Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Congress has passed a landmark conservation bill:

The Democratic-led U.S. Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to sweeping land and water conservation legislation that environmental groups praised as one of the most significant in U.S. history.

The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, would set aside about 2 million acres -- parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest and trails -- in nine states as new wilderness and render them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development.
One of the areas this bill will protect is Arizona's Fossil Creek:
Despite the success of restoration, management of Fossil Creek as a recreational destination has remained two steps behind, and the creek is in danger of being loved to death. Designation of Fossil Creek as wild and scenic, though, requires that the U.S. Forest Service prepare a management plan and use its authority to protect the outstanding values of the creek, something conservation groups have long sought.

“This is great news for Fossil Creek, for our native fishes, and for future generations,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Fossil creek is an amazing ecological wonder; a ribbon of life in an arid land.”
The Obama administration has blocked new permits for mountaintop-removal mining:
The Obama Administration just made a major announcement – they have directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not issue any new mining permits until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a chance to take a hard look at well over 100 pending permits to bury streams with mining waste, an essential part of the mountaintop removal coal mining process.

Beginning with EPA’s recommendation today to deny a permit to bury a stream in West Virginia, this review, using the best available science, will likely halt the flood of permits that was unleashed by the 4th Circuit court decision last month.
Rep. Jay Inslee has introduced legislation that would reduce emissions of black carbon:
Today the Center for Biological Diversity, Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, Defenders of Wildlife, and Earthjustice applauded Rep. Jay Inslee’s (D-WA) introduction of federal legislation that would reduce domestic and global emissions of black carbon, or soot, which is a powerful global warming agent and public health hazard. Recent scientific studies on black carbon demonstrate that reducing emissions of this short-lived pollutant can bring about near-immediate climate mitigation, that governments possess the technological and economic ability to reduce black carbon pollution, and that such reductions will also result in significant public health benefits. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Mike Honda (D-CA) are original co-sponsors of the bill.
An environmental group won emissions allowances at an auction in order to retire them:
"There are a limited number of allowances available for 2009, and we just bought another 1,000 of them with the intention that they never be used," said Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded environmental organization based in New York's Adirondack Park.

"We are the only environmental organization in America – maybe the world – that is actively buying and retiring real pollution allowances, resulting in real emissions reductions from power plants that are under government orders to reduce their carbon emissions," Houseal said. "These aren't offsets or some other form of compensation for emissions. These are real reductions that will make the air cleaner and cooler."
POGO has released the names of suspended and disbarred government contractors:
Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a report titled, Excluded Parties List System: Suspended and Debarred Businesses and Individuals Improperly Receive Federal Funds, documenting 25 cases in which companies and individuals that had been suspended or debarred from federal contracting continued to receive contracts. Unfortunately, the report did not name the companies and individuals at issue.
A school district in Mobile, AL will end its policy of sex segregation:
The Mobile County School System has agreed to stop sex segregation in public schools after being notified by the American Civil Liberties Union that its sex segregated programs were illegal and discriminatory. Late last evening, the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County approved a settlement agreement changing the policy.

"While schools might think that sex segregated classes will be a quick fix for failing schools, in reality they are inherently unequal and shortchange both boys and girls," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Program. "We hope that now Mobile County will focus on efforts that we know can improve all students' education, like smaller classes and more teacher training and parental involvement."
Dr. George Tiller has been acquitted of charges that he broke the law when performing late-term abortions:
Jurors have acquitted one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers of violating Kansas law requiring an independent second opinion for the procedure.

Dr. George Tiller was found not guilty Friday of 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from some abortions he performed at his Wichita clinic in 2003.
Voters in Gainesville, FL have rejected a bid to legalize discrimination:
“This is a great day for Gainesville. Voters rejected the right-wing’s attempts to make their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends, family and neighbors second-class citizens. While the opposition rooted its campaign in lies and scare tactics, fair-minded Gainesville voters knew that Charter Amendment 1 was really about discrimination,” says Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund. “We congratulate Equality is Gainesville’s Business for its hard work to defeat this ugly and hurtful measure, and to ensure that Gainesville remains a welcoming community for all — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
The New Hampshire house has voted that gay citizens should have the same rights as straight ones:
After two days of debating, the New Hampshire House voted for gay marriage 186 to 179 after first voting against it, 183 to 182.

Bills can only be reconsidered once, so the new vote is final.
Serbia has outlawed discrimination:
Parliament passed the bill with a slim majority of 127 votes in favor to 59 against - one more vote than was needed for passage in the 250-member parliament....The law bans any kind of discrimination, whether based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender or other factors.
Virginia has banned the cul de sac from new subdivisions:
The state has decided that all new subdivisions must have through streets linking them with neighboring subdivisions, schools and shopping areas. State officials say the new regulations will improve safety and accessibility and save money: No more single entrances and exits onto clogged secondary roads. Quicker responses by emergency vehicles. Lower road maintenance costs for governments.
A federal judge has ruled that Monsanto should not be allowed to plant GM crops in a national wildlife refuge:
As a result of the ruling, 37 farming contracts—most of which were being used for GMO soybean and corn crops—have been canceled. Will this set a national precedent, paving the way for tougher rules and closer scrutiny of the environmental impact GMOs?

It could.
I don't entirely understand the logic behind this robotic fish, but who cares?
Soon, the water in Gijon, a harbor in Northern Spain will be monitored by robotic, battery-powered fish. These mechanical, articulating sea creatures were designed and tested by the Robotics Department at the University of Essex. At a cost of $3.6 million, through a European Union grant, these fish will test the water for oxygen levels, detect oil slicks and other contaminants pumped into the water. This is the first monitoring program of it’s kind, and the retrieved data could be very important, with implications for global warming and the state of our water sources.
Sales of bottled water are down:
The popularity of bottled water soared in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but is now s-o-o-o yesterday, according to figures from market research company TNS. Last year the on-going year-on-year increase in sales was halted and sales actually fell by 9%.
Harbor seals are returning to New York Harbor:
New York Aquarium Curator Paul Sieswerda says that the harbor seals are back after such a long break because the water is much cleaner, and there are more fish in it. He also says the seals are no longer afraid to be in the urban waters surrounding New York because they are protected by law and do not have to face the same fate as their relatives so many years ago.

It seems the harbor seals have also brought ecotourism to the New York harbor. People want to protect what they know and see, and after an hour in a boat along the Coney Island coast, little shiny grey heads can be seen popping up like little buoys around Swinburne and Hoffman Islands.
Several undocumented species have been discovered in Papua New Guinea:
Colorful jumping spiders, a tiny frog with a "ringing song" and a striped gecko are among more than 50 previously unknown species discovered during a recent survey in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Click through to see pictures; it's worth it just for the jumping spider.

And a new species of mouse has been found in Peru:
The roughly 3.5-inch-long (8.8-centimeter-long) mouse primarily eats insects and seeds, making it a vital player in the region's ecosystem, researchers say.

Globally, it's very rare to discover new mammal species, added team leader Constantino Aucca, president of the Association of Andean Ecosystems.

Crabs apparently feel pain, and remember it:
Professor Elwood said: "There has been a long debate about whether crustaceans including crabs, prawns and lobsters feel pain. We know from previous research that they can detect harmful stimuli and withdraw from the source of the stimuli but that could be a simple reflex without the inner 'feeling' of unpleasantness that we associate with pain. This research demonstrates that it is not a simple reflex but that crabs trade-off their need for a quality shell with the need to avoid the harmful stimulus. Such trade-offs are seen in vertebrates in which the response to pain is controlled with respect to other requirements.
Cheryl Rofer has launched a new weekly feature that'll offer informed comment on the Obama's administration's diplomatic efforts. This is a great idea, IMO. I'd hope everyone who reads this blog is already reading WhirledView, but if you're not, today is an excellent time to start.

