Category : Science & Technology

(Telegraph) Mother gives up baby for adoption over dishonest sperm donor

A Japanese woman has given up her baby for adoption after discovering the sperm donor lied about his education and ethnicity.

The woman, identified only as a Tokyo resident in her 30s, is suing the man in a case that has cast light on Japan’s widely unregulated sperm donation industry.

She is seeking around 330 million yen (£2m) for emotional distress, claiming he lied in order to have sex with her, in the first legal case of its kind, according to Japanese media.

The woman and her husband reportedly came into contact with the man, who is in his 20s, via a social media sperm donation account while trying to conceive their second child.

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Japan, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology

([London] Times) Microsoft Word introduces new ‘woke’ feature to suggest PC alternatives

The line Neil Armstrong uttered when he stepped on the Moon — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — is deemed problematic by the software, which suggests changing “mankind” to “humankind” or “humanity”.

The children’s cartoon Postman Pat also fails the inclusivity test, with the software preferring “mail carrier” Pat or “postal worker” Pat.

The software also offers to tweak Billy Paul’s 1970s hit Me and Mrs Jones to a more modern Me and Ms Jones, while Barry Manilow’s infamous Lola in the song Copacabana might more appropriately be referred to as a performing artist rather than a showgirl.

Other words to change include “headmaster” (Word suggests “principal”), “master” (“expert”), “manpower” (“workforce”) and “heroine” (“hero”).

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Language, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(ScienceAlert) Microbes in The Ocean Depths Can Make Oxygen Without Sun. This Discovery Could Be Huge

For most of life on Earth, oxygen is essential, and sunlight is usually needed to produce that oxygen. But in an exciting twist, researchers have caught a common, ocean-dwelling microbe breaking all the rules.

Scientists have found that a microbe called Nitrosopumilus maritimus and several of its cousins, called ammonia oxidizing archaea (AOA), are able to survive in dark, oxygen-depleted environments by producing oxygen on their own. They do so using a biological process that hasn’t been seen before.

While it’s previously been established that these microbes can live in environments where oxygen is scarce, what hasn’t been clear is what they get up to there – and how they’re staying alive for as long as they do. That was the inspiration behind this new research.

“These guys are really abundant in the oceans, where they play an important role in the nitrogen cycle,” says microbiologist Beate Kraft, from the University of Southern Denmark.

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Posted in Science & Technology

(Guardian) Rowan Williams–The world feels fragile, but we can recover from the blows we’ve suffered

…what science alone does not do is build the motivation for a deeper level of connection. We act effectively not just when we find a language in common to identify problems, but when we recognise that those who share these challenges are profoundly like us, to the extent that we can to some degree feel their frailty as if it were ours – or at least, feel their frailty impacting directly on our own, so that we cannot be secure while they remain at risk.

This is where art comes in. Like the sciences, it makes us shelve our self-oriented habits for a bit. Listening to music, looking at an exhibition, reading a novel, watching a theatre or television drama, we open doors to experiences that are not our own. If science helps us discover that there are things to talk about that are not determined just by the self-interest of the people talking, art opens us up to how the stranger feels, uncovering connections where we had not expected them.

What religion adds to this is a further level of motivation. The very diverse vocabularies of different religious traditions claim not only that the Other is someone we can recognise but that they are someone we must look at with something like reverence. The person before us has a claim on our attention, even our contemplation, and on our active generosity. The religions of south and east Asia question the very idea of a safe and stable self with a territory to protect against others; while for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the claim of the stranger is grounded in the conviction that every human beings is a vehicle of God’s presence and God’s glory – “made in God’s image”.

Being more deeply connected will not take away the fragility of our condition, but it will help us see that it is worth parking the obsessions of tribes and echo chambers so that we can actually learn from and with each other; that it is worth making what local difference can be made, so as to let the dignity of the human person be seen with greater clarity. “Our life and death are with our neighbour,” said one of the saints of early Christian monasticism. That is the humanism we need if we are not to be paralysed by the fragility we cannot escape.

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Posted in --Rowan Williams, Anthropology, Ecology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Theology

(C of E) New ‘cathedral’ of digital worshippers emerges from online broadcasts

Members of a new “cathedral” of online worshippers formed since the first lockdown are to play a key role in the Church of England’s 100th national online service to be broadcast this weekend.

