Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Week In Denialism


Johnnie B. Byrd quotes from a 1997 book on black holes, in order to argue scientifically that limiting greenhouse gases will send us spiraling into "the vortex of an economic black hole" from which, obviously, we'll never escape, since you can't escape from black holes. You have to admit it's a sobering thought.

One of his concerns is that American workers will need to learn new things if they're to succeed in the coming economy, which you'd think would be pretty obvious even if global warming were a hoax. It used to be called progress, and we used to flatter ourselves that we produced more of it than the rest of the world, thanks to our firm belief that we could accomplish just about anything we set our minds to.

To be fair, a faint echo of this optimism does persist on the Right. Whether you're clawing your way out of poverty or democratizing the Middle East, the only obstacle that really counts is not wanting badly enough to succeed. If you don't have enough rational self-interest to thrive in a system that rewards nothing else, you have no one but yourself to blame.

That said, any attempt to mitigate climate change will leave us shivering in caves, and reduce the average American's lifespan to 28 years. It's just common sense.

For the record, Byrd has an even more basic grievance with the Warming Cult:

As a middle class American I don’t remember ever being lumped together with “wildlife"....
Indeed. What manner of "scientist" would insult the God-given majesty of our lungs, or our circulatory systems, by lumping them together with those of other mammals? Does a badger comprehend Personal Responsibility? Do antelopes brood over the Law of Unintended Consequences? What then have their entrails to do with ours?

You've gotta love his scrupulous use of "middle class American," too. It's one thing to animalize the poor who clutter our nation's park benches and emergency rooms, but that won't do for Byrd. He's read Hayek.

Whatever else you want to say about Charles Krauthammer, he is not a climate denialist. In fact, he "believes instinctively that it can't be very good to pump lots of CO2 into the atmosphere." You'd think this would lead him, instinctively, to seek advice from people who know more about the matter than he does.

And perhaps it did, at one point. But what he heard disturbed him. It was...well, negative. Gloomy, even. It was liable to plant the seeds of self-doubt or guilt in otherwise innocent souls. And it presented the worst-case scenario as something to be avoided through responsible action, instead of promoting the best-case scenario as something to wait for in a spirit of perfect complacency. In short, it was alarmist.

Which is why he rejected it, and came to the cheerier conclusion that the commies are trying to destroy our Freedom.
Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but -- even better -- in the name of Earth itself.
Having found the real narrative right where he last saw it, Krauthammer can get back to what really matters: protecting Western Civilization from annihilation, by instinctively supporting torture, indefinite detention, and the wholesale invasion of privacy.

Edward John Craig has a brainteaser for you:
The Center for Biodiversity — the outfit that sued to get the polar bear listed as an endangered species — is now trying to get the Pacific walrus similarly listed. The biggest threat to the walrus population? According to the Center, it’s shrinking sea ice (ta da!).

But, as Michelle Malkin suggests, perhaps it has more to do with the explosion in population of their principal predator, the polar bear.
OK. I know that a lot of these claims are cynical. I know that the goal isn't to score legitimate logical points, but to get as many arguments out there as possible, so that every sort of intellect can find reassurance that's tailored to its own weak points. And I also know that there are some Americans who view virtually any reference to the demonstrable facts of existence as an ugly symptom of Elitism. I didn't fall off the cabbage truck yesterday, nor the day before.

But how fucking hard is it to understand that predation takes place in a specific physical environment that affects both predator and prey? I mean, putting aside the absurdity of calling the polar bears' tentative rebound an "explosion," how could any remotely sane or intelligent person believe that loss of habitat has no real bearing on the ultimate survival of a given animal, simply because that animal continues to be eaten by the natural predators who share its habitat?

For once, I'll end this feature on a somewhat positive note. Mona Charen, who's not exactly a climate alarmist, notices that her fellow conservatives have a tendency to "adopt an unbecoming, sometimes juvenile truculence" about environmental issues, which is certainly one way of putting it. And she advises them to ease up a bit.
Since when did conservatives decide that they love waste? There are thousands of energy-saving ideas in circulation that conservatives as well as liberals can embrace. Smaller cars and more trains are just one answer.
Unfortunately, she spoils the effect somewhat by claiming, in regards to ANWR, that "those pictures we've all seen of moose and caribou against a backdrop of verdant mountains are a fraud. The coastal plain, where drilling is proposed, is flat, barren, and characterized by unforgiving permafrost."

First, Death Valley is flat and barren too, but some people consider it to be worth preserving anyway. Second, Charen seems to think that permafrost makes verdancy impossible. But as the US Fish and Wildlife Service points out:
If the soil never warmed up, there would be no plants growing in the arctic. When the summer sun warms the tundra surface, however, the top few inches of soil thaw. This melted part is called the active layer. Plant roots grow within the active layer, and insects burrow here.
Still, Charen's plea for common sense does represent progress, however timid. We may yet go further, and fare better.

