Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging


GrrlScientist reports that the publishing behemoth Reed Elsevier has pulled out of the international arms trade:

Elsevier, which owns the medical journal The Lancet, had faced boycotts and continued protests for the past two years from authors, academics and medical professionals. Last year 13 authors, including Ian McEwan, A. S. Byatt and Nick Hornby, joined in by calling on the company to quit the arms trade market. Further, some investors have also pressured Elsevier about its arms exhibitions.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that should aid Afghan women:
The US House of Representatives voted 406 to 10 yesterday to pass an omnibus bill that will provide security and economic assistance to Afghanistan and will limit funds given to warlords in high-level offices. The bill includes the major provisions of the Afghan Women's Empowerment Act, including the authorization for three years of $5 million for the Afghan Ministry for Women's Affairs, $10 million for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and $30 million for Afghan-led non-governmental organizations that are providing assistance to Afghan women and girls.

Norma Gattsek, director of government relations and global programs at the Feminist Majority, said of the House's vote, "This bill finally recognizes the dire conditions for Afghan women and girls, who are under constant attack by fundamentalists who want to deprive them of their rights.
Afghan women and girls aren’t the only ones “under constant attack by fundamentalists,” which is why the newly introduced Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act is absolutely necessary:
Bipartisan legislation guaranteeing a woman’s ability to access birth control - including over-the-counter emergency contraception - was introduced by U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-14) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ) today at a Capitol Hill rally attended by several leading women’s organizations. The “Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act,” would make it illegal for a pharmacy to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and require pharmacies to help, not hinder a woman’s ability to access contraception.
My views on pharmacists whose “consciences” don’t allow them to dispense birth control are extremely negative, so I’m all in favor of taking legal action against them.

A new search engine claims to generate money for charity when people surf the Intertubes:
Users earn money for one of the four charitable causes simply by conducting their daily searches from the Ripple page (powered by Google) or by clicking on a ‘Give Panel’ located in the Ripple homepage.

In the first case, a portion of any revenue earned by Google from the search is directed to Ripple, which passes 100% of this amount directly on to one of the four charities they have selected to help fight global poverty.
Mali’s jatropha plant has some interesting uses:
Some 700 communities in Mali have installed biodiesel generators powered by oil from the hardy Jatropha curcas plant to meet their energy needs, according to Reuters. The Malian government is promoting cultivation of the inedible oilseed bush, commonly used as a hedge or medicinal plant, to provide electricity for lighting homes, running water pumps and grain mills, and other critical uses. Mali hopes to eventually power all of the country’s 12,000 villages with affordable, renewable energy sources.
The Sietch Blog discusses Sony's prospective line of human-powered electronic devices, as well as a new solar wireless router, both of which will be particularly useful in the developing world. (Apropos of which, Catherine Laine of AIDG Blog has a nice Flickr set of photos she took at Cooper Hewitt Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibit.)

A symbiotic relationship between plants and bacteria may have promising applications:
The demonstration of alternative pathways capable of triggering the nodulation signal in certain rhizobia is promising for future techniques for bringing these bacteria into association with different leguminous plants. It therefore becomes possible to increase agricultural production of a greater number of important plants, notably in tropical countries, while cutting down the use of fertilizers.
You heard it here first.

Inhabitat reports on the “solar city” of Rizhao, China:
Since 2001, Rizhao City (Shandong Province, China) officials have been educating the public and initiating new building regulations to promote the use of solar panels in their city. Traffic lights, street lamps and over 60,000 greenhouses are solar powered. Today, the city of nearly three million has over a half-million square meters of solar water heating panels—99% of households in the central districts use solar water heaters and more than 30% do so in the outlying villages.
A strange new lamp made of aluminum foil is alleged to have great potential:
“Built of aluminum foil, sapphire and small amounts of gas, the panels are less than 1 millimeter thick, and can hang on a wall like picture frames,” said Gary Eden, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U. of I., and corresponding author of a paper describing the microcavity plasma lamps in the June issue of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics….

