Saturday, December 01, 2007

Philosophy of life: Being aware

I feel like writing about philosophy again!
I think I have a different perspective from the one I used to have and I probably have a different approach as well.

A few concepts drive my own philosophy of life:
Every living being gets wiser by being aware of:
1. Limitations of a life time (time limits)
2. Limitations of a perspective (limited space perception).

1.1. Limitations of a lifetime may be an absolute one:
Awareness of aging, awareness of death translate into an "absolute" feeling that time is priceless and every lifetime is essentially unique

1.2. Limitations of a lifetime may be relative to the (known) history and expected future of the universe.
It may give a feeling of being "stuck" in a century. It may be a feeling of frustration of not understanding who were our ancestors. Were they racist bigots? Were they courageous hard-working people?
It may be a feeling of frustration of not knowing what the future will be for the children of our children... Would they have a tough life, experiencing natural disasters and nuclear wars? Would they have an amazing long life in a peaceful prosperous society, enjoying advanced technology and traveling around the solar system?

2.1. Limitations of perspective related to the size of the world
We are only seeing and hearing events that we are witnessing. Needless to say we cannot possibly witness all the events experienced by billions of people.

2.2. Limitations of perspective related to the size of the universe
We are only living in a small area on a tiny rock (called planet) located in a single solar system... located in a single galaxy... etc.

This awareness could be a cause of despair of being such an ignorant, insignificant, fragile living being.
However, here is the paradox:

We are able, as a person, to gain confidence with the thought that:
1. As time is priceless, we have no choice but using it properly by "leading a good life"
2. We have the free will to choose what it means to lead a good life
3. We may be insignificant yet we are extremely important to our partner, family, friends, colleagues. The things we do have an impact on them.

In other words, our time/space limitations should make us aware that we should make the best use of the present time to lead a good life with the few people for whom we matter.

This statement sounds like a "moral imperative" (what should we do?)
Yet I could equally ask:
Being aware of our time/space limitations, what can we know?

For the same reason, we are able to gain confidence with the thought that:
1. We can know ourself better than anyone else
2. Thanks to our own unique education background, experience and skills, we can specialize in what we do best. Our knowledge becomes useful to our colleagues, our community etc.

To summarize all these ideas, every living being becomes wiser by acknowledging space/time limitations. These limitations is not a reason for despair but a strong incentive to make sense of our lifetime because we have a significant role to play. We can improve our living condition. We also have an impact in the lives of those around us. We can know a few things better than others because of our unique background and perspective.

Yet these limitations are the reason why I don't see philosophy as ideas that work for anyone and will work for every generations!
i can only conclude that this is "my" philosophy of life.
For the same reasons, I also have deep skepticism for religions and political ideologies. It is very unlikely that any "thinker" or "guru" may overcome these space/time limitations and become someone able to advise anyone's lifestyle.


Friday, November 16, 2007

US network uncovers 'suicide epidemic' among US veterans - AFP

Hidden casualties of the war to be added to the official body count... with all the civilian casualties.
Should we mention again to Bush that there were no WMDs in Iraq?


NEW YORK (AFP) — The US military is experiencing a "suicide epidemic" with veterans killing themselves at the rate of 120 a week, according to an investigation by US television network CBS.

At least 6,256 US veterans committed suicide in 2005 -- an average of 17 a day -- the network reported, with veterans overall more than twice as likely to take their own lives as the rest of the general population.

While the suicide rate among the general population was 8.9 per 100,000, the level among veterans was between 18.7 and 20.8 per 100,000.

That figure rose to 22.9 to 31.9 suicides per 100,000 among veterans aged 20 to 24 -- almost four times the non-veteran average for the age group.

"Those numbers clearly show an epidemic of mental health problems," CBS quoted veterans' rights advocate Paul Sullivan as saying.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as saying the military did not want the true scale of the problem to be known.

"Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total," Mike Bowman said. "They don't want the true numbers of casualties to really be known."

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to CBS.

"Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged," Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America told the network.

CBS said it was the first time that a nationwide count of veteran suicides had been conducted. The tally was reached by collating suicide data from individual states for both veterans and the general population from 1995.

The Department of Veterans Affairs spends some three billion dollars a year on mental health services, according to CBS.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why non-violence can be successful in Burma

A couple of technological revolutions may potentially transform the seemingly hopeless struggle of peaceful monks vs the military into an efficient worldwide campaign for democracy.

Yet, the situation looks hopeless. By shutting down the internet, the country is effectively closed to the rest of the world.

If only Western, Russian and Chinese businesses could pull out of the country, the junta would eventually give more power to the people.

The Burmese government is more in trouble than it seems.

