Tuesday, December 05, 2006

40% of world's wealth owned by 1% of population

The richest one per cent of the world's population owns 40 per cent of the total household wealth, while the bottom half of the world makes do with barely one per cent, according to a research report released Tuesday.

The study, which further underlined the continuing disparity between rich and poor, is by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research, part of the United Nations University.

'Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.'-Canadian economist James Davies, an author of the report

It took more than $500,000 US to be among the richest one per cent of adults in the world, according to the report. The richest 10 per cent of adults needed $61,000 US in assets.

In contrast, 50 per cent of adults owned barely one per cent of the household wealth.

Wealth was defined as the value of physical and financial assets minus debts. The study differentiates between wealth and income. The authors note that "many people in high-income countries — somewhat paradoxically — are among the poorest people in the world in terms of household wealth" because they have large debts.

The bulk of the wealthiest adults (almost 90 per cent) are concentrated in North America, Europe and Japan, the researchers said. For example, North America accounts for only six per cent of adults, but held 34 per cent of the globe's household wealth.

"Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years, and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth," said James Davies, one of the report's authors and a professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario in London.

"There is a whole group of problems in developing countries that make it difficult for people to build up assets, which are important, since life is so precarious," Davies said.

Having assets worth just above $2,200 US would be enough to put an adult into the top half of the world's wealth distribution.

Canadians averaged $70,916 US in assets

Canada's net worth per capita came in at $70,916 US, putting it just ahead of Denmark.

Average net worth in the United States amounted to $143,867 per person in 2000, while it reached $180,837 in Japan.

At the bottom end of the scale were Ethiopia with per-capita wealth of $193 and Congo at $180.

Global household wealth amounted to $125 trillion in 2000, roughly three times the value of total global production, or $20,500 per person.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hawking says man should colonize other star systems to avoid extinction


LONDON: It's time humans moved out of the solar system and colonized other star systems, says theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as otherwise there is a threat of extinction to the human species.

Life on earth could be wiped out by a nuclear holocaust or an asteroid striking the planet, he warned. Once man spreads out into the space and establish colonies, the future is safe for humanity, the wheel-chair bound scientist told BBC Radio just before he received the Royal Society's Copley Medal, the top science award in the U.K., Thursday.

There are no planets in the solar system that is similar to earth and hence man should spread his wings beyond the sun and its planets into another star system, he said, adding the present system of rockets and space vehicles are incapable of such an odyssey. Technologies like "warp drives" mentioned in futuristic TV programs like Star Trek, where travel at the speed of light is visualized, too may not be practical, he said. On the other hand, concepts like matter/anti-matter annihilation for propulsion could become helpful, he added.

Saying disasters like a nuclear war or an asteroid hitting the earth can "wipe us all out," he predicted once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe. This will require identifying hospitable planets in other star systems and traveling to these planets. If the chemical fuel rockets, which were used in rockets that propelled the spaceships that took man to moon, the journeys to planets in other star systems will require 50,000 years and more of time, he said.

Explaining the matter/anti-matter propulsion, he said when matter and anti-matter meet up, they disappear in a burst of radiation. If this is beamed out of the back of a spaceship, it could drive it forward. This could give a speed just below the speed of light, which will mean man can reach a new star system in about six years. "It would take a lot of energy to accelerate to near the speed of light," he said.

Hawking, 64, author of several books outlining what the future holds, is a cripple because of a rare motor neuron disease. He can communicate only with the aid of a computerized voice synthesizer.

Saying he is not afraid of death, but is not in a hurry to die, Hawking said one of his desires is to go into space. "My next goal is to go into space. Maybe Richard Branson will help me," he said in reference to the space travel programs for 'tourists,' floated by the British entrepreneur's Virgin group via Virgin Galactic.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Maya Teased Ears Through Architecture

Nov. 27, 2006 — Some ancient civilizations may have had an ear — not just an eye — for architecture. Two recent studies suggest early builders intentionally added unusual, and often psychedelic, sound effects to their structures.

Some of the most striking examples are at the 1,100-year-old Maya Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza, Mexico, according to David Lubman, who will present findings at the upcoming Fourth Joint Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Acoustical Society of Japan in Hawaii.

Lubman studied the court's acoustic elements, including two "whispering galleries" that allow visitors to hear whispers from 460 feet away.

The feature could have once allowed a king or priest to address crowds of up to 3,000 outside without a microphone, Lubman explained.

The sound effects may have also held spiritual significance to players taking part in a bizarre game on the court.

In the Maya competition, players were fully padded and threw around a hard, rubber ball. They deflected the ball with their hips and a device at their chest known as a ball deflector.

The unusual acoustics on the court likely added an eerie ambiance to the play. The effect was perhaps appropriate, considering the competition's losers were sometimes sacrificed after a defeat, according to Lubman.

"Players on the ball court would hear voices but see no one," he explained. "This would seem supernatural to pre-scientific listeners... . According to the K'iche' Maya myth called the 'Popol Vuh,' the noises of the ball court play evoked the Lords of the Underworld."

A single ball striking the court would have echoed four times per second, Lubman found.

"I suspect that the flutter echoes sounded like the rattles of a menacing rattlesnake," he said. "(They) must have added an exciting aural element to the deadly drama of the ballgame."

The echoes were made possible by massive, smooth stone walls carefully positioned to reflect sound, similar to today's band shells. The walls at the court are 270 feet long and 28 feet tall.

The whispering galleries work by pushing sound waves along the playing field. The effect is similar to that produced by speaking through a long tube, which conserves sound energy and reduces losses.

Historical Maya writings paint a fuller picture of the games once played on the court, telling of hallucinogenic drugs that may have further heightened the auditory illusions. Fragrant incense has also been unearthed at the site.

Chris Scarre, a professor of archaeology at Durham University in England, recently conducted a survey of acoustical features in ancient structures. He told Discovery News that Lubman's research is "convincing and exciting."

In addition to Mesoamerican structures, Scarre said sound effects can be heard in Paleolithic caves and various European structures, including St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which has a whispering gallery.

"We do not know in detail how (the more ancient) sites were used, and the challenge is to discover a methodology that enables us to construct a convincing argument," Scarre said, adding that he hopes the research "brings sound, music and hearing back into archaeological discussion."