Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

So silently Chromodoris annae come,
As colours steal into the pear or plum,
And air-like, leave no pression to be seen
Where'er they met, or parting place has been.

(Photo via Seatreker.)

Friday Hope Blogging

A judge in Iowa has struck down that state's ban on gay marriage:

In his 63-page decision, Hanson wrote that the statute excluding same-sex couples from marriage "violates Plaintiff's due process and equal protection rights for the aforementioned reasons including, but not limited to, the absence of a rational relationship to the achievement of any legitimate governmental interest." Therefore the law is "unconstitutional and invalid."
If you don't like it, move to Russia!

In related news, Maine's highest court has ruled in favor of a lesbian couple who wish to adopt two children:
The unanimous ruling opens the door in Maine for other co-parent adoptions by same-sex couples.
And anti-gay Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle has been tossed of f the Broward County Tourism Council:
During a short debate before the vote county commissioners called Naugle's anti-gay comments offensive" and "appalling." Commissioners also heard from members of the council who said Naugle's constant attacks on gays were hurting tourism, the county's biggest industry.
Funny how that works, eh?

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of a law that would've forced Planned Parenthood clinics to close:
The law, which was intended to take effect on Tuesday, would have placed abortion clinics under state supervision under the category of "outpatient surgery centers," requiring them to meet standards that Planned Parenthood says are "medically unnecessary," according to the Associated Press.
Activists in southern New Mexico are attempting to improve the quality of life in poor border communities:
As developers gobble up farms and desert scrub--sending the fringes of Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Texas, sprawling toward one another--the region's poorest residents often find themselves squeezed out of affordable housing, exploited by predatory lenders and unsure of their rights. To the extent that anyone is coming to their aid, it's mainly female activists such those at the Colonias Development Council....
A court has ruled that Californians ought to be repaid the money stolen from them by Enron and its handmaidens:
Commenting on today's decision, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said, "Today's decision is a major victory for California ratepayers. I encourage FERC to promptly refund the more than $1 billion that was stolen from the people of California."
A while back, I blogged on the baiji, a Chinese river dolphin whose extinction had been announced by scientists. Now, a businessman has apparently filmed a surviving member of this species:
"This sighting presents a last hope that the Baiji may not go the way of the dodo bird," said Karen Baragona, Yangtze River Basin Program leader at World Wildlife Fund. "Other species have been brought back from the brink of extinction like the southern right whale and white rhinos, but only through the most intensive conservation efforts."

Iceland has canceled whaling operations for the next year:
Iceland has been deterred by condemnation from the International Whaling Commission for their illegal slaughter of whales. They have been deterred by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which will not authorize the sale of Icelandic whale meat to Japan. And they have been deterred by international public criticism.
A new frog has been discovered in Colombia:
“The importance of this project is not just the discovery of the new frog,” said Oswaldo Cortes, team leader and one of the winners of the 2007 Conservation Leadership Programme awards. “But, most importantly, what this new discovery shows is how little we still know about our planet, and the many species that haven’t yet been discovered. This is why it is so important to work with local communities and educate them about the need for conservation.”

Not sure that this is good news, exactly, but it's certainly fascinating:
Scientists at the University of Rochester and the J. Craig Venter Institute have discovered a copy of the entire genome of a bacterial parasite residing inside the genome of its host species.

The finding, reported in today’s Science, suggests that lateral gene transfer—the movement of genes between unrelated species—may happen much more frequently between bacteria and multicellular organisms than scientists previously believed, posing dramatic implications for evolution.
Speaking of evolution, the creationist oddball Stuart Pivar has withdrawn his frivolous $15 million lawsuit against PZ Myers and Seed.

There's apparently been a breakthrough in magnetic cooling:
[T]here are three good reasons why this type of cooling has a future. First, the technology is potentially more energy-efficient than the alternatives. It only really uses energy to move the magnetic field to and from the magnetic material. The model currently under development produces the magnetic field through a system of powerful blocks of magnets similar to those we use on our refrigerator doors, only stronger. These do not get worn out, and thus do not need replacing, which is very good for the environment.

This leads to the second major benefit, namely the fluid, which could turn out to be just plain water. Consequently, there would not be the same environmental impact as with today’s compressor-based refrigerators. The third great potential difference is the noise level. Bahl expects their demonstration model, which should be ready in 2010, to be practically silent.
Inhabitat reports on an attractive new solar water-disinfecting bottle:
The slim PET container holds 4 liters of water and can be easily arranged back-to-back for carry. A specially designed handle allows balanced transport and doubles as a stand to provide optimal solar incidence. UV-A exposure and thermal gain are maximized with a bi-color blown injection molding that creates both a transparent side and a dark, heat-absorbing side. Iconic graphics on the back of the container provide directions for proper usage.
And The Sietch Blog alerts me to a solar web host:
Solar Host is a web hosting service that runs completely off solar power and even its datacentre is certified energy efficient. Not just carbon deals and energy rebates efficient - we mean totally solar. It even stores the juice in biodegradable batteries! And with prices ranging from £20 a year for an email only package to £95 a year for 2Gb of webspace, it's wallet-friendly too.
The Detroit Free Press has an interesting article about the explosion of microfarms in that city's vacant lots:
When it comes to potential for gardening, Detroit is a land of vast opportunity. The city owns 20,000 vacant parcels that are available free by permit for gardening during one growing season, according to James Canning, deputy press secretary for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. He says the city is considering creating several community gardens that could be open next spring.
Triple Pundit announces the end of paper airline tickets:
I'm happy to report that IATA (the authority which governs such things) has finally, magically, dealt a final blow to the persistence of paper tickets and they will officially be a thing of the past by June 1st. The result will save untold numbers of trees, a lot of hassle, and apparantly $9 per passenger. No word on whether you'll see that $9 though.
A new study details the eerie antimicrobial powers of soap:
In the first known comprehensive analysis of whether antibacterial soaps work better than plain soaps, Allison Aiello of the U-M School of Public Health and her team found that washing hands with an antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap. Moreover, antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands during washing than plain soaps.
Tell your friends, and your crazy relatives!

There's interesting work being done on malaria prevention:
“The discovery allows us to think differently about preventing the disease,” Linhardt said. “If we can stop heparan sulfate from binding to the parasite in mosquitoes, we will not just be treating the disease, we will be stopping its spread completely.”
This is an attractive idea not just because of the lives it'd save, but also because it'd be a dagger in the heart of the DDT fetishists.

Arms Control Wonk links to an article on the ongoing efforts to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet bloc:
So far, the Nunn-Lugar program has led to the deactivation of 6,982 strategic nuclear warheads, the destruction of 653 intercontinental ballistic missiles and elimination of 30 nuclear submarines and 155 bombers, among others, according to a statement from Lugar.

