While reading this article on ten breakthroughs in biofuel production technology, a sobering thought occurred to me...does the US Department of Energy catalog these sorts of innovations at all? Perhaps even a non-partisan, pan-energy public advocacy group of some sort? Some sort of organization with direct clout with the movers and shakers in the country? Or are the only the methods looked at and debated the ones backed by industries with accompanying lobbyists and press release barrages? 

In many parts of the world, the poorest of the poor don't necessarily allocate their money well.

The dad, Georges Obamza, who weaves straw stools that he sells for $1 each, is unmistakably very poor. He said that the family is eight months behind on its $6-a-month rent and is in danger of being evicted, with nowhere to go.
Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine. By his calculation, that adds up to about $12 a month — almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.

Culture Bore will be on hiatus on observance of Memorial Day.

In the meantime, here's a partial list of things that US soldiers have risked their lives for over the past century or so.

  • Amid a crack down on extremist groups plotting government overthrow, majority-Muslim Indonesia's president has bluntly declared that to change the democracy's constitution to cater to Islam would be "unacceptable".
  • New York City has approved construction of a mosque near ground zero of the World Trade Center, amid much controversy.
  • Special Kenyan "Kahdi" courts for Muslims - set-up by the British during colonialization - have been ruled illegal.



This talk from Nils Gilman demonstrates how profitable deviant activities are for the developing world, and are -for better-or-for-worse - a powerful and more effective form of economic development in many places than the failed path of modernization theory.

(via Shlok)


This past week, scientists announced the successful artificial creation of a genome sequence (using computers) to control the behavior of a host microbe.

"As soon as this new software goes into the cell, the cell reads [it] and converts into the species specified in that genetic code."


The new bacteria replicated over a billion times, producing copies that contained and were controlled by the constructed, synthetic DNA.


*****

As crazy as this sounds, human populations have been experimenting with nature for several millenia - in fact, this is how we got the plant we now call corn (but really should be called maize).


The most impressive aspect of the maize story is what it tells us about the capabilities of agriculturalists 9,000 years ago. These people were living in small groups and shifting their settlements seasonally. Yet they were able to transform a grass with many inconvenient, unwanted features into a high-yielding, easily harvested food crop. The domestication process must have occurred in many stages over a considerable length of time as many different, independent characteristics of the plant were modified.


*****

While groups of people playing God in the past ended up creating a food source in just about every aspect of the American diet, groups of people playing God with synthetic lifeforms may not be so benign.


Bio-hacking already exists, and although it may lead to widespread biofuel production (beyond the means of government-subsidized, corn-derived ethanol), it will also yield all manner of unintended consequences.


And much like early crop cultivation did for the pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas, Dr. Venter's breakthrough may take mankind to a whole new phase of development...


Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound commonly used to make plastic containers and sealants for foods and water, has been found in canned foods in amounts that can cause developmental defects in small children and animals.

Exposure of animals to low doses of BPA has been linked to cancer, abnormal behavior, diabetes and heart disease, infertility, development and reproductive harm, obesity, and early puberty, a known risk factor for breast cancer.

In addition, Bisphenol A disrupts the endocrine system (ie: your hormones) by mimicking estrogen.

It's also worth pointing out that the "fact-checking" website www.bisphenol-a.org is operated by the American Chemistry Council - a lobbying organization for chemical manufacturers. Their section on the safety of the Bisphenol A-based canned food coating in question hasn't been updated since 2002.

(via Inhabitots)

(picture via Gawker via AP)

A French farmer's union, Jeunes Agriculteurs ("Young Farmers"), took over part of the Champs Elysees street in Paris this weekend to demand government support amid "falling prices and climbing production costs" in the French agricultural industry.

Although it's only 3-4% of national GDP, agriculture is still a significant industry in France.

Since the early 1970s, the agricultural labor force has diminished by about 60%. France, whose farms export more agricultural food products than any other EU nation (account for 22% of the EU's total agricultural output), is the only country in Europe to be completely self-sufficient in basic food production; moreover, the high quality of the nation's agricultural products contributes to the excellence of its famous cuisine.


