Our culture's obsession with age as a marker of achievement will drive us crazy. Thanks a lot, Sheryl Sandberg
I approach 30 with a jumble of feelings. But it's not the ageing that truly bothers me. I've actually become more comfortable with who I am as the years have gone by. I'm no longer plagued by the insecurity that consumed me in my younger years. When I look back at old photographs of myself, I thank God that I now have a basic understanding of fashion. And while I know many women begin to freak out about their changing bodies, I think I look better with age. I've come to terms with the grey hair and the faint appearance of wrinkles.
As an adult, I also still retain much of my youthful exuberance and borderline naiveté. Everything seemed possible in my early 20s – of course life was going to be filled with wonder and excitement. Of course my lifelong dream of becoming a respected writer was going to come true. It's this wonderful combination of delusion and tenacity that has gotten me this far. Thanks to my childhood, I'm a fairly tough and scrappy broad.
But while I'm still hopeful (and hopefully, logical) about growing older, why are there moments when I'm breathing into a paper sack as I think of my upcoming birthday? Why do I toss and turn at night? Why am I running around my apartment flapping my arms in a caffeine-induced frenzy when things aren't going as planned?
Our culture tacks an unreasonable amount of significance to this age, and I've played into it like a fool. Entire movies are built around this very premise. I remember watching Julie and Julia several years ago and wondering why Julie, one of the two main characters, was making such a stink about her birthday and treating everyone like garbage. So what if you're turning 30? I thought. Why all the whining? Get over it. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm beginning to feel empathy for her.
Thanks to TV and film, I keep foolishly believing that 30-year-old women are supposed to be ultra-successful, live in immaculate homes, and wear expensive high heels. They're supposed to be married, and either have children, or start planning for them. People who are 30 are not supposed to live hand-to-mouth or have panic attacks about their looming student loans. This is not what grownups do.
But these worries are common among the professional women I know. Gather a group of highly educated and ambitious women in their late 20s and it's almost guaranteed to come up. Have I accomplished enough by now? Is my career on track? Maybe it's our culture's obsession with women "having it all" and "leaning in". Thanks a lot, Sheryl Sandberg.
In addition to all the career doubts, many of us also worry about marriage and children. For those of us who would like to procreate, this is when the mild panic begins to set in. And all this fretting is not entirely unfounded either. Fertility rates gradually begin to decline around age 32 and then rapidly after age 37. After 35, the risks of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities increase significantly. So no, we're not completely crazy.
What do you do when you're technically an adult, but you feel like an overgrown child because you don't have your crap together? Do you go ahead and crank kids out anyway? People always tell me you just "make it work," but what if you don't want to struggle like that? Isn't it reasonable to want a decent salary so you can provide for your family?
It's not like I didn't know that my career was going to be incredibly difficult. When I was younger, I expected to be an accomplished professor and/or famous writer by now, but I began realizing how silly that was several years ago. When I got into "the real world", I began to understand how ridiculous this career path was going to be. After a series of menial and sometimes soul-crushing jobs, it feels nearly miraculous that I'm finally making a living as a writer. Everything I ever dreamed of, right? Well, not quite. On paper everything seems amazing. In reality, it's not all kittens and rainbows.
But compared to my parents, who worked in factories for most of my life, I know how privileged I am. I also understand that circumstances have changed radically for my generation. Everyone may gripe about how lazy and entitled we "millennials" are, but studies have found that the failing economy is largely responsible for just 6 in 10 millennials having a job, half of which are part-time.
Going to college no longer guarantees you anything. Nearly everyone I know my age has been unemployed at least once. Many of my friends have had to readjust their career expectations because of the economy and job market. So, many young people are forced to explore unconventional paths.
Like many millennials, I'm also burdened by student loans. (I suspect I'll be paying them off till I'm at least 50.) The average student loan debt for two thirds of millennials who graduate from college with outstanding debt is $26,000.
But despite knowing all this, I still have my moments of distress when I wonder what I'm doing with my life. My friends and family always try to reassure me that something great will happen soon, but no matter how much I try to reason with myself, I still keep comparing myself to women with glamorous careers in the movies.
