Our Creepiest Genetic Invention, the Dog (Slate)

William Saletan counters the giddy press coverage of the recent news that dog DNA has been decoded.  Excerpt:

Have you heard the latest news? We’ve decoded the DNA of dogs. Here’s how the media-approved version of the story goes: We’re showing our love for "man’s best friend" by discovering and treating the genetic causes of his ailments. In return, we’ll learn to treat the same ailments in ourselves.

It’s a heartwarming story, but it’s a fraud. The reason we targeted the dog genome for decoding is that it’s useful for genetic research. The reason it’s useful for genetic research is that dogs are neatly divided into breeds, each of which is plagued by specific diseases. And the reason dogs are divided into diseased breeds is that we made them that way. Dogs are the world’s longest self-serving, ecologically reckless genetic experiment, perpetrated by the world’s first genetically engineering species: us.

Link: Slate: FrankenFido – Our creepiest genetic invention, the dog. By William Saletan.

Slowing Down

Book2The latest book added at the left is In Praise of Slowness : Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore.  I was surprised and delighted at how enjoyable this book was.  It’s a fun tour of the various "Slow" movements that are catching on all over the world.

There’s a website for the book, which has many interesting links, e.g., Slow Cities, Slow Food, SlowDownNow.org.

And on this note…

This blog will be quiet for a while as I gear up for a move across the country.  Things may or may not start up again in a few months.

The Digital Dump

From today’s NYT:

Much of the used computer equipment sent from the United States to developing countries for use in homes, schools and businesses is often neither usable nor repairable, creating enormous environmental problems in some of the world’s poorest places, according to a report to be issued today by an environmental organization.

The report, titled "The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa," says that the unusable equipment is being donated or sold to developing nations by recycling businesses in the United States as a way to dodge the expense of having to recycle it properly. While the report, written by the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, focuses on Nigeria, in western Africa, it says the situation is similar throughout much of the developing world.

"Too often, justifications of ‘building bridges over the digital divide’ are used as excuses to obscure and ignore the fact that these bridges double as toxic waste pipelines," says the report. As a result, Nigeria and other developing nations are carrying a disproportionate burden of the world’s toxic waste from technology products, according to Jim Puckett, coordinator of the group.

Link to full article: Poor Nations Are Littered With Old PC’s, Report Says – New York Times.

Read the report here: Basel Action Network

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Joshua Sowin at Fire and Knowledge recently posted a good review of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende:

What would it be like if a young couple left modern technological life for an 18 month experiment without electricity? In Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Brende shares his story of living with the “Minimites” (a fictional name for a real community).

Mr. Brende—a former graduate of M.I.T.—gradually became disillusioned with the way technology has taken over all facets of our lives. We work long hours so we can pay for our transportation to our job, purchase groceries and obtain “time-saving” devices. However, these “time-saving” devices do not seem to actually give us any more time. We are still rushing, always too busy to talk to neighbors, pray, cook a meal from scratch, or settle down with a good book. […]

Link: Fire and Knowledge – Book Review of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.

I picked up this book a while back and read most of it, but I got distracted by other books and haven’t finished it.  It’s an interesting book but I didn’t find it overwhelmingly new and compelling, probably through no fault of the author.  I’ve already read a lot of stuff like this and I have a habit of not finishing books because I buy too many…

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.

Computer TakeBack Campaign

This campaign seeks to improve the recycling practices of computer manufacturers (Apple in particular).

From an AP story about it:

Environmentalists with the Computer TakeBack Campaign are planning a
yearlong campaign to protest Apple’s lackluster recycling efforts.
Despite drizzle on Tuesday at the annual Macworld Conference &
Expo, activists passed out leaflets and erected a giant banner
proclaiming, “from iPod to iWaste.”

Environmentalists said they’re targeting Apple
because the hardware and software company makes it difficult to replace
batteries in its digital music players, and it charges many consumers
$30 to recycle their unused or broken computers and laptops.

know consumers won’t pay 30 bucks to get rid of something they think is
junk,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Austin,
Texas-based Texas Campaign for the Environment. …

Related: here’s a Computer Recycling and Reuse FAQ from TechSoup.

BBC: Gadget growth fuels eco concerns

Technology firms and gadget lovers are being urged to
think more about the environment when buying and disposing of the
latest hi-tech products.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier
this month, several hi-tech firms were recognised for their strategies
to help the environment.

Ebay also announced the Rethink project bringing together Intel, Apple, and IBM among others to promote recycling. …