Tag Archives: grid

The Other Side of Disaster Zone ‘Volun-tourism’

A commenter on Metafilter talks about the ‘voluntourism’ they experienced in Sarajevo:

“We had such people show up in Sarajevo, during the war. They were – to a person – a great drag on life there for those of us without the ability to leave. Imagine this – the war means all utilities are gone. No gas, water, electricity, phone service, etc. Constant shelling means that a great percentage of living quarters are no longer habitable. Lack of easy access to the city means basic food and medical supplies cannot easily (or at all) find their way into town. In short, Sarajevo’s people are cold, dirty, miserably unhappy, starving, uncomfortable, sick, tired, homeless and psychologically drained.

But, above all else, most Sarajevans are hospitable and kind and have some class. So what happens when a good-hearted but idiotic “volunteer” shows up to “help?” My mahala (neighborhood) hosted some of these people, and I can tell you.

1) That person displaces someone else from a little corner of habitation and a humble little sleeping spot. In this way, they were a burden to us.

2) Those of us who’d been living through the war were accustomed to daily struggles. For instance, access to water necessitated a long nightmare of pushing a crude cart up and down steep cobble-stoned hills and across a river, in order to fill whatever one could with water. And then back again. Aside from being a torturous chore, this meant continual exposure to “open” areas where snipers would attempt to kill you. In my case, it meant revisiting the place where my parents were killed while waiting in line. This trip was also a tremendous expenditure of valuable calories.

We Sarajevans knew all this. Consequently, we went to the bathroom once daily (if that), because every time you had to flush the toilet, you were that much closer to having to make the water trek again. Our “heroic” visitors showed no such discretion. They often expected baths! (By way of comparison, I cleaned myself in the river.) Nor were the heroic visitors there to do something as “mundane” as spending half the day collecting water. So we made more frequent soul-crushing and scary trips. In this way, they were a burden to us.

3) Of course, they wanted to stay for months but brought food only for a couple of days. They didn’t have rights to Sarajevo’s meek rations (as they were not in the city by force), so we shared ours with them. They complained about the food – what we’d been eating for months or years with gratitude – and occasionally would spend some of their cash for black market goods, which they’d hoard for themselves. Then complain about the cost. They were an embarrassment to us. In this way, they were a burden to us.

4) Most of them did not know the history of our country or city or culture. They never knew the language. Frequently, we would scurry around the neighborhood to find someone who could translate Serbo-Croatian and English / French / German / whatever, just so heroic visitors could achieve some basic communication. …

The only things I (or anyone I ever knew) received from these sorts of people were the occasional article of clothing, or a weird treat like a chocolate bar. I was grateful for them, but a check to a helpful charitable agency would have been better.

Bear in mind, we adapted to the war over time. So we had an ability to “absorb” these unskilled morons with some amount of grace and humor. In the beginning, we all thought that – at the very least – these heroic visitors would go home and act as witnesses for what we were enduring. Later, we doubted this was so. I was once reunited with a self-described “freelance journalist” (no credentials, never sold a story) in America, who bragged to his friends about what he’d done for us (which was . . . nothing), and how much the trip had cost him, which was plenty. How I wish he’d spent his time and energy helping to raise funds for us, or simply educating others, or – most of all, just writing a check to the Red Crescent or a similar agency.

What just happened in Haiti was immediate. And they died so quickly – more than died in Sarajevo, and in a single day. These people cannot possibly have adapted to the “new” conditions there as we did in Sarajevo – they haven’t had the time. Believe me, their problem isn’t a lack of manpower (aside from those with very specific, high-level skills) – these disasters leave plenty of people with nothing else to do but try to help others. So, as much of a burden as unskilled helpers were in Sarajevo, they’d be a much, much greater burden right now in Haiti.

Everytime I see news of a large-scale disaster such as this, I have panic attacks. I know the desperation of the situation, how much help is needed right away. I speak French and even know a few Creole phrases. I have emergency medical treatment and gave aid to Bosnians injured and sick in wartime, under difficult conditions. I’ve got weeks of vacation time, money in the bank and a longing to help. My sympathy with these poor Haitians is boundless; I’ve experienced a lot of what they have, and will. So I imagine I’d be a fairly qualified volunteer, with a temperment founded in personal experience and a history of dealing with all the sights and smells of death and misery.

