliminating corruption, finding better energy sources, and human rights in general, but we can get to work on population right now. We don’t have to turn it into another intractable problem. If we do, and call to act, we will surely perish.

Why haven’t we been talking about this issue? Because of the anti abortion lobby which rabidly attacks any attempt to discuss family planning. They seem to equate any discussion about birth control with abortion. So, I’m begging them, please stop. You can oppose abortion all you want, but don’t try to stop the important conversation the whole world needs to have about this issue.

If you feel as I do, that this is something critical to the survival of humanity and the world we live in, please make some noise. Force our politicians to talk about this issue.

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Climate Change: Another Example of How Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong

Recently, a study of water levels along the Northeast coast of the United States revealed that there has been a dramatic rise of 3-5″ in 2009 to 2010. This sea level rise has already caused some localized flooding even without higher than normal tides or storms.

But that isn’t the big story. The big story is the reason why the water is rising in the Northeast. That’s because the Gulf Stream has slowed down by a remarkable 30%.

Why should you care about how fast the Gulf Stream, also called the Great Ocean Conveyor, is running? Because it affects weather throughout the entire planet.

The GOC moves warm water up into the polar regions warming the air around it along the way and gradually losing heat. Up in the arctic regions, the water becomes cool enough, and thus dense enough, to sink. Far below the surface, the GOC runs the other direction carrying cold water back toward the equator, where it will rise, pick up heat and wend its way back north again. The GOC is a heat engine, it helps distribute heat from one part of the globe to the other, as heat energy tries to find equilibrium.

When the GOC slows down, the heat has to find another way to move around. The next logical candidate is air, but since air isn’t nearly as good at carrying heat as water is, a lot more air has to move in order to distribute a given quantity of heat energy. That means heated masses of air moving around, which is what creates storms.

But why is the GOC slowing down in the first place? That’s another thing the media keeps leaving out.

The GOC is slowing down because the melting of the glaciers in Greenland and the rest of the world, is adding a huge quantity of fresh water to the sea. Fresh water isn’t as dense as sea water. That means it takes longer for the water in the arctic to sink, slowing the flow of the GOC.

See: http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/32.htm for more information on the Great Ocean Conveyor.

Why are the glaciers melting?

Because the overall temperature of the atmosphere is rising. While not all glaciers are melting – because they are heavily influenced by local conditions – most are. Not only are they melting, but they are melting really fast, far faster than anyone would have predicted 30 years ago. But most scientists agree that the primary cause for the melting is the increase in atmospheric temperatures.

Why are atmospheric temperatures increasing?

The temperatures are rising Because every year we add nearly ten billion metric tons of Carbon to the atmosphere, primarily in the form of Carbon Dioxide, or CO2. Carbon Dioxide is what we call a greenhouse gas. It is transparent to sunlight, but it soaks up infrared light, meaning it traps heat, just like a greenhouse does.

It seems like the world is so big and the atmosphere so vast that it would be impossible for us to affect it, but 10 billion tons of carbon every year adds up. Back before the Industrial Revolution, say about 1750, CO2 concentrations were about 280 parts per million, or ppm. Recently, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 ppm.

Check out this page for more info: http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/32.htm

Now it may seem hard to believe that a change of 220 ppm can really be that big a deal, so lets look at it another way. It took about 300 million years to create the vast amounts of oil and coal that we have nearly used up in only the last 100 years.

Here’s another way to look at it: the lethal concentration of botulinum toxin in your body is estimated to be about 5 parts per trillion. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much of a bad thing to wreak havoc.

But, you say, Carbon Dioxide is plant food!

It’s true that plants use sunlight to convert CO2 into starches and sugars that are used for energy. So it’s natural to suppose that by adding CO2 to the atmosphere, we’re simply giving plants a free buffet.

But there’s a problem with that argument, too. First of all, the most efficient converters of CO2 to plant mass are trees, and we’ve been cutting down trees and an incredible rate. The entire Brazilian rainforest is in peril. So while we’ve been increasing the supply of CO2, we’ve been destroying the very organisms that would help sequester it.

Another problem is that plants don’t use up the CO2 permanently. When they are eaten, decay, or burn, they release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. The natural way to sequester CO2 is to turn it into Coal and Oil.

This is a real problem. It’s one that we’re likely to be affected by, one that is probably already affecting us. This winter has likely been exacerbated by climate change.

The good news is that since this is a human-made problem, there are things we can do to fix it. We just have to stop arguing about whether it’s happening or not, and get to work on solutions. That won’t be easy, because there are lots of people with vested interests in keeping things just the way they are, and most of them are old enough that they won’t have to deal with the mess they are creating.

So, do your part. Turn off the unused light. Turn down the thermostat. Drive less. Get a fuel efficient car. Use LED lights instead of incandescent. But above all, elect brave men and women who are willing to face our problems and deal with them.

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Writer’s Infusion and the Walpole Writers Group

This last Fall, a friend of mine, Sue Zall, talked me into joining a project she’s been putting together. It’s called Writer’s Infusion. She got the idea after joining the writers group I attend, Walpole Writers Group, or WWG.

Sue hadn’t been part of a writers group before and but she knew it would be a great help to her writing. She found us through a librarian who told her about our meetings at the local Barnes and Noble.

The WWG is unusual in its longevity. Most writers groups don’t last more than a year or so. Personality conflicts develop, or people decide they don’t have enough time. There are lots of reasons. I suspect it’s because a lot of writers groups seem to ask a great deal of their members. Many ask the members to read and comment on 50-100 pages of material a week.

At Walpole Writers Group, we keep it simple. We meet at the local Barnes and Noble every Tuesday evening and each of us brings something we’re working on. We limit the work to 4-7 pages, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. (So we’ll have space to write notes.) The writer is expected to bring enough copies for everyone. Then, we go around the table, letting each person read what they’ve brought.

