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Wednesday, July 18, 2007Einstein On Gandhi
I believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time.
We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil.
1. The St. Pierre Snake Invasion
Volcanic activity on the ‘bald mountain’ towering over St Pierre, Martinique, was usually so inconsequential that no one took seriously the fresh steaming vent-holes and earth tremors during April, 1902. By early May, however, ash began to rain down continuously, and the nauseating stench of sulphur filled the air. Their homes on the mountainside made uninhabitable, more than 100 fer-de-lance snakes slithered down and invaded the mulatto quarter of St Pierre. The 6-ft long serpents killed 50 people and innumerable animals before they were finally destroyed by the town’s giant street cats. But the annihilation had only begun. On May 5, a landslide of boiling mud spilled into the sea, followed by a tsunami that killed hundreds and, three days later, May 8, Mt Pelee finally exploded, sending a murderous avalanche of white-hot lava straight toward the town. Within three minutes St Pierre was completely obliterated. Of its 30,000 population, there were only two survivors.
2. The Shiloh Baptist Church Panic
Two thousand people, mostly black, jammed into the Shiloh Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 19, 1902, to hear an address by Booker T. Washington. The brick church was new. A steep flight of stairs, enclosed in brick, led from the entrance doors to the church proper. After Washington’s speech, there was an altercation over an unoccupied seat, and the word ‘fight’ was misunderstood as ‘fire’. The congregation rose as if on cue and stampeded for the stairs. Those who reached them first were pushed from behind and fell. Others fell on top of them until the entrance was completely blocked by a pile of screaming humanity 10 ft high. Efforts by Washington and the churchmen down in the front to induce calm were fruitless, and they stood by helplessly while their brothers and sisters, mostly the latter, were trampled or suffocated to death. There was neither fire - nor even a real fight - but 115 people died.
3. The Great Boston Molasses Flood
On January 15, 1919, the workers and residents of Boston’s North End, mostly Irish and Italian, were out enjoying the noontime sun of an unseasonably warm day. Suddenly, with only a low rumble of warning, the huge cast-iron tank of the Purity Distilling Company burst open and a great wave of raw black molasses, two storeys high, poured down Commercial Street and oozed into the adjacent waterfront area. Neither pedestrians nor horse-drawn wagons could outrun it. Two million gallons of molasses, originally destined for rum, engulfed scores of people - 21 men, women and children died of drowning or suffocation, while another 150 were injured. Buildings crumbled, and an elevated train track collapsed. Those horses not completely swallowed up were so trapped in the goo they had to be shot by the police. Sightseers who came to see the chaos couldn’t help but walk in the molasses. On their way home they spread the sticky substance throughout the city. Boston smelled of molasses for a week, and the harbour ran brown until summer.
4. The Pittsburg Gasometer Explosion
A huge cylindrical gasometer - the largest in the world at that time - located in the heart of the industrial centre of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, developed a leak. On the morning of November 14, 1927, repairmen set out to look for it - with an open-flame blowlamp. At about 10 o’clock they apparently found the leak. The tank, containing 5 million cu. ft of natural gas, rose in the air like a balloon and exploded. Chunks of metal, some weighing more than 100 lbs, were scattered great distances, and the combined effects of air pressure and fire left a square mile of devastation. Twenty-eight people were killed and hundreds were injured.
5. The Gillingham Fire Demonstration
Every year the firemen of Gillingham, in Kent, England, would construct a makeshift ‘house’ out of wood and canvas for the popular fire-fighting demonstration at the annual Gillingham Park fÃªte. Every year, too, a few local boys were selected from many aspirants to take part in the charade. On July 11, 1929, nine boys - aged 10 to 14 - and six firemen costumed as if for a wedding party, climbed to the third floor of the ‘house’. The plan was to light a smoke fire on the first floor, rescue the ‘wedding party’ with ropes and ladders, and then set the empty house ablaze to demonstrate the use of the fire hoses. By some error, the real fire was lit first. The spectators, assuming the bodies they saw burning were dummies, cheered and clapped, while the firemen outside directed streams of water on what they knew to be a real catastrophe. All 15 people inside the house died.
