Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Hope Blogging

The Obama administration will no longer defend the constitutionality of denying veterans' benefits to same-sex couples:

The Obama Justice Department has concluded that legislation banning same-sex couples from receiving military and veterans benefits violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment and will no longer defend the statute in court, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders on Friday.

“The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” Holder wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that would warrant treating these provisions differently from Section 3 of DOMA.”

Teen pregnancy rates are down, no thanks to aspirin:
In 2008, the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in more than 30 years (67.8), down 42% from its peak in 1990 (116.9). Among women younger than 15, the pregnancy rate fell even more in that period (62%), from 17.5 to 6.6 per 1,000.
Things We Used to Know, Chapter MCXLIV:
Quality public schools benefit everyone – including those without school-aged children – and therefore everyone should play a role in maintaining them, according to a study by two Michigan State University scholars.
Debt collection and credit reporting agencies may eventually face a little more regulation, assuming they don't mind too much:

Debt collectors and credit reporting companies are bracing for intense scrutiny after the government’s consumer finance watchdog unveiled a broad plan to regulate financial firms that have largely evaded federal oversight....

“Debt collectors and credit reporting agencies have gone unsupervised by the federal government for too long,” Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director, told reporters on Thursday. “It is time to provide the kind of oversight of these markets that will help ensure that federal laws protecting consumers in these financial markets are being followed.”

Someone has leaked a number of interesting confidential documents from the Heartland Institute:

Internal Heartland Institute strategy and funding documents obtained by DeSmogBlog expose the heart of the climate denial machine – its current plans, many of its funders, and details that confirm what DeSmogBlog and others have reported for years. The heart of the climate denial machine relies on huge corporate and foundation funding from U.S. businesses including Microsoft, Koch Industries, Altria (parent company of Philip Morris) RJR Tobacco and more.

In a well-thought-out plan that exemplifies HI's firm grasp of risk assessment, they're threatening to sue journalists who covered this story:
The threat was spelled out in an email sent to media outlets (including by Jim Lakely, Communications Director at the Heartland Institute. The group said it will "pursue charges and collect payment for damages, including damages to our reputation" from "individuals who have commented so far on these documents", prior to the Heartland Institute's official response.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is irresponsibly attacking the black soot that made our nation great:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Thursday announced a new global initiative to reduce short-lived climate pollutants....

The initiative targets three pollutants that together account for more than one-third of current global warming - black carbon, or soot; methane; and hydrofluorocarbons, which are gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration, solvents, foam blowing agents and aerosols.
Chinese manufacturer FoxxConn is raising workers' wages in response to public outcry:
The move comes after nearly 250,000 individuals signed a petition on demanding Apple hold its suppliers accountable for violations of fair labor practices.

FoxxConn is best known in the United States as Apple Inc.’s largest supplier, manufacturing the technology giant’s popular iPad, iPhone and signature Mac computer products, in addition to dozens of other gadgets for other technology companies. But it has also gained a reputation as a chronic violator of human rights and fair labor practices.
In tangentially related news, the actress in Pete Hoekstra's repulsive anti-Chinese ad has apologized for her involvement:
As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation and I am determined to resolve my actions.
Apropos of which, designer discusses Hoekstra's use of "chop suey fonts" to conjure up the furrin ways of the Heathen Chinee.

The Obama administration may raise oil-drilling royalties:
Public lands belong to all of us, so when the federal government decides to lease them out to oil and gas drillers, those companies have to pay for depriving taxpayers of environmental and recreational benefits. And the Obama administration has decided that they're not paying enough. So the Interior Department's budget includes a proposal to raise royalties for oil and gas projects by 50 percent.
Hmm. Is this really what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Bible? Wasn't there a guy named HITLER who tried to "benefit taxpayers" by impoverishing an unpopular minority? I'm not saying that's what's going on here but you can't deny that it's basically the exact same thing.

Speaking of Nazis, the People's Republic of Los Angeles has socialistically turned a communist mass-transit bus yard into a collectivist public park at the taxpayers' expense!
It took three years and more than $26 million to turn an old MTA bus yard in South Los Angeles into what it is today: a sprawling park and urban wetland that will store and clean millions of gallons of storm water — while also giving children a place to play.
In Washington, a federal judge held a factory farm responsible for local water pollution:
This first-ever ruling holding a CAFO accountable for its pollution was a result of a lawsuit by the nonprofit Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) against the Nelson Faria Dairy in Royal, Wash. The ruling upholds the terms of a 2006 settlement CARE had with the dairy’s previous owners, which the current owners subsequently ignored.
Attentive readers will note that the correction of the vassalees-fiction-syntax-grammar-pleadings is with the correction-participation-claim of this babble-indictment-evidence and: bad-probation-syntax=grammar-evidence. They may accordingly wonder why the vassalees did this case with a void-communications. The answer is simple: For the void-drogue-law, void-oath of an office, void-judge’s-oath, void-docking-court-house-vessel in the Washington-state-dry-dock and: void-original-lodial-land-title. (Duh.)

