Tag Archives: society

Scientists are running away from problems

On June 20, 2013 mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Calgary, the Alberta’s largest city by population, as a result of flooding. The days leading up to the “2013 Alberta floods”, Alberta experienced heavy rainfall. The 2013 floods effected several areas such as Exshaw, High River and other municipalities and townships. Later that summer, communities along the rivers banks and flood plains were devastated by the consequences of additional downpour. Several mitigation and disaster response ideas have sprung out of this 2013 Alberta floods. This is where opinions of scientists, researchers and general public clashed. I can safely say we hear a lot of strong arguments on different aspects of the “problem” when our neighborhoods are in desperate situations. We also bombarded with “solutions” to these from our politicians and scientists. As a young scientist in training, I find these two groups in North America either want to go against nature or go against social dynamics.

Million solutions without progress

A recent article written by a Geologist on the Calgary Herald newspaper regarding insurance and communities along the flood plains1 drew my attention . It is a well written article against the idea of flood insurance. Dr. Jerry Osborn argued because people are building on flood plains, the premiums for insurance have to increase causing them to be unaffordable for most. He strongly suggested restricting community developments on floodplain using Groeneveld report as a method to protect communities from natural disasters. This is a very good valid point and I agree with the scientific merit behind Dr. Osborn’s argument. However, I have to respectfully disagree with the concept of scientists running away from the problem rather than facing it head-on. I respect Dr. Osborn for being direct about his facts. But at the same time we as a society would have never advanced in our civilization if we ran away from our problems.

This is not the first time I came across well-respected Canadian scientists and researchers formulate their opinions solely on science itself. I have been told numerous times by Geoscience, Natural Science and Engineering professors on why we should not do something due to natural hazards. The problem is not a matter of if there are natural hazards; the problem is scientists are trying to find reasons to run away from problems. One of the best examples of this would be the arguments against placing our Calgary light railway transit system completely underground. Every time I asked a science expert, the arguments are highly negative such as “Calgary soil and strata is not good for underground projects” or “the engineering community needs more data before undertaking such projects”. It sounds like we will be famous in history for running away from problems because unlike the ancient Romans, Geeks or the modern day Indians or Japanese, we do not try to mitigate environmental dynamics, but we are just running away from it. I believe this attitude of too much emphasis of why we can’t do something, hinders our ability to defend our civilizations from natural disasters.

Most scientists who opposed building on floodplains in Alberta promote the idea that if we move away from developments in floodplains, most of our problems will be resolved. That is ironic because even according to scientific principles and the history of science shows that no matter what we do, there is always “side effects”. Let’s say that we move all our communities out of the floodplains. What are the implications for the natural environments? What are the implications for the natural environments? How would redistribution of human populations to other areas affect the environment? In Japan, they found building roads have significantly reduced permeability of soils. Hence the drainage systems have to be upgraded to transport the water that is not soaking into the ground to rivers and the sea. It was an unforeseen environmental problem as a result of human development. The point is to solve the flood plain problem; you may have created several more problems without the foresight of long term future for the City of Calgary. In the long term if we move out so much from current Calgary city limits, we would also move into farmlands and other areas of natural resources causing more problems for our communities. It is ironic that nobody who are against building within highly populated floodplains ignore these “side effects” that may arise as a result of any form of development weather it is on the floodplains or not.

Society and science

The Government of Japan has spend the tax money wisely to the benefit of the people..

Human civilization is unique because unlike animals we can make logical decisions. While we do our best to alter our natural habits, we often go back to the nature’s way. Have you ever wonder why we have large communities around flood plains and volcanoes? Almost every single civilization has been built around naturally unstable grounds. It will be unproductive for modern science to work against these natural social habits. You cannot change our social dynamics to fit the principles of science. But rather you should use the find solutions to social dynamics. This is where those scientists against development on the flood plains fall apart.

Japan has few active volcanoes and suited near a major active fault line. Hence, it is obvious that majority of Japanese are living in environmentally unstable areas than majority of Canadians. If you visit Japan, you will most likely take JR Rail, a service provided by a Japanese state own railway company. Not only the railway line is mostly underground, but they also have large underground shopping complexes in almost all underground train stations. It is ironic that Canadian Geologists and Engineers are against building underground railway system in Calgary because of their claim that ground in Calgary is not suitable. Either we are, as a group of scientist, very lazy or ignorant of possible solutions for our growing needs. I should highlight that I believe the problem of running away is found within our scientific community in Canada rather than the general public.

