Author Archive | majestic

Would You Really Like A World Without Work?

A society in which no one needs to work sounds utopian, at least to most people, but what would it really be like and would we actually enjoy it? Derek Thompson suggests it might not be so great after all, at the Atlantic:

…In the past few years, even as the United States has pulled itself partway out of the jobs hole created by the Great Recession, some economists and technologists have warned that the economy is near a tipping point. When they peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same.

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Is It OK To Eat Dogs?

“Is it OK to eat dogs?,” asks Julian Baggini at the Guardian, telling us to “consider that eating man’s best friend is a matter of cultural tastes, not moral worth”:

Whenever western meat-eaters get up in arms over barbarous foreigners eating cute animals, it’s easy to throw around accusations of gross hypocrisy. Easy, because such accusations are often true. But responses to the dog meat festival in Yulin, China, which draws to a close today, merit more careful consideration. The double standards at play here are numerous, complicated, and not always obvious.

Photo: Stougard (CC)

Photo: Stougard (CC)

One so-called hypocrisy is nothing of the sort. If you find yourself disgusted by the thought of dogs being killed, cooked and eaten, but you eat other animals, that does not make you a hypocrite. If you’ve grown up seeing dogs as companion animals and haven’t even seen the reality of livestock slaughter, of course you’re going to find the idea somewhat distressing.

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Bionic Lens Will Give You Superhuman Vision (3 x 20/20)

How would you like to have superhuman vision? What’s that mean, you may well ask: how about 3 x 20/20, which is generally considered to be “perfect” vision. CBC reports on the Ocumetics Bionic Lens:

Imagine being able to see three times better than 20/20 vision without wearing glasses or contacts — even at age 100 or more — with the help of bionic lenses implanted in your eyes.

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Photo: Chilledsunshine (CC)

 

Dr. Garth Webb, an optometrist in British Columbia who invented the Ocumetics Bionic Lens, says patients would have perfect vision and that driving glasses, progressive lenses and contact lenses would become a dim memory as the eye-care industry is transformed.

Webb says people who have the specialized lenses surgically inserted would never get cataracts because their natural lenses, which decay over time, would have been replaced.

Perfect eyesight would result “no matter how crummy your eyes are,” Webb says, adding the Bionic Lens would be an option for someone who depends on corrective lenses and is over about age 25, when the eye structures are fully developed.

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How an Infamous Movie Revived the Confederacy

birth of a nation“100 years ago, Birth of a Nation reimagined the Civil War and created the modern and enduring cult of the noble Lost Cause,” writes Josh Zeitz at Politico:

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s appalling act of terror at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Republican presidential candidates found themselves in a tight bind: how to acknowledge what everyone in the civilized world seems to understand—yes, the crime was racially motivated and, no, you can’t decry hate crimes and defend the Confederate flag—without giving offense to Tea Party voters in early primary states?

The subsequent discovery of the alleged shooter’s rambling, racist “manifesto,” along with photos of him brandishing a Confederate flag, either threw the GOP contenders a lifeline or further complicated the issue, depending on whom one asks.

As the United States revisits its enduring debate over the meaning of the Confederate flag, we also mark the centennial of its initial political resurgence.

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Russians Want International Investigation Into U.S. Moon Landings

Try to make sense of this: to get back at the United States for its FIFA corruption arrests (which may jeopardize the 2018 World Cup scheduled to be played in Russia), the Russians are calling for an international investigation into the US moon landings. No it doesn’t make sense to us either. From the Moscow Times:

An international probe should be launched into various murky details surrounding the U.S. moon landings between 1969 and 1972, Russia’s Investigative Committee spokesman said Tuesday.

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Vladimir Markin penned a column for the Izvestia newspaper arguing that U.S. authorities had crossed a line by launching a large-scale corruption probe targeting nine FIFA officials. The scandal surrounding the case prompted the June 2 resignation of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and sparked a heated debate about Russia’s role as host of the 2018 World Cup.

Venting his frustration with what he viewed as “U.S. prosecutors having declared themselves the supreme arbiters of international football affairs,” Markin proposed that international investigators could likewise examine some of the murkier elements of America’s past.

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Putting a Price on Nature

If we “do the math,” we can preserve that amorphous thing popularly referred to as “nature,” according to Anna Lieb at PBS Nova:

I’ve done the math, and for $1.20, you can preserve a 19-inch by 19-inch square of rainforest habitat—home, on average, to 0.000006 long-tailed macaques and 0.0000001 pangolins. All you have to do is pay a bit more for palm oil, found in roughly half of all grocery store items: chocolate bars, cereal, and lipstick, to name a few.

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

 

“Most people probably consume some palm oil every day,” says David Wilcove, a professor of ecology at Princeton University. The ubiquitous stuff is squeezed from the fruit of trees whose rapidly expanding cultivation has infamously contributed to widespread deforestation in southeast Asia, and increasingly, parts of South America and Africa.

derived the numbers above from a study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), part of a collection authored by over 80 researchers from 50 institutions spanning ten different countries.

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Earth Has Entered Sixth Mass Extinction

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a mass extinction going on. The Telegraph reports on Stanford University’s finding that the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is underway:

Earth has entered its sixth mass extinction with animals now dying out at 100 times the normal rate, scientists have warned.

Humans have created a toxic mix of habitat loss, pollution and climate change, which has already led to the loss of at least 77 species of mammals, 140 types of bird since and 34 amphibians since 1500.

Humans were responsible for wiping out the dodo.

Humans were responsible for wiping out the dodo.

 

They include creatures like the dodo, Steller’s Sea Cow, the Falkland Islands wolf, the quagga, the Formosan clouded leopard, the Atlas bear, the Caspian tiger and the Cape lion.

Scientists at Stanford University in the US claim it is the biggest loss of species since the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

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Drug Companies Donated Millions To Lawmakers To Influence Vaccine Debate

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the pharmaceutical industry gave more than $2 million to California lawmakers in 2013-14 but reports no involvement in the vaccine legislation in that state, per the Sacramento Bee:

A subplot to the vociferous debate over the student vaccination bill moving through California’s Capitol is opponents’ allegations that the effort reflects the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.

Credit: Sacramento Bee

Credit: Sacramento Bee

Critics of Senate Bill 277, which would eliminate the personal belief and religious exemptions for schoolchildren, accuse the measure’s supporters in the Legislature of doing the bidding of donors who make vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.

The bill’s proponents and drug companies dismiss the charge. The companies’ lobbyist filings for the first quarter of this year as well as legislative committee reports show no connection between the pharmaceutical industry and SB 277.

“We aren’t pushing this bill behind the scenes,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, the senior director for communications for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, the industry’s main trade group.

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Charleston and the Age of Obama

There’s so much to say about the Charleston atrocity and no shortage of commentary throughout the media. One of the most perceptive analyses we’ve found is from David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker:

Between 1882 and 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, three thousand four hundred and forty-six black men, women, and children were lynched in this country—a practice so vicious and frequent that Mark Twain was moved, in 1901, to write an essay called “The United States of Lyncherdom.” (Twain shelved the essay and plans for a full-length book on lynching because, he told his publisher, if he went forward, “I shouldn’t have even half a friend left down [South].”) These thousands of murders, as studied by the Tuskegee Institute and others, were a means of enforcing white supremacy in the political and economic marketplaces; they served to terrorize black men who might dare to sleep, or even talk, with white women, and to silence black children, like Emmett Till, who were deemed “insolent.”

Dylann Roof's Facebook photo with jacket showing  the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa

Dylann Roof’s Facebook photo with jacket showing the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa

 

But the words attributed to the shooter are both a throwback and thoroughly contemporary: one recognizes the rhetoric of extreme reaction and racism heard so often in the era of Barack Obama.

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Could Psychedelic Drugs Make Smokers Quit?

A team of scientists are giving hallucinogens to smoking addicts to help them cut the habit. BBC Future‘s Tim Maughan visited the lab where this surprising research is emerging:

Nicotine patches, chewing gum, cold turkey. Giving up cigarettes can be tough, but there are many strategies smokers can try. Matthew Johnson wants to add another: he says he can help smokers quit by giving them another drug – psilocybin – that has been illegal for years in much of Europe and North America. And yes, he realises that sounds unconventional.

Smoke VII

“The idea that this research sounds counterintuitive, it makes sense to me,” he tells me as we sit in his office at Johns Hopkins’ Behavioural Pharmacology Research Unit in Baltimore.

Johnson is a behavioural pharmacologist who has been researching the relationship between drugs, the brain, and human behaviour for more than 20 years. The last 10 of those have been spent here at Johns Hopkins, where he and his team have focused on psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic and the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’.

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