When I get my student loan bills, I ask myself many questions: should I get a regular job like a real grownup and just write on the side? When will I be able to afford to have children? Will this happen before my eggs go off? How long can I go on living on the cusp of financial ruin?
Despite these external factors though, I realize I've never been either practical or traditional. When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me, Como te gusta la mala vida, which means, roughly translated, "You really enjoy living a difficult life." She's totally right. "Easy" has simply never been as interesting to me. I guess I asked for this.
After a minor setback a few days ago, I lost it for a little while. "How can you be living like this when you're almost 30?" I berated myself. But after my pity party, I went outside. I felt the promise of spring, despite all the dog poop and grey snow covering the sidewalks. Embrace the uncertainty, I tried to convince myself. Revel in this mess.Erika L Sánchez
A video introduction to the world's most visually stunning and remarkable birds that are hidden away upon the most rugged and inaccessible island on Earth.
It's caturday, but today's video will make you think this day should be renamed to honour birds. This is because I am sharing a video that will inspire you and that may change you forever.
As a child, I read the book The Malay Archipelago, by influential biogeographer and evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, and immediately fell in love with the region, particularly with New Guinea and its amazing birds. One of my favourite bird families, the birds-of-paradise (Paradisaeidae), live only on New Guinea, a few nearby islands, and a small area of northern Australia. The birds-of-paradise form a family of songbirds comprised of 39 (or 41) species. These birds, whose ancestor was a member of the crow family, evolved a spectacular range of plumage colours, structures and patterns that the males display in complex courtship dances to woo females.
Long known about by Western scientists, artists and explorers, these birds are poorly understood because few people have seen them in nature. They live in the most remote, rugged and inacessible areas on Earth, which makes them almost impossible to watch, to study, and to photograph.
"Nature seems to have taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, may not lose value by being too easily obtained", as Wallace wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1862 (p. 160).
Enter the Birds-of-paradise Project. In 2003, wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman was on assignment for National Geographic to photograph the birds-of-paradise. He teamed up with Ed Scholes, a graduate student at the University of Kansas who was studying the Parotia birds-of-paradise for his Ph.D.
When Laman's National Geographic article was published in 2007, they had managed to photograph half of all birds-of-paradise species. Of course, this inspired Scholes and Laman to plan to document the remainder of these birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic Expeditions Council, and Conservation International provided the funding necessary for the team to conduct additional expeditions into ever more remote parts of New Guinea.
By the time they photographed the last species eight years later, Scholes and Laman had made 18 expeditions, stayed in 51 different field camps, climbed hundreds of trees, built dozens of blinds, made thousands of video and audio recordings, spent more than a year and a half of cumulative time in the field, and taken more than 39,000 photos. The last species they documented? The Jobi manucode, Manucodia jobiensis, a glossy blue-black bird that outshines an obsidian.
You can purchase some of Laman and Scholes' remarkable photographs, which are featured in their book, Birds of Paradise: Revealing the World's Most Extraordinary Birds [National Geographic, 2012; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US]. But the book is only the beginning -- there is so much more to the Birds-of-paradise Project.
This video shows you a little about the project to document all species of the birds-of-paradise on film:
This autumn, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic will share the Birds-of-Paradise Project with the world. But you can get a sneak peak now: in this sneak peak, you will learn about New Guinea, the scientists and photographers behind this project, and the remarkable birds on the Birds of Paradise Project website. This interactive website includes free lesson plans for your classroom, and lists the dates for when the traveling museum exhibition will pop up in your city. The project is designed to reveal the diverse evolutionary strategies that are at work in this avian family so you can experience one of nature's truly extraordinary wonders. I've been playing with their beautifully-designed website for more than an hour, and there's still so much more to explore.
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Although GrrlScientist deeply longs to be in the rainforests of New Guinea, studying birds, she instead can be found here: Maniraptora. She's very active on twitter @GrrlScientist and sometimes lurks on social media: facebook, G+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
Astronomer Dr Edward Bloomer has some ideas for four-year-old Isobel
Usually when scientists talk about the sky, we are thinking of Earth's atmosphere: the layer of gases that surround the planet. It seems strange, but the atmosphere, or sky, doesn't actually "end". Instead, the higher up you go, the thinner – and less oxygenated – it gets. You don't have to go very high at all before you wouldn't be able to breathe properly. In fact, people going up tall mountains can have problems breathing, because the thin air at altitude doesn't contain enough oxygen.