6. The Empire State Building Crash
On Saturday morning, July 28, 1945, a veteran Army pilot took off in a B-25 light bomber from Bedford, Massachusetts, headed for Newark, New Jersey, the co-pilot and a young sailor hitching a ride were also aboard. Fog made visibility poor. About an hour later, people on the streets of midtown Manhattan became aware of the rapidly increasing roar of a plane and watched with horror as a bomber suddenly appeared out of the clouds, dodged between skyscrapers, and then plunged into the side of the Empire State Building. Pieces of plane and building fell like hail. A gaping hole was gouged in the 78th floor, one of the plane’s two engines hurtled through seven walls and came out the opposite side of the building, and the other engine shot through an elevator shaft, severing the cables and sending the car plummeting to the basement. When the plane’s fuel tank exploded, six floors were engulfed in flame, and burning gasoline streamed down the sides of the building. Fortunately, few offices were open on a Saturday, and only 11 people - plus the three occupants of the plane - died.
7. The Tunguska Event
On June 30, 1908, a huge explosion occurred near the Podkamennaya (Under Rock) Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia. The airburst was most likely caused by a meteor or comet fragment about 20m (60ft) across. Although the meteor or comet is considered to have burst prior to hitting the surface, this event is still referred to as an impact event. The energy of the blast was estimated to be between 10 and 20 megatons of TNT, 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or equivalent to Castle Bravo, the most powerful nuclear bomb ever detonated by the US.
The Tunguska explosion felled an estimated 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq mi). The devastation is still visible today in satellite images of the area.
8. The Texas City Chain Reaction Explosions
On April 15, 1947, the French freighter Grandcamp docked at Texas City, Texas, and took on some 1,400 tons of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. That night a fire broke out in the hold of the ship. By dawn, thick black smoke had port authorities worried because the Monsanto chemical plant was only 700 ft away. As men stood on the dock watching, tugboats prepared to tow the freighter out to sea. Suddenly a ball of fire enveloped the ship. For many it was the last thing they ever saw. A great wall of flame radiated outward from the wreckage, and within minutes the Monsanto plant exploded, killing and maiming hundreds of workers and any spectators who had survived the initial blast. Most of the business district was devastated, and fires raged along the waterfront, where huge tanks of butane gas stood imperilled. Shortly after midnight, a second freighter - also carrying nitrates - exploded, and the whole sequence began again. More than 500 people died, and another 1,000 were badly injured.
9. The Basra Mass Poisoning
In September 1971 a shipment of 90,000 metric tons of seed grain arrived in the Iraqi port of Basra. The American barley and Mexican wheat - which had been chemically treated with methyl-mercury to prevent rot - were sprayed a bright pink to indicate their lethal coating, and clear warnings were printed on the bags - but only in English and Spanish. Before they could be distributed to the farmers, the bags were stolen from the docks, and the grain was sold as food to the starving populace. The Iraqi government, embarrassed at its criminal negligence or for other reasons, hushed up the story, and it was not until two years later that an American newsman came up with evidence that 6,530 hospital cases of mercury poisoning were attributable to the unsavoury affair. Officials would admit to only 459 deaths, but total fatalities were probably more like 6,000, with another 100,000 suffering such permanent effects as blindness, deafness and brain damage.
10. The Chandka Forest Elephant Stampede
In the spring of 1972, the Chandka Forest area in India - already suffering from drought - was hit by a searing heat wave as well. The local elephants, who normally were no problem, became so crazed by the high temperatures and lack of water that the villagers told authorities they were afraid to venture out and to farm their land. By summer the situation had worsened. On July 10, the elephant herds went berserk and stampeded through five villages, leaving general devastation and 24 deaths in their wake.
Today in Washington I was in the room as the greatest living American received a medal. George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi and others were present. But will you ever hear this event occurred? To judge from tonight's major network evening newscasts, perhaps not. Cameras were allowed at the ceremony but I saw none from the major networks, though the international press was significantly represented. And will you recognize this great man's name when I say it?
The greatest living American is Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and joins Jimmy Carter as the two living American-born laureates around whose necks this distinction as been placed. Do you know Borlaug's achievement? Would you recognize him if he sat on your lap? Norman Borlaug WON THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, yet is anonymous in the land of his birth.