Prayers will be read by people who joined a regular digital worshipping community that grew through YouTube and Facebook broadcasts of national online services.

The first national online service was broadcast from the crypt chapel at Lambeth Palace on Mothering Sunday 2020 as the nation went into lockdown. Since then a service has been broadcast every Sunday – with additional services broadcast over Easter, Advent and Christmas.

The broadcast on Sunday, marking the milestone of the 100th service, will led by the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields Dr Sam Wells, with a sermon from Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley, who oversees the Church of England’s national online services.

Dr Hamley, who took part in the first online service broadcast in March 2020 from the Crypt chapel of Lambeth Palace, will pay tribute to the work of both the national and local churches in providing online services during the pandemic.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year Message 2022

When it comes to climate change, it is tempting to despair, but there are real reasons to hope.

Last year, faith leaders representing three-quarters of the world’s population stood together at the Vatican and called for definitive action on climate change.

People of every background are campaigning and working for justice.

Important steps were taken at the COP26 summit. World leaders recognise the problem. Now they must agree and implement a fair solution for everyone.

When we plant a seed, we don’t see the fruit immediately. But under the surface, God is working with what we have planted.

In the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I see that God turns all endings into new beginnings, and death into life. God invites us to be part of this story – to be people who bring hope, healing and renewal to our world.

This year, let’s keep planting those seeds – let’s keep moving forward in hope.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Globalization, Science & Technology

(Council on Foreign Relations) The Ten Most Significant World Events in 2021

2. COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive as the Virus Mutates. The vaccines created to address the novel coronavirus may join the smallpox, polio, and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines as major advances in saving lives and diminishing morbidity. The speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed was stunning. Vaccines historically took ten to fifteen years to develop. The quickest any vaccine had been developed previously was the four years it took to create the mumps vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines were created in less than a year. Just as important, the leading COVID-19 vaccines worked stunningly well; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both more than 90 percent effective against early COVID-19 variants. More than 7.4 billion vaccine doses were administered in 184 countries in the first eleven months of 2021, with seventy countries making donations. Unfortunately, too many people who could have been vaccinated chose not to, and too many people who wanted to get vaccinated couldn’t. That was deadly because COVID-19 is incredibly adaptive. The Delta variant, first identified in December 2020 in India, was more infectious than its predecessors and soon became the dominant strain around the world. In November 2021, South African scientists identified the emergence of the Omicron variant. Within weeks it had been found around the world. As 2021 ended, it was unclear whether Omicron presented a greater health threat or would send the global economy into another tailspin. What was clear is that more than 5 million people globally and 800,000 Americans had died from COVID-19.

1. Countries Fail the Climate Change Challenge—Again. “A code red for humanity.” That’s how UN Secretary General António Guterres’ described the UN report released in August that concluded that humanity faces catastrophic climate change unless the emission of heat-trapping gases is slashed. But one didn’t need to read the 4,000-page report to know that. Extreme weather dominated the news in 2021, as it has for much of the past decade. Record drought wracked the American southwest. Record flooding devastated Belgium and western Germany. Epic wildfires tore through Greece. Late season monsoons ravaged India and Nepal. Climate optimists could find some developments to cheer in 2021. President Biden committed the United States to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. China agreed in September to discontinue financing coal-fired power plants overseas, and Iceland opened a facility to take carbon dioxide out of the air. At the COP-26 meeting in Glasgow in November countries pledged to take steps to address climate change, including by cutting methane emissions. But pledges aren’t accomplishments. Carbon emissions jumped in 2021 as the global economy roared back to life. Even as President Biden pushed Congress to address climate change in a major infrastructure bill, he asked OPEC to increase oil production in a bid to lower gasoline prices. He was hardly the only world leader hoping to have his cake and eat it too. The transition away from fossil fuels poses difficult choices. Mother Nature, however, doesn’t give credit for degree of difficulty.

Read it all and see what you make of their choices.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Globalization, Health & Medicine, History, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Defense one) US Army Creates Single Vaccine Against All COVID & SARS Variants, Researchers Say

Within weeks, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to announce that they have developed a vaccine that is effective against COVID-19 and all its variants, even Omicron, as well as previous SARS-origin viruses that have killed millions of people worldwide.