The program has also paid for security improvements such as $25 million to upgrade buildings at Luch. The 28 locations of nuclear material have been reduced to five.
I'm delighted with this Flickr set of envelope security patterns.

And with the photos of Didier Massard at Giornale Nuovo, which "[draw] from our collective romantic and touristic notions of nationality and place":

You probably ought to take A Close-Up View of Wood Spurge. And you definitely ought to take a close-up view of BibliOdyssey's Offcuts:

You'll find an incredible collection of old music at El Diablo Tun Tun. As for me, I'm absolutely swooning over La grande Vedette Malienne Kandja Kouyaté et l'Ensemble Instrumental du Mali (via Awesome Tapes from Africa).

Last, and undoubtedly least, The Rag-Bag, by Nathaniel P. Willis.

(Photo at top by Giacomo Brunelli, via Luminous Lint.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Kaleidoscope World

If you've ever marveled at a kaleidoscope, you can't help but admire the conservatarians' ability to generate an endless, florid phantasmagoria from a few rotating fragments of ideology.

For instance, here's Iain Murray at Planet Gore:

Britblogger Guido Fawkes delights in blowing up the sacred symbols of establishment [sic]. Here he presents data that strongly suggest that one of the sacred cows of green environmentalism, mass public transport, symbolized by the train, is less “clean” in terms of emissions than the average car trip, particularly when the trains aren’t fully loaded.
I pause here not to direct your attention to Murray's claim that the "establishment" prefers trains to cars (or his curious reference to "green environmentalism," or his cute 'n' clever use of "particularly") but to draw out the suspense. You'll thank me for it later.
As Guido puts it:
Trains are heavy, get their energy inefficently down wires [!] where much of the energy is lost and are fundamentally a nineteenth century point-to-point technology belonging to a slower era. Cars are light, fuel efficient, and a liberating, flexible form of transport suited to modern life. Greens hate them so much because they are ideologically opposed to capitalist modes of consumption.
I love how Guido attacks rail travel in the name of "capitalist modes of consumption." It sounds so vigorous and au courant...until you remember the role of railroads and subways in Victorian Britain - or modern New York - and start laughing.

As for the bit about "nineteenth century point-to-point technology," it's interesting how much time the defenders of capitalism spend downplaying or dismissing its capacity for technological innovation; it's an error Marx certainly never made.

The thing is, Iain Murray would dislike mass transit even if it had a negative carbon footprint. Hell, he'd dislike it more. Listening to these people complain about the "inefficiency" of mass transit is like listening to anti-sex zealots complain about the failure rate of condoms; you can be pretty sure that their criticism is not intended to be constructive.

Incidentally, Channel 4's FactCheck has a somewhat different interpretation of the data:
Government might be better off trying to push rail travel for businessmen who would otherwise fly or drive on their own in large cars, than targeting families who would otherwise travel in full cars.

If you're a family of four this doesn't necessarily mean that driving is the greenest option. You face a choice between getting seats on a train that would be travelling anyway (thus having almost no extra impact) or putting an extra car on the road.

So, as with many of today's green dilemmas, there is no easy, hard-and-fast answer. The basic principle that trains are better than cars, and better in turn than planes, is still a useful rule of thumb.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Kazakhstan has temporarily suspended work in the dangerous and difficult Kashagan oil field:

The day's wrangling added yet another layer of complexity to Kashagan, a field that shows the increasingly hostile environment encountered by Western energy companies in pursuit of crude. With the era of easy oil long gone and international demand climbing to new heights, the majors are focusing on increasingly remote and hazardous corners of the globe.
The Wall Street Journal describes shutting down Kashagan as an act of "petro-nationalism"; the Kazakh government begs to differ:
"When costs increase by 5%, by 10%, that's one thing," Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said in an interview earlier this month. Projected costs over the 40-year life of the project, he said, had increased to $136 billion from $57 billion. "When they rise by two and a half times, either the planning was wrong, or the execution is wrong, or it was deliberate."
These complaints are allegedly symptomatic of "rising assertiveness" on the part of countries like Kazakhstan. Make of that what you will.

Some of the cost overruns were due to the construction of artificial islands:
Eni started building islands. It dumped more than four million tons of rock on the seabed, secured it with steel piles and covered it with concrete slabs. Gradually, pontoonlike modules and helipads were added. The larger of the two islands, D, was surrounded by reeflike barriers to protect against ice.
Previous problems and overruns have already delayed oil production until at least 2010. But Eni executives insist that it'll be worth the wait:
Company officials have revised upwards their estimates for peak production, to 1.5 million barrels a day from 1.2 million barrels. "The more we look at Kashagan, the more we realize that this is a super supergiant," said Mr. Scaroni. "This is a field that's going to last until 2039."
World without end, amen! I believe I'll fill up my tank with premium for a change, just to celebrate.

Petro-nationalism is also rearing its ugly head in Africa:
Governments in Algeria, Chad and Equatorial Guinea have rewritten contracts or oil laws to advance national interests.
And as Adam Smith said, "when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration."

In other energy news, the UK intends to adapt salt caves for natural-gas storage, just in case global warming doesn't live up to its promise:
A recent report suggested demand for gas in the UK could exceed supply by up to 20 per cent by 2015 on the coldest days of the year in a cold winter, although a warming climate would be likely to mitigate this.
Here's hoping, eh?

(Illustration via Phil Hart.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Ladder of Perfection

Betsy Hart x-rays the souls of people who buy organic produce, and scolds them for feeling unjustifiably "virtuous."

Buying organics is a simplistic, quick-fix path to self-satisfaction, you see. Achieving true moral excellence requires nobler and more thoughtful efforts (beating up on queers, for instance).

Hart's arguments are fairly standard, initially:

In "Rethinking Organics" by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the doctor writes that while few things make people feel more "virtuous" than eating organic food, there's little evidence that they are either more nutritious or any safer for our bodies than traditionally grown produce with their fertilizers and pesticides.

Gee, you mean "organics" won't save the world after all?
So people buy products in order to make themselves feel better, eh? I'm not sure why this is news, given that we live in a country whose president told us to go shopping after a massive terrorist attack.

Not surprisingly, Hart ignores issues like pesticide run-off, land use, climate effects, and so forth. If each mouthful of organic food doesn't directly reduce your personal risk of developing cancer, there's no conceivable reason to buy it.