Born 1914 in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug has saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived. A plant breeder, in the 1940s he moved to Mexico to study how to adopt high-yield crops to feed impoverished nations. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Borlaug developed high-yield wheat strains, then patiently taught the new science of Green Revolution agriculture to poor farmers of Mexico and nations to its south. When famine struck India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, Borlaug and a team of Mexican assistants raced to the Subcontinent and, often working within sight of artillery flashes from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, sowed the first high-yield cereal crop in that region; in a decade, India's food production increased sevenfold, saving the Subcontinent from predicted Malthusian catastrophes. Borlaug moved on to working in South America. Every nation his green thumb touched has known dramatic food production increases plus falling fertility rates (as the transition from subsistence to high-tech farm production makes knowledge more important than brawn), higher girls' education rates (as girls and young women become seen as carriers of knowledge rather than water) and rising living standards for average people. Last fall, Borlaug crowned his magnificent career by persuading the Ford, Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations to begin a major push for high-yield farming in Africa, the one place the Green Revolution has not reached.
Yet Borlaug is unknown in the United States, and if my unscientific survey of tonight's major newscasts is reliable, television tonight ignored his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian award. I clicked around to ABC, CBS and NBC and heard no mention of Borlaug; no piece about him is posted on these networks' evening news websites; CBS Evening News did have time for video of a bicycle hitting a dog. (I am not making that up.) Will the major papers say anything about Borlaug tomorrow?
Borlaug's story is ignored because his is a story of righteousness -- shunning wealth and comfort, this magnificent man lived nearly all his life in impoverished nations. If he'd blown something up, lied under oath or been caught offering money for fun, ABC, CBS and NBC would have crowded the Capitol Rotunda today with cameras, hoping to record an embarrassing gaffe. Because instead Borlaug devoted his life to serving the poor, he is considered Not News. All I can say after watching him today is that I hope Borlaug isn't serious about retiring, as there is much work to be done -- and I hope when I'm 93 years old I can speak without notes, as he did.
Children are so cocooned by their parents that they rarely venture far from home and have little concept of space, volume and how the world actually works, David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said yesterday.
The area in which children were allowed to range freely by their parents was a ninth of what it was a generation ago, he said. He also referred to "most worrying" research which showed children could not grasp basic maths.
"The research tracked the grasp of basic mathematical concepts. For example, you pour water from a tall thin glass into a broad low glass and ask the children if it is the same volume of water.
advertisement"The evidence is that in the past 10 or 15 years or so the proportion of children who understand at the age of seven that it is the same volume of water has gone down significantly.
"The explanation could well lie in the increasingly flat world that they inhabit."
Mr Willetts's comments come amid increasing concern that children's experiences are being stifled by over-anxious parents obsessed with "stranger danger", and an increasingly litigious society which means schools and clubs are nervous about taking children on activity holidays and adventure trips.
As a consequence, children who sit in front of their computer or television, grow up with concentration problems as a result, and suffer a "nature deficit disorder", Mr Willetts said.
"Too little nature, too much television; there is evidence showing that this leads to attention difficulties. For each hour of television watched per day by pre-schoolers, there is a 10 per cent increase in the likelihood they will develop concentration problems and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by the age of seven."
Mr Willetts was addressing the Daycare Trust conference into child care and the way children are raised.
He said he was convinced that children develop their conceptual framework through experiencing the world in three dimensions.
"It is very hard to make sense of geometry if you haven't thrown a ball around or make sense of volume if you haven't messed about with water and sand or do arithmetic if you haven't collected things and arranged them."
He said the Conservatives were examining what was putting off schools and clubs from running trips.
Earlier this week, Britain's safety charity suggested it would be better for the occasional child to fall out of a tree and break their wrist than develop repetitive strain injury from playing computer games.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said parents were too risk-averse and youngsters should be allowed to bruise and cut themselves.
Flexible child care call
Parents need nurseries and school clubs to open at weekends or in the evenings to help them cope with increasingly anti-social working hours, says a report released yesterday by the Daycare Trust.
"The hours of availability of child care often restricts employment opportunities for parents, or requires an understanding employer."
What if the reason you were attracted to someone wasn’t because of good looks or intelligent conversation, but smell? We’re not talking a good perfume here – just natural chemical signals that you sniff out entirely subconsciously. They draw you in, excite you, make your heart twitterpate.
