Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

The sheriff of Pima County, AZ has announced that he will not enforce the new anti-immigrant law:

Dupnik called the law "racist" and "disgusting" and "stupid" and, in his "nuanced judgment" could not be enforced without mandatory racial profiling. Dupnik's reckoning of the legal issue is that he's just as likely to be sued for racial profiling as he is for not doing enough racial profiling, so he's standing pat, and will not enforce the new law.
You can add the Major League Baseball Players Association to the list of people who are unhappy with Arizona's racialist dingbattery:

The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of Major League players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association....The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has suspended official visits to Arizona:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today a moratorium on official city travel to Arizona after the state enacted a controversial new immigration law that directs local police to arrest those suspected of being in the country illegally.

The ban on city employee travel to Arizona takes effect immediately, although there are some exceptions, including for law enforcement officials investigating a crime, officials said.
Health insurers have reportedly been shamed into early compliance with the new healthcare legislation:
Following last week's Reuter's story by Murray Waas on WellPoint's practice of targeting breast cancer patients for rescission, both WellPoint and UnitedHealthcare announced they would implement reforms immediately, instead of waiting until the new law kicks in.

Following that story, the administration and Congressional leaders immediate contacted WellPoint's CEO to urge her to end the practice. Committee and Subcommittee Chairs from the House Committees on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor sent a letter to the CEOs of the seven major insurance companies, "urging them to end rescissions and institute independent third-party review." Yesterday afternoon, the industry as a whole agreed to do the same, according to a letter from AHIP's Karen Ignani to top House Democrats.

In Florida, Democrats have blocked a GOP attempt to force women who need an abortion to pay for ultrasound:

The anti-choice legislators in Florida may have just been outmaneuvered.

In reaction to a last minute bill in the Florida legislature that requires all women seeking an abortion to pay out of pocket for an ultrasound before they can have the procedure, unless they show proof of rape or incest, Democrats did the unthinkable.

They shut down the House of Representatives.

Women who serve in the US military are no longer banned from submarines:
The first U.S. women allowed to serve aboard submarines will be reporting for duty by 2012, the Navy said Thursday as the military ordered an end to one of its few remaining gender barriers.
The DoJ is currently accepting public comments on the need to prevent prison rape.
On March 10, 2010, the Department of Justice opened a 60-day public comment period on national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention. Released last June by a bipartisan federal commission, these common-sense measures have the potential to help end sexual abuse in detention. But the standards are opposed by some powerful corrections leaders. These officials argue that it is too expensive to stop prisoner rape, and they seem to have a great deal of influence over the Department of Justice.
I can't tell you how many times I've been dismayed to hear people who are ostensibly "progressive" snicker over the idea of criminals being raped in prison (usually by black men, for some odd reason). I hold this truth to be self-evident: No one deserves to be raped under any circumstances, and preventive measures need to be taken regardless of what "corrections leaders" think.

In response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama has suspended new offshore drilling. (OMG he blew it up on purpose!)
As the federal government helps the efforts, Obama has reportedly stated that no new drilling will be allowed until officials can figure this whole mess out. Great news! While it’s not an official ban, at least new offshore drilling is on hold for the time being.
I support this decision, of course. But calling it "great news" may be stretching things a bit.
Apropos of which, you can learn how to help the animals affected by this spill by clicking here.

Thirty-three US generals and admirals have announced their support for a strong climate bill:

It is time to secure America with clean energy. We can create millions of jobs in a clean energy economy while mitigating the effects of climate change across the globe. We call on Congress and the administration to enact strong, comprehensive climate and energy legislation to reduce carbon pollution and lead the world in clean energy technology.

Cape Wind has finally received federal approval:
After nearly a decadelong permitting path, the Obama administration has approved the United States' first offshore wind farm.

The 130-turbine Cape Wind project, to be located in federal waters of Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts, is expected to meet 75 percent of the total electricity demand of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island.

Wyoming has approved some modest wildlife protections at proposed wind-power sites:
Under the guidelines, construction activity will be halted within two miles of an active grouse lek during the mating season each spring, though turbines will be allowed to operate in any location more than a quarter mile from a lek (increased to six tenths of a mile for one species).
In semi-related news, Inhabitat reports on a fascinating wind-powered knitting machine.
[T]he Wind Knitting Factory is a 1.2 meter diameter handmade wind mill attached to a loom mechanism. As the wind blows, it spins the loom and knits a scarf tube!

Obviously the stronger the wind is blowing, the faster a scarf can be knit. Each scarf is 2 meters long and is labeled with the day it was made and how long it took to the wind to knit it. Totally powered by free renewable energy without any human power, these amazing little scarves are perfect for wearing on a windy day too!
A new law will retire or retrofit Colorado's coal-fired power plants:

“This law is a template for tomorrow that allows us to transform our energy portfolio, our economy and our environment by working strategically and collaboratively,” Gov. Ritter said. “By shifting our oldest and least efficient coal plants to cleaner, Colorado-produced natural gas, we send a strong message to the rest of the country that we absolutely can cut air pollution and protect public health while also creating jobs and protecting ratepayers.”

Russia apparently intends to remove roughly one million abandoned oil barrels from the Arctic:
[T]he Soviet military positioned bases on Alexandra Land and shipped in vast quantities of oil to sustain them. As the Soviet Union collapsed, the barrels were abandoned, considered too costly to transport or dispose of properly. So there they remained, slowly deteriorating in the artic snow, threatening to poison the island's ecology.

Faced with this looming crisis, Prime Minister Putin suggested his nation commit to cleaning the mess of previous generations....
New research suggests that microbes in soil will not release more CO2 as the planet warms:
In some tentative (as in, more research is needed) global warming science good news, scientists from UC Irvine, and Colorado State and Yale universities have discovered that microbes in soil begin emitting less CO2 as their environment warms. This contradicts previous studies which anticipated an ever-increasing amount of emissions from soil as average temperatures climb.
Iowa is closing several public caves in order to protect bats.
Iowa will close three public caves to help fight the spread of a disease that has killed a million bats across the eastern United States in the past several years.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources beginning Monday will prevent access to Maquoketa Caves near Maquoketa, Starr's Cave near Burlington and Searryl's Cave in Jones County.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has doubled protected habitat for the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly, renowned for its aerobatic virtuosity and electrifying green eyes, is the only dragonfly on the U.S. endangered species list. Once found in fens, bogs, and other wetlands throughout the Midwest, the species remains in only a few scattered breeding sites in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. The Hine’s emerald is primarily threatened by habitat destruction due to urban and agricultural development, off-road vehicles, road and pipeline construction, logging, and groundwater contamination from pesticides and other pollutants.