The achievement is the result of almost two years of work on the virus. The Army lab received its first DNA sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020. Very early on, Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch decided to focus on making a vaccine that would work against not just the existing strain but all of its potential variants as well.

Walter Reed’s Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine, or SpFN, completed animal trials earlier this year with positive results. Phase 1 of human trials, wrapped up this month, again with positive results that are undergoing final review, Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, said in an exclusive interview with Defense One on Tuesday. The new vaccine will still need to undergo phase 2 and phase 3 trials.

“We’re testing our vaccine against all the different variants, including Omicron,” Modjarrad said.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces, Science & Technology

(AP) Case drop may show South Africa’s omicron peak has passed

South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.

Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint — far from conclusive yet — that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.

South Africa has been at the forefront of the omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.

After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province — South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria — the decrease started earlier and has continued.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, South Africa

(Washington Post) The ‘most serious’ security breach ever is unfolding right now. Here’s what you need to know.

On Dec. 9, word of a newly discovered computer bug in a hugely popular piece of computer code started rippling around the cybersecurity community. By the next day, nearly every major software company was in crisis mode, trying to figure out how their products were affected and how they could patch the hole.

The descriptions used by security experts to describe the new vulnerability in an extremely common section of code called log4j border on the apocalyptic.

“The log4j vulnerability is the most serious vulnerability I have seen in my decades-long career,” Jen Easterly, U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director, said in a Thursday interview on CNBC.

So why is this obscure piece of software causing so much panic, and should regular computer users be worried?

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Posted in Science & Technology

(Reuters) Deepfake anyone: AI synthetic media tech enters perilous phase

“Do you want to see yourself acting in a movie or on TV?” said the description for one app on online stores, offering users the chance to create AI-generated synthetic media, also known as deepfakes.

“Do you want to see your best friend, colleague, or boss dancing?” it added. “Have you ever wondered how would you look if your face swapped with your friend’s or a celebrity’s?”

The same app was advertised differently on dozens of adult sites: “Make deepfake porn in a sec,” the ads said. “Deepfake anyone.”

How increasingly sophisticated technology is applied is one of the complexities facing synthetic media software, where machine learning is used to digitally model faces from images and then swap them into films as seamlessly as possible.

The technology, barely four years old, may be at a pivotal point, according to interviews with companies, researchers, policymakers and campaigners.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Photos/Photography, Pornography, Science & Technology

(Church Times) People are dreaming of a green Christmas, poll suggests

Eight out of ten people in the UK are prepared to change their Christmas habits to help tackle the climate crisis, a new poll suggests. Actions such as ending the use of non-recyclable wrapping paper, and no longer giving plastic toys, were the top choices for households.

Giving secondhand gifts and swapping the Christmas turkey for a vegetarian option were less popular actions for those who took part in the poll for Christian Aid: just 15 per cent of respondents were prepared to have a vegetarian Christmas lunch, compared with 55 per cent who were willing to swap the wrapping paper that they used.

Younger people were most likely to be willing to take action: 89 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds would change their habits this Christmas, compared with 79 per cent of over-55s.

The poll of more than 2000 people was carried out by Savanta ComRes to coincide with Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal for South Sudan.

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Posted in Ecology, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(AP) US faces a double coronavirus surge as omicron advances

The new omicron coronavirus mutant speeding around the world may bring another wave of chaos, threatening to further stretch hospital workers already struggling with a surge of delta cases and upend holiday plans for the second year in a row.

The White House on Wednesday insisted there is no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely available and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus. But even if omicron proves milder on the whole than delta, it may disarm some of the life-saving tools available and put immune-compromised and elderly people at particular risk as it begins a rapid assault on the United States.

“Our delta surge is ongoing and, in fact, accelerating. And on top of that, we’re going to add an omicron surge,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.

“That’s alarming, because our hospitals are already filling up. Staff are fatigued,” leaving limited capacity for a potential crush of COVID-19 cases “from an omicron wave superimposed on a delta surge.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Science) The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world

It’s almost a mantra in climate science: The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. But that figure, found in scientific studies, advocacy reports, the popular press, and even the 2021 U.N. climate assessment, is incorrect, obscuring the true toll of global warming on the north, a team of climate scientists reports this week. In fact, the researchers say, the Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average.

