Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Chromodoris albopunctata's a Sphinx. And her ordeal
Is all the more destructive to mankind
Because, perhaps, she has no riddle.
Nor did she ever have one.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

This week's edition will be a bit shorter than usual because I'm a bit busier than usual. You can always read it twice!

Thailand has passed a law that criminalizes marital rape.

Gender rights activists Thursday hailed the legislature's approval of an anti-rape law that widens the definition of the crime and makes it illegal in Thailand for a husband to have sex with his wife without her consent.
Egypt has banned clitoridectomy:
On Thursday, Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali decided to ban every doctor and member of the medical profession, in public or private establishments, from carrying out a clitoridectomy, a ministry press official told AFP.

Any circumcision "will be viewed as a violation of the law and all contraventions will be punished," said the official, adding that it was a "permanent ban".
As recently as 2000, 97 percent of the country's women went through this procedure.

Three former members of Exodus International, a Christian group that calls on gays to convert to the One True Faith of heterosexuality, have apologized for their activities:
"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families," the three said in a statement released outside the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.
MInneapolis is considering restrictions on McMansions:
A City Council committee recommended Thursday that the full council approve limits on the height, bulk and lot coverage of new and existing homes. That vote is planned for June 29.
Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (CA-32) has introduced a bill that would "fight pollution and poverty at the same time by creating federally-funded job training within the green economy."
On Wednesday, the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee passed her bill by a bipartisan vote of 26 to 18. This is the first step in the House toward providing job training every year for about 35,000 U.S. workers (and would-be workers) in green and clean industries.
There's talking of using mushroom spores as a building material:
Here's how it works: A mixture of water, mineral particles, starch and hydrogen peroxide are poured into 7-by-7-inch molds and then injected with living mushroom cells. The hydrogen peroxide is used to prevent the growth of other specimens within the material.

Placed in a dark environment, the cells start to grow, digesting the starch as food and sprouting thousands of root-like cellular strands. A week to two weeks later, a 1-inch-thick panel of insulation is fully grown. It's then dried to prevent fungal growth, making it unlikely to trigger mold and fungus allergies, according to Bayer. The finished product resembles a giant cracker in texture.
A woman from Perth has invented a useful new utility meter:
Ms Ewing...said she wanted to see at a glance how much water, gas and electricity was being consumed at any point in time, and how this related to her energy bills. The device will be designed to react each time a light, tap or TV is left on standby.
Toronto plans to install solar panels on the roofs of schools, and sell the electricity they generate to the power grid:
If everything goes smoothly, windmills and solar panels will cover the roofs of 10 schools across the city as early as next summer.

"Because schools are so strategically located throughout the city, we could create a perfect green grid," said Josh Matlow, a board trustee and a driving force behind the idea.
A new study shows that New England could cut its energy consumption by 18 percent by using current technology; the emotional anguish it'd cause Steven J. Milloy is an attractive fringe benefit.

Speaking of richly deserved suffering, a developer in Virginia has been fined $100,000 for damaging wetlands:
This wasn't an innocent mistake, but an intentional act. So $100,000 seems reasonable, maybe even lenient. It's also a creative solution to a problem that should be fixed. The maximum fine the commission can levy for a single violation of regulations that protect Virginia's wetlands is $10,000. So a plan was hatched to apply a multiplier to reflect that mowing went on over some time. The case was made that it should have been more like $370,000, or $10,000 for each day the equipment was on the property. In any event, it's fitting that the fine goes into a fund to preserve and improve marine habitats, including wetlands.
Spruce Hill, a vital archaeological site in Ohio, has been saved from being auctioned off to paper companies who were hoping to raid its forests:
In a heroic effort, four preservation groups joined together to purchase the land just one day before it was set to go to auction. Highlands Sanctuary led the Archaeological Conservancy, Wilderness East, and Ross County Park District in raising an astonishing $217,000 in cash and $150,000 in no-interest loans. To accomplish this feat, they contacted scores of archeological groups across the country, including the Archaeological Institute of America, all of which were overwhelmingly supportive. Jeffrey Wilson, a key player in the fundraising, stated, "I can't remember a single person that didn't say they wanted [Spruce Hill] preserved."
They need more money to seal the deal; you can donate by clicking here. Tell your friends!

Logging plans have also been thwarted in Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest:
Environmental groups appealed in May and asked for a fuller environmental impact test and more time for public input.

"While I still believe strongly that the project is valid ... I have elected to withdraw my decision," Forest Supervisor Jerome Perez said.
In Nepal, seven monuments have been removed from a list of threatened historical sites:
The seven ancient monuments removed by Unesco from the list of world heritage sites in danger include the Patan and the Bhaktapur Durbar Squares, two centuries-old Hindu temples and two Buddhist stupas....

The Unesco website says that the seven monuments now benefit from "increased resources allocated to the site's museums, improved management and reinforced staff".
Shipping lanes into Boston will be rerouted to protect whales:
Ships steaming into Boston harbor will soon shift course to avoid whales in the first change of U.S. shipping lanes to protect an endangered species.

Starting on Sunday, large vessels will travel roughly 4 miles north of their old path in new lanes, rerouted to avoid parts of the only whale feeding sanctuary in the United States, the Coast Guard and scientists said.
Also, 4th Amendment rights have been extended to e-mail. For now.

Next up, a gallery of green roofs, via Treehugger. Here's one from Iceland:

You probably don't know all you should about hobo nickels.

Or the 19th-century ledger art of the Plains Indians:

Coudal recommends an incredible Flickr set of Santa Monica apartment names. As do I.

Last, a charming home movie of Coney Island circa 1969:

(Photo at top: A NASA image of the moon "recorded through three spectral filters and combined in an exaggerated false-color scheme to explore the composition of the lunar surface as changes in mineral content produce subtle color differences in reflected light.")

Thursday, June 28, 2007

From Negligible to Severe

At Planet Gore, a titanic battle is being waged between Jim Manzi and "sound science" advocate Steven Milloy.

Milloy shrieks that climate change is a fabrication of doomstruck lie-beral alarmists who will kill us all, and that climate feedback loops are completely hypothetical, and then spatters a photo of Ayn Rand with clumpy yellowish semen (I'm paraphrasing here).

Manzi accepts that some amount of anthropogenic climate change is happening, but feels that "its impact over the next century could plausibly range from negligible to severe." Therefore, addressing it is a good idea, but possibly not, and he's not being indecisive (splunge!).

In other words, Manzi favors pretty much the same approach the Right takes to the threat of nuclear terrorism. You don't want to be too hasty about changing laws around, and spending billions of dollars on prevention, and taking staggering geopolitical risks, when the catastrophe you're afraid of may not even happen.