In other news: An interview with the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé (don't miss the gallery). Linkograms and Meccanographs explained. Slow Down. An amazing collection of beer cans. An even more amazing collection of Edo monsters.

Words Taken Out of Context. Rare films from the Warner Bros. archive, available on demand. Strange forms of musical notation. A brief clip of platypus sounds. Images from the insides of rocks (via things).

Graphics galore at but does it float. Sounds from The Ghost Station. At least some of what you need to know about Great Lakes Sinkholes. A sampler of audio illusions. And via Plep, beautiful early views of Montreal.

And, of course, an animated film.

(Illustration at top: "Inland Lake" by John Olsen.)

Reason and Skepticism

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has published what may be the lamest denialist op-ed I've ever read. The basic conceit is set forth in the title: "If we seek to limit CO2, why not water?"

I'm no climatologist, but it took me roughly one second to come up with a basic answer: water vapor condenses rapidly and falls to the earth in the form of rain and snow, while CO2 remains in the atmosphere for years.

This is something the author should've learned in school. This is something the author could've learned from Google in under a minute. This is something the author could've confirmed with a phone call or e-mail to any one of literally thousands of scientists and teachers, including ones who are skeptical about AGW. But you can't let facts get in the way of a good story. And what story is better than one in which you're the hero 'cause you're smarter than most of the scientists on earth?

On to the actual arguments. First off, there's the classic "horrors of dihydrogen oxide" gambit:

Inform someone that the substance di-hydrogen oxide is so corrosive that a new steel nail exposed to the stuff will rust within hours; so deadly that a person attempting to breathe pure di-hydrogen oxide will die of asphyxiation in mere minutes. Now ask the subject whether he or she agrees this di-hydrogen oxide stuff should be tightly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency -- labeled as a poison, kept out of the hands of children, and so forth.
Alright. I'm willing to concede that if you ask an ignorant person whether experts should label water as a poison, he or she may say yes. But the thing is, experts don't label water as a poison, which suggests that the people in charge of regulating poisons are, in fact, somewhat better at chemistry than the average person who doesn't recognize "dihydrogen oxide" as a synonym for water. By the same logic, then, it's just barely possible that climate scientists know more about CO2 than some witless jerkoff at the LVRJ.

I suppose I should also mention that our society routinely limits the access of children to pools of dihydrogen oxide, for the simple reason that we don't want them to fucking drown themselves.

[C]arbon dioxide is not a toxin. It occurs naturally in the atmosphere and is vital to the ecology of the planet.
Even if you spent your school years huffing solvents and drawing unicorns on your binder, you could still have learned about the toxicity of CO2 from the countless movies and TV shows where it's a plot device. Failing that, you could have learned about it from the Lake Nyos disaster of 1986. There's virtually no excuse for not knowing that CO2 is toxic, and there's even less excuse for pretending that it isn't, and there's even less excuse than that for pretending that global warming has to do with the toxicity of CO2 as opposed to the fact that it's a highly persistent goddamn greenhouse gas, for fuck's sake.

But even if I'm right, who cares? Greenhouse gases are doubleplusgood:
If the globe were to continue warming at a rate of about one degree per century, the biggest impact on mankind would likely be that crops could be grown further north.
Sure. And if I were to age at the rate of about one day per year, I could live for centuries. Just imagine how much I could make on the stock market!

In summation: We're dealing with someone who believes — or claims to believe — that CO2 is nontoxic, that there's no appreciable difference between carbon dioxide and water vapor, that human CO2 emissions are insignificant compared to natural ones, and that the warming predicted by climatologists is on the order of one degree per century. All of which proves, naturally, that scientists comprise an Arrogant Priesthood of Irrational Zealots:
And here we thought "science" was a discipline that valued reason and skepticism, while occasionally demanding experimental proofs.
Hear that, geniuses? Put aside those computer models, and get busy proving that certain levels of CO2 are toxic, and that water vapor and CO2 have different residence times and different effects on the climate. Then, and only then, will you be taken seriously by intelligent people.

UPDATE: Carbon dioxide is plant food. Say it again: plant food!

(Illustration via Environmental Education Science Partnership.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Problematizing Progress

Brendan O'Neill argues that we should sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires:

If you want proof of the miserabilist, misanthropic outlook of contemporary western society, look no further than the curmudgeonly reaction to the launch of "the People's Car" in India yesterday.

The Nano, developed by Tata Motors and costing a mere 100,000 rupees (around £1,200), will make the dream of car travel a reality for tens of thousands of Indians. Yet its launch was greeted by a collective groan from western observers, concerned that if the developing world plays "catch up" with us – what used to be known as "global equality" – the planet will fry in a hellfire of greedy car-drivers' making.
This collective groan is an ugly symptom of "eco-imperialism," which is much like classic imperialism, except that instead of traveling overseas to beat or starve foreign populations into submission, you sit at home and fret over the environmental impact of cheap consumer goods. As such, it's one of the most fearsome weapons in the armamentarium of liberal fascism, and can't be criticized harshly enough.
We have become incapable of judging new developments and breakthroughs by any criteria other than their projected carbon emissions. The fact that the Nano will increase many Indians' mobility, their choices, their personal freedom to travel where they want and when they want – a freedom many in the west have enjoyed for decades – is simply overlooked....

Immeasurable benefits to humanity have been usurped by pseudo-measurable levels of planetary destruction.
By which O'Neill means that these benefits would be usurped, if eco-imperialism actually got its way, for once. But fortunately, no one with any real power seriously believes in the miserabilists' pseudo-measurements of atmospheric CO2, polar ice, animal populations, rainfall, glacier loss, ocean acidification, and related phantasmagoria.

It's easy enough to point out that O'Neill is a flaming asshole. But if we were to concentrate solely on that fact, we might overlook the really interesting aspects of his argument. "Western environmentalists" are worried about the Nano; that's a given. Does this mean that Indian environmentalists and scientists aren't worried? Of course not: environmentalists and climatologists all around the world are brooding over "pseudo-measurable levels of planetary destruction" even as we speak, instead of banishing dull care by riding an ATV through a protected wilderness area. That's what makes 'em miserabilists, regardless of race, color, caste, or creed.

But if O'Neill acknowledged this little detail, he'd have to forego the pleasure of turning what little remains of white liberal guilt against itself, by invoking the horrors of imperialism as an argument for free-market dogmatism. He understands that Westerners are a bit more sensitive than they used to be about dictating terms to the Wogs, and so he figures he can score a few points by painting the IPCC as a new East India Company. Of course, this theory requires us to view Indian culture as monolithic, scientifically backwards, and implacably self-centered...but what matter the victims if the gesture be beautiful?

No one "overlooks" the benefits of the Nano. The people who are worried about it, here and in India, simply see the negatives as outweighing the positives. By contrast, O'Neill and his ilk refuse to concede that any meaningful negatives exist (hence all the talk of "pseudo-measurement"). This tactic is not just necessary, but enjoyable, because once the science is out of the way, there's all the time in the world to dream up neoliberal just-so stories:
In the past it was argued that the developing world was poor because there simply wasn't enough to go around or because Indians and Africans hadn't quite got the hang of this capitalism thing.

Today, the key cultural justification for continuing inequality is the idea that if the south becomes like us – with just as many cars, factories, roads, homes – then the planet will perish.
It's fascinating how many young journalistic firebrands have adapted the language and tone of radical critique to the purpose of blessing things as they are. O'Neill expects us to feel pious outrage at Western arrogance, while suggesting that development in India must follow the Western model or be damned, and that anyone who worries about the consequences is a fraud or a terminal mope, and that India doesn't have competent scientists, diversity of opinion, and a strong and courageous environmental movement. When it comes to purging ourselves of Western arrogance, like apparently cures like.