At some height – most people say this is about 100km above sea level – the atmosphere becomes so thin that you could begin to think of yourself as being in space. Roughly speaking, this is where you need a vehicle to work more like a spaceship than a plane. People argue about where space actually begins – some people believe it's really 100 times farther from the ground at 10,000km above sea level.
• Are you 10 or younger and have a question that needs answering? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll find an expert to look into it for youGuardian readers
From South America to South Asia, a new age of unrest is in full swing as industrial civilisation transitions to post-carbon reality
If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.
But this hasn't happened. And it won't.
Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.
This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet - but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.
Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of the danger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.Hunger games
The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.
In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa - Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.
Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.
Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:
"Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months... In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest."
But Bar-Yam's analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don't go deep enough - he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.It's a gas
The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.
In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country's grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated in official statistics - Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortages driven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.
While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine's oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.
Currently, about 80% of Ukraine's oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine's energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.
The Ukrainian government's recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim - apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leaked European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) report reveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine's ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020."Socialism" or Soc-oil-ism?
In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country's oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.
The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela's escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela's oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.
Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased - in fact almost doubling since 1990 - this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.Looming pandemic?
These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Global agriculture's excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further - elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.
Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.
This is likely to be a very conservative estimate. Considering that the current trajectory of industrial agriculture is already seeing yield plateaus in major food basket regions, the interaction of environmental, energy, and economic crises suggests that business-as-usual won't work.
The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure - a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.
Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn't the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition - backed up with people power and ethical consistence.
It's time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation - a new form of prosperity - that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.
But if we continue to make like ostriches, we'll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmedNafeez Ahmed
Just over a week ago teacups started to rattle across southwest Britain, when a magnitude 4.1 earthquake struck the Bristol Channel. In the UK such a quake is newsworthy: magnitude four quakes occur roughly once every three or four years. Magnitude fives meanwhile, occur approximately every twenty years – the last one being the magnitude 5.2 Market Rasen earthquake in Lincolnshire, which shook a large area and caused one chimney to collapse.
Compared to other parts of the world, the UK is seismically super-calm. Globally there are around 13,000 magnitude four earthquakes every year (an average of 36 per day) and over 1300 magnitude fives. Britain's lack of active major fault lines make it immune to massive quakes, but its network of minor faults could still have some surprises in store.
Historic records show what is possible. On 6 April 1580 an estimated magnitude 5.5 quake occurred in the Dover Straits, cracking windows and knocking down chimneys across northern France, Flanders and southern England. Despite being 120km from the source, London's soft clays trembled, causing chimney stacks and spires to fall and two children were killed by falling stones. A quake on 21 May 1382 (estimated magnitude 5.8) caused damage across southern Britain and the Low Countries. Such a quake will happen again at some point, but now London's population is around fifty times larger than it was in 1580. It won't create an international crisis, but shaking pavements and toppling Victorian chimneystacks could come as an unpleasant shock.Kate Ravilious
This month's roundup includes the promise of a filter that extracts salt from seawater, and a battery powered by the heartA perfect sieve
Graphene, the sheet of carbon just one atom thick, has already featured a few times on this blog thanks to its unique promise for many applications. Could it even turn seawater into drinking water? Scientists at Manchester University think it may be possible using a filter made from laminates of graphene oxide, a form of graphene with oxygen-containing molecules attached to it.
This laminate can perform a magic trick: in the dry state it doesn't let any gas molecule through and is vacuum-tight. When wet, however, nanoscale channels open up and water flows through rapidly, without any resistance. Any particle, molecule or ion that can't squeeze through the channels is left behind.
But the nanochannels actually swell a little in water, opening up enough to let through two or three atomic layers of water and some ions. The researchers will try out ways to prevent the swelling, so that the nanochannels are so small that they block small ions while water still flows through quickly: a perfect filter for removing salt from water.