Kidding aside, Manzi deserves plenty of credit for taking a flamethrower to Milloy's army of strawmen, and for making this simple but effective point to an audience who may well resent him for it:

Milloy doesn’t seem to get that “I don’t know” is not the same thing as “No reason to worry”.
I have some problems with Manzi, of course. For instance, he calls the threat of climate change to the United States "incalculably small," and insists on a market-based approach to mitigation, while arguing that "the process of science tends to be self-correcting, but like all markets, this can take a long time to work, and is imperfect." Still, I'd gladly buy him a drink.

That's more than I can say for Henry Payne, who calls Richard Lindzen "the Milton Friedman of atmospheric science" and claims that Lindzen's WSJ piece from a year ago remains "the most comprehensive, layman-accessible article written on GW science." That isn't quite as silly as calling Genesis the most comprehensive, layman-accessible article written on evolutionary biology. But it comes pretty fucking close.

In related news, Sir Oolius anatomizes Tom DeLay, with amusing results.

The Catechism of Conservatarian Cliché

I stumbled on this ancient draft post earlier today. It was apparently intended as a response to something Thers (above, seated) posted at Metacomments, which has since been lost along with the blog itself. It still seems timely, though, and it's also a heartwarming reminder of the high times we had in those dear dead days.

Recently, Thers had the idea of bringing the Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché (up to date), (little knowing) that Crooked Timber had (gamely) attempted it (some years ago).

Unfortunately, (much as I admire) the (good people) at CT, their effort was (woefully inadequate). Like most (human endeavor) in our cold age, it lacked grace, fecundity, and a certain greatness of spirit. Given the dearth of these commodities in (general society), and their superabundance in the warm wellsprings of my own person, it were (rank injustice) if (false modesty) prevented me from sharing my bounty with these (poor but worthy) intellectual starvelings.

Step right up: it's safe as houses and no electric shocks will be given.

Against what embracers of arboreal flora are we to inveigh?


Along with what idolators of the dear old sod?


For what purpose?

To advance the principles of free enterprise and limited government.

What will happen if these principles are not advanced?

Economic collapse and socialist tyranny.

Who argues that climate change is real?

Global-warming devoteés.

Of what do their arguments consist?

Alarmist predictions.

Based on what?

Junk science.

What do they say is falling?

The sky.

To which avian Cassandra do they accordingly bear a resemblance?

Chicken Little.

What do they hope to destroy?


All capitalism?

No, American Capitalism.

Who might unwittingly aid them in this endeavor?

The gullible masses.

What may I now be permitted to let rest?

This matter.

(Illustration: From "Hints for Sots," by Flann O'Brien.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


If you think that two disastrous wars, an executive branch that places itself outside the law, a warming climate, and the tireless mainstreaming of racism and misogyny collectively spell trouble for the US of A, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re living in a fool’s paradise.

For as a new article in WorldNetDaily makes clear, we face the frightening possibility of an unprecedented increase in the arguable likelihood of a potential explosion in the relative attractiveness of witchcraft.

A victory for Harry Potter means a victory for Wicca, a religion that practices various forms of witchcraft….

"In the midst of fun and fantasy, J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' novels make witchcraft look 'cool' and exciting," [Steve Wohlberg] told WND. "It doesn’t matter that these novels are only 'fictitious stories.' Stories are powerful."
On that last point, Wohlberg is quite right. There may not be any truth to the claim that there’s a leprosy epidemic in America, or that Rachel Carson has killed three billion and counting, or that the Iranians are plotting to annihilate us with an electromagnetic pulse attack, or that "Islamofascists" are plotting to outbreed the decadent West, or that 240,000 illegal immigrants are dangerous sex offenders, or – for that matter – that there’s been an increase in children who self-identify as Wiccans after reading Harry Potter.

But none of that matters, ultimately. Stories are powerful!

(Photo: "Two Witches" by Sean Duggan, 2005.)

Economy of Force

Those of us who are disturbed by the US policy of walling-off Iraqi neighborhoods have apparently failed to understand that the walls were built for a reason:

"The point of the walls was to structure the environment, to hold the city and keep it safe," [Retired Colonel David Kilcullen] tells DANGER ROOM. "It's like [keeping] guard inside a concrete building, instead of in the middle of a field... You don't need vast maneuver forces to do it... It's the principle of economy of force."
Thank heavens we didn't listen to the dirty fucking hippies who opposed the war. If we had, we might never have learned that partitioning urban neighborhoods is useful when you invade a country illegally - for no reason, at an incalculable expense – and find yourself facing a determined, creative insurgency.

Maybe I’m a sourpuss, but I see the construction of neighborhood walls – “necessary” or not – as symbolic of why the occupation is a failure (as well as a crime, and an act of elemental stupidity). Never mind the PR catastrophe of evoking the wall between Israel and Palestine, or the absurdity of trying to “break the cycle of sectarian violence” by setting sectarian divisions literally in stone; the simple fact is that building barriers on other people’s land makes them angry, and any security you earn with this strategy is likely to be fleeting at best.

Unfortunately, building barriers is a centerpiece of post-9/11 strategic thinking; it’s right up there with killing ‘em all, and ordering our womenfolk to ramp up production of white babies.

Barriers aren’t just defenses, of course; they’re also vulnerable infrastructure that must be defended, lest the evildoers blow them up, or tunnel under them, or assassinate the people guarding them, or what have you. That’s why Taser International’s Taser Remote Area Denial (TRAD) is such an exciting development. Basically, it’s a robotic taser that will patrol “high value facilities or operations such as checkpoints, command centers, depots, aircraft insertions, and spec ops, as well as fixed installations such as embassies, air fields, utility facilities, pipelines, etc."

Like all the best robots, TRADs can distinguish between friend and foe, and act accordingly:
Once an engagement decision is made (either by the operator or the system depending on user selected settings), the TASERNET program selects the specific TRAD units best suited for engagement and transmits fire authorization. The TRAD unit will then arrest the targeted individuals by providing complete incapacitation.
In other words, they've found an unmet need in their target market, and they intend to fulfill it.

A shrewd commenter at Danger Room thinks the TRAD could be knocked off its spindly little legs without much effort, or simply riddled with bullet holes from a safe distance. This is a serious concern, which is why I suggest that any TRADs deployed should be under constant surveillance by armed microdrones, and protected from enemy approach by automated kill zones.

Otherwise, we run the risk of wasting the taxpayers' money by having our robot guardians used for target practice.

(Illustration from the October 1948 issue of Popular Science, via Modern Mechanix.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Extraordinary Outburst

An article in the Belfast Telegraph is headlined Gore blames scientists for climate crisis.

This creates a reasonable expectation that Gore will be quoted saying that scientists are to blame for the climate crisis. But instead, reporter Jonathan Owen offers us a rather vague sentence from Gore’s new foreword to Earth in the Balance:

In a swipe at the scientific community, he says: “I wish that we could have had in the 1990s the deafening scientific consensus that has emerged in more recent years.”
Owen calls this “an extraordinary outburst.” He’s right, of course, and it’s shocking that Gore’s scurrilous attack on Science Itself hasn’t received more scrutiny since it was first published back in – let’s see - October of 2006. Hats off to Owen for defying the Emessem's blackout of this vitally important story!