The funny thing is, O'Neill doesn't seem to believe this gibberish himself. No sooner does he accuse the West of scheming to maintain global inequality than he backpedals, and claims that the real concern is that we're allowing our silly Western guilt to interfere with the Hindoos' progress towards Civilization. This is known as "problematising progress." No, really!
This is a moral righteousness built on privilege rather than principle. The anti-Nano brigade, and all of the rest who problematise progress in the developing world, know the destructiveness of everything but the value of nothing. Just because we have become uncertain about technological progress, guilt-ridden about our luxuries, and cavalier about the feeling of freedom brought about by car travel, that doesn't mean Indians should stay put in their rickshaws.
Of course, it doesn't mean they have to buy a Nano, either. There are other possible vehicles, and wiser forms of progress, and Indian experts who can tell you all about them. (And of course, there are also Western countries that could be setting a good example by cutting their own emissions and working seriously to create a low-carbon economy.) But O'Neill seems to be problematizing every single one of these options except the Nano, for no better reason than that the Nano exists here and now, and environmentalists and climate scientists have dared to measure its carbon emissions instead of hailing it as the salvation of the downtrodden.

So once again, freedom boils down to scrambling to buy what the market offers, instead of demanding what it doesn't, or creating a solution oneself or with one's neighbors. Achieving "global equality" turns out to be a matter of individual access to adequate cash or credit, just as our best and brightest always suspected. And anyone who proposes that there are greater goals or more pressing duties than consumer choice is an Enemy of the People.

This would be a colossally dismal view of human possibilities even if there truly were nothing more to climate change than pseudo-measurements and eco-imperialism. Since O'Neill's theory also happens to be deadly lunacy, it's not hard to understand why he finds his dreary faux-radical boosterism running afoul of "miserabilists."

(Photo: "Roads in India are already congested with traffic." Reuters/Krishnendu Halde.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Volcano Monitoring

Pointless, just like Bobby Jindal done gone and said:

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano erupted five times overnight, throwing ash as high as 60,000 feet into the air, threatening air travel and raising health risks in some sparsely populated areas.

It was the first eruption of the 10,200-foot Redoubt, about 100 miles from Anchorage, since 1989, when the volcano erupted for four months....

Mt. Redoubt has erupted in 1902, 1966 and 1989, when ash was thrown as high as 45,000 feet. Ash was sent 150 miles away into the path of a KLM jet and its four engines flamed out. The crew managed to restart the engines and land safely but the craft needed $80 million in repairs.

The observatory warned in late January that an eruption could occur at any time as earthquake activity in the area increased.

Action and Reaction

Commentators who've been trying to lead conservatism back to First Principles fail to understand that conservatism is incapable of wandering away from them:

In itself, conservatism is tranquil. In relation to the ever-changing human condition, conservatism is always adapting. Conservatism is “formless” like water: it takes the shape of its conditions, but always remains the same. This is why Russell Kirk calls conservatism the “negation of ideology” in The Politics of Prudence. It is precisely the formlessness of conservatism which gives it its vitality. Left alone, the spirit of conservatism is essentially what T.S. Eliot calls the “stillness between two waves of the sea” in “Little Gidding” of his Four Quartets. Conservatism is both like water and the stillness between the waves — the waves are not the water acting, but being acted upon; stillness is the default state of conservatism.
What some people call adaptation, others would call morally hollow opportunism, but never mind about that. What's amusing about this argument is that far from negating ideology, only ideology can begin to make it comprehensible.

Let's run through the basic concepts here. First, and simplest: Neither water nor conservativism "always remains the same," unless you view the ability to change states, and to become contaminated, as essential qualities. In which case, water remains water whether it's fresh or salt or frozen or full of aniline dye, and conservatism remains conservatism whether its guiding star is T.S. Eliot or Russell Kirk or Sarah Palin. That is, it retains "the spirit of conservatism," which ye shall know by its formlessness, and its ability to adapt to all circumstances and to survive its own negation...almost as if it were nothing more than a certain orientation of ego towards power.

Next, we need to think about what this spirit of conservatism is like, in itself, when it's "left alone." Left alone how, you ask? Well, you know...unperturbed by conflicting social values, and the clamor of nations, and the mandrake shrieks of the persecuted homosexual, and so forth. We seem to be talking about a God's-eye view of conservatism, to which bigotry is as essential and impersonal a force as gravity, and atomic bonding is a microcosm of the Free Market. (As above, so below!)

Having developed a rough idea of how an essentialist abstraction behaves in the natural habitat of an imaginary world, I'm sure we all feel edified. But now, it's time to come down to earth:
Conservatism is both like water and the stillness between the waves....
So conservatism is like water and water that's relatively still? Or maybe it's like water and that essential stillness for which water at rest is an apt metaphor, save for the minor detail that the essential nature of water is such that there is no stillness between waves?

Absolutely, in a certain limited but ontically inexorable sense. But in a stricter sense, not entirely, in relative terms, as of yet, if you follow me. Or as Marcus Aurelius puts it, here's a bunny with a pancake on its head.

The important thing to understand is that water doesn't act, but is acted upon. In just the same way, it wasn't political calculation, but a curvature in space-time that pulled conservatism to the bedside of Terri Schiavo, obliged it to leer onanistically into America's bedrooms, and compelled it to form highly stable rings around Rush Limbaugh. Like water, it simply reacts; it can no more choose or reflect upon the things that agitate it than the big lake they call Gitchigoomee could've avoided sinking the Edmund Fitzgerald when the gales of November came early.

And that's the whole point. In practical terms, all this pseudo-civilized twaddle about Little Gidding, and all this Zen-for-Dummies meditation on "stillness," boils down to the notion that conservatism only raped you because you asked for it by dressing like a slut. What makes conservatism "the negation of ideology" is precisely that it dares to take the ultimate ideological step of conflating itself with God and nature: leave it alone, and it will restrict itself to regulating your existence; defy it, and it'll have its revenge. Either way, the victim gets what he or she deserves.

Which reminds me, inevitably, of a quote from Adorno: "If the lion had a consciousness, his rage at the antelope he wants to eat would be ideology."

(Illustration by R. Avotin, 1970, via Dark Roasted Blend.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

New Mexico has abolished the death penalty:

Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Wednesday repealing New Mexico's death penalty, making it the second state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Richardson, a Democrat who formerly supported capital punishment, said signing the bill was the "most difficult decision" of his political life but that "the potential for ... execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."
The execution of this monster, however, will proceed as scheduled.

Women in Egypt are learning martial arts:
In this male-dominated society it is unusual to see these women in their headscarves sparring with men, but such is the concern here at the rise of sexual harassment cases that the number attending this class grows every month.

Shaza Saeed, 14, is one of the new recruits. "I was on my way home from school and I was attacked - I didn't know what to do," she said. "But now I have learnt how to defend myself so I am not afraid any more. I think every girl should go to self-defence classes like this."
Denmark has legalized adoptions by gay people:
Denmark’s Parliament has passed legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. The bill puts gay and lesbian couples on the same footing as opposite-sex couples.

Gay couples had been fighting for a decade to have the law passed.
In related news, the US will sign "a United Nations declaration affirming that international human rights protections must include sexual orientation and gender identity, and condemning abuses against GLBT people." And a court has ruled that an anti-gay Christian group at UC Hastings College of the Law has no inherent right to funding and official support:
The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that the law school was within its rights to deny recognition and funding to a group that excludes LGBT students and non-Christians....

The ADF had to know this was a losing case—this has nothing to do with freedom of association, or religious freedom—these Christianists just can’t expect the school to support their bigotry with funding, office space and inclusion in official school publications.
The Obama administration has overturned the "Ashcroft Doctrine" on freedom of information:
New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines calling for a “presumption of openness” were issued today by Attorney General Eric Holder. The guidelines, fulfilling the directive of a presidential memorandum issued in January, overturn the “Ashcroft doctrine” of the Bush administration that allowed the government to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible. The attorney general’s announcement comes during “Sunshine Week” and follows the introduction of legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA in the Senate.
The administration has also vowed to stop prosecuting providers of medical marijuana in states where it's legal:
In the Bush administration, federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes even if the dispensaries appeared to be complying with state laws. The raids produced a flood of complaints, particularly in California, which in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana sales to people with doctors’ prescriptions.

