Zeit Guy Links – 9/18/12

Why wood pulp is world’s new wonder material

THE hottest new material in town is light, strong and conducts electricity. What’s more, it’s been around a long, long time.

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), which is produced by processing wood pulp, is being hailed as the latest wonder material. Japan-based Pioneer Electronics is applying it to the next generation of flexible electronic displays. IBM is using it to create components for computers. Even the US army is getting in on the act, using it to make lightweight body armour and ballistic glass.

So why all the fuss? Well, not only is NCC transparent but it is made from a tightly packed array of needle-like crystals which have a strength-to-weight ratio that is eight times better than stainless steel. Even better, it’s incredibly cheap.

NCC will replace metal and plastic car parts and could make nonorganic plastics obsolete in the not-too-distant future, says Phil Jones, director of new ventures and disruptive technologies at the French mineral processing company IMERYS. “Anyone who makes a car or a plastic bag will want to get in on this,” he says.

In addition, the human body can deal with cellulose safely, says Jones, so NCC is less dangerous to process than inorganic composites. “The worst thing that could happen is a paper cut,” he says.

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Greed and Debt the True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital  (Rolling Stone)

The great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn’t stand for anything. He’s a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who’ll say anything to get elected.

The critics couldn’t be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He’s closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren’t the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they’re the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he’s trying for something big: We’ve just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we’ve been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.

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In Prosecutors, Debt Collectors Find a Partner  (NY Times)

The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.

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Environment: The end of the line  (Financial Times)

There is a photo from the 1930s, published in National Geographic magazine, that shows a scene almost unimaginable today.

A man stands in the sea, water up to his knees, surrounded by a frenzied shoal of huge, thrashing totoaba fish on a spawning run off the coast of Mexico.
“They were so thick in the water that you could wade in and pull them out with bare hands or a pitchfork,” says the prominent marine conservation biologist, Callum Roberts.

Not any more. Commercial fishers started netting the creatures, which could grow as long as 2m and weigh more than 330lbs. Dams such as the Hoover were built along the Colorado River, curbing vital freshwater flows to breeding grounds.

Today, the totoaba is one of 414 species rated critically endangered on the “Red List”, the compendium of threatened plants and animals kept by the venerable International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Another 486 fish are endangered; 1,141 are vulnerable and 60 are extinct, mostly thanks to the same species that killed off the totoaba: us.

The human impact on fish has been worrying scientists and environmental campaigners for decades.

But it has also become an increasingly disturbing economic issue for authorities overseeing the fate of the 90m tonnes of marine and freshwater fish the world’s 4.36m fishing boats catch each year, with their estimated value of $100bn.

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