Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Moment of Zen

Since I am surrounded by left-wing bioconservatives, a minority of whom are pseudo-pagans, I’ve often questioned their decision to withdraw from computer technology, at least in part - using it peripherally perhaps as a means of information exchange, but channelling the quest for personal transformation into an engagement with completely natural processes. Andrew Siliar, a self-described neopagan, offers the typical answer in a letter published in the August-September 1997 Wiccan journal Green Egg:
Paganism is a Nature religion, rooted deep in the Earth, honoring the Gods and Goddesses, feeling the heartbeat of the Mother Earth, loving and honoring all of Her creatures. And now we have this wonderful new technology, along with computer graphics. We can link up with other people on-line, and now we can be techno-witches, and cyber wizards...I'm sorry, but that doesn't sound like much of a Nature Religion to me anymore... I need no on-line link to let me feel the power of the Goddess, I just touch the Earth and connect.
I therefore wonder how neopagans will react to James Hughes' prediction of what a pervasively monitored and managed global ecosystem would be like in his essay Reconciling Humans, Nature and Technology:
Already scientists are telemetrically monitoring wild herds -- from deer, wolves, bears and elephants to dolphins and crocodiles. As computers shrink, nanotechnology permits nonobtrusive tagging of virtually everything, and the world becomes densely crisscrossed by electronic communications, we could indeed live in a techno-ecosystem all watched over by machines of loving grace...

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. warns of ExxonMobil's War on Science

With an elaborate network of phony think tanks and slick public relations firms, ExxonMobil has become today's Big Tobacco, defrauding the public and waging a war on science.

Read more on the AlterNet.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Apple Computers: Fun for You, Toxic for the Environment

"Before an audience of tech lovers, developers, and Mac enthusiasts, Steve Jobs unveiled the creation everyone has been speculating about for years: the iPhone. Fans hung on every word as the Apple CEO stood onstage during his keynote address at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Dressed in a black mock turtleneck, he told the rapt crowd about patents for polymers, innovative user interfaces and corporate partnerships.

Jobs went on for nearly two hours about how amazing and revolutionary his gadget will be. But he did not mention the company's environmental policy once.

Then again, who talks about environmental policy at an electronics fair? Michael Dell does. A few states away at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during the second week of January, the head of struggling Dell Computers raised the stakes for the entire PC industry: "I challenge every PC maker to join us in providing free recycling for every customer in every country ... all the time -- no exceptions," he said.

Jobs and the PR wizards at Apple have done a fantastic job of positioning the company as the technological haven for the hip, the progressive and the revolutionary. But when it comes to the environment, Apple is out of touch.

In December of 2006, Greenpeace released a report ranking the overall environmental policy of major technology companies. Dell was at the top but Apple found itself at the bottom. While top companies like Dell and Nokia have made great strides to eliminate the most toxic chemicals from their products and offer strong recycling programs, Apple has not.

"Today you can't recycle most of these products because you're recycling toxic waste," says Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxic Campaign. "We're looking at it from a complete life cycle approach, from where we make these to where they end up. Twenty to 50 million tons of e-waste a year end up in China; that [e-waste] is endangering to migrant families trying to remove a very small percentage of the materials for recycling."

Following the release of the report, Greenpeace launched "GreenMyApple," a full-force PR campaign complete with an informational website that impressively mimics Apple's website. Activists distributed flyers outside of the Moscone Center during the full week of Macworld Expo. The group also altered the video of the famous Steve Jobs keynote address, creating their fantasy version of the keynote in which Jobs would announce that Apple plans not only to step up their environmental policies but will make environmental responsibility a part of the company's identity."

Read more on the AlterNet.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Using Nanotechnology to Improve Health Care in Developing Countries

From "What if doctors in Kenya could equip cells of the retina with photoswitches that can be flipped on, essentially making blind nerve cells see and restoring light sensitivity in people with degenerative blindness? What if public health workers in Bangladesh could place contaminated water into transparent bottles, which when placed in direct sunlight could disinfect the water and help prevent water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery or polio?

What if a medical technician in Vietnam could use a tiny "reporter" molecule that attaches itself to specific bacteria or viruses in a patient sample and read with an inexpensive laser device-no bigger than a briefcase-whether an infectious disease is present? What if a nurse in Brazil could dispense a gel that would stick to the AIDS virus surface like molecular Velcro and prevent it from attacking healthy cells in sexually active women?

These scenarios are not science fiction. They are just a few examples of the exciting potential of nanomedicine-an offshoot of nanotechnology which researchers in both industrialized and developing countries hail as enabling the next big breakthroughs in medicine and which they promise to change virtually every facet of health care, disease control and prevention. Several of the projects being financed by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's $450 million Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative involve nanotechnology, including development of a nanoemulsion-based vaccine delivery system that uses a simple nasal swab rather than an injection.

What is nanotechnology? How is nanotechnology expected to transform medicine and health care in the future? How can nanomedicine help the truly needy in developing countries? And what are the challenges of ensuring that nanotechnology meets the specific health needs of Third World peoples? These questions are the focus of an event and live webcast on Tuesday, February 27th at 12:00 p.m. in the 5th Floor Conference Room of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.