If anyone needs further proof that Gore is a charlatan, the top-flight research team at Planet Gore has it in spades. They report that on June 19, Professor Scott Armstrong challenged Gore to a $20,000 bet on climate warming. Now it’s a week later, and Gore still hasn’t responded. Obviously, the old fraud is hiding in a broom closet, wolfing down éclairs spattered with tears of self-pity.

The rout is all the more devastating because, as Iain Murray notes, Gore “hasn't been challenged by any of the so-called skeptics, but by a world expert in long-range forecasting techniques.”

Hear that, Fatty? You're not dealing with some half-bright, ideology-addled stooge like Iain Murray this time around. Armstrong is an expert!

Incidentally, James Annan finds some problems with the terms of Armstrong’s wager. Armstrong hasn’t responded, even though six days have passed, so he clearly finds these objections unanswerable.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Vast Availability of Land

Joel Kotkin announces that Houston, Texas is the pinnacle of modern civilization, and a beacon lighting our way into the future:

When speaking on urban issues, one reliable way to draw derisive comments is to mention Houston. Perhaps no major city in America has a worse reputation among planners, urban aesthetes and smart growth advocates.

Yet, to a remarkable extent, Houston may well defy its critics — not only by continuing to expand, but by constructing a new and dynamic model of American urbanism that transcends all the worn cliches about ''sprawl''....
Houston will defy its critics by continuing to grow. And what’s more, this process will be dynamic. There’s some paradigm-shattering wisdom for you!

In Kotkinland - a colonial outpost of Cockaigne - growth is unlimited and illimitable, thanks to “the vast availability of land” and the convenience of the automobile. Water availability, drainage, oil prices, and the cost and availability of raw materials don’t enter into his calculations; like Althusserian interpellation and triple-ribbed vibrating buttplugs, these are fashionable preoccupations of the “chattering classes.” Affluence breeds growth, and growth affluence; that’s all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Rather than impositions by government fiat, Houston's myriad master-planned communities are largely creations of the planners' nightmare — the marketplace. They reflect a typically pragmatic, market-oriented, Houston-style approach: building the kinds of housing that people demand….
Damn straight. To hell with urban planners and their pompous talk of “congestion” and “nonpermeable surfaces” and “fossil water.” It’s time to elbow these tweed-clad, chardonnay-addled academics aside and give the people what they want, like they’re doing in Galveston:
Leaders of this fast-eroding barrier island — the scene of the deadliest hurricane in American history — are about to approve nearly 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotels despite geologists' warnings that the massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the island's natural storm shield….

Scientists estimate that Galveston is moving about a quarter-inch closer to the water every year because of rising sea levels and a slow sinking of the surface caused by oil extraction.
Galveston’s quite correct to ignore these geologists; they may have memorized a few obscure facts about rocks and dirt, but that doesn’t make them experts on urban planning, let alone consumer empowerment.

In other news, the Eastern Garbage Patch is currently twice the size of Texas. Three cheers for consumer choice!

(Illustration: “The Land of Cockaigne” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567.)

Thinking Fat Thoughts

You've probably heard of The Secret, which is an Australian TV producer's attempt to quantify the cosmic "law of attraction" that governs the allocation of consumer gee-gaws, rich husbands, anorexic-but-stacked mistresses, and other desiderata of the spiritually enlightened:

"The law of attraction says that like attracts like, and when you think and feel what you want to attract on the inside, the law will use people, circumstances and events to magnetize what you want to you, and magnetize you to it," Byrne said in an e-mail in response to several questions posed by The Associated Press.
The gist of this daring new philosophy seems to be that you get what you deserve; if Iraqis don't have clean water, perhaps they'd better put their thinking in order and stop conspiring against themselves. After all, the law of attraction is, as Ms. Byrne says, "impersonal, exact and precise."

Amazingly, there are people who object to this idea.
While "The Secret" has become a pop culture phenomenon, it also has drawn critics who are not quiet about labeling the movement a fad, embarrassingly materialistic or the latest example of an American propensity of wanting something for nothing.
How's that for razor-keen critique? It's a pop culture phenomenon, but some malcontents are calling it a fad. Others say it's too materialistic, which is - God knows - the last thing we want from batshit-crazy new age obscurantism. And finally, it's an example of Americans wanting something for nothing: even if "The Secret" worked like a charm (views differ!), the garish fripperies that designate success in our culture must only be obtained through hard work. Or failing that, the lottery. Or marrying someone rich, as long as you're not too fat.

Speaking of which, the amiable Ms. Byrne doesn't believe in metabolic or genetic causes for obesity; if you're overweight, it's because you're "thinking fat thoughts."

Theoretically, I suppose it'd be possible to use "The Secret" to attract men who don't require you to look like an undernourished 12-year-old with enormous breast implants.

But what if such men don't exist? One must be realistic, after all. The photo above depicts an "overweight woman" from a Brazilian ad for low-fat yogurt. The caption says, "Forget about it. Men's preference will never change." There are other laws of attraction, apparently, to which "The Secret" must eternally play second fiddle.

All of which reminds me of Adorno's complaint about astrology in The Stars Down to Earth:
It implies that all problems due to objective circumstances such as, above all, economic difficulties, can be solved in terms of private individual behavior or by psychological insight, particularly into oneself, but also into others.
He has a point, granted...but at the same time, isn't it precisely this sort of gloomy Jewish defeatism that made the Holocaust inevitable?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Oh ! how can I
Enough admire Ceratosoma tenue, exprest
In new proportions, which doth give the Ly
To that Arithmetique which hath profest
All Numbers to be Hers ? thy Harmony
Comes from the Spheres, and there doth prove
Strange measures so well grac'd, as Majesty
It self, like thee would rest, like thee would move.

Photo by Jun Imamoto.

Friday Hope Blogging

Grist links to a fascinating study on The Policy Impact of the U.S. Environmental Movement, which has some important implications for other political struggles:

Protest is significantly more important than public opinion or institutional advocacy in influencing federal environmental law. Agnone found that each protest event increases the likelihood of pro-environmental legislation being passed by 1.2 percent, and moderate protest increases the annual rate of adoption by an astonishing 9.5 percent.

Public opinion on its own influences federal action (though less than protest), but is vastly strengthened by protest, which "amplifies" public support and, in Agnone's words, "raises the salience of public opinion for legislators." Protest and public opinion are synergistic, with a joint impact on federal policy far more dramatic than either factor alone.

Institutional advocacy has limited impact on federal environmental policy.
In related news, Media Matters explains Why Conservative America is a Myth.