Dr Irina Grigorieva, a co-author of the study, says in a press release from Manchester University: "Our ultimate goal is to make a filter device that allows a glass of drinkable water to be made from seawater after a few minutes of hand pumping. We are not there yet but this is no longer science fiction."Graphene's first text message
Wireless communication has become an essential part of our way of life as electronic gadgets are increasingly used on the move. In the near future, wireless chips will need to transmit data faster and be more compact to enable a wide variety of applications, including in smart tags or wearable electronics.
Graphene, which has ultra-efficient electronic properties, seems an ideal candidate for transistors in fast, wireless circuits, which convert radio-frequency signals into electrical currents. However, the conventional chip-making process damages the thin graphene layers, degrading circuit performance.
Now researchers at IBM have found a solution: they reverse the fabrication process, only introducing graphene at the final fabrication step. To test the chip, they sent a message by radio-signal, which the chip received and converted into a three letter message: I-B-M.Looking for clues
Finding fingerprints is as important as ever in crime scene investigation. Now researchers from Wuhan, China, have used nanoparticles to reveal the merest smudge of a print, even on difficult surfaces such as plastic and coins.
A common technique to detect fingerprints is to treat surfaces with chemicals that make the residues left behind by a finger light up faintly in ultraviolet light. However, there is also fluorescence from the surface itself so that prints that are too weak remain hidden in the background noise. The researchers have therefore turned to infrared light, which causes hardly any fluorescence.
To make the fingerprints light up, nanoparticles are applied that convert two low-energy infrared photons into one high-energy UV one. To ensure this only happens at the fingerprints, molecules are attached to the nanoparticles that bind to lysosome, which is found in human sweat and left in fingerprint residue. Researchers used the new method to detect fingerprints on various surfaces and from different people, without any background interference.Sun, sand and nanoparticles
Official health agencies advise using sunscreen lotion when the sun is out to protect against UV light, which causes sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer. However, some researchers question whether the overall health benefits are clear enough.
One reason is that several studies over the past decade have reported potential harmful effects from the ingredients of sunblock. In recent years, sunscreens have appeared on the market that contain zinc oxide nanoparticles and, given existing concerns, the possible toxic effects are being closely studied.
There is no conclusive evidence that the nanoparticles could be harmful, but researchers at Harvard reason that it may be better to be safe than sorry. They propose sealing the nanoparticles within a thin shell of silica to minimise any toxic effects. Silica is what sand is made of, and is known to be a safe ingredient of many consumer products, including cosmetics.
The researchers compared how much damage the bare and encapsulated nanoparticles caused to DNA in live cells in a laboratory experiment and report three times less damage for the silica-coated nanoparticles.
This study does not say whether the uncoated nanoparticles are actually harmful inside a human body, but the researchers point out that a safer-by-design approach will reduce any possible risks.In a heartbeat
Implantable medical devices such as pacemakers need batteries, which are bulky and have to be replaced in risky operations. Researchers at the University of Illinois have now found a way to power such devices using energy from the body itself, such as a beating heart. They use nanoribbons made of a piezoelectric material that produces an electric current when its is bent. The nanoribbons are held in place on a flexible silicone layer that conforms to the shape of the tissue on which it is placed.
The researchers have showed that sufficient power can be generated to operate a cardiac pacemaker. To extend the potential use, the device is also connected to a rechargeable battery.Liesbeth Venema
Forget spaceships, washing machines and fridges are where stories of the revolutionary possibilities of innovation lie.Alice Bell
Rare sightings of aurora borealis as far south as Essex and Jersey, with grand displays in Scotland and north-east England
• Did you spot the northern lights? Send us your images
• The northern lights illuminate the UK – in pictures
For one night only the northern lights came south, seen in spectacular displays of green, pink and crimson as far south as Essex and Jersey.
The light show by the aurora borealis on Thursday night – the result of an unusually clear, cold night combined with a strong solar storm – was also seen in many parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and across the north and east coasts of England.
As word and stunning images spread on Twitter and other social media, amateur photographers across the country rushed out into the darkness. There were displays visible from Glasgow, Orkney, Preston in Lancashire, and Whitley Bay in north Tyneside. Much rarer were the sightings in Norfolk, Gloucestershire, south Wales, Essex and Jersey
Mark Thompson, presenter of the BBC's Stargazing Live, said it was a far more impressive display than he had been expecting, the best he had seen in 20 years.