On top of which:
The nation's Republican governors are pressing forward with policies that promote the green economy—and in some cases they have moved further than their Democratic counterparts.

A new report by the National Governors Association (NGA) showed that 28 states enacted more than 60 new "clean" economic development policies between June 2010 and Aug. 2011. Among those states, more than half, or 16, have Republican governors. In five of the states, the policies were started under Democratic governors and were continued by Republicans who replaced them.
Nine cave-dwelling invertebrate species have won habitat protections in Texas:
[T]he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection of 4,200 acres of critical habitat today for nine rare, cave-dwelling invertebrates in Bexar County, Texas. The designation cut roughly 1,700 acres from a February 2011 proposal, but is still nearly quadruple the size of a 2003 Bush-era designation that left out a number of places where the species live and failed to protect enough land adjacent to the caves.
A California court has blocked the construction of yet another doomed sprawlscape near the Tejon Pass:

“This is an extremely important habitat area for scores of threatened, endangered, and rare species, including the California condor, so it’s important that any development be carefully thought out,” said Adam Keats, urban wildlands director at the Center. “This is a huge victory for smart planning, especially considering the tremendous pressure from developers this area has been under.”

Bangladesh has designated three new sanctuaries for endangered freshwater dolphins:
"Declaration of these Wildlife Sanctuaries is an essential first step in protecting Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh," Brian D. Smith, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean Program, said in a press release. "As biological indicators of ecosystem-level impacts, freshwater dolphins can inform adaptive human-wildlife management to cope with climate change suggesting a broader potential for conservation and sustainable development."
And the Republic of the Congo has expanded a national park to protect chimpanzees:
The Republic of the Congo has expanded its Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park by 37,295 hectares (144 square miles) to include a dense swamp forest, home to a population of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) that show no fear of humans. Known as the Goualougo Triangle, the swamp forest is also home to forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). The expansion of the park to include the Goualougo Triangle makes good on a government commitment from 2001.
Japanese whalers have lost their suit against anti-whaling activists:

A group of Japanese whalers has failed to win an injunction against U.S. anti-whaling activists, as a federal judge refused their request for protections from boats owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The ruling was made in Seattle, where the whalers' group, the Institute for Cetacean Research, had filed suit. In addition to restraints on Sea Shepherd, the whalers were hoping the judge would impose a freeze on the activists' finances.

Florida governor Rick Scott's insane bid to expand the privatization of the Florida prison system has failed:
A massive expansion of private prisons in Florida collapsed in the Senate Tuesday as nine Republicans joined a dozen Democrats in handing a setback to Senate leaders and a victory to state workers.

As a result, the state will not undertake what would have been the single greatest expansion of prison privatization in U.S. history, affecting 27 prisons and work camps in 18 counties and displacing more than 3,500 correctional officers.

Last but nowhere near least, Mitt Romney is currently spending millions of dollars and alienating countless independents in hopes of eking out a meager victory over Rick Santorum, an unelectable buffoon and national punchline who doesn't even have a campaign office.

This, that and the other: The voice of the tarsier is heard in the land. Stardust melodies. Nuclear slide rules and dials. More of the same (I still have the proportional scale pictured here, and use it often. Old and in the way!) Breaking Out and Breaking In is a "distributed film fest" on the spatial and architectural aspects of prison and bank-heist films (but where's the infrastructure-as-prison classic Kanal?) Furthermore, photos by Juan Manuel Castro Prieto:

Spomeniks. Blimps and medicine wheels in the Stinkingwater Mountains. Culinary curiosities. Designing Canberra. The aesthetics of the photo booth. And photographs from the Community Service Society Records, 1900-1920:

(Photo at top: "Vue aérienne du quartier de l'Etoile" by Nadar, 1868.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Hope Blogging

In recent weeks, "conservatives" have proposed that cops should not be able to arrest people (i.e., men) for domestic violence unless they witness it, that U.S. school textbooks should be purged of references to slavery, and that we must act now to keep aborted fetuses out of our soft drinks. For some reason, I'm reminded of this old Onion article.

Much like "trangressive" music acts in any number of genres, social conservatives have been tying to outdo each other in striking shocking, uncompromising poses. And like any other form of witless adolescent attention-seeking, this eventually gets boring...not just for outsiders who wonder why the fuck these socially maladroit oddballs can't lighten up, but also for the target audience, many of whom are less true believers than lazy consumers exploring a fantasy. To extend the musical metaphor, today's social conservatives are a bit like teenagers who've abandoned Scandinavian black metal in favor of white-supremacist power electronics. For people who are committed to plumbing the depths of their own inhumanity, it's a new thrill that'll temporarily excite a jaded palate. But for most other people, it's the point at which extremity starts paying diminishing returns and 1970s singer-songwriters start sounding comparatively good.