(via Reddit)


Because slime mold finds the paths that are most resilient to faults or damage, it could be used to make mobile-communication and transportation networks hardier. 

BP's "Vessels of Opportunity" contract to recruit local boaters along the Gulf has some interesting language.

ARTICLE 14. SALVAGE
All derelicts and salvage shall be for VESSEL OWNER'S and CHARTERER'S equal benefit, after deducting VESSEL OWNER'S and CHARTERER'S expenses and crew portion.

I thought the point of the program was to clean up the oil?

***UPDATE***

As my friend Caleb pointed out (after doing the obvious Google search for "Marine Salvage"), I am making a whole lot of nothing out of this:

The aim of the salvage may be to repair the vessel at a harbour or dry dock, or to clear a channel for navigation. Another reason for salvage may be to prevent pollution or damage to the marine environment. Alternatively the vessel or valuable parts of the vessel or its cargo may be recovered for its resale value, or for scrap.

With any luck, these chartered crews will be able to salvage some of the wreckage of the oil rig, block the further spread of oil, and make some money off BP before the seafood industry divebombs in the region.

(Proctor & Gamble's flagship sanitary napkin brand in India, "Whisper")

The menstrual cycle is one of the last things any man wants to think about - but this Indian guy created a machine to mass-produce low-cost sanitary napkins.

Capable of producing around 120 pads per hour, the machine Murugantham developed costs only about $2,500 — a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Procter & Gamble (P&G) spend on their plants. And while output of 120 pads an hour hardly offers much in the way of economies of scale, Muruganantham's invention has created its own business model for small “self help groups” of low-income women — creating jobs that earn them twice what they made as ordinary laborers.


Will Mr. Murugantham's machine and potential bottom-up, decentralized sanitary napkin production model provide employment for millions of impoverished women across India? Or will multinational corporations prevail in penetrating this untapped demographic despite higher production costs? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Globalization!

(via Digg)

Author/blogger Mike Ruppert gave a talk in Vermont about why and how worldwide sovereign debt and dwindling energy resources will lead to the break up of the United States, societal collapse, mass death and general anarchy.

Sound ridiculous? Take a watch, do your own research on the facts and names he mentions and draw your own conclusions.

His blog also happens to be the most informative news source you are likely to read.

A German car company whose name roughly translates to "The People's Car" in English is attempting to brand itself in Australia as a car for people with a sense of individuality who are not swayed by hip trends...such as purchasing a Volkwagen Beetle.



(via Hipster Runoff)


Apparently, Nazis aren't the only Germans who've been hiding out in Buenos Aires all these years...


That a copy of the original print of "Metropolis" even existed in Buenos Aires was the result of another piece of serendipity. An Argentine film distributor, Adolfo Wilson, happened to be in Berlin when the film had its premiere, liked what he saw so much that he immediately purchased rights, and returned to Argentina with the reels in his luggage.


(via xkcd)

  • But not all is bad news: two Indian states, Kerala and Sikkim are making official efforts to convert to 100% organic agricultural production. 

Adaptations to living at higher altitudes have occurred in humans more than once, such as with people indigenous to the Andes Mountains in South America and people native to high altitude regions in the Ethiopian mountains in Africa. But the Tibetans have evolved genes that others living at similar elevations have not developed.





Uganda, best known in the English-speaking world for anti-homosexuality death penalty legislation, now has it's very own skatepark.

(via Metafilter)


Continuing of a previous theme, a gallery of pictures taken across America between the 30's and 50's.

(via Metafilter)

More pictures from the previously posted work of Albert Kahn.


(via Extra Good S***)

This interactive map shows the path human groups took over the course of thousands of years to migrate and settle across the globe.

(via The Presurfer)


(Photo via The Guardian via Phillips Healthcare and University/PA)

Although the culture is most known today for pyramids and mummification, Ancient Egypt had a long-standing medical tradition, and even documented cases of treating brain and spinal damage.

27 of the cases documented in the Edwin Smith papyrus are head injuries, and 6 are spinal injuries. Each of them is investigated rationally and deductively, with only one of the 48 cases being treated with magic. Although ancient civilizations are generally regarded as primitive, the Smith papyrus demonstrates that the ancient Egyptians had highly advanced knowledge of medicine.

Read the Smith Papyrus for yourself.

(via Mindhacks)

Air tests in southern Louisiana closest to the growing oil spill have shown levels of Hydrogen Sulfide 100 times more than what's safe for human exposure.


The new Miss USA is of Lebanese descent. American conservatives cry out over perceived political correctness and affirmative action. Predominately-Muslim Arab-American communities are divided. And journalists have uncovered pictures of her performing a pole dance for a 2007 Detroit radio station contest.

Welcome to modern America.

Although Brazil is obliged by several treaties to not to develop nuclear weapons, the country has a long history with nuclear power.

More recently, Brazil (with Turkey) has pushed efforts to get a nuclear deal signed between Iran and the United Nations. Spiegel speculates this recent involvement in nuclear policy on the international stage is because the country may be secretly developing a nuclear arsenal like Iran has been accused of.

For a country with a 15,000-kilometer border and rich offshore oil reserves, Alencar says, these weapons would not only be an important tool of "deterrence," but would also give Brazil the means to increase its importance on the international stage. When it was pointed out that Brazil had signed the NPT, Alencar reacted calmly, saying it was "a matter that was open to negotiation."

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda's warning to Obama and the US.

Speak [the truth] to your people, oh Obama,” he continues. “Do not hide from them the magnitude of the danger that will come unexpectedly and that awaits them. Reveal to them the investigation files, the[terror] cells, the plots that are still ongoing, and the targets that the mujahideen are striving and determined to strike again.” 


Widespread use of digital media (such as this blog) may be a bigger cause of environmental damage and deforestation than print media.


Coal-powered digital media is destructive to the environment in many ways beyond deforestation. Coal fired power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions cause acid rain that is destroying red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and killing brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.



Pictures of upper-middle class Iranians before the 1979 Revolution.

Researchers at Boston's Northeastern University have invented a way to convert plastics into fuel without creating harmful emissions.




Self-sustainability is the key to the double-tank combustor design. Plastic waste is first processed in an upper tank through pyrolysis, which converts solid plastic into gas. Next, the gas flows to a lower tank, where it is burned with oxidants to generate heat and steam. The heat sustains the combustor while the steam can be used to generate electric power.

(via Inhabitat)


MIT and Harvard biologists have created a process of re-creating human tissue modeled after the popular Danish Lego plastic toy blocks.

Cells are bound into blocks using the polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG), which hardens when illuminated. Researchers form little cell blocks and then shine a bright light on them and they harden into form. Once the LEGOS are built they load them into a pre-made cast of PDMS (a silicon based polymer widely used in the medical field) to create living human tissue. They’ve only created veins so far, but theoretically with some cell differentiation and a larger mold they could create entire organs.

Liberal arts majors rejoice - the US Military wants your social science skills to monitor "local cultural and tribal dynamics" and predict the next wave of African wars.

The teams, called Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Teams, or SCRATs, will be skilled ethnographic or social science researchers with language skills and field experience. Before a bilateral military exercise, for instance, the paper states, “a SCRAT may conduct a socio-cultural assessment to better focus U.S. efforts and develop beneficial objectives. They may then accompany U.S. forces during the exercise in a cultural advisory capacity and conduct a post-exercise assessment of the impact on the local population.”


(via From The Wilderness)



While English may not fragment into separate languages like some fear, it's usage worldwide in cultures with very different understandings of the connotations of English words will keep Americans amused for a very long time.

For more insightful commentary than my own, here is what you've been looking for.

Dictators before they were famous...in seemingly harmless jobs.

That's what this Washington Post article seems to imply.

"Our cells are working everywhere," one Pakistani Taliban fighter said in a telephone interview. New foreign recruits, among them Europeans and Americans, undergo days of isolation and "complete observation" by militants outside the tribal areas before gaining access to camps, he said.

Rising meat prices in Egypt have lead to growing protests and meat boycotts over economic hardship.

The protests have mostly been small, but they cast a spotlight on an income disparity that critics contend goes to the heart of Egypt's social and economic woes: An ineffective and autocratic regime more intent on preserving its authority and catering to the elite than the needs of the overwhelming majority of its people.

Amid lingering Iran-Iraq War memories and American/Iranian tensions over nuclear power, US forces struggle to train Iraqi border patrol forces to guard its large, porous, vaugely-defined border with Iran.

Whereas American and Iraqi soldiers had treated the midpoint of the Shalamcheh Canal as the border, Iranian border guards during the past several months have gradually nudged the line westward by a few dozen yards.

Demographic and migration trends in the United States will soon redefine assumptions of American life.

Suburbs still tilt white. But, for the first time, a majority of all racial and ethnic groups in large metro areas live outside the city. Suburban Asians and Hispanics already had topped 50 percent in 2000, and blacks joined them by 2008, rising from 43 percent in those eight years.

The suburbs now have the largest poor population in the country. They are home to the vast majority of baby boomers age 55 to 64, a fast-growing group that will strain social services after the first wave of boomers turns 65 next year.

An American scientist recently raised the possibility that South American independence leader, Simon Bolivar, may have died from arsenic poisoning rather than tuberculosis.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal proponent and self-proclaimed successor of Bolivar, has used this speculation to bolster his own claims that the South American liberator was poisoned by a Colombian political rival, Francisco de Santander, and used the symbolism to take a swipe at the current political leader of Colombia.

"Uribe is one of the sons of Santander. He is from the same lineage," Chavez said last year after Uribe gave U.S. soldiers more access to Colombian military bases. "We are the sons of Bolivar and we are in that battle," Venezuela's leader added.

However, the American scientist is not so happy about Chavez' reaction to his statement.

"What I said has been taken and used for their own political means," Auwaerter said in a telephone interview.

Researchers have discovered traces of Neanderthal DNA in most human genetic/ethnic groups.

Better yet, and a blow to Caucasian and Asian racists, the comparison of the human and Neanderthal genome makes it clear that it is only Africans who are 100 percent Homo sapiens, while in European (including American and Australian settlers) and Asian populations one can find up to 4 percent DNA stemming from the archaic and often maligned Neanderthal species - a hominid that went extinct more than 20,000 years ago.

Will certain kinds of journalism soon be reported by computer software?

Frankel says his service can render stories about crime stats, medical study results, surveys, financial announcements, or any other data-intensive subject matter. Hammond says the company is starting with athletics because only about 1% of U.S. sporting events are covered by reporters.

(Thanks, Freakonomics)



An interesting look at the ethnic politics of the Balkans from the early 20th century, through autochrome color photography commissioned by Albert Kahn.



...Obviously, the top picture is not from the Balkan region, but it still captures a cultural time period that no longer exists.

"Double genocide theory" - rendering Nazism and Stalinism equal in their violence - has gained popularity in Lithuania while overshadowing Lithuania's own complicated history with anti-Semitism.

A more complex phenomenon than Holocaust denial, obfuscation does not deny a single Jewish death at the hands of the Nazis. Instead, it uses as a starting point the idea that the Nazi genocide was not a unique event but rather a reaction to Soviet “genocide” (and antecedent to further Soviet genocide) in which the same elements of Lithuanian society that often sided with the Nazi invaders were persecuted and imprisoned by the Communist regime, whose officials included Jews.



Out of all the Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan in the 80's, here's the one guy who knew how to draw.



An interesting discussion about the intentional aesthetic considerations in taking pictures of outer space.

The connections to the 19th-century paintings and photographs also go beyond appearance and an evocation of the sublime. The works of Moran, Bierstadt and others symbolise exploration and the frontier. Many of the artists and photographers accompanied scientific surveys of the American west, and their work was used to promote further scientific study of the region. In many ways, the Hubble images have a similar function today. They promise the possibility of new frontiers, new places to discover, new worlds to know.

(via CultureLab)

The cousin of Syrian President, Bashar Assad, on the influence of Tehran and Hezbollah in the country's politics.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should your cousin therefore break off relations with Iran?

Assad: Syria must act independently and should no longer be submissive or act subordinately. This can only succeed, however, if Syria has a government of national unity that can win popular support for the goal of more democracy.