AuroraWatch UK, run by the space physicists at Lancaster University, which posts alerts when the lights are visible in Britain, was becoming highly excited by 9pm on Thursday:
By midnight in most places it was all over. For anyone planning to wrap up warmly, pack a thermos, and head out again, the latest forecast from the British Geological Society is disappointing: "QUIET. The stormy conditions of last night have subsided, solar wind speeds are slowly dying, and a quiet weekend is expected."Maev Kennedy
New exhibition inspired by Raymond Williams book offers an interesting, if ill-served, glimpse into the language of British art
The words slide by around the gallery walls, in a large, looping hand-drawn script, with lots of space between. Anthropology, Criticism, Folk, Formalist, Liberation, Materialism, Myth, Native, Private, Structural, Theory, Unconscious and Violence: these are the guiding rubrics of Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain at Tate Liverpool.
Based on the late Raymond Williams's 1976 book Keywords, in which over 130 words – From Aesthetic to Work – are accompanied by short essays on their shifting meanings and context, use and definition, this show restages and enlarges an exhibition that first took place at London's Iniva [Institute of International Visual Arts] last year. Almost everything here comes from Tate's own collection, and Tate Liverpool is charging £8 entry for a show of works it already owns. The keyword here is money.
The essays in Williams' book were devious, provocative and full of social observation. Subtitled 'A vocabulary of culture and society', Keywords was both analysis and argument. It was much more than a compendium. The exhibition, by contrast, is all compendium, clever curatorial bluster and pigeonholing.
The artworks jostle and fall over each other to get in line, like kids going to class. In the first room the art all looks a bit cowed and uncertain of its place, getting barked at from the sidelines. In the first room everything is hung on one vast wall running the length of the gallery. Hockney! Get in line, you're next to John Murphy, in Private. Adrian Berg – never mind your post-impressionist palette, you're Structural, along with the geometric systems artists, or British constructionists, or whatever you call yourselves. Folk means anything to do with Northern Ireland and sectarianism. On it goes. Nothing is given space to breathe. Everything becomes an example.
In the second gallery everything three-dimensional is corralled onto three black carpets. You can't get amongst any of it. Where does Myth end and Anthropology begin? I am not sure the curators know; the artists would probably refuse the definitions anyway. Grouping large works by Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor and Tony Cragg together on one carpet, with the big word 'formalism' behind them, just looks like an accusation. Inadvertently, the notorious 1937 degenerate art show in Munich, in which modernist and expressionist works were displayed in such a way as to make them look as horrible as possible, and were interspersed with hand-painted slogans that served to demonise them still further, had a curatorial aesthetic not so far removed from this. Which is not to say that Keywords is without its moments, however ill-served much of the art may be.
The mode of display runs from the 19th Century salon hang (annually perpetuated in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition) of the first room, to a kind of pile-up and log-jam of the three dimensional works that feels like an old-fashioned department store display. Focussing on the period between the publication of Williams' book and the end of the conservative government in 1996, Keywords avoids the YBA's, though their rise began in the late 80s, but their absence is not much missed. It is good to see many here who were never darlings of the media.
Certain works stand out – Bill Woodrow's 1981 'Car Door, Ironing Board and Twin Tub with North American Indian Head Dress' is one of his best works. Helen Chadwick's 1986 Carcass, a glass tower filled with composting vegetable matter, is still terrific. Chadwick died in 1996. Both Rose Finn-Kelcey (the show includes documentation of a 1976 performance with a live magpie), and Alexis Hunter (included is unimpressive video of domestic warfare) died within the past fortnight.
One wants to focus, but the show is just too noisy. At best, it does give us a flavour of British art from the mid 70s to the mid 1990s, and a hint of some of the ideas and preoccupations that were slewing around. But it all needs a great deal more unpacking than the fold-out guide (there is no catalogue) and explanatory wall captions can provide. We are left with big words and tantalising glimpses. Keywords looks bizarre, and struggles between words and objects, ideas and things. The uses of language, as Williams's book constantly demonstrates, is always slippery and more nuanced than this exhibition implies.Adrian Searle
Excuse me if I'm not excited about labels with larger fonts. Let's tell consumers about the real added ingredients in their food
If we are what we eat and knowledge is power, then the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) newly-proposed nutrition labeling requirements can only be a good thing. Right?
