Japan will dump radioactive wastewater into the Pacific


Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Japan’s government announced a decision to begin dumping more than a million tons of treated but still radioactive wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years.

The plant was severely damaged in a 2011 magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that left about 20,000 people in northeast Japan dead or missing.

Despite Tokyo’s assurances that discharging wastewater will not pose a threat to people or the environment, the decision was roundly criticized by the local fishing community, environmental groups and Japan’s neighbors. Within hours of the announcement, protesters rallied outside government offices in Tokyo and Fukushima…

The damaged Fukushima plant will take at least decades to decommission. A swath of land around the plant remains uninhabitable, thousands of residents remain displaced, and the wastewater issue is another example of the 2011 disaster’s complex, long-term effects.

So, which are we to understand? That every aspect of this dump of radioactive material will work out well for everyone … in the end? Or this is just another group of bureaucrats anxious to return to business as usual. Screw the consequences!

Tracking history before DNA


F.Chen et al./Nature

Over the past two decades, DNA retrieved from ancient fossils has transformed scientists’ understanding of human evolution. Analysis of the similarities and differences in the DNA of different hominin groups has allowed researchers to map out the tangled family tree in a way that was previously not possible. And genetic material has led to some major finds, such as the discovery of Denisovans in the first place…

Ancient DNA has also left geographical blind spots. DNA degrades faster in warm environments, so although a 100,000-year-old specimen found in a cold Siberian cave might still harbour genetic material, a fossil that has spent that long in the heat of Africa or southeast Asia generally will not. As a result, little is known about the genetics of even relatively recent hominins from these regions, such as H. floresiensis…

Now researchers are hoping that protein analysis might begin to fill in some of those blanks. The idea is not new: as early as the 1950s, researchers had reported finding amino acids in fossils. But for a long time, the technology needed to sequence ancient proteins just didn’t exist … That changed in the 2000s, after researchers realized that mass spectrometry — a technique used to study modern proteins — could also be applied to ancient proteins. Mass spectrometry essentially involves breaking down proteins into their constituent peptides (short chains of amino acids) and analysing their masses to deduce their chemical make-up.

RTFA. Fascinating as paleontology can always be. Learning the where and when of how we got to here and now. True science never walks away from a problem because it’s difficult. Even when it takes generations to resolve.

“Religious” folk ain’t the majority in the GOUSA anymore …


No waiting in line

The secularization of U.S. society — the waning of religious faith, practice and affiliation — is continuing at a dramatic and historically unprecedented pace. While many may consider such a development as cause for concern, such a worry is not warranted. This increasing godlessness in America is actually a good thing, to be welcomed and embraced.

Democratic societies that have experienced the greatest degrees of secularization are among the healthiest, wealthiest and safest in the world, enjoying relatively low rates of violent crime and high degrees of well-being and happiness. Clearly, a rapid loss of religion does not result in societal ruin …

Organic secularization can occur for many reasons. It happens when members of a society become better educated, more prosperous, and live safer, more secure and more peaceful lives; when societies experience increases in social isolation; when people have better healthcare; when more women hold paying jobs; when more people wait longer to get married and have kids. All of these, especially in combination, can decrease religiosity.

Another major factor is the ubiquity of the internet, which provides open windows to alternative worldviews and different cultures that can corrode religious conviction — and allows budding skeptics and nascent freethinkers to find, support and encourage one another.

Overdue! I had read sufficient science to be an atheist by the time I was 13. Added studies in philosophy to properly associate my understanding with philosophical materialism … by 18.

Never had to look back and change that comprehension, understanding.

Boycott Jim Crow politics!


Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred

This summer’s Major League Baseball Draft and the All-Star Game won’t be held in Atlanta, MLB officials announced Friday.

The withdrawal of the two events from the city in July is in response to Georgia’s recently enacted voting restrictions, which critics, including President Biden, have denounced as “Jim Crow in the 21st century” because they say the legislation will disproportionately affect communities of color.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft,” league commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

“Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” Manfred said.