Photo by Carol Freeman.

Madagascar has officially banned the "cutting, exploitation and export of rosewood and ebony."
Madagascar's transitional government has finally signed a decree banning the logging and trade of precious hardwoods, a month after announcing the moratorium.

The decree comes in direct response to mounting pressure from the international community over ongoing destruction of Madagascar's national parks by illegal loggers.
Pokeberries may improve the efficiency of solar panels:

Nanotech Center scientists have used the red dye made from pokeberries to coat their efficient and inexpensive fiber-based solar cells. The dye acts as an absorber, helping the cell's tiny fibers trap more sunlight to convert into power.

Pokeberries proliferate even during drought and in rocky, infertile soil. That means residents of rural Africa, for instance, could raise the plants for pennies. Then they could make the dye absorber for the extremely efficient fiber cells and provide energy where power lines don't run, said David Carroll, Ph.D., the center's director.

"They're weeds," Carroll said. "They grow on every continent but Antarctica."

Mucilage from the prickly pear cactus may act as a natural water filter:
Assistant Professor Norma Alcantar at the University of South Florida in Tampa has discovered that when mucilage (a type of gum used to store water) from the prickly pear cactus is mixed with water that contains high levels of sediment or the bacterium Bacillus cereus, both the bacteria and the sediment sink to the bottom. The mucilage, in other words, acts as a cheap and effective natural filter, which could be employed by millions of people in developing nations to produce clean water.
Researchers have come up with a solar pasteurization system for farmers in Peru:
Currently, poorer farmers are unable to obtain market certification for their milk and dairy products because they can't afford pasteurization equipment. As long as their facilities remain unhygenic, they're kept out of the marketplace. However, John Cannarella, Ryan Lewis, Jared Stepanauskas, and Natalie Maslow have come up with a solar powered solution that is cheap and could have global implications for farmers in rural or developing areas.
More than twenty US cities are considering adding or improving streetcar lines:
Due to a change in federal transportation policy under President Obama, 22 American cities are reportedly considering building or expanding streetcar lines. Not only would the streetcar construction help revitalize many American cities, it could promote greater adoption of public transit and decrease reliance on cars.
US companies are increasingly moving from the suburbs to the city:

These companies are getting a jump on a major cultural and demographic shift away from suburban sprawl. The change is imminent, and businesses that don’t understand and plan for it may suffer in the long run.

To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars—that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together.
Santa Clara County, CA has banned McDonald's Happy Meals:
Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children's meals will soon be banned in parts of Santa Clara County unless the restaurants meet nutritional guidelines approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

This is a nice idea:

It's an obvious problem in urban and suburban jungles around the country: many people are eager to garden but have nowhere to indulge their green thumbs. And plenty of homeowners have gardens in need of tending.

Enter Taking the Craigslist model to gardening, it helps match up prospective gardeners to those with gardens, for free.
And so is this:
Want to start a community project aimed at local government transparency and bettering your block? EveryBlock, a site that culls ultralocal news about specific neighborhoods, has combined its powers with SeeClickFix, a reporting tool site that that allows anyone to report and track community problems that need a little local government love.
The EPA has launched a searchable chemical information database:

ToxRefDB provides detailed chemical toxicity data in an accessible format. It is a part of ACToR (Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource), an online data warehouse that collects data from about 500 public sources on tens of thousands of environmentally relevant chemicals, including several hundred in ToxRefDB. Those interested in chemical toxicity can query a specific chemical and find all available public hazard, exposure, and risk-assessment data, as well as previously unpublished studies related to cancer, reproductive, and developmental toxicity.

The FDA has approved a therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer:
The big story here is that this is the first proof of principle and proof that immunotherapy works in general in cancer, which I think is a huge observation," said Dr. Philip Kantoff, chief of solid tumor oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the lead investigator in Dendreon's largest clinical trial for the drug.
Here's one of those simple ideas that seems incredibly obvious in hindsight:

Changing the hue of hospital gowns and bed sheets to match a patient’s skin color could greatly enhance a physician’s ability to detect cyanosis and other health-related skin color changes, according to a new study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute....

“If a patient’s skin color shifts a small amount, the change will often be imperceptible to doctors and nurses,” Changizi said. “If that patient is wearing a skin-colored gown or adhesive tab, however, and their skin uniformly changes slightly more blue, the initially ‘invisible’ gown or tab will appear bright and yellow to the observer.”

Eugene Deslaw's La Marche des Machines is finally online, which is well and good, but when is someone going to post Vers Les Robots? I've been wanting to use it at the end of FHB for years.

While we're waiting: An imploding stadium, viewed from within. Photos by Zoltán Vancsó. Vintage Olivetti ads. Paintings by Alan Reynolds (via wood s lot). Tiles and corbels and fonts...oh my! An Iconography of Contagion. And photos of Sweden by Carl Curman.

Belize radio. The Ant Nebula. An infrasonic soundscape of Manhattan, "which articulates an idea of New York City becoming an instrument and a sonic geographical browser by mapping the city with the ambient sounds." Photos by Katrien Franklin. And paintings by Carrie Marrill.

The James Koetting Ghana Field Recording Collection
. China's hanging coffins. An underground church and other doors to other worlds. A little thought experiment (via wood s lot). Around the world in 80 seconds. And photos of storms by Mitch Dobrowner.

Last, here's an informative film clip for you.

(Image at top by Sohan Qadri, via but does it float.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reasonable Suspicion

Good news, folks! George Will likes the new racial-profiling law in Arizona. And really, what's not to like? It won't affect normal people, nor will it affect legal immigrants except inasmuch as they may have to show identification papers to prove that they're not unassimilable Untermenschen who are rotting this country from within.

That could be slightly inconvenient if you're in a hurry, I suppose, or if it happens several times a week. But apart from that, the innocent have very little to fear. If they don't like it, they can go to Russia.

Will says the federal government has no right to criticize Arizona's law, since it's the federal government's fault that Arizona has a problem with filthy stinking Mexicans illegal immigrants in the first place.