Tyson Foods claims it will stop using antibiotics to raise chicken:
"We're providing mainstream consumers with products they want," Tyson Chief Executive Richard L. Bond said at a press conference.
A program in Michigan pays farmers to switch to no-till agriculture:
Linda and Wayne Pritchard...plan to enroll their 1,000 acres in Burlington this summer....

"My husband and Jake are both concerned about where our children and grandchildren will be when we're gone," Linda Pritchard said. "Neither one of them is a materialistic person; they're both concerned about the environment and the future."
The Senate has passed a bill that modestly raises mileage standards, and closes the loophole for SUVs.
The vote, 65 to 27, was a major defeat for car manufacturers, which had fought for a much smaller increase in fuel economy standards and is expected to keep fighting as the House takes up the issue.
The Senate has also rejected funding for coal to liquids:
Controversial proposals to boost the conversion of coal into liquid fuel were rejected in the U.S. Senate Tuesday, after lawmakers and groups that support the idea broke ranks on how to get the job done.
California is mandating cool paint for cars:
By blending in special pigments, car paint of any color can be made to reflect much of the sun's heat energy. That will keep the vehicle's interior cooler and reduce the demand on the air conditioner -- which in turn improves fuel efficiency and cuts carbon dioxide emissions a bit.
A judge has ruled that Inyo County, California must allow environmental groups to contest its plan to build two-lane highways through Death Valley:
“Inyo County’s land grab could undermine the very reasons Death Valley is such an iconic American landscape: its quiet, its beauty, its wildness,” said Ted Zukoski, attorney at Earthjustice. “The court understood that, and understood that those with the strongest interest in protecting Death Valley should have a seat at the table.”
The House has approved a bill that allows the US to donate birth control to foreign agencies:
The measure, approved 223-201, is intended by the new Democratic majority to crack open debate on a policy it says is failing. Initiated by President Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City, the policy bars any assistance to organizations abroad that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.
For now, this is more symbolic than practical, but it's heartening all the same. The Senate has also cut funding for abstinence education by $28 million. Not quite as good as cutting it altogether, but better than nothing.

Portugal has finalized a new, less restrictive law on abortion.
Under the law, women seeking an abortion will meet first with doctors who are to warn them of possible dangers. After a three-day reflection period, women can obtain an abortion free at a public hospital or go to a licensed private clinic.
Previously, abortions were allowed only in cases of rape or life-threatening pregnancy.

Google is donating $10 million to vehicle-to-grid research:
The company is going to modify six cars, a mix of Toyota Priuses and Ford Escape hybrids, with batteries that can draw juice from the grid and feed juice back in. The promise of this technology is that if it spreads, it will enable distributed electricity storage that can smooth spikes in electricity demand without expensive new generation plants.
The UK is spending $1 billion "to supply renewable energy to 300 government departments and civil service bodies." For the company that won the contract, the devastating economic effects of addressing climate change will be somewhat mitigated. Perhaps some of this money will even "trickle down" to workers.

China has vowed not to use food crops like corn for biofuel:
"Such a decision by such an important world player as China is likely to accelerate the second-generation technology for production of ethanol fuel from non-food crops - through conversion of biomass," Abdolreza Abbassian, Commodity Analyst and Secretary of FAO's Intergovernmental Group for Grains, told China Daily.
Speaking of biomass, olive pressing residue is being used to generate electricity in Spain.
The plant turns olive residue into biomass — a type of fuel generated from animal waste and plant material such as wood and crops. This is then burnt to generate electricity and heat. The Palenciana plant currently produces enough green electricity for 27,000 households, and has since been joined by four others in the region.
Also, Inhabitat discusses a house powered by a protein derived from spinach:
The most intriguing aspect of the residence lies in the way that it works within a community. The excess energy developed by the spinach-based skin is sent back to the grid for the neighborhood to use. The grey and black water recycling systems have enough capacity to treat the effluent from the neighbors and the garden is designed to be used by the community.
There's interesting research being done on magnetic refrigeration:
Magnetic refrigeration is a clean technology that uses magnetic fields to manipulate the degree of ordering (or entropy) of electronic or nuclear magnetic dipoles in order to reduce a material's temperature and allow the material to serve as a refrigerant. New materials for refrigeration based on gadolinium-germanium-silicon alloys display a giant magnetocaloric effect due to unusual coupling between the material's magnetism and chemical structure.
Wal-Mart claims to have achieved great things by reducing the size of its outer packaging by one inch:
By cutting the size of the boxes used to package a line of popular children's toys, the world's largest retailer says it saved trees, greenhouse gas emissions and $3 million.
Imagine how much they'd save if they got rid of the packaging altogether!

Speaking of which, the UK is increasingly opposed to plastic bags, thanks in large part to a documentary by a young filmmaker named Rebecca Hosking:
"Sea turtles can't read Wal-mart or Tesco signs on plastic bags," fumes Ms. Hosking, who returned to Britain in March. "They will home in on it and feed on it. Dolphins mistake them for seaweed and quite often they'll eat them and it causes huge damage."

Within a few weeks of coming back, Hosking persuaded her hometown to ban plastic bags outright and found herself in the vanguard of a sudden British revulsion for that most disposable convenience of the throwaway society.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has unanimously voted to restrict bottom trawling in the Bering Sea:
Today's unanimous decision is a great victory for the whales, walrus, seabirds and other animals in the Bering Sea, and we are glad the Council voted to provide essential protections our oceans need in this age of global climate change and an exploding world population," said Jim Ayers, Vice President of Oceana, an international organization dedicated to protecting the world's oceans.
In related news, the NOAA has taken an important (and long overdue) stand against gillnetters:
NOAA has denied issuance of the special exempted fishing permit required for gillnet boats to operate in an area of coast stretching from central California to central Oregon, during the time critically endangered leatherback sea turtles are feeding there.
The Army has suspended shipments of VX nerve gas waste to Port Arthur, TX, pending review of the practice by a federal judge (there's some background here, for those who only visit this backwater once a week).

Grist has an interesting discussion of Swedish conservation practices. Here are the parts that jumped out at me:
When local politicians announced the phasing out in 1996 [?!], it was little more than a quaint curiosity. Oil prices were hovering around a manageable $US20 a barrel and global warming was still a hotly contested debate. Today, at least one international delegation a week -- mainly from China and Japan -- beats a path to Vaxjo to see how it's done.

The first step towards Vaxjo's -- and Sweden's -- success was the city power plant ...instead of dumping the cooling water, as most power stations do, it's pumped out scalding to the city's taps and to another vast network of pipes. The second delivery system of insulated pipes runs hot water continuously through heaters in homes and offices. The water leaves the plant at over 100 degrees, travels as far as 10 kilometres and comes back warm to be reheated, over and over again. An enormous municipal hot-water tank acts as back-up, so showers never go cold.
Impressive, in a sense. But what good are hot showers when you're writhing under the lash of socialist tyranny?

