Monday, June 14, 2010

Singular wackiness

Has anybody missed BP CEO Tony Hayward's perspective on his company's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Datelined a month ago today: "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."

The U.K.'s Guardian reported this bit of homespun wisdom on 14 May 2010, when the U.S. gov't fantasized that 'only' 5,000 barrels per day were leaking into that "very big ocean." Estimates reported in the NY Times on Sunday were in the neigbhorhood of 35,000 barrels per day, perhaps more. But hey, that's only a factor of seven. The ratio of "tiny" to "very big" is way more than that, right?

The truth is, I missed Hayward's idiotic blather until late last week. Yeah, I heard that BP was having trouble with its CEO's waywardly wagging tongue, but I have a kind of squeamishness about gossipy, personality-driven news reporting. I try to avoid it. Never mind gossipy, personality-driven politics (you know, all that worry about whether President Obama is emoting enough to satisfy the news cycle, about which Nicholas Kristof had what I regard as the last word, last week).

Well, if the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico leaves you indifferent, how 'bout news from another beleaguered body of water, the Persian Gulf. Yeah, that one over by Iraq & Iran & Kuwait.

Thanks again to the NY Times for bringing to the attention of news junkies everywhere the fact that that the Shaat al Arab river is drying up -- so much so that the Persian Gulf is flowing inland, backing up well into Iraq -- past Basra. Some of this is due to draught. But some of it is that nations upriver (Iran and Turkey) are siphoning away the river's headwaters. As Steven Lee Meyers reports,
Withered by decades of dictatorial mismanagement and then neglect, by drought and the thirst of Iraq’s neighbors, the river formed by the convergence of the Tigris and the Euphrates no longer has the strength the keep the sea at bay. The salt water of the gulf now pushes up the Faw peninsula. Last year, for the first time in memory, it extended beyond Basra, Iraq’s biggest port city, and even Qurna, where the two rivers meet. It has ravaged fresh-water fisheries, livestock, crops and groves of date palms that once made the area famous, forcing the migration of tens of thousands of farmers.

Hang on, here come the water wars......

Readers of this blog know by now that its author is deeply skeptical of claims that technology will fix massive & complex environmental problems -- like those caused by extractive industries that are gross polluters at their existential core, or the increase and migration of populations whose needs can't be met without ravaging the watersheds in and near which they live.

So imagine how fast my head started spinning when I caught wind of Singularity University, which envisions, thanks again to the NY Times,
a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state. At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past."

A fringe group of marginal wingnuts? Well, no. Google's Larry Page helped found, and Google helps fund Singularity University. Here, from the NY Times article, are a few attendee names:
Attendees at the spring session came from all over the globe and included John Mauldin, a best-selling author who writes an investment newsletter; Stephen Long, a research director at the Defense Department; Fernando A. de la Viesca, C.E.O. of the Argentinean investment firm TPCG Financial; Eitan Eliram, the new-media director for the prime minister’s office in Israel; and Guy Fraker, the director of trends and foresight at State Farm Insurance.

Silicon Valley investors, former astronauts, and more of the very very rich round out the roster.

Here's Singularity U's most visible spokesman, Raymond Kurzweil, with SU's new & improved colonialist spin:
We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology. That is what it means to be human — to extend who we are. [...] Ultimately, the entire universe will become saturated with our intelligence. This is the destiny of the universe."

I don't quite see how I can add anything to that. Fade to black.

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