Friday, November 07, 2008

Interesting Stuff

Because our focus has primarily been on the elections and all that entails, there are several items I've wanted to blog about but haven't had time to. So here I'll try to hit them all at once.

First, here's an interesting piece from Newsweek on the "flexitarian", which is sort of a hybrid between the vegetarian and the full-on meat eater. Given the unsustainability of factory farming and our meat-eating practices, any effort to reduct the amount of meat we eat is a good thing. And it has the benefit of reducing the suffering of animals consigned to factory farms. This should be the primary purpose in my opinion, but I realize that most Americans either don't care or aren't aware of how much suffering animals endure to produce cheap meat, dairy products and eggs. So despite the claim of a strident PETA official in the article that eating less meat is "beating one pig down the slaughter ramp instead of two" (as if the suffering of one less animal is something to be dismissed) I'm all for people simply doing the best they can to eat less meat. Change takes time.

Also, via Slashdot, Live Science has an article about a novel theory of the universe, that we live in a "cosmic bubble" that is simply one tiny part of an infinitely larger universe, a theory that provides an alternative explanation to dark matter for why our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. In short, our under-density part of the universe would warp space-time differently than the typically dense part of the universe we're observing when we look at things like quasars that are billions of light years distant; that warp then provides the illusion that those objects are rushing away from us at fantastic speeds. Honestly, I don't know if that's any crazier than the universe being comprised mostly of matter we can neither see no detect (or can we?) but there you go.

Speaking of all things dark, Slashdot has another interesting post on Google's efforts to make the "dark web" searchable. The dark web consist of things like PDF files and or scanned documents (like reports and academic papers) that now do not show up in search results. An even greater wealth of information may be at your fingertips soon.

PRI's The World has a good series of radio articles called "How Wars End." Amateur students of history such as myself, as well as the public at large, have acquired various myths about how wars in our history have ended. PRI, in interviews with historians, complicates our myths to some extent. There are several examples, but I found the one on the end of our civil war to be the most interesting. Most people presume that the war ended all at once that fateful day in April 1865 at Appomattox, and amateur historians like myself are aware that Lee turned down the idea of an insurgency that would drag the war on even longer. But the true story is a little more nuanced. It's not that greater facts are uncovered; rather, it's our understanding of the war's end that should be modified. Though there was no unified insurgency during the occupation and reconstruction of the South, southerners certainly did resist occupation with force, committing acts of terror against emancipated blacks and attacking northern forces. Twelve years of political violence eventually sapped the will of northern politicians to continue occupying the south, but even then the violence did not end, as acts of terror were perpetrated against blacks all the way up until and through the civil rights era. Again, this picture doesn't really present any new facts so much as it challenges our understanding of the end of the civil war, as well as the nature of insurgencies themselves. I recommend listening to the program in full.

Also, by now you've no doubt heard of the numerous instances of wrongly convicted men being freed in Dallas County by virtue of DNA testing. This is the direct result of Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins having launched an ambitious program to review hundreds of convictions to determine if men and women were wrongly convicted. However, not all District Attorneys and law enforcement agencies are as eager to expose or rectify their mistakes. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will determine whether convicted criminals have a constitutional right to DNA testing that could prove their innocence. The Ninth Court of Appeals said they do; we'll see what the Supreme Court has to say about that.

Also, the NY Times reported on Monday (feels like two weeks ago) that Afghan officials likely aided the Taliban in an attack on an American outpost in July that was very nearly overrun. This is yet another sign of the increasing nastiness of the war in Afghanistan, though it should hardly come as a surprise that some in the Afghan government (at the local level, or perhaps higher) have loyalties hostile to the Karzai government and our forces.

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