I should pause here to mention how tired I am of conservatarian blowhards pretending that some virtually nonexistent belief constitutes an oppressive orthodoxy:
Frozen vegetables — yikes — will typically preserve their nutrients more than fresh ones, of whatever organic or nonorganic stripe. Like any other living thing, vegetables start to break down once they are no longer living.)
Let this be a lesson to all those misguided souls who'd rather eat month-old carrots than frozen ones. (Don't count on organic farms to start selling frozen vegetables, though; it'd interfere with their pursuit of cheap grace.)

Next, we learn that organic produce is expensive. This would be an ideal place to discuss things like agricultural subsidies, antibiotic resistance, monoculture, pollution, the political clout of agribusiness, and so forth...but that'd distract readers from the main point, which is that people who buy organic food are stuck-up stickybeaks. Hart goes on to argue that if these modern Trimalchios insist on buying organic milk and eggs, they'll have less money left over for fruits and vegetables, and thus will end up in worse shape than before. It doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to me, but she must know what she's talking about or they wouldn't have given her a radio show.

You know what the organic food movement is like, come to think of it? A religion!
But what most bothers me is that some of the claims of organic advocates almost resemble a crusade about saving family farms, and the environment and maybe next our souls by eating organic. Hence the slogan, "Think locally, act globally, buy organic."
So she has heard of the environment, after all. But if you're expecting her to demolish the claim that organic farming has any environmental benefits, forget about it. It's sufficient to say, yet again, that people who believe such things are preening grandstanders who ought to be kicked:
It's so easy to think of organics — or, rather, feel about organics — as some kind of cure-all and inherently virtuous along with things like recycling. (Never mind if the newspapers we self-righteously lug to the bottom of the driveway typically sit in huge warehouses before they're finally burned or buried.) It's no fun to have to think through a cost-benefit analysis. That requires, well, thinking.
On the other hand, it's sheer goddamn untrammeled bliss to be lectured about cost-benefit analysis by someone who believes that the price of conventional crops has something to do with their total cost of production.

After defending rationality by fixating on the haut-bourgeois filth who read and recycle newspapers, and recommending cost-benefit analysis while ignoring the political economy of agribusiness, Hart rejects smug, self-coddling consumerism by presenting it as her own ladder of perfection:
[I]n our culture, it's just easy, it just feels good ... to feel good.

Well, this is one gal who "thinks" it's just fine to buy lots of cheap, luscious-looking produce from the conventionally-farmed-food aisles at the grocery. I'm thinking locally, all right. About what's best for my family.
As you can see, Ms. Hart holds with Tertullian that "no soldier comes out to the campaign laden with luxuries, nor does he go to action from his comfortable chamber, but from the light and narrow tent, where every kind of hardness, roughness and unpleasantness must be put up with."

I hope you'll be inspired by her example the next time you're tempted to take the Easy Way Out.

My Appointed Rounds

Danger Room on Blackwater's purchase of attack aircraft:

On one hand, it's not a surprise that Blackwater is getting into this game, given that counter-insurgency aircraft are making a big comeback. But it's still a rather significant precedent (and that perhaps is an understatement) to have a private company in the U.S....offer training services on an attack aircraft.
PHK on the domino theory:
When I worked at the US Embassy in Bangkok from 1973-5 and observed the evacuations of our missions from Vietnam and Phnom Penh that final spring, conservative domino theory fingers wagged virulently threatening the imminent onslaught of the future Communist apocalypse.
Molly Ivors on Iraq:
As it happens, I do believe that a political rather than a military solution is the sole hope for some sort of balanced peace, and obviously the political structure is not in place to achieve that. But whose fault is that? The purple-finger people? The people who voted in what they thought were their best interests? Or the crowds of twelve-year-old bureaucrats who treated Iraq as their own personal sampo, determined to remake it as some freakish cross between Gilead, Colorado Springs, and the Marianas Islands?
Auguste on tolerance:
[T]he current jingoism is a whole new kind of wrong. It’s morally wrong, it’s strategically wrong, it’s wrong about human nature, it’s wrong about Democracy, it’s simply utterly wrong, and it’s the kind of wrong that gets people killed. Lots and lots of people killed. That’s the kind of wrong you don’t “agree to disagree on” and you don’t “respect the opinion.”

Anyone has the right to express any opinion they want. They don’t have the right to expect that borderline-genocidal opinions will be met with anything other than people calling them [pace Atrios] “pretty hideous human being[s], one[s] which all good people should shun.” Nowhere in the Constitution is it written that we ought to be polite to defenders of empire.
David Roberts on fear:
Fear causes fairly predictable reactions, which do not include international cooperation, equitable distribution of resources, cost-benefit analysis on a multidecadal scale, and short-term sacrifice in the service of long-term problem-solving. They do include increased xenophobia, reactionary moralism, and susceptibility to demagogues.

That is to say, the language of fear intrinsically serves the needs of authoritarian-leaning politics, regardless of the fear's particular object.
(Photo from BLDGBLOG's amazing feature on the Drains of Canada.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Cat Blogging

Now that we've put straw in our garden, the neighbor's cat spends most of her days lolling around in it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

You can always turn the sound off.

Friday Hope Blogging

It’s been another busy and scatterbrained week for yours truly, so this’ll be a short (but sweet!) edition.

Yet another study demonstrates that abstinence programs don’t work:

When compared with control groups, abstinence-only programs had no significant effect on decreasing (or increasing) the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases and on becoming pregnant. It demonstrated no effect on delaying when youths first had sex, or reducing the risk of dangerous sexual behaviors.
That's the sort of finding Minnesota Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach would’ve rejected as unpossible, so it’s just as well that she’s resigned in disgrace. It’s probably just a coincidence that Minnesota is suddenly making birth control more affordable:
One of the state laws that quietly went into effect this week in Minnesota will lower costs and improve access to birth control. Affordable prices mean better use of contraception; that, in turn, will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
In Afghanistan, childbirth is the leading cause of death among women. WorldChanging reports on efforts to solve this problem by training midwives. You can click here to donate money, equipment, or expertise.

A federal appeals court has blocked Shell from drilling a proposed offshore oil well in Alaska:
The court ruled that a collection of groups suing to prevent Shell from drilling in the Beaufort Sea showed “a probability of success'' on their appeal in a hearing yesterday.
In Utah, meanwhile, 46,000 acres of land have been spared, for now, from gas drilling:
More than 46,000 acres of public lands in Utah that were set to be leased Tuesday for natural gas drilling were removed by federal officials in deference to fears about wildlife habitat. The Bureau of Land Management postponed leasing on 42 parcels because of concerns related to mule deer and sage grouse. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership had filed protests of the leases a month before.
And BP has pledged not to step up dumping in Lake Michigan:
Responding to a month of unrelenting criticism from politicians and the public, BP pledged it will not invoke provisions of a new permit that allows the largest oil refinery in the Midwest to release significantly more ammonia and suspended solids into the lake.
Can we have that in writing?

