Easter Island reconsidered

From LongNow.Org:

In the most isolated place on Earth a tiny society built world-class monuments. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is 1,000 miles from the nearest Pacific island, 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. It is just six by ten miles in size, with no running streams, terrible soil, occasional droughts, and a relatively barren ocean. Yet there are 900 of the famous statues (moai), weighing up to 75 tons and 40 feet high. Four hundred of them were moved many miles from where they were quarried to massive platforms along the shores.

Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722. The obvious lesson is that Easter Island, “the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself“ (Jared Diamond), is a warning of what could happen to Earth unless we learn to live with limits.

A completely different story emerged from Hunt and Lipo’s archaeology. Polynesians first arrived as late as 1200AD. There are no signs of violence—none of the fortifications common on other Pacific islands, no weapons, no traumatized skeletons. The palm trees that originally covered the island succumbed mainly to rats that arrived with the Polynesians and ate all the nuts. The natives burned what remained to enrich the poor soil and then engineered the whole island with small rocks (“lithic mulch”) to grow taro and sweet potatoes. The population stabilized around 4,000 and kept itself in balance with its resources for 500 years until it was totally destroyed in the 18th century by European diseases and enslavement. (It wasn’t Collapse; it was Guns, Germs, and Steel.)

What was up with the statues? How were they moved? Did they have a role in the sustainable balance the islanders achieved? Hunt and Lipo closely studied the statues found along the moai roads from the quarry. They had D-shaped beveled bottoms (unlike the flat bottoms of the platform statues) angled 14 ° forward. The ones on down slopes had fallen on their face; on up slopes they were on their back. The archeologists concluded they must have been moved upright—”walked,” just as Rapa Nuians long had said. No tree logs were required. Standard Polynesian skill with ropes would suffice.

“Nova” and National Geographic insisted on a demonstration, so a 5-ton, 10-foot-high “starter moai” replica was made and shipped to Hawaii. After some fumbling around, 18 unskilled people secured three ropes around the top of the statue—one to each side for rocking the statue, one in the rear to keep it leaning forward without falling. “Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” they cry in the video, the statue rocks, dancing lightly forward, and the audience at Cowell Theater erupts with applause. Progress was fast, even hard to stop—100 yards in 40 minutes. A family could move one.

Stone statues to ancestors are common throughout Polynesia, but the enormous, numerous moai of Easter Island are unique in the world. Were they part of the peaceful population control and conservative agriculture regime that helped the society “optimize long-term stability over immediate returns” in a nearly impossible place to live?

During the Q & A, Hunt and Lipo were asked how their new theory of Easter Island history was playing on the island itself. Shame at being the self-destructive dopes of history has been replaced by pride, they said. Moai races are being planned. Polynesians were the space explorers of the Pacific. They completed discovering every island in the huge ocean by the end of the 13th century, colonized the ones they could, and then stopped.

Easter Island is not Earth. It is Mars.

The Road to Serfdom: Despotism, Then and Now

“Every economy has its contradictions.… What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth.” — Paul Samuelson, Economics, 1985 edition

“Contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, the Soviet economy is proof that … a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.” — Paul Samuelson, Economics, 1989 edition

“Two-thirds of a century after [The Road to Serfdom] got written, hindsight confirms how inaccurate its innuendo about the future turned out to be.” — Paul Samuelson, 2009

via Study Hayek’s Road to Serfdom with Tom DiLorenzo

Individualism from Friedrich Hayek, The Road To Serfdom

This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of individualism is based. It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be.

It merely starts from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society, and that, since, strictly speaking, scales of value can exist only in individual minds, nothing but partial scales of values exist – scales which are inevitably different and often inconsistent with each other. It is this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the essence of the individualist position.

The Nine Planetary Boundaries: Finessing the Anthropocene

Some of those global alterations made by humans may be approaching tipping points—thresholds—that could destabilize the whole Earth system. Drawing on a landmark paper in Nature in 2009 (“A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” by Johan Rockström et al.) Lynas outlined the nine boundaries we should stay within, starting with three we’ve already crossed. 1. Loss of biodiversity reduces every form of ecological resilience. The boundary is 10 species going extinct per million per year. Currently we lose over 100 species per million per year. 2. Global warming is the most overwhelming boundary. Long-term stability requires 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; we’re currently at 391 ppm and rising fast. “The entire human economy must become carbon neutral by 2050 and carbon negative thereafter.” 3. Nitrogen pollution. With the invention a century ago of the Haber-Bosch process for creating nitrogen fertilizer, we doubled the terrestrial nitrogen cycle. We need to reduce the amount of atmospheric nitrogen we fix per year to 35 million tons; we’re currently at 121 million tons.