Tibet intends to ban "the mining of gold, mercury, arsenic and peat to preserve mineral resources and protect the environment." And the UN is placing restrictions on the coral trade.
Conservationists hailed the decision. "This is the best possible decision to start getting the trade in these corals under some form of international control," said Ernie Cooper, a coral trade expert from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
A chart on water use from Good Magazine shows that "average daily water use per person in Mozambique is less than the water used to flush a low-flow toilet in the U.S." This isn't hope-inspiring news, exactly...but it's important for us to know. (Via AIDG Blog.)

The University of Nottingham is working to promote green chemistry in Ethiopia:
Much current research is focused on the search for renewable feedstocks and more environmentally acceptable solvents as replacements for petroleum-based products. This makes Green Chemistry particularly relevant to the needs of African countries such as Ethiopia, faced with an increasing demand for chemicals, little or no indigenous oil, and rapidly expanding populations.
Seed reports that India is shifting towards eco-friendly pyres for its open-air cremations.

This story on using buckyballs to prevent allergic reactions is the sort of thing that CKR will probably scold me for posting, but as a longtime allergy sufferer, I have to give it the benefit of the doubt:
According to Kepley, who is the principal author of the paper, the buckyballs are able to 'interrupt' the allergy/immune response by inhibiting a basic process in the cell that leads to the release of an allergic mediator. Essentially, the buckyballs are able to prevent mast cells from releasing histamine.
Apropos of CKR, Plep alerts me to a nice set of photos documenting the Seto people of Estonia.

You'll find some odd images in this Danish survey of mythological beasts.

There's a new issue of Polar Inertia. I also recommend Tales From the Vault: Canadian Pulp Fiction, 1940 - 1952. And this amazing gallery of covers for H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Here's one of my favorites:

The Forster Collection "is one of the world's great collections of eighteenth-century Pacific art and material culture." You might also have a look at Inscribing Meaning: Writing & Graphic Systems in African Art.

Via Coudal, a collection of 600 vintage slides from the 1950s and 1960s. (Did I mention that I got this link from Coudal? I'd feel terrible if I neglected to give credit where it was due.)

Last, photos of Trees in Snow by the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, via Moon River.

(Photo at top: "Man in Avenue" [1889], from an incredible exhibition of Early Kodak Camera Formats at Luminous Lint.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

History Comes Alive

They say it’s impossible to hate someone who makes you laugh. If this is true, Carol Iannone never need fear my enmity:

[I]n my view the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution arise from strains other than Roman Catholicism per se, more from the Reformation and the Enlightenment, although of course they build on the whole structure of European thought, including the Christian/Catholic Middle Ages. (They do also build to some extent on the ancient world as well, I think, particularly Rome.)
I really don’t know what I like best about this paragraph. Is it her scrupulous use of “in my view,” and “I think,” in order to ease the reader into her tentative divergence from a belief that no sane person holds? Is it her unexpected and oddly piquant distinction between “Roman Catholicism per se” (!) and the Reformation? Or is it the fact that her argument boils down to little more than the idea that the Founders were influenced by stuff about things?

It’s probably the latter, since it allows her to leap to the entertaining conclusion that if they’d they believed other stuff about different things, our nation would be unrecognizable today:
I believe Samuel Huntington is correct when he writes that the United States would not be the country it is today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants, but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics. If that had been the case, it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.
Got that? If California had been settled by Spanish Catholics, it would’ve been Mexico. And if French Catholics had settled in Maine and Louisiana, and Dutch explorers who honored the Union of Utrecht had settled in New Netherland…well, you get the idea.

Given her all-but-omniscient historical perspective, you can’t really blame Iannone for getting a bit impatient with the dullards and ideologues who teach at America’s colleges.

(Illustration at top: New Amsterdam, 1640.)

Ghost Cities

Forbes speculates on which cities will be gone by 2100. Venice is sinking. Mexico City is sinking too, and doesn’t have enough drinking water. Naples will be destroyed by volcano, and San Francisco by earthquake. Detroit is doomed because it’s…well, because it’s Detroit. Timbuktu will be swallowed by the desert, and Banjul, Gambia by the sea. And so on.

Flagstaff, Arizona must be relieved that it’s not on this list, given that it's running out of water. Tokyo's not on the list either, even though it takes 45.2 million acres of habitable land - about 3.6 times more than Japan actually has - to sustain it in the style to which it's become accustomed.

Meanwhile, Robert Bruegmann boldly challenges the conventional wisdom with yet another paint-by-numbers pro-sprawl article. You get the feeling that he was paid not by the word, but by the fallacy.

If sprawl is the outward spread of settlement at constantly lower densities without any overall plan, then London in the 19th century sprawled outward at a rate not surpassed since then by any American city.
We did it before, and we can do it again! Never mind the difference between 19th-century sprawl in London, and 21st-century sprawl in the desert West. There was sprawl then, and there’s sprawl now. Sprawl was attacked by effete intellectual snobs then, and it’s attacked by effete intellectual snobs now.

See how much you learn when you’re willing to look at the Big Picture?

Bruegmann goes on to paint a pretty picture of low-density cities powered by renewable energy:
[I]t is quite possible, with wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy, to imagine a world in which most people could simply decouple themselves from the expensive and polluting utilities that were necessary in the old high-density industrial city.
Does that mean that renewable energy could power high-density cities? Not on your life:
Even if all urban dwellers the world over were brought up to "ideal" urban consumption standards--say, that of a Parisian family living in a small apartment and using only public transportation--it would not reduce energy use and greenhouse emissions, since it would require such large increases in energy use by so many families who today are so poor they can't afford the benefits of carbon-based energy.
Heads he wins, tails you lose. And you better not argue, unless you want a knuckle sandwich from the Invisible Hand:
[T]he reason it has become the middle-class settlement pattern of choice is that it has given them much of the privacy, mobility and choice once enjoyed only by the wealthiest and most powerful.
This is exceedingly cute stuff. If we need to change our energy policy in order to create “sustainable” tract housing along freeway corridors, it’s a simple matter of waving a magic wand. But it’d be fruitless, and possibly dangerous, to go against the political, social, and economic forces that govern sprawl…even though they overlap in certain important respects with the ones that govern our energy policy.

Bruegmann is preferable to Joel Kotkin, because he admits - sort of - that sprawl is land-intensive. But he can’t quite grasp that this makes it an issue of local, national, and global resource management: we’re simply informed that there’s “plenty of land” to allow for everyone in the West to have a single-family home (and, presumably, to provide all the materials needed to build and maintain millions of new homes).

As for water…who cares? It falls from the sky, gratis and free of charge!

World without end, amen.

(Photo of Rice, California via Walking in LA.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Desperate Measures

Danger Room reports that US troops will use biometrics to distinguish between terrorists and civilians in Iraq.