The problem with the much-ballyhooed and thoroughly underwhelming changes to food labeling is that these modifications are not only minor and still subject to a long rulemaking process, but, on the issue of portion size, these proposals only affect 27 of the 157 product categories subject to portion rules. More directly, they do nothing to inform consumers about far more pressing issues troubling the industrial food system.
Excuse me if I'm not excited about labels with larger fonts and minor changes. The big White House press event merely uses the appearance of incremental "progress" to forestall real, substantive changes to the one thing that unites us all: concern about the health and safety of the food we eat.
These new rules are really just proposals. Even if they emerge unaltered after the "public comment" period and industry-influenced "rulemaking" phase, these labeling requirements are still a full two years away from implementation. Once that process is complete, the FDA and Big Food – represented in Washington by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) – will tout the new labels as an important cooperative accomplishment, when it's really just a shift in marketing and emphasis.
Anticipating the sausage-making to come, the GMA said:
We look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rule making process.
And they are ready to get to work. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the GMA spent $3.35m on lobbying in 2012, but suddenly opened the vault in 2013, lavishing a staggering $14.3m on their lobbying efforts. No doubt, they wanted – and continue to want – a say in what the FDA determines consumers should know about the food they eat.
To be fair, there are some upsides to the new nutrition rules. It's good that a "portion" of ice cream is being upsized from half-a-cup to one full cup, a lot closer to the kind of "big scoop" most of us eat when we want a cold treat. It is also good that the total calories for "certain packages that are larger and could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings" will be added onto a bag of Cheetos or a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream. And it's good that labels will finally distinguish between sugar from specific ingredients (like sugar from the pineapple in a can of pineapple juice) versus the "added" sugars (like the refined or dreaded high fructose varieties) that get poured in on top of the natural sweetness provided by Mother Nature.
Maybe we should know about the added chemical fertilizers that allow agribusiness to grow our food on an industrial scale, but also seem to be harming lakes, hundreds of rivers and the Gulf of Mexico?
How about labeling the use of antibiotics? Shouldn't people know if their hot dog comes from animals that were, essentially, sick or at risk of sickness and needed to be drugged to get them to slaughter? There is no requirement to label use of growth hormones. Isn't that something consumers should know? And if the FDA was really serious about informing consumers, wouldn't it require labels for added GMOs?
Therein lies the rub. These "added ingredients" form the base of a corporate food pyramid scheme that dominates the market, shapes federal policy-making, controls the annual horse-trading around the Farm Bill and, more and more, works with state legislatures to pass "Ag-Gag laws" that criminalize whistleblowers, activists and journalists who expose the excesses of factory farming or protest against the encroachment of genetically-modified organisms.
Ag-Gag laws have passed or are pending in nearly a dozen states, with Idaho's powerful dairy industry now the latest to use these specious legal arguments to hide unsavory practices. According to Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals, the Idaho bill would target
…employees and journalists who take photos or video to document misconduct on farms – whether it's mistreatment of animals, food safety hazards, worker safety violations, sexual harassment, financial embezzlement, or environmental crimes.
The problem is that consumers, when given the information and a chance to decide, seem uncomfortable with the dark-side of industrial farming. In 2011, Mercy for Animals produced shocking footage of abused chickens at Sparboe Egg Farms, a large-scale supplier to McDonald's. Apparently, they had to break a lot of chickens to make some Egg McMuffins. It wasn't long after the video hit the media that McDonald's and Target both cut ties with Sparboe.
It was a case-in-point of how consumers, if empowered with information, can force changes in corporate behavior and the food they manufacture. And it was a lesson learned for Big Food, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Now focused intensely on fighting the labeling of GMOs, they spent $46m in California and $22m in Washington to defeat ballot initiatives requiring genetically-modified ingredients be labeled. And the GMA recently launched a "pre-emptive strike" against mandatory labeling at the federal level by pushing a "voluntary" labeling standard through Congress that would supersede any state or local requirements.