“Everybody knows [the Arctic] is a canary when it comes to climate change,” says Peter Jacobs, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who presented the work on 13 December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “Yet we’re misreporting it by a factor of two. Which is just bananas.”

Researchers have long known the world warms faster in the far north, because of a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. The drivers of amplification include increased solar heating, as dark ocean water replaces reflective sea ice, along with occasional intrusions of tropical heat, carried to the Arctic by “atmospheric rivers,” narrow parades of dense clouds that drag water vapor northward.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Science & Technology

(FA) Sue Gordon and Eric Rosenbach–America’s Cyber-Reckoning: How to Fix a Failing Strategy

A decade ago, the conventional wisdom held that the world was on the cusp of a new era of cyberconflict in which catastrophic computer-based attacks would wreak havoc on the physical world. News media warned of doomsday scenarios; officials in Washington publicly fretted about a “cyber–Pearl Harbor” that would take lives and destroy critical infrastructure. The most dire predictions, however, did not come to pass. The United States has not been struck by devastating cyberattacks with physical effects; it seems that even if U.S. adversaries wanted to carry out such assaults, traditional forms of deterrence would prevent them from acting.

Behind those mistaken warnings lay an assumption that the only alternative to cyberpeace must be cyberwar. But in the years since, it has become clear that like all realms of conflict, the domain of cyberspace is shaped not by a binary between war and peace but by a spectrum between those two poles—and most cyberattacks fall somewhere in that murky space. The obvious upside of this outcome is that the worst fears of death and destruction have not been realized. There is a downside, however: the complex nature of cyberconflict has made it more difficult for the United States to craft an effective cyberstrategy. And even if lives have not been lost and infrastructure has mostly been spared, it is hardly the case that cyberattacks have been harmless. U.S. adversaries have honed their cyber-skills to inflict damage on U.S. national security, the American economy, and, most worrisome of all, American democracy. Meanwhile, Washington has struggled to move past its initial perception of the problem, clinging to outmoded ideas that have limited its responses. The United States has also demonstrated an unwillingness to consistently confront its adversaries in the cyber-realm and has suffered from serious self-inflicted wounds that have left it in a poor position to advance its national interests in cyberspace.

To do better, the United States must focus on the most pernicious threats of all: cyberattacks aimed at weakening societal trust, the underpinnings of democracy, and the functioning of a globalized economy. The Biden administration seems to recognize the need for a new approach. But to make significant progress, it will need to reform the country’s cyberstrategy, starting with its most fundamental aspect: the way Washington understands the problem.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(TLS) Niall Ferguson reviews ‘The Age of AI: And Our Human Future’ by by Henry A Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher

It had never occurred to me until I read The Age of AI that what differentiates AI from HI – human intelligence – is that even the most brilliant human chess player rules out ex ante certain moves that involve very high sacrifice. But AlphaZero plays chess “without reflection or volition, with strict adherence to the rules”. It is unbeatable partly because it has inferred from the rules certain tactics – and hence, cumulatively, a strategy – that HI would never consider.

The other obvious difference is that AI is much, much faster than HI. As the authors note, “An AI … scanning for targets follows its own logic, which may be inscrutable to an adversary and unsusceptible to traditional signals and feints – and which will, in most cases, proceed faster than the speed of human thought”. The idea of an AI program waging war, rather than playing chess, with the same ruthlessness and speed is deeply frightening. No doubt DeepMind is already working on AlphaHero. One imagines with a shudder the programme sacrificing entire armies or armadas as readily as its chess-playing predecessor sacrificed its queen. No doubt the reader should feel reassured that the United States has committed itself to develop only “AI-enabled weapons”, as opposed to “AI weapons … that make lethal decisions autonomously from human operators”. “Created by humans, AI should be overseen by humans”, the authors declare. But why should America’s undemocratic adversaries exercise the same restraint? Inhuman intelligence sounds like the natural ally of regimes that are openly contemptuous of human rights.

If the foe of the future is literally inhuman as well as inhumane, how shall we be able to defend ourselves? The varieties of deterrence that evolved during the first Cold War, up to and including Mutually Assured Destruction, seem unlikely to apply to AI war. Because, unlike nuclear weapons, AI will be widely used in multiple ways and at multiple scales, “the achievement of mutual strategic restraint … will be more difficult than before”. That seems an understatement. I have thought for some time that there may simply be no deterrence in the areas of cyberwar and information warfare.