He's right, of course. Obama could have dug a border moat a mile wide and a mile deep, filled it with Candiru, surrounded it with minefields, and patrolled it with drones bearing thermobaric warheads. But he dropped the ball. And as everyone knows, if Washington DC fails to resolve a state's problems in an emotionally satisfying way, that state is constitutionally allowed — nay, obligated — to pursue brutally stupid pseudo-solutions cribbed from authoritarian dystopias.

Thus, one mustn't view the Arizona law as "presumptively unconstitutional" just because one of the things that constitutes "reasonable suspicion" of non-citizenship is the color of a person's skin. After all, airport screeners pass their wands over white people, even though white people are generally good-natured and harmless. It's precisely this national commitment to fair play that will restrain Arizona's police from abusing their powers any more than they already do.

Besides, there are so many "Hispanics" in Arizona that there's no way the police could harass all of them; they'll naturally be forced to pick and choose. Therefore, they're far more likely to pick up the bad Hispanics who steal and rape and spread leprosy than the good useful Hispanics who mow our lawns and wash our dishes. That's just common sense!

Joking aside, I firmly believe that in any given year, the WaPo's op-ed page does much more damage to this country, and displays much more contempt for its laws, than undocumented immigrants.

(Illustration via Phronesisaical.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Greater Scheme of Things

NRO's Jim Manzi has dared to give aid and comfort to the Warming Cult (and not for the first time, either). Since modern conservatarianism has pretty much dispensed with all emotions but anger and self-pity, Manzi's remarks have naturally been met with a heapin' helpin' of both.

Andy McCarthy has written a response to Manzi, and it's nothing if not illuminating. Loyalty seems to be the main issue: The denialists may be fools, but they're our fools. If you hold them to the same standards you apply to the Left, you lose. And if you lose, you're nobody and nothing.

Then there's the issue of AGW, and whether it's true even though it has no right to be.

As for your dilation on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), I don’t write much about the subject. I haven't taken the time to study it, as you have. But I have read enough to roll my eyes at most of the public debate.
Dude, I can totally relate. I don't know much about accretion-powered pulsars. But I once heard this goddamn egghead say something about 'em, and it wasn't so much what he said as the way he said it, with that smug look people like him get when they say stuff like that to people like me. If I'd gone to some Brainiac School and gotten into this guy's field I probably would've proved him wrong by now. And yet he's lecturing me on accretion-powered pulsars? Fuck that noise. I know plenty about gravity. Hell, I once heaved a 63-2 in the junior college decathlon. I'd like to see Faggy McPulsarson try that.

Anyhow, Manzi's a jerk not just for "dilating" on the subject of his own essay, but also for being comparatively well-informed about it. McCarthy trusts his gut, like all honest men, and his gut informs him that AGW ain't strictly on the level.
From the premise that AGW is undeniable, the alarmist side leaps to the extravagant conclusion that we are therefore capable of, and obliged to, do something meaningful about it.
To put it another way: How can you say that I'm not engaging with the alarmists' arguments, when I've just referred to them as "alarmists"?

The only appropriate response to AGW is to drop "an atom bomb of derision" on anyone who suggests that it could very well be a serious problem. This is so self-evident to McCarthy that one can almost empathize with his pain at having to explain it to a colleague.

Imagine that you've spent years working shoulder to shoulder with a comrade at the agricultural collective, and one fine day he claims that Stalin didn't actually invent the tractor. He's wrong, he's a liar, he's betrayed the Revolution...and yet, you can't help weeping, even as you denounce him to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. For there was a time when you loved him as a brother.

Next, McCarthy describes the AGW debate in terms so simple that even he can understand them. Alarmists say that over time, lots of little things can add up to big things. Skeptics acknowledge this provisionally, while pointing out that they don't care because "denying it makes sense in the greater scheme of things."

And these are the thanks they get:
[T]he alarmists deride the skeptics over their denial as if they were denying something as basic and incontestable as that two plus two equals four.
In reality, they're simply denying that it matters whether 0.0002 and 0.0002 equals 0.0004. That's a whole different thing, as you can tell from all those zeroes.
[T]he skeptics continue denying — even if they are wrong in absolute terms — because they fear alarmists have set the table in such a way that to concede the premise is to concede the draconian remedies alarmists have in mind.
Whether they're absolutely wrong or absolutely right, you have to admit that what they say makes a lot of sense. And isn't that what matters most, when you stop to think about it without thinking about it too much?
I would say that, given our finite capabilities and the shortness of life, AGW may not be a problem at all, and, if it is a problem, it is not urgent enough to obsess over.
McCarthy himself concedes that he doesn't believe this because he's "taken time to study" the science. He believes it because it's the proper thing to believe, even — or especially — if it's "wrong in absolute terms." That, amazingly, is his response to Manzi's claim that people on the Right have been displaying an "unwillingness to confront the strongest evidence or arguments contrary to [their] own beliefs."

Perhaps because he senses some problem with this line of reasoning, McCarthy quickly retreats to the epistemological bedrock of Islamofascism: There's no point worrying about the climate when we're in "a global war against jihadists whose mass-murder attacks — and their catastrophic costs — are impossible to predict."

Apparently, uncertainty is sometimes a threat, rather than a comfort.

Please don't conclude from all this that McCarthy is an ineducable zealot. As it happens, he can imagine — just barely — a situation in which it would be quite reasonable to take action on AGW. For instance, suppose Modern Science were able to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that:
  1. There's a real problem

  2. It's more dangerous, at this very moment, than Islamic Terror™

  3. It can be solved without doing things of which McCarthy disapproves, like regulating industry

  4. Scientists aren't just making the whole thing up in order to hasten the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

  5. No relevant scientist has any conceivable financial interest in the outcome of the debate
In that case, McCarthy would immediately stop being a skeptic, as long as no other excuses for skepticism had come up in the meantime (e.g., news that a leading climatologist had rented a DVD of Avatar, or dined on arugula).

Please note that this is not evidence of bias: he applies exactly the same standards to skeptical scientists like Richard Lindzen (except for #5, which only applies to anti-capitalist greedheads like Al Gore, natch).

That's fair if anything is, so let's have no more of this alarmist talk about "epistemic closure." After all, it may never happen!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

The bride has adorned herself with stars,
The pure myrtle
Which bends over the adoring countenance of the dead.

Full of blossoming shiver
The blue coat of Chromodoris loringi finally embraces you.

(Photo by doug.deep.)