Graham Boyd, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union drug law project, said Mr. Holder’s remarks created a reasonable balance between conflicting state and federal laws and “seem to finally end the policy war over medical marijuana.” He said officials in California and the 12 other states that have authorized the use of medical marijuana had hesitated to adopt regulations to carry out their laws because of uncertainty created by the Bush administration.
Charles Grassley (R-Hell) worries that medical marijuana may lead cancer and AIDS and MS patients to use "harder drugs" (like, for instance, medical narcotics). Hopefully, the money we save on prosecuting these "criminals" can be spent on research into a cure for Empathy Deficit Disorder, which some experts believe may affect up to 100 percent of congressional Republicans.

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that the Warming Cult hadn't done a very good job of explaining basic facts about the climate to the public, which is really no way to run a global Communist conspiracy. Obviously, people in high places took notice:
In an effort to improve understanding of climate science, a group of government agencies has combined efforts to produce "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science."

"There is so much misinformation about climate," said Tom Karl, director of the government's National Climatic Data Center. "We want to provide an easily readable document to help everyone make the most informed decisions. Having one product endorsed by the nation's top federal science agencies, as well as leading science centers and associations, makes this document an essential resource." Karl said.
The booklet is available here. Having skimmed it, I have to say that it may be a bit too subtle...not in terms of the information, which is solid and demolishes most of the major misconceptions, but in terms of arrangement and emphasis. Also, it doesn't really explain seasons and hemispheres, which I've come to believe comprise one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Americans. But other than that, it's quite good.

Amusingly (in a sense), the associated site includes quotes from a government brochure published in the fifties:
During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-1958, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a pioneering science education publication, Planet Earth: Mystery with 100,000 Clues. The brochure pointed out that Earth's natural greenhouse effect was being altered as "our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate." The brochure went on to warn that if this continued, the result "would have a marked warming effect on Earth's climate" that could "cause significant melting of the great ice caps and raise sea levels in time."
It's surely no coincidence that this brochure appeared immediately after Joe McCarthy died. He would've instantly recognized it as a bid by the one-worlders to seize control of our air conditioners.

Apropos of this vast conspiracy, some activist judge has blocked BushCo's last-minute ruling that allowed people to carry concealed, loaded guns in national parks.

And Bruce Nilles describes what happened after the Wisconsin Public Service Commission denied a request to build a new coal plant:
Now, the company has decided to invest that money in clean energy – specifically, wind power.

In a story with an incredible headline – “Denial of Coal Plant Blows Utility Toward Turbine Deal” – Alliant Spokesman Rob Crain says, “The PSC expressed concern over carbon, and we listened.”

The coal industry has been spending millions of dollars to convince us they’re the cheapest and easiest way to keep the lights on. They tell us that change is costly, and they want you to believe that clean energy is not a viable alternative and that greenhouses gases aren’t a concern. And yet here is a utility doing just the opposite – listening to what the public, the science, and decision makers are telling them.
Sale of oil and gas leases in the Monongahela National Forest has been blocked:
Yesterday, a little more than a week after conservation groups filed a protest against a plan to sell oil and gas leases on an area of the Monongahela National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew the parcel from the upcoming lease sale....

“This oil and gas project was going to further threaten bat species already spiraling rapidly toward oblivion,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have a responsibility to make sure their actions do not harm endangered species or their habitat, and yet that responsibility was being ignored.”
US government agencies claim that they will streamline the process of developing offshore renewable energy:
Under the agreement, the Interior Department will have jurisdiction over offshore wind and solar energy projects, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will oversee offshore projects that generate electricity from wave and tidal currents.

"This agreement will help sweep aside red tape ... our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Joseph Romm runs through the latest battery research:
Battery advances seems to be flowing as fast as electrons these days -- and super fast charging batteries may hit the market in as little as 2 to 3 years. And that's critical because the car of the very near future, plug in hybrids, are a core climate solution. And electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence.
In Detroit, artists are buying foreclosed and gutted properties, in hopes of transforming them into sustainable homes:
In the crumbling Motor City, Mitch and Gina Cope have been purchasing ailing properties at rock-bottom prices, and are encouraging other artists to do the same....

"Our idea — instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house," [Mitch] Cope says.
Time has a somewhat related article on "recycling" the suburbs:
The suburbs need to be remade, and just such a transformation is under way in regions that were known for some of the worst sprawl in the U.S. Communities as diverse as Lakewood, Colo., and Long Beach, Calif., have repurposed boarded-up malls as mixed-use developments with retail stores, offices and apartments. In auto-dependent suburbs that were built without a traditional center, shopping malls offer the chance to create downtowns without destroying existing infrastructure, by recycling what's known as underperforming asphalt. "All of these projects are developer-driven, because the market wants them," says Ellen Dunham-Jones, a co-author of the new book Retrofitting Suburbia.
Another article in the same series includes an interesting discussion of the interstate highway system:
The first great advantage of the interstates is that they represent an established right of way. The government owns the road-beds and adjacent land, so rail and power lines can be laid down without the need to purchase more land. "Right of way is a precious resource," says Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who has become a point person in Congress on infrastructure issues. "It's been developed over centuries at great cost. It's strategically located and immediately available."

And it's already being put to use in some places. In the new expansion of the Portland Light Rail system in Oregon, the trains run alongside the road. And in Portland some stretches of that road are also being equipped with solar panels to power the roadside lights. But maybe the most audacious idea comes from the Al Gore-affiliated Repower America, a clean-energy advocacy group. Highways could be one of the routes for the new, more efficient electrical power grid that Repower advocates. And that grid would be available for battery-powered and hybrid vehicles to draw from and even sell surplus power back to. Envision a system in which you drive to a light-rail station along the interstate, plug into a smart grid at the parking lot and ride the train to work while your car recharges.
A critically endangered plant has received ESA protection from the Obama administration:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is listing a Hawaiian plant, Phyllostegia hispida, from the island of Molokai as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The plant is the first species protected under the Endangered Species Act by the Obama administration. The plant was first designated as a candidate for protection in 1997. It was recently thought extinct and Fish and Wildlife had considered emergency-listing the species, but that was delayed by the Bush administration. Today, just 24 plants of the species are known in the wild.
A very small frog has been discovered in the Andes:
The tiny frog took biologists by surprise since as a general rule species in higher altitudes tend to be larger than similar species in lower regions. Measuring at less than half an inch, the Noble's pygmy frog is not only the smallest frog in the Andes, but one of the smallest vertebrates in the world above 3,000 meters.

Frances Moore Lappé describes how the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte ended hunger:
The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
Lindsay Beyerstein notes that the stimulus will benefit hospitals that care for the poor:
Some good news just arrived in the form of a press release from the Department of Health and Human Services, announcing that the $268 million stimulus dollars have been made available to support hospitals caring for the poor and the uninsured.
A new test can detect Alzheimer's disease in its earliest stages:
The test, which measures proteins in spinal fluid that can point to Alzheimer's, was 87 percent accurate at predicting which patients with early memory problems and other symptoms of cognitive impairment would eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, they said.
There's also word of an improved TB test:
"A report from South Africa showed that the extensively drug-resistant TB strains can kill within 16 days, on average," says Graham Hatfull, Ph.D., the lead author and close collaborator of Dr. Jacobs. "In rural Africa, it takes too long to collect samples, send them off, do the test, and have the data sent back. Clinicians need rapid, relatively cheap, and simple methods for detecting TB and drug-resistant strains in the local clinic. This test provides a quick diagnosis so the patient can be isolated and treated."
This is interesting (though not really surprising, IMO):
Africans who are cocooned from Western culture recognize expressions of happiness, sadness and fear in the same musical passages that Westerners do.

