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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Links - 30th January 2016

Why There Will Never Be Another Einstein - "Einstein is the most famous and beloved scientist of all time. We revere him not only as a scientific genius but also as a moral and even spiritual sage. Abraham Pais, Einstein's friend and biographer, called him "the divine man of the 20th century." To New York Timesphysics reporter Dennis Overbye, Einstein was an “icon" of "humanity in the face of the unknown."... there are so many brilliant physicists alive today that it has become harder for any individual to stand apart from the pack. In other words, our perception of Einstein as a towering figure is, well, relative... For the first half of the last century, physics yielded not only deep insights into nature--which resonated with the disorienting work of creative visionaries like Picasso, Joyce and Freud--but also history-jolting technologies like the atomic bomb, nuclear power, radar, lasers, transistors and all the gadgets that make up the computer and communications industries. Physics mattered. Over the past few decades, many physicists have gotten bogged down pursuing a goal that obsessed Einstein in his latter years: a theory that fuses quantum physics and general relativity, which are as incompatible, conceptually and mathematically, as plaid and polka dots. Seekers of this "theory of everything" have wandered into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality. Over the past few decades, biology has displaced physics as the scientific enterprise with the most intellectual, practical and economic clout"

Government cannot invoke harassment Act to make website remove statements on Mindef: High Court - "the Government cannot use the Protection from Harassment Act to make socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) take down statements on its site made by a doctor against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef)... The case turned on the legal question of whether the Government can be considered a "person" under the Act, which came into force this year to protect people from harassment and stalking and to provide remedies for victims of false statements. In the current case, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) had invoked the Act against Dr Ting Choon Meng, co-founder of medical device firm MobileStats Technologies. MobileStats had sued the Government for patent infringement, claiming that Mindef had copied its concept of a mobile emergency medical station. But the firm dropped its claim in January last year, citing financial difficulties. In January this year, TOC posted an interview with Dr Ting about the case. The AGC sent a cease-and-desist letter to Dr Ting , asking him to stop making false statements about Mindef. When Dr Ting and TOC refused to take down the statements, the AGC applied for a court order under Section 15 of the Act to have them taken down."

This obsession with 'cultural appropriation' is leading us down a very dark path - "The idea of ‘cultural appropriation’ sums up everything rotten in today’s intensifying politics of identity. It’s fuelled by the borderline racist idea that to mix cultures is bad... The PC rage against cultural appropriation is ultimately a demand for cultural segregation, for black people, white people, Latinos, gay people, women and every other racial, gender or sexual group to stick with their own culture and people and not allow themselves to be diluted by outsiders. Gay men have been condemned by the National Union of Students for ‘appropriating black female culture’. Barmy NUS officials think it’s the height of racism for a gay guy to talk about having an ‘inner black woman’. The irony being that it’s hard to think of anything more racist, or at least racially divisive, than the ideology of cultural appropriation: its obsession with cultural purity echoes some of the darkest political movements of the twentieth century. The fear of cultural mixing induces social paralysis. We have a new generation who can’t enjoy music, films, food, yoga or anything without having an existential crisis. The zany website Everyday Feminism, which incredibly is not parodic, has published ‘The Feminist Guide to Being a Foodie Without Being Culturally Appropriative‘, which advises against ‘seeking “authentic”, “exotic” or “ethnic” food’. How sad that these people can’t even tuck into a Thai curry without worrying that they’re being unwittingly Thaiphobic... the censoriousness and separatism of this pseudo-progressive politics is a tragedy. It’s a pox on the ideal of universalism. Identity politics constantly mitigates against the old, properly progressive values of sharing and solidarity, of people mixing with and learning from and standing with others"

Changing your Facebook profile picture is doing more good than you might think - "slacktivism can have real reach. There are the many people around these sharers, sometimes tens of millions, whom the researchers call the "critical periphery." These are the people responsible for taking a highly local protest movement and ensuring it is felt nationally and internationally. And the researchers found that in aggregate, their likes and shares pack as much of a punch as those of hardcore activists... the same people who are likelier to post about various causes on social media are also significantly likelier to volunteer, participate in a protest event, or encourage others to become more involved."

Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness - "Recently, many jurisdictions have implemented bans or imposed taxes upon plastic grocery bags on environmental grounds. San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria. We examine emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that ER visits spiked when the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, ER admissions increase by at least one fourth, and deaths exhibit a similar increase."
Save the environment - kill people. And washing reusable bags has environmental impact

It's time to admit that plastic bag fees aren’t actually working - "For a short time this proved to be a dream issue for retailers: the chance to turn a profit on something formerly considered an expense, all the while wrapping oneself in environmental virtue. As a practical matter, however, banning or charging for bags never made much sense. Their contribution to urban waste is negligible: a recent Toronto street-litter survey found plastic retail bags constitute less than 1% of total garbage. Most customers reused their free bags for pet waste or something else. And most important, bags have the practical purpose of getting your groceries home safely. While everyone dutifully schlepped cloth bags around to save the fee, this simply added to the hassle of shopping. Fast-forward five years and plastic bag fees are in full retreat. Toronto has undone its bylaw; and many of the leading bag-fee proponents have gone back to handing out free bags—although they seem to have skipped the fanfare this time around."

Plastic bag levy is a drop in the ocean on environmental grounds - "It is estimated that there are about 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. However, this is all plastics, not just bags, and can range from micro-beads to large debris. Bags are a small fraction of this. The main danger to marine life is not ingesting bags, but a concentrated toxic mix of water-borne chemicals that plastic absorbs and which fish and other marine life ingest through tiny plastic particles. Plastic is a derivative of the oil industry. Its production accounts for around 8 per cent of global oil use, but, again, that’s for all plastics. Bags will be a pretty small fraction of this. Research by the UK Environment Agency, indicates that the overall environmental impact of single-use plastic bag manufacture is considerably less than that of some “environmentally friendly” bags. Its life cycle analysis of a number of different types of shopping bags found that a cotton bag would have to be used 131 times to be below the total global warming potential of an HDPE bag used only once. And once you factor in reuse of HDPE bags as bin liners, which is reasonably common, this reuse factor rises. The point made by the study is that the global warming impact of HDPE bags is negligible."

Plastic bag charge: the unintended consequences of the 5p deterrent - Telegraph - "Bag bans lead many customers to start using paper bags - which are not subject to the English bag charge. This in turn led to "greater landfill waste than plastic bags" in San Francisco, according to one study. Carrier bag rules in the city of Austin, Texas had a similar impact. Shoppers there started to throw out many more heavy-duty reusable bags, resulting in increased landfill"

Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006 - "A study on lightweight carrier bag usage (WRAP 2005) found that 59 per cent of respondents reused all carrier bags, 16 per cent reused most of them, 7 per cent reused around half of them and 7 per cent reused some of them. Overall it was estimated that 76 per cent of single use carrier bags were reused. The study also asked respondents how they reused carrier bags and found that 53 per cent of respondents said that they used carrier bags as a replacement for kitchen bin liners"

Getting to the root of Singapore's productivity problem - "we need to get to the root causes of low productivity rates. More often than not, these include:
- Hierarchical and bureaucratic practices that delay the decision-making process.
- Unclear work deliverables and/or approaches resulting in delays of deliverables as team members are uncertain about what is expected of them or do things the wrong way.
- Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach towards leading and managing a diverse workforce.
My friend Joanna Barclay aptly puts across what it means to remain status quo: "Maintaining the same leadership, management style, and behaviours while expecting your employees to embrace new habits and greater collaboration is cultural insanity!"

Stonehenge druid King Arthur resurrects remains battle - "A senior druid has vowed to seek a judicial review over a government decision allowing ancient human remains from Stonehenge to be kept in a museum. King Arthur Pendragon claims the cremated bones, unearthed in 2008, are from members of the royal line and wants them reburied."