(Illustration: "The Calaveras of the Newscarriers" by Jose Posada, circa 1890.)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging


We've received much from the gods.
Doriopsilla areolata was handed to us, and the ocean's
Flood and shore. Much more,
For alien powers have become familiar
To us in a human way. The stars
Over your head can teach you things,
Although you can't equal them.

(Photo by Mikel Cort├ęs Escalante.)

Friday Hope Blogging


A rather short edition this week, I'm afraid. Things are a bit hectic.

Over a hundred nations have adopted a landmark treaty outlawing cluster bombs:

The treaty immediately bans all types of cluster munitions, rejecting initial attempts by some nations to negotiate exceptions for their own arsenals, as well as calls for a transition that would delay the ban for a decade or more.

In addition to the prohibitions on use, production, stockpiling, and trade, the treaty also includes very strong provisions requiring states to provide assistance to victims and to clean up areas affected by cluster munitions....

“This treaty bans not just some cluster munitions, but all cluster munitions,” [Steve] Goose told the assembled delegates in his capacity as co-chair of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, a group of hundreds of NGOs supporting the ban. “It does not try to differentiate between good cluster munitions and bad cluster munitions, it bans them all. This is a convention with no exceptions."
Guess which countries wouldn't sign it.

New York will honor same-sex marriages performed in California and elsewhere:
State agencies, including those governing insurance and health care, must immediately change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay and lesbian couples, according to a memo sent this month from the governor's counsel.
San Diego's mayor has blocked Blackwater's plans for a training facility:
On Monday, Sanders told his development services director, Kelly Broughton, that Blackwater's permits, which had been issued by city staff, will require more scrutiny than the staff-level review.

Broughton then sent a letter to Blackwater vice president Brian Bonfiglio stating that “no certificate of occupancy will be issued” until the company's plans are approved by the San Diego City Council and Planning Commission.
Yet another member of the Fightin' Keyboarders has managed to shoot himself down over enemy territory. Click here for the dramatic story.

Abortion rates declined dramatically in Michigan in 2007.
Michigan health officials on Thursday announced that the number of abortions in the state had declined in 2007 to the lowest number on record, the Detroit News reports. According to the new data, there were 24,683 abortions in 2007 -- 200 abortions for every 1,000 live births in the state in 2007, compared with 350 abortions for every 1,000 live births in 1987.
The anti-abortion group Right to Life in Michigan says that this happened because "more and more women are coming to the realizatio[n] that abortion is not the answer to an unplanned pregnancy." More sensible people would argue that the abortion rate went down because the rate of teen pregnancies went down...possibly -- just possibly -- because access to education and birth control increased.

A hospital in Senegal has a solar backup system:
Up until now, hospital employees were forced to deal with power outages several times a day. Refrigeration for medicines was interrupted repeatedly, lights went off and what little medical equipment was available was out of commission. Now, with the photovoltaic system from SCHOTT Solar as a backup system, a secure supply of electricity is guaranteed.
In related news, Treehugger reports on a $100 wind turbine for villages that lack power:
It will be built in Guatemala, designed to be a cheap replacement for the kerosene lamps that are a fire and health risk. Project leader Matt McLean says "We've had to simplify the way we were thinking and get rid of the idea that everything had to be as efficient as possible," such as using teflon plumbing tape. "It's normally used for sealing pipes," said McLean. "But it's a very low cost way of reducing friction."
The Bush Administration has been forced to release a scientific assessment of climate change that confirms what the rest of us already knew:
“This assessment is an example of what federal scientists can and should be doing when they are freed from political interference and allowed to actually do their jobs,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program direction for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced the administration to release today’s assessment.

Under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 the Bush administration was required to issue the assessment in late 2004, but the administration refused to do so. In November 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity, along with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, filed suit against the administration for failing to issue the scientific assessment as well as a required research plan. In August 2007, Federal District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong issued an order finding the Bush administration in violation of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 for failing to produce an updated Research Plan and a National Assessment as required by the statute.
Speaking of which, it's a denialist article of faith that Hollywood, and other bastions of decadent Left Coast elitism, have bigger-than-average carbon footprints. A new study suggests that this may not actually be the case:
Honolulu, Los Angeles and metropolitan Portland have the smallest carbon footprint among American cities, while Cincinnati-Middletown area, Indianapolis, and Kentucky's Lexington-Fayette have the worst, according to a new report that analyzes carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use by city dwellers.
Interesting, if true. At any rate, subway ridership has increased by 14% in Los Angeles, which would seem to contradict Randal O'Toole's claim that "people respond to high fuel prices by buying more efficient cars - and then driving more."

Inhabitat alerts me to a fun and informative Coal Plant Deathwatch Map. And Wisconsin has signed the Great Lakes Compact:
The compact would ban most diversions of water from the lakes' basin. Cities that straddle the basin's border or lie within counties that straddle the border could apply for an exemption. But any Great Lakes governor could block an exemption as well as withdrawals from outside the basin.