Like the FDA's nutrition "upgrade", it's another half-measure that delays real action to reign-in a food system that all-too-often serves Americans cheap, industrial foods made with ingredients you probably wouldn't want to eat if you knew about them.JP Sottile
Nobody’s political opinions are just the pure, objective, unvarnished truth. Except yours, obviously
Authors of an opinion piece claiming climate action is bad for the poor disagree with common logic and with themselves
In a recent opinion piece published in the Financial Times, long-time skeptic of meaningful action on climate change (Roger Pielke) and a colleague expressed ideas that are commonly made by climate contrarians (e.g. also by John Christy and Roy Spencer), but which were short on logic. Let's walk through their article and you can decide for yourself.
In the opening paragraph, they seem to chide industrialized countries for their inability to reduce carbon emissions by stating,
"Having failed to stem carbon emissions in rich countries or in rapidly industrializing ones, policy makers have focused their attention on the only remaining target: poor countries that do not emit much carbon to begin with."
The authors fail to acknowledge that a major reason for action is because vested interests have been fighting action for years. In fact, in during the last election cycle, dirty fuel companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to ensure no meaningful action happened on climate change. They also neglect to mention many of the real steps the Obama Administration has taken on climate change – without the involvement of Congress.
But the real errors come later. You see, I work in the energy business. I spend much of my time developing clean and robust energy solutions for the developing world; solutions that make economic and environmental sense. My projects focus on using wind, solar, and geothermal power to replace dirty energy power sources (like coal and diesel generation). We are discovering that we can use wind and solar to pump and purify water, to power cellular communication towers, to light villages – all with competitive prices and less maintenance than dirty alternatives. Please Roger Pielke, don't lecture us on the need for energy in the developing world; I see this reality daily. And don't lecture us on whether there are novel solutions available today that can provide that energy at competitive prices. In fact, if we are smart, we can build energy industries within the developing world so that the economic rewards can flow back into local economies.
How about real examples? I have worked on the ground building inexpensive geothermal cooling systems for buildings in Mali. With almost no cost to construct, we are able to lower temperatures in rooms to more comfortable levels without air conditioning. We also can provide small-scale wind power solutions for remote energy applications with payback periods of 5 years or less. These systems, which are robustly constructed and inexpensive, will have long lifetimes for supplying much needed energy. We are currently working on water heating and purification systems that can be employed almost anywhere for minimal cost yet provide an endless supply of potable water.
It isn't just my team; others are similarly working on both large-scale and distributed wind, solar, and hydropower systems that will prove Pielke wrong. In fact, I've recently written on the intersection of energy and climate change in Kenya and Cameroon.
The elephant in the room with this article was the near neglect of the impact of climate change on people living in the developing world. I have worked in Uganda, Mali, Kenya, and Cameroon and I have spoken with experts on the ground who see climate change in their daily lives. Members of governments, industrial researchers, agricultural experts, hydrology experts, and Deans and Presidents of universities: they are telling me the same story. Climate change is being felt on the ground, in people's lives. It is particularly impacting agricultural practices.
As the climate continues to change, we need to weigh the costs of action against the costs of inaction. Sure, getting one country here or another country there to reduce emissions won't, in the end, change the trajectory of our future. But encouraging countries to work together to reduce emissions will. Creating market forces which reward clean energy innovation rather than business as usual will allow innovators to create the future economy in energy.
The authors downplay the role efficiency can play as part of the solution. In my mind, efficiency is the first and most significant step to solving our intertwined energy and climate problems. By using our current energy more wisely, we reduce emissions and save money; a true no-brainer. We need to advocate for efficiency improvements in all countries around the globe. As an energy expert, I've seen enormous amounts of waste both in the United States and in Africa. I am convinced efficiency improvements can move us a significant way toward our reduced pollution goals.
Perhaps what bothered me the most was the assumption by the authors that since Western countries have used copious amounts of energy, we are not in a position to legislate energy usage for emerging economies. Further, the authors suggest that copious dirty energy use is a necessary condition for development. What the authors fail to recognize is that our energy evolution was shortsighted and wasteful. If we could turn back the clock, I am certain we would have chosen an alternative pathway with a greater emphasis on smart energy use and production.
All those barrels of oil and train-car loads of coal we wasted through inefficiency. The emerging economies have the right to be as stupid as we were (as these authors argue) but we should make every effort to work together as global partners to ensure a smarter path is chosen. A path that leaves emerging economics with more financial resources and all of us with a healthier planet.
