Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Social Studies

The coming storms, our gooey life, the boss has gone surfin' Add to ...

The coming storms

"The sun is about to get a lot more active, which could have ill effects on Earth," Space.com reports. "… Solar storms occur when sunspots on our star erupt and spew out flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems. The sun's activity typically follows an 11-year cycle, and it looks to be coming out of a slump and gearing up for an active period. … People of the 21st century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. But smart-power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A major solar storm could cause 20 times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina, warned the [U.S.]National Academy of Sciences in a 2008 report. … Luckily, much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming."

Our gooey life

"So the Gulf oil spill has you ready to quit petroleum cold turkey? Louisiana's brown pelicans have more of a chance of avoiding Big Oil than you do," Seth Borenstein writes for Associated Press. "Merely parking the car and riding a bike won't cut it. Your sneakers and bike have petroleum products in them. Sure, you can shut off the A/C, but the electric fans you switch to have plastic from oil and gas in them. And the insulation to keep your home cool also started as oil and gas. Without all that, you will sweat and it'll be all too noticeable because deodorant comes from oil and gas, too. You can't even escape petroleum products with a nice, cool fast-food milkshake - which probably has a petrochemical-based thickener. … Petrochemicals are the glue of our modern lives and even in glue, too."

We blunder? We're smart

"As ashamed as we may feel of our mistakes, they are not a byproduct of all that's worst about being human," Kathryn Schulz writes for The Boston Globe. "On the contrary. They're a byproduct of all that's best about us. We don't get things wrong because we are uninformed and lazy and stupid and evil. We get things wrong because we get things right. The more scientists understand about cognitive functioning, the more it becomes clear that our capacity to err is utterly inextricable from what makes the human brain so swift, adaptable and intelligent." We have a guessing strategy known as inductive reasoning, which researchers increasingly think underlies virtually all of human cognition. "But this intelligence comes at a cost," Ms. Schulz adds. "… The distinctive thing about inductive reasoning is that it generates conclusions that aren't necessarily true. They are, instead, probabilistically true - which means they are possibly false. Because we reason inductively, we will sometimes get things wrong."

Will their brains circle?

As the World Cup gets under way in South Africa, "conservationists fear that gamblers looking for a little extra luck will turn to a source those of us in the West might not expect: the practice of smoking vulture brains," Scientific American magazine reports. "… The vulture brains are dried, ground up and then smoked in cigarettes which supposedly give the users visions of the future. … Seven of the nine vulture species found in South Africa are endangered in that country."

Burglary isn't self-serve

Indianapolis police say three armed men who broke into a man's apartment last week not only stole his 32-inch flat-screen television, they forced him to help them move it down a flight of stairs, Associated Press reports. A police report said 30-year-old Jason Geminden and his girlfriend were asleep when three masked men with handguns wore them up. The pair were forced to stay on the bed while the men ransacked the apartment, taking jewellery, electronics and car keys. After Mr. Geminden helped carry the TV set, one of the suspects told the pair they were so helpful they wouldn't be tied up.

The boss has gone surfin'

"Surf's up, and paddling along for the ride are a new group of shredders: the business class," Nancy Keates reports for The Wall Street Journal. "While surf culture - the clothing and lingo - has long been mainstream, until recently the actual surfers were not. … Now the sport has joined golf and fly-fishing as a favourite pastime for people who spend most of their day in the office. … In 2009, the average age of American surfers was 30.6 years, up from 2005, when the average age was 25.5. … Long-time surf instructor Tony Caramanico, who teaches in Montauk, N.Y., but travels with students wherever there are good waves, from Mexico to St. Barts, has noticed a big uptick over the past five years in clients who are middle-aged executives. He sees it as a yearning for an escape from the stress and pressure of their complicated lives."

Thought du jour

"All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football."

- Albert Camus

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories