Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Visit to Aerotropolis

Studies detailing the rough outline of a poison circle around airports could just as well define the boundaries of John Kasarda's aerotropolis, in which sprawling terminals will form the ugly, toxic heart of the community's "central business district."

Fast Company writer Greg Lindsay's defense of this scheme - which is increasingly popular in Asia - is a little miracle of concision:

To the jaundiced American eye, such a project might appear to be the terminal metastasis of the sprawl represented by O'Hare, LAX, or JFK. But to dismiss it as the product of Asia's infatuation with all things mega would be to miss the carefully calibrated machinery underneath.
Because, you see, if the underlying machinery of a project is carefully calibrated, then there's clearly no way it could be a product of infatuation, or an example of terminal metastasis.

Or something. Anyway, they're doing it over there, so we'd better do it over here.

There's a bit more to the argument than that, of course. Unfortunately, Kasarda's rhetoric is long on what Lindsay calls "Olympian pronouncements" and short on coherence:
[T]he three essential rules of real estate have changed from 'location, location, location' to 'accessibility, accessibility, accessibility.'
I would've thought that location and accessibility were intimately, if not indissolubly, linked. But this is a New World, and I'll gladly admit that some of its subtleties are beyond me.

That said, some of them are beyond Kasarda, too:
He sheepishly concedes that his visions of monstrous highways and multimodal cargo hubs would make Jane Jacobs--the late patron saint of human-scale cities--toss and turn in her grave. But Kasarda has moved beyond the comfy, retro dictates of the New Urbanists. He isn't concerned with "the way we live now" but with the naked realities of how we do business now.
"Now" being the operative word. The problem is, how we do business now may not be viable even ten years down the road, as Dr. Colin Campbell explains:
Demand for other oil products will make the attainment of 11%, let alone 30%, of crude oil production as jet fuel impossible….An exponential growth rate in passenger traffic of 4.5% and in freight traffic of 5.9% (in accordance with Airbus forecasts) would require an amount of jet fuel impossible to procure.
That's on the one hand. On the other is our innate disdain for "comfy, retro dictates." These are soft, limp, drooping things, after all, while multimodal cargo hubs are hard, vigorous, and thrusting. This sort of rhetoric has been falsely associated with a realistic worldview for so long that it now serves as a stand-in for actual realism. Calling New Urbanism "comfy" allows the cognoscenti to ignore not just that particular school of urban planning, but also the underlying crises it hopes - however inadequately - to address.

Thus, we’re supposed to forget that the airline industry is more vulnerable to fuel prices than other transportation sectors, which makes it a very unlikely engine for long-term economic development. We're also supposed to forget that the impatience of those online consumers whom Kasarda (rightly, for once) calls “spoiled” won’t survive an era of $100-a-barrel oil. Kasarda likes to quote D’Arcy Thompson on the tension between growth and form, but conveniently ignores the fact that both these things require an ongoing, affordable source of energy.

Still, you can't let facts stand in the way of progress. Airports must expand, and cities must grow around them according to whatever logistical and aesthetic demands are made by the gods of intermodal efficiency and brand management, respectively. In case there's any doubt on that last point, Kasarda explains how essential branding is to an aerotropolis:
There needs to be a branding of the area, which will require gateway entrances and basically the type of architecture and landscape design that will let people know they're going into the aerotropolis and not just any other area….
I figure the noise, the lines, and the security guards will tip them off. Failing that, I'd suggest an arch reading Globalisierung Macht Frei.

Any sense of community pride in Aerotropolis will presumably center on its "seamless" catering to the needs of passengers and cargo, and I imagine its schools will be tolerably good at turning students who are neither too deafened nor too asthmatic into model workers. Meanwhile, David Brooks and Paul Virilio, in their own inimitable ways, can exclaim anew over speed's conquest of space. Everyone wins! Or at least, everyone who counts.

As we build branded cities around airports and fill them with dispirited, harried, sickly, underpaid workers, we create a perfect target – and breeding-ground - for terrorism. It seems logical that an aerotropolis would need (or will get) more security than an ordinary city, and that a fair number of its security measures would center on residents and workers. What restrictive covenants might apply to prospective residents of an aerotropolis? What sort of screening will they have to put up with, and what sort of surveillance? Will security forces be public or private? (More important, will they have quotas to fill?)

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, I think it’s safe to say that the combined costs of security, surveillance, infrastructure improvements, and – inevitably - antimissile technology will make it incredibly expensive to put our eggs in the flimsy basket of “airport-centric development.” And that, unfortunately, is precisely why such projects are likely to go forward; they have the potential to make venal people very, very rich whether they ever function properly or not. Kasarda and his supporters like to pose as visionaries who offer us the thrill of progress. In reality, their schemes boil down to the age-old strategy of squandering public goods to reap private benefits.

(Illustration by A.C. Radebaugh, from an online exhibition evocatively titled The Future We Were Promised.)

I Like Those Odds!

Noted Republican murderer Tom Coburn - who previously uncovered the sizzling girl-on-girl action in Oklahoma's school bathrooms - once again explores the lures and snares of human sexuality:

Sen. Tom Coburn, argued that by distributing condoms in schools, we were rationalizing risky behavior to teenagers. “You know, the moral rationalization is if you make a mistake there’s no consequences. I’ve seen the consequences. Condoms and teenagers work about 50% of the time, if you count all the studies up...."
That's a lie, needless to say, and what little truth there is in it has at least as much to do with the conservative attack on sex education as with teenagers or condoms. But even if it were true, fifty-percent odds still give you a much better chance of success than abstinence (to say nothing of the Bush Doctrine, or the infantile special pleading that so often passes for prayer among the Religious Right).

I love being lectured about "consequences" by people who are perfectly happy to let a crazy president steer the ship of state into a maelstrom full of icebergs (cf., for instance, Bush's decision to sidestep congressional oversight of arms sales to Pakistan, which Coburn apparently missed while trying to "restore" congressional authority over flag-burners).

Link via Atrios.

Measuring Impacts

A new piece of pressure-sensitive clothing helpfully records instances of physical abuse:

"The clothing utilizes pressure sensitive fabric to measure impacts to the wearer’s body. The physical abuse data is transmitted to a remote server where it can be archived or distributed to a trusted community or proper authorities. The wearer can chat with their IPV clothing via an artificial intelligence agent that offers them feedback and suggestions based on the received data. This project explores the wearable as a self reflective safe space to assist the abused wearer in reconnecting with social networks."
For some reason, I'm imagining an abused woman in court, being told that she obviously struck the jacket herself (after all, women must habitually lie about being beaten up, because "men are socialized to protect women, not to harm them").

