In the late 1970s two psychologists, Margaret Matlin and David Stang, put forward a theory they called the Pollyanna principle, which holds that we subconsciously lean toward positive thinking and language, even when we’re consciously focusing on negative things. Basically, our brains want to be happy. It’s a nice idea, but, since happiness is abstract, Matlin and Stang never settled on any widely accepted way to prove it.

That’s where the UVM math nerds come in. Since 2009, they’ve been looking at ways to quantify happiness, and have decided that language is the most tangible way to do so. Chris Danforth, a mathematician with a background in chaos theory, who leads the team along with Peter Dodds, whose research focuses on sociotechnical problems, says that his team is trying to measure population-scale happiness as a baseline to improve quality of life. They think happiness is just as important as GDP, or other frequently tracked measurements of well-being. They’re essentially trying to solve a social problem with a math problem. “Happiness is a hard thing to quantify,” Danforth says. “It’s quite hard to improve something you can’t measure, so we’re trying to create an instrument capable of quantifying happiness on a large scale.”

To track happiness they had to figure out what signaled the feeling and then decide how best to measure that. That ability to track emotion, which is part of a broader field called sentiment analysis, is a nut that everyone from Facebook to the National Security Agency (NSA) is trying to crack, and Dodds and Danforth believe they have found a granular way to do it.


Changing China’s household registration rules was one of the main planks of reform promised by President Xi Jinping at a Communist Party meeting in November, and it was reiterated in plans for more vigorous urbanization issued this year. Now Mr. Xi’s test will be achieving that promise, city by city, despite qualms and resistance from local officials and many long-term urban residents.

“I think there’s more hope of substantive change this time,” said Lu Yilong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing who studies household registration divisions and their effects. “This is more a coordinated, top-down reform, unlike in the past when local governments had more room to set their own rules. There have been changes already, and now we need a more systematic approach.”

The barriers in China’s system of household registration, or hukou, date to Mao’s era. In the late 1950s, the system was instituted to keep famished peasants from pouring into cities. The policies later calcified into caste-like barriers that still often tie citizens’ education, welfare and housing opportunities to their official residence, even if they have moved far away from that place to find a livelihood. The restrictions hinder permanent migration between many urban and rural areas, and among regions and cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing.

“The main problem now is not the rural population moving to a local city, that’s quite easy,” said Ren Xinghui, a researcher for the Transition Institute, a privately funded organization in Beijing, who campaigns against educational discrimination directed against children from the countryside. “The main problem is migration across provinces and cities, and the controls imposed by the big cities against cross-region migration. That’s the key to hukou reform.”


Israel knocked out Gaza’s only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.

[…]

Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza’s energy needs. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.

Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic litres of diesel fuel.

"The power plant is finished," said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.

Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area’s water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption. Gazans who have had a few hours electricity a day since the conflict began now face months without power.


At this point we must make clear to ourselves what we mean by the expression ‘an object of representations’. We have stated above that appearances are themselves nothing but sensible representations, which, as such and in themselves, must not be taken as objects capable of existing outside our power of representation. What, then, is to be understood when we speak of an object corresponding to, and consequently also distinct from, our knowledge? It is easily seen that this object must be thought only as something in general = x, since outside our knowledge we have nothing which we could set over against this knowledge as corresponding to it.
 Now we find that our thought of the relation of all knowledge to its object carries with it an element of necessity; the object is viewed as that which prevents our modes of knowledge from being haphazard or arbitrary, and which determines them a priori in some definite fashion. For in so far as they are to relate to an object, they must necessarily agree with one another, that is, must possess that unity which constitutes the concept of an object.
 But it is clear that, since we have to deal only with the manifold of our representations, and since that x (the object) which corresponds to them is nothing to us being, as it is, something that has to be distinct from all our representations the unity which the object makes necessary can be nothing else than the formal unity of consciousness in the synthesis of the manifold of representations. It is only when we have thus produced synthetic unity in the manifold of intuition that we are in a position to say that we know the object. But this unity is impossible if the intuition cannot be generated in accordance with a rule by means of such a function of synthesis as makes the reproduction of the manifold a priori necessary, and renders possible a concept in which it is united. Thus we think a triangle as an object, in that we are conscious of the combination of three straight lines according to a rule by which such an intuition can always be represented. This unity of rule determines all the manifold, and limits it to conditions which make unity of apperception possible. The concept of this unity is the representation of the object = x, which I think through the predicates, above mentioned, of a triangle.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Poetry leads to the same place as all forms of eroticism — to the blending and fusion of separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to continuity. Poetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea.

