In the future we’ll watch our deaths live on TV!

From – Passengers saw landing drama unfold on TV – Sep 22, 2005:

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — The airliner circled Southern California for hours, crippled by a faulty landing gear, while inside its cabin 140 passengers watched their own life-and-death drama unfolding on live television.

While satellite TV sets aboard JetBlue Flight 292 were tuned to news broadcasts, some passengers cried. Others tried to telephone relatives and one woman sent a text message to her mother in Florida attempting to comfort her in the event she died.

"It was very weird. It would’ve been so much calmer without" the televisions, Pia Varma of Los Angeles said after the plane skidded to a safe landing Wednesday evening in a stream of sparks and burning tires. No one was hurt.

Whose brilliant idea was it to keep the TVs on?  At least there weren’t any "citizen journalists" onboard beaming in camera photos of the panic.


Moto’s “polite” cellphone adapts to driving conditions

From Engadget:

Motorola is developing a prototype “polite” cellphone designed to determine
your circumstances and route calls accordingly. If you’re parked, all calls will come through; if you’re cruising,
calls on your whitelist will come through, while others are routed to voicemail. If you’re in rough conditions —
determined by factors like frequent braking and turning — all calls are sent to voicemail.

Link: Moto’s “polite” cellphone adapts to driving conditions – Engadget –

As someone pointed out in the comments, "you could turn the phone off while driving, and pretty much accomplish the same thing."

Is “Electrosensitivity” Real?

Britain joins Sweden in saying "yes".  From the Sunday Times (Link: Electrical fields can make you sick – Sunday Times – Times Online):

A GOVERNMENT agency has acknowledged for the first time that people can suffer nausea, headaches and muscle pains when exposed to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones, electricity pylons and computer screens.

The condition known as electrosensitivity, a heightened reaction to electrical energy, will be recognised as a physical impairment.

A report by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), to be published next month, will state that increasing numbers of British people are suffering from the syndrome. While the total figure is not known, thousands are believed to be affected to some extent.

The report, by the agency’s radiation protection division, is expected to say that GPs do not know how to treat sufferers and that more research is needed to find cures. It will give a full list of the symptoms, which can include dizziness, irregular heartbeat and loss of memory.

Bill McKibben: Hurricane Katrina brings a foretaste of environmental disasters to come

New article by Bill McKibben in Grist Magazine.  Excerpt:

If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of
one story — the U.S. safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil
of the world — then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its
peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story, the one that will
dominate our politics in the coming decades: America befuddled about
how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable.

Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the
convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly
infamous Crescent City venues didn’t "look like America," that they
seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost
literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans (which had never
previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so
different from other poor, black parts of the world: its infant
mortality rates, life expectancy rates, and educational achievement
statistics mirroring those of many African and Latin American enclaves.

But it was accurate in another way, too, one full of portent for the
future. A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began
trying to add up the number of humans at risk of losing their homes
from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places — coastal
China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and
Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on — and predicted
that by 2050 it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees"
[PDF], forced from their homes by rising waters. That’s more than the
number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we’ve
just endured.

Try to imagine, that is, the chaos that attends busing 15,000 people
from one football stadium to another in the richest nation on earth,
and then increase it by four orders of magnitude and re-situate it to
the poorest nations on earth.

And then try to imagine doing it over and over again — probably without the buses.

Because so far, even as blogs and websites all over the internet fill
with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the
collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the
much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us
from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that
global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of

Link: Hurricane Katrina brings a foretaste of environmental disasters to come | By Bill McKibben | Grist Magazine | Soapbox | 07 Sep 2005.

Guardian: Stem cell hopes distorted by ‘arrogance and spin’

From Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Stem cell hopes distorted by ‘arrogance and spin’:

A leading scientist who pushed for the controversial research into embryo stem cells will warn today that the challenges are so huge that any cures for disease lie a long way in the future.

Lord Winston, who
pioneered fertility research in the UK, is to tell the British
Association for the Advancement of Science, meeting in Dublin, that
during the political campaign to push through legislation in 2001, some
parliamentarians were led to believe that clinical treatments were
"just around the corner". Some of the lobbying came from patients’
groups, but it was stimulated by scientific observations.

"When disappointment
sets in, as may be possible, we can expect a massive backlash by the
‘right to life’ groups, who are always ready to pounce when they
perceive a chink in our arguments," he will say. He singles out embryo
stem cells as a case study in scientific arrogance and the dangers of
"spinning" a good story.

See also the Guardian’s Ethics of Genetics feature.

Via prosthesis.

Joseph Rotblat Dies

Of all the many scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, only one of them quit the project on moral grounds — Joseph Rotblat.  He died Wednesday in London.  The New York Times has an obituary: Joseph Rotblat, 96, Dies; Resisted Nuclear Weapons.  Excerpt:

Sir Joseph Rotblat, a physicist who was the only scientist to quit
working on developing the atomic bomb for moral reasons and who won the
Nobel Peace Prize a half-century later for his worldwide campaign to
eliminate nuclear weapons, died Wednesday night in London. He was 96.

His death was announced by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which he and other scientists founded in 1957.

Rotblat, a Polish-born physicist, was 87 when the Nobel committee
awarded the 1995 peace prize to him and the Pugwash conferences for
convening scientists, scholars and, later, political leaders, from both
East and West "to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in
international politics and in the long run to eliminate such arms."

"We have been trying for 40 years to save the world, sometimes against the world’s wishes," Mr. Rotblat said.

The Pugwash website is very informative: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently showcased a 1985 article Rotblat wrote to explain his actions.  It’s available in PDF format: Leaving the Bomb Project.

I recently read Jennet Conant’s book, 109 East Palace : Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos, and recommend it if you’re interested in the story of the community that grew up around the project.