Triple Pundit reports on the positive effects of online banking and billing:
Imagine every US household opting to receive no paper bills or bank statements. The fuel saved (26 million BTUs) in this scenario would power San Francisco for a year, and 16.5 million fewer trees would be cut down annually. 20,000 swimming pools full of water would be saved and 56,000 garbage trucks of solid waste would be eliminated. Air pollutants and particulates would be cut, contributing to increased air quality. And the cost? Just displacing a few electrons to receive your bills and statements online.
Inhabitat discusses the Subway Sunlight Project:
Parsons student Caroline Pham, who designed the Subway Light Project, won first place in the school’s 2007 Sustainable Design Review. Her concept uses sunlight capture devices and fiber optics cables to channel sunlight into the enclosed corridors of the subway.
BLDGBLOG casts a skeptical eye at “sustainable building,” and points out that a truly green building is one that “actively remediates its local environment”:
Being not as bad as you could have been is not a viable future goal for sustainable architecture. Build something that genuinely improves the environment – build something that has a measurably negative carbon footprint, for instance, from the manufacture of its steel to the billing of its electricity – and then I'll be as excited as you are about how "green" the project really is.
Geoff’s aim is not to make perfection the enemy of improvement, but to point out that technophiliac excitement over, say, skyscrapers fitted with wind turbines sometimes causes people to lose sight of other options (including not allowing the skyscraper to be built in the first place). In my view, this is why we need to set a regulatory threshold that’ll make greenwashing difficult or impossible; while I’m grateful for voluntary efforts thusfar, the bar for “sustainable” building – and by extension, for building period - needs to be raised dramatically. (Happily, I seem to be in good company.)

Most African governments are banning plastic bags. In addition to the normal problems posed by plastic litter, bags in Africa can “spread malaria by holding mini-pools of warm water for mosquitoes to breed in.” They also block sewer systems and drains, causing additional health problems. (This is a fairly stark example of what can happen when first-world consumption patterns are naturalized and imposed on the developing world.)

Speaking of appropriate technology, here’s an idea whose time has come: clotheslines:
Vermont is the latest state to introduce a bill that would override clothesline bans, which are often instituted by community associations loath to air laundry even when it's clean. Now, clothesline restrictions may be headed the way of bans on parking pickup trucks in front of homes, or growing grass too long – all vestiges of trim and tidy hopes that may not fit with the renewed emphasis on going green.
A dietary supplement could help to save the world’s largest parrot from extinction:
This is one more step in a long recovery process for the kakapo. Once believed to be extinct, there are now 86 known kakapo in the world, and research like this could help give the species the boost it needs to avoid extinction.
Australian cancer researchers have won a prize for devising a new research method that reduces the need for animal testing:
“Conventional research often involves the use of animals to monitor whether certain changes at the cellular level of the disease leads to drug resistance,” said Prof Kavallaris. “The technique we have developed allows us to directly observe and determine the cause of drug resistance at the cellular level so we can minimise the use of animals to find the answers we are searching for.”
Darshak Sanghavi suggests that we look beyond the standard cost/benefit analyses for treating the diseases of the poor:
Assessing AIDS treatment in poor countries with QALY-based economics is like desultorily asking, "We can't really afford this, can we?"

[G]roups like Partners in Health take a radically different approach. They start with a goal — simply to save people with AIDS, and damn the QALYs—and invent ways to make it affordable.
And XicanoPwr has inaugurated a nice feature "highlighting the accomplishments of our Latin@ youth":
“A lot of people would have thought that I would fail, that I would be crazy, I would be wild, that I wouldn’t graduate,” Pichardo said. “When I hit 18 that’s it, my life’s down the drain, so that just kept me motivated to prove them wrong and say look, ‘I can make it, even though I went through all of this.’”
Last, WorldChanging discusses efforts to save traditional Tibetan music. You can listen to field recordings, and donate, by following WC's links.

The photo at top shows a slab of limestone from the Middle Devonian, and was taken in 1904 by Samuel Calvin. Also: Motel Signs (via Coudal). Rolf Bauerdick's photos of The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe. Photography in service of social justice at PhotoSensitive. And equirectangular panoramas by Pisco Bandito.

If you need a soundtrack for these images, I suggest these decaying 8-track loops from Mountain Park in Holyoke, Massachussets.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Death of Millions

Kevin Roeten wishes a few words with you on the subject of DDT:

Many times politics can be good. But when it’s bad — it’s bad. Especially when it means the death of millions. Unfortunately, sometimes the road has to be traveled for years before facts become known. One of the most hideous ones was the banning of a chemical named dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.
Since DDT was not banned for use against malaria, the death toll resulting from this "ban" is, to put it very politely, apocryphal. Plus, restrictions on agricultural use may've delayed the development of resistance in some areas.

All of which is very old news indeed. Fortunately, Roeten has bigger fish to fry. Building on the pioneering research of Walter E. Williams, Roeten announces that DDT is an anti-tumor agent:
Actually, DDT was found to reduce tumors in animals.
Like most DDT propagandists, Roeten can't be bothered to provide cites. I assume he's referring to a rather...nuanced 1972 paper entitled Dimethylbenzanthracene-induced mammary tumors in rats: inhibition by DDT. I think it'd be fair, if insufficiently abusive, to call this cherrypicking.

Next, Roeten dredges up a few quotes from the vast Sargasso of wingnuttian disinformation to "prove" that the goal of the (imaginary) DDT ban was to depopulate the Third World; the WHO, Roeten claims, wished "to assure that 40 percent of the children in poor nations would die of malaria."

I remain fascinated by the conservatarian tendency to enjoy anti-genocide fantasies and pro-genocide fantasies simultaneously; it reminds me of H.G. Wells' claim that "moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." But that's a discussion for another, more lighthearted day.

Just to round things off, erstwhile Grist commenter Jeff Hoffman gets a promotion. Walter Williams misleadingly but correctly stated that Hoffman "wrote on"; Roeten simply links Hoffman's name to the site:
Jeff Hoffman, environmental attorney ( wrote, “Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has actually caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria.”
Although he's demonstrated to any sane person's satisfaction that DDT restrictions stemmed, like chemtrails and sex-ed classes, from the Trilateralists' murderous campaign against "useless eaters," Roeten ends his piece with an accomodationist whimper:
One can wonder how science has treated chemicals such as daminozide (alar) and chlorofluorocarbons (blamed for the ozone hole). Damnation by the uniformed public is a better description.
Putting aside his ghastly prose, it's interesting how easily he jumps from the incendiary claim that the WHO made an explicit decision to kill children by the millions, to a tepid, roundabout plea for "sound science"; it's a perfect example of wingnut overdetermination.

