Is marriage becoming obsolete?

According to a TIME/Pew research poll released last week, 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is becoming obsolete, up from just 28 percent in 1978.

In that same poll, only one in four unmarried Americans say they do not want to get married. And among currently married men and women, 80 percent say their marriage is as close as or closer than their parents’ marriage.

These seemingly contradictory responses reflect the public’s recognition of a new and complex reality. On the one hand, marriage as a voluntary relationship based on love and commitment is held in higher regard than ever, with more people saying that love is essential to marriage (Consider that in 1967, two-thirds of college women said they’d consider marrying a man they didn’t love if he met other criteria, such as offering respectability and financial security.)

But as an institution that regulates people’s lives, marriage is no longer the social and economic necessity it once was. People can construct successful lives outside marriage in ways that would have been very difficult to manage 50 years ago, and they have a far greater range of choices about whether to marry, when to marry, and how to organize their marriages.

This often makes them more cautious in committing to marriage and more picky about their partners than people were in the past…

Today, however, there are plenty of other ways to grow up, seek financial independence, and meet one’s needs for companionship and sex. So what might have seemed a “good enough” reason to enter marriage in the past no longer seems sufficient to many people…

These higher expectations are good news for many marriages. People who can meet the high bar that most Americans now feel is appropriate for the transition to marriage — people who delay marriage to get an education, who have accumulated a nest egg or established themselves in a secure line of work — typically have higher quality marriages than other Americans, research shows, and their divorce rates have been falling for the past 25 years.

RTFA. Lots of interesting questions asked. There are some readymade answers. I think you’d enjoy working out your own answers. At least I hope so.

Poisonally, I think a great deal of strengthening of relationships, marriages, has to do with the diminished effect of organized religion. Unreality and superstition – no matter how ingrained in a community – lessens the ability of individuals and couples to deal with life in a changing society.

10 ways to find more pleasure every day

Most of these are reasonable suggestions. Mostly, they make sense and you will read them and say to yourself, “yes, that’s something that makes me happy”. And you should follow on by doing whichever will help your day – or forget about it and do whatever you really feel like doing.

Here are a couple I can agree with:

Aren’t you ready, yet?

1. Play that song you love so much. Repeat. As any preschooler can tell you, repetition nurtures pleasure. When you experience something more than once, you notice more details about it each time, thereby increasing your enjoyment. That’s why you love revisiting that jazz standard, favorite roast chicken recipe, and beloved old Woody Allen movie.

6. Look outside. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna, surrounded by trees, water, and sky. The world in which most of us spend our time nowadays is unnatural and can corrode the spirit. Even a small dose of nature elevates our mood. But accept no substitutes..!

7. Pet a dog (any dog). You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating: Physical contact with animals works wonders. It increases the brain chemicals associated with pleasure and decreases those associated with stress. Even people without pets can get some of the effect by hanging out for a few minutes at a dog run.

Start your Monday in tolerable fashion.

I’m going for a walk with my dog.

The rise of Israel’s military rabbis – theocracy with guns?

Israel’s army is changing. Once proudly secular, its combat units are now filling with those who believe Israel’s wars are “God’s wars”.

Military rabbis are becoming more powerful. Trained in warfare as well as religion, new army regulations mean they are now part of a military elite.
They graduate from officer’s school and operate closely with military commanders. One of their main duties is to boost soldiers’ morale and drive, even on the front line.

This has caused quite some controversy in Israel. Should military motivation come from men of God, or from a belief in the state of Israel and keeping it safe?

The military rabbis rose to prominence during Israel’s invasion of Gaza earlier this year. Gal Einav, a non-religious soldier said there was wall-to-wall religious rhetoric in the base, the barracks and on the battlefield. As soon as soldiers signed for their rifles, he said, they were given a book of psalms. And, as his company headed in to Gaza, he told me, they were flanked by a civilian rabbi on one side and a military rabbi on the other…

Rabbis handed out hundreds of religious pamphlets during the Gaza war. When they came to light, they caused huge controversy in Israel. Some leaflets called Israeli soldiers the “sons of light” and Palestinians, the “sons of darkness”. Others compared the Palestinians to the Philistines, the bitter biblical enemy of the Jewish people.