Georges Bataille, Death and Sensuality  (via 1109-83)

It is a merely empirical law, that representations which have often followed or accompanied one another finally become associated, and so are set in a relation whereby, even in the absence of the object, one of these representations can, in accordance with a fixed rule, bring about a transition of the mind to the other. But this law of reproduction presupposes that appearances are themselves actually subject to such a rule, and that in the manifold of these representations a coexistence or sequence takes place in conformity with certain rules. Otherwise our empirical imagination would never find opportunity for exercise appropriate to its powers, and so would remain concealed within the mind as a dead and to us unknown faculty. If cinnabar were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, if a man changed sometimes into this and sometimes into that animal form, if the country on the longest day were sometimes covered with fruit, sometimes with ice and snow, my empirical imagination would never find opportunity when representing red colour to bring to mind heavy cinnabar. Nor could there be an empirical synthesis of reproduction, if a certain name were sometimes given to this, sometimes to that object, or were one and the same thing named sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, independently of any rule to which appearances are in themselves subject.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

I can’t imagine anything better of me than what I am now.
I don’t think I can allow myself anything better.
what will become of me?


The banker’s speech was fluent, but it was also copious, and he used up an appreciable amount of time in brief meditative pauses. Do not imagine his sickly aspect to have been of the yellow, black-haired sort: he had a pale blond skin, thin gray-besprinkled brown hair, light-gray eyes, and a large forehead. Loud men called his subdued tone an undertone, and sometimes implied that it was inconsistent with openness; though there seems to be no reason why a loud man should not be given to concealment of anything except his own voice, unless it can be shown that Holy Writ has placed the seat of candor in the lungs. Mr. Bulstrode had also a deferential bending attitude in listening, and an apparently fixed attentiveness in his eyes which made those persons who thought themselves worth hearing infer that he was seeking the utmost improvement from their discourse. Others, who expected to make no great figure, disliked this kind of moral lantern turned on them. If you are not proud of your cellar, there is no thrill of satisfaction in seeing your guest hold up his wine-glass to the light and look judicial. Such joys are reserved for conscious merit. Hence Mr. Bulstrode’s close attention was not agreeable to the publicans and sinners in Middlemarch


Unemployment in Gaza stands at 40.8 percent, a dramatic increase from 18.7 percent in 2000; however, for those people between 15 and 29 years of age, the unemployment rate is almost 60 percent. Because of this, poverty has increased with almost 80 percent of Gazans made dependent on humanitarian aid to survive although they are able and desperate to work.

Another way to understand the impact of the Israeli blockade is this: In 2000, UNRWA (the UN agency responsible for Palestine refugees) was feeding 80,000 people in the Gaza Strip; today it feeds over 830,000 people. Yet, UNRWA’s food aid to almost half the population is now under threat as some international donors such as Canada have inexplicably defunded UNRWA or fund at levels that do not meet Gaza’s burgeoning need. Without an increase in financial support to cover a $22 million shortfall, UNRWA may have to eliminate its food distributions by the end of 2014. If this happens there should be no doubt that Palestinians in Gaza will face starvation for the first time in their history, and the violence that will ensue from their deepened agony and abandonment will be calamitous.

The profound deprivation that has long defined life in Gaza is intensifying. Israel is deliberately targeting and bombing civilian infrastructure with the aim of ensuring Gaza’s continued decay. Even before Israel’s ground invasion, water and sewage treatment facilities in 18 different locations sustained damage, and presently, 900,000 people — half of Gaza’s total population — have no access to water. Fifty percent of sewage pumping and wastewater treatment systems are no longer operational, largely affecting Northern Gaza, Gaza city and Rafah. Damaged pipelines have resulted in the mixing of sewage and water, raising the risk of water borne diseases, a serious public health hazard. Several power lines have also been disabled by bombardments, leaving 80 percent of the population with only four hours of electricity a day, and critically disrupting the delivery of basic services, especially in hospitals.


Well water has kept losses in California’s agricultural industry relatively modest considering the severity of the ongoing drought, the report said. The researchers estimated $1 billion in lost revenue and $500 million in additional pumping costs this year. That’s a fraction of the $40 billion the industry rings up annually.

Still, there’s little optimism the industry can weather another year relying on so much groundwater without significant consequences.

By the end of 2014 alone, groundwater is expected to replace three-quarters of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water lost to drought this year — raising groundwater’s share of the state’s agricultural water supply from 31% to 53%, the UC Davis report said.

"If there’s no surface water available, farmers really have no choice but to use the groundwater and use it in a very big way," said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine. "The question is how long can we keep doing this before we hit rock bottom? … We are on a current path that is nearly the definition of unsustainable."

In an attempt to staunch the crisis, two bills have been proposed in the California Legislature to create the state’s first groundwater management system. There are currently no restrictions on how much water a landowner can pump from beneath his or her property.


Twenty years ago, before the alarm about Climate Change, the World Bank warned about upcoming wars — not over oil, but water. Now, the UN predicts that two thirds of the world will suffer shortages in the next ten years due to waste, pollution, and the growth of a global middle class. Some Fortune 500 companies are ahead of the game, conserving and cleaning up water to protect their profits, while the cost for the rest of us rises. There are technologies to create more fresh water, but they’re expensive. Is water a commercial product, or a basic human right?