Other quantifiable boundaries have yet to be exceeded, but we’re close. 4. Land use. Every bit of natural landscape lost threatens ecosystem services like clean water and air and atmospheric carbon balance. “Already 85% of the Earth’s ice-free land is fragmented or substantially affected by human activity.” The danger point is 15% of land being used for row crops; we’re currently at 12%. 5. Fresh water scarcity. Increasing droughts from global warming will make the problem ever worse. In the world’s rivers, “the blue arteries of the living planet,” there are 800,000 dams with two new large ones built every day. The numeric limit is thought to be 4,000 cubic kilometers of runoff water consumed per year; the current number is 2,600. 6. Ocean acidification from excess atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasingly lethal to ocean life such as coral reefs. The measure here is “aragonite saturation level.” Before the industrial revolution it was 3.44; the limit is 2.75; we’re already down to 2.90. 7. The ozone layer protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. One man (Thomas Midgley) invented the chlorofluorocarbon coolant that rapidly reduced stratospheric ozone, and one remarkable agreement (Montreal Protocol, 1987) cut back on CFCs and began restoring the ozone layer. (In Dobson units the limit is 276; before Midgley it was 290; we’re now back up to 283.)

Two boundaries are so far unquantifiable. 8. Chemical pollution. Rachel Carson was right. Human toxics are showing up everywhere and causing harm. Coal-fired power plants are one of the worst offenders in this category. (Lynas added that nuclear waste belongs in this category but “the supposedly unsolved problem of nuclear waste hasn’t so far harmed a single living thing.” 9. Atmospheric aerosols—airborne dust and smoke. It kills hundreds of thousands of people annually, the soot causes ice to melt faster, and everyone wants to get rid of it. But one beneficial effect it has is cooling, so Lynas proposes “we could move this pollution from the troposphere where people have to breathe it up to the stratosphere where it can still cool the Earth and no one has to breathe it. That’s called geoengineering.”

via longnow.org

Agricultural Biodiversity

The accumulated wisdom in the crops and livestock is profound. We’ve been breeding cattle for 10,000 years, goats for 9,000 years, dogs for 12,000 years, chickens for 8,000 years, lamas for 6,500 years, horses for 6,000 years, camels for 4,000 years. All those millennia we have been in deep partnership with the animals. All of our staple foods are ancient. Wheat has been bred for 11,000 years, corn for 8,000 years, rice for 8,000 years, potatoes for 7,000 years, soybeans for 5,000 years

“For 9,900 years,” Richardson said, “we’ve been building up variety in domesticated crops and livestock—this whole wealth of specific solutions to specific problems. For the last 100 years we’ve been throwing it away.” 95% is gone. In the US in 1903 there were 497 varieties of lettuce; by 1983 there were only 36 varieties. (Also changed from 1903 to 1983: sweet corn from 307 varieties to 13; peas from 408 to 25; tomatoes from 408 to 79; cabbage from 544 to 28.) Seed banks have been one way to slow the rate of loss. The famous seed vault at Svalbard serves as backup for the some 1,300 seed banks around the world. The great limitation is that seeds don’t remain viable for long. They have to be grown out every 7 to 20 years, and the new seeds returned to storage.

via Long Now

Thơ Ông Trinh

Bài thơ của em ông Nội tôi nhắc nhở con cháu trước khi xa nhà.

bq. Bố nhắc con khi xa nhà
Con ra đi phải chăm chỉ học hành
Nhớ gia quyến nhà ta mà cố gắng
Đời cha con đã nhiều điều cay đắng
Từ tuổi thơ ông bà Nội qua đời
Bao cực khổ của quãng đời đi ở
Nhờ cách mạng vùng lên tháo gỡ
Bao xích xiềng nô lệ đã qua
Đời cha con khói lửa lại xông pha
Đuổi Nhật đánh Tây nước nhà no ấm
Trong quãng đời lòng con phải thấm
Bao nghĩa tình đồng đội đã khuất xa
Giành cho con một thế giới bao la
Con phải nhớ lời ông bà ta dạy
Muốn trí lớn phải có công rèn luyện
Muốn vinh quang phải khiêm tốn học hành
Muốn hạnh phúc phải đấu tranh xây dựng
Được phần chung sẽ có cả phần mình.