Friday Hope Blogging

An Arkansas circuit judge has struck down a state law that prohibits unmarried couples from adopting children:

Act 1 unconstitutionally burdens non-marital relationships and acts of sexual intimacy between adults by forcing them to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in a lawsuit challenging the initiative voters approved in 2008.
Obama is speaking out against Arizona's demented racial profiling law:

“Our failure to act responsibly at the Federal level will only open the door to irresponsiblity by others,” Obama said. “That includes for example the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Obama added that his administration could join the fight. “I’ve instructed members of my admininstration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation,” he said, adding that it was “misguided.”

Plans to develop a wildlife preserve in Southern California have been scrapped:
As a result of a legal settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a 1,100-acre wildlife preserve in western Riverside County will once again be protected from industrial development. The settlement resolves a dispute surrounding the approval for large-scale development on the March Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Preserve – home to numerous imperiled species, including the endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat. Not only will the land be returned to the preserve, but under the terms of the settlement agreement, any future proposals to release the area for development must undergo strict environmental review.
National Geographic has video footage of a new microbial sea species, discovered as part of the Census of Marine Life:
[T]here was one sampling area in the South Atlantic that sampled an area about the size of a small bathroom. And found 700 species of just crustaceans, most of which were new to science.
Scientists have found 123 new species in Borneo:

"You have some iconic small species which are very interesting to talk about but perhaps it's the plants that are tremendously important in terms of potential future cures," said David Norman, director of campaigns for the WWF.

"About half of all synthetic drugs have a natural origin -- these are commercial drugs based on plants and sometimes animals. So we can't afford to lose species," he said.

Other interesting new species have been found off the coast of Greenland.

Efforts to control invasive species in the Galapagos seem to be working:

In fall 2009, entomologist Mark Hoddle, the director of the Center for Invasive Species at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues visited the Galapagos Islands to assess the impact and safety of the lady bug beetle that had been released in 2002 to suppress the cottony cushion scale.

"Pest numbers have been reduced by more than 99 percent on some native plants like mangroves, which were very susceptible to attack by cottony cushion scale," Hoddle said. "While from other rarer native plants, like Darwiniothamnus tenuifolius, the pest appears to have been completely removed."

A new collaborative site called iFixit helps people repairs electronics and other gadgetry that might otherwise wind up in a landfill:
As iFixit states, "The internet sucks at providing repair information. It either doesn't exist, or it's spam-ridden, disorganized, or there's no feedback loop to find out if the information is good. At the same time, there is massive pent-up expertise in enthusiast forums where people are posting detailed information about repairs they've done. We are providing a platform for those people to share what they know, and to come together to build a resource that humanity desperately needs."
Albania is repurposing its military bunkers:
[S]ome have become eco-hostels, complete with bedroom views from parapets; others now serve as US-style hamburger joints (perhaps the ultimate symbol of capitalist consumerism), or as ice cream shops on sandy beaches. The changes are undeniably positive and provide an exemplary instance of how the concept of ‘recycling’ might extend beyond the merely functional, into the deepest reaches of collective cultural memory and identity - through its physical landscape, Albania is recycling the memories of a sinister past, into a fresh future with new purpose.

There's talk of turning suburbs into agricultural centers:
In cities, agriculture might be able to take the place of vacant lots. And in suburbia? Well, in 2008, the New Urbanism evangelist Andrés Duany, of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), architects and town planners, proclaimed that "agriculture is the new golf," a prescient and deliberately provocative claim that is helping frame the conversation about suburbia's future. "Only 17 percent of people living in golf-course communities play golf more than once a year. Why not grow food?"
Meanwhile, black organic farmers are helping to address the problem of food deserts:
Many of the farmers, descendants of blacks who fled sharecropping and segregation during the Great Migration, now sell victuals at farmers markets that are becoming fixtures in black neighborhoods. The farmers also sell to food co-ops in the same areas. Some supply produce to black-owned (and other) restaurants, as well as well-known natural food supermarkets.
And in Durham, NC, tobacco fields have given way to food crops:
Spring is just blowing into the Triangle, bringing strawberries, mushrooms and the first Sugar Snack carrots and small white turnips. “We’re raising things I never would have dreamed of,” said Michael Brinkley, a farmer whose family farm in nearby Creedmoor produced up to 60 acres of tobacco until about five years ago, when the Brinkleys shifted entirely to produce.
And in Africa, traditional land-management techniques are being used to re-green the Sahel:
One inexpensive method of farming that helps to restore the Sahel’s degraded land is so-called Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) (see also Millions Fed: “Re-Greening the Sahel: Farmer-led Innovation in Burkina Faso and Niger”). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs, farmers can promote forest growth and take advantage of a naturally occurring source of fuel, food, or animal fodder.

The trees produce fruit rich in nutrients and help to restore the soil by releasing nitrogen and protecting the ground from erosion by wind and rain. The cultivated but naturally occurring forest also creates a local source of firewood and mulch, reducing the time spent in gathering fuel for cooking meals and cleaning households (see Reducing the Things They Carry). The practice also cuts down on deforestation as the trees that are used for fuel are replaced with seedlings and tended by farmers.

The CDC has released a report detailing the effects of community design on public health:
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), created with input from ASLA, illustrates the importance of considering public-health factors, such as physical activity, respiratory and mental health, water quality, social equity, healthy aging, and social capital, when creating the built environment.

The report includes case studies that illustrate best practices in healthy community design, and it recommends action steps to advance healthy community design principles.
You can read it here, if you're interested.

An Oklahoma appeals court has announced that it will not reconsider its ruling that elements of an Oklahoma anti-immigrant law are legally unenforceable:
The decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a blow to state officials and other advocates of House Bill 1804, the anti-illegal immigration law passed in 2007....

The case now will go back to U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron in Oklahoma City to decide whether she will turn her 2008 preliminary injunction against the law into a permanent injunction.

In related news, immigrants hold one-third of America's doctorates:
Immigrants, who account for a disproportionate share of Americans without a high school diploma, also made up nearly one-third of Americans with doctoral degrees in 2009 — a sharp increase compared with five years earlier, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
Speaking of education, a 30-day comment period is underway for the bizarre textbook changes approved by the Texas State Board of Education. All American citizens are eligible to comment. Click here for more details.

A US industry group claims that solar power created 17,000 jobs in 2009:
[I]nstallations generating 441 Megawatts of power were put up, manufacturing costs went down, the industry attracted $1.4 billion worth of investment in venture capital, and the industry grew 17,000 American jobs.
Another solar group is petitioning Obama to put solar panels back on the White House. You can add your name here.