BBC World Service - The Food Chain, Food and the Fall of the Berlin Wall - "During the Cultural Revolution, there was an all out assault on bourgeois culture. And of course fine dining was one very conspicuous part of that. And so some dishes had their names changed. Gong Bao Chicken - Americans call it Kung Po Chicken - was changed in Szechuan to Hong Bao Ji Ding or Hu La Ji Ding, scorched chili chicken cubes, to take away Gong Bao, which was the name of a 19th century Governor-General of Szechuan. An Imperial official and representative of the Old Order. At the same time restaurants that had served very elaborate and expensive food were ordered to serve cheap and substantial food for the masses"

Michael Flynn, former DIA chief: Obama ignored ISIS intel to fit election narrative - Washington Times - "The nation’s former top spy said Tuesday that President Obama ignored early warning about the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group in 2011 and 2012 because the intelligence did not fit his re-election “narrative.” When asked if his warnings about the extremist group were ignored, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agencytold CNN, “I think they did not meet a particular narrative that the White House needed, and I’ll be very candid with you, I have said and I believe that the people around the president, his sort of inner circle that were advising him, I think advised him incorrectly.”"

German companies gloomy on employing refugees, survey says - FT.com - "The polls by the Munich-based Ifo institute found that most companies thought the chances of employing refugees were low even in unskilled jobs: 59 per cent, versus 41 per cent who saw “a big potential” for refugees in such work. For more qualified posts, refugees’ employment chances were seen as substantially lower: 63 per cent of employers saw little chance of hiring refugees as trainees. For skilled jobs the figure rose to 78 per cent and for management roles 97 per cent. Overwhelmingly, employers cited poor knowledge of German as the main obstacle. Other barriers cited included poor qualifications, employment rules, and the German minimum wage, said Ifo."

In Sweden, Immigration Policies Begin to Rankle - The New York Times - "In some of those apartment blocks, the unemployment rate among immigrants stands at 80 percent. Still, their children need schooling, and they have elderly parents who need health care. Some are damaged by the violence they have lived through. They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addictions. Prof. Jan Ekberg, an economist at Linnaeus University, questions the policies that allowed so many refugees to settle far from jobs. “They are depending on the public sector now as never before,” he said. “That was a policy mistake.”... A few years ago, the fire and ambulance brigades would not even enter Rosengard without a police escort. Youths there threw rocks and set cars on fire. Police officials say things are much better now. Fires were down 40 percent last year compared with 2009. But last month, two police vehicles parked at the station were set on fire with small homemade explosives... Even older immigrants who have made lives here say they have little contact with Swedes. A refugee from Bosnia, Ask Gasi, says he can understand that Swedes are reluctant to embrace the diverse and needy refugee population. He wonders himself whether the government made a mistake in letting so many come in."

Sweden’s ugly immigration problem - "“There has been a lack of integration among non-European refugees,” he told me. Forty-eight per cent of immigrants of working age don’t work, he said. Even after 15 years in Sweden, their employment rates reach only about 60 per cent. Sweden has the biggest employment gap in Europe between natives and non-natives. In Sweden, where equality is revered, inequality is now entrenched. Forty-two per cent of the long-term unemployed are immigrants, Mr. Sanandaji said. Fifty-eight per cent of welfare payments go to immigrants. Forty-five per cent of children with low test scores are immigrants. Immigrants on average earn less than 40 per cent of Swedes. The majority of people charged with murder, rape and robbery are either first- or second-generation immigrants. “Since the 1980s, Sweden has had the largest increase in inequality of any country in the OECD,” Mr. Sanandaji said. It’s not for lack of trying. Sweden is tops in Europe for its immigration efforts... Sweden’s fantasy is that if you socialize the children of immigrants and refugees correctly, they’ll grow up to be just like native Swedes. But it hasn’t worked out that way."
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