Republicans around this land keep on playing their Jim Crow games with each other. Meanwhile, the National Pastime is taking their bat and ball back to Freedomland.

The eruption of Paricutin volcano

There are very rare occasions when people can see a new volcano emerging from virtually nowhere. Considered by some as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Parícutin volcano is undoubtedly one of the wonderful geomorphological landscapes of the Globe…

Parícutin volcano was born on a Mexican cornfield owned by Dionisio Pulido, a farmer who saw vapor emanating from a hollow and shortly afterwards, witnessed the beginning of a unique event of a volcano being created…

[February 20, ~4 in the afternoon]…Pulido reported…I left my wife to set fire to a pile of branches when I noticed that a crack, which was situated on one of the knolls of my farm, had opened . . . and I saw that it was a kind of fissure that had a depth of only half a meter. I set about to ignite the branches again when I felt a thunder, the trees trembled, and I turned to speak to Paula; and it was then I saw how, in the hole, the ground swelled and raised itself 2 or 2.5 meters high, and a kind of smoke or fine dust – grey, like ashes – began to rise up in a portion of the crack that I had not previously seen . . . Immediately more smoke began to rise with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulfur.

I saw a roughcut documentary of the birth and growth of this volcano around 1948-1950. Sound overdubbed on film probably 16mm Ektachrome or something similar. May have been made from the work of Howard Thompson, though folks who manage his estate say his film records weren’t available that early.

Wherever it came from, it impressed the heck out of me. I was still in elementary school at the time.

America’s gun religion

This starts partway through the article. The author takes us from childhood target shooting to military life…to this!

How did we get from a little NRA indoor firing range with .22 target rifles to an entire convention hall filled with weapons of war and nostalgia for America’s enemies from the Civil War and World War II? How did we get from guns as tools to guns as lifestyle? How did we get from guns manufactured specifically for target shooting and hunting to guns manufactured for killing people and styled as “military” and “tactical” and “assault”? How did we get from magazines like Field and Stream, featuring stories about hunting, to Guns and Ammo, featuring stories about the Hecker and Koch HK416A5 with its “slimline telescopic butt stock” and “Non-stop NATO Stanag 4694 top rail” and magazine capability holding up to 100 rounds of military-grade 5.56 X 45mm NATO ammunition?

Three letters: NRA. Beginning in the 1970s, the National Rifle Association transformed itself from a shooting sports organization into a political lobbying arm of the Republican Party. It formed a PAC, the Political Victory Fund, in time for the 1976 elections and started endorsing and funding conservative, mostly Republican, candidates. The NRA invited Ronald Reagan to address its 1983 convention, in advance of his campaign for reelection in 1984, when they endorsed him for a second time…

…Guns went from tools to politics to identity. A gun went from something you use for a sporting purpose, like target shooting or hunting rabbits, to a thing that makes a statement about you. Hollywood went right along with them, from a .44 magnum revolver in “Dirty Harry” that said I’m a tough guy, to fully automatic AR-15 assault rifles with grenade launchers in “Scarface” that said I’m a killing machine and I’ll kill everyone I can see.

Truly worthwhile read. I can sympathize. I grew up in Connecticut when the state was still proud to call itself the arsenal of America. My family lived through the transition Lucian Truscott describes. One time or another, everyone in my father’s generation – in his extended family – worked for a gun manufacturer. One of my uncles spent his life’s work as a lead prototype gunsmith for a gun company. Another was a factory manager.

I was fortunate enough to pre-date the NRA conversion. I was rebel enough to have a gut reaction of disgust and revulsion to the “new” NRA and Reagan politics. I watched Truscott’s worst nightmare as it formed.

RTFA. I hope our benighted land is someday capable of turning this particular aspect of fascist ideology around. And goes on to work on the rest, as well.