Note, please, the sheer awfulness of this sentence:
This project explores the wearable as a self reflective safe space to assist the abused wearer in reconnecting with social networks.
Perhaps, in so doing, the abused individual can leverage the mindspace of these critical networks to de-differentiate topographical morphologies, inhabit fully extensible mosaics, and strategize collaborative peripheries. Just think how empowering that would be!

What "wearable space" could be safer than one that measures impacts from fists or blunt objects? (I mean, besides one in which you're not routinely being abused.) All kidding aside, if passive, technophiliac navel-gazing won't mitigate the scourge of domestic violence, what will?

A new piece of clothing for men isn't quite as technologically sophisticated, but it's comparatively free of cant:
Male physical urges and pleasures are expressed and easily satisfied through the design of these sweatpants.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mission Critical

Of all the forms of empty rhetoric, the mission statement is perhaps the most overrated. Essentially, it's the bizspeak equivalent of a t-shirt that says "World's Greatest Lover” (except that a strategic planner’s shirt would say “I am matchlessly committed to disruptively exceeding my partner’s expectations through a consistent focus on the synergistic goal of visioning, nurturing, and leveraging best practices that vigorously enhance world-class pleasure-centric horizontal niches”).

Until recently, the NASA mission statement proclaimed the agency’s desire "to understand and protect our home planet.” That phrasing allows a fair amount of interpretive leeway, God knows…particularly for an administration that’s willing to define words in an idiosyncratic way. Regardless, BushCo has actually chosen to delete - rather than debase - this language, lest it give aid and comfort to…well, I was going to say “environmentalists,” but “scientists” is probably more to the point.

According to NASA scientists, the mission statement actually did guide research:

[T]he change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”
I submit that there’s actually nothing “easy to understand” about a vague commitment to protecting the planet; it might refer to collaborating with the DoD on missile defense, or to recycling the bottles in NASA’s cafeteria. On top of which, the phrase was deleted in February; the linked article says its absence “only recently registered with NASA employees.” That’s quite a testimonial to its efficacy.

We all dislike BushCo’s Stalinist habit of micromanaging words while ignoring the catastrophes to which they refer, and of lashing out against heterodoxy (NASA scientist James E. Hansen frequently used the deleted phrase as justification for paying serious attention to climate change). But I think a subsidiary issue here is the infantilizing effect of mission statements, especially when they guide a public organization like NASA. Scientific and educational agencies are not businesses, and the tasks they perform are too complex and important to be reduced to some simpleminded marketing slogan.

At the same time, the notion that the ultimate goal of science is “to understand and protect our home planet” is pretty goddamn basic; if NASA can fall into disarray, or lose funding, because this truism isn’t explicitly celebrated in its mission statement, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we have a problem.

Maybe someone needs to draw up an org chart...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Partaking of the miraculous
since never known literally,
Thorunna australis
might have startled us equally
if black-and-white-spined elaborately.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The traditional practice of burning “hell bank notes” to enrich dead relatives causes considerable air pollution in Taiwan. That’s fine for people who hope to hasten their own reunion with the dearly departed, but not so good for people who prefer to linger as long as possible on this side of the grass. Fortunately, Taiwan is promoting another option for mollifying acquisitive ghosts:

[A] "doing good deeds to replace burning paper ghost money" program received an enthusiastic response in the first year following its launch last year and that they plan to expand the program this year. Local people are urged to donate the money they would use to buy paper to charitable organizations instead.
As an aside, this is a fairly good example of what Ernst Bloch called “productive noncontemporaneity,” in which the power of “irrational” tradition – what he called “the unfinished past” - serves socially positive or even progressive ends. He contrasted it with a false noncontemporaneity: A “non-desire for the Now,” the “accumulated rage” of which could be turned to profitable use by reactionary politicians. I probably don’t have to explain where my own sympathies lie, or why I occasionally fail to pay due homage to reason.

Reason has its own unfinished past, of course, as does technology. Which reminds me, Honda is cooling a new plant with ice:
Honda's new Ohio plant is cooled by ice….made by two big 450 ton chillers that work all night using cheap base-load power, which then chills the air all day as the ice melts. While the system cost more at the beginning, it should pay for itself in three years and last at least thirty.
In Vietnam, homemade sand filters can remove up to 80 percent of the arsenic in drinking water:
Berg and his colleagues from Eawag, Hanoi University of Science (Vietnam), and the University of Karlsruhe (Germany) studied 43 sand filters currently in use. Raw groundwater pumped from household wells contained 10–382 µg/L of arsenic. They found that 90% of the filters reduced arsenic concentrations to <50 µg/L, and 40% to <10 µg/L, which is the World Health Organization’s current drinking-water guideline and Vietnam’s drinking-water standard. Berg and his colleagues attribute the 10% of households still exceeding 50 µg/L even after filtration to low iron concentrations (<3.7 mg/L), high phosphate levels (>2.5 mg/L), or a combination of the two in the groundwater. The filters simultaneously removed 99% of the iron, 90% of the phosphate, and 71% of the manganese in the water.
In California, there’s talk of building a freight rail shuttle from the coast to the Central Valley:
The San Joaquin Council of Governments, the county's transportation planning agency, completed a study in June to determine possible routes for a short-haul rail system to carry cargo between the Ports of Oakland and Stockton, and south to Modesto and Fresno. Eventually, the rail line would extend to Bakersfield, COG officials said….That likely would ease traffic jams, reduce air pollution and lessen the wear and tear on the state's highways, Ridder said.
Using a train to transport goods over short distances? What’ll they think of next?

Australia’s talking about banning plastic bags. God forbid we should go back to the drudgery of carrying groceries in cloth bags, or baskets. (Them olden days! Them hard, hard times!)

A few Republicans seem to be tired of doing whatever oil companies say:
Western Republicans are starting to buck against oil and gas drilling on federal lands prized for their wildlife and recreational opportunities. Amid a Western energy boom promoted by the Bush administration, Republican officeholders from Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and California recently have called for bans on drilling and other development on large blocs of national forest lands in their states.
Acoustic Ecology reports that a small desert protection group has won a knockout victory against a planned motorcycle race in the middle of the Sonora desert:
A grassroots group based in southern Arizona has convinced the regional BLM office that a proposed motorcycle race course in near Ajo would be inconsistent with conservation needs. The BLM had been preparing an Environmental Assessment, but decided that the track was clearly an inappropriate use and abandoned the EA process, issuing a letter to the applicants explaining its decision. The Sonoran Desert Tranquilarians had gathered supporting information on rare plants and animals, and the track's likely impact on desert washes.
While we’re on the topic of land protection, Pruned has a feature on precision farming, which uses remote sensing to determine which crops need special attention (and which don't):
The goal of precision farming is to improve farmers’ profits and harvest yields while reducing the negative impacts of farming on the environment that come from over-application of chemicals.
The pictures are nice to look at, too:

In England, a solar ferry is taking on passengers:
The 48-foot-long shuttle has 27 solar panels on its roof, and the energy generated by the sun is enough to keep the boat running….Almost no pollutants are given off during the trip because the shuttle has two silent engines - meaning there are no carbon emissions and it is also charged fully by the sun….