Hong Kong: an inspiring city

Cities have been a central part of the human civilizations; great cities are not just places where people live and work; they are where people interact, exchange ideas, and simply be inspired. Some are often mentioned in our age: New York, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, etc. We were in Hong Kong last week, and it is definitely an inspiring city.

Traveling means different things for different people; some like to see natural scenery, some like to go on shopping trips. For me, I want to visit cities to experience how people live. One way to do that is to have a cuisine tour; similar to what Anthony Bourdain did in his famous No Reservations show. Food is an essential part of our life, it tells a lot about who we are. The real good authentic food cannot be found in tourist spots or in restaurants; you have to go to where local people go. By doing that you emerge yourself in the city daily lives.

As fans of Anthony, we decided to track his route in Hong Kong and we are not disappointed. On the day we arrived, we went to Long Kee Noodle Shop Address: 100 something Hak Po Street, Mongkok. Notice that the address provided in various websites is wrong. People in that area do not speak English well, so we had a hard time to find the place; I recognized the place by spotting a big guy with tattoos. The food itself is just so so, nothing special; however walking around that area is interesting.

Our next stop was Tung Po Seafood Restaurant at 99 Java Road, North Point, Cookedfood Center. We had deep-fried mantis shrimp, black-ink squid balls with noodles, fish soups, and vegetables. fried shrimps are similar to what we have in Singapore but much fresher and lighter taste. Black-ink squid is interesting but fishy so some might not like it. Fish soups are very similar to the Vietnamese style: refreshing and simply delicious. The place is crowded, be prepare to wait 15′ to 20′. Price:100-150 HK per person.

We had so much fun at Lin Heung Teahouse at 60-164 Wellington Street, Central. No words can described the experiences there. It is sensational. The tea house is still run in the old traditional way. It super crowded; expect to wait up to 30 minutes for a seat, you actually have to find a table, standing next to it until a person leaves. We saw a lot tourists, but the place is still where locals hang out. Price is cheap; two of us had 6 plates of dim-sum and infinite flow of teas (there are two types: black and green) for only 75 HK dollars. We went to twice for lunch.

The next best restaurant is Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant. It was not easy to find the place. The restaurant is not on the Temple Street, Yaumatei; but it is actually on a parallel street near one end of the Temple street. Vietnamese will be happy to find their vegetable soups are very similar to ours. Besides the famous claypot rice, remember to try out Tung Choy (rau muong or kang kong); they have the best way to prepare Tung Choy I have seen in my life.

Drink: in Hong Kong I would recommend Blue Girl, fresh and light. The taste won’t go bitter after leaving open for a while. In Macau, you should try Macau Beer, it is just like Macau itself, an Asian city with European feel.

Don’t miss the horse racing in HK. We went to “Sha Tin”:http://www.sha-tin.com/ racecourse. The fun was not much about betting (even though we won twice) but more about the atmosphere. You can simply get a beer, lid up cigarettes, try your luck, and enjoy!

If you practice BJJ, you can drop by “HK Gracie Barra”:http://www.hongkongjujitsu.com/jujitsu.html , Herry Chan is a nice guy and a very good instructor. There are also other BJJ clubs around in HK.  Since I picked up BJJ, I try to visit clubs in other cities when traveling. A great way to get to know people.

Next time travelling, I will get an GPS navigation device, it can be frustrated sometimes as you lost the way around. HK is very dense city; a normal map does not show a lot of small streets and lanes. Not all streets and buildings are clearly labeled in English.

Internet problem

Paul “suggested a way”:http://www.paulgraham.com/distraction.html to cure the Internet problem by having a separate computer for Internet and a dedicated computer for work which (almost )doesn’t have Internet access. The solution does not seem apply to me because I need constant Internet for my work.