Here is another example from Japan. In a CBC documentary a Japanese elderly women who seen the volcano near her house erupted said “I am not afraid of the mountain. It provides great opportunities for farming. I have lived all my life here and I will pull myself back up each time it gets erupted”. Now that should resonate throughout Canada because she is right. She is using the nutrient rich volcanic soils to grow rice, which feeds the community. She works with the environment and she understands the natural hazards. The Japanese scientists are very mindful of not to insult these volcanic famers intelligence. In fact, the Government of Japan has spent the tax money wisely to the benefit of the people of Japan with new equipment and research on predicting natural disasters rather than moving communities away from so called “danger zone”. This is what the Scientists in Canada also supposed to do; work with the society. But instead they are more concerned of the bottom line of private companies. Canada is an extremely pro-¬capitalist nation that we look for the revenue and the profit margin over the natural flow of civilization. In fact, I can argue the reason we do not have completely underground commuter railway system in Calgary not because “unstable ground”, but because the Government and the private companies do not want any project that benefit the society. I can also categorically argue that insurance rates increase because the CEOs of Canadian insurance companies would like to take home million dollar bonus. In other words, the profit margin is more of a concern than human dignity and natural civilization.

Two extreme ends never solve problems

With or without the 2013 Alberta floods, these insurance companies will find another avenue to increase premiums.

The attitude should be, yes we can build on a floodplains. I would argue while Dr. Osborn is right, his principles on flood insurance are wrong. Yes the flood may increase the insurance rates. However, it is Canada’s capitalistic class system that causes the insurance rate to increase. With or without the 2013 Alberta floods, these insurance companies will find another avenue to increase premiums. Canadians are hell bent on criticizing the India’s caste system; we often forget to criticize Canada’s class system. Insurance companies increase their premiums to pay off their rich CEOs, not to help out the Canadian public. Unlike in some areas such as in Europe and Asia, there are no regulations to protect the consumers from insurance companies in Canada.

While we are busy arguing against people who would want to live in floodplains, we should also highlight other issues. Tight regulations of insurance providers should be one step. Another would be, just like Japan, we should spend our tax revenue on helping our communities. Why not build infrastructures to control floods? Do not say it is not sustainable to run away from the problems. Yes, it is sustainable because there are many other communities around the world have done it! India and Sri Lanka for example not only have relatively cheap (relative to Indian/Sri Lankan average net income) flood insurance, but they also have highly effective drainage system. During the Asian Monsoon season, the capital of Sri Lanka should be under water. But that is not true and the last time it was under water was during the 2004 tsunami. But in Canada, a small rain fall in Toronto in 8 July 2013 resulted in mass flooding. How come a first world nation be so negative?

Now let’s take the argument of insurance premiums from another point of view. If we have proper infrastructure to divert water away from our major cities along flood plains, why should the insurance premiums for homeowner go up? In fact, it should go down unless the greedy capitalists in Canada want a higher cut for their profit. Dr. Osborn, according Canadians behind you and their logic, ALL Japanese people should commit suicide while ALL Indians and Sri Lankans should drown. To my fellow young Scientists, please do not run away from the problem like typical “Canadians” due to political correctness or to be nice to your professors, but face it like typical “Japanese” or “South Asians”. I am not saying scientific solutions are prefect. But we should think outside the two extremes which our Politicians and Scientists try to promote. It is our responsibility as scientists, to move away from special interest groups and find solutions to challenges rather than running away from them.

References

1. Osborn: It’s foolish to think worst flood is behind us (PDF)

Idc wh@t wrds r +ed 2 dic

Some linguistics would say OMG WTF (Oh My God What The Fuck) to words and acronyms that came out of the technological age. I asked an English professor how languages evolve. She told me the words are often added to a language in two distinct ways; through academics such as Shakespeare and through general usage. In the last ten years most words added to English dictionary did not come from academics, but rather from general usage.

Evolution of Modern English

Unlike in the old days we are heavily depend on electronic devices to communicate with each other. When the telephone was invented, some thought that it will be the end of “letter age”. In 1950s a unit called Pager was introduced to medical staff for faster communication with the hospitals. This trend catch on world wide and almost all hospitals around the world used (and still use) Pagers. The time it takes to transmit data from one client Pager to destination Pager depended on the length of the message being sent. This is because each packet of data (like a photon of light) can only be so big. Longer texts will be “cut in to pieces” transmission. In addition the Pager displays only used one line. Shorter the message easier for the end user to read. Why would you page, “There is a medical emergency. Come in as soon as possible” when you can page “ME ASAP”? I think this is the birth of electronic age acronyms.

AOL Pager: Message is too long? "Hi mom, How r u doing?"... would be better.
AOL Pager: Message is too long? “Hi mom, How r u doing?”… would be better.