[T]he Americans intend to take fingerprints and other biometric data from every resident who seems to be a potential fighter after they and Iraqi forces have gained control of the western side of the city. The Americans will also test for the presence of explosive material on suspects’ hands."
Let's hope that very few innocent Iraqis take nitroglycerin for their hearts, or use ammonium nitrate on their farmland. And that the insurgents aren't sophisticated enough to contaminate, say, money with trace amounts of explosives in order to flood the system with false positives.

To me, this project sounds unreliable, alienating, and eminently exploitable. Regardless, "$320 million from the latest war-funding bill will go towards biometric programs." What it'll cost to address the insurgents' adaptational tactics remains to be seen.

Danger Room also reports on the US effort to thwart IED attacks, which costs about $4 billion per year (or roughly four times the amount Bush has allocated to alternative-energy research). The good news is, it works. The bad news is, it doesn't make any difference:
At the beginning of the Iraq war, an agency official tells DANGER ROOM, the ratio of bombs to coalition casualties was about 1-to-1. Today in Iraq, it's on the order of 6-to-1 -- meaning, it now takes more bombs to hurt or kill a servicemember. Unfortunately, the number of attacks has gone up six-fold, too. So the numbers of wounded and killed has stayed more or less constant.
The Pentagon says that this means insurgents have to work harder to inflict the same number of casualties. Which is probably true. But the thing is, that level of casualties is unsustainable for us, as is the $4 billion we spend per year to address this single tactic. With enough R&D, and enough money, we may come up with a technological fix that'll reduce IED attacks dramatically. But at that point, the insurgents will simply try a new approach. And if it's successful, we may well be right back where we started.

Apropos of which, an article in Time profiles an Iraqi bombmaker:
[H]is tools are primitive — soldering irons, old printed circuit boards, discarded TV remotes and other bits of electronic detritus. But he has a talent for fashioning instruments of death from such dreck, turning an old toy walkie-talkie into a trigger for an explosion 100 yards away or programming a washing-machine timer to set off an IED two hours later.

"They are not going to defeat me with technology," he says. "If they want to get rid of IEDs, they have to kill me and everyone like me."
In an uncharacteristically lucid moment, Deleuze and Guattari observed that "it is precisely its impotence that makes power so dangerous." It's not just that we can't defeat this sort of enemy with technology; the larger problem is that our reliance on technology is itself a vulnerability.

Speaking of vulnerability, an article in the LA Times portrays the US Embassy in Iraq (cost: $592 million) as essentially suburban:
This is not the architecture...of domination or empire. This is the architecture of manufactured, blast-resistant banality. What BDY is selling to its government client is a compound whose spaces are wide open enough to admit a quiet, essentially suburban kind of sprawl.
Where does one start? First, domination and empire are foundational concepts of suburbia, as its history of racially restrictive covenants and other exclusionary practices demonstrates. Second, imposing "manufactured banality" on a disintegrating city like Baghdad is domination par excellence. Putting aside the violence that makes its construction possible, the Embassy's design amounts to an expression of contempt and an act of provocation; it's architecture as the extension of war by other means. Which is why, to paraphrase W.G. Sebald, it casts the shadow of its own destruction before it.

Meanwhile, with only forty percent of Baghdad "under control" (whatever that means), we're escalating airstrikes on Iraqi neighborhoods and infrastructure. As William S. Lind says:
Nothing could testify more powerfully to the failure of U.S. efforts on the ground in Iraq than a ramp-up in airstrikes. Calling in air is the last, desperate, and usually futile action of an army that is losing. If anyone still wonders whether the "surge" is working, the increase in air strikes offers a definitive answer: it isn't.
Maybe not, but it was worth a try, right? Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Or vice versa, if desperate measures happen to be your stock in trade.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Punishment Fits the Crime

This is possibly the best example I've ever seen of conservatarian noblesse oblige:

Lawyers for former Interior Deputy Secretary Steven Griles are arguing that the convicted felon should not serve any prison time but instead be sentenced to perform community service for a program funded by The Walt Disney Company and recreational industry lobbyists....The industry consortium has already approved a slot for Griles in which he would fundraise, secure corporate partners and handle “communication…with government entities and the media.”
By the same logic, an official who illegally turned a public forest over to developers could perform community service by driving one of the firm's bulldozers.

I could almost bring myself to admire the sheer nerve it'd take to make this argument, if I didn't suspect that the people making it have no idea that there's anything outrageous about it. In Hell, some say, gluttons are forcefed; here on earth, teenagers caught sneaking cigarettes are sometimes made to smoke a whole pack of them. Maybe if Griles spends enough time toadying to industry, he'll weary of it. You never know 'til you try!

In unrelated news, the Farm Bill currently under debate in Congresss includes a section that would forbid state and local governments from restricting the planting of genetically modified crops.
It is unclear who inserted Section 123 into the federal legislation, but staffers working on the bill say they do not expect it to survive intact.
Shocking, isn't it? Whoever did this terrible thing should be forced to repay the community by distributing Monsanto-approved educational materials to public schools.

This, That, and the Other

A few random links, just so I can put off writing anything for a little while longer:

Congo Journey is a collection of "Photographs and Documents from Robert Hottot's Expedition to Central Africa, 1908-9."

Art That Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia is a fascinating site that discusses the role of medico-religious identities, secret names, and talismans in traditional medicine.

The Dawn of Colour commemorates the centennial of the autochrome. Here's one taken in 1913 by Mervyn Joseph Pius O'Gorman:

Tyren, Jomfruen og alle de andre comprises a collection of old star atlases (in Danish).

Teh Booxxor of Joob preachez teh LOLcat g05p3l 2 u nooblarz (via Pandagon).

Not Pop-Ups: The Other Illustrated Books, Ephemera, and Graphic Designs of Vojtech Kubašta was the source for the illustration at the top of this post.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This week's model is an unidentified species photographed in Papua New Guinea by Gil Williamson.

Friday Hope Blogging

The big story this week is that Massachusetts has slapped down a bid to end marriage equality. Pandagon compiles the responses of Freepers; some vow not to support Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, and others claim they’ll never set foot in Massachusetts again. One can only hope they really mean it.

Lindsey at Eschaton informs me that Asheville, North Carolina has banned gated communities.

The City Council voted Tuesday to forbid new gated communities, following through on concerns the developments make the city less of a community.

The ban passed by the council on a 5-2 vote applies to future developments, which would no longer be allowed to restrict access to only residents and their guests, done usually with gates or security workers.
It took me a couple of minutes to grasp what an incredible - and healthy - change in thinking this represents...particularly given the thinking of the last seven years.

Also in North Carolina, the state senate has passed a right-to-know bill that would improve residents’ access information about hazardous waste facilities in their neighborhoods.
The bill also closes a loophole that allows hazardous waste storehouses to operate outside of state regulation if they keep waste for less than 10 days.
In Brooklyn, meanwhile, parking spaces for cars are being eliminated to create parking spaces for bicycles. And Toronto is toying with the idea of banning leaf-blowers and gas mowers.