Google is providing data on the information requests it receives from world governments:

Google's new tool displays the number of "user requests" that Google received from various governments from July to December 2009. According to the tool, the company received thousands of such requests from the U.S. government during that period — thousands of requests digging into the intimate details of individual lives that are captured in emails, search histories, reading and viewing logs, and the like. And if Google is receiving thousands of requests every six months, how many more are going out to Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and the thousands of other online services that we use every day?

Apparently, the iPhone is proving helpful to people with dyslexia, by allowing them to read books onscreen:
John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust explains that the iphone has more space between lines and presents fewer words at a time, which eases the crowding effect that creates confusion for people with dyslexia.
Ontario is banning toilets that waste water:

Water-guzzlers with tanks that use 13 litres for one flush will be outlawed in the province this summer....

Ontario’s per capita water consumption is one of the highest in the world. Each person uses 260 litres a day.
And an effort is underway to retrieve tons of garbage from the top of Mount Everest.

Problems remain with waste on the upper reaches of Everest, but climbing groups are stepping up efforts to clean house. Several expeditions in recent years have recovered thousands of pounds of trash from the higher, more dangerous Everest camps. And this spring, a 31-member Nepalese-led expedition will attempt to gather two metric tons of trash from the highest reaches of Everest – the notorious “death zone” above 26,000 feet – a historical first.

Things to do today: Support Akvo. Visit the Archigram Archive. Read The Single Mother's Manifesto. Wander through a Desolate Metropolis. And marvel at the first photos from NASA'S Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Comic Book Cartography. The lost state of Jefferson. A helpful list of state microbes, fossils, minerals, and macroinvertebrates. A helpful Lowden Plan calculator that converts dollars to chickens. Glass cinema slides. A WWII pseudo-dictionary for saboteurs. And x-rays of flowers.

Motel postcards and plenty of 'em (via Coudal). Memory of the World. Lightning on Saturn. Lightning on earth. Images of pollen. Illustrations by Edward Ardizzone (via things). And via wood s lot, linocuts by Cyril Power.

And here's a movie, too:

(Image at top: "Broken Egg and Summer Landscape" by John Olsen.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Whole Situation

Danger Room interviews an American soldier who tried to save a pair of Iraqi children after their father's van was shelled by an Apache helicopter.

If you read it — and you should — you'll understand why he began to feel, later, that he was in danger of losing his sanity.

Here's what happened when he tried to get help:

I was pretty distraught over the whole situation with the children. So I went to a sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things....I was told that I needed to get the sand out of my vagina.
In unrelated news, the Oklahoma Senate has passed five new anti-choice bills, including one that requires women to undergo an invasive form of ultrasound.

I guess they must really love children.

Utopian Dreams

Robert H. Nelson puts on his thinkin' cap, adjusts the chin-straps, spins the little propeller on top, and delivers himself of the opinion that environmentalism is a Religion Without God.

Where does that leave conventionally religious people who happen to be environmentalists (or some reasonable facsimile thereof)? Under the rug, where they belong! Earth Day is celebrated, Nelson claims, by more than a billion people in 190 countries. Presumably, some of them see their environmental interests as compatible with some conventional religious viewpoint, while others are committed atheists who simply think it's stupid to mow down forests to make disposable chopsticks.

But so what? Let's just go ahead and treat 'em all as irrational cultists who are responding to the ontotheological crisis of [blah blah blah] with a postmodern neo-primitive embrace of [yadda yadda yadda fap fap fap].

Environmentalists see humans engaged in acts of vast hubris, remaking the future ecosystems of the Earth. By playing “God” with the Earth, humans seek to become as God themselves.

The Bible’s book of Deuteronomy reveals dire consequences for those who try to “play God.” We learn that God will strike down sinners who “worship other gods,” causing them to suffer “infections, plague and war. He will blight your crops, covering them with mildew. All these devastations shall pursue you until you perish.”

It is no mere coincidence that contemporary environmentalism prophesies virtually the same set of calamities resulting from the warming of the earth — rising seas, famine, drought, pestilence, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
I suppose it isn't a coincidence, inasmuch as we still have crops and oceans and diseases and weather, just like folks did back in the Bible Days. But the thing is, the fact that the Bible addresses human concerns does not make all latter-day expressions of those concerns Biblical. I could just as easily claim that seismic building codes prophesy "virtually the same calamities" that befell the Three Little Pigs, and interpret them as a veiled belief in the Big Bad Wolf.

If you think that's a stretch, too fucking bad. You can't argue with analogy!
Thus the Endangered Species Act is the new Noah’s Ark; genuinely wild places are the new cathedrals to find spiritual inspiration; Earth Day is the new Easter.
This is due to the pernicious worldwide influence of Calvinism, as anyone can tell from the fact that Nelson says so, duh.
While the language is now different, environmentalists today, no less than the Calvinists of old, see “excessive” consumption — the constant demand for bigger and better, more and more — as a threat to the Earth’s future.
Hail the new puritan! What is Portland, Oregon but a new Geneva, and Randal O'Toole its Servetus? If you doubt this, consider the fact that Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion says God “revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe." Game, set, and match, ya goddamn treehugging reformist supralapsarians!

Just to make matters worse, these Neo-Calvinist Gaiabots present their religious delusions as fact, and insist that they be allowed to influence public policy, which is not how we do things in America. And besides:
Success in stirring powerful religious feelings about the environment does not automatically lead to wise and effective policies.
Which is a shame, because the environment does matter, to an extent: no one wants to see the Grand Canyon filled with garbage unless it's absolutely necessary. Where environmentalists err, as always, is in trying to force us all to eat acorn mash by candlelight in cruelty-free yurts.
When environmental religion seeks a return to an earlier primitive and natural existence, it is embracing utopian dreams that easily can pose a danger to man and earth alike.
So, to recap: Earth Day = religion without God = Calvinism = a primitivist utopia = no more toilet paper, electricity, or dental anesthesia. And don't say it'll never happen, 'cause what if it did?

Now let us purge our minds of these ancient superstitions, and speak calmly of money.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

President Obama has directed federally subsidized hospitals to give gay visitation rights to the gay partners of gay patients who have chosen the gay lifestyle.

Hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid payments must let patients choose which persons, including gay and lesbian partners, can visit them and help make critical health decisions, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

Gay rights advocates hailed the move as a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans....