Will I go? Absolutely not. I’d like to; it was my first impulse. But I’d be a burden to someone there, somehow. And Haiti doesn’t need even a tiny new burden. So . . . I wrote the biggest check I could afford. I’ll save more lives with a shipment of shovels or some treatment for clean water or some powdered milk than I would spending twice as much going there. It’s just simple mathematics.

Tell your friend to write a check. Please.”

Full thread http://ask.metafilter.com/143121/Aid-agencies-sending-people-to-Hatti#2048807

Image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8538027/Ratko-Mladic-the-Srebrenica-massacre-the-siege-of-Sarajevo-and-the-Bosnian-war.html?image=3

A Climate Scientist Drops a Truth Bomb on Deniers

A climate scientist has had enough:

“I’m a perpetual lurker, but I’m tired of looking through the nonsense that gets posted by a subset of the community on these types of posts. It’s extremely predictable. Ten years ago, you were telling us that the climate wasn’t changing. Five years ago, you were telling us that climate change wasn’t anthropogenic in origin. Now, you’re telling us that anthropogenic climate change might be real, but it’s certainly not a bad thing. I’m pretty sure that five years from now you’ll be admitting it’s a bad thing, but saying that you have no obligation to mitigate the effects.

You know why you’re changing your story so often? It’s because you guys are armchair quarterbacks scientists. …

I’m sorry, but it’s needs to be said: you’re full of it.

I’m at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, sponsored by ASLO, TOS, and AGU. I was just at a tutorial session on the IPCC AR5 report a few days ago. The most recent IPCC report was prepared by ~300 scientists with the help of ~50 editors. These people reviewed over 9000 climate change articles to prepare their report, and their report received over 50,000 comments to improve it’s quality and accuracy. I know you’ll jump all over me for guesstimating these numbers, but I’m not going to waste more of my time looking it up. You can find the exact numbers if you really want them, and I know you argue just to be contrary.

Let’s be honest here. These climate change scientists do climate science for a living. Surprise! Articles. Presentations. Workshops. Conferences. Staying late for science. Working on the weekends for science. All of those crappy holidays like Presidents’ Day? The ones you look forward to for that day off of work? Those aren’t holidays. Those are the days when the undergrads stay home and the scientists can work without distractions.

Now take a second before you drop your knowledge bomb on this page and remind me again… What’s your day job? When was the last time you read through an entire scholarly article on climate change? How many climate change journals can you name? How many conferences have you attended? Have you ever had coffee or a beer with a group of colleagues who study climate change? Are you sick of these inane questions yet?

I’m a scientist that studies how ecological systems respond to climate change. I would never presume to tell a climate scientist that their models are crap. I just don’t have the depth of knowledge to critically assess their work and point out their flaws. And that’s fair, because they don’t have the depth of knowledge in my area to point out my flaws. Yet, here we are, with deniers and apologists with orders of magnitude less scientific expertise, attempting to argue about climate change.

First, I know that many in this community are going to think, “okay, you might be right, but why do you need to be such an ******** about it?” This isn’t about intellectual elitism. This isn’t about silencing dissent. This is about being fed up. The human race is on a long road trip and the deniers and apologists are the backseat drivers. They don’t like how the road trip is going but, rather than help navigating, they’re stuck kicking the driver’s seat and complaining about how long things are taking. I’d kick them out of the car, but we’re all locked in together. The best I can do is give them a whack on the side of the head.”

Full rant http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/1z1hyo/two_of_the_worlds_most_prestigious_science/cfpy15c

Image from http://phys.org/news/2012-04-carbon-dioxide-global-ice-age.html

Comparing Americans’ and Chinese Attitude Towards Their Government

“This reminds me of something someone told me after visiting China. She said that in America, everyone approves our style of government, but no one thinks it is capable of truly accomplishing anything important or worthwhile. In China, no one really approves of the style of governance, yet no one question the idea that the government is extremely effective in accomplishing its objectives (whether this is true is disputable, but this is the perception).