Like conventional fluorescent lights, microcavity plasma lamps are glow-discharges in which atoms of a gas are excited by electrons and radiate light. Unlike fluorescent lights, however, microcavity plasma lamps produce the plasma in microscopic pockets and require no ballast, reflector or heavy metal housing. The panels are lighter, brighter and more efficient than incandescent lights and are expected, with further engineering, to approach or surpass the efficiency of fluorescent lighting.
This is the first I’ve heard of it, and I have no idea what to make of it. The same goes for Inhabitat’s rather incoherent discussion of a process that recycles waste heat into sound and electricity:
If you take a source of heat and apply to any enclosed area, the air inside it will expand increasing the pressure inside. This pressurized air will then move through a filter or opening on one side, producing a simple clear sound at a standard frequency…. The sound waves then pass through “piezoelectric” devices which transform the sound into electricity when squeezed by sound.
After that, it’s something of a relief to visit the terra cognita of Stirling engines. Green Wombat has a longish post on the progress of Stirling Energy Systems’ massive installation in the Mojave Desert (which I discussed in an earlier edition of FHB).
Although the Stirling dish is one of the most efficient ways to convert sunlight into electricity, the sheer scale of the California utility projects - the contracts call for Stirling to provide up to 1.75 gigawatts of solar electricity - has prompted doubts among the company's rivals about its ability to manufacture so many dishes and engines and keep them operating. "The rocket science part of it has been completed," Osborn told Green Wombat at Stirling's headquarters, tucked away in an office park north of downtown Phoenix. "What we’re doing now is taking the units that work well and perform well and making the changes so they’re amenable to high-volume manufacturing."
Grist reports on a heartening outbreak of opposition to coal-to-liquids plants. And in Florida, state regulators have unanimously rejected the construction of a new “clean coal” plant. The main objection was its cost, though environmental issues seemingly played a part as well. The article is noteworthy for this odd quote:
Though 70 miles from the Everglades and 40 miles from Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge, the Moore Haven site fell within a park-protection zone requiring stringent federal air-quality standards.
40 to 70 miles? Those parks may as well have been on the far side of the moon, eh?

Voters in Tennessee have rejected a plan to subsidize big-box retailers with their tax dollars. How arrogant of these people to imagine that they know what’s best for their town! That goes double for El Paso, Texas, which is balking at reopening the Asarco copper smelter:
The El Paso City Council, officials from neighboring Sunland Park, N.M., and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, recently signed a joint resolution against Asarco. They hope state environmental officials deciding Asarco's future in El Paso will consider the symbolic move.
Nancy Pelosi has scuttled a challenge to California’s right to enforce more stringent emissions rules:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding to pressure from California officials and environmentalists, has slapped down a new proposal by top House Democrats that would have wiped out California's ability to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

In a brief but pointed statement Tuesday night, the San Francisco Democrat said, "Any proposal that affects California's landmark efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or eliminates the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will not have my support."
Also, California’s attorney general is suing San Bernardino for failing to take climate issues into account when making land use decisions:
If the suit is successful, California cities and counties could be forced to take steps to limit sprawl, promote compact development, require builders to design energy-efficient houses that offer solar power, and encourage less driving, more mass transit and use of alternative fuels.
Still more trouble for the Minutemen:
A man who mortgaged his home in order to help the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps build border fencing on private land in Cochise County is suing the group and its president, Chris Simcox, for fraud and breach of contract.
Dave Neiwart explains why this is good news:
As these lawsuits work their way through the courts, we'll be finding out a whole lot more about how these right-wing scam artists bilked millions of people into sending them their hard-earned dollars. It's the same old story with a new cast, but watching how it plays out is always instructive.
While we’re on the topic, you may want to check out this list of global migration myths (via Subtopia).