The eight Great Lakes governors signed the compact in 2005 after four years of negotiations, but it must be approved by each of the states and ratified by Congress before it can become law.
A teenager has reportedly invented a process that decomposes plastic bags in a mere three months:
The discovery hinges upon Burd’s isolation off two strains of bacteria (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas) that work together to consume polyethelene plastic at record rates. His experiment yielded a culture that rendered plastic bags 43% decomposed after six weeks, with the only outputs being water and an infinitesimal amount of carbon dioxide. Burd has said that the system is cheap, energy efficient, and easily scalable for industrial applications. “All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags,” stated the young innovator.
A group that smuggled wildlife products has been jailed and fined:
On 27 May, international smugglers were sentenced to imprisonment and penalties as they were found guilty of trading Amur tiger derivates and bear paws between Russia and China....

“The unprecedented huge number of smuggled derivatives makes this case highly interesting. The latest prosecution marks the start of wildlife crime being treated with the seriousness it deserves”, said Natalia Pervushina, co-ordinator of TRAFFIC’s Russian Far East programme.
Last, the EPA has placed new controls on rat poisons:
“This is an important victory for child safety, and for birds such as eagles and hawks,” said Dr. Michael Fry, Director of Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy. “Wildlife poisonings have continuously occurred when birds of prey scavenge on dead rodents they find in open areas. The EPA hopes that restricting the sale of the more toxic poisons only to licensed pest control operators and livestock ranchers will effectively reduce the exposure to these birds and other wildlife.”

The most toxic rat poisons will be removed from the consumer market and replaced with less toxic alternatives, which have been shown to be equally effective in controlling rodent populations in cities and farm settings. All over-the-counter sales of these alternatives will be required to be in the form of bait stations to prevent accidental poisoning of children and pets.
That should leave you with plenty of room for dessert.

First and foremost: Perspectiva. Photographs by Yeondoo Jung, via Four Legs Good. Swedish tiled stoves (via things). Detour, an Australian photoblog. And Dark Clouds of the Carina Nebula.


Also: The surprising story of The Biggest Drawing in the World, and a nicely illustrated survey of defiant gardens.


I'll leave you with this. I hope you like it.



(Illustration: "The Mysterious Bird" by Charles Burchfield, 1917.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Galvanizing Republicans


Fred Barnes takes a long cold look at the 110th Congress -- which is pretty much deadlocked along party lines, and is encumbered with the uniquely awful figure of Joe Lieberman -- and notices its eerie similarity to the 1948 "Do Nothing" Congress, which had a solid Republican majority in both houses.

He points out that Bush could try to shame Congress publicly, as Truman did, but then thinks better of it; after all, "political stunts seldom work the second time," unless they involve flag burning, gay marriage, or a War on Christmas.

Still, the GOP could force votes on Five Important Issues, in hopes that the unprecedented spectacle of despised lawmakers swanning about and making cynical demands would "galvanize Republicans and lift the party's spirits."

It sounds implausible until you find out what Barnes has in mind, at which point it sounds batshit crazy. Here's the gist of it:

  • Double or triple the number of foreigners given H-1B visas to work in America
  • Allow nationwide purchase of health insurance
  • Reduce the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 25 percent
  • Lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling
  • Let the private sector build more highways
In other words, Barnes' wants the GOP to infuriate its natural allies in the "language, borders, culture" camp and the insurance industry; and give expensive presents to multinational corporations, in the forlorn hope that this will inspire them to bring their overseas profits home; and drill for oil off the coast, over the objections of coastal residents, so that ten or twenty years from now, gasoline might cost slightly less than it would otherwise; and offset whatever economic benefit might be gained from slightly lowering gas prices in the future by building lots and lots of toll roads now.

According to Barnes, doing all this would prove to America that "Republicans aren't dead yet."

That's one way of proving it, granted, but I've got a better one. I think GOP lawmakers should dress in SS regalia and wander through American shopping malls on all fours, singing "99 Bottles of Beer" and biting children. It'd be about as popular, and it'd be a lot less trouble.

(Illustration: "A Galvanized Corpse" from Harper's Weekly, 1836. Via BibliOdyssey.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Death of People


Townhall features an interview with Victor Davis Hanson, whom it describes as "a renowned conservative scholar of ancient history and military affairs."

He starts off by offering some candid observations on WWI:

If one were to look at the nature of German aggression in Europe, the nature of German colonies overseas, or what the German agenda was, it seems to me that it was very different than the liberal tradition in France and England that prevailed. It's a tragedy that it had to end in a war like that, but given the superiority of the German Wehrmacht in 1914, I don't know any other way how anybody would have stopped it.
The Wehrmacht didn't exist in 1914. I'm nitpicking, I know, but a renowned scholar of military affairs should probably know better than to use this term.

He goes on to explain the cause and effect of the Great War in terms that anybody can understand:
The ambitions of the German Kaiser were so ambitious, I don't know how anybody could have done anything other than what they did. They would have either had to appease them or capitulate. It was a tragedy. But I do think there was a qualitative difference in the fact that the Allies won.
Hanson is nothing if not judicious, so his daring theory that it actually made a difference who won WWI should not be taken as mere grandstanding. Indeed, we may be on the verge of an entirely new conception of armed struggle in the 20th century.