Praising Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m having a hard time seeing the downside of his ongoing attacks on BushCo’s denialism:
On Monday, he teamed up with Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, a fellow Republican, to chastise the folks on the Hill for "inaction and denial" on climate change in an open letter published in the Washington Post....

"It's bad enough that the federal government has yet to take the threat of global warming seriously," wrote the guvs, "but it borders on malfeasance for it to block the efforts of states such as California and Connecticut that are trying to protect the public's health and welfare."
John Warner’s bid to renew offshore drilling has failed in the Senate:
Five of Warner's fellow Republicans, all from coastal states, joined 37 Democrats and two independents in opposing the effort.

Opponents warned that the move could have a "domino effect" that could unravel the drilling ban inspired by a devastating 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara.
The coal industry has also suffered a dramatic legal defeat:
Coal operators cannot evade the Clean Water Act by building sediment-treatment ponds just downstream from strip mine valley fills, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers essentially outlawed the common coal industry practice of turning small stream segments downstream from fills into waste treatment systems.
Another federal judge has ruled against the BLM’s industry-friendly grazing rules:
The BLM violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in creating the rules, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled.

Winmill's 52-page ruling said the BLM's rule revisions would have loosened restrictions on grazing on millions of acres of public land nationwide, limited the amount of public comment the BLM had to consider and diluted the BLM's authority to sanction ranchers for grazing violations.
And yet another judge has ruled that growing fish in hatcheries isn’t a valid way of meeting the goals of the Endangered Species Act:
His decision flatly rejects the idea that if enough salmon can be produced in hatcheries, there is little need to protect wild stocks. It also strikes down what environmentalists widely viewed as a Bush administration policy to appease building and agriculture interests.
Triple Pundit has a fascinating post on the possibility of kite-powered irrigation:
[I]f you can engineer a kite to pull on a cord with some degree of consistency, then you can use that energy to pump irrigation water - a task that currently accounts for about 7% of worldwide energy use.
Speaking of irrigation, a new sensor could save water by allowing crops to tell farmers when and how much to water them:
The technology includes a tiny sensor that can be clipped to plant leaves charting their thickness, a key measure of water deficiency and accompanying stress, said Research Associate Hans-Dieter Seelig of CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technology Center. Data from the leaves could be sent wirelessly over the Internet to computers linked to irrigation equipment, ensuring timely watering, cutting down on excessive water and energy use and potentially saving farmers in Colorado millions of dollars per year, he said.
Aerial surveys of the Sudan have revealed that animals thought to have been wiped out during decades of warfare have actually survived in staggering numbers.

“I have never seen wildlife like that, in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti,” said Fay. “This could represent the biggest migration of large mammals on earth.”

Fay, Elkan and Marjan also report an estimated 8,000 elephants, with concentrations mainly in the Sudd, the largest freshwater wetland in Africa. They also found evidence of even larger numbers of elephants in Boma and in the Jonglei landscape. According to the World Conservation Union’s African elephant database, there were no reliable records of elephants in Sudan.
India is on the verge of introducing air-powered cars:
The Air Car uses compressed air to push its engine's pistons. It is anticipated that approximately 6000 Air Cars will be cruising the streets of India by 2008. If the manufacturers have no surprises up their exhaust pipes the car will be practical and reasonably priced. The CityCat model will clock out at 68 mph with a driving range of 125 miles.

Refueling is simple and will only take a few minutes. That is, if you live nearby a gas station with custom air compressor units. The cost of a fill up is approximately $2.00. If a driver doesn't have access to a compressor station, they will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car's built-in compressor to refill the tank in about 4 hours.
In New York, the incidence of childhood lead poisoning has decreased substantially:
Although childhood lead poisoning remains a serious problem, the number of new cases identified in 2006 marks the lowest level in more than a decade. The number of new cases identified in 2006 – 2,310 among children ages 6 months to 6 years – marks a 13% decline from 2005 and an 88% decline since 1995, when nearly 20,000 children were newly identified with lead poisoning.
WorldChanging reports on Kenya’s Camel Library, “a mobile book-lending service that delivers books to 3,500 villagers and nomads around Garissa.”

They’re not going to save the world, but these staircase drawers are still pretty impressive:

Also via Inhabitat, solar cell phones from China:
The phone’s battery lasts 2.5 times longer than a traditional battery and can be recharged outdoors, indoors, even by candle light! Just one hour of direct sunlight will provide enough juice to power 40 minutes of talk-time.
2 Blowhards discusses Donald Evans’ beautiful handmade stamps for imaginary countries (link via Coudal.)

But as lovely as Evans' work is, it can't compete with the slightly less imaginary world of Manila Carnivals, 1908 - 1939:

At Opacity, you can take a virtual tour of The Fourth County Lunatic Asylum at Whittingham. Very...evocative. That goes double for their tour of the Mesa State Training School, which includes this wonderful picture of an indoor meadow:

The Australian War Memorial has an exhibition of the paintings of Stella Bowen. It’s kind of hit and miss, but still worth a look...even though it doesn’t include my favorite painting of hers:

Also: 1800’s Ephemera. And a small but poignant Flickr set of ephemera by pennynotes. Images from The Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Wild Sanctuary's WildBlog. An interesting paper on Meaningless artificial sound and its application in urban soundscape research. (See also Auditorium Mundi.) A map that shows US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs. The advent of powdered alcohol. MP3s of the Badger Theatre Movie Phone. And some astonishing photos of Iceland (via Dark Roasted Blend).

(Illustration at top: “Maligne Lake, Jasper Park” by Lawren Harris, 1924.)

The Civil Ways of Rome

It seems that some anti-immigration activists can’t tell the difference between citizens and noncitizens:

The publisher of a Spanish-language newspaper had to leave an immigration rally Sunday in Hazleton after a crowd surrounded him and began yelling for him to “get out of the country.”

Amilcar Arroyo, publisher of Hazleton-based El Mensajero, was covering the event when he was verbally attacked by a crowd who thought he was an illegal immigrant and a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against Hazleton.

Arroyo is an American citizen and is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In related news, there’s a new push to allow migrants - most of whom, as we all know, are either terrorists, rapists, drug dealers, leprosy carriers, or some overachieving combination thereof - to fight our illegal wars, in return for the privileges of official citizenship enjoyed by Mr. Arroyo:
A senior defense official expressed hope today that a provision in the stalled immigration bill that would have allowed some undocumented aliens to join the military won’t fall off the radar screen.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, provision in the immigration bill was expected to help boost military recruiting, Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, said today during a telephone conference with veterans’ group representatives.
In response to which, Wonkette draws an analogy that I find a bit...problematic:
You know, like when Rome couldn’t get enough Romans to serve in the legions because there were too many wars going on everywhere so they let barbarians join the legions in exchange for citizenship and then the Western Empire crumbled and the Dark Ages began?
Quite so. It was tolerable at the outset, when “those troops from the more barbarous subject states learned the civil ways of Rome.” But in the end, the influence of barbarian savagery can only have a corrupting effect on the civilized.