So in America, let’s say a bridge needs to get build. The US government is a bunch of people who were elected based in part on their support for the bridge building or their being against it. Then there will be commissions and reports and news and funding discussions and bureaucracy and maybe at the end of this there will be bids and maybe if it hasn’t fallen apart by this time, a deal will be struck with contractors to make a bridge, and maybe they’ll get the funding to do it and maybe they won’t, and if they do, maybe they will build it, and if they do, maybe it will be done on time. I once had a law professor say to me, “We can’t leave this issue to Congress to fix. Congress has never fixed anything ever, and whenever they try, it’ll be a disaster.”

In China, regular people aren’t too sure about how the people who are in the government got in there, and they aren’t really sure why they want to build this bridge across the river, but they know that if the government said there was going to be a bridge there in 2 years, they will be driving over that bridge in 2 years.

Full thread http://www.reddit.com/r/ukraine/comments/1z0r3b/any_prorussia_ukrainians_here_lets_hear_your_story/cfr73dx?context=2

Image from http://www.gwarlingo.com/2013/ai-weiweis-little-black-book/

Comparing the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials

From a history thread on Reddit:

“After WWII the administration of justice in Germany and Japan were markedly different. In Germany, the Nurenberg Trials were overseen by a joint judiciary made up of the Western European Allies, the United States, and the USSR. In Japan, the Tokyo Trials were unilaterally adjudicated by the United States. This was the first problem. In both situations, the United States acted against the wishes of their allies and blatantly or secretly extradited and exonerated hundreds of war criminals from Germany and Japan. This was the second problem. The third problem, and probably the biggest contributor to the current Japanese cultural and societal ethos and perspective of WWII was the control the US exercised over post-war Japan.

In Germany, the Nurenberg Trials were largely a successful exercise in identifying and prosecuting war criminals. These criminals were tried and punished. While there is still a lot of controversy about the proceedings and the manner in which the prosecution acted – i.e. “perspective of the victors” – there is little doubt that the Nurenberg Trials not only established a precedent for future International Military Tribunals, but laid the bulwark for the development of the field of bioethics as it relates to the human experimentation conducted by the Nazis. US interests in the trial and desire to exonerate some of the more “valuable” Nazis for their scientific abilities were nullified by the influence of Western European and Soviet influence. The key point in Nurenberg is this: criminals, by and large were punished.

In Japan, in stark contrast to Germany, the Tokyo Trials were not only shambolic, but the near unilateral control the US had in the prosecution of the war criminals resulted in a complete mockery of justice. Now let me say this: I am a proud American. I was born in America and have American flag shorts I wear on the Fourth of July as I pound brews to the Red White and Blue, but I am also a historian and a realist and realistically America’s history is not pretty. And in Japan, McArthur essentially held a mock trial where literally hundreds of war criminals either avoided the death sentence or were exonerated altogether. The USSR was responsible for the only punishment and sentencing of Japanese criminals involved with Unit 731 in the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials. While the Tokyo Trials had an “international” panel of judges and prosecutors, there is no doubt that the real prosecutorial power lied with the Americans.
In both cases, the US acted explicitly and with a great deal of subterfuge to exonerate and extradite Nazi and Japanese war criminals whom they felt could contribute to American military and strategic interests. This included one of the pioneers of NASAs rocket program Wernher von Braun. The OSS – precursor to the CIA – and other USA military groups attempted to take these individuals to the US where they would receive research grants, government positions, etc. In Germany, these efforts were largely stymied (but still pretty successful) by the Western Allies and the Soviets, in Japan, these efforts were wildly successful.

Culturally, the influence and proximity of the Western Allies, US forces, and the USSR served to constantly remind Germany of their atrocities and fostered a climate of repentance. In Japan, 70% polled did not know about the contents of the Tokyo Trials, which was even higher for people in their 20’s. Even more alarmingly, there are Japanese that believe that WWII was a war of defense and some just recognize a “degree” of aggression on the part of Japanese. Not only did McArthur and the US fail to pursue justice, but also exonerated/absolved the royal family of all guilt and moved quickly to remove the notion of war guilt from the collective Japanese psyche. Consequently, many Japanese do not see the war with regret, like the Germans do, but view it with a mixture of mild regret and a sort of pride.