They will need to restore some basic internet services at some point. Just like anywhere in the world, the country's administration and businesses need the internet.

Beside, even a military government can't jail thousands of monks. Those monks are a central part of the Burmese society.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monks vs. military

The situation is unprecedented. Burma is a traditional society where Buddhist monks are highly respected.


Hindustan Times
September 26, 2007

It is not easy for even the most ruthless of dictators to put down anti-government demonstrations when the protestors happen to be bare-footed monks armed with begging bowls. This is what’s happening in Myanmar as monks march across the country in a frontal challenge to the ruling military regime, which seems to be at its wit’s end to come up with an effective response. The pro-democracy protests began last month as the government abruptly hiked fuel prices, pushing up transport fares that triggered a sharp rise in the price of consumer goods. Although activists and members of the main opposition party initially led the protests, monks, nuns and the public soon joined them, denouncing the military rule.

Such public defiance has not been seen for nearly 20 years as the generals usually adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards the slightest criticism. This suggests that Myanmar’s military masters thought the protestors’ momentum would eventually die down. The protests, however, appear to be growing shriller by the day across the country and the big question is whether they will eventually fizzle out, or if this really marks the beginning of the end for khaki rule in Myanmar. The crisis could be coming to a head soon, going by the generals’ reported threat to act against the monks if they don’t end the protests. Painful memories of 1988 still linger, when a similar uprising for restoring democracy was crushed, killing nearly 3,000 people. Later, when Aung San Suu Kyi won the election (which the military expected her to lose), she was prevented from assuming the presidency and put under house arrest.

Her courage in confronting the military and choosing to remain in captivity since then may just have a happy ending if this time round, the sheer number of monks — who occupy a revered place in a profoundly devout society — deters junior ranks of the army from executing the junta’s orders. And since this coincides with the UNGA meeting in New York, it’s also possible that the threat of more international sanctions against the military regime could prove to be the tipping time for Myanmar.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hungry bears plague US west after record drought - AFP

DENVER, United States (AFP) — They hosed the black bear with water, threw things at it and yelled, but the stubborn animal refused to move from its perch in a tree above a quiet neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado.

Pushed from their homelands by a drought and pulled by the scent of human food, black bears across western US states are breaking into homes and tearing up garbage cans in a desperate search for nourishment ahead of hibernation.

Fires across the west also destroyed bear habitat, and the animals face the continuing peril of losing their living space to urban development.

The bear in the Boulder neighborhood finally came down from the tree and fled. The animal was lucky -- it wore an ear tag, meaning a previous run in with authorities.

Authorities would have killed the bear if they had caught it, said Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

This year is on target for approaching the 2002 record of 404 bears killed or euthanized, Baskfield said. Colorado has a population of between 8,000 and 12,000 bears.

"We had a late freeze in June which killed the acorns and berry crop. We had a very dry mid-summer and grasses in the high country dried up. That pushed the bears down into the valleys where we have people," Baskfield said.

It is a similar story in much of the western United States.

"Just everybody is seeing bears everywhere. That's the unusual part of it -- in places where they haven't been seen before," said state of Idaho Fish and Game wildlife biologist Bret Stansberry.

"It's a fairly severe drought and that's essentially the root of the problem. There is very little natural food for them to eat. They're coming into orchards, getting into apple trees," Stansberry said.

Adult male black bears, which weigh between 68 and 160 kilos (150 and 350 pounds), usually eat for up to 20 hours a day just before hibernation in November.

State wildlife agencies are constantly urge residents to use bear-proof garbage cans and make sure no food is left outdoors, with mixed results.

Chris Healy, spokesman for the state of Nevada Department of Wildlife, said bears are posing increasing problems. "We had one up a tree today near the university," he said.

Any area that has trees and shrubs resembles a bear's natural habitat, and when the bear spots a human it usually flees up a tree, Healy said.

Nevada has a small population of black bears, mostly concentrated in the Lake Tahoe region near the California border.

"In Tahoe people are not taking care of their garbage. Once the bears start breaking into houses it's a danger to humans," Healy said.

Bear attacks on people are rare, although there was a fatal attack in July when a bear dragged an 11 year-old boy out of his tent during a camping trip in the state of Utah.

Bears are causing plenty of trouble in California, said the state's Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jason Holley.

"They can blow the door off the hinges. This time of year we're having at least three break-ins a night around Lake Tahoe," Holley said.

Eating human food such as donuts, hamburgers, or ice cream fattens the bears up and allows them to have more cubs. "We're developing an alarming trend -- ten percent are not hibernating," Holley said.

Black bears in California have not faced competition from their natural rival, the larger grizzly bear, for nearly a century. The last known grizzly in California was shot dead in 1922. California however still has a grizzly bear on its state flag.