This finding provides the first solid evidence for a universal human ability to distinguish basic emotions in music, asserts a team led by cognitive scientist Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.....

His team’s investigation indicates that Mafa and Western listeners similarly derive emotional meaning from the tempo and key of musical passages. Both groups tended to classify fast-paced pieces as happy and slow ones as scared or fearful, and mostly agreed on which passages were sad, but assigned no particular tempo with them. Mafa and Westerners also generally regarded major-key pieces as happy, minor-key excerpts as fearful and passages with an indeterminate key as sad.

Mafa music exclusively expresses joy and happiness. Village revelers blow fervently through flutes made of iron, clay and wax at various rituals, including a harvest event. No word exists in the Mafa language for music, which is viewed as an inseparable element of ritual.
In conclusion: Secondhand Toys (via things). The almost inconceivable Chand Baori stepwell. Some astonishing photos of an undersea eruption off Tonga. (You can also see live footage here). A film of the Kodak factory, circa 1958. And images of Namibian sand dunes by The Coultate's (via dataisnature).

Walls of death and zipper heads. Images of early machine technology. And unbelievably beautiful aerial views of mountains and glaciers from Bradford Washburn.

Photos by Petur Thomsen (via wood s lot). Playing cards made in a Russian prison versus playing cards made in the Irish Free State. Home economics explained: A Taste for Science (related: Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays). And a marvelous collection of historic instrumentation and atomic ephemera.

Last, a brief glimpse of a Shanghai street acrobat.

(Image at top: "Glacier" by Sidney Nolan, 1964.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let Them Truckers Roll!

In times of crisis, great men frequently look to the example of a fictional character for guidance.

When Thomas Jefferson was laboring to abolish the death penalty, he was often heard to say that he wished he had a magic hat like Fortunatus. Cecil Rhodes initially tried to win South African mineral concessions through ventriloquism, just like Carwin, the anti-hero of Charles Brockden Brown's 1798 novel Wieland, or The Transformation. After becoming acquainted with R.F. Outcault's Yellow Kid, Mahatma Gandhi wore a saffron kurta emblazoned with the words "Dis gang tinks dey kin queer me but wait an see."

Ronald Reagan based his presidency almost entirely on the character of Jack Browning, the dead-eyed reptilian thug he played in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers. And George W. Bush, of course, was inspired by some guy's painting of a horse thief.

So it's no surprise that the wisest and most productive members of our society would try to overcome the existential threat of taxation by imitating — or at least talking about imitating — John Galt, that sempiternal blowhard and hero of misunderstood teen geniuses from Nova Scotia to Nome.

The thing is, they're doing it wrong. I've argued before that C.W. McCall's 1975 novelty hit Convoy is the finest explication of libertarianism ever penned, and I stand by the claim. The hero these people ought to be emulating is The Rubber Duck, who leads a group of liberty-lovin' truckers on an epic journey to nowhere, for reasons that are never made entirely clear. The song is a celebration of spontaneous collective action in defense of individual liberty, as conceived by people whose revolutionary outlook begins and ends with the glorification of their marginal role in late capitalism, who see speed zones and tollbooths as tyranny, and who would rather shit in their pants for three days straight than pull over and get hassled by The Man.

Let's consider the song's narrative in more detail. Through the democratizing power of CB radio — a sort of proto-Internet, if you will — truckers who are enraged by bureaucracy and speed limits and stuff conspire to drive together across the United States at top speed, without stopping for cops, scales, gas, food, or anonymous gay sex at rest areas.

Come on and join our convoy,
Ain't nothin' gonna get in our way.
We're gonna roll this truckin' convoy
Across the USA.
If that's not an inspiring metaphor for the crazy quilt of modern conservatarianism, what on earth is? The song even anticipates the Crunchy Con movement, with a reference to "eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus."

The police set up roadblocks, prompting The Rubber Duck to boast "I'm about to go a-huntin' bear." Don't ask how, or with what, or to what conceivable end. It's attitude that really counts in life, and the Duck's righteous 'tude seemingly reduces the police to toothless slapstick figures, because despite having chicken coops and choppers, and "armored cars, and tanks, and jeeps, and rigs of every size," Smokey can't do a thing to stop the Duck and his band of brothers in their "thousand screamin' trucks." At least, not before they achieve this apotheosis:
I says, "Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck.
We just ain't a-gonna pay no toll."
So we crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight.
I says, "Let them truckers roll, 10-4!"
The song specifies that the toll is a dime, and there's a thousand trucks, so that's — wait a moment now, while I fetch the abacus — that's one hundred dollars that wasn't extorted from truck-drivin' men to maintain the roadbeds on which they ply their trade. Starve the beast!

It's not clear what happens next to these freedom fighters, but who cares? The important thing is that for a brief time, these men were members of a high-speed vehicular mob that could do anything except handle a sharp turn.

Why shouldn't disaffected conservatives and libertarians stage a similar populist revolt (or at least threaten us with one)? These folks have always had a hard time deciding whether they're William F. Buckley, Jr. or Hulk Hogan, but given the general mood of the country, I think it's time to come down from Parnassus and groove with the People.

I mean, going Galt is all well and good, but it's a bit too upscale, amirite? A bit too stilted and recherche? Organizing a series of national anti-socialist "Convoys," where people race around hootin' and hollerin' and wastin' gas to no clear purpose, would be much more likely to excite the Common Man than Ayn Rand's mindnumbing sophistries. Plus they'd have a readymade theme song. (And a movie, come to think of it, which the New York Times described as "a big, costly, phony exercise in myth-making, machismo, romance-of-the-open-road nonsense and incredible self-indulgence." That clinches it; I really do think we have the makings of an awesome new white-guy uprising here.)

Come on and join our Convoy, America! We ain't a-gonna pay no toll! It's not like you actually have to "crash the gates doin' ninety-eight"; you can simply talk about how cool it would be if someone else did it. Hell, you don't even have to know how to drive, really; this is more about the freedom that driving ideally represents, where you're not hampered by nanny-state obstacles like insurance and stop signs and road crews and bears in the air. As I said before, it's the attitude that counts; what matters is not what you actually do, but which absurd adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy would guide you if you ever did do anything besides boring the birds out of the trees with your anti-civilization horseshit.

As for myself, I've decided to protest the prison-industrial complex by going Tenzil Kem. Of course, this doesn't mean that I'll actually eat iron latticework, any more than the people who claim to be going Galt will actually shut the fuck up, forfeit their incomes, banish themselves to the wilderness, and die in a shootout over who's gonna dig the latrine. But it does demonstrate my high ideals, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Garden Plot

The author of an editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal is worried because Obama intends to provide one billion dollars to the "Food Police," who will use the money to regulate the nation's supply of tainted food, instead of letting market forces decide how it should be allocated.

It's funny how times change. It wasn't very long ago that the most important test of government policy was whether it comforted security moms, who saw the safety of their children as non-negotiable, and therefore mistrusted John Kerry for being a windsurfer.

But now, the timeless conservative vision of women as safety-obsessed nurturers of the innocent runs up against the stark reality of the corporate bottom line, which means that the inspectors of peanut-butter factories must be cast as a new Holy Vehm. "Security moms" who have a problem with this are cordially invited to get bent.

The president will ask Congress for $1 billion in new funds -- for starters -- to add FDA inspectors and modernize laboratories. He further announced the Agriculture Department is moving ahead with a rule change banning sick or disabled cattle from the food supply.

