Category Archives: World

Rough Superconductor

Niobium is a metal that we frequently use here for its superconducting properties (Tc = 9.3 K). At lunch today we were wondering where it comes from: are there niobium mines somewhere? Perhaps, I suggested, it is mined in Africa under highly exploitative conditions, and we’ll find protestors picketing the lab for our use of blood niobium.
Turns out this is disturbingly close to the truth:

Coltan is the colloquial African name for (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore comprising niobium and tantalum.
[…]
Coltan smuggling has also been implicated as a major source of income for the military occupation of Congo. To many, this raises ethical questions akin to those of conflict diamonds. Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate mining operations, several electronics manufacturers have decided to forgo central African Coltan altogether, relying on other sources.

On the other hand, it looks like coltan is more important as a source of tantalum, and most niobium comes from Brazil and Canada. So probably our research isn’t built on slave labor and exploitation (postdoc salaries aside).

And I feel fine

I was pretty sure this was going on, but Harper’s actually mined some apocalypse-oriented message boards for quotes from crazy people who are ecstatic about the war in Lebanon, because it is apparently a clear sign that the Rapture is approaching. Not the band, which would be equally fearsome, but that peculiar item in some flavors of Christian eschatology where God kills off spirits away all the believers and children, leaving the rest of us poor bastards to endure the tribulations that follow. To prevent us from making smartass remarks about the potential upsides of all the hardcore conservative Christians vanishing from the Earth, this version of the end-times calls for demons and plagues and rivers of blood for the infidels. So you can see why it’s something to be joyful about.
But wait a minute, exactly what prophecy is being fulfilled here? Basically, the book of Revelation makes the bold statement that there will be violent conflict in the Middle East. So a war breaks out involving Israel, something which has happened approximately every fifteen minutes since the dawn of time—surely this is a sign of the apocalypse! Really, these guys should at least wait for Jesus to appear on a tortilla (or, um, God on an alligator) before they break out the Rapture champagne sparkling cider.

Has Bush completely lost it?

Seriously, there’s no way I can keep up with the President’s ridiculousness over the last few days. Besides telling Putin that Russia should emulate the flourishing democracy in Iraq, there was the bizarre press conference about the pig, and then talking to Blair with the mike on, and now he’s groping the German chancellor.
WTF? Is he drunk? Is this some extension of the madman theory of international relations? Or is it some deep strategy in the War on Terror: if representatives of the U.S. act like total clowns at international summits, the terrorists will decide we aren’t worth attacking?
Even his dad had more dignity when he was vomiting on the Japanese prime minister.

Putin and his robot army battle Cthulhu

When he’s not getting advice from Bush on how to emulate the free and stable democracy of Iraq, Vladimir Putin is addressing the important issues of the day:

Asked about the possible awakening of the giant mythical octopus Cthulhu, the fourth-most popular question among the more than 150,000 sent to Putin, he said that he believed something more serious was behind the question. Cthulhu was invented by novelist H.P. Lovecraft and was said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.
Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.

[The original article seems to have gone behind a subscription wall; excerpt via Majikthise.] It’s good to see that some world leaders are concerned about this issue. Someone should ask Bush about his Cthulhu policy, although I suspect that he too would say, “Read the Bible.” (Or possibly, “I thought you were going to ask about the pig.”)