Israel’s military has distanced itself from the publications, but they carried the army’s official stamp

Gal Einav thinks many soldiers will refuse to close settlements down. The settlement issue could well tear the army apart, he told me, adding that most of his officers are settlers these days.

“If it comes to a clash between political orders from Israel’s government and a contradictory message from the rabbis, settlers and religious right-wing soldiers will follow the rabbis,” he said.

RTFA. Not unlike the tasks committed to Bush’s Holy Campaigners within our own military. With one significant difference. Israel’s government is so politically beholden to the Orthodox religious Right, that government endorses the participation and direction of rabbis within the rule of their army.

Officers can discuss and differ over levels of responsibility. I don’t think they stand a chance when it comes to who obeys whom. It’s all not unlike what Stalin did with commissars in the desperation of the Great Patriotic War. And, then, the commissar system carried over into daily life.

The Holy State of Israel will complete the task of becoming a theocracy. Civilian and military.

Korean dies with $100,000 in a bank account he couldn’t access

American-style pushcart

A homeless South Korean man died of cancer without being able to use a single penny of his life savings of $100,000 because he could not prove his identity to his bank…

“He never begged. When people offered him help, he said he had money saved and didn’t need help,” Yoo Joon-soo, a district official in Yongbong, said by telephone. “He said he was going to buy a house.” In mid-April, he looked so fragile that Mr. Yoo and others ignored his protests and called an ambulance. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

The man then told the officials that his name was Na Hae-dong and that he had been born May 23, 1953, two months before the Korean War ended…

Mr. Na had 128 million won in a bank account opened under his name decades ago. But in 1993, South Korea introduced an anti-corruption law that required an account holder to prove that the account had been opened under the holder’s real name before withdrawing money. People were given a grace period during which they could transfer their money to real-name accounts.

Apparently, Mr. Na had never heard of the law. But he had continued depositing his few earnings into the account. When he went to his bank after the cancer had been diagnosed, however, he could not take out his savings because, officially, he did not exist.

Local officials filed for court approval to give him an identity. But before the court ruled, Mr. Na died in the hospital on April 28.

His savings will be donated to the state. He had nothing else but his cart, a wristwatch and a quilt.

Man gets life for yogurt-bomb robbery

A man who robbed a check-cashing agency by claiming a pack of yogurt was a bomb has received a life sentence under Washington’s three-strikes law.

James Robert Thorne, 66, of Everett was convicted of two robberies in the 1980s. The Everett Herald reported. In 1994, he was sentenced to life for robbing a hospital gift shop with a BB gun but won an appeal on the grounds that his lawyer did not consider an insanity defense.

In his most recent crime, Thorne got away with $2,000 after claiming that he had a bomb hidden in a bag that actually held a four-pack of Dannon strawberry yogurt.

Gabriel Rothstein, the defense lawyer, argued at Tuesday’s hearing that the judge should consider Thorne’s history of mental illness…

Superior Court Judge Gerard Knight said that Thorne might not do physical harm to anyone. “I just have a strong belief Mr. Thorne is going to re-offend and continue with his criminal behavior until he dies,” the judge said.

Somehow, I think someone who threatens to blow up a store with strawberry yogurt doesn’t need to be in a proper prison. The Happy Farm, maybe. But, then, that’s what his lawyer was suggesting wasn’t it?

Rising acidity threatens oceans, marine life

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The oceans have long buffered the effects of climate change by absorbing a substantial portion of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But this benefit has a catch: as the gas dissolves, it makes seawater more acidic. Now an international panel of marine scientists says this acidity is accelerating so fast it threatens the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the marine food web generally…

The statement, called the Monaco Declaration, said increasing acidity is interfering with the growth and health of shellfish and eating away at coral reefs, processes that would eventually affect marine food webs generally. Already, the group said, there have been detectable decreases in shellfish, shell weights and interference with the growth of coral skeletons.

Carbon dioxide, principally from the burning of fossil fuels, is the major component of greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Oceans absorb about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions, the group said, but as the gas dissolves in the oceans it produces carbonic acid.

The group said acidity of ocean surface waters has increased by 30 percent since the 17th century

According to the declaration [.pdf], “ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs by 2050.” The group said that acidification can be controlled only by limiting future atmospheric levels of the gas.