What does it take to develop a historical perspective like Hanson's, you ask?
I think it takes a half century.... It takes the death of people, and that's usually 50 years.
This is what gives Hanson liberty to compare the Iraq War favorably with America's past missteps:
I'm not saying it was a blunder, but you could easily have used that terminology when we armed the Soviet Union and it killed 30 million of its own people to stop Hitler.
I must say, I've never heard it phrased quite that way before.

Hanson goes on to observe that the Sherman tank was not all it might've been, as though this "blunder" were comparable in scale to a war that was launched against no identifiable enemy for no coherent reason, and has dragged on for six years without any clear definition of victory, let alone any clear evidence of it.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh. The thing about Iraq is, all that's required for it to be successful is for everything to turn out well, so maybe we should just stop worrying about it.
[I]f we stay and we are successful in creating a constitutional government, then you can see that that would be an amazing achievement. It would not only make Saddam Hussein's Iraq an ally rather than an enemy that attacked its neighbors, but it would have a very deleterious effect on Iran.
If that's all we wanted, it sounds as though we never should've turned against Saddam in the first place.

Kidding aside, there's a point at which Hanson's nonsense stops being amusing, no matter how morbid your sense of humor may be. Get a load of this:
As far as the losses, I don't quite understand it. I don't like to be heartless, but in six years we've lost about the same amount of soldiers we lost in two or three days in a major campaign in World War II.
I can actually explain the concern over these losses (which we'll pretend for a moment don't include Iraqis): A bunch of people are upset because people they love have died; the rest of us feel bad for them. It's really not that fucking complicated.

Hanson adds insult to injury by claiming that these deaths are somehow comparable to peacetime accidents:
I think in the eight years of the Clinton administration we lost over 7,000 dead in accidents.
He's wrong, needless to say. But he'd be just as wrong even if he were right; 7000 accidental deaths under Clinton couldn't justify these deaths to any sane person, let alone lessen their devastating impact on survivors. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What makes this ghoulish lie even more offensive is that we know Hanson won't change his tune if American fatalities in Iraq officially reach the phony Clintonian milestone of 7000; if that sad day ever comes, he'll still be marveling that we've dared to go "into the heart of the Caliphate" (yes, that's an actual quote), and insisting that it'll all seem worthwhile once "the death of people" allows the correct historical perspective to emerge at last.

UPDATE: A commenter notes that Hanson may have been using "Wehrmacht" generically in reference to the German army, navy, air force, and intelligence service of 1914, rather than to the 1935-1945 entity the world has come to know and love. The possibility had occurred to me, and I stand by my belief that "a renowned scholar of military affairs should probably know better than to use this term."

The argument was welcome, though, because it raises a question I hadn't considered: Even if we were to accept this (at best) idiosyncratic usage, would it really be accurate to speak unequivocally, as Hanson does, of "the superiority of the German Wehrmacht"?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Conservatism to Come


Thers has displeased a conservative or two by pointing out that conservatism is a racket. The response has been a retreat into wounded idealism that's awfully familiar to those of us on the left: real conservatism has never been achieved, but its followers must leave themselves open to the radical promise of a conservatism to come.

There are lots of things wrong with this stance, just as there are with the lefty version of it. I'd suggest that the basic contradiction in modern conservatism is that on the one hand, it portrays people as basically bad, and on the other, it portrays Americans as basically good.

This isn't an accident, of course; it's a practical necessity. The simultaneous belief in humanity's inborn wickedness, and in America's inherent virtue, justifies authoritarianism at home and abroad. That's all the sense it needs to make. (Plus, it's fun! You get to attack leftists for taking too rosy a view of human nature, and too cynical a view of American nature, even if all they're doing is pointing out that the distinction between American and human nature is nonsensical on its face.)

By the same token, if you combine conservatism's dark mutterings about original sin with its enthusiasm for the optimal outcome of individual decisions made within the Free Market, it seems pretty logical that you'll end up with a Free Market that optimizes and justifies sin. But again, that's only a problem if that's not what you intended from the outset.

Conservatives claim to love the Free Market because it's "democratic," and therefore gives rise to "progress" and "freedom." Which means that it tends to raise the very demons they've dedicated themselves to fighting. The singleminded pursuit of money and power pretty much guarantees that all that is solid (except money) will melt into air, and all that is holy (except power) will be profaned. Fortunately, you can always blame this erosion of "values" on fags, uppity blacks, and academics, who, it turns out, do not participate in "the greatness of the American people and the American nation," despite being demonstrably American.

This is where one begins to realize that bigotry is as necessary to conservative politics as wings are to an airplane. To say that race-baiting, for instance, is a perversion of "Platonic Ideal Conservatism" would be like saying that chairs are a perversion of the Ideal Chair, inasmuch as people can actually sit down on them. To use a phrase that seems to have a lot of persuasive power on the right these days, conservatism is irreducibly complex; unless each element is in place, from bigotry to militarism, it won't work the way it's supposed to.