(Illustration: “Hanno Announcing to the Mercenaries the Emptiness of the Public Coffers,” by John Leech, 1852.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Valuing and Conserving Time

We all know that environmentalists want to force us back into the Stone Age. The fact has been pointed out so many times, with such vehemence, that it’s almost lost its power to shock us.

That’s why we need gifted and inexhaustible writers like Donald J. Boudreaux to inspire us, like Poe’s Raven, to Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance.

When debunking environmentalism, one must always start by provisionally granting a theoretical validity to whatever facts can't be denied outright:

It might well be that humans' "footprint" on the Earth is larger than ever; it might even be true that this larger footprint creates some health risks for us modern humans that our pre-industrial ancestors never encountered.
Who can say? I suppose you could look at the change in world population between 1400 and today, and consider the health risks posed by modern technologies like oil refining, air travel, and synthetic pesticides…but that way lies madness. There are some things humanity was never meant to know.

In their lust to return to the days of cave-dwelling and trepanation, environmentalists have failed to recognize that modern life has certain advantages:
Our bodies are cleaner and more free of disease. Our homes are sanitary. We have indoor plumbing and anti-bacterial soap; our ancestors had outhouses. Our clothes are cleaner and, despite recent hysteria, our food supply is safer.
Cheers for anti-bacterial soap (despite its role in antibiotic resistance), and jeers for hysteria about multiple episodes of mass poisoning!

So far, this is garden-variety sophistry. But Boudreaux has far more deadly arrows in his quiver:
[T]oo many environmentalists condemn people who don't share their creed. For example, I don't recycle my trash because my time is too precious for me to spend it sorting such items into different containers.
If Boudreaux spent half an hour recycling conservatarian gibberish for this column, he spent roughly 27 more minutes than I spend sorting my recyclables in the average month. But who am I to judge how he spends his time?
In environmentalists' eyes, those who unquestioningly disregard the value of one resource (time) in order to spend it on the conservation of other resources (wood, plastic and glass) are righteous while those of us who value and conserve time are sinners.
Personally, I don’t think Boudreaux is a sinner so much as an insufferable asshole. But to the extent that the word “sinner” applies, it applies because conserving Boudreaux’s time benefits Boudreaux, while conserving wood, plastic, and glass benefits the society in which he lives and presumably thrives.

And as Adam Smith wisely observed, “when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration.”

(Illustration: "Vanitas Still Life: Sins of the Flesh" by Chris Peters, 2004.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mechanistic Products

Ben Shapiro says that liberals hate religion. This is a promising start, but it leaves him several hundred words shy of a column. Accordingly, he decides to explain why hating religion is a bad thing:

[A]theism precludes the human capability for free will -- without a soul, we are nothing but mechanistic products of genetics and environment -- yet it simultaneously insists on an infinite capability for individual and societal perfection.
Hark to his cold inexorable logic! If there's no soul, there can be no free will, just as surely as there can be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if there are no leprechauns.

It's hard to imagine this argument holding water even in the sea-monkey kingdom of Why shouldn't "mechanistic products of genetics and environment" gradually become as "perfect," in their own little way, as snowflakes? For that matter, since perfection is in the eye of the beholder, why couldn't genetics and environment create human beings whose blind hatred of homosexuality would rival that of our most devout conservatives?

I'm able to respect the argument that only a sense of the divine could inspire Purcell's music or Bresson's films; the argument that only a sense of the divine could inspire Paul Cameron to hate teh gays is somewhat less compelling.

Along with "the problem of evil," free will is one of the least interesting topics in philosophy, so I won't bother myself with it...except to say that free will (whatever that is) and determinism (whatever that is) needn't be mutually exclusive, as St. Augustine notes:
By means of liberty it came to pass that man fell into sin; but now the penal depravity consequent on it, instead of liberty, has introduced necessity.
What makes Shapiro really unique - in my experience, anyway - is his apparent belief that the interplay of genetics and environment is simultaneously deterministic (or fatalistic, really) and static:
[Liberal atheism] champions the "natural," while maintaining that nature need not dictate social relations.
Putting aside the fact that he's painting with a brush that's almost as broad as his ignorance, it's odd that he views this is a contradiction. If you accept that nature need not dictate social relations - or more to the point, that nature doesn't forbid social relations from changing over time, deterministically or otherwise - then it's pretty reasonable to champion the "natural" as something evolving, if not malleable.

Whether this process can ever lead to a "utopia" - as Shapiro stupidly claims that all leftists expect it to - is less important than whether it can lead to improvement (e.g., a society that oppresses gays changing into a society that accepts them).

Shapiro also frets about "the substitution of enforced fairness [!] for individual freedom," which is apparently one of atheism's gaudier sins. If this is what liberal fag-coddlers are getting up to on God's good green earth, one can only imagine how they'd act in a world where "deterministic Darwinism" were true, and they were mere "mechanistic products of genetics and environment."

Perhaps his fear is not that a world without his version of God would be savage, but that it wouldn't be savage enough.

Sacred Principles

The robustly heterosexual David Limbaugh has had it up to the sigmoid colon with the pounding…I mean the licking…I mean the abuse that ordinary Americans have had to take from uppity queers:

Homosexual groups deny they are pressing for special rights and protection, but no one is shutting down their speech, branding them as hateful, bullying them with threats of firings, and publicly insulting the sacred principles in which they believe….
Indeed. No one is branding homosexuals as hateful; no one bullies them with threats of firing; and no one publicly insults them or their principles. If you’ve gotten the opposite impression, it’s probably because a cabal of dangerous, despicable homosexuals has exploited our belief in free speech and tolerance in order to promote their perverted lifestyle.
Homosexual groups maintain they are promoting diversity, but seek to suppress diverse viewpoints by labeling them "hateful" and "hurtful."
Yes, they do. Quite a paradox, eh? It’s kind of like how blacks claim to be in favor of equality, and then get angry when they’re called “dirty niggers.” It beats me why they can’t see the contradiction this entails, but I’m sure Charles Murray could give me a scientific explanation.

Anyway, Limbaugh’s claim that bigots like himself are oppressed is reasonably accurate. What he fails to mention is that they’re not oppressed enough.

Like Limbaugh, I view most social progress as an expression of intolerance. It’s not about leaning down from Parnassus in order to recognize the inconvenient moral claims of women or minorities; it’s about rejecting the immoral claims of bigots, now and forever, with the understanding that basing a civilized society on their ideas is not only unjust, but a logical impossibility.

It’s natural that bigots should feel diminished and discriminated against by laws that protect the targets of their hatred; if they don’t, it’s a sign that the laws don’t go far enough.