When the ferry is idle, surplus electricity generated by the solar panels will be fed back into the national transmission network.
Meanwhile, Treehugger reports that a merger between Entech and WorldWater & Power may result in competitively priced solar power:
Entech has developed concentrator solar power systems, supplied solar power for space missions for NASA and installed ground-based concentrating solar systems in North America.
Entech's patented concentrator technology also allows for the installation of massive solar "farms" with reduced requirements for solar cell materials (silicon or multi-junction) and, when used in conjunction with WorldWater & Power's technology, reduces the reliance on rebates or other incentives for economic installations.
In medical news, researchers may have found an “off” switch for chronic pain:
[R]esearchers from Columbia University Medical Center have discovered a protein in nerve cells that acts as a switch for chronic pain, and have applied for a patent to develop a new class of drugs that will block chronic pain by turning this switch off.
Last, I’m sure I won’t be the only person who welcomes the news that celebrity endorsements don’t work:
In fact, they came second last on the list of “very important” information channels that consumers used to judge products. In a new report by AccountAbility, a non-profit research institute, 10% picked celebrities’ opinions as important in helping them decide if companies were trustworthy--the only category to do worse was leaflets through the mailbox.
Just in time for Thers’s learned (if insufficiently opaque and pompous) remarks on the panopticon, here are some beautiful panoptic photos.

And, as a bonus feature, here are the spokes in Saturn's rings.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Revolting Developments

The LA Times discusses the ongoing boom in Antelope Valley, an arid high-desert basin outside Los Angeles. This is an “upscale” housing boom, they say…so much so that one enterprising fellow is making his fortune by going door-to-door with Picasso prints. Better yet, prices are low enough that nonmillionaires can afford the new and improved American dream: a bathroom with a flat-screen TV.

The article is four pages long. Apparently, that was too short for a discussion of water availability, despite the fact that it takes only three words to sum up the situation: there isn’t enough. The region has “severely overdrafted” its groundwater, resulting in serious land subsidence (you may recall the sinkhole that appeared in one of the space shuttle’s runways at Edwards AFB). Supplemental water comes from a branch of the California Aqueduct, which sits atop one of the most hazardous sections of the San Andreas Fault (as does the hellishly congested Antelope Valley Freeway, whose link to Interstate 5 has collapsed twice so far).

One “solution” could be a reservoir in Antelope Valley, near the town of Sites:

It…would flood 14,000 acres of grassland and oak woodlands, jeopardizing habitat for dozens of threatened or endangered species, and produce water laden with metals and other pollutants, including methyl mercury, from the valley's soil, Evans said.
These are surely noteworthy issues for those considering a move to Antelope Valley. But the LAT article mentions water exactly once, and then only to praise the building of a new water park. To be fair, it does mention the area’s increase in crime, as well as its ever-growing pollution and traffic woes. But overall, the article comes across as a promotional tool for regional developers, especially given its shamelessly manipulative closing image:
Later, he and "Boo-Boo," as the boy is called, will have dinner together. Cross hurriedly consumed his steak burrito. The sun was setting, and he did not want to waste the sweetest part of the day: their evening walk.

"This is when we talk and dream," Cross said.
(Photo by Matt Jalbert. In addition to the linked essay, you may want to check out his fine blog Exuberance.)

Sad and Frustrating

Like Sweet Alice, I weep with delight when Peggy Noonan gives me a smile, and tremble with fear at her frown. Today, my trembling is probably detectable by seismographs halfway around the world:

During the past week's heat wave--it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday--I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not?
Alright, then. The fate of the globe, it seems, hinges on making climate change sound plausible to Peggy Noonan. Given that Noonan believes God shattered her coffee cup one fine morning, in order to teach her some obscure lesson about the rosary, you might conclude that she’s pretty generous with her credulity. But apparently, the six impossible things that Noonan routinely believes before breakfast leave no room for the confirmed and reconfirmed findings of a supermajority of the world’s climate experts (including BushCo’s own Federal Climate Change Science Program).

And that’s not all:
If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened?
I’m hoping God Himself will deign once again to answer Noonan’s questions - preferably by smiting her with lobster-sized pubic lice - because no mere mortal is going to make any headway against ignorance as proud and giddy as hers.

These days, climate-change denialists love to remind us that being cold is uncomfortable and dangerous, while being warm is pleasant. Remember the awful sufferings of Captain Scott and his men? If the world had been only a few degrees warmer, none of it would’ve happened. They could’ve ridden motorcycles to the South Pole, played a few rounds of Canasta, had a nice lunch of breadfruit and mangoes, and been back at their base camp by nightfall.

Never mind that Europe’s recent heat wave killed 35,000 people. Who wouldn’t like to have fewer cold days per year, what with the high price of heating oil?

Of course, arguing over whether warming is “better” than cooling boils down to an admission that you don’t understand the first goddamn thing about climate change. That doesn’t stop Noonan from whimpering that the world’s scientists have failed to convince her, though…and not because she’s unwilling to meet them halfway by comprehending that heat is a form of energy, but because they’re “politicized” (and not in a good way, like her):
All too many of them could be expected to enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view.
Yep. It’s all a vast and terrible conspiracy to misrepresent data for personal gain, uncovered by an intrepid woman who used the datum of a shattered coffee cup to flatter herself with God’s attention and – just possibly – bolster her appalling self-conceit.

Here’s the punchline:
If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing.

But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy.
On the contrary, I think scientists and “The People” will blame money-addled politicians and business leaders, along with invincibly ignorant toadies like Peggy Noonan.

Hell, a lot of us already do.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Those Who Hate Us Can Take the Ferry

Bruce Schneier detects a minor flaw in BushCo's plan to keep America safe from border-crossing evildoers:

By January 1st, 2007, everyone crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada is supposed to have a passport. This is because of terrorism, of course. But now we learn that ferries and private watercraft will be exempt.
If that sounds odd, it's only because you haven't yet been soothed by the avuncular bedside manner of Michael Chertoff (who wouldn't dream of lying to you unless it were absolutely necessary):
[W]e will not be, for example, including in this set of regulations a requirement for passports for ferries or private watercraft, recognizing that this is a particular form of transportation that we don't want to interfere with," said Chertoff.
One of Schneier's commenters suggests that BushCo is simply acknowledging the well-known scientific fact that evil spirits can't cross water, which I think is as good an explanation as any.