"There are certain things only a government can do," Mr. Obama said. "And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and do not cause us harm."
There's only one possible answer to that:
If "government is the answer," why is there a problem?
This is nearly too nice to talk about. Why does anyone use poppers, or huff solvents, when you can get precisely the same giddy euphoria from glibertarian kōans like this one, gratis and free of charge?

If medicine is the answer, why is there disease? If prison is the answer, why is there crime? If contraception is the answer, why is there unwanted pregnancy? If education is the answer, why is there ignorance? If anti-discrimination laws are the answer, why is there bigotry?

Or to put it another way, if perfection is unattainable, why fucking bother?

After a crescendo like that, the rest of the article can't help but be anticlimactic. The gist of it is that market forces and corporate branding are adequate to protect smart people from food poisoning, because smart people would rather eat at a bright and cheerful fast food restaurant than at some low-rent hash house filled with bikers and hippies and freelance abortionists and rats the size of poodles.

This theory can't survive a cursory rundown of the outbreaks of foodborne illness over the last decade or two, the most serious of which were serious precisely because they involved popular brands and therefore affected far more people than some filthy diner along the Ohio Turnpike. (If brand management is the answer, why are people getting sick from eating at McDonald's?) Furthermore, it's not obvious that people who choose to eat at non-branded restaurants deserve to get sick or die, just because they happened to be "adventurous."

Here's a riddle for you:
Should budget shortfalls require federal food regulatory agencies to shut down tomorrow, do we really believe manufacturers who have spent billions building up the reputations of things called "Cheerios" and "Campbell's Soup" would immediately start ignoring the long-term costs of adding harmful adulterants to make better short-term profits tomorrow?
The short answer: "Yes. Of course. What kind of demented fucking mongrel idiot doesn't understand that, at this late date?"

The long answer: We've seen some evidence, over the years, that insufficiently regulated businesses will do anything they can get away with in pursuit of short-term profits (cf. AIG, W.R. Grace). Also, this is a silly argument, because it assumes that the manufacturers necessarily believe that the adulterant in question is harmful, despite reams of industry-funded thinktank boilerplate that tells them otherwise. In other words, the editorial wants us to consider the problem in terms of radical evil, instead of the wishful thinking that more commonly gets American businesses into expensive or even deadly trouble. There's also the fact that regulation ideally prevents business from making excessive or fraudulent claims for their products (e.g., "eating three bowls of Cheerios per day will ward off the suppurating gleet!"), which can be as dangerous in some cases as adulteration.

By now, you probably have a pretty clear picture of the worldview we're dealing with: Business r00olz, government dr00lz, and the Invisible Hand will save everyone who's worth saving. That's not a very popular outlook in these dreadful times, so the last few paragraphs are devoted to a dystopian vision in which the fascist Obamabot Food Police come down on our crash pads and communes, and seize the zucchini that we were gonna, like, bring to the Dead show and barter for some weed:
Would HR 875 effectively ban seed banking and small-scale organic farming? Would it allow the Food Police to trespass on private property to "check our vegetables"? Would it mandate 24-hour GPS tracking of farm animals? Could lands and crops be seized for "non-compliance"?

A lot can be justified under the rubric of "food safety." Do we really believe granting a monopoly to large-scale factory farms, with their standardized artificial fertilizers and pesticides, is safest for our health and nutritional needs in the long run?
Of course it'd be safe! 'Cause the thing is, see, large-scale factory farms who've spent billions of dollars to build their brands would never dream of using dangerous or unproven fertilizers or pesticides, or producing food that was in any way unwholesome. That'd go against the dictates of rational self-interest. As would creating an elite counterrevolutionary force that goes door to door looking for heirloom tomatoes to trample.

What is this maniac talking about, you ask? Well, it seems that Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is married to a consultant whose clients include Monsanto, and has introduced a bill that might conceivably become law, after the usual process of bickering and compromise and obstructionism and extortion and posturing. If that happens, it's conceivable that Obama might include it as part of his billion-dollar food-safety initiative. And if that happens, it's conceivable — just barely, provided you're crazy — that a new monocultural Staatssicherheit will make backyard gardens illegal, even though HR 875 currently doesn't provide for any such thing. Translation: Obama wants a billion dollars for teh Food Police, and you will soon have to pay Monsanto royalties for growing radishes. RIP America: 1776-2009.

Tom Philpott finds these worries to be groundless, as does Food and Water Watch. Without arguing in favor of HR 875, I notice that it contains provisions that might not appeal to the death-before-regulation crowd, including increasing the inspection of food plants and requiring imported food to meet US standards. Presumably, that's the real problem here, and all this nonsense about outlawing "backyard gardens" is intended to rile survivalists who are busy stockpiling food and guns against the coming Obamapocalypse.

In summation: Alarmism about food safety is misguided, actual outbreaks of mass poisoning notwithstanding, but alarmism about imaginary "Food Police" is perfectly sensible. Nothing's more important than the safety of our children, except for the principle that government shouldn't and can't protect them from anything but terrorism, collectivism, and rap lyrics. Security that doesn't have a 100-percent success rate is basically worthless, so let's give that billion to the Pentagon instead. You can trust the government to give people lethal injections or bomb foreign capitals, but not to conduct the occasional spot test for E. coli. You can count on big business to do the right thing for consumers...unless it might be influencing a "far-left" member of Congress, in which case Liberal Fascism is practically a done deal, and we don't even get organic arugula out of it.

At the risk of repeating myself, the road towards a non-insane conservatism seems to be an exceptionally hard one to travel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Human Needs

An op-ed writer named Mike Shelton has some scattered thoughts on climate change, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Some top scientists say it's a hoax, so all the top scientists who say it isn't are obviously wrong.

  2. Terrorists are dangerous, unlike hog-waste lagoons.

  3. It doesn't matter if you cut down a forest, 'cause you can plant a new one. Animals who don't love it can leave it!

  4. zOMG Algore wants me to wipe my ass with my bare hands!!!oneoneone

  5. Some guy in Ohio is weird.

  6. Farms are wasting away! People are starving! And you expect me to care about the climate?

  7. I object strongly to the elitist elitism of elites, unless they're "the world's top scientists" and they're saying stuff that pleases me. (And no, it's not elitism to suggest that personal choice should be as all-consuming a concern to the world's downtrodden as it is to some willfully ignorant loudmouth in Yuma, AZ.)

  8. Americans don't care about it very much, which proves that it doesn't matter.
The usual nonsense, in other words. But he does have one interesting argument up his sleeve, which ties in nicely with the current conservative strategy of relying on fictional characters to solve all the world's problems:
[W]hen Kiefer Sutherland left his “Jack Bauer” persona on Fox's “24” and said the set was green, I was so disappointed. The real Jack, and his admiring audience, would care less about the environmental friendliness of his set. Just knock sense into those soft-on-terror senators.
There's no arguing with this, mainly because there's no understanding it. Jack Bauer, who's not actually on TV in his TV show, wouldn't want the set of his show to be environmentally friendly, if he had one, because that'd interfere with his fictional prime directive of roughing up US senators. And Kiefer Sutherland should totally have respected that imaginary stance by sneering at environmentalism just like the real Jack Bauer would've, if he actually existed and starred in a TV show about himself. In real life, I mean.

Or as Joseph Conrad once observed, "what is a TV show about torturing terrorists if not a conviction of our fellow-men's existence strong enough to take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer than reality and whose accumulated verisimilitude of selected episodes puts to shame the pride of documentary history?”

Know what else is kind of disappointing, come to think of it? Ayn Rand never went Galt. Which is pretty remarkable, when you look at the high income tax rates in 1957, and the rise of deadly dysgenic evils like Social Security benefits for the disabled.

