Ghost Islands

Oct 31 2014 @ 5:14pm


Allison Meier profiles some:

In terms of abandonment, ghost towns get all the love — there are a spooky 160 of them on Atlas Obscura as of this writing. These gaping remains of human activity departed are both unnerving and often beautiful, but what about ghost islands? Around the world whole island communities have been evacuated and deserted, leaving the landmasses to nature and the atrophy of time. Here are eight of these ominous places on the water, and the details on why people left, and if you can visit the isolated ruins.

On the one seen above – Hashima Island, Japan:

Read On

Turning Green After Death

Oct 31 2014 @ 4:44pm

Shannon Palus investigates eco-alternatives to traditional burial:

There all kinds of green practices and products available these days on the so-called “death care” market. So many, in fact, that in 2005 Joe Sehee founded the Green Burial Council—a non-profit that keeps tabs on the green funeral industry, offering certifications for products and cemeteries. Sehee saw a need to prevent meaningless greenwashing in the green burial world. “It is a social movement. It’s also a business opportunity,” he said. So what’s the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a body? It all depends on your preferences.

For those who still want to be be buried, a greener approach may include switching out the standard embalming fluids made of a combination of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol, with ones made of essential oils. And instead of a heavy wood and metal box that will take years to degrade and leave behind toxic residue, there are now Green Burial Council-certified biodegradable cedar caskets.

Others are choosing to forgo the casket completely and opt for what’s called a “natural burial,” involving only a burlap sack buried in the woods. If you don’t have a forest handy, in some cities bodies may soon be placed in an industrial sized compost bin, and turned over to create fertile soil.

Mental Health Break

Oct 31 2014 @ 4:20pm

Spiders are descending on news stations across America:

A Rare Bleed

Oct 31 2014 @ 4:00pm

Penny Bailey profiles a man with an extremely rare, “precious, life-saving” blood type – one shared by only 43 people since it was discovered in 1961:

Rare negative blood is so sought after for research that even though all samples stored in blood banks are anonymised, there have been cases where scientists have tried to track down and approach individual donors directly to ask for blood. And because Rhnull blood can be considered ‘universal’ blood for anyone with rare blood types within the Rh system, its life-saving capability is enormous. As such, it’s also highly prized by doctors – although it will be given to patients only in extreme circumstances, and after very careful consideration, because it may be nigh on impossible to replace. “It’s the golden blood,” says Dr Thierry Peyrard, the current Director of the National Immunohematology Reference Laboratory in Paris.

And it’s a priceless gold, in most countries at least:

The first urgent request came a few years after Thomas began donating, when he got a phone call asking if he would mind taking, and paying for, a taxi to the blood centre in Geneva to donate for a newborn baby. That moment brought it starkly home to him how valuable his blood was. It was perhaps also the first intimation that the costs of donating would ultimately be his. Some countries do pay donors (and some pay more for rare blood) to encourage donations. But the majority of national blood services don’t pay, to deter donors with infections such as HIV.

Ouagadoucoup d’Etat

Oct 31 2014 @ 3:39pm

Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré, stepped down today after 27 years in power, in the face of widespread protests – and the ablaze of parliament – against his plans to change the constitution and allow himself to run for yet another five-year term:

The announcement from Mr. Compaoré came on the fourth day of turmoil in Ouagadougou, the capital, as military commanders met behind closed doors and demonstrators urged them to oust the president. His departure was the culmination of 24 hours of frantic maneuvering. Mr. Compaoré declared martial law for a few hours on Thursday, then seemed to relent, offering negotiations on a transitional government and rescinding his martial law decree. …

Opposition to the president’s plans for another term had been building for weeks. Anger exploded Thursday as protesters stormed the Parliament building, bursting past police lines to prevent lawmakers from voting on a draft law that would have allowed Mr. Compaoré to run again next year. Thousands rampaged through Ouagadougou, burning the homes of presidential aides and relatives and looting state broadcasting facilities. Social media sites showed images of demonstrators toppling a statue of Mr. Compaoré.

Adam Taylor gauges whether Compaoré’s ouster “could ultimately be the spark for something bigger”, spreading to other African countries with long-entrenched autocrats:

Read On


Matt O’Brien is disheartened by the above chart, which was created by Larry Summers:

It shows how much more pessimistic the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has become about the economy, revising its estimate of potential economic down in each of the last seven years. The economy, in other words, has grown so little that the CBO doesn’t think it can grow quite as much anymore. Although, of course, GDP has still fallen far short of even these diminished expectations.

This is scary stuff. Much more than a series of descending lines can really convey. If it’s right, it means that the Great Recession has made us permanently poorer. That the economy will never get back to its pre-crisis trend. Instead, it will stay stuck in a “new normal” of slow growth that feels like a slump—forever.

O’Brien also throws cold water on last quarter’s seemingly-impressive 3.5% GDP growth:

So how good is the economy, really?

Read On

Kickstarter Of The Day

Oct 31 2014 @ 3:03pm

And in the holiday spirit:

Sam & Mattie are teenagers from Rhode Island. They are BEST friends. They met at Special Olympics while they were in grade school and have been pretty much inseparable since. For the most part, they’re normal teenage dudes. They like to skate and play video games and talk about girls and stuff, but the one thing they both LOVE is cinema. They love to go to the movies, talk about movies, brainstorm movie ideas, and act out their favorite scenes.

Three years ago, they started brainstorming their own Teen Zombie Movie (a favorite genre). This was nothing out of the ordinary — they are constantly hatching zany schemes to “launch their careers.” But something about this zombie movie has stuck with them. For three years. Honestly, they won’t shut up about it.

Every time they get together, they draw up storyboards, practice fight scenes, film with their iPhones (then pair those scenes with dream soundtracks), and endlessly debate celebrity cameos. They have been so passionate about this film for so long, that their friends and family decided it was time to help them make it happen FOR REAL.

You can help here.

A reader sums up a “bizarre race” in one district:

The race in Massachusetts’s 6th Congressional District is getting strange. The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, is urging supporters to vote for Democrat Seth Moulton rather than an openly gay Republican, Richard Tisei. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign is staying out of the race completely, despite having previously endorsed in the district.

From one article cited by our reader:

Asked whether Moulton would welcome or reject votes cast in his favor by NOM supporters, a spokesperson for Moulton responded, “Reject.” “Seth Moulton fundamentally disagrees with everything NOM stands for and has long said that equality is the civil rights fight of our generation,” said Carrie Rankin, Moulton’s communications director. “Fighting against groups, like NOM, that deny equality as a basic human right will be a priority of Seth’s in Congress.” Rankin noted that Moulton has a gay brother and Moulton has said, “It’s fundamentally wrong that he and I don’t share the same rights just because of who he is.”

From another piece:

The nation’s largest LGBT-rights organization is not expected to get involved in the Massachusetts congressional race between openly gay Republican Richard Tisei and pro-LGBT Democrat Seth Moulton, Metro Weekly has learned. …

Read On

Operation Strategic Trolling

Oct 31 2014 @ 2:24pm

NATO reported an “unusual burst of activity” by Russia’s nuclear-capable strategic bombers on its borders this week. While none of the flights violated NATO airspace, they are emblematic of the increasing tensions in Europe over the conflict in Ukraine:

In all, Nato said, its jets intercepted four groups of Russian aircraft in about 24 hours since Tuesday and some were still on manoeuvres late on Wednesday afternoon. “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European air space,” the alliance said. A spokesman stressed there had been no violation of Nato air space, unlike a week earlier when a Russian spy plane briefly crossed Estonia’s border. But so many sorties in one day was unusual compared with recent years. … Nato said it had conducted more than 100 such intercepts of Russian aircraft this year so far, about three times as many as in 2013 before the confrontation with Moscow over separatist revolts in Ukraine soured relations.

Elias Groll adds:

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of kidnapping an Estonian intelligence agent. Swedish defense officials now speak of a fundamentally altered security paradigm in the Baltic after Russian planes carried out a mock bombing of Stockholm and violated Swedish airspace in the region.

Groll says such actions “bring relations between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.” Marc Champion also finds that “a version of the Cold War is returning, but its rules and parameters aren’t clear”:

Read On

Alyssa Rosenberg, addressing a recent post of mine, sharpens a point in our current debate:

How much does masculine culture depend on women and femininity as a reference point? To what extent does asserting what it means to be a man necessitate pointing out and denigrating what men are not and what masculinity is not supposed to be?

If cheerleaders suddenly vanished from the sidelines of NFL games, would those contests suddenly be less fun? In action movies, do you find the hero’s bona fides less credible if a woman contributes to his successes, or if she rescues him? If you are playing video games, how much of your enjoyment has to do with opportunities to treat women in-game in ways that are not available to you in real life?

It occurs to me that I am somewhat (ahem) deficient in personal experience to address this point, which is why I encourage straight male readers to respond. And even when I have been immersed in masculine culture – such as a rowdy, rugby-loving, all-male high school – I wasn’t very attuned to how heterosexual attraction and views of women contributed to the atmosphere. I couldn’t bond with other adolescent boys over their difficulties with and longing for the opposite sex. I had no real struggle to date women, no frustrations or anxieties about the opposite sex, and so was oddly neutral – to the extent of having a real blind spot – in this eternal hetero-dilemma.

But I don’t want to duck Alyssa’s point, so let me think of it another way: to what extent can hetero male culture retain its quintessential maleness while losing its homophobia?

One way is to hope and pray that every cool straight dude ends up like Chris Kluwe and totally gets that it’s not kosher – and actually immature – to demean or demonize those men who do not fit into the classic male macho archetype. Another is to reassure straight men that gay men do not want to change the core part of male culture, but merely want to be accepted as fully part of it.

I think we’re making a lot of progress on both fronts. From the mainstreaming of gay culture to the emergence of openly gay men in highly masculinized cultures – think Tim Cook in nerdland or Michael Sam in sports – the sharper edges of homophobia have been rounded a bit. But that is partly because of a strategy of engagement rather than confrontation. My own inclination from the 1980s on – and it was not shared very enthusiastically by many on the gay left – was to emphasize what gay men and straight men have in common: a need for emotional commitment and stability as well as to get our rocks off from time to time; the desire and will to serve one’s country in the military; the commonalities of sports and drinking and the gym and dirty jokes. And part of our success, I think, is that we absolutely constructed this as a non-zero-sum project. I think a feminism that started with a love and appreciation for classic male culture – and then sought to persuade men that it doesn’t have to be sexist toward women – would be more productive than treating all men as inherently suspect or privileged, and attempting to police their culture from the outside.

But – and here’s the thing – I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world where homophobia is absent among many men, especially younger ones. Our primate nature – exacerbated by cresting levels of testosterone in the teen and early adult years – will always trend toward loyalty to in-groups and disdain of out-groups. We can mitigate this, but it’s utopian to think we can abolish it. So, yeah, I can live with the word “fag” as something that will always be a part of hetero-male culture. I can live with religious groups demonizing me. I can ignore the insults and smears – on the street or online. It’s just part of the price for living in a free society.

Read On