Ultimately, the end result was a Germany that is repentant, recognizes its atrocities, and has developed a culture/society that, more or less, understands their role in WWII. However, as [another user] points out, one negative side effect has been a very profound guilt complex that affects cinema and other forms of art. In Japan, the people are not only ignorant of their atrocities, but this ignorance has resulted in a dangerous nationalism not at all obfuscated by any guilt from the nearly innumerable atrocities their country committed from the late 1890s to the end of the Second World War. This is not at all helped by textbook revisions that are not only devoid of the atrocities, but paints the Japanese in a sympathetic light.”

Full article http://www.reddit.com/r/korea/comments/1yte4i/japan_considers_revision_of_comfort_women_apology/cfnyhwx

Inside NFL Locker Room Culture

From Sports Illustrated (via Digg’s top stories):

“People wanted to get on Richard Sherman for being brash and aggressive in his post-game interview after the NFC championship game, but they sure enjoyed watching the bloodbath that took place on that field for 60 minutes between San Francisco and Seattle. One of the best games of the playoffs was one of the most brutal, physical games I saw all season. NaVorro Bowman had his leg snapped in half during a fumble recovery, and while he was writhing in pain on the ground, Marshawn Lynch came over and stole the ball out of his hands. First down Seattle. Crowd goes wild. Fans want to see stripped-down gladiators out on the field and buttoned-up businessmen in the locker room. You can’t always have it both ways.

With so much testosterone and so much ego in one room, the possibility of things going off the rails is very high. Like any workplace, however, the most important stabilizing force is good leadership, from an organizational level, a coaching level, and most importantly a player level. From my experience, the best teams are the ones that have strong leadership at each position.

My workplace is not the typical American workplace. It’s far from perfect, but then again, so are we. And, maybe, so is this sport we play. When it’s all said and done, we all will miss the screaming fans, the big games, the packed stadiums, the adrenaline of competition. But the thing I hear the most from guys who retire is how much they miss the locker room. Something tells me that’s not going to change if I share mine with someone who just so happens to have a different sexual orientation.”

Full article http://mmqb.si.com/2014/02/28/connor-barwin-nfl-locker-room-culture/

Graphic from IGN http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/why-are-nhl-nba-locker-rooms-such-crap-compared-to-mlb-nfl.452392155/

Building Rice Paddies in New York City

Another gem from Modern Farmer:

“Storrs is pretty sure this is the only rice grown in NYC, and the farm is one the few places growing it in the Northeast. U.S. rice cultivation is mostly limited to small swaths of Northern California and the Southeast. Most North American schoolkids have likely never seen a living rice plant.

Now, about those paddies. They’re housed in raised beds, using cinder blocks left over from the construction of a huge sports stadium. The blocks are stacked in trough formation, about 26 inches tall, lined with thick painters’ tarp to prevent seepage — they need to retain lots of water.

Randall’s Island has now scaled up from one to four raised-bed paddies. The farm isn’t producing a groundswell of rice, but that’s not really the point. Thousands of visiting students get to see firsthand how their food is made.

Rice certainly isn’t the only crop grown on Randall’s Island — roughly 200 items are grown on the farm. They grow many types of peppers (another food that spans many cultures), eight types of tomatoes, and quirky items like luffa (source of loofah sponges) and tulsi (an Indian plant used to make tea).”

Full article http://modernfarmer.com/2014/02/rice-paddies-new-york-city/

Half of Mobile Game Money Comes From 0.15 Percent of Players

A little real-talk about mobile millions:

“App testing firm Swrve found that in January, half of free-to-play games’ in-app purchases came from 0.15 percent of players. Only 1.5 percent of players of games in the Swrve network spent any money at all.

The latter finding is in line with what the advocates of free-to-play have been saying for years: Players don’t have to pay anything to enjoy the game. But the former stat underscores the importance of big spenders, or “whales” in industry lingo, to the app ecosystem.

Broken out as a percentage of only players who pay anything at all, Swrve’s report still points to whales. As the chart below shows, the top 10 percent of that 1.5 percent of paying players produces a dramatic upswing in revenue from even the 20th percentile group.”