My point being, this competition for political capital is inherently self-defeating for the simple reason that most people aren't really ruthless sociopathic assholes, even if it sometimes pleases them to pretend otherwise. The more Teabaggers flex what they imagine are their muscles, the less they overawe people. That's "power" for you. And I can only hope that they hold on to what's left of it long enough to pull the GOP's temple down on their own heads.

Meanwhile. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has come up with the daring theory that discrimination for the sake of discrimination is unconstitutional:

Reinhardt, joined by Judge Michael Hawkins, invoked two past U.S. Supreme Court rulings. One was a 1973 decision overturning a federal law that barred households of unrelated people, such as "hippie communes," from qualifying for food stamps. The other, in 1996, struck down a Colorado initiative prohibiting local governments from enacting civil rights laws protecting gays and lesbians.

In both cases, the high court said the government violates equal protection when it withdraws rights in order to harm a politically unpopular group or express disapproval of a vulnerable minority.
So it's the hippies' fault? I knew it. Even when I thought it was the gays, I knew it was the hippies.

Here's my favorite part of the decision:
Schools teach about the world as it is; when the world changes, lessons change. A shift in the State's marriage law may therefore affect the content of classroom instruction just as would the election of a new governor, the discovery of a new chemical element, or the adoption of a new law permitting no-fault divorce: students learn about these as empirical facts of the world around them. But to protest the teaching of these facts is little different from protesting their very existence; it is like opposing the election of a particular governor on the ground that students would learn about his holding office.
Washington has passed a same-sex marriage bill:
Governor Christine Gregoire plans to sign newly passed legislation on Monday to legalize gay marriage in Washington state, making it the seventh with a law on the books to recognize same-sex nuptials, her office said on Thursday.
Here's what Republican state representative Maureen Walsh had to say on the matter. Read it and weep.

You know, I was married for 23 years to the love of my life and he died 6 years ago. I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefits of having 3 beautiful children. I don’t miss the sex, and to me that’s kind of what this boils down to. I don’t miss that… I mean I certainly miss it, but it’s certainly not the aspect of that relationship, that incredible bond I had with that human being, that I really really genuinely wish I still had. And so I just think to myself: how could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life. To me it seems almost cruel.

See, that's a person who has an actual, functioning conscience. By contrast, someone who demands taxpayer funding for discriminatory policies is simply a constitutionally illiterate grifter. I'd really like to spend my declining years in a country whose media can tell the difference.

Speaking of which, what if bigots threw a tantrum and no one cared?

On "CBS This Morning," Thursday, jcpenney chief executive officer Ron Johnson, said the company "shares the same values" as DeGeneres and that the decision to have her as a spokesperson was a "no-brainer."

"We don't look at it like a controversy. One of the great things about America is people can speak their mind. And you know, the organization that believes one thing has spoken and it was great to see Ellen share her views yesterday. And we stand squarely behind Ellen as our spokesperson and that's a great thing. Because she shares the same values that we do in our company. Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself. And we think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share."

As part of its terrifying reign of environmental terror, the EPA is forbidding ships from dumping their waste in California coastal waters, just as France did when they removed the pillar of God-given rights and told you who you were and it became the guillotine!

A federal rule banning ships from flushing their sewage into the sea within 3 miles of the California coast was approved Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The prohibition, which will go into effect next month, means cruise and cargo ships will no longer be able to discharge treated or untreated effluent or gray water anywhere along the coast, a practice that regulators blame for spreading bacteria and disease in marine mammals, fish and people.

Five years after San Francisco transformed itself into a dystopian hellscape by restricting the use of plastic bags, its Board of Supervisors is preparing to pound a final eco-friendly nail into civilization's coffin:
Almost five years ago, San Francisco became the first American city to ban plastic shopping bags from supermarkets and chain pharmacies. Now the city is poised to expand that ban to all retail stores and restaurants within the city limits. Only certain products, like newspapers, fish, poultry, fresh flowers, and bulk goods are exempted from the ban. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to expand the ban, and it’s expected to be officially approved next week.
Soon, plastic bags will be illegal for everything but hi-def BDSM videos. What would the Founding Fathers say (Ben Franklin excepted)?

In related news, the Obama administration has just made it illegal to drink water while hiking in the desert Southwest:
As a Climate Friendly Park, Grand Canyon National Park's staff, partners and stakeholders have made a commitment to take a leadership roll in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and educating the public about what they can do to reduce their impacts on the park. In order to reduce plastics in the park's waste stream, litter along trails and walkways and green house gas emissions Grand Canyon National Park will soon be eliminating the sale of water packaged in individual disposable containers and encourages everyone to reduce, reuse, refill.
The inevitable next step? Restricting our intake of "unhealthy" foods in order to protect the coyotes who'll gnaw our bones after we die of thirst.