Which is not to argue that left-wing thought doesn't have its own crippling contradictions and its own bigotries, nor to imply that I, of all people, have avoided them. Unfortunately, these problems tend to persist not so much because we don't notice them, but because we either don't see any way around them, or are busily flaunting them as a badge of courage.

Anyway, it's possible that some new form of conservatism will spring up that doesn't demonize minorities and women, or whittle away robotically at our rights, or attempt to control our sex lives, or launch idiotic wars, or kick the poor when they're down, or blame certain types of failure on "bad choices" instead of recognizing them as the logical outcome of a rigged game. But that would involve such a wrenching philosophical and psychological readjustment that to call it "conservatism" would seem outrageous...especially to conservatives themselves, who do have to make a living, after all.

UPDATE: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! I say this solely in the interests of Science, in order to prove that I'm twice as inarticulate as Thers, who used "fuck" and its derivatives only 13 times before his muse failed him.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Week in Denialism


Last week, Don Martin gave us a perfect example of an emerging trend in denialism, when he sneered at polar bears and seals for appealing to our sentiments instead of restricting themselves to cold hard facts. The very urgency of our emotional response to these creatures proves that we're being manipulated; if we had any self-respect, we'd resent it, much as we'd resent a bum who overstated his case by calling our attention to his missing leg.

All the world's a stage...and aren't we getting a bit tired of hackneyed characters like "the poor person," and "the endangered animal," and "the victim of industrial poisoning," no matter how well they dress for the part? Why not focus on more interesting, unexplored types...like for instance conservatarian enfants terribles who smoke cigars and wear bow ties and listen to Blink 182?

This week, Alex Beam expands on Martin's approach by noting the shopworn elements of a lawsuit against the fossil-fuel industry. First, there's the fact that it is a lawsuit. If this doesn't prove that the system is out of control, what will? Second, the villains are "fossil-fuel baddies." Last, and most offensive, "the Inupiat Eskimos are perfect, jury-worthy plaintiffs" because they're poor.

Or are they?

(Pay no attention to those all-terrain vehicles zipping around town, and the kid flashing the gang sign.)
Beam notes that if oceans rise, people who own yachts might have to build new docks...so why is this lawsuit "all about impoverished Eskimos losing their patrimony to the fat capitalists in the oak-paneled boardrooms"? 'Cause we're being manipulated, natch. If they didn't wish to mislead us, they would've chosen plaintiffs who don't seem to be victims, and defendents who don't seem to have done anything wrong.

The worst of it is, this charade just might work:
Hagens Berman played a key role in the groundbreaking, multi-state litigation against the tobacco companies, and now they are going back for more....
First they came for Big Tobacco, and I did not speak up because I was not a board member of R.J. Reynolds.

Then they came for Big Oil, and I did not speak up because I was not an ExxonMobil shareholder.

Then they came for Steven Milloy, and I did not speak up because he was such a douchebag.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up (except for WorldNetDaily, and they were too busy covering the connection between immigration and Morgellons disease).

Beam's argument, stripped of its gnarly, in-your-face 'tude, is that the fossil-fuel industry is a scapegoat for our collective decision to overconsume fossil fuels, even though they've begged us and begged us to cut down. Granted, "the suit also accuses ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Duke Energy et al, of funding questionable scientific research that covers up their culpability in global warming," but didn't we drive them to it, in a sense? And haven't we benefited from the peace of mind they brought us? A lot of you hippies are probably paying some koan-spouting Buddhist charlatan to help you transcend your everyday cares...and yet you resent BP when it tells you that your worries are mere illusion, gratis and free of charge.

Meanwhile, Johnnie B. Byrd is worried that high gas prices will cause Americans to question their hatred of central planning.
“We cannot drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times,” says Obama the Messiah. And, the masses say, “Obama! Obama! Obama!”

The forces of socialism are on the move. The times are ripe.
Ripe as the times may be, the forces of socialism fail to reckon with "the inevitable advance of progress and the immutable laws of economics":
In a free market substitutes for oil will be quickly and easily found because any overpriced good will cause entrepreneurs to find and consumers to use substitutes. This is the law of substitution.
Among other things, this immutable law explains why Mr. Pibb sells so briskly in times of drought, and why people eat weeds and gnaw their shoes in times of famine.

As excited as Byrd is about the forward advance of progress towards the future, he objects to Obama's interest in "purely hypothetical energy technologies in the near term," such as "low-cost alternatives to fossil fuels, greater energy efficiency, and reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions." We'll chase these rainbows when the Law of Substitution requires it, and not a moment before, under pain of being called "socialists" by Johnnie B. Byrd.

And finally, Edward John Craig slips the surly bonds of earth, and observes that Jupiter has a new red spot. His conclusion?
That anthropogenic global warming is certainly powerful stuff.
I hear Mars has been having dust storms, too. Deforestation in the Amazon must be getting pretty bad, eh?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging



Warning: Sexually explicit!