In other HS news, Strategic Security Blog describes some problems with the revamped version of Ready.gov, a site which is supposed to provide guidance to citizens in the event of a disaster:
Even though DHS claims that its disabilities information is revised, a simple comparison to a 2003 version of Ready.gov demonstrates that not a single word has changed in the past three years....

DHS has also failed to rectify inaccurate information on other pages of its site, such as a recommendation to get out of the area if possible during an outdoor chemical attack. Experts at RAND have declared that evacuation should never be considered as a response to this kind of attack.
The advice for those who find themselves inconvenienced by an unexpected thermonuclear attack is somewhat more practical. The first step? "Quickly assess the situation."

Furor Loquendi

The triocular percipience of my exquisitely sapient friend Thers has evulged the knotty integument of a blogospheric rara avis, whose Daedal labors in the lamentably thankless field of toposthetic inspissation have nurtured glossopetra of sufficient water to bedizen even the most opulent rhetorical tiara.

We know - who better? - what fallow ground commonly awaits the seeds disseminated by that sarcoid efflorescence atop the bowed stalk of the spine, and how seldom its ratiocinative pollen fructifies and renews the sullen dirt. In a similarly abortive explication of this tragical denouement, those who would make of ignorance an Idol, of error an Emperor, and of duplicity a Deity are wont betimes to hold blameful not merely the innocent newborn thought in its Heaven-blessed ipseity, but also those swaddling-clothes so lovingly contrived to protect it from misadventure and inconvenience: I am speaking, of course, of that cartapaciatory pallium which the foolish call cacozelia, but which the wise call Style.

In so doing, they seriously mean to imply that the magnanimity of furor loquendi - the munificence of which, when informing any other endeavor, is appositely said to bespeak a reverent attention to those eleemosynary rites specially beloved of God - is, in the case of the poicilogiast, nothing more than some meretricious entertainment devised for the captive audience of the self.

The Tartarean katzenmusik of this bootless colloquy may seem sonorous to those whose oblate harmonic quavers feebly between the vermiculate tines of malice and envy, but it can be productive merely of horripilation in those who have not attained, and will not seek, the station of vere adeptus in our culture's tralatitious Cult of Ugliness. Thus, I must differ deeply - yea, to the depths - with my friend Thers, and petition those for whom textual rugosity is at least contiguous with sanctity to deploy themselves as an asbestine arras against the perfervid contumely of soi-disant simplificationists, whose lurid nudity of expression is nothing less than an abyss in which the most virulent chimaerae of philosophy may enjoy their riotous congress.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Local Benefits

To the Wall Street Journal, a missed business opportunity is the only real disaster:

Greenland represents one of the largely unrecognized paradoxes of global warming. In former Vice President Al Gore's recent film "An Inconvenient Truth," the melting of Greenland's ice cap, along with a similar cap in the Antarctic, is portrayed as one of the greatest threats of global warming. If the layers of ice and snow holding billions of tons of water were to melt, scientists warn that global sea levels would rise by 40 feet, submerging lower Manhattan, the Netherlands and much of California.

But to many of the people who live here in Greenland, the warming trend is a boon, not a threat.
You heard it here first: As worldwide disaster looms, a few self-obsessed sociopaths are excited at the prospect of cashing in. In the Never-Never Land of the WSJ, this is what passes for a ”largely unrecognized paradox.” In reality, of course, it’s precisely the same logic that brought us to our current state of affairs…the same logic that the WSJ has spent decades propping up with specious rhetoric, shoddy journalism, revisionist history, and moon-high piles of thinktank boilerplate.

After suggesting that a longer growing season in Greenland might be some kind of consolation-prize for the destruction of the financial nerve-centers along American and European coasts, the article goes on to concede that what’s good for the 57,000 people who live in Greenland may not actually be good for everyone else (the conclusion that it's accordingly not good for Greenlanders either remains tantalizingly out of reach):
Many climate scientists argue that any local benefits of the warming trend are more than offset by the global costs. One worry: That discussion of the benefits could undermine efforts to slow global warming.
Which benefits are scientists hesitant to discuss? The ones that are “more than offset by the global costs.” In other words, the imaginary ones.

How typical.
Still, there's no denying the good news for many Greenlanders. "If we are egoistic, we will be happy," says Mr. Motzfeldt.
Well, you can’t argue with that. No matter where in the world we look, we see that happiness follows egoism as surely as rain follows the plow.

It’s funny how the sort of self-aggrandizing superstition that makes people obsessively buy lottery tickets is ennobled when it becomes the basis of statecraft. Greenland is “determined” to profit from climate change. Telling these Greenlanders that climate change may not lead to stable, predictable weather – and that their fate remains tied to that of the wider world regardless - is like telling a "determined" lottery player that she faces the same odds every time she buys a ticket. It’s heresy against the power of human desiring, before which nature and facts are supposed to adapt or retreat.

A Public Information Victory

In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is taking a bold stand for hardline fundamentalist orthodoxy:

The Afghan government has alarmed human rights groups by approving a plan to reintroduce a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine. The proposal, which came from the country's Ulema council of clerics, has been passed by the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai and will now go before the Afghan parliament.
The article goes on to say that some Western diplomats are "uneasy" about this development. Others, it seems, appreciate the fact that beating up on women can ease political and economic tensions:
"This is an Islamic republic and sharia is a part of the constitution," one diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "If it is constitutional and within the framework of the International Convention on Human Rights [to which Afghanistan is a signatory] then it could represent a public information victory for the government."
It's inconceivable that a fundamentalist police force dedicated to "the prevention of vice" could fall within the framework of the International Convention on Human Rights. If it did, it'd be a failure.

Karzai apparently believes he can earn a temporary indulgence from the "defeated" Taliban by officially sacrificing the negligible autonomy, safety, and privacy Afghan women currently have, without facing any serious criticism from Western governments. Sad to say, he's probably right. This is the sort of unethical tightrope-walking that routinely leads Western reporters to hail Karzai as "shrewd."

I should add that in contrast to Karzai, all American politicians who pander to homegrown fundamentalist misogyny do so out of honest spiritual concern for our nation's moral values.