I tend to stand outside the alarmist school of responders to climate change. Experience has taught me that [1] there always are more variables than we’ve yet examined and [2] Mother Earth is a bit better at dealing with our depredations than single-issue considerations understand.

That doesn’t lessen my contempt for self-deluding skeptics who generally avoid reading peer reviewed studies. Nor does it diminish my deep concern for the obvious damage our industrial economy has inflicted on the environment in general. It will take an immense and long-term commitment to begin to slow this death spiral.

XP – one more time. Crikey!

Microsoft has given yet another reprieve to its seasoned Windows XP operating system.

The cut off date for PC makers to obtain licenses for the software was 31 January 2009. But now Microsoft has put in place a scheme that will allow the hardware firms to get hold of XP licences until 30 May 2009.

Windows XP was originally due to disappear off shop shelves on 30 January 2008. It was to be removed so as to make way for Windows Vista which went on sale to consumers early in 2007.

Microsoft granted the reprieve largely because of customer’s preference for XP.

Many PC makers also got around the restrictions by exploiting a clause in Microsoft’s licensing terms that allowed them to offer a “downgrade” licence. Issued with a new PC running Vista it allowed customers to replace it with XP.

Early versions of Windows 7, the replacement for Vista, are due to appear in late 2009.

If you believe that last bit, I have have some oceanfront property to sell you in La Bajada, New Mexico.

New hints on the origins of life – from old experiments

The box of original samples

A classic experiment exploring the origin of life has, more than a half-century later, yielded new results.

In 1953, Stanley L. Miller, then a graduate student of Harold C. Urey at the University of Chicago, put ammonia, methane and hydrogen — the gases believed to be in early Earth’s atmosphere — along with water in a sealed flask and applied electrical sparks to simulate the effects of lightning. A week later, amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, were generated out of the simple molecules.

Enshrined in high school textbooks, the Miller-Urey experiment raised expectations that scientists could unravel the origins of life with simple chemistry experiments.

After Dr. Miller’s death in May last year, Dr. Jeffrey L. Bada of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, who had been one of Dr. Miller’s graduate students, discovered cardboard boxes containing hundreds of vials of dried residues collected from the experiments conducted in 1953 and 1954.

“It just opens our eyes,” Dr. Bada said. “It’s still revealing new things. What else is there that we haven’t found out from this experiment..?”

Although scientists no longer think that the early atmosphere resembled the gases Dr. Miller used, the gases released by volcanic eruptions do have similar properties. The scientists hypothesize that the sparks split apart water molecules in the steam, enabling a wider range of chemical reactions to take place.

“My take on this is you want to consider everything,” Dr. Bada said. “If you can have a homegrown synthesis, perhaps by this mechanism we’ve described here, complemented by stuff falling from space, well, you’ve got a really rich inventory of compounds to work with and set the stage for the origin of life.”

I remember news of Miller’s experiments as if it were yesterday. Exciting discussions. Fending off superstitious dolts who feared this work as the anti-Christ.

A couple of friends ended up as micro-biologists because of Miller’s inspiration.

The SSD Power Consumption Hoax

Flash-based solid state drives (SSDs) are considered to be the future of performance hard drives, and everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. We are no exception, as we have been publishing many articles on flash-based SSDs during the last few months, emphasizing the performance gains and the potential power savings brought by flash memory. And there is nothing wrong with this, since SLC flash SSDs easily outperform conventional hard drives today (SLC = single level cell). However, we have discovered that the power savings aren’t there: in fact, battery runtimes actually decrease if you use a flash SSD.

Could Tom’s Hardware be Wrong?

No, our results are definitely correct. We’ve looked at almost a dozen different flash SSDs from seven vendors over the last few months, and measured acceptable or sometimes even disappointing power requirements with most flash SSDs. In an effort to determine the actual impact on notebook systems, we took four SSDs that we had available in our test lab, and ran a series of Mobilemark benchmark runs on a Dell Latitude D630 notebook. We found runtime differences of up to one hour (!) when using a flash SSD compared to a high-performance 7,200 RPM 2.5” notebook hard drive.

Will this slow down the hype? Not a chance.