The main problem I have with his line of reasoning - I mean, apart from the fact that it's utterly dishonest and insane - is that it contributes to the perception that Western doctors and aid workers are agents of genocide in the developing world. This perception routinely causes problems for vaccination teams, and causes at-risk populations to avoid seeking prophylaxis or treatment for serious diseases.

Which is why, beneath its faux-humanist veneer, Roeten's rhetoric is a good deal more poisonous than DDT.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Environmentally Unhip

A Boston Globe editorial deftly explains the complex issue of bottled-water consumption:

BOTTLED WATER faces a growing backlash. An elite lifestyle statement that quickly became habit for millions, plastic water bottles are lately becoming environmentally unhip.
There's no denying the glamor of carrying a Poland Springs bottle; that's the sort of extra-fancy-grade accessorizing that'll get you mistaken for Barbra Streisand or Adnan Khashoggi.

All the same, I think that the public perception of tap water as contaminated, coupled with the popular belief that drinking eight glasses of water a day is good for you, had a bit more to do with the bottled water boom than conspicuous consumption did.

As usual, American journalists have a hard time tracing consumer behavior back to the anxiety and sense of powerlessness that they themselves help to promote. Accordingly, they're more likely to interpret concern about water-bottle disposal as some affectation of hip consumerism, rather than as a step towards good citizenship. The idea that there might be a certain internal consistency between people's desire for bottled water, and their rejection of it, remains out of reach.

The editorial goes on to bemoan the state of Boston's infrastructure:
[I]t is disappointing that the city isn't doing more to encourage the consumption of municipal water by fixing the city's inadequate public drinking fountains.
Further proof that government doesn't work! Hell, it's no wonder so many Bostonians are paying good money for bottled water:
Until fountains are more readily available and reliable, residents can't be blamed for carrying around expensive bottles of brand-name water.
Very fair and nuanced, to be sure. And yet, I can't help wondering if the question of whether to "blame" consumers for overspending on unnecessary, environmentally detrimental goods would come up at all if we were talking about, say, plasma TVs.

Or the print edition of the Boston Globe, for that matter.

A Synthetic Mirror

The DoD is allegedly interested in creating a virtual world as a proving ground for psyops, disaster response, and so forth.

Called the Sentient World Simulation (SWS), it will be a "synthetic mirror of the real world with automated continuous calibration with respect to current real-world information", according to a concept paper for the project....

SWS also replicates financial institutions, utilities, media outlets, and street corner shops. By applying theories of economics and human psychology, its developers believe they can predict how individuals and mobs will respond to various stressors.
A few weeks back, my pal Dan McEnroe mentioned a tentative attempt to calculate the carbon footprint of Second Life avatars, whose physical absence is made conspicuous by their consumption of real-world resources, much as clothes and bandages - and London's "floating dust and smuts" - revealed the shape of the Invisible Man.

That assessment didn't take into account the social costs of surveillance or fraud in Second Life. Even so, it sounds as though the DoD's ghost world will be far more power-hungry, in every sense of the word:
"(SWS) is a hungry beast," Blank said. "A lot of data will be required to make this thing even credible."
That's putting it mildly. The creator of the project "wants SWS to match every person on the planet, one-to-one." Given the role that resources play in conflicts, one would ideally want SWS to model individual and societal resource consumption...including, I presume, the consumption required to create and maintain SWS. This comes tantalizingly close to Borges' "Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, coinciding point for point with it."

Meanwhile, Ciudad Guayana, a sort of virtual city designed in the 1960s by urban planners from Harvard and MIT, is deteriorating:
The white-collar employees at Venezolana de Guayana, which manages many aspects of life in the city, say they do what they can to improve the situation. “We are trying to impose order on a difficult situation,” said Andrés Cabezas, the corporation’s vice president for territorial development, who oversees the building of new neighborhoods for squatters.
Maybe an exquisitely detailed computer simulation could help us to identify the precise points at which reality has fallen short of theory.

(Link via WorldChanging.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Love Hypselodoris bullocki doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size—
All which before was poor and scant—
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

Friday Hope Blogging

A lot of our problems come from people doing everyday things in huge numbers; even the smallest action can have enormous consequences when repeated constantly by millions or billions of people. Which is why I'm attracted to ideas like crowd farming:

How many people does it take to launch the space shuttle? The answer is 84,162,203, all of them taking a single step in a Crowd Farming system developed by MIT students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk. Together, they have proposed the creation of a people powered power plant (an idea similar to human-powered gyms, and sustainable dance clubs), in which people would be generating energy by simple act of walking and moving around.
I can't help wondering how much energy pressing down on computer keys could produce....

WorldChanging reports from an MIT Summit on appropriate technology:
Typically, women and children in rural settings often can journey up to six miles daily to retrieve water for their families. They frequently return to their homes carrying between 20 to 40 pounds on their backs or heads in unsound, unwieldy and
often unclean vessels such as petroleum cans or ceramic pots. It's a ritualized behavior that sustains the cycle of disease, reduces human productivity and creates tremendous physical strain.

An IDDS team created a striking device, SODIS Safiri, to deal with these challenges. It obviates the need for awkward storage vessels; instead, water is carried in ergonomic, low-cost plastic pouches that can be worn like apparel. Imagine a "backpack" that can be manufactured for five dollars and efficiently bear up to four liters, or a poncho that can carry twice that amount at a cost of only seven dollars.

Along with improving transport efficiency, the SODIS Safiri device capitalizes on the otherwise non-productive return journey: the transparent design facilitates solar disinfection of the water so that the water can be consumed upon arrival at the village. While some contaminants cannot be handled solely by ultraviolet rays, this zero-cost approach could be sufficient in many non-industrial locations where basic microbial contamination creates diseases.

Safiri SODIS illustrates of the power of IDDS. This team did not aspire to eradicate the entire global water crisis in one brilliant stroke. Instead, they created a clever, low-cost, highly replicable product whose adoption could instantly benefit hundreds of millions of people.
In related news, AIDG Blog has a nice story on the installation of a solar hot water system in a Guatemalan village. Which reminds me: ellroon recently alerted me to this feature on making a solar water heater for less than five dollars. Also via ellroon, the paper battery:
Since it is 90 percent cellulose, the paper battery is lightweight and flexible. But it works in extreme heat and cold temperatures.
Sawfish have won global protection:
[A]ll seven of the world's known species of sawfish will gain protection under a United Nations–administered treaty. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, will ban international sales of sawfish, dead or alive, whole or in pieces. The goal is to motivate fishers to release every sawfish that they capture.
DNA evidence is increasingly being used to track down poachers:
Rudolph matched DNA in blood and hair found at the kill site — in an area where only muzzleloader hunting was allowed — with DNA from the deer's antlers, found in Lehnherr's home.
Meanwhile, in India, wild elephants have been given photo IDs.

