Open Thread: Sinking News Edition

Sometimes, it's hard to start the day off with a bit of sunshine.

Typhoon Fengshen Sinks Princess of Stars,
700-plus Missing, Presumed Dead

Bad news from the Philippines, via Reuters:


Philippine ferry sinks; 700-plus passengers missing
By Manny Mogato and Rosemarie Francisco, Sun Jun 22, 2008 5:41am EDT

MANILA, June 22 (Reuters) - Rescuers braved rough seas on Sunday searching for survivors of a Philippine ferry that capsized with more than 700 passengers and crew during a typhoon that has killed scores and left a trail of destruction.

So far, only four people are known to have survived and they said many passengers did not make it off the MV Princess of Stars in time.


Click the link before the excerpt for the full story.

"Though the weather outside is frightful..."

The news of the disaster in the Philippines comes right on the back of this piece, which in and of itself isn't exactly full of warmth and promise:


Extreme floods, storms seen increasing in North America
Reporting by Timothy Gardner, editing by Chris Wilson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Floods, droughts and severe storms are likely to ravage North America more frequently as emissions of planet-warming gases rise, according to a U.S. government study.

Extreme weather events, "could seriously affect" human health, agricultural production, and the availability and quality of water in the future, according to the report, issued by the Climate Change Science Program on Thursday.


Click the link before the excerpt for the full story.

Looking Back At Prior Dire Predictions and Misconstrued News

With all this hullabaloo, it calls to mind an interesting story from the 2004 timeframe -- two stories, in fact.

  1. From The Observer:

    Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
    by Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York, The Observer, Sunday February 22, 2004

    The piece tells of a March 2003 report commissioned by the Pentagon to study to worst-case potentials of Climate Change / global warming, and created quite a stir when news of the report got out. But the news may have been misconstrued.

  2. From the The San Francisco Chronicle:

    Pentagon-sponsored climate report sparks hullabaloo in Europe
    But new ice age unlikely, Bay Area authors of study say

    by Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer, Wednesday, February 25, 2004


    All that Schwartz and Randall did was to investigate the "worst-case" possible events, those that are highly unlikely to happen but, if they did happen, would be catastrophic, especially in their impacts on U.S. military operations -- "low probability, high impact" events, as they are known in the futurological world.


    It isn't even a Pentagon report in the strict sense of the word. It does not constitute an official DOD position paper or policy statement, conducted by scientists and military experts. Rather, all the work was done by Schwartz and Randall -- neither of whom is an atmospheric scientist -- based on their review of what real atmospheric scientists have done.


Well, it's good thing we got all that settled. We wouldn't want to leave people thinking that things could get much worse.

This is an Open Thread.

Climate of Change Over Changing Climate: Ethics and Complacency

Last Friday, on a whim, I created an open thread called Winds of Change, Comfortably Numb. Like the song from the video, the winds of change are blowing -- quite literally, too: the climate is changing, in social & political ways as well as ecological terms.1


The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change


New studies were published over the weekend that serve to reinforce some previous data about the issue of global climate change. In his piece Warming and Storms, Uncertainty and Ethics, Andrew C. Revkin writes about how those studies may impact our approach to human-induced global warming:


Over the weekend, a pair of very different climate studies — one physical, one social — illustrated two uncomfortable, and related, realities confronting society as it grapples with possible responses to human-driven global warming.

Revkin is right: both studies, particularly when combined, leave us with some disturbing things to mull over.

Secular Saviors: Science Steps Up

So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.1

It is a tale at least as old as the New Testament within the Christian faiths -- the restoral of speech to those who could no longer talk, the return of sight to those who had gone blind, the repair of limbs for those who have been maimed, the recovery of mobility for the lame, the healing of disease for the afflicted, the casting out of demons for the possessed and insane, and ultimately the resurrection of the dead.

All accomplished with but a simple touch, a gesture, a sign or a spoken word.

That is the essence of the miraculous within the realm of legends, lore, philosophy, religion and mythology. Tomes as diverse as the Bible2 and tales from folklore and fantasy dealing with stories of creation, magic, the battle between good and evil and the end of the world abound, but the boundaries dividing the worlds of reality and fantasy, myth and legend, faith and fact are blurring now.

Once the sole provenance of magick and fantasy, the pursuit of miracles and our meager attempts to understand life, the universe and everything has jumped the rails: it is no longer constrained to a world where myth and fantasy play a significant role. Such answers are no longer found only in folklore and religion. Now, the search of these answers is also the baileywick of science.

Of Transgenic Mice and Men: The Rats of NIMH Meet Universal Soldier

When I was in grade school, one of the many reading assignments given to students included a book titled Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.1

The novel relates the plight of a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Frisby, whose family must travel every year to a summer home to avoid being mowed by the farmer who owns the land she and her family live on. When Mrs. Frisby's son, Timothy, becomes ill, Mrs. Frisby must venture for help. [...snip...] ...from a nest of rats which lives nearby under a rose bush.

She discovers that the nest is a community of long-lived, super-intelligent rats, [...snip...]

The rats had been captured and experimented upon by people from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Part of the series of experiments at NIMH involved an acceleration of their intelligence. They were able to learn to read, write, and operate complicated machines. Their new intelligence was much more developed than their captors realised, because they were able to escape from the NIMH laboratories and migrate to their present location. She learns, too, that her husband had been part of a group of mice who had been at NIMH with the rats...

[Emphasis mine.]

It was an interesting book, and the tale has been popularized through reprintings and made into a movie. Although the technology for breeding "super-" anything has been dreamt of for years,2 but it wasn't one I gave much additional thought to until I ran across a curious article just the other day...

Pets and Personalities -- Science now thinks "maybe"...

A story in ABC News from early June of 2007 appears to indicate that science is now -- finally -- taking a look at the possibility that animals can have personalities. The article Do Pets Really Have Personality? didn't suggest anything that would come as a surprise to pet owners, of course. Regardless of pet size, shape, make or model, humans have been attributing them with personalities for years.

Of course, humans who don't own pets usually thought pet owners were crazy.

(Smoky doesn't look too impressed by the news, either.)

That stubborn, stupid's genetic.

Well well marches on, and we now find some answers to one of the most puzzling questions that has haunted us over these past seven years.

Remember how, no matter what facts come to light and no matter how often George W. Bush and friends are caught lying or committing other crimes, they are invariably, inexplicably supported by 25-30% of Americans? We now have an apparent explanation for this.