This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

8Nov/10

An unfinished chapter in the sad story of big oil

So given my ties to the good old Crescent City and the wonderful culture and environment that it creates for all kinds of people, I couldn’t resist mentioning a sad, but not shocking discovery that has recently been made off of the Gulf Coast.

For those of you who haven’t been watching the news at all over the last 5 months, we were recently been treated to one of the most disastrous oil spills of all time when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, sending a continue jet of oil spewing into the gulf of Mexico.

Now, oil spills have happened relatively frequently over the last few decades, and every single one can be described as an incredible affront to nature. However, this particular was noted to be particularly bad because it did not come from an oil container, but rather from the source within the ground. Deepwater rigs such as the one that exploded last April use an extensive set of pipes and drills to break through the dense rock that exists miles beneath the ocean’s surface and into the large pools of oil that lie below.

Understandably, this is an incredibly delicate process, and it is amazing that we’re even able to do this in the first place. However, being delicate also makes it potentially dangerous, something that we all learned while we watched millions of gallons of crude oil pour into the Gulf’s ecosystem.

As soon as the spill occurred, hundreds of pictures began to surface of wildlife covered in black muck, struggling to stay alive. As disturbing as these pictures were, it was a bit of a relief that there weren’t any signs of massive destruction to, say, entire ecosystems near the oil spill. It was regarded as an incredibly lucky that we managed to get out of this situation without seriously damaging the environment in any way, but now we are learning that what we’ve seen thus far may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Scientists with Penn State University have recently discovered large portions of dead underwater coral that appears to be a direct result of the recent oil spill. Having been found a mere seven miles from the original spill site, the coral was reported to have some “black, fluffy” stuff coating its exterior. While scientists were unsure whether this substance was oil or not (it appears it may simply be residue that has collected after the coral died), we can be most certain that this strange material is not supposed to be there.

Why is this important? Well, for anyone who paid attention in their high-school biology class, coral reefs are more than just boney looking things that cut you when you go scuba diving. They tend to be host to a wide variety of plants and animals, and hold a diversity of life that is almost unparalleled in other locations in the ocean. Losing one of these large underwater networks means erasing literally thousands of years of natural growth and progression.

However, there is a second, more foreboding conclusion to take from these findings. The effects that we have recently seen couldn’t be described as “immediate” or “acute.” They occurred over many months following this disaster. As such, who’s to say what other catastrophic consequences this oil spill might have had that we are yet to find out? Nobody can say for sure, but if many interests in the world of oil have their way, people won’t be looking in the first place.

With this in mind, I urge you to once again keep your attention to the media for news coming out of the gulf coast, to keep an eye on the things that we discover. It is far too easy to allow our past disturbances to fade away in our memories, but the world doesn’t work in a fast-acting and easily, identifiable way. That’s why science takes time and patience and hard work. Whether it be for this particular man-made disaster, or for many that are sure to come, we would all do well to try and understand the scope of the ramifications that our actions have, as well as the delicate nature of a seemingly powerful environment.

via The New York Times

12Sep/10

Textbook madness!

It's been a while since I've posted...I've been busy settling into the Bay Area and gettin my research on!

Anyways, here's an article that I'd hope any district supervisor or educational policy board would read.  It comes from a gentleman named Tamim Ansary, who's been working as an editor for textbook publishers for many years.

As if you didn't guess, his opinion of the textbook industry is less than a glowing expression of appreciation.  He makes a lot of really interesting points about why it's so difficult to make a "good" textbook, and explains some quirks of the textbook market that sort-of put things into perspective in terms of what forces are shaping the market.

Take a look at this article, and think about what you might be able to do to help push our school system in a better direction.  Certainly, ineffective textbooks aren't the only thing putting a damper on education, but as the foundation for many of our curriculum, they'd be a great place to start.

via Edutopia