Piping plovers are making progress towards recovery:
[T]oday, two decades after the plover was declared a threatened species, biologists are crediting the beach closures, twine barriers and other buffers between birds and humans for a 141 percent increase in the Atlantic piping plover population.

As with so many other conservation efforts, banning off-road vehicles was an important part of the solution. Apropos of which, the activist group Great Old Broads for Wilderness is trying to keep archaeological sites in the Four Corners area from being destroyed by this public nuisance.
The same off-road vehicle users who are drawn to the Four Corners to see the sites also end up destroying them when they illegally drive cross-country, she said. The uneducated easily can drive over ruins, obliterating history in seconds.
Jess Carmon of the Four Corners ATV Club says the best way to deal with the problem is to "photograph the damage they do and record the license plates, reporting them to law enforcement." That's nonsense, of course. If you don't want archaeological sites to be destroyed by ATVs, the solution is to make them off-limits, and to revoke the licenses and impound the vehicles of people who defy the ban and damage significant sites.

A new Wikipedia tool reveals the whitewashing of entries by corporations:
A new data-mining service launched Monday traces millions of Wikipedia entries to their corporate sources, and for the first time puts comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations.
For more details, see Wikidgame.

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson is cracking down on idling vehicles:
Fifty percent of air pollution in Utah comes from cars and trucks, and Rocky wants the city to do their part in cutting down on the smog-creating emissions. His environmental adviser, Jordan Gates, says this latest executive order is part of the mayor's comprehensive plan to improve air quality, encourage alternative fuels, reduce driving, bolster alternative transportation, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the city.
In Massachusetts, a dozen lawmakers are trying to end the use of herbicides along state highways:
The group argues that the toxic herbicides, which the state began using in 2003, run off into surface and ground water, polluting drinking water and posing a health risk to humans and the environment. The group is asking the state to use organic herbicides or manual means, such as weedwackers or lawnmowers.
Hospitals are phasing out plastic tubing that contains DEHP:
he plastic used in intravenous tubing, blood bags and other products — DEHP, or di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate — can leach a hormone-like chemical linked to reproductive problems, says Richard Grady, interim chief of pediatric urology at Seattle's Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center. While doctors agree that the benefits of specialized care for newborns outweigh the potential risks from plastic devices, leading medical organizations now say that hospitals should find safer substitutes whenever possible. Grady notes that even minute amounts of hormones could cause problems for infants whose organs are still developing, especially newborn boys who spends weeks in neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.
A Brazilian health foundation is collaborating with a US biotech firm to find treatments for diseases that mainly affect the global poor (and therefore tend to be neglected by researchers in the developed world):
"Neglected diseases pose significant problems in developing countries all over the world," said Paulo Buss, M.D., president of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. "In Brazil, with the support of the health ministry, we are accelerating our efforts to address these problems and to increase scientific activity in this area. We are very excited to partner with Genzyme, one of the world leaders in biotechnology, and we are optimistic that this collaboration will create promising opportunities that may help us deal with the burden of infectious disease."
It's worth nothing that this collaboration will allow the foundation to use treatments without paying royalties.

I've been very busy and scatterbrained this week, so that'll have to wrap things up for this edition. The painting at the top is from a beautiful exhibition of Antarctic pastels made in the 1930s by David Allen Paige (via Coudal), which I can't recommend highly enough.

I also recommend BibliOdyssey's astonishing collection of Civil War envelopes:

Also: A Flickr set of conformal mappings by Breic. And Dark Roasted Blend's survey of Abandoned Tunnels & Vast Underground Spaces.

I'll leave you with a bit of music:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Armor of Lies

If it's August, it must be time for another comparison of firearm deaths in Baghdad and Washington DC:

There has been a monthly average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 deaths. That gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 persons for the same period. That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capital than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: The U.S. should pull out of Washington.
I could point out that Washington DC has been mercifully free of IED fatalities over the last 22 months, but why bother? The main reason we know this comparison is false is that Washington DC is swarming with bright young conservative apparatchiks, and Baghdad isn't.

Speaking of IEDs, Newsweek asks a silly question:
How do you defeat a foe who can destroy million-dollar machines with devices that can be built off the Internet for about the cost of a pizza, especially if that foe doesn't particularly worry about dying?
By circulating phony statistics that make attending the National Conservative Student Conference seem more heroic than serving in Baghdad, natch.

Since firearm deaths are the only fatalities worth counting, I suppose there's not much point in dwelling on the fact that suicides among American soldiers have reached their highest level in 26 years:
"[T]here was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed" in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who not only attempted, but succeeded in killing themselves.
Which puts me in mind of a quote from Simone Weil about the fate of people who aren't protected, like us, by "the armor of the lie":
Thus violence obliterates anyone who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. And from this springs the idea of a destiny before which executioner and victim stand equally innocent, before which conqueror and conquered are brothers in the same distress.
UPDATE: In the comments, Mikej emphasizes an additional point:
Yes, it's in the linked article, but you should probably mention in your story too, that the actual firearm death rate in DC is 31.2 per 100k, not the 80 the wingers claim.
(Photo: Washington DC Baghdad, 2/11/05.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Respect for Mosquitoes

Walter Williams is very worried about "environmental extremists," whose scaremongering has already killed millions of innocent people, and will surely kill millions more unless we do whatever it takes to stop them.

It's not just the genocide that makes these "eco-freaks" so objectionable; it's also their irresponsible rhetoric:

Jeff Hoffman, environmental attorney, wrote on, "Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria. More fundamentally, why should humans get priority over other forms of life? ... I don't see any respect for mosquitoes in these posts."
What Williams neglects to mention is that Jeff Hoffman is not a staff writer for Grist; he was merely commenting on the site, just as you or I or the man in the next street might. (Incidentally, Hoffman's comment was in response to a post suggesting that environmentalists should question their opposition to DDT use in the global South, in light of malaria's toll on humans. Regardless, conservatarian demonology will now classify Grist as militant advocates for the rights of Anopheles mosquitoes. Such is life!)

Williams offers some interesting scientific evidence for DDT's nontoxicity:
In one long-term study, volunteers ate 32 ounces of DDT for a year and a half, and 16 years later, they suffered no increased risk of adverse health effects. Despite evidence that, properly used, DDT is harmful to neither humans nor animals, environmental extremists fight for a continued ban.
'Til now, I hadn't run across anyone who claimed that DDT isn't harmful to animals, so this is pretty exciting. As for the study - the details of which are apparently not as germane as the name of some guy who once said something unwise on someone else's blog - I've often wondered why DDT fanciers don't put their mouths where their money is, and tuck into a bowl of the stuff on live TV. It seems like a small sacrifice to make in order to help save millions of lives.