Also, I advise you turn off the soundtrack.

Friday Hope Blogging


A nonprofit group called the Press Institute for Women in the Developing World helps women to become journalists:

Since she graduated from the program, de Jesus Perez Mendez has enrolled all three of her children in school; the family just recently got its first sink. "I've learned about the environment and government, things I wasn't aware of," she says. "I've learned many things about life by practicing journalism. And I discovered why journalism is such a hard profession and why many journalists are persecuted or followed."

Recently, the institute had to put the Chiapas office on a three-month hiatus, as donations have fallen during a worldwide economic slump. The institute has redoubled its fundraising efforts and hopes to reopen the office in July, but the government taxes and fees required to maintain nonprofit status in Chiapas are daunting. "Our office in Mexico is constantly in limbo," Hegranes says. "The government makes it clear they don't want us there."
You can donate by clicking here.

If you're looking for other worthwhile things to do, check out Creative Citizen, a wiki site that exists "to tabulate and compile the world’s environmental information by housing it in the form of Creative Solutions, or actions you can take to become green."

The world's oldest operating irrigation system has survived the recent earthquake in China:
Zhang Shuanggun, a local villager....has a simple answer for why the ancient, bamboo-based Dujiangyan irrigation system sustained only minor damage, while nearby modern dams and their vast amounts of concrete are now under 24-hour watch for signs of collapse.

"This ancient project is perfection," Zhang said.
Satellite mapping allows archaeological research to move forward in dangerous areas:
The low-key Evans, a director of the University of Sydney’s Greater Angkor Project at just 32 years old, has already mapped northern Angkor, another heavily landmined area, from a computer screen in Australia. He has used radar and satellite images to chart its vast network of canals and reservoirs, proving that Angkor was once the largest city in the world, a metropolis consuming an area about the size of present-day Los Angeles.
A federal judge has rejected Kane County, Utah's bid to assert control of roads in Escalante National Wilderness:
U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell has ruled against claims by Kane County, Utah for county ownership of 39 roads in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This monumental decision is critical for the protection of federal public lands from excessive use by off-road vehicle recreationists, cattle operators, and miners. The decision set the stage for the protection of environmentally sensitive lands, imperiled species, and vulnerable archaeological resources....

Judge Campbell’s decision found that Kane County’s assertion for jurisdiction over the contested roads violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; she ordered the county to remove its signs from the roads within 20 days. “By placing signs within the monument, the county has encouraged, sanctioned and facilitated public motor vehicle use of federal lands that the Bureau of Land Management officially closed to protect the Monument’s values,” Campbell wrote in her decision.

Birth control provisions have been retained in the supplemental spending bill:
A proposal that would restore government subsidies for birth control pills and devices at university health clinics and Planned Parenthood centers was retained in the Senate version of the war supplemental spending bill sent to the House on Thursday.

The provision seeks to undo part of a 2006 deficit reduction law (PL 109-171) that squeezed a total of $38.9 billion in savings from a variety of programs, including federal student loans, Medicare and Medicaid.
Anti-contraception BushCo apparatchik Susan Orr has resigned from DASPA:
Dr. Susan Orr, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Population Affairs and former Family Research Council staffer, stepped down today. A controversial appointee from the start, Dr. Orr had been in the position for less than a year.

Why so controversial? Her position oversees the administration of Title X, the only federal funding program providing contraceptive services to low-income women and men, but she had applauded President Bush's proposal to eliminate the requirement that federal employees' health insurance provide coverage for a range of birth control methods, saying, "We're quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have [contraception]."
Canada evidently disagrees, since it now allows emergency contraception to be sold over the counter:
The so-called "morning after" pill Plan B has received full over-the-counter status in Canada, drug maker Paladin Labs Inc said on Thursday.
Vermont's governor has signed a bill requiring insurance companies to limit copays for mammograms:
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will require insurance providers in the state to charge no more than a $25 copayment for mammograms, the Barre Montpelier Times Argus reports. According to the Times Argus, the law will not help reduce mammography costs for uninsured women, but it will cap the out-of-pocket cost of a mammogram at $25. The National Cancer Institute says that the average cost for mammograms is $50 to $150 but can be as much as $300.
Virginia's ban on late-term abortions has once again been ruled unconstitutional:
In Richmond, the three-judge panel that overturned the law in 2005 repeated its 2 to 1 decision yesterday, saying that the only way doctors could be certain they would not be prosecuted under the law would be to stop performing abortions.
The 9th Circuit has ruled that the military can't discharge service members simply because they're gay:
Wednesday's ruling led opponents of the policy to declare its days numbered. It is also the first appeals court ruling in the country that evaluated the policy through the lens of a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas ban on sodomy as an unconstitutional intrusion on privacy.
Some humpback whale populations are rebounding:
The new research reveals that the overall population of humpbacks has rebounded to approximately 18,000 to 20,000 animals. The population of humpback whales in the North Pacific, at least half of whom migrate between Alaska and Hawaii, numbered less than 1,500 in 1966 when international whaling for this species was banned. In the 1970s, federal laws including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act provided additional protection.
A Brazilian beetle offers clues to creating photonic crystals:
It appears that a simple creature like a beetle provides us with one of the technologically most sought-after structures for the next generation of computing,” says study leader Michael Bartl, an assistant professor of chemistry and adjunct assistant professor of physics at the University of Utah. “Nature has simple ways of making structures and materials that are still unobtainable with our million-dollar instruments and engineering strategies.”