While the reader is reading, the rest of us are marking up our copies, correcting grammar, fixing spelling, or making notes where we think something is unclear. Afterwards, we have a short discussion in which we tell the author what we think of the writing. (It’s important that the discussion stays focused on just the writing. Comments about other subjects are not allowed.)

For whatever reason, the WWG has been around for at least a dozen years. We’re not sure exactly how long it’s been, since we no longer have an original member in the group.

Sue decided she’d like to bring the benefits of our writing group to the Internet, so she built the web site, www.writersinfusion.com, and then recruited some of us from the WWG to be critiquers. (All the critiquers have been writing for ten years or more and most have been in the WWG that long.)

Here’s how it works: If you want to submit some writing, you go to the submission page on the site and fill out the form. If we select your work, and you’re local, we’ll invite you to come on the show. Before we tape, the critiquers will read the submission and make notes. (This makes the critiquing part go a lot faster.) If you, as a writer, comes to the show, we’ll allow you to read your work. If you’d prefer, we have someone read it for you. During the critique, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions of the critiquers. We videotape the whole thing and post it on YouTube. Each episode is about 15 minutes long.

None of what we’re doing ever costs the writer a penny.

In the future, we hope to get some established writers to sit in, help critique, and maybe talk about how they edit their own work.

The Writer’s Infusion site launched shortly after the new year, and so far we haven’t made complete fools out of ourselves. This last Saturday, we shot several more episodes which will be posted soon.

So, if you’re a writer, or you know a writer, please pass on the word about Writer’s Infusion.

A lot of people help make Writer’s Infusion possible, including the Walpole Writers Group, the Walpole Public Library and Walpole Community Television.

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How Did We Give Up On Space?

America no longer has a space launch vehicle that can carry astronauts to orbit. Eventually, we hope there will be a commercial program that can do so, but the commercial efforts lately have simply demonstrated what happens when profit is more important than safety.

People complain about the NASA budget, without realizing how much space exploration has given us, and without understanding just how miniscule that budget is as a percentage of the total U.S. budget. Last year it was 0.5%, half of what it was when we were regularly launch shuttles. We spend 20% of our current budget on defense programs.

Eventually, we’ll need those resources that are out in space. It’s the one place where we can’t destroy our ecology. A single average nickel-iron asteroid could provide all the metals the world needs for five years or more. All without strip mining. The resources on the Moon and asteroids are the key to colonizing space, the key to expanding the human species out away from this single planet, which is all too fragile.

Right now, our species is still growing at a rate that the planet can’t sustain. If I had to guess, I don’t think the planet can support more than four billion people for more than a couple hundred years, and we have twice that number.

Before space exploration, most of our technological growth spurts were caused by wars. Space presented us with the first peaceful challenge that gave our technology a kick in the butt. Most of the electronics you take for granted, every day, owe their existence to devices developed to support NASA programs.

We need a focus. Without one, we become a nation that panics over a couple of Ebola patients. Space exploration is the closest thing we’ve ever found to a “moral equivalent to war.” It’s a shame we seem to be so willing to let other nations lead the way in a field we were leading for so long.

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Assasin’s Creed: Unplayable

UbiSoft has done something I though impossible. They’ve made a bigger mess of launching Assassin’s Creed Unity than Sony did launching Star Wars. I can’t play the game at all, because it blows up playing the opening cut scene. It takes real talent to build a game that can’t even run a MPEG without blowing up. Other bugs have been well documented, including embarrassing graphics glitches, the main character falling through the scenery, sluggish loads, and frame rates that make the game unplayable for many who get past that first cut scene.

Gamers may yell a lot, but we’re actually pretty forgiving. We’re even willing to pre-order games when we love a particular franchise, because we want to make sure the game gets delivered. UbiSoft may put a stop to that practice single-handedly. I know I will never pre-play for a game again after this, especially since I discovered that Steam has a no refund policy. I spent $90 on a bunch of digital crap. But even I would have shut up pretty quickly if UbiSoft had acknowledged that they screwed up, got their priorities wrong and were working hard to fix the problems. Instead, the second patch, the one they released after the release day patch didn’t seem to fix anything, was a patch to fix the micropayment system. They were more worried about being able to tell the stock market that they had micro payments than delivering a functioning game.

Now we’re told there are more patches coming, but as far as I can tell, the first cut scene fatality isn’t even on the list.

How come none of us heard anything about these problems from the press? Because Ubisoft made everyone sign non-disclosures that kept them from publishing reviews until 12 hours after the game was released. That alone should have set of the alarm bells of our so-called game press. But apparently the various sites that should have been telling us about these problems were more worried about losing ad revenue by pissing off Ubisoft than in keeping their readers informed.

I think Ubisoft knew they were delivering a clunker and came up with this strategy in order to rip off the gaming public. After all, the click through agreements always say that we can’t expect the software to be fit for any particular purpose.

So, what should we do?

* Stop pre-paying for games. All that will do is encourage this kind of behavior. Distribution is pretty much all digital, so you should never have to worry about not being able to get your copy.

* Refuse to buy a game where the press has agreed to delay reviews. Complain bitterly to the game sites you read about the part they played in this mess.

* Stop buying any Ubisoft title until they have fixed all the bugs in ACU. I doubt I’ll even buy another AC title after this mess.

* If your copy won’t run, Call your State Attorney Generals office and complain. As far as I’m concerned, Ubisoft and other companies that deliver non-functional software are committing fraud. They should be taken to court. Maybe the fear of large jury awards might give the CEOs pause.

It’s clear that laws and law enforcement are lagging badly behind technology and what it enables. That means we have to watch out for ourselves and push our institutions, kicking and screaming, into the digital age.

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