Full post http://recode.net/2014/02/26/a-long-tail-of-whales-half-of-mobile-games-money-comes-from-0-15-percent-of-players/

Lego’s Post-Branding Branding

From The New York Times:

“Branding may have finally reached its Mannerist phase. Where the old-fashioned brand earnestly embraced a core message that verged on religious doctrine (Apple’s “Think Different,” Nike’s “Just Do It”), the new brand is aggressively self-aware, exaggerated and self-referential to the point of collapsing in on itself; rather than imbuing the product with magical qualities, it embraces and undercuts those qualities in one swift gesture. The effect is to subvert consumer prejudices and preconceptions and make us forget that we’re caught in a commerce-focused undertow.

It’s a counterintuitive sleight of hand: By acknowledging that their central message is unbelievable or at least exaggerated, the branding masterminds gain our trust and bolster our faith in the brand.

The brilliance of “The Lego Movie” lies in providing every piece to the modern branding puzzle, including the surface-level subversion. Not only does the movie effectively celebrate its own enormous, diverse and endlessly seductive universe, not only does it rejoice in the importance of play and creativity, but it also mocks the faux-positivity of modern corporate schlock (“Everything is awesome!”). Eventually, Lego’s core brand message is threatened when President Business transforms into Lord Business, a manipulative mastermind who preaches the religion of Awesomeness to distract everyone from his dastardly plans to make creative play impossible.

In this way, “The Lego Movie” graduates to a new skill level in the game of branding, an approach that’s at once more grandiose and more pernicious than ever. … All of those sophisticated constructions and celebrity minifigures and universes within universes are nothing, we learn, compared to a simple box of (noncross-platform promotional) colorful plastic blocks in the hands of a child. That box of blocks proves that, even though you might feel average and empty-headed, in fact you are ‘the most important, most talented, most interesting, most extraordinary person in the universe.'”

From http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/magazine/the-brilliant-unnerving-meta-marketing-of-the-lego-movie.html

Why Feathers Are The Next Super-Substance

From Modern Famer:

“One thing feathers have going for them are keratin, a tightly wound, crystal structured protein eight times stronger the cellulose. Feathers are packed with the stuff, but you have to work for it. First the feathers must be ground and then placed in a turbulent air flow separating machine that thrusts the quill segments to the base, blowing the barbs to the top. Then they can be softened with heat and molded into shapes. Often other bioplastics are added to optimize strength or flexibility and to make a lighter plastic.

Unlike petroleum-based plastics, they safely biodegrade, often releasing beneficial nitrogen into the soil.

Schmidt is now one of many researchers internationally working with chicken feathers and to date, estimates he’s processed at least 10,000 pounds of them. He and his colleagues are fond of the phrase ‘making chicken salad out of chicken shit.’

The list of things that the keratin-rich material has been used to make is vast: dishes and furniture, clothing, circuit boards, wall insulation, filters and planting pots (the feathers of one chicken makes three one-gallon containers). Feathers are used to make hurricane-proof roofing, shoe soles, and lightweight auto dashboards and glove compartments leading to fuel efficiency. While most are still prototypes, Schmidt says a “handful” of patents have been licensed by research institutes.”

Full article http://modernfarmer.com/2014/02/chicken-feathers/

The Fox News Effect

From Salon, a writer reflects on his father’s right-ward shift as he ages:

“My cohort, Generation X, is stuck between two generations of suffering Americans. The millennial generation is losing job opportunities and income as the nation stagnates. They put off marriage and buying homes. While white, Fox News-addicted baby boomers have lost their sense of hope. They’ve been passed over by shifting attitudes about gay marriage, the role of government and a host of issues. They still think of themselves as the “silent majority,” when in reality they are a wounded and thrashing legacy of white hegemony. My parents’ generation is becoming fragile antiques, relics by choice, reassured by Fox News that they are still the only voice that matters.

I, and people like me, have managed to break the cycle of conservative red-and race-baiting. I’ve noticed similar attitude shifts among some of my close friends, who have likewise drifted from the televised rage of our fathers. I only wish I could do something to ease the anxiety of those I love, an emotion that is a cash cow for exploitative right-wing commentators. But I have no real solution, other than to turn off the television. Sadly, for some of the nation’s elderly, they seem to have no desire whatsoever to rethink the politics of fear and Fox News. It’s a criminal waste of retirement.”

Full essay http://www.salon.com/2014/02/27/i_lost_my_dad_to_fox_news_how_a_generation_was_captured_by_thrashing_hysteria/