Venezuela has banned gold mining in an important forest reserves (which you'd think would be unnecessary, given that it's a goddamn forest reserve):
Venezuela banned gold mining in its Imataca Forest Reserve and said it will not issue new permits for open-pit mines anywhere in the country, according to Reuters.

"Venezuela will deny environmental permits for the open-pit mine exploitation," Environment Minister Yuviri Ortega told Reuters in an interview last week. "Neither private or public companies will for now explore Imataca's gold."
Planners in Wales hope to create the garden cities dreamed of by Ebenezer Howard:
When the concept was hatched in 1898, Britain had been transformed by more than a century of rapid industrial development. Garden cities – or suburbs – were proposed as a solution to substandard and overcrowded housing and a lack of green space and clean air. The model was widely used in Britain in the early decades of the last century."
These would of course be new developments, which are...problematic. But depending on how closely they stick to Howard's sensibilities, I could learn to love them.


The more I hear about the USPS's free recycling program for e-waste, the better it sounds:
The postal service hired environmental consulting firm MBDC, which is led by "cradle-to-cradle" visionary William McDonough, to oversee Clover's procedures. As part of an audit of the company's environmental and occupational operations, MBDC made a pre-arranged visit to a Clover facility in Mexico where electronics are tested and dismantled. "Lots of people are very concerned about [e-waste], as we are. Everything we saw exceeds traditional global practices for responsible recycling," said Steve Bolton, an MBDC senior consultant. "Worker exposure was not an issue."
Inhabitat reports on dirt-powered fuel cells:
Microbial fuel cells (originally developed by Peter Girguis) work by tapping the energy that microbes generate as they break down organic matter. The idea is that you can dig a hole in the ground, then fill it with animal and plant waste. You take an anode and a cathode, hook it up to a circuit board and voila, enough electricity to charge up a battery! Put all of this into a solid container and you have a mobile, soil-based generator.
The EU has agreed on legislation that "will force national governments to apply criminal sanctions to those causing deliberate or negligent damage to the environment." Furthermore:
In another vote on 21 May, MEPs further called on the Commission to take action to prevent EU countries from "dumping" toxic waste on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the large majority of EU-registered rusting ships are sent to be decommissioned.

The report calls on the EU to boost its own dismantling capacity and to ensure that all EU ships are pre-cleaned of hazardous waste if they are sent to poorer countries, where the fatal accident rate its much higher than in the EU and one in six workers suffers from asbestos.
Calculations of the amount of land, and the type of fertilizers, required to feed the world tend not to take wasted food into account. A new study describes the extent to which wasting food also wastes water:
As food prices escalate and water scarcity extends worldwide, the best solution to both issues would be a global reduction in wasted food, a new international report says.

Inefficient harvesting, transportation, storage, and packaging ruin 50 percent of food, according to the report, which was released last week by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute. Add up how much food consumers simply throw away, especially in developed nations, and a whole lot of water is being wasted as well.
Oil of oregano is said to work as well as synthetic insecticides against a crop-destroying beetle:
Not only does oregano oil work as well as synthetic versions but it has none of the associated side effects of synthetic insecticides on the environment.
The shareholder revolt over ExxonMobil's climate change inaction appears to be growing:
A shareholder revolt at ExxonMobil led by the billionaire Rockefeller family has won the support of four significant British institutional investors who will call on Monday for a shakeup in the governance of the world's biggest oil company.

Guardian.co.uk has learned that F&C Asset Management, Morley Fund Management, the Co-Operative Insurance Society and the West Midlands Pension Fund are throwing their weight behind a resolution demanding that ExxonMobil appoints an independent chairman to stimulate debate on the company's board.
The BLM has backed off on plans to lease Alaskan wetlands for drilling:
"It is a win," said Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska, one of the groups campaigning for preservation. "I think they've responded to public interest in seeing that the area's protected, and it gives people who care about the place time to work on a permanent solution."
The International Institute for Species Exploration has named the Top 10 new species discovered in 2007, and announced that "16,969 species new to science were discovered and described in 2006."

Indianapolis is tearing down billboards:
Norman Pace, land-use chairman for the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, said he had waited eight years for the signs' demise. Thursday, he drove from his Warren Township home to the north split, the junction of I-70 and I-65 on the north side of Downtown, to watch the sign be dismantled.