The designated visitors should have the same rights that immediate family members now enjoy, Obama's instructions said. It said Medicare-Medicaid hospitals, which include most of the nation's facilities, may not deny visitation and consultation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Schools in Mississippi have been ordered to desegregate (what year is it, again?).

A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county's only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

Fewer women are dying in childbirth:

The rate at which women die in childbirth or soon after delivery has fallen by about 40 percent since 1980, with dramatic reductions in the populous nations of India, China, Brazil and Egypt.

H/t: Cheryl. (Feministing offers some caveats.)

A federal judge has ruled that the "National Day of Prayer" is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.

"In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," Crabb wrote.

This, of course, is typical anti-Christian hate speech from the oppressive secular mainstream. It's time to lock and load, metaphorically speaking, wink wink, you betcha!

In yet another attack on the cherished traditions of our Founding Fathers, agricultural researchers seem to have found a way of preserving table grapes without the use of sulfur dioxide:
[T]he hot water treatment resulted in significantly higher oxygen retention and lower carbon dioxide accumulation in packages, firmer texture, higher overall visual quality, lower decay rate, and lower microbial populations than other treatments or commercially packed grapes.
And yet another inquiry has cleared Phil Jones and CRU of wrongdoing:
"We were absolutely satisfied that these people were doing their job fairly and honestly," Lord Oxburgh, the head of the inquiry, said yesterday as reported by The Independent. "As far as we could see all of the conclusions were honestly and sensibly arrived at. We had no reason to question the conclusions, we had no reason to believe that they were reached by dishonest means."

By clearing the climatologists, the inquiries have also cleared decades of work on the science of climate change. However the panel did state that it would like to see better techniques used to analyze statistical data, though it added that such techniques would not have changed the researchers' overall findings.
Meanwhile, America's major-league baseball teams are promoting climate action:

America’s national pastime is leading the way on climate action by adopting a comprehensive conservation and greenhouse gas-reducing program, including a public outreach component at National League and American League ballparks this summer. The new sustainability drive involves all 30 Major League Baseball teams from coast to coast, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Brazil has suspended its preliminary license for the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon rainforest.

Judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo also cancelled the construction auction for the project scheduled for April 20 and ruled that IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, refrain from issuing a new license for the project.

"It remains proven, unequivocally, that Belo Monte's plant will exploit the hydroelectric potential of areas occupied by Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the construction and development of the project," wrote the judge in the decision.
According to a new report by the UNDP, economic growth has little to do with human development and quality of life:
Times of India has gotten ahold of an as-yet-unreleased report, produced for the 20th anniversary Human Development Report, which shows that between 1970-2005 economic growth had little do to with increases in human development....

Furthermore, the paper found that empowerment of women broadly and household-level decisions about family planning and female schooling were strong drivers of increases in human development over time.

The SEC has brought civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs:
The agency alleges Goldman failed to disclose that one of its clients helped create — and then bet against — subprime mortgage securities that Goldman sold to investors.

Investors in the mortgage securities are alleged to have lost more than $1 billion, the SEC noted. The agency is seeking to recoup profits reaped on the deal.

Russia no longer produces weapons-grade plutonium:
The last Russian plutonium production reactor, ADE-2 at Zheleznogorsk, was shut down on April 15, 2010 at noon local time (04:00 UTC) as planned. This event marks the end of production of weapon-grade fissile materials in Russia.
Another h/t to Cheryl, who notes that "this is a particularly big deal, because many of Russia's production reactors also supplied electricity and hot water to local communities. So in order to end production of plutonium, they had to build alternative power plants for those communities."

She's also excited about the Nuclear Security Summit:
Shoutout to South Africa for giving up its nukes all by itself! And lookee here! Ukraine will give up its stockpile of enriched uranium! Canada too! Georgia has broken a uranium-smuggling ring!
There's lots more, so read the whole thing.

The geothermal power industry is growing:
In 2009, 188 new projects have been started which could together produce as much as 7875 MW of energy. These projects could potentially provide electricity for 7.6 million people, or enough energy to completely replace California’s coal-fired plants. “California could achieve its 2020 goal for global warming emissions reductions just by keeping energy demand level and replacing its coal-fired generation with geothermal,” said Karl Garwell, GEA’s Executive Director.
Who among us does not love solar-powered airships?
The High Speed Solar Airship (HSSA) is a high-flying airship concept that proposes using thin-film solar panels and other off-the-shelf components to create a cost-competitive, high speed vessel for cargo hauling. The airship has no fuel costs, since it uses 67.2 kW of solar panels, and it capitalizes on the fast winds of the Jet Stream to boost speeds on with west-to-east transport — flying at 30,000 feet, the airship could reach daytime speeds of 182 MPH and even continue flying at night with a speed of 165 MPH.
Image via Airships

Chesapeake Bay's population of blue crabs is rebounding:

The Chesapeake's blue crabs, in decline for a decade, are in the middle of an extraordinary comeback, officials in Maryland and Virginia said Wednesday. The estuary's crab population has more than doubled in two years, they said, reaching its highest level since 1997....

"Something like this is really rare to see in marine fisheries . . . to go from the situation where the crab had been over-fished and nearing possible collapse, to a point where it is now being sustainably fished," said Rom Lipcius, a marine scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

An inexpensive suction device may speed wound healing in the developing world:
MIT student Danielle Zurovcik recently developed a negative pressure pump that costs just $3 to build.

Zurovcik’s hand-powered suction-healing system is easy to use: just squeeze it and leave it in place on the wound. The plastic molded pump is connected to the underside of the wound dressing by a plastic tube. Zurovcik’s system can hold steady for days, so users don’t have to worry about it falling off. And while the device is somewhat clunky in its current incarnation, Zurovcik is already working on a pocket-sized version that can be concealed under clothing.
An American nonprofit is promoting straw bale construction as a means of reducing earthquake fatalities in rural areas.

Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building is a nonprofit working at developing durable buildings that can be built with local resources, little money and stay safe during devastating earthquakes like the 2005 7.5 quake in Kashmir....

The 25 ft by 25 ft buildings cost a mere $2250 for materials — what many of us are willing to pay for countertops. Currently they have finished 11 buildings that are energy-efficient, safe, and very low impact.

Target is opening recycling centers at all of its stores.
The recycling stations will accept aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers, plastic bags, MP3 players, cell phones and ink cartridges.
IBM will require its suppliers to create environmental management systems:
I.B.M. said on Wednesday that it will require its 28,000 suppliers in more than 90 countries to install management systems to gather data on their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste and recycling.