But in 1970s Universities and US Government successfully establish a communication system called TCP/IP network (today we call it the Internet). With this the text age has rocketed in it’s popularity. Now the Pager and the Internet has effectively replaced most conventional letters of the “letter age”. This wide use has created the stage for not only modern languages.

Spread of English

English became a popular means of communication thanks to the British imperialism. After World War II, it was boosted by the American and “new world” imperialism. My dad said, “if German and Japanese won the war, today we won’t be speaking English. But rather German and Japanese”. He is right because English is now almost universal.

The popularity of English can be good and bad depend on how you look at it. It is good because compared to hundreds of dead languages, British did a good job in securing the future of their mother language. On the other hand academic institutions that safeguard the rules of English like the Oxford University has completely lost control over their language. In fact a lot of foreign English speakers (English as a Second Language) have contributed to a lot of new words. In July 2013, English-German dictionary now includes “shitstorm” often used by German Chancellor Angela Merkel(1). It is not just her but also a lot of Germans use “shitstorm” to describe out of control situations. While most of the newly added words are profanities, there are a lot of useful good words as well. For example, the phrase “friend zone” describes as “a situation in which a platonic relationship exists between two people, one of whom has an undeclared romantic or sexual interest in the other”(2). It was officially added to Oxford Dictionary in February 2013.

Even in the past

Did you know that Shakespeare invented a lot of words to describe emotions in his plays? British authors were (are) the inventors of new words. Later by the South Africans, Australians, Americans and Canadians also added millions of new words to English language. I find it hypocritical about some modern conservative academics argue against addition of new words. From what I understand, there are more English words originate outside of native English speaking countries than any other language on Earth. Which makes English stronger and better not weaker!

In case you still cannot read the title of this article; Idc wh@t wrds r +ed 2 dic = I don’t care what words are added to (the) dictionary.

References

1. Guardian

2. Oxford Dictionaries

Exploration and exploitation of natural resources

According to UN and numerous other research agencies about 80% of world’s energy demand is satisfied by converting fossil fuels in to usable energy. It involves the process of planning, exploration, exploitation and management of natural resources. These processes inherently have their own set of risks and benefits. By identifying and managing the issues will boost our energy and resource hungry civilization to the next level.

My attention to the chain of natural resources exploration and exploitation was first derived by a dear friend and future Geophysicist/Geologist, Alex Meleshko. We can discuss in minute detail on specific areas but I will limit the article to oil and gas and mineral exploration.

We use them everyday

Since Roman and Greek civilizations, we use metals and minerals in various different areas. The Greeks used copper for protecting their irrigation channels from erosion and scouring. Today we use materials extracted from Earth for our clothing, electronics, fuel, industrial applications, etc. After the Industrial Revolution and the World War I, we have exponentially increased the demand of natural resources. Think about it for a second. Even the most basic things like a watch or a copper water pipe in your house has to come from somewhere!

Economics of Supply and Demand

What is exploration and how it is different from exploitation? The simple answer is that exploration is the process of searching for resources while exploitation is the process of refining the methods which we employ to extract materials.

It is expensive to explore natural resources. Even with a successful exploration project, there is no guarantee on net capital gain. The value and profitability highly depend upon the supply and demand. Therefore it is possible for a material to worth millions today to worth almost nothing in next few weeks. Asbestos industry is an example of mineral value fluctuations. In Canada we used to export asbestos for building materials (used in insulation, roofing tiles, etc) with a large profit margin about 25 years ago. But after biologists and health officials linked asbestos fibers to lung cancer and repertory illnesses, the global demand dramatically fell. Today, Canada is only exporting large quantities of these materials to India. This is only because India was pressured into singing an agreement with Canadian companies to buy the toxic mineral several years before we start using the alternatives.

Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 - 13 GOLD.
Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 – 13 GOLD. Click for larger chart.

How do you find the capital for exploration? Unless you have a large chunk of money lying around, you need to find investors. The investors will come and go with the rise and fall of the demand. However, depend on the type of mineral or material, it may take several years to extract natural resources of your interest. During that time the market can go either way so your company is actually taking a risk. The payoff on the other hand could be big. On average it could take up to ten years just to explore and prepare a single area for diamond mining.

Refining

This is where the exploitation come into the picture. By using technologies and manpower we have created systems to extract materials efficiently at a faster rate. In order to meet the demands some of us have ignore the consequences of over exploitation. Instead of running a diamond mine over a ten year period while analyzing the environmental and social impact we can now expedite the process to as little as five years. In other words a mine that would have supply the demands in 1960s at a steady rate have now been mined faster and cheaper.

Cycle of Resources

I created a general flow chart of how the basic processes work together in natural resources industry. Specific examples of operations are more or less similar to what is described below.

