Kvick Tänkare

Welcome to 2012!  We’ll kick off the New Year with some heavy reading.

Many cultures around the globe have developed the idea of the dragon…or the vampire…or some other monster.  How have such beasts arise over such disparate times and locations?  Paul Trout has some thoughts on that subject.

A different sort of horror, bioterrorism, has occupied the thoughts of many over the past decade.  Laurie Garret writes about how our desire to improve our resistance to natural or man-made viruses or bacterium may actually be putting us at greater risk.

Before the anthrax mailings terrorized America in 2001, there were only a handful of top security Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs in the world and a few dozen of the next-level BSL-3 facilities.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, the number of such laboratories has proliferated spectacularly, not only inside the United States, but all over the world. In 2001 the United States had five “centers of excellence,” as they were called, devoted to bioterrorism. By the end of 2002, more than 100 such centers were named, amid a record-breaking expansion in the numbers of laboratories and scientists studying anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, botulism, and every other germ somebody thought could be weaponized. After 9/11, the European Union saw the number of BSL-4 labs grow from six to 15. In the United States: from seven to 13. Canada built a BSL-4 complex in Winnipeg. Just as possession of rockets in the 1950s or nuclear power plants in the 1960s seemed the marks of a serious state power, so having BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs suddenly became a mark of national significance in the world — an achievement to which countries should aspire. This year India opened its first BSL-4 facility, and it is rumored that Pakistan is now building one.

Some footage from a Russian move about WWII.  I would most definitely not like to see these heading in my direction.

Scientific American posted an article about the origins of bullying.  The bad news is that bullying is universal among human cultures and it appears that its origins go way, way back in our evolutionary history.

Individuals whose behavior challenges, disrupts or are considered unusual are often the targets of aggression, and that aggression continues until those individuals change their behavior.

It also appears that while bullying may be so ingrained in our behavior we don’t have much hope of eliminating it, there are cultural triggers that can make it more common.

In the multi-national study…the most intensive bullying was found in countires where violence and social intolerance are the most commonplace.

Nature delves into the illegal trade in animal parts to support ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ (which is a misnomer since a lot of it isn’t traditional at all).  Those rhino horns and tiger bones aren’t going to some poor, superstitious grandmother in Nowhere, China either.  The quick growth of the Chinese middle class has meant that rare animal parts have become a status symbol.

I have to admit, I remain confused about how supposedly educated people will believe that Rhino horn will improve sexual performance or bear bile will cure cancer.  I’m mean, c’mon people.

I can only hope there’s a special place in hell (if the offenders believe in hell) or there’s an appropriate karmic reward for those who traffic in these animals.  Can a nation which tolerates such behavior be called civilized?

Of course, I’m not sure what moral highground we Americans have given our atitudes towards climate change, fossil fuels, etc.  After all, it was the land of Red, White and Blue (or the official pronouncement of its overlord) that said driving gas guzzling SUVs was essential to our way of life in response to a suggestion that Americans focus a bit more on fuel efficiency in the wake of 9/11.

But let’s go back to picking on China.  That’s more comfortable.

Foreign Policy has an article by Gordon Chang outlining some reasons why China may be headed for a big fall in the next few years.  I have to admit I find the China-hysteria that seems to intensify during election and budget cycles seems a bit non-sensical to me so maybe this is just good old confirmation bias on my part.  Chang points to three trends that bode poorly for China:

  1. the communist party’s turning away from Ding Xiaoping’s reforms with a renationalization of the economy
  2. China is more suseptible to ‘trade friction’ (declining demand, protectionism, currency manipulation, etc) and will likely be a loser from it’s recent unraveling
  3. Demographics.  The Chinese workforce is due to level off by 2014.  According to Chang:  “China, strangely enough, is running out of people to move to cities, work in factories, and power its economy.”

Good luck with all that.


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