We are left with only two possibilities. “For nations”, the authors note, “disconnection could become the ultimate form of defense.” This makes sense. The past five years have vividly revealed the dangers of a hyperconnected world. Without effective circuit-breakers that sever network links at the first indication of hazardous contagion, we are as vulnerable to cyberattack as we were to fake news in 2016 or a novel pathogen in 2020.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Military / Armed Forces, Science & Technology

(NYT) The End of a Return-to-Office Date

The executives had a good feeling about Jan. 10, 2022 — the date when DocuSign’s 7,000 employees worldwide would finally come back to work.

This deadline wouldn’t be like that earlier one in May 2020, which was always a fantasy, or August 2020, which was a bit ambitious, or October 2021, a plan derailed by the Delta variant. Fourth time’s the charm.

“Every time we delay this we’re pushing off the inevitable,” said Joan Burke, the chief people officer, in a late November interview. “At some point in time DocuSign is going to be open.”

That some point in time is no longer in January. The Omicron variant interjected. Just as companies from Ford Motor to Lyft have done in the past week, DocuSign postponed again. In place of a new date came the company’s promise to “reassess our plans as 2022 unfolds.”

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

Elon Musk Named Times person of the year for 2021

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, History, Science & Technology

(New Yorker) Creating a Better Leaf–Could tinkering with photosynthesis prevent a global food crisis?

The more that was discovered about the intricacies of photosynthesis, the more was revealed about its inefficiency. The comparison is often made to photovoltaic cells. Those on the market today convert about twenty per cent of the sunlight that strikes them into electricity, and, in labs, researchers have achieved rates of almost fifty per cent. Plants convert only about one per cent of the sunlight that hits them into growth. In the case of crop plants, on average only about half of one per cent of the light is converted into energy that people can use. The contrast isn’t really fair to biology, since plants construct themselves, whereas P.V. cells have to be manufactured with energy from another source. Plants also store their own energy, while P.V. cells require separate batteries for that. Still, researchers who have tried to make apples-to-apples (or silicon-to-carbon) calculations have concluded that plants come out the losers.

[Stephen] Long went on to get a Ph.D., and then took a teaching job at the University of Essex, on England’s east coast. He became convinced that photosynthesis’s inefficiency presented an opportunity. If the process could be streamlined, plants that had spent millennia just chugging along could become champions. For agriculture, the implications were profound. Potentially, new crop varieties could be created that could produce more with less.

“All of our food, directly or indirectly, comes from the process of photosynthesis,” Long told me. “And we know that even our very best crops are only achieving a fraction of photosynthesis’s theoretical efficiency. So, if we can work out how to improve photosynthesis, we can boost yields. We won’t have to go on destroying yet more land for crops—we can try to produce more on the land we’re already using.”

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Posted in Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Ecology, Globalization, Science & Technology

Gallup Chairman’s blog–Bet on It: 37% of Desks Will Be Empty

I recently asked a team of our advanced analysts to establish an over/under for how many U.S. employees will not be returning to the office full time in the future.

Here are some key facts I learned from them. There are 125 million full-time jobs in America. Of those, right at 50% — or about 60 million — report that their current job can be done remotely working from home. We interviewed a representative sample of them.

The research design included organizations ranging from accounting firms where all employees can work from home (WFH) to construction companies where 10% of employees are in corporate backrooms and can also work remotely. The sample includes everyone from any kind of organization who believes they can do their work from home.

Of those 60 million potential WFH employees, a staggering 30% said they would prefer to “never” come into the office during the week. Ten percent (10%) said they prefer working all five days in the office. The middle 60% want a blend of one to four days per week. The most common preference was two to three days in the office per week.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT) Where the Despairing Log On, and Learn Ways to Die

[Warning: contains difficult subject matter] As Matthew van Antwerpen, a 17-year-old in suburban Dallas, struggled with remote schooling during the pandemic last year, he grew increasingly despondent. Searching online, he found a website about suicide.

“Any enjoyment or progress I make in my life simply comes across as forced,” he wrote on the site after signing up. “I know it is all just a distraction to blow time until the end.”