Those companies in turn must ask their subcontractors to do the same if their products or services end up as a significant part of I.B.M.’s $40 billion global supply chain. The suppliers must also set environmental goals and make public their progress in meeting those objectives.

Massey Energy shareholders are calling for Don Blankenship to be fired:

Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, whose record of ignoring safety violations in has come under fierce scrutiny after the tragedy in his West Virginia Upper Big Branch mine left 29 dead. That mine itself had racked up 57 safety violations the same month the accident occurred, and had thousands more prior. Meanwhile, Blankenship has a long history of putting profits before safety, and has publicly declared this to be the case on a number of occasions--now, in light of recent evidence, shareholders of Massey Energy are calling for the company to fire him.

Caribbean countries will no longer permit ocean dumping:
Countries in the Caribbean have agreed to bar the dumping of all garbage at sea, ending rules that allow the disposal of metal, glass and other refuse a short distance from shore and almost any trash farther out....

"It's a big deal," said [Jeff] Ramos, a U.S. Coast Guard commander based on the Dutch island of Curacao near Venezuela. "Especially in the Caribbean, with all the tankers and the traffic going to the Panama Canal, it will make a big impact."
This is pretty remarkable:
Nine-year-old Morgan LaRue is the first cancer patient in Texas to benefit from a groundbreaking procedure that will magnetically lengthen her leg, sparing her the possibility of up to 10 future surgeries as her body grows.
A clever new iPhone app uses geotagging to alert city governments about problems that need fixing.
For now, CitySourced is limited to these neighborhood blight/maintenence issues like potholes and graffiti. You can report a "homeless encampment" but you can't report the problem of homelessness, or a lack of bike lanes on city streets. But it can only lead to more civic engagement and create a closer connection between voters and their representatives and that's certainly a big step in the right direction.
The only known copy of a 1913 film about Abraham Lincoln has been found and restored:

[A] contractor cleaning out an old New Hampshire barn destined for demolition found seven reels of nitrate film inside, including the only known copy of a 1913 silent film about Abraham Lincoln....

After working with the George Eastman House film preservation museum in Rochester, New York, the college determined that the film, directed by and starring Francis Ford, did not exist in film archives. In fact, it was one of eight silent films starring Ford as Lincoln; there are no known surviving copies of the others.

(h/t: ErinPDX.)

While we're at it: Photos of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption. A collection of Polish candy wrappers. Hard-boiled cartography. A paper astrolabe. The Right to Quiet Society. A close-up view of creeping speedwell. And Flickr's This is a Public Service Announcement pool.

SepiaTown "lets you view and share thousands of mapped historical images from around the globe" (via things). The world's oldest organisms. Shadows of clouds. Notes on the autofluorescence of old dry mounts of snail radulae. Photos by Jessica Lauren Taylor. Photos by Peter Ziebel. And an exhibition of photomicroscopy.

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet (via Peacay). AntWeb. Old photos of East Tennessee (via things). The post-apocalyptic Kremlin. Book covers by George Salter. Photos of Peru by Michael Hanson. The Archaeogeography Photoblogging Collective. A gallery of casino carpets. And images from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection.

Last, here's a film of the meteor seen recently in the Midwest.

(Photo at top: "Up close, the solar surface is a striking patch work of granules in this very high resolution picture of the quiet Sun. Caused by convection, the granules are hot, rising columns of plasma edged by dark lanes of cooler, descending plasma. But the high-resolution view reveals that the dark lanes are dotted with many small, contrasting bright points. Constantly present on the solar surface, the bright points do not seem to be related to sunspots that come and go with the magnetic solar cycle. Nonetheless, the bright points are regions of concentrated magnetic fields and are bright because the magnetic pressure opens a window to hotter deeper layers below the photosphere. For scale, the white bar at the lower left corresponds to 5,000 kilometers across the Sun's surface. The sharp, narrow-band image was recorded in September, 2007 using the Swedish Solar Telescope on the astronomical island of La Palma." Via NASA.)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Women in Afghanistan are attending secret literacy classes:

[T]he man behind the covert schools said they have reached 29 villages and around 450 students. Ehsanullah Ehsan has devoted his life to educating women in some of the most culturally conservative places on earth....

"It was crazy. It was painful to me," he said. "I always saw that – why do women have to wear burqa, not men? Why do women have to be treated so inhumanly? My mother was the one who loved me most. It was my mother who nursed me. Why alienate half of humankind? So, I thought, I have to do what I can do."

Austin, TX has passed a law that will require Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) to post notices that they do not offer abortion services:

Austin is the second city to require such notices. The city of Baltimore passed such an ordinance last December. (For those curious what the required signs in Baltimore look like, an image of them can be seen here.) Many think that the ordinances have become necessary due to the misleading practices of many crisis pregnancy centers which have, in documented cases, mislead women into thinking they provide medical services and often provide outright incorrect information about abortion and birth control.

The Philippine Supreme Court has recognized a national gay rights group as a legitimate political party:
Voting 13-2, the court threw out decisions by the Elections Commission denying accreditation to Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet) on grounds that it tolerates immorality and offends Christians and Muslims.

The justices said the party had complied with all legal requirements, and that there is no law against homosexuality.

Baltimore has come up with an innovative solution to the problem of food deserts:
Residents of two Baltimore neighborhoods that lack supermarkets will soon be able to order their groceries through a free delivery system that operates with the click of a mouse from the library.

The new Virtual Supermarket Project, city officials' latest attempt to solve Baltimore's long-standing history of neighborhoods with little access to healthful foods, offers laptops where residents can order groceries online from Santoni's Super Market in Highlandtown and pick them up the next day at the Orleans Street or Washington Village library branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The libraries are in East and West Baltimore's biggest "food deserts," areas targeted by the Health Department for their scarcity of grocery stores and nutritious food options.
A species of lemur that was thought to be extinct has been rediscovered:
Sibree's Dwarf Lemur was first described in 1896 but never studied during the 20th century. Over time, destruction of its native habitat led some to believe it might be extinct, until Mitchell Irwin of McGill University observed dwarf lemurs at Tsinjoarivo, in Eastern Madagascar, in 2001. Subsequent genetic analysis by Linn Groeneveld of the German Primate Center found the lemurs to be the long-lost Sibree's Dwarf Lemur.