Here's a closing thought for you. Bear in mind that it comes from a man who thinks that we can mow down forests, and plant new ones, with no net loss of anything that matters.
We have too many real human needs to behave as though the cycles of nature are within our control.
(Illustration: "High winds blow sand at the original north shore of Owens Lake, now miles from the nearest pool of water, on May 5, 2007 near Lone Pine, California. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is trying to reverse the desertification of the lake that it dried up with the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 to divert the Owens River – the lake’s only water source – for growing Los Angeles urban areas." Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.)

Of Hospitality

A few days ago, I argued that our country's "culture of life" is a comfortable fraud that allows us to pursue the important business of oppression, violence and murder with a clear conscience, and pointed out that anyone who truly believes that "all life is sacred" — for whatever reason — will be treated like a mad dog.

Here's a case in point:

A pastor in this quiet, picturesque New England town thought he was doing the Christian thing when he took in a convicted child killer who had served his time but had nowhere to go.

But some neighbors of the Rev. David Pinckney vehemently disagree, one even threatening to burn his house down after officials could find no one else willing to take 60-year-old Raymond Guay.
The Rev. Pinckney obviously misunderstands the Bible, which clearly states that the strict demands of Christian hospitality apply primarily to the owners operators of wombs.

In fact, what Rev. Pinckney is doing is the Christian thing. I can't argue this point better, or with more conviction, than RMJ, so I'll turn the floor over to him:
Hospitality is what is shown to others; and if God is hospitality, then God directs me, not into myself, but out to others. But others, and which others? My friends? My neighbors? The members of my social class, my economic class, my ethnic clan or nationality or race or creed or culture? Am I directed to those who do not share my ideas about hospitality, who do not understand what I mean when I offer my hand for a handshake, or look them directly in the eyes? Am I directed to pedophiles and child molesters and rapists and murderers? And also, to attempt to leave no one out, to their victims, the families of the victims, the people who would punish them, banish them, put them beyond the social law of a hospitable society? Am I directed to do this by the God I worship, the God of Abraham and Jesus?

There's a real culture of "personal responsibility" for you, in all its outrageousness and impossibility. Behold it and tremble.

In other religious news, Pope Benedict XVI is traveling through Africa, and has announced that condom use "increases the problem" of AIDS. Which, in addition to being an outrageous lie, is also very likely to kill people. Or continue killing them, I should say.

Hooray, says I, for the sanctity of life.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Serpent's Nest

I was initially posting links here to my weekend blitherings chez Echidne, but I was interrupted by a long hiatus, and then forgot about it entirely.

For whatever it's worth, here are a bunch of recent posts. Be patient — or not — as Echidne's pages always seem to take a long time to load.

Math Class is Tough! discusses exciting new research that explains how women "choose" to fail at life.

Cell Groups prepares us for the looming radical-right revolution (i.e., an uptick in mass shootings), and compares "liberals," gays, and women to the regulations that impede the spontaneous order of the Free Market.

School's Out Forever takes a dim view of a plan to expel teens from school as a punishment for pregnancy, in a country with one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use on earth.

Dogma and Zealotry is a standard-issue rant against the false principles of climate denial, based on a column by Jeff Jacoby. The main focus is the weird assumption that a lack of knowledge allows you to assume the best possible outcome. Freeman Dyson is mocked too, which never hurts.

Why kNOw? presents such axioms of modern sex education as "if a woman is wet, a baby she may get!"

Thoughtful Discourse dissects WaPo ombudsman Andrew Alexander's careful response to George Will's latest fusillade of denialist lies. If that sounds as boring to read as it was to write, you can proceed directly to the money quote: "When people get angry because you've allowed a smirking ideological hack with a history of lying about this very issue to turn your op-ed page into his personal sandbox, and you respond to the idea of issuing retractions as though you'd been asked to harness a goose and fly it to the moon, what else can this signify but that both sides have failed equally to be Reasonable?"

Mother Pelosi and Father Frank is a horripilating vision of the End Times.

OctoMom Nation is another horripilating vision of the End Times.

A Muslim Tradition points out for the millionth time that Georgie Ann Geyer is a racist dingbat.

The Biggest Crutch bewails the pussification of American culture, as exemplified by anti-discrimination laws and medical care for the destitute.
There you have it! If you're looking for wisdom instead of cheap outrage and laborious gags, you can head over there and read everyone's posts but mine.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Should the sun press
too heavy a crown,
should dawn cast
over-much loveliness,
should you tire as you laugh,
running from wave to wave-crest,
gathering the sea-flower to your breast,
you may dive down
to the uttermost sea depth,
where no great fish venture,
nor small fish glitter and dart,
only Hypselodoris bennetti and flower
of the wild sea-thyme
cover the silent walls
of an old sea-city at rest.

(Photo by Richard Ling.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Obama has signed the Omnibus Appropriation Bill, which will increase access to contraceptives:

Last night the Senate passed the omnibus appropriations bill, including the “Affordable Birth Control Act.” This provision is a no-cost fix to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which contained language that stopped pharmaceutical companies from providing prescriptions at lower than market costs to health clinics and College and University health centers. Previously, companies were supplying schools and safety-net providers with low cost or no cost birth control. As a result of the DRA, low income women and college students were forced to pay market price, approximately $40-$50 per month.
The same bill resumes funding for the UN Population Fund:
President Obama yesterday signed legislation containing a $50 million contribution to UNFPA. This puts in motion the restoration of U.S. funding for UNFPA, which had been suspended since 2002.

"This is a much needed support," added Ms. Obaid, "which will allow UNFPA to maintain its life-saving work, particularly improving maternal and reproductive health, in the world's poorest communities, especially during this financial crisis."
Incidentally, there was an attempt to strip the UNPF funding from the bill:
The bill was rejected in a near party-line vote with the Republican Senators Snowe (ME), Specter (PA), and Collins (ME) voting against the amendment and Democratic Senators Bayh (IN), Nelson (NE), and Casey (PA) voting for the amendment.
There's also talk of rescinding yet another of BushCo's anti-life policies:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) applauds the Obama administration for proposing a rule to rescind a Bush midnight regulation that undermines the country’s ailing health care system as well as patients’ access to health care information and services.

“This proposed rule clearly states that the Obama administration is committed to putting patients’ care first,” said Cecile Richards, president of PPFA. “As was made clear at the White House Summit on Health Care yesterday, we should be working together to increase, not hinder, access to care. Patients, especially low- income women, deserve access to complete and accurate health care information and services and today’s action shows that this administration understands and will meet this need. This is a commonsense fix.”
Perhaps sanity is contagious. Australia has just lifted its version of the Global Gag Rule:
The Australian government announced a decision yesterday to repeal a foreign aid ban that mirrored the Global Gag rule in the US. Australia's current policy dates to 1996 and prohibits "any overseas development funding from being used for activities which involve the termination of a pregnancy," according to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

In a statement, Smith said "This is a difficult issue and the Government recognizes that there are strong views, firmly held, on all sides….I have decided to change the Family Planning Guidelines for Australia's overseas development assistance program to support the same range of family planning services for women in developing countries as are supported for women in Australia, subject to the national laws of the relevant nation concerned."
The FDA has approved a new female condom:
The polyurethane sheath, originally approved in 1993, costs anywhere from $2.80 to $4 a piece ndash; a steep price for women in developing countries to whom the condom was marketed (never mind those in the U.S., who could pick up several of the male version for not much more than that -- or for free), Reuters reports. That may change, now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a next-gen female condom made of synthetic nitrile (a form of rubber) that costs less money for its manufacturer, the Chicago-based Female Health Company, to make. The cost of the new female condom, FC2, could fall to around 60 cents per device for health groups and government agencies that want to buy them, according to the newswire.
Time will tell whether this statement from Obama is serious, or simply a nice gesture, but I like the sound of it:
Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.
A judge in Florida has ruled that school officials cannot ban a gay student club:
Adams ordered a local school board to grant official recognition to the Gay-Straight Alliance and afford it the same privileges as any other student organization.