"It was an eyesore blocking our city's beautiful skyscape," Pace said. "It detracted from the quality of life here. We don't want to look like one of these cities that are filled with billboards."
There's fascinating research being done on the biological basis of bird navigation:
A team of researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Oxford are the first to model a photochemical compass that may simulate how migrating birds use light and Earth's weak magnetic field to navigate. The team reports in the April 30, 2008, online issue of Nature that the photochemical model becomes sensitive to the magnitude and direction of weak magnetic fields similar to Earth's when exposed to light. The research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) demonstrates that this phenomenon, known as chemical magnetoreception, is feasible and gives insight into the structural and dynamic design features of a photochemical compass.


More on fauna and pseudofauna: British insects and Margate's Mechanical Elephant (both via things).

The beautiful urban abstractions of Aaron Siskind are a nice introduction for a discussion of photography as eminent domain.


Also: Highlights from the Collection at (what is this?). Some nice images among The Visual Work of Scott Hanson. And some remarkable photos of a bog, courtesy of BogBlog (via wood s lot).

Too lazy to find a film this week, so you'll have to content yourselves with Nigunim from the Rebbe's Farbrengens.

(Photo at top: "For about 300 years Jupiter's banded atmosphere has shown a remarkable feature to telescopic viewers, a large swirling storm system known as The Great Red Spot. In 2006, another red storm system appeared, actually seen to form as smaller whitish oval-shaped storms merged and then developed the curious reddish hue. Now, Jupiter has a third red spot, again produced from a smaller whitish storm. All three are seen in this image made from data recorded on May 9 and 10 with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2." Via NASA.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Road to Hell


If you don't have enough money to fill your gas tank, you might want to consider selling Neil Reynolds the Brooklyn Bridge:

The average public transit bus in the U.S. uses 4,365 British thermal units, a measure of energy, per passenger mile and emits 0.71 pounds of carbon dioxide. The average car uses 3,445 BTUs per passenger mile and emits 0.54 pounds of CO{-2}. Whether you seek to conserve energy or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, your public policy decision here appears remarkably obvious. Get people off buses and get them into cars.
Reynolds got these numbers from that cornucopian goofball Randal O'Toole, whom he claims has "impeccable environmental credentials." What this means in layperson's terms is that O'Toole is the senior economist at the Thoreau Institute, a Scaife-funded pro-automobile thinktank that he created and heads (which should definitely not be confused with the Thoreau Institute that actually has something to do with Thoreau).

To be fair, naming a pro-sprawl thinktank after Thoreau isn't O'Toole's only impeccable environmental accomplishment. He also rides a bicycle, like all good-hearted people. Perhaps that's why he "has been described as the next Jane Jacobs," presumably by people who thought Bush was the next FDR.

Before we get to the numbers cited above, which you've probably already recognized as flawed, let's have a look at O'Toole's shocking theory that "on the basis of every billion passenger miles...light-rail [public transit] kills three times as many people as cars on urban freeways."

That Reynolds is impressed with this claim is a bad sign, since pretty much anyone can see that there's something weird about limiting auto fatality statistics to "urban freeways," especially when the DoT statistics show automobiles killing more people than all other forms of transit combined in every year since 1960.

O'Toole might argue that limiting his statistics to urban freeways makes sense, if he's comparing autos to commuter trains. Except that plenty of commuters don't drive on freeways, or work in urban areas. Plus, urban freeway commutes tend to be congested; it's hard to get in a fatal accident when you're traveling at 25 mph. It's also possible that O'Toole favors this comparison because light rail takes a higher toll on pedestrians than freeways do.

But who knows? It's not my job to dredge up O'Toole's stats, or figure out his definition of "urban." Ideally, that'd be Reynolds' obligation. I do think it's fair to say that O'Toole's claim is meaningless without these data.

Anyway, back to the bus and car comparison. The first problem with O'Toole's argument, as Reynolds states it, is that "public transit" isn't defined. This is important because there's a huge difference in utilization rates between city and interurban buses, and utilization is crucial to efficiency. Second, O'Toole is perversely using overall underutilization of mass transit (which, I'm willing to bet, includes off-peak hours) as an argument for not riding buses during hours when ridership is at its peak. If you want to increase overall efficiency, it'd be better to use small shuttles during off-peak hours -- and to reroute lines to avoid hills, left turns, idling, and so forth, a la UPS -- than to cut service to people who need it.

Third, you don't usually see people calculating transit efficiency in terms of BTUs, because it begs the question of how the energy is generated. Buses and light rail are often electric, so the BTUs in question can be generated partly or entirely by renewable and low-emissions sources.

Since O'Toole complains that buses aren't as fuel-efficient as they could be, you'd think the logical solution would be to improve them, as so many cities and manufacturers are attempting to do. But O'Toole sees absolutely no need for this, as long as cars and gas are available to those of us who can afford them:
People respond to high fuel prices by buying more efficient cars - and then driving more.
If only every problem were that simple!

Which reminds me...when I was about four, I saw a picture of a starving African family squatting on a bare expanse of parched dirt. It disturbed me, so I asked my parents why these silly people didn't just go to a motel.

Imagine my surprise when they told me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Guilty Pleasures


Over at Phi Beta Cons, Carