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In the News 30.11.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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In the News 30.11.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 30.11.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 30.11.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

English is Not Normal

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English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Speaking came long before writing, we speak much more, and all but a couple of hundred of the world’s thousands of languages are rarely or never written. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird. It’s weird in ways that are easy to miss, especially since Anglophones in the United States and Britain are not exactly rabid to learn other languages. But our monolingual tendency leaves us like the proverbial fish not knowing that it is wet. Our language feels ‘normal’ only until you get a sense of what normal really is.

Read the rest of this article at Aeon

Why the Economic Fates of America’s Cities Diverged

A man takes in the view of the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands in Sausalito, California September 24, 2008.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES) - RTX8VX4

Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.

Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.

Yet the decline in regional equality wasn’t just about the rise of the “New South.” It also reflected the rising standard of living across the Midwest and Mountain West—or the vast territory now known dismissively in some quarters as “flyover states.” In 1966, the average per-capita income of greater Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was only $87 less than that of New York City and its suburbs. Ranked among the country’s top 25 richest metro areas in the mid-1960s were Rockford, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Des Moines, Iowa; and Cleveland, Ohio.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

How Humans Ended Up With Freakishly Huge Brains

Coloured MRI Scan Of Human Brain

THERE IT WAS, sitting on the mantelpiece, staring at her with hollow eyes and a naked grin. She could not stop staring back. It looked distinctly like the fossilized skull of an extinct baboon. That was the sort of thing Josephine Salmons was likely to know. At the time—1924—she was one of the only female students of anatomy attending the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. On this particular day she was visiting her friend Pat Izod, whose father managed a quarry company that had been excavating limestone near the town of Taung. Workers had unearthed numerous fossils during the excavation, and the Izods had kept this one as a memento. Salmons brought news of the skull to her professor, Raymond Dart, an anthropologist with a particular interest in the brain. He was incredulous. Very few primate fossils had been uncovered this far south in Africa. If the Taung site really housed such fossils, it would be an invaluable treasure trove. The next morning Salmons brought Dart the skull, and he could see that she was right: The skull was undeniably simian.

Read the rest of this article at Wired

Addicted to Distraction

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ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

I was horrified. All my life, reading books has been a deep and consistent source of pleasure, learning and solace. Now the books I regularly purchased were piling up ever higher on my bedside table, staring at me in silent rebuke.

Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.”

During the workday, I checked my email more times than I cared to acknowledge, and spent far too much time hungrily searching for tidbits of new information about the presidential campaign, with the election then still more than a year away.

Read the rest of this article at The New York Times

Short Answers to Hard
Questions About Climate Change

The issue can be overwhelming. The science is complicated. Predictions about the fate of the planet carry endless caveats and asterisks.

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1. How much is the planet heating up?

1.7 degrees is actually a significant amount.

As of this October, the Earth had warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the land ice on the planet is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.

2. How much trouble are we in?

For future generations, big trouble.

The risks are much greater over the long run than over the next few decades, but the emissions that create those risks are happening now. Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to resemble that of today, although gradually getting warmer. Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will most likely grow hotter and therefore drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface, and therefore may be more intense, on average, than those of the past. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging.

Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.

All of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out, conceivably providing a cushion of time for civilization to adjust, but experts cannot rule out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw society into chaos much sooner. Bolder efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely.

3. Is there anything I can do?

Fly less, drive less, waste less.

There are lots of simple ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.

If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights, and after some scandals in the early days, they started to scrutinize the projects closely, so the offsets can now be bought in good conscience. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass in San Francisco that follow strict rules set up by the state of California; some people even give these as holiday gifts. Yet another way: In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, with the money going into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms.

In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.

Read the rest of this article at The New York Time

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.