Researchers claim to have found 24 new species in a Suriname rainforest:
Among the 24 species believed new to science are an Atelopus frog with brilliant purple markings, four Eleutherodactylus frog species, six species of fish, 12 dung beetles and an ant species. The scientists also found 27 species endemic to the Guayana Shield region comprising Suriname and neighboring Guyana, French Guiana and northern Brazil, including a rare armored catfish, Harttiella crassicauda, feared extinct because gold mining activities had contaminated a creek where it was last seen more than 50 years ago.
Here in the US, the yellow-billed loon has made some headway in gaining protection under the ESA. And an Alabama developer has suffered a second, and hopefully crushing, legal defeat:
For the second time in five years, an Alabama federal court has halted two massive resort projects to protect the habitat of the endangered Alabama beach mouse. On May 31, Judge William Steele issued a preliminary injunction preventing any action that would result in killing the Alabama beach mouse until a final decision could be reached in the case.
Here's a picture of the varmint in question.


There’s word of a new flame-retardant plastic:
A group of scientists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have just created a new synthetic polymer that doesn't burn and doesn't require the flame-retardant chemicals found in most plastics….The polymer uses a chemical known as bishydroxydeoxybenzoin or BHDB as its building block, which releases water vapor upon breaking down in a fire instead of noxious gases.
This is expected to be useful in reducing fatalities from fires on airplanes.

New Canadian legislation forces schools to test their water for lead contamination yearly, while stepping up lead mitigation efforts:
The province will help purchase water filters for pregnant women and low-income parents with young children in older neighbourhoods, the two groups that are most vulnerable to lead.

Queen's Park is also helping municipalities adjust the chemistry of water to prevent leaching lead from pipes, and encouraging cities to help homeowners replace lead pipes through such things as financing.
It’ll end in serfdom, needless to say. If you’re not free to drink leaded water, you’re not free at all!

Also in Canada, an environmental group wants to create an interactive map that details local pollution sources:
"The City of Toronto has promised since the year 2000 that they would have a community right-to-know bylaw," said Cino.

"It's been seven years and we haven't seen it. Well, the community has concerns, and we want to show you there are concerns. If this is a very successful project and we can build this map, then why can't Toronto build it?"
Meanwhile, 3D maps from Google Earth are helping activists and NGOs to educate people about a wide variety of regional problems:
For example, Mary Ann Hitt, executive director of nonprofit Appalachian Voices, said a collective of grassroots organizations is using 3D maps in Google Earth to show how millions of acres of Appalachian Mountains across four states have been destroyed by mining companies….

"This has revolutionized our thinking," Hitt said here Wednesday at the Fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth. "It's given us the ability to give the kind of tour of the mountains that we only could give previously to the media or government officials. This gives (us) an audience of 200 million people," she said.
In related news, the bioacoustician Bernie Krause is working with Google Earth to catalog soundmarks:
Some, such as a recording made north of California's Lake Tahoe, come with before-and-after recordings – in this case recordings taken before and after selective logging took place at the spot in the late 1980s. Krause returned to the meadow 15 times after the logging. A gurgling brook takes center stage to a background cast of birds in the "before" recording; "after" reveals little life at all….

His goal is to get people to reconsider a culture in which noise equates with power, in favor of one in which people value the importance of natural sounds in their own lives.
Unfortunately, you won’t find archived sounds at A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs. But the pictures are evocative enough:


Also evocative: Confetta’s magnificent Flickr set of wonderfully odd cigarette cards. (I highly recommend the slideshow version.)


Micscape has a nice feature on diatoms of the North Sea, as well as a survey of mantids, stick insects, and centipedes.

Next, via Things, comes Modern Ruins. (I may’ve linked to this site before, come to think of it. And I may link to it again.)

And another thing: Oiseaux from Agence Eureka; the wallpaper designs of Dan Funderburgh; “45 rpm curios” from Office Naps; a new form of música fronteriza from Subtopia; and vintage postcards of airships, offered for sale.


(Illustration at top: “Antarctic Iceberg” by Edward Seago, 1956.)

1 comment:

dan mcenroe said...

My mom and my sister are both practicing Catholics and healthcare professionals (Mom's retired). They didn't want to be involved with abortions so they took the radical step of taking jobs in a Catholic hospital where that would never be an issue.

Why a similar career path hasn't occurred to all these pharmacists is a mystery to me. (Actually it isn't; I just don't want to believe these dipshits see themselves as front line soldiers in the culture war.)

Oh, and human powered or not, if Sony makes it, you'll be lucky to get a year out of it.