Roberta Barbos, a 22-year-old student at the University of Glasgow, first posted after a breakup, writing that she was “unbearably lonely.” Shawn Shatto, 25, described feeling miserable at her warehouse job in Pennsylvania. And Daniel Dal Canto, a 16-year-old in Salt Lake City, shared his fears that an undiagnosed stomach ailment might never get better.

Soon after joining, each of them was dead.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Life Ethics, Psychology, Science & Technology, Suicide, Theology

(C of E) Heat pump under playing field helps school cut emissions in bid to reach net zero carbon

The effort comes as all parts of the Church are working to reach net-zero carbon by 2030.

To fit the ground source heat pump, The Parish of St Laurence C of E Primary School in Chorley, Lancashire, had to install 4,500 metres of piping under its playing field, and drill seven bore holes to a depth of 150m.

A ground source heat pump works by drawing on heat below the ground with water heated as it is pumped through underground pipes. The water is then pressurised and used to heat a building.

The school’s efforts have received national acclaim, including at the Green Church Showcase – an event hosted in Glasgow during the COP26 summit.

Alongside the heating improvements, all lighting throughout the building has also been converted to more efficient LED bulbs, and solar panels have been added to the roof. Steps have also been taken to make the building more airtight, reducing draughts and heat loss.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Ecology, Education, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(Bloomberg) Omicron Threat May Be Countered With Extra Dose of Vaccine

The earliest studies on omicron are in and the glimpse they’re providing is cautiously optimistic: while vaccines like the one made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE may be less powerful against the new variant, protection can be fortified with boosters.

Studies from South Africa and Sweden are showing that omicron does, as feared, cause a loss of immune protection — but not a complete one. In a study of blood plasma from people given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, there was a 41-fold drop in levels of virus-blocking antibodies compared with the strain circulating at the start of the pandemic.

A separate study from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute was more optimistic, finding the decline in antibodies against omicron was only slightly worse than for delta, the strain currently causing most Covid-19 cases worldwide.

Read it all.

Posted in Globalization, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Telegraph) ‘They’re killing us slowly’: sandstorms and drought stalk Madagascar

The mother of four shakes the grubby plastic jerry can and sighs. “It’s not really enough,” she says, gesturing first to the almost empty five litre container, then the skinny children peering through the doorway. “But it has to be enough for now.”

Not so long ago, water was plentiful in this hot and arid part of southern Madagascar, an island some 250 miles off the coast of Africa. Then the drought descended.

In the last two to three years the price of water has jumped 300 per cent, in a region where 91 per cent of people earn less than $1.90 a day. Incomes here are inconsistent at best, but a family selling two to three bags of charcoal a month could expect to earn between 20,000 and 30,000 Malagasy ariary – $5 to $7.50.

Horariby and her children have a choice: they either trudge 12 kilometres on foot to collect water from the nearest large town, or buy it at twice the price from a cattle drawn cart that comes to her village, piled high with yellow jerry cans.

Read it all 9subscription).

Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Madagascar

A voice always worth listening to: (NPR)–The NIH director on why Americans aren’t getting healthier, despite medical advances

Selena Simmons-Duffin: After you announced you’d be stepping down from the director role, you told the New York Times that one of your “chief regrets” was the persistence of vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic. How are you thinking about the role NIH could play in understanding this problem?

Francis Collins: I do think we need to understand better how — in the current climate — people make decisions. I don’t think I anticipated the degree to which the tribalism of our current society would actually interfere with abilities to size up medical information and make the kinds of decisions that were going to help people.

To have now 60 million people still holding off of taking advantage of life saving vaccines is pretty unexpected. It does make me, at least, realize, boy, there are things about human behavior that I don’t think we had invested enough into understanding. We basically have seen accurate medical information overtaken, all too often, by the inaccurate conspiracies and false information on social media. It’s a whole other world out there. We used to think that if knowledge was made available from credible sources, it would win the day. That’s not happening now.

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(NYT front page) A Slow-Motion Climate Disaster in Brazil: The Spread of Barren Land

CARNAÚBA DOS DANTAS, Brazil — The land has sustained the Dantas family for more than 150 years, bearing fields of cotton, beanstalks up to a grown man’s hip and, when it rained enough, a river that led to a waterfall.

