Friday, August 20, 2010

Coalition will end war on the motorist

Just seen these two stories.  Lord, give me strength

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why I love physics

Here’s the blurb from a Scientific American article that I may not get time to read.  It’s headed “Could Time End?”
Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that time ends at moments called singularities, such as when matter reaches the center of a black hole or the universe collapses in a “big crunch.”  Yet the theory also predicts that singularities are physically impossible.
A way to resolve this paradox is to consider time's death as gradual rather than abrupt. Time might lose its many attributes one by one: its directionality, its notion of duration and its role in ordering events causally. Finally, time might give way to deeper, timeless physics.

Your Excellency – save this seed bank

Russian plum (Prunus rossica)
growing at Pavlovsk
(Global Crop Diversity Trust)
I've written to the Russian Ambassador in Dublin seeking an appointment to protest at the imminent destruction of the Pavlovsk seed bank, the world’s oldest, for development (of luxury flats according to one story I've seen).  Full story in The Guardian.  There's a more recent update, that President Medvedev has intervened and ordered an investigation into the decision.
During the siege of Leningrad, 12 Russian scientists chose to starve rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants they were protecting for humanity.  Whether they actually starved to death I don’t know, though The Guardian suggests they did.  But what foresight!  To recognise even in 1942 that biodiversity was being lost and once lost can never be replaced.
My letter to the ambassador says “This seed bank is a thing that your country must surely be justly proud of. It is without a doubt priceless. If there is any truth in the story as printed in the Guardian, then I consider it would be a matter of huge national shame.”
According to The Guardian the property developers argued that because the seed bank contains a "priceless collection", no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless. And a court upheld this reasoning.  Kafkaesque The Guardian called it. Although there’s no need to descend to vulgar abuse. It’s pure market economics. No monetary value = no value. End of discussion.  
The Russian agricultural minister has urged that the station be saved on the grounds that its heritage is crucial for food security as climate change grows more serious. The ongoing Russian heat wave and destruction of the wheat harvest will surely (surely?!) lend weight to this argument.
I struggled with myself before beginning my letter Your Excellency.  But sometimes you have to do these things.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The ape who drew the bars of her cage

Some years ago, researchers into the development of the primate brain gave a captive ape pens and a board to draw on.  For several months the only output of this experiment was meaningless scrawls. Until one day, on inspecting the ape’s writing board, the researchers found that she had created something which was clearly intended to be representational. What the ape had drawn, quite distinctly and unambiguously, were the bars of her cage.

A parable for our times.  I first heard this one on the Guardian books podcast.  Now we come to the point. Having tried to source this report of the ape drawing the bars of her cage, I drew a blank, and I conclude that the story is probably apocryphal.  So the question is : why does it matter?  That is does matter, to me at least, is quite definite. The story loses any traction unless it’s verifiable. But why isn't it good enough for it to be just to be a story, a parable?