Next, Williams complains that environmentalists caused the World Trade Center to collapse, by agitating for a ban on asbestos.
After the attack, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirmed other experts' concerns about asbestos substitutes, concluding, "Even with the airplane impact and jet-fuel-ignited multi-floor fires, which were not normal building fires, the building would likely not have collapsed had it not been for the fireproofing."
A Google search for this quote returned eight hits, all of which led back to Williams' article. However, a report by Steven Milloy includes a tantalizingly similar quote:
The NIST report concludes that, “The WTC towers would likely have not collapsed under the combined effects of the aircraft impact damage and the extensive, multi-floor fires that were encountered on September 11, 2001, if the thermal insulation had not been widely dislodged.”
This is consistent with the NIST Final Report, which says that the planes' impact dislodged fireproofing at key structural points. Thus, assuming that Williams' quote is accurate, it almost certainly refers to dislodged fireproofing. As for the performance of the fireproofing, the NIST says:
“These tests alone cannot be used to determine the actual performance of the floor systems in the collapse of the WTC towers....The fire conditions in the towers on 9-11 were far more extreme than those to which floor systems in standard U.S. fire rating tests are subjected.
Milloy, meanwhile, concedes that "NIST was not able to test the original asbestos fireproofing because it is no longer available."

We'd better not fill up on gnats, though, or we'll have no room left for the camel:
None of this is news to politicians. It's just that environmental extremists have the ears of politicians, and potential victims don't.
There's nothing quite so intellectually bracing as "sound science," eh?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increasingly relies upon corporate research joint ventures, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These corporate partnerships are on the rise as EPA research funding is on the wane, magnifying the effects of diversions of resources away from public health priorities toward regulatory topics that serve commercial bottom lines.
UPDATE: Tim Lambert advises us on some possible contraindications for The Walter E. Williams Diet.

(Illustration: Still from "How a Mosquito Operates," by Winsor McCay, 1912.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Destroying the Old World

In the highly competitive world of wingnut pathopoeia, yesterday's iron-spined extremism can easily become today's Streisandian capitulation. There was a time when defending existing immigration laws with fancy-dress vigilantism might've been viewed as sufficiently patriotic. But it's strictly for accomodationist pussies now that Carl Braun of the California Minutemen has come out against legal immigration:

“By 2015 we will be a third world nation because of legal and illegal immigration,” Braun said. “We must stop both legal and illegal immigration or our nation as we know it will end.”
Braun made these remarks during "a dinner hosted by the Southeastern Tulare County Republican Women." I suspect that our nation as this group knows it is perennially doomed - thanks to its infestation with environazis, Wahhabist feminists, and leprosy-ridden Mexican pedophiles - and I doubt they'd want it any other way. It's a hatemongers' version of the Pleasure Economy.

Still, there's a good chance that this agreeable fantasy will end, like Peyton Farquhar's, with "a stunning blow upon the back of the neck." Not because predictions like Braun's will finally came to pass, but because they won't.

David Walker, the US comptroller general, also worries that we're turning into a third-world country:
Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.
The role of moral values and political civility in establishing a Raubwirtschaft seems to elude Walker...even though our best and brightest agree that invading Iraq was a moral duty, and are shocked when we use mildly obscene language to describe an unbearably obscene reality.

To each his own apocalypse, I suppose. Personally, I'm hoping our troubled nation will be destroyed by the alchemical conjunction of Islamofascism and pacifism (probably because the eerie parallels between these doctrines trigger fond memories of comic book ads for the Lincoln-Kennedy Penny):
Islam requires Jihad, which is the struggle to spread Islam all over the world. Pacifism requires struggle for Peace all over the world.
There's more evidence than that, of course. What were the Selma marches, if not a secular Hajj? Who was Gandhi, if not an upstart furriner swaddled ludicrously in grubby linen, just like Osama? And did you ever notice how the Amish and the Taliban are both compelled by a barbarous religion to grow beards?

I suppose it's defeatist to argue that people who are too opportunistic, paranoid, or stupid to distinguish between car bombers and pacifists, or legal and illegal border-crossing, aren't going to have much luck understanding our geopolitical problems, let alone solving them. But I can't help it. As long as I'm held fast in the succubus embrace of Islamofascipacifism, I may as well enjoy myself, as Diego Hurtado de Mendoza recommends:
Let us endeavor to anoint ourselves
With aromatic oil, and to crown our brows with garlands,
For we finally near our end.
(Illustration: "We not only excel at destroying the old world, we excel at building a new one." People's Republic of China, 1967.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Unblamed, uninjured, let Chromodoris collingwoodi bear about
The good which the benignant law of Heaven
Has hung around him: and, while life is his,
Still let him prompt the unlettered villagers
To tender offices and pensive thoughts.

(Photo by Tomohiko Kurihara.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Ontario, Canada plans to phase out coal:

The province of Ontario, Canada's biggest energy user, aims to close its last coal-fired power plant in 2014 and become the only jurisdiction in North America to completely phase out coal, a strategy that some critics deride as reckless and others say is overly timid.
For the record, I’d agree that it’s overly timid. Still, it’s much better than nothing. And I was interested to learn that “a poll of Ontario voters conducted last month found concerns about pollution and global warming trumped all other issues, including health care.”

Germany, meanwhile, is phasing out coal mining:
Hard-coal mining "has no future" in Germany, declared Economy Minister Michael Glos. "A great, long era is coming to an end in a socially responsible way."

For decades, the German government has propped up the industry, which at its peak employed 500,000 -- unwilling to risk massive layoffs and reluctant to eliminate a domestic source of energy. But after spending more than $200 billion in subsidies since the 1960s, it has finally decided that the subsidies have become unaffordable.
Grist links to a fine article on the appropriate technology movement:
"Young people today are much more aware of the needs of the planet," said Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders and a professor at Colorado. "This is a kind of engineering that involves the heart as well as the brain, and it's appealing to more people than ever before.”
Speaking of which, a US company is retrofitting two-stroke motorcycle engines in the Philippines:
A traditional two-stroke engine emits as much pollution as approximately 50 modern automobiles, according to Envirofit. In the retrofit systems, in contrast, the carburetor is eliminated and the fuel is introduced directly into the engine cylinder, so less unburned fuel is wasted. According to Willson, Envirofit’s direct injection kits reduce fuel and oil consumption by 35–50 percent and cut the emissions of a two-stroke engine by as much as 90 percent.