But on a recent day, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees, the river had run dry, the crops would not grow and the family’s 30 remaining cattle were quickly consuming the last pool of water.

“Fifty years from now, there won’t be a soul living here,” said Inácio Batista Dantas, 80, balanced in a frayed hammock. “I tell my grandchildren that things are going to get very difficult.”

His granddaughter, Hellena, 16, listened in — and pushed back. She grew up here. “I plan to work this land,” she said.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Brazil, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Stewardship

(Church Times) Ian Todd–Secularisation and the scientists

Going beyond the accumulating scientific evidence for a spiritual dimension, there are the continuing debates concerning the origin of the universe and its fine tuning for life, and the origin and diversity of life on earth. In all of these areas, the hypothesis of an intelligent designer is equally or more plausible than the purely materialistic explanations that many assume are the only permissible theories.

So, it is my opinion that one of the few ways in which the seemingly unstoppable tide of secularisation might be reversed is by gradually, but relentlessly, countering the materialist assumptions that predominate in society with rigorous, data-based evidence that we are the spiritual children of a loving God.

Such a strategy is clearly playing the long game, which is why I estimate that it will take several generations. This may seem frustratingly slow on a human scale; but God has all the time in the world.

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Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(NPR) Sending the right message about the omicron variant

This time, a lot of local public health departments around the country are working hard to get the message right, says Adriane Casalotti of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “We have seen local health departments being out there, trying to explain to folks what we do know, but also what we don’t know — and what the timeframe is, and what the process is for learning more.”

One official who’s getting out there is Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, a specialist in infectious diseases and the director of health for the city of St. Louis.

“The message is: There’s no need to panic,” she says. “We still need to learn, we still need to wait for science to do its thing. But in the meantime, we have tools available to keep ourselves and our community safe. We have safe and effective vaccines — so go out and get one — we know that masking works, we know that social distancing works, and we know that hand-washing works.”

In addition to the “don’t panic, do this instead” message, Vish Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health says Hlatshwayo Davis is also signaling to the community that she’s engaged and plans to keep them updated as scientists learn more about the new variant. He says her approach is “exactly what we need.”

“That sense of competence and action — ‘we are watching it, we are on top of it, we’ll work with you’ — it won’t eliminate, but it will abate many concerns,” he says.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Media, Science & Technology

(NYT front page) Omicron Prompts Swift Reconsideration of Boosters Among Scientists

As recently as last week, many public health experts were fiercely opposed to the Biden administration’s campaign to roll out booster shots of the coronavirus vaccines to all American adults. There was little scientific evidence to support extra doses for most people, the researchers said.

The Omicron variant has changed all that.

Scientists do not yet know with any certainty whether the virus is easier to spread or less vulnerable to the body’s immune response. But with dozens of new mutations, the variant seems likely to evade the protection from vaccines to some significant degree.

Booster shots clearly raise antibody levels, strengthening the body’s defenses against infection, and may help offset whatever advantages Omicron has gained through evolution.

Many of the experts who were opposed to boosters now believe that the shots may offer the best defense against the new variant. The extra doses may slow the spread, at least, buying time for vaccine makers to develop an Omicron-specific formulation, if needed.

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Posted in Anthropology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(The Economist) How to manage the Great Resignation–High staff churn is here to stay. Retention strategies require a rethink

The spike in staff departures known as the Great Resignation is centred on America: a record 3% of the workforce there quit their jobs in September. But employees in other places are also footloose. Resignations explain why job-to-job moves in Britain reached a record high in the third quarter of this year.

Some of the churn is transitory. It was hard to act on pent-up job dissatisfaction while economies were in free fall, so there is a post-pandemic backlog of job switches to clear. And more quitting now is not the same as sustained job-hopping later. As Melissa Swift of Mercer, a consultancy, notes, white-collar workers in search of higher purpose will choose a new employer carefully and stay longer.

But there is also reason to believe that higher rates of churn are here to stay. The prevalence of remote working means that more roles are plausible options for more jobseekers. And the pandemic has driven home the precariousness of life at the bottom of the income ladder. Resignation rates are highest in industries, like hospitality, that are full of low-wage workers who have lots of potentially risky face-to-face contact with colleagues and customers.

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