(Photo from RAWA.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

The calm sea smiles upon Okenia echinata
And the earth bedecks herself anew, with a beautiful mantle
And presents to her through the beautiful hands
Of the gentle Naiades, Achilles' enameled horn
Filled to the brim with copious branches of flowers and fruits.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Just because you're wasting your time reading my blog doesn't mean you have to waste your computer's time. CERN has devised a scheme whereby your computer can fight malaria while you browse the links at the bottom of this post:

While you are sending an email or surfing the web, your computer could be helping to tackle one of Africa’s major humanitarian challenges, malaria. Africa@home, a project conceived and coordinated by CERN1, was launched publicly this week. It is recruiting volunteer computers in homes and offices to run a computer-intensive simulation program called MalariaControl.net2, developed by researchers at the Swiss Tropical Institute.
The new issue of Nature describes an astonishing new neuromotor prosthesis:
The first patient, Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man with a severe spinal cord injury, has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2001. After having the BrainGate sensor implanted on the surface of his brain at Rhode Island Hospital in June 2004, he learned to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about moving it.
British researchers claim that they’ll cure allergies in five years. Sounds much too good to be true, but as an allergy sufferer, I can’t resist posting it:
"The technology is based on our earlier discovery of how allergens, the substances that cause allergy, enter the body through the surface layer of cells that protect the skin and the tubes of the lungs…."The drugs we are developing -- called Allergen Delivery Inhibitors (ADIs) – are designed to disable these allergens so they can no longer eat through the protective cell layer and block the allergic reaction before it occurs.”
Clifton, New Jersey has banned pesticides in state parks:
By banning the pesticides altogether and putting up signs in city parks declaring them "Pesticide-Free Zones," DuBois said he hopes residents will think twice before using the chemicals on their own lawns, a practice over which the city has no control. "As more and more people enter the parks, it becomes an educational tool," DuBois said.
PR consultant Jim Hoggan is tired of PR being a tool for Evil, so he's set up a firm - and a terrific blog - to combat climate change deniers. He's also conducted some interesting research into public attitudes:
Probably the most interesting question in our research was: "Why is it that you don't behave more sustainably?" People said the first reason was that there is a lack of government leadership. The second answer was, "I need more information."
A new study reiterates what most of us already know: Producing biofuels from food crops is stupid and wasteful:
The comprehensive study finds that if all the corn (maize) produced in the United States last year were removed from food supplies and turned into ethanol, just 12% of US gasoline demand would be offset. Turning soybeans into diesel would account for only 6% of US diesel demand.
Perhaps we can stop talking about it now, and concentrate on more interesting things...like the use of holography to increase the power output of solar cells:
Prism’s core technology is based on holographic optics, which can use a variety of PV cells and can spectrally select the desired portion of sunlight allowing for “cooler” solar cell operation while maintaining an increased power output by concentrating specific solar wavelengths unto the cells. Through passive tracking, Prism’s Holographic Planar Concentrator (HPC) technology can achieve higher output in the morning and late afternoon while reducing the amount of expensive silicon necessary in a module.
In related news, WorldChanging reports on DIY non-photovoltaic solar power, including a device that uses heat from a concentrator to drive a Tesla turbine:
Rather than making complex, difficult-to-manufacture bladed turbines, Sun turned to the Tesla turbine, which consists of simpler flat disks stacked like records on a central shaft. The disks are carefully spaced to allow steam to flow between them. As the steam flows, friction between the steam and the surface of the disks causes them to rotate. "Once I have rotational shaft work, I can couple it to almost anything -- an air pump, compressor, fan, mixer, grinder, sewing machine, refrigeration compressor, and, to power those very few things that are truly electric in nature, an electric generator."
A new hybrid schoolbus includes an optional plug-in configuration:
The system recovers kinetic energy during regenerative braking, charging the batteries while the bus is slowing down. This provides additional power for acceleration, making the hybrid buses ideal because of the frequent starting and stopping of the bus.
I cautiously applaud Whole Foods’ plan to offer loans to small and organic farmers:
The alternative grocery chain will market long-term, low-interest loans to farmers near its 184 stores nationwide….Its stores already sell the produce of local and organic farmers, and this is a step to expand its sustainable-agriculture philosophy to help small farms grow and ensure a supply of local, organic products….
I don't know how well it works, but I like the look of this new wind turbine:

The oddly named Jinglehorse EcoSystem is a new PC that’s alleged to use 75% less energy than normal PCs. Can’t vouch for that...but again, I like the design!

If you’re like me – and let's face it, you are – you’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to detoxify nerve agents using functionalized polymer nanofiber membranes. Well, it’s time to give it up: A group of scientists from the National University of Singapore has done the deed. Don’t despair, though…perpetual motion is still up for grabs.

Speaking of pseudoscientific labors of love, BibliOdyssey has some unbelievable excerpts from Adriaen Coenensz's 16th-century Het Visboek (The Fish Book):

You can browse the book here (complete with nicely animated page turning). Alternatively, you can calm your nerves with these pastoral scenes taken from old Jewish children's books:

A new issue of Polar Inertia is out...excellent news for fans of rickshaw mudflaps, tourist infrastructure, and Los Angeles fast food stands.

And finally, via Coudal, gorgeous photographs of vintage pinball machines.

(Top illustration from the Blue Brain Project.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Self-Organizing Interactions

The American Physical Society has a couple of fascinating articles. The first is about a new study called "Dynamics of Information Access on the Web":

Online news stories typically have a 36 hour shelf life, according to a study by a group of physicists hailing from Notre Dame University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Harvard. While traditional print and broadcast news media are constrained by 24 hour daily schedules, visits to online news stories typically peak within a few hours and decay rapidly over the course of a day and a half. The study shows that, mathematically speaking, visits to online news stories follow a pattern in time that is similar to maps of connections between web sites and social groups. That is, visits to news stories decreased in the form of a power law - a mathematical law that turns up frequently in self-organizing interactions in nature and society, which are frequently studied in a field of physics know as complexity theory....

In addition to revealing the form of the decay in news story interest, the researchers confirmed that comparative interest in specific stories also varied with a power law, which in turns shows that most visitors only view the headlines of about 53% of items on a news site, and actually read only 7% of news stories.
The second is about an unsuspected form of quantum entanglement:
If you are still coming to grips with the quantum weirdness of entanglement, where two or more particles essentially become a single quantum object even though they may be in entirely different places, then hold on to your hats. Physicists at Austria's University Wien and Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften have experimentally demonstrated that entanglement itself can become entangled. By entangling three photons and making a measurement on one of them, the group was able to learn about the entangled state of the other two photons.
Go figure!

(Illustration: Gabriel Sizes, Etude Expérimentale d’Acoustique Musicale. Courtesy of BibliOdyssey.)

Radiation is Good For You

Rupert Murdoch's paper The Australian reports on a new study that says the risk of radiation is "greatly exaggerated."

I haven't read the study - which apparently draws its conclusions from research on the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster - but the article is a splendid example of conservatarian journamalism, as thus:

Research into the aftermath of the meltdown at the Soviet nuclear reactor has suggested that low levels of radioactivity are not as harmful as believed - and may even be beneficial.
That's a fairly startling claim, and you'd think that it'd necessitate some explanation of radiation's "beneficial" effects in this context. But the article says nothing further: no anecdotes, no quotes, no evidence, no nothing.