There are about 30,000 black bears in California today, up from 12,500 bears 12 years ago, Holley said.

In Montana, a non-profit group has come up with an original way to chase bears away from camping areas.

The Wind River Bear Institute trains Karelian dogs, a species from northern Europe, to use their scent to detect bears, program biologist Russ Talmo said. "The dogs are barking, we're yelling at the bears, we use noisemakers," Talmo said. The dogs, which resemble huskies, are nimble and can herd a bear away from the area, although the dogs are always close to humans.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ice-free Arctic could be here in 23 years - The Guardian

David Adam, environment correspondent

The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer and levels of sea ice in the region now stand at a record low, scientists said last night. Experts said they were "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as Britain disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the north-west passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the north-east passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

Mark Serreze, an Arctic specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University in Denver which released the figures, said: "It's amazing. It's simply fallen off a cliff and we're still losing ice." The Arctic has now lost about a third of its ice since satellite measurements began 30 years ago, and the rate of loss has accelerated sharply since 2002.

Dr Serreze said: "If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice, then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate. It seems that the Arctic is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children's lifetimes."

The new figures show that sea ice extent is currently down to 4.4m square kilometres (1.7m square miles) and still falling. The previous record low was 5.3m square kilometres in September 2005. From 1979 to 2000 the average sea ice extent was 7.7m square kilometres. The minimum extent of sea ice usually occurs late in September each year, as the freezing Arctic winter begins to bite.

The sea ice usually then begins to freeze again over the winter. But Dr Serreze said that would be difficult this year. "This summer we've got all this open water and added heat going into the ocean. That is going to make it much harder for the ice to grow back. What we've seen this year sets us up for an even worse year next year." The winter ice has already failed to make up for increased losses in the summer in each of the last two years.

Changes in wind and ocean circulation patterns can help reduce sea ice extent, but Dr Serreze said the main culprit was man-made global warming. "The rules are starting to change and what's changing the rules is the input of greenhouse gases. This year puts the exclamation mark on a series of record lows that tell us something is happening."

The dramatic loss is further bad news for the region's wildlife which relies on the sea ice, such as polar bears. The animals use its coastal fringes to find food, and as the summer ice retreats to the north, they must swim further to hunt for seals. Some colonies of bears have already showed signs of malnutrition and biologists say there could be a severe drop in their population within a few decades, though they may not go extinct.

Yesterday's announcement will also increase political interest in the Arctic, with a number of countries currently jostling to exploit the oil and gas reserves believed to lie under the ocean, which could become more accessible as the icy cover retreats. Last month Russia claimed a huge area around the north pole, and Denmark and Canada are preparing similar claims, which rely on showing that a chain of underwater mountains that runs across the region are connected to their respective continental shelves.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Huge Hole Found in the Universe -

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 23 August 200705:21 pm ET

The universe has a huge hole in it that dwarfs anything else of its kind. The discovery caught astronomers by surprise.

The hole is nearly a billion light-years across. It is not a black hole, which is a small sphere of densely packed matter. Rather, this one is mostly devoid of stars, gas and other normal matter, and it's also strangely empty of the mysterious "dark matter" that permeates the cosmos. Other space voids have been found before, but nothing on this scale.

Astronomers don't know why the hole is there.

"Not only has no one ever found a void this big, but we never even expected to find one this size," said researcher Lawrence Rudnick of the University of Minnesota.
Rudnick's colleague Liliya R. Williams also had not anticipated this finding.
"What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe," said Williams, also of the University of Minnesota.

The finding will be detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.

The universe is populated with visible stars, gas and dust, but most of the matter in the universe is invisible. Scientists know something is there, because they can measure the gravitational effects of the so-called dark matter. Voids exist, but they are typically relatively small.

The gargantuan hole was found by examining observations made using the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, funded by the National Science Foundation.

There is a "remarkable drop in the number of galaxies" in a region of sky in the constellation Eridanus, Rudnick said.

The region had been previously been dubbed the "WMAP Cold Spot," because it stood out in a map of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation made by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotopy Probe (WMAP) satellite. The CMB is an imprint of radiation left from the Big Bang, the theoretical beginning of the universe.

"Although our surprising results need independent confirmation, the slightly colder temperature of the CMB in this region appears to be caused by a huge hole devoid of nearly all matter roughly 6 to 10 billion light-years from Earth," Rudnick said.

Photons of the CMB gain a small amount of energy when they pass through normal regions of space with matter, the researchers explained. But when the CMB passes through a void, the photons lose energy, making the CMB from that part of the sky appear cooler.