The most humorous part of this article is the fact the authors essentially contradict themselves. Roger Pielke has claimed that acceptable levels of carbon dioxide are 450-500ppm (who knows how he came up with that number). If he still believes this, then my challenge is this, how can we stay below 500 ppm without significant improvements to efficiency? How do we stay below 500 ppm without all countries pulling their share of the load? Finally, how do we tell the current and future populations of the emerging economy world, a population that is already feeling the impacts of climate change, not to worry? We'll just build a dirty coal plant in your neighborhood and it will all work out in the end? Sorry Roger, this doesn't pass the smell test.John Abraham
A poetic intersection between life and science, art and photography.
After stumbling across Adam Summers' work a few months ago, I purchased a few of his calendars as holiday gifts. The calendars -- which are beautifully photographed and sturdily made -- show the fish but lack any information about them and unfortunately, the poetry is lacking as well. That gave me the idea that I should publish each month's photograph here, along with the poem and some relevant information. Professor Summers liked the idea, and poet Sierra Nelson kindly agreed to share her poetry along with each fish photograph.
For the month of February, the featured fish image was a picture of a Pacific cod, Gadus macrocephalus (above). These fish are also known as gray/grey cod, and grayfish/greyfish. These fish are fairly common in the northern Pacific ocean; huge schoals reside deep in the water column just above the continental shelf all along the northern Pacific Ocean. They can reach one metre in length and weigh up to 15 kilograms. They are the apex predator in their ecosystem; small cod feed on crustaceans whilst larger cod consume fish. Spawning females release up to 5 million eggs -- almost none of which survive to sexual maturity.
Cod have been popular food fishes since around the year 800 because their dense, flaky white flesh has a mild flavour and a low fat content. Cod livers are pressed to release cod liver oil, which is rich in vitamins A and D, and in several omega-3 fatty acids.
Atlantic cod, G. morhua, closely resembles Pacific cod in appearance and habits. Atlantic cod is widely consumed throughout much of Europe, and is a particular favourite in Portugal and in the Basque Country and, along with haddock and plaice, is commonly used in fish-and-chips in Great Britain.
The popularity of Atlantic cod led to a number of conflicts between the United Kingdom and Iceland over North Atlantic fishing rights. These skirmishes, which took place between 1958 and 1976, were known as the Cod Wars. They ended only after the UK accepted a 200 nautical-mile Icelandic exclusive fishery zone.
Tragically, due to greed and overfishing, several Atlantic cod fisheries collapsed in 1992 -- losing more than 95 percent of their maximum historical biomass. One fishery, the Northwestern Fishery, has not recovered (and indeed, may never recover) despite a cod fishing moratorium. Since Atlantic cod were so numerous in these areas, they dominated their ecosystem with their very presence, thus their sudden disappearance has serious and apparently permanent effects upon the entire ecosystem [doi:10.1126/science.1113075].
Similar to their Atlantic cousins, the Pacific cod is an important fishery target because the taste and texture of its flesh are similar to Atlantic cod. However, they have one important difference; the Pacific cod fishery is tightly regulated and thus, is sustainable.
Do you think it odd
the[y] call me a gray cod?
Why not note
my few cute whiskers
like a catfish?
You like to think of us as gray
as the day you'll have us:
when you eat a dish of cod
as scrod, saltfish, fish sticks,
fish fry, fishcake, ball or finger,
lutefish, stockfish, bacalaítos,
smokie, frito, finnan haddie,
crappit heid and cullen skink,
cod liver oil or cabbie claw.
We even make cheap isinglass:
our air bladders used to clarify beer
or thicken your dessert.
Trawling for me,
or by hook and line—
you caught me, fine.
But don't let me collapse
like my Atlantic brothers.
Remember, we've caused wars.
We've disappeared before.
~ Sierra Nelson.
Here's a live Pacific cod:
You are invited to read more about these images, how and why they're created, and about the special relationship between science and art as envisioned by Professor Summers and Ms Nelson [here].
Frank K.T. (2005). Trophic Cascades in a Formerly Cod-Dominated Ecosystem, Science, 308 (5728) 1621-1623. doi:10.1126/science.1113075
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