Next, we're invited to question the public's mental association between radiation and death:
Mike Repacholi, of the World Health Organisation radiation program, said: "People hear radiation, they think of the atomic bomb and they think of thousands of deaths."
They think of thousands of deaths? I can't imagine why. The article continues:
The UN Chernobyl Forum estimates that no more than 4000 people will die as a direct result of fallout, while radiation may be a contributory factor in another 5000 deaths.
The death toll stands at 56, as far as I know. Even if no one else died, I'd still find this alleged statement by Repacholi dubious:
The main negative health impacts were not caused by the radiation, but a fear of it, he said.
I haven't seen the final tally of people who died due to fear of radiation, but I'll let that go. I assume that in light of these new findings, The Australian and other Murdoch papers will downgrade their estimation of the danger posed by dirty bombs.

(Illustration by Cornelia Hesse-Honegger.)

A Moment of Human Sympathy

A few months ago, Maggie Gallagher wrote perhaps the most astoundingly obscene opinion piece I've ever read; to my mind, it was as vicious and ugly and insane as the worst of Coulter or Malkin. Her subsequent pathological outbursts have been tame by comparison, so I've pretty much ignored them.

However, her current defense of the would-be suicide Dr. Nicholas Bartha is worth noting because it underscores her basic belief that behind almost every violently deranged man, there's a woman.

As most people know, Dr. Bartha blew up a house in the middle of an NYC block, an act that most people would say demonstrates a certain lack of concern for public safety. At the very least, it would seem to be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath...a vow that probably ought to be at least as serious a commitment as one's marriage vows.

But Gallagher can't quite see it that way:

Nicholas Bartha, 66, was by all accounts a good and caring doctor, a cardiologist affiliated with both Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side and Mount Vernon hospital in Westchester County.
Nobody's perfect, of course, and Gallagher goes on to report - with admirable restraint - that Bartha was "impossible to live with":
"Defendant intentionally traumatized his wife, a woman of Jewish origin born in Nazi-occupied Holland, with swastika-adorned articles and notes affixed around their home, and became enraged when she removed them."
That does indeed sound like a pretty uncomfortable living situation. It almost makes one doubt Gallagher's assertion that "divorce, not terrorism, caused this explosion." To say nothing of her claim that Bartha's suicide was, in its own special way, "good and caring":
The saving grace, the thing that makes you preserve a tiny piece of sympathy for the man, is that as he descended into his own black pit of rage, he turned suicidal, not homicidal.
Perhaps I'm a pedantic literalist, but again, blowing up a building seems to me to be at least potentially homicidal. No one could've been surprised if neighbors or passersby had been killed (instead of "merely" injured). Gallagher herself notes Bartha's antipathy to his neighbors, and even points out that "New York City firefighters risked their lives to save him."

And of course, this was much more than a suicide. Bartha's attempt to reduce his wife to poverty - to turn her "from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger," as he put it - is an act of violence that fits in perfectly with his history of abuse.

But as the old Irish proverb says, "They talk of my drinking, but never of my thirst":
[T]here is another thing that makes me pause to offer a moment of human sympathy amid the evil this man did. My grandfather did exactly the same thing: At 67, upon learning that his wife of 30 years was leaving him, he burned down his own house, and died of the self-inflicted flames. We were not close. I hardly knew him. He, like Bartha, first destroyed his marriage by descending into paranoid rage, and then destroyed himself rather than face old age, alone, unloved, disconnected, publicly pronounced a failure as a man by his own wife.
Once again, Gallagher displays a sociopathically indulgent view of (male) personal responsibility, and a bizarre identification with male violence; it was the wife's act of divorce that "publicly pronounced" these brutal, abusive men as failures, thereby ennobling or excusing - to whatever implicit extent - their final, pathetic act of cruelty.

Gallagher never needs any other reason than misogyny to explain away male violence, but in this case, she has a very good one: Bartha padded out his suicide note interminably with hard-right talking points clearly gleaned from columnists and commentators just like her. Little wonder, then, that she completely ignores his political views in order to commiserate with the "rage" he felt after being divorced by the wife he brutally abused.

Personally, I wonder if it's at all possible that misogynist demagogues like Gallagher - and the media outlets that promote them - might bear even more responsibility for Bartha's "demented plot" than feminism, or our culture's tolerance of divorce.

UPDATE: Amanda has lots more.


Photographer Bobby Neel Adams splices together photos of people as children and adults. The results are fairly alarming.

(Hat tip: Coudal.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

They Hate Us For Our Petting Zoos

Along with undocumented lettuce-pickers and monogamous lesbian couples, welfare cheats are widely acknowledged to pose a serious existential threat to the United States.

On the other hand, state lawmakers who try to secure federal anti-terrorism funding by passing off petting zoos, donut shops, swimming pools, and bingo parlors as "critical infrastructure and key resources" are just doing their patriotic duty.

Homeland Security Watch discusses the latest report on the long and ludicrous attempt to create a National Asset Database of potential terrorism targets:

The report chronicles the difficulties that DHS has faced in developing a usable national inventory of critical infrastructure, and helps explain some of the shortcomings in the recent homeland security grant allocation decisions, which were based to a certain degree on the information in this database....

The report also notes an equally serious problem: the fact that the database does not adequate account for distributed, system-level assets (e.g. food supply systems, energy & telco grids, etc.), which creates the risk of a bias in favor of protecting fixed assets in the nation’s infrastructure protection activities.
What's interesting about this is that the precursor program for the NADB was Clinton's PDD-63:
Presidential Decision Directive No. 63 (PDD-63), Critical Infrastructure Protection...set forth principles for protecting the nation by minimizing the threat of smaller-scale terrorist attacks against information technology and geographically-distributed supply chains that could cascade and disrupt entire sectors of the economy....PDD-63 required the creation of a National Infrastructure Assurance Plan.
Apparently, the Bush admininstration was "reviewing" (i.e., ignoring) PDD-63 up until 9/11, at which point they took steps to "improve" it. In doing so, they apparently either downgraded the importance of protecting distributed systems and supply chains, or failed to address it coherently.

On the bright side, HSW explains the financial benefits of "asset inflation":
Some of the states who were apparently “asset inflators” made out very well in the discretionary segment of the SHSGP (money left over after the allocation of state minimums) this year, notably Nebraska, North Dakota, and Missouri. Perhaps this is a coincidence; but given the black box nature of this allocation process, and the well-documented flaws in the UASI allocations, I’m inclined to think that it’s not.
Ditto. Part of the current recommendation is to send the list back to state HS advisors, and give them the opportunity to identify "extremely insignificant" assets that should be removed. What happens if one of these advisors insists that the local Pork Festival is threatened by Islamofascist dietary restrictions? Beats me. Perhaps party affiliation could be used as the deciding factor.