Toronto's tough-guy mayor Rob Ford has suffered a well-deserved humiliation:
In a stunning blow to Mayor Rob Ford -- who, on his first day in office in 2010 scrubbed the "Transit City" plan in favor of an ill-thought out and unfunded subway scheme -- the Toronto City Council has quashed his plans and resurrected the old one....

[Ford] ignored the host of transit experts who called his vision nonsense. He refused to take his plans to city council, bypassing the city’s supreme democratic body. He spurned the [Toronto Transit Commission] manager and TTC chair who dared to question him. But on Wednesday, council struck back, handing the mayor his worst defeat and rubbishing his transit blueprint.
Scott Walker and his cronies have some additional woes this week:
Nearly all of Wisconsin's Republican state lawmakers took the unusual step of signing a legal agreement in which they promised to not comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new GOP-friendly maps were being drafted, a newspaper reported.

The agreement was included in newly released documents in a federal lawsuit challenging the new district lines. Also included in the documents was a GOP memo outlining talking points that stressed anyone who discussed the maps could be called as a witness in the case. The memo also warned Republicans to ignore public comments about the maps and focus instead on what was being said in private strategy meetings.

As does Rupert Murdoch:

The editor of Rupert Murdoch's Times of London conceded today that the newspaper misled a British public inquiry in 2009 regarding an incident in which a Times reporter hacked into the email of an anonymous blogger who wrote about police activities....

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the FBI if focusing its investigation into allegations that British tabloid employees, working for the U.S.-based News Corp., may have violated American law by paying police officers in exchange for news stories.

Rice University is experimenting with nonprofit textbook publishing:

According to Inside Higher Education, OpenStax plans to compete with pricey $200 hardback texts from for-profit publishers by offering digital books for five common introductory classes for free, starting with sociology and physics texts this spring. OpenStax is beginning with introductory texts because the information in them is relatively basic and less likely to change year to year. Publishers are frequently accused of filling their coffers by updating textbook editions at random and then convincing professors to adopt the new version. If the OpenStax plan works, the multi-billion-dollar textbook industry could be in trouble.

Vehicles became 14-percent more fuel-efficient over the last four years:
After what seemed like an eternity of mostly stagnation, average fuel economy for new vehicles has been going up in the United States. Researchers at the University of Michigan have conducted a study showing that for current model year vehicles, fuel economy is 14% higher than just four years ago, which might not sound like much, but it's much better than what we've got in the recent past.
Spain now has a second solar tower:
Clean tech company AROA recently installed their second energy-generating Solar Tulip power tower in Spain, and the soaring flower-shaped power plant just went online this week. The beauty of the system stems beyond the elegant solar energy capturing tower - the system is designed to be modular, unlike any other concentrated solar power (CSP) electrical generator out there. The system also uses much less water than steam solar generators, enabling it to conserve precious resources on its hot desert site.
This is a fascinating idea:
The Oral Citations Project is a strategic research project funded by a Wikimedia Foundation grant to help overcome a lack of published material in emerging languages on Wikipedia. The idea behind the project is a simple one. Wikipedia privileges printed knowledge (books, journals, magazines, newspapers and more) as authentic sources of citable material. This is understandably so, for a lot of time and care goes into producing this kind of printed material, and restricting citation sources makes the enterprise workable. But books - and printed words generally - are closely correlated to rich economies: Europe, North America, and a small section of Asia.
Word on the street is, Obamacare is forcing small businesses to set up fascist lactation chambers, which will almost certainly be presided over by gay communist lactation panels:
Tom Stemberg, co-founder of the Staples office supply chain, complained in a recent interview that the Affordable Care Act (known by opponents as “Obamacare”) will cost jobs by mandating that employers set up “lactation chambers.”
You can set this clever fellow straight by clicking here.

Oh, and lest I forget...the GOP is attacking contraception. In an election year. And a recession. For the benefit of a small and wildly unpopular base. I'm looking forward to their late October campaign against female drivers, which will be based equally on scripture and 1970s "Lockhorns" cartoons.

Now, then. The Moist Towelette Museum. Portable signs of rural America. Dr. Seuss: pedantic literalist. Gay gay gay! Vintage Mexican ads. Photos by Arthur K. Syer. And photos by E.O. Hoppé.

Impossible cameras. The song of a Jurassic katydid. The wooden work boats of Indochina. Anatomical cross sections made with quilled paper. And a gorgeous survey of advertising and commercial photography:

Broken houses (via things). Jewish children's books. Our three-dimensional moon. Polaroids by Mikael Kennedy. A scrapbook from Tajikistan. And images of the frozen Black Sea:

(Painting at top: "Hidak Bridges" by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1921.)