Monthly Archives: June 2015

News Summary – June 29, 2015

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Some of these stories were found on my news wire:

Fracking banned in New York state;

BIS: ‘There is no defense available to counter the next financial crisis’;

Leaking methane cancels out environmental benefits of using natural gas;

Monsanto still pursuing Syngenta takeover;

‘Pregnancy router’ raises questions about wi-fi radiation, safety for infants, children;

Officials still don’t know location of melted Fukushima nuclear fuel;

Yet another warning about Artificial Intelligence computers ending human existence

News Summary – June 24, 2015

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Several of these stories come from my curated news wire:

Pentagon declares journalists considered “unprivileged belligerents” are legitimate war targets.

Over 2500 dead from heatwaves in India and Pakistan since May.

Russia overtakes Saudi Arabia as China’s main oil supplier.

New Ebola patients rattle Sierra Leone as it struggles to get to zero cases.

Obama backtracks on promise for more transparency in drone operations, control.

News Summary – June 23, 2015

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Some of these stories were found in my curated newswire:

Google Chrome browser auto-download of a feature that allows for remote listening.

Canadian parliamentary committee concerned about wifi, cell phone radiation risks.

Higher death rates evident in areas where air pollution is only 1/3 of what EPA declares safe.

IUCN says species declines still outpacing conservation victories.

Genetically engineered ‘Jellyfish Sheep’ accidentally enters French food system.

Who are the biggest hackers in the world? The U.S. & U.K. governments.

News Summary – June 22, 2015

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Some of these stories were found in my curated newswire:

Home sales and prices are surging, with prices near their 2006 peak. Will it continue or is this a sign or a bubble ready to burst?

Roughly half of the U.S. population is overweight, but within that group, more people are now considered obese than just merely overweight.

In Poland, drones will deliver abortion pills to women.

Authoritarianism rising as democracy declines in over half of United Nations’ member states.

Climate scientists confirm that a ‘new normal’ exists the state of the atmosphere and the weather that it is capable of creating.

Proposed (U.S.) legislation would “authorize the creation of a federal database of all college students, complete with their personally identifiable information, tracking them through college and into the workforce, including their earnings, Social Security numbers, and more.”

Invasive Species – The Key to Ecosystem Recovery?

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Invasive species are a touchy subject for many environmental advocates, especially those working to protect biodiversity, endangered species and wild ecosystems. But what if they’re wrong about them and are ignoring invasive species to the detriment of their larger goals?

the new wild fred pearceThis idea lies at the heart of ‘The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation,’ the latest book from British journalist and author Fred Pearce. Provocative and engaging, it uses on-the-ground evidence to challenge many long held beliefs regarding alien and invasive species and provides a detailed history of the origins and progression of many dominant ecological ideas. These include that nature is pristine and perfectible, only native species are ‘good’ and ecosystems evolve to a balanced state.

But as Pearce writes, the nature of nature is to be highly dynamic, adaptable and open; perfection by definition would mean the end of change. He considers the ‘myth of the pristine’ to be “…some dangerous mythology about how nature works,” and that the demonization of non-native species says far more about humans and our collective fears of change than any traits or behaviors of the new species.

While most environmentalists have long thought that alien species serve no positive purpose in their adopted locations, in most instances they actually increase biodiversity, provide habitat, help remediate human caused pollution and generally get along with flora and fauna already there. As Christian Kull of Monash University notes, most landscapes are ‘melting pots’ and making any hard distinctions about what belongs where long have been meaningless.

ascension cloud forest
Ascension Island Cloud Forest, 90% non-native. Photo credit: http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac, used without permission.

Pearce utilizes many terms coined by various scientists and researchers in the book to elaborate on his points: ecological fitting, biotic resistance, extinction debt and punctuated equilibrium being just a few. He additionally writes about several locations where alien species have had profound impacts, almost entirely positive, including Ascension Island, Hawai’i, Australia, San Francisco Bay, the Florida Everglades, Surtsey and Puerto Rico.

Significant world events have occurred due to the presence of alien species. On the positive side, here in North America we wouldn’t have earthworms or European honeybees unless they were brought here. During the 19th century, ‘acclimatization societies,’ formed in the U.S. and elsewhere to introduce plants and animals from (usually) European landscapes.

Also in the late 19th century, Africa was forever altered by an Asian microbe, brought by the cattle of Italian soldiers, that causes rinderpest. This cattle virus infected a wide variety of cloven-hoofed animals across Africa and led to significant die offs. As Pearce writes, “Herders had no livestock, and farmers had no oxen to pull their plows or drive the waterwheels that irrigated their fields.” People starved decimating many cultures, including the Masai (Kenya), Tutsi (Rwanda), Soga (Uganda), Nama and Herero (SW Africa) and Fulani (Nigeria); most never fully recovered. The outbreak “depopulated and impoverished Africa on a scale” that greatly exceeded the effects of the slave trade. Drought occurred simultaneously in some areas and with few grazers around, the tsetse fly, an endemic insect, flourished in the overgrown bush. Taken together this enabled the final colonization of Africa in the late 1800s / early 1900s.

 

Should You Pay If Your Identity Is Stolen?

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data breachIdentity theft has been an increasingly serious problem for several years, something that’s unlikely to change soon. News stories about a data breach at some large retailer appear regularly, often affecting tens of thousands or even millions of customers. Last year there were almost 50% more data breaches than in 2013, a total of 1,500 separate attacks, more than four every day. The number of records lost or stolen grew by 78% from 2013 to 2014, to nearly one billion. On average, each data breach resulted in almost 700,000 records being compromised.

I have had my personal data ‘stolen’ twice, years apart from two different businesses and fortunately I didn’t have any negative impact other than minor inconvenience. Like most people, I assumed that merchants are responsible for the costs of fixing any problems caused by the data theft, but that’s not necessarily true. At my credit union, when they are notified of a third-party breach, they act “immediately to change account numbers and issue new credit and debit cards for members who were affected.”

However credit unions and other financial institutions often end up absorbing the costs of doing so because merchants are legally allowed to shift the costs of data breaches to others. Following the widely publicized data loss at Target two years ago, credit unions ended up paying over $30 million and issuing nearly five million new credit and debit cards to members. These costs are then passed along to the members, who had nothing to do with the problem (other than being a Target customer).

If this doesn’t seem fair, you can do something about it today. From my credit union:

“We’re calling on Congress to step up and protect credit union members by supporting The Data Security Act of 2015 (S. 961). This bill is a good start to addressing this critical issue by:

  • Strengthening merchant standards to be comparable with those of credit unions.
  • Mandating a federal notification requirement for merchants when breaches occur.
  • Providing a floor for data security standards nationwide.

Overall, this bill represents the best attempt so far at legislation to stop merchant data breaches.”

Contact your U.S Representative and Senators and voice your for this important effort. The Credit Union National Association has also created an online tool to facilitate sending an e-mail to your federal elected officials.