Rubber Sidewalks

I should be saving this for Friday, but what the hell:

Although making sidewalks out of rubber seemed "kind of preposterous," Valeriano acted on the idea in 1998. Thanks to some partnerships and public grants, his rubber reveries are now very much a reality. Some 130,000 square feet of rubberized sidewalks grace about 60 North American cities, giving local governments an alternative to concrete and its attendant pitfalls, such as rising prices, exorbitant trip-and-fall lawsuits, and a trail of chopped-down urban trees.

"In the early days, whenever you'd say that to someone, they'd just burst out laughing," says Lindsay Smith of her company, Rubbersidewalks Inc., which she founded in 2001 with inspiration from Valeriano's vision. "There would be disbelief at first, because we think of sidewalks as synonymous with concrete."
Better yet:
Each square foot of rubberized sidewalk contains almost one discarded tire. Americans generate about 290 million waste tires a year, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association in Washington - many of which languish in junk yards or are burned.
The sidewalks cost almost three times as much as concrete. On the other hand:
In April, the District of Columbia installed about 4,000 square feet of rubber sidewalk, at a cost of $60,000. The investment, however, may have saved 35 half-century-old trees, which John Deatrick, the district's chief engineer, values at about $40,000 to $50,000 each....Also in the dollars-and-cents category: The district spent $7 million to repair concrete sidewalks in 2005. Beyond that, it is fighting three trip-and-fall lawsuits related to sidewalks.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What Industry Does Best

Fort McMurray, Alberta faces problems from the exponential growth of the Athabasca oil sands project:

"Fort Mac" already has a shortfall of nearly 3,000 homes, 17 police officers and two public schools. Its assault rate is nearly twice the provincial average; its drug offences are triple.

Population continues to grow at about 10 per cent a year....The city needs a new water treatment plant, police station, recreation centre and fire hall. One report estimates the area will need $1.2 billion in infrastructure to accommodate growth - costs that continually inflate because of the overheated economy that makes them necessary in the first place.
There's talk of having the oil sand extraction industry chip in towards these costs; after all, they benefit directly from the local labor boom, and the infrastructure that supports it. Needless to say, though, they see matters somewhat differently:
[Suncor spokeswoman Darcie] Park said Suncor is cautious about demands that it directly fund municipal infrastructure, even if it's partly their employees causing the increased demand.

"Industry should do what industry does best, which is to work to responsibly develop the resource," she said. "Governments should do what they do best, which is to identify needs for public funding and provide the funding."
Or to put it another way, "the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and feeding parasitically off municipal taxes is as good a way as any."

Meanwhile, at the Alang shipbreaking yards in India, workers earn $2.40 per day to take oil tankers apart by hand:
Cheap labor is crucial to sustaining an 8 percent economic growth rate, the fastest behind China among Asia's major economies....
The work is extremely dangerous, and almost totally unregulated. On the other hand, it's work:
"I've got no other choice but to suffer through this,'' says Kumar, wearing a thin cotton shirt and pants perforated with tiny holes from sparks that fly off the metal he cuts.

Nothing good lasts forever, though:
Shipbreaking is in decline worldwide as surging freight rates prompt shipping companies to delay replacing vessels. About 70 oil tankers totaling 3.5 million deadweight tons are scheduled to be scrapped this year, down 52 percent from 2004, according to London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd.
Delaying the replacement of aging oil tankers is more than a little risky, of course. But what are you gonna do?

Personally, I'm hoping that Alberta will raise enough public funding for infrastructure improvements that Suncor will be able to produce enough shale oil to lower fuel prices enough to make it cost-effective to send aging oil tankers to Indian shipbreakers, thereby reducing the likelihood of catastrophic oil spills.

It seems as reasonable as anything else.

(Photo by Edward Burtynsky.)

Monday, July 10, 2006


From Effect Measure comes word of a bold new offensive against the sophistries of evilutionism. Mike Martin, former editor of Ag Weekly, cogently explains the difference between "mutation" and "population shift":

If changes can be found in the population of a species they are proclaimed by those who believe in evolution as proof of the theory. The same logic is used in telling us that mosquitoes have "mutated" to become resistant to DDT. But the fact is, before the use of DDT, a small group in the total mosquito population was already resistant. When the insecticide was applied, the resistant insects survived while the unresistant died. The resistant then reproduced forming a strain (a group with common ancestry) of resistant mosquitoes. This an example of population shift, not of mutation in the Darwinian sense.
Got that? DDT resistance has nothing to do with mutation. It's all just a childishly simple matter of genetic variation.

My brain hurts.

Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today

A timely article from a 1932 issue of Modern Mechanics.

Hat tip: Defense Tech.

UPDATE: Another climate change article, from a 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Hypselodoris zephyra. (Photo by Erwin Kodiat.)

And as a special treat for fourlegsgood, here's a video of Pleurobranchaea trying unsuccessfully to eat the nudibranch Flabellina iodinea.

Friday Hope Blogging

ScienceCareers.org has an interesting article on the explosion of interest in green chemistry:

Green chemistry "is about looking at every component of a production process, including energy input, side-products, solvents, engineering, and transportation," says Ed Marshall, a green chemist at Imperial College London...."We are training chemists to think imaginatively about minimising environmental impacts and social and economic costs," he says. The philosophy isn't new; what's new is the discipline's recognition and influence. Green chemistry is getting popular....

Marshall says the drivers for green chemistry come equally from governments and industry. "Governments are responding to a perceived environmental concern in society," he says, "but the chemical industry is not the bad guy. Green chemistry is being seen by companies as a big potential competitive edge over rivals." He expects funding from both sources to continue increasing.
The opportunities here come in part from government initiatives like REACH, which anti-innovation conservatarians oppose in hopes of making their stolid incompetence a moral obligation for the rest of us. In the real world, however, groups like the Green Chemistry Network understand that
[T]the most successful chemists of the future will be those who use Green Chemistry concepts in R & D, innovation and education.
While wingnut dead-enders screech about "central planning," US firms scramble to meet EU standards:
Starting last week, the European Union has cracked down on hazardous electronic imports, spurring manufacturers and merchants to ensure that their products pass environmental muster — and are so certified....

Straetz said ‘‘companies are going to have to go over to this [RoHS compliance] anyway” because China has a similar directive that will go into effect on Jan. 1, and ‘‘even our own state of California” will enforce such a rule starting March 1. Japan, Argentina and several other U.S. states are also considering similar legislation.
Earlier, I mentioned that despite PR efforts costing millions of dollars, only about 7 percent of Americans buy into the conservatarian line that climate change is a hoax. A similar PR effort against organic food has been been similarly ineffective:
America's appetite for organic food is so strong that supply just can't keep up with demand....Growth in sales of organic food has been 15 percent to 21 percent each year, compared with 2 percent to 4 percent for total food sales.
A green development planned for Santa Rosa, California sounds pretty good, at least on paper. I mention it mainly because I like this quote from the architect:
Architect Dan Solomon, a founder of the Congress for New Urbanism believes that architecture should do more than "simply offer three-dimensional nostalgia for how things supposedly used to be. That lazy approach is seen too often when suburban downtowns get new buildings: They look cute on paper, but they're pallid in real life."
In other news, France and Cameroon have signed a deal to forgive the latter's debt in exchange for protection of the Congo River Basin:
Under the agreement, at least $25 million will be invested over the five years to protect parts of the Congo River Basin, the world's second largest tropical forest after the Amazon....

