Another education thought

If you’re required to learn something because “it will be on the test,” you’re not being educated. You’re being trained to follow orders.

Posted in Education, Reflections | Leave a comment

Thought for the day

I saw something like this many years ago and today thought I’d reproduce it…
Posted in Environment & climate, The natural world | Leave a comment

Plastics in the environment

“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” –Pete Seeger

Most plastics are an environmental nightmare. I’ve lately been learning about what happens as plastics begin to break down into smaller and smaller bits (although they don’t break down nearly as fast into more elemental chemicals). Scientists are finding plastic particles (“microplastics”) in fish and most land animals. This may or may not have any health effects–that’s still being studied–but nowadays, it’s quite likely that non-vegetarians are eating a significant amount of microplastics.

Single-use plastic packaging materials and carrier bags are probably the most significant sources of microplastics in the environment, but another source is the slow breakdown of synthetic fabrics as they are washed and synthetics fibers are released into wastewater.

The craziest thing is how completely single-use plastics are an unavoidable part of everyday life. When you buy anything, it’s likely to be packaged in a disposable plastic container; groceries come pre-packaged in plastic boxes or bags; etc, etc. Natural food stores are often a little better, but even there you’re likely to find many products packaged in plastic, that you have to use plastic bags at the bulk bins, etc.

It would be really good if we could put the single-use plastic genii back into the bottle. But if our children and grandchildren are to survive the effects of climate change that are coming in the next 75 years, our first priority has to be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing single-use plastics would have a small effect on this, but the major impacts are from transportation, power generation, the manufacture of cement, and so forth.

Posted in Environment & climate | Leave a comment

A fun coincidence

Kind of a fun coincidence happened this morning. I was listening to Nature Notes on our public radio station while on the way to the Riverfront to do my morning exercise. This program is hosted by UofSC science professor Rudy Mancke. So, anyway, I get to the Riverfront and who was there with binoculars but Mancke himself. Introduced myself and said I had just been listening to him on the radio. Nice guy.
Naturalist Rudy Mancke, host of ETV’s NatureScene, shares his knowledge…
Posted in Environment & climate, People & places, The natural world | Leave a comment

Pieces of the Puzzle #2: Cement

Today I was reading Climate Change: What Everyone Needs To Know by Joseph Romm. He mentioned that the manufacture of cement is a major source of CO2 emissions. I’m sure I had heard this before, but had never run across any kind of discussion or explanation. Coincidentally, this BBC article appeared in my Twitter feed, which explains how traditional cement-making generates CO2, and talks about emerging technologies that might provide alternative methods of creating cement that could address the CO2 problem. A little more detail about the chemistry involved is in this blog post from the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Since I didn’t know, maybe you don’t either, so I thought I’d share.

Posted in Been readin'..., Environment & climate | Leave a comment

Pieces of the puzzle #1: Means, ends; means are ends

I’ve been thinking a lot about things that are both means and ends lately.

This idea spins off of a book by Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom. Sen is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and national development expert who has proposed the idea of development as freedom over the course of his career. In a nutshell, he says that the ultimate purpose of national development should be to enlarge the scope of freedoms enjoyed by all citizens. He says that economic development often enriches a small elite but does nothing for other citizens, and that this kind of development fails to provide widespread benefits, even in the long run. He proposes that the appropriate measure of development is whether it enhances the scope of freedom and agency that can realistically be exercised by ordinary people. He uses the example of women’s rights in developing countries, and shows how supporting the advancement of women both increases their life prospects, but also promotes social and economic development in the country generally.

So, he says that freedom should be both the means and ends of development. (Martha Nussbaum has built on Sen’s ideas by proposing a set of “human capabilities” that she says are foundational. She is absolutely brilliant, I think.)

I’m really intrigued by this idea, and it got me to thinking that there are probably other principles that have the same character of being both means and ends. Justice, engagement, caring and kindness, seem like some more. What others are there?

The reason I think these are important is that, to take on the most difficult and global issues, such as climate change, simply avoiding catastrophe is not enough. I don’t think a vision of a society of drones who live constricted lives in order to minimize our carbon footprints is very attractive. Rather, an attractive vision is to creatively develop a future that is better for everyone.

I saw a TED talk recently by a chemist (I wish I could find it now) who said that we’re looking at environmental issues all wrong–that we should be finding ways to live that are good for the environment, rather than merely trying to mitigate harms. That seems like the basis of a great way to reframe the whole issue. Ultimately we need to bring our lives into alignment with what’s good for us. And I think this is somehow related to the idea of supporting activities that recognize this means and ends unity. It seems like we want to create approaches that are both+and, rather than either/or.

So, there’s a thought for the morning. What are your thoughts?

Posted in Environment & climate | Leave a comment

Astronomy nerd awakes!

Every once in a while, my natural science nerd comes out. Today it was triggered by a Facebook meme saying that the day is actually 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds. So, I had to expound a bit:

So, here’s more information than you probably want on this subject:

It’s interesting how complicated this question turns out to be! First, it depends on how you define “day.” Is it the amount of time it takes for the earth to rotate once relative to the sun (an earth day)? Or the amount of time it takes relative to the stars in the sky (a sidereal day)? Turns out the actual rotation time varies a little, mostly because of the sloshing of the water in the oceans (tides), but, relative to the sun, an earth day averages 24 hours in length.

Relative to space, this meme is correct that the sidereal day is a little less, because the earth is both rotating on its axis, and revolving around the sun. Therefore there’s one additional sidereal day, compared to the number of earth days, every year. (That’s also the reason that the constellations visible in the night sky gradually change throughout the year.)

Then there’s the fact that the earth is slowing down ever so slightly over the ages, but not enough to notice in a human lifetime…

BTW, the reason for the need for leap year is that it takes just under 365 1/4 earth days to go exactly one revolution around the sun. Therefore, every four years, we compensate by adding a day to the calendar. (To make matters even more complicated, the year is actually very slightly less than 365 1/4 days long. To make everything come out correctly, century years that are not divisible by 400 are not leap years. So, 2000 was a leap year, but 2100 and 2200 will not be. Using this system they only have to make adjustments every few thousand years.) So it’s the earth’s revolution around the sun that creates the need for a leap day, not the length of the day by itself.

Also BTW, if you’re interested in this topic, the US Naval Observatory has some really good articles on the subject, and also calculators that allow you to determine astronomical parameters for any point on the face of the planet. Fun stuff!

Posted in The natural world | Leave a comment

Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way, numbers 73 and 74

Recent entries from the Twitterverse:

#73: “If you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.” (Thanks, @mochamomma)

#74: “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison every day and waiting for the other guy to die.” (Thanks, @mrdougfrench)

Posted in Lessons I've Learned the Hard Way | Leave a comment

Check out The Lady Killers

A new movie by Phil Leirness at Rational Exuberance, The Lady Killers is a dark comedy that examines misogyny through the lens of a game played by seven men. I just saw the film–it was provocative, discomforting, and terrific. Not for the kiddies, though.

Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Victor Wooten’s brilliant TED talk

Recently, I ran across a TED talk by virtuoso bass player Victor Wooten about learning without being taught, and posted some thoughts about it on my professional website. Here’s a link.

Posted in Education | Tagged | Leave a comment