Photo: McGill University
The California Public Utilities Commission has directed PG&E to stop threatening public power agencies:

Commissioners adopted a resolution telling PG&E and the state's other utilities that they cannot refuse to supply electricity to "community choice aggregators," a new type of public power agency being set up in Marin County and San Francisco. Marin's agency will start delivering electricity to its first customers on May 7, and San Francisco officials hope to follow suit soon after.

San Francisco is launching the nation's largest green loan program:

The advantages to the program are twofold: residents don’t have to pay for green improvements upfront, and they don’t have to continue paying for, say, solar panels if they move. Since the loans stay with the property, whoever owns the building continues to pay for improvements.

San Francico’s list of eligible projects is extensive, to say the least. Potential upgrades include geothermal heating pumps, solar panels, low-flow showerheads, greywater irrigation systems, green roofs, air filtration systems, and more.
Inhabitat discusses solar origami:

Standard flat solar panels are only optimized to capture sunlight at one point of the sun’s trajectory — otherwise they need automated tracking systems to follow the sun. MIT power engineering professor Jeffrey Grossman has found an artful answer to this planar problem — the ancient art of origami! Grossman found that folded solar cell systems could produce constant power throughout the day and didn’t need tracking. His new designs are up to two and a half times more efficient per comparative length and width than traditional flat arrays.

GE claims to have come up with a better LED bulb:
GE’s new bulb, the Energy Smart® LED bulb, will distribute light in all directions (just like the soon to-be-phased-out incandescent bulb, meaning in all directions) instead of just one. The light will also consume 9-W of energy and last for 17 years, which is 25 times longer than a 40-W incandescent bulb and three times longer than a normal CFL.
And Hitachi claims to have come up with a better lithium-ion battery:

In news that could affect everyone from laptop users to electric car drivers, Hitachi announced this week that it has figured out a way to double the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries — the batteries found inside virtually all of our energy-intensive electronics. According to Hitachi, that means their lithium-ion batteries can last up to 10 years without needing to be replaced.

Hitachi’s new batteries won’t initially find their way into our iPods, however. First, the electronics manufacturer plans to focus on grid-scale storage — i.e. solar or wind power storage. If Hitachi’s upgraded li-ion batteries are affordable and reliable enough, they could allow utilities to increase the amount of renewable but intermittent energy on the grid.

The US Energy Star program will allegedly be overhauled and improved:

It turns out that the issues with Energy Star are so systemic that the energy efficiency certification program may require a significant overhaul. The main change that Collins is proposing is to move the program toward third-party independent testing and certification instead of the self-policing that has been taking place thus far – a system that clearly is not working out.

St. Louis has approved a new tax to improve its transit system, just like Uncle Joe Stalin did when he decided to build the Belomorkanal.
In another vote of confidence for quality mass transit, St. Louis voters have overwhelmingly approved a measure that will raise the sales tax "to stabilize and eventually expand" its transportation network, according to Grist. The local Tea Party movement was ardently against the measure, and threw its weight behind defeating it. And then . . . . . . St. Louis voters approved the measure anyways--by an overwhelming margin of 24 points--establishing a half cent sales tax increase to fund the Metrolink public transit system.
Mission accomplished FUBO and ACORN!!!11 RIP America, 1767-2010.

Speaking of which, an op-ed in The Lancet calls for a global healthcare fund:

The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has shown that one can pool different streams of international assistance into one stable and reliable aid source. Why don't we broaden the mandate of the Global Fund to all elements of a comprehensive primary health care, into a World Social Health Insurance fund, to which every country contributes according to its means, and receives according to its needs? The receiving countries would no longer have to shuffle money around or adapt unpredictable charity to what they perceive as their real needs.

Supposedly, this Neo-Communist Manifesto was written by scientists from the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp. But after checking the kerning and analyzing the syntax, I'm convinced that it was written by Bill Ayers while high on crack that Barack Obama sold to him while high on meth, exactly as predicted in Revelation 13:13.

Living animals have been found in a marine dead zone:
You're likely familiar with the ever-growing marine dead zones, areas in the ocean where no life was believed possible due to depleting oxygen levels. But in a truly startling discovery, scientists have stumbled upon the first animal that can survive without oxygen -- a feat that until now was only possible in bacteria. This has a number of implications: both regarding the possibility that life may yet adapt to more severe conditions on earth, and on whether life is possible on other oxygen-free planets -- and may be more abundant than we thought.
An endangered penguin chick has hatched at the Seattle Zoo:

"This hatching is significant for the penguin Species Survival Plan," said Mark Myers, a Woodland Park Zoo curator who specializes in birds. "Humboldt penguins are an endangered species and here at the zoo these birds are important conservation ambassadors to teach visitors about the impacts humans have on penguins in their range countries."

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Guinea worm is close to being eradicated:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has led a 20-year campaign to eradicate Guinea worm, a parasite that has plagued humans since biblical times.

"We will not stop the efforts of the Carter Center until there are no cases of Guinea worm left in southern Sudan or Ghana or Mali or Ethiopia. That's the only places where we have a few cases left.

"We have been working on it now for more than 20 years. We have reduced it, the incidents, from more than 2.5 million cases down to about 2,500 cases in the whole world."
The US and Russia have finalized an agreement on plutonium disposal:
The new protocol amends an agreement signed by then-Vice President Al Gore and the Russian leadership in 2000 under which the two countries pledged to get rid of 34 tons of plutonium each. The material came from weapons that had been decommissioned.
Via CKR, who notes that "not being able to agree on this is one of the dumb things that was exacerbated by George Bush's bellicosity."

Spring on Mars. The game of Hell (via Neatorama). Old photos of Gorky Park. The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus. The Sunrise Project. And via Coudal, some vintage Russian board games. This one (which seems like it could be related to the bizarre silent serial Miss Mend) looks fun and educational:

Connecticut sketches and speculative subways. Drawings by a robot. Photos by Tom Fowlks. A collection of graphics from satirical journals. And the 1870 Statistical Map of the United States, based on data from the 9th Census.

Found Fotos. Miscellaneous graphics by Alvin Lustig. Photographs by Homer L. Shantz. The first lasers. Wartime food posters. The exciting story of Wire for Sound. An informative blog on Pathological Geomorphology (via Peacay). The eldritch horror of Kaprekar's Constant. And the Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll.

Also, this.

(Photo at top by John Stetson.)