Environmental group World Wildlife Fund hailed the deal as a breakthrough. "The importance of this unique and history-making agreement lies in the combination of debt forgiveness and investment in forest conservation and local communities," said Laurent Some, director of WWF's program in Central Africa.
Four deep-sea fishing companies have agreed to halt operations in the Indian Ocean:
Conservationists welcomed on Thursday the first voluntary halt to high-seas trawling by four major fishing companies in the southern Indian Ocean, saying the move was vital to protect marine ecosystems....

"This will protect and conserve the bottom of the sea floor... associated fish fauna and related biodiversity in one of the largest marine protected area enclosures ever," the Swiss-based World Conservation Union said in a statement. "The combined zones have an area approximately the size of Norway. To verify compliance with these self-adopted restrictions, the companies will track their vessels' locations and activities via a special satellite monitoring system."
In Cambodia, locals have built a DIY railroad system featuring bamboo trains:
The people of Cambodia have made actions to solve their transit by building trains out of bamboo and running them on the country's underused rails. Powered by small electric generators, the trains truck along at nearly 25 miles per hour and have been very successful and popular amongs the people.
The federal government is pushing for replacement of incandescent and fluorescent lightbulbs:
With the aid of academic and private industry researchers, the Department of Energy is seeking to replace those profligate bulbs with "solid state lighting" devices that attain 50 percent efficiency.
On a smaller scale, the first drug-collection program in a Wisconsin county was surprisingly successful:
Nearly a quarter million dollars' worth of leftover medicine won't be flushed into the water supply, through treatment plants that aren't equipped to remove it and into the local waters where it can harm aquatic life.
I found yet another site compiling the sounds of satellites. While listening, you can monitor the position of current satellites, or look at images from the Soviet exploration of Venus.

When you're ready to return to earth, you might consider taking a stroll along Carmontelle's transparency, or visiting the imaginary city of Galvez.

(Hat tip: Things).

Bad Conduct

The Southern Poverty Law Center has some happy news:

"Neo-Nazi groups and other extremists are joining the military in large numbers so they can get the best training in the world on weapons, combat tactics and explosives," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project.

"We should consider this a major security threat, because these people are motivated by an ideology that calls for race war and revolution. Any one of them could turn out to be the next Timothy McVeigh."
It was reported in the eighties and nineties that neo-Nazi groups were stealing and stockpiling weapons and explosives from the military. According to the SPLC, they're still at it:
James Douglas Ross Jr....a military intelligence officer stationed at Fort Bragg, was caught shipping disassembled AK-47s to the United States from Iraq in 2004, officials said. When investigators searched his off base housing, they found a weapons arsenal, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and hate group materials. Ross was forced to return from Iraq and given a bad conduct discharge. "But they let him keep the weapons [he kept in his house]," said Department of Defense investigator Barfield, adding that Ross has since relocated to Washington, where he's a leader of the Eastern Washington Skins, a neo-Nazi gang. "He kept his military connections, and he's still trying to recruit soldiers, so we're still dealing with him."
It'd be interesting to know how many of these soldiers go on to get jobs as private military contractors, and are put in charge of guarding strategic assets, or investigating domestic terrorism, or – best of all – securing the border.

As I noted earlier, the military has a similar problem with black and Latino gangs. And of course, the underlying problem – BushCo’s need to meet recruitment goals at any cost – has been causing more immediate problems on the ground in Iraq:
Insurgents and other criminals have infiltrated Iraqi police ranks due to poor screening procedures by U.S. forces, according to a joint report released Monday by the U.S. Defense Department and State Department. "Recruitment and vetting procedures are faulty," said the report from the inspectors general of both departments.
On the bright side, the diabolical animal-rights activists who supposedly pose the greatest threat of domestic terrorism are probably not signing up en masse for military training. It's hard to get vegan food in boot camp, after all.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Security Argument

It's old news that Senator James Inhofe is blocking a bill that would require certain chemical plants to strengthen their security. But a new story on Inhofe's bizarre behavior contains an additional detail that caught my eye:

Inhofe argued that environmental groups pursued chemical substitution such as a ban on chlorine for years, but latched on to the security argument since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That’s terrible. I mean, what kind of unprincipled demagogue would exploit concerns about national security in order to force longstanding agenda items through Congress? And who but a dirt-worshipping hippie would view chemical substitution as a possible form of precaution against terrorist attack?

Sarcasm aside, the punchline here is that the bill in question doesn't call for chemical substitution, or the use of "inherently safer technology," or - least of all - a ban on chlorine.

Beyond that, the claim that environmental groups are calling for “a ban on chlorine” – as opposed to gradual substitution and phase-out of industrial organochlorines - is dubious at best. As Donella Meadows explains:
There may be extremists who talk of banning chlorine -- every movement, religion, and political party has its lunatic fringe. But I have never heard an environmentalist advocate a "chlorine ban." The only folks I've known to use those words are a few excitable members of the press, and the Chlorine Institute and other organs of the chemical industry, which have launched a letter campaign to Congress, asking it not to ban chlorine.
”Excitable” is a polite way of putting it. Back in 1997, the late J. Gordon Edwards floated the weird proposition that Greenpeace was literally trying to rid the world of chlorine:
I have an idea for Hollywood's next futuristic blockbuster. The name of the film? "The Lost Element." The premise? The elimination of one of nature's elements from the periodic table--and from the world. Too strange for fiction? Not if Greenpeace has its way.
Earlier, the Competitive Enterprise Institute had claimed that Greenpeace intended “to eliminate every last man-made chlorine molecule from the face of the earth." Apparently, that fantasy wasn’t quite outlandish enough for Edwards.

It’s fascinating how paranoiac myths and petty grudges like these drive policy decisions at the highest levels of government, to the extent that we can’t even secure chemical plants against terrorism lest we somehow give aid and comfort to Greenpeace.

One more thing to remember the next time you hear that "9/11 changed everything."

(Photo by Raghu Rai.)

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wish You Were Here

As several of my more perspicacious readers have noticed, I'm on vacation. It was miserably hot in my house, so I sought refuge in the southernmost deserts of Arizona and California.

I should be back on Thursday, with a few nice pictures and a case of heat stroke.