Fuel efficiency can mean big savings for taxi drivers with little earned income. According to Envirofit, the typical Filipino taxi driver makes only US$3–5 per day. The organization’s kits pay for themselves in fuel savings alone within 10 months, says Willson.
Grandiose plans are being made for San Francisco’s Treasure Island:
The revamped Treasure Island will include 6,000 units of housing in both low-rise and high-rise buildings, restaurants, a ferry terminal, as well as a 20-acre organic farm, an ecological educational and art park, shoreline park, wind farm, and plenty of green space in the forms of parkland and runoff-filtering wetlands.
Since Treasure Island was hurriedly constructed from delta mud in 1939, its chances of surviving a major earthquake are slim at best. It sounds like it’ll be nice while it lasts, though. And bathyscape tours of the underwater ruins could be an exciting tourist attraction.

Largely unexplored forests in the Congo contain previously unknown species:
An expedition led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to a remote corner of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has uncovered unique forests which, so far, have been found to contain six animal species new to science: a bat, a rodent, two shrews, and two frogs….

“If we can find six new species in such a short period it makes you wonder what else is out there,” said WCS researcher Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of the society’s Albertine Rift Program.
The Fish and Wildlife Service claims it will reform its recovery program for the Mexican gray wolf:
"The Center for Biological Diversity applauds the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking a hard and honest look at rules limiting the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Adaptive management means changing course when the rules aren't working, and they are definitely not working now. Bad management is always improved by good science, and the Fish and Wildlife Service seems serious now about paying close attention to the science."
The vanishingly rare black-footed ferret has made an amazing comeback:
An estimated 223 of the weasel-like animals are busy hunting prairie dogs in the Shirley Basin area, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Science.

The animals are all descended from seven ferrets rescued in 1986, Martin Grenier of the University of Wyoming and colleagues reported.
Several endangered birds are also on the comeback trail:
In 15 European countries studied, there was a significant increase in population trends for protected birds between 1990 and 2000, compared to 1970-1990, the team found. They said the protected birds also showed an increase compared to birds not on the list.

Species doing particularly well include the barnacle goose, white stork, spoonbill, little egret Slavonian grebe and white-tailed eagle.
Researchers at the University of Granada claim to have come up with an improved wastewater treatment system:
Research carried out at the UGR could reduce the size of the biological reactor between 40 and 60%, and would completely eliminate secondary decanting. “In the future – explains the researcher –- we could even suppress the primary decanting stage.” In exchange, scientists from Granada have included a “biological processes” section in their wastewater treatment plant, which could make it possible to separate water from active mud by a membrane filtration process.
Welsh researchers predict great things for a silicon-free solar cell that mimics photosynthesis:
The first commercial uses are likely to be in the developing world, where access to electricity is difficult. The firm is working with mobile phone companies including Nokia and Motorola to test whether the G24i cells could charge handsets in rural Africa. For £6-£8, he says, the company can supply a flexible strip of solar cells that can produce 0.4 to 0.5W of power. It's a relatively meagre output, but more than enough for at least 10 minutes of phone calls a day. And that, says Betzel, can make a big difference. "Over two billion people live without access to energy. This isn't about providing expensive, Rolls Royce- quality solutions. It's about improving their quality of life." Similar solar chargers made of silicon cost about £30.
There's talk of making freezer-based energy storage available to homes:
For years large rooftop chillers have been making ice during off-peak hours at low off-peak rates to cool large buildings. Now a similar technology can be applied to smaller buildings - even homes - that could expand chiller technology beyond just large buildings to millions of homes in the country.
Newsweek has published an impressive cover story on the denial industry:
It lays out, using plain language and careful reporting, exactly how the Carbon Lobby has used lies, kook scientists and lots of money to systematically distort the debate on climate change.
While we're on the topic of kooks, the founder of Minutemen American Defense – those fearless defenders of law and order - has pled guilty to shoplifting. In addition to being amusing and instructive, this is likely to scuttle her chances of being elected to Everett, Washington’s city council.

CKR was kind enough to send me a link to a fascinating site detailing current research on the Nasca geoglyphs. As she says, "This doesn't necessarily make the world a better place, just that one more mystery is possibly being solved."

The photo at top is from an incredible Flickr set by Stuck in Customs, comprising HDR images of Iceland. Be sure to check out his other sets, too (especially Kiev and Thailand). I also recommend The Commissariat 3D Reconstruction Project. And Framing the Frontier: Photographers & the American West, 1850-1920.

Furthermore: The Happiest Days of My Life, a history of utopian communities in Tennessee. The tumultuous life of Muriel Orr-Ewing. And, via Coudal, photos of shattering figurines by Martin Klimas.

A collection of plates from the work of Georgius Agricola (the text is in German). The Moon Wiki. And a gallery of union labels, including this example from the Hebrew Butcher Workmen Union No. 1 of New York:

I'll leave you with some footage of the deep-sea jellyfish Atolla wyvillei.

Spreading the Pain

A Detroit News editorial argues that addressing global warming involves a lot more than demanding higher fuel efficiency from US automakers:

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dearborn Democrat who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, is proposing a 50-cent tax on a gallon of gasoline and suspension of mortgage deductions for what he calls McMansions -- homes over 3,000 square feet.

Dingell continues to press the point that if we believe global warming is so serious a threat that it's worth destroying the automobile industry, then it's also worth spreading the pain to as many other places as possible.
Though I can't quite believe that making a better product - even under duress - would destroy any automobile industry worth preserving, I basically agree. It's common for "concerned" people to point a finger at stock villains like the auto industry, as though a pinch of regulation here and a dash of innovation there will allow us to keep living in the style mandated by what Pierre Bourdieu calls the "symbolic dripfeed" of conventional economic wisdom. To their partial credit, climate skeptics tend to understand a bit better than the average liberal Democrat what's really at stake in this debate.

That said, this sort of "pain" intimidates me quite a bit less than the idea of continuing our national descent into asocial conservatarian navel-gazing. I don't think I'm alone in believing that we can and ought to do better as citizens and human beings - hell, as organisms - even if it means throwing certain economic commandments out the window.

Then again, I may be underestimating the power of "rational self-interest" to make change seem impossible, even as it changes everything:
[W]e do like Dingell's idea of putting a clear price tag on the global warming war and making consumers understand they'll be the ones to pay it.
That'll learn us, eh? You can't help wondering who the author imagines is currently picking up the tab for America's energy policy.

(Illustration: "Infernal punishment for the Seven Deadly Sins: the gluttonous are forcefed on toads, rats, and snakes." From Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, printed by Nicolas le Rouge, Troyes, 1496.)