The school district had argued in court that it would grant school access to the group if its name were changed, citing the name as its chief objection. But the judge ruled that the group did not need to make a change.
Bwahahaha, as the saying is.

Passage of the Omnibus bill will also make it easier to scrap Bush's anti-environmental regs:
Congress today passed an omnibus appropriations bill that gives the Obama administration power to rescind rules weakening both the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will now be able to rescind rules without going through a new, formal rulemaking process. This legislation gives the administration authority above that utilized in President Barack Obama’s memorandum issued last week, which directed federal agencies to follow the old rules.

“This legislation makes it much easier for the administration to remove rules weakening both the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is Secretary Salazar’s first opportunity to really set himself apart from the previous administration.”
And it'll change corporate reporting rules for toxic chemicals:
The measure -- which affects chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, automakers and electronic manufacturers nationwide -- reverses a 2006 regulation enacted by President George W. Bush that eased the reporting requirements for nearly 600 chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and cadmium. The legislation restores the standard established by law in 1986, compelling all facilities to inform the public of any chemical releases that total 500 pounds a year or more, lowering the 2,000-pound threshold Bush had adopted.
An important wildlife protection act has been expanded:
Enacted in 1900 by William F. McKinley the Lacey Act is the oldest wildlife protection law in the US; for a over a century it has protected animals from being illegally hunted and trafficked. An amendment made last year has now extended the law to protect plants for the first time, making it possible for the US to support efforts abroad and at home to combat illegal logging.

According to an article by the International Tropical Timber Organization, any wood that is harvested illegal in its native country now comes under the Lacey Act and “anyone who imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired or purchased the wood products made from that illegal timber, who knew or should have known that the wood was illegal, may be prosecuted for violation of the Lacey Act”.
Treehugger has created a slide show of things that Obama's stimulus bill will help you to buy (h/t: Karin). As they put it, "tucked into the thousands of pages of confounding language, there are tons of fantastic new tax credits you can get simply for buying great green stuff." (And of course, it's also a diabolical plot against gun owners everywhere, so what's not to love?)

A new study suggests that Munich could cut CO2 emissions by 90 percent without affecting quality of life (or without worsening it, anyway):
Using examples, the study demonstrates that many investments in efficiency measures are, in fact, cost-effective. For instance, to meet the requirements of the energy-saving passive house standard – which is stricter than the 2007 Energy Savings Ordinance now in force – Munich will have to invest an additional €13 billion by mid-century in the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones. This amount comes to roughly €200 per city resident per year – about one third of an annual gas bill. However, these added costs will be offset in 2058 by energy cost savings of between €1.6 billion and €2.6 billion – that is, of some €1,200 to €2,000 per resident. If all savings potentials in the area of electrical power are realized, the lion’s share of the city’s electricity needs can be met by renewable low-carbon sources. Although relatively high at first, initial investments in efficient energy-saving technologies generally pay for themselves through energy savings.
In related news, it looks as though the EPA plans to make an important statement on CO2 in April:
a leaked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document shows that the agency “is fast-tracking its response to the Supreme Court’s 2007 climate decision with plans to issue a mid-April finding that global warming threatens both public health and welfare.”

This is very big, very historic, very exciting news – this action by EPA will set the stage for the first-ever national regulation of CO2 in US history. This so-called endangerment finding is the first step the Obama administration must take to start regulating global warming pollution from cars, coal plants, and other sources.
Rodale is promoting organic no-till farming as a carbon sequestration method:
No-till agriculture, in which farmers don’t plow their fields anymore, is one practice said to promote carbon sequestration in the soil. Organic farming is another. Researchers here at the nonprofit Rodale Institute are now developing a hybrid “organic no-till” farming system that they say could sponge up more carbon than any other way of growing food.

The claim: If organic no-till agriculture were used successfully on all of the earth’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, it would absorb and sequester more than half of all present-day CO2 emissions every year, according to Rodale Institute research director Paul Hepperly.
Scientific American examines claims that geothermal power may be "cheaper" than coal — we're pretending here that external costs don't exist, as sensible people should) — and finds some problems, and some grounds for optimism.
{T]he new analysis is backed up by earlier ones, such as a 2006 Western Governor's Association (WGA) report on geothermal resources in the U.S. Southwest. Using nearly the same economic model, but assuming a higher cost of capital than the one used in the Credit Suisse analysis—in other words, the interest rate that is so troublesome in today's economy—the WGA found that geothermal could be produced from existing resources, using existing technology, for around 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, once a 1.9 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit furnished by the federal government is included.
A bill called the Complete Streets Act is currently being debated in Congress.
Good news: the Complete Streets Act, which is before the House and the Senate right now, would ensure that stimulus funds spent on new transportation projects adhere to “complete streets” guidelines. Streets would have to have sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, and various traffic-calming features, among other things.
Click the link to see how similar legislation improved a street in La Jolla, CA, and then contact your representatives to support the bill.

AfriGadget reports on an "analog blogger" in Liberia:
Alfred serves as a reminder to the rest of us, that simple is often better, just because it works. The lack of electricity never throws him off. The lack of funding means he’s creative in ways that he recruits people from around the city and country to report news to him. He uses his cell phone as the major point of connection between him and the 10,000 (he says) that read his blackboard daily.

Cadbury is switching over to fair trade:
The move, which also includes Cadbury’s hot chocolate beverage, will result in the tripling of sales of cocoa under Fairtrade terms for cocoa farmers in Ghana. It will both increase Fairtrade cocoa sales for existing certified farming groups, as well as open up new opportunities for more farmers to benefit from the Fairtrade system, according to the company.
This is interesting:
She could have gone down in history as the woman who developed a cure for scurvy, the scourge of sailors the world over. Ebbot Michell seems to have concocted a remedy decades before physician James Lind published his revolutionary Treatise Of The Scurvy in 1753 - but her name is forgotten and appears in no medical text book.
And so is this:
Scientists have used a substance from the shells of shrimp to create a new material that repairs itself when exposed to ultraviolet light. The properties of the polymer, described in the March 13 Science, are still being investigated, but it could in a matter of years make its way into all kinds of coatings, such as paints, and surfaces on everything from surgical instruments to countertops.
And this:
Administration of a tissue-cultured smallpox vaccine showed signs of an effective vaccine response with no serious adverse events, according to a study in the March 11 issue of JAMA.

"The threat of smallpox bioterrorism has prompted reconsideration of the need for smallpox vaccination. Serious adverse events associated with first-generation vaccines such as the New York City Board of Health (Dryvax), Lister, and Ikeda strains have raised obstacles to vaccination campaigns in the United States," the authors write. They add that certain second-generation vaccines are also often accompanied by a high frequency of adverse events. "Developing a vaccine that is safer than first-generation vaccines yet highly immunogenic [producing immunity or an immune response] is crucial to constructing a prevention plan in the event of bioterrorist attack."
The photo at the top is from Fritz Fabert's Archaeology of Work. It comes to you via wood s lot, as do these photographs by Maria Levitsky (the empty interiors and crime scenes are particularly evocative). Also, strange paintings by Josh Keyes. And a lovely image of Manhattan Bridge at Night.

Models of surfaces. Notes on computerized love poems from 1952, with examples. A bestiary of Uniform Polychora. And some stunning images from Reed Flute Cave.

Also: A beautiful photographic survey of NYC's Chinatown. Astonishing negatives from Russia and Tibet (via Dark Roasted Blend). Forays into fluorescence, and stereoscopic micrographs.

Last, a tour of Holland, consisting entirely of its reflection in water.

UPDATE: I hope you can stand a little more good news....
In a move that represents both a formality and a historic gesture, the Obama administration has announced that it's withdrawing the designation of "enemy combatant" for Guantanamo detainees. The Bush administration had drawn widespread criticism for its use of that designation, which allowed it to deny detainees rights they otherwise would have been entitled to.