Supply - Demand based economic model.
Supply – Demand based economic model.

In nature, everything is interconnected to everything. Likewise the natural resources industries in capitalist countries heavily depend on this type of feedback model. One of the major advantage is private and public investments that often yields profitable outcomes. But often it is hard to get the capital for Research, Innovation and Exploration. In order for the investors have a net gain, the exploitation has to be profitable. While Research, Innovation and Exploration leads to Exploitation, they do not always end up with positive outcomes.

Tips for Emigration from Asia

Traveling outside the country is not something that most people in Asia would do. But with the growth of middle class, the interest in permanently relocating to developed countries have increased significantly. While some may argue that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is not always applied in countries like Canada. But if you are not willing to be flexible in your new adopted country, you will find it difficult to live. In 2012, majority of immigrants to Canada identified their motherland as Asia (including South Asia).

Your Name

Asians have a rich heritage. On top of that South Asians are very proud of their culture and history. In most communities we use the names to identify our cultural background. This is why you would come across South Asians with long names. These names are not random. They have a structure. I found this can be an inconvenient in the Western society.

The South Asian Buddhist culture have the following name convention. HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME YOUR_NAME_1 YOUR_NAME_2… SURNAME. The first name has historical significant and has nothing to do with identifying a person. For example, my dad, my brother and I all have the exact same first name. The last name, also known as surname is also common to family members. Therefore in my Buddhist culture it is a combination of middle name and the first or middle name and the last is the identifiable unique name of a person.

Now let’s look at Canadian legal documents and general conventions. Official legal documents in Canada will provide you with enough space to include the entire name. But the subsequent correspondence will only include your first and last name. This is a major problem because three of us in my household have the exact same first and the last names (HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME SURNAME). If someone send us a letter addressed to one of us, it can be confusing. This is what exactly happens when we get letters in the mail. To solve it, I decided to switch my middle and the first names around. But since I did not change it before we came to Canada, I had to go through the process of requesting the name change from the government. I highly recommend officially changing your name before entering an another country to avoid extra paperwork. Having three names or even more is OK, as long as the first name is your unique identifiable name. I recommend the following format; YOUR_NAME_1 YOUR_NAME_2… HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME SURNAME, which will translate into YOUR_NAME_1 SURNAME in most official documents.

Your Documents and Drugs 🙂

All documents from your native country either must be in English or the official language of the country you are immigrating. These documents must be translated by a respected and approved translator. In other words, the validity of these documents depends on the authorized translator’s accreditation and therefore go to the embassy and request for a list of translators. Do not discard the original documents. The translated documents must always be accompanied by the original for future comparison.

If you are bringing in controlled materials such as pharmaceutical drugs, do not remove the materials from their original containers. Such containers also must be in one of the official languages. It is better if you can bring them with the manufactures sealed caps(eg. without opening bottles).

Travel Documents

While in Asia it is a common practice to include dependents (children) in parent’s passports, please get individual passports even for the children. Countries like Canada and US will specifically inform you to have separate passports. But even if it is not specifically told, I recommend obtaining individual travel documents to avoid any unforeseeable issues.

Photocopy all your travel documents including the air ticket and leave that copy with a relative. This is for in case of an emergency and / or loss of the documents.

Regardless of if you are going to be a Permanent Resident(PR) or not, write down the information on embassy of your birth country.

Do not hesitate to ask questions… lots of questions from border security personals when you arrived at your destination.

Why should you love Western Democracy?

atomic_cloud_japanThe human civilization is an irony itself. There are more smoke screens control our precipitation of what is “right” and what is wrong than ever before. The ideology of Western Democracy is the world’s largest deception take take precedence. The following list of items may sounds ironic, but this is the true face of Western Democracy.

We should love the Western Democratic values because…

  • …we can get away with crimes in the name of it.
  • …we can can attack any other country and kill it’s citizens and get away with it.
  • …we can get wipe an entire civilization in the name of it.
  • …we can can steal other people’s resources in the name of it.
  • …we can can blame others for our own wrongdoing.
  • …we can control media and present it as free media to outsiders.
  • …we can forced down our religion without the UN getting our way.
  • …we can blame other political parties for our own mistakes.
  • …we will be respected even when we are the one with wrongdoing.
  • …we will be able to pass any otherwise unethical ideologies as ethical.
  • …we will be able to practice imperialism without the negative definitions attached to it.
  • …it will allow us to promote “free market” while still protecting the interests of large cooperation.
  • …it will help control banks for the rich and diminish the distribution of wealth.
  • …it will provide power to the rich thereby nulling the workers’ rights completely.
  • …it is simply the greatest hypocritical deception that is successful at controlling masses without a revolution!