It might sound a little mad, but scientists believe that subconscious behavioral responses to these communicative scents, called pheromomes, happen on a regular basis, in a variety of situations, to a multitude of species. And now, after years of debate over whether we have the right olfactory equipment to process pheromonal cues, evidence is mounting that these scents are at work in people.
Pheromones do all kinds of things: for example bees release pheromones when attacked by a predator, triggering aggression in neighboring bees. Ants mark trails with pheromones to lead them from food to nest. Sex pheromones are, of course, particularly interesting. The first was described in 1956 in the silkworm; just one sniff of a particular protein excreted by the female worms (or butterflies, actually), sent the males’ wings a flappin.
Even today, the best examples of sex pheromones come from insects, because their behavior is generally quite stereotypical – even if their courtship itself is quite bizarre.
Take the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. For an insect with only four pairs of chromosomes (compared to our own 23 pair), fruit flies have a courtship ritual that outshines even the most elaborately planned dinner date. One of the most in-depth studies of fruit-fly courtship and mating comes from Jeffrey Hall of Brandeis University. In 1994, in the journal Science, Hall described how the male fruit fly notices the female and begins to “tap” her abdomen and follow her around, showing his interest. Often, the male extends and vibrates his wing, producing the “love song” that launches a thousand maggots, so to speak.
If the female is receptive (i.e., she doesn’t skedaddle), the male engages in a kind of foreplay (touching her genitalia) before attempting to copulate. If the male fruit fly does not vibrate his wing fast enough, if he is too slow overall, or if he’s an unusual color, the female will almost certainly not mate with him.
The complex nature of the dance raises many questions; how do the males know which female to go for? And how do the females fend off the advances of other males once they’ve already mated?
It seems that females emit a pheromone which, combined with the right pheromone receptor in males, keeps things organized during these courtship displays. The pheromone, 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (or ‘cVA’ for short), is unique. It’s the equivalent of an “I’m taken” sign, or a wedding ring. Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) in the males detect the pheromone prompting them to steer clear of the taken ladies and move on to the single ones.
This simple yet effective dating system was described by Aki Ejima and his colleagues at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in the April 2007 issue of Current Biology.
But the tidiness of these results all but disappears when the pathway short-circuits, suggesting we haven’t put together all the pieces of the Drosophila love match. If male fruit flies lack ORNs, they start chasing OTHER males around and attempt to copulate with them. The normal males run for their lives.
If we haven’t got a handle on simple, well-studied creatures like flies, what of more complex organisms, such as humans? For starters, many physiologists doubt whether we even possess the necessary nose to detect pheromones. In all other mammals, pheromone detection takes place in a deep portion of the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ. Studies from the 1940s found that most adult humans did not have such an organ deep in their nose and in those that did (25% or thereabouts), it was just a useless remnant of evolutionary history.
But there is overwhelming evidence that some smells affect our behavior profoundly. The most famous example is probably the research of Martha McClintock of the University of Chicago. In her 1971 paper in the journal Nature, she argued that women’s menstrual cycles become synchronized when they live in proximity, and that this is due to unconscious odor cues, or pheromones.
Several other studies also suggest that pheromones are at work on a daily basis in people. For example women tend to prefer the smell of sweat-drenched T-shirts from men who differ from them in an important set of immunity genes. The theory is that such opposites-attract pairs would have kids with particularly diverse, and hence well-armed, immune systems.
Likewise, women tend to prefer the scent of manly, dominant men during their fertile phase. Men prefer the smell of women’s sweaty T-shirts worn during their more fertile menstrual phase. Heterosexual and homosexual men and women show strikingly different patterns of body odor preferences, and even the presence of biological fathers in a young girl’s life can affect the age at which she sexually matures.
However encouraging these behavioral studies are, researchers still come up dry in the hunt for the chemical pathways involved.
But there is new hope. A 2006 study published in Nature by Stephen Liberles and (nosy Nobel Prize Winner) Linda Buck of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute seemingly found pheromone receptors in the normal part of mice noses - no vomeronasal organ required. These receptors, called trace amine-associated receptors, or TAARs respond to compounds in mouse urine. Two such chemicals are present in different concentrations in male and female urine and one has been linked to the maturation rate of females. The genes that encode TAARs are also found in the human genome.
Though it is early days, this recent study shows that humans may yet show evidence of pheromones, perhaps even sex pheromones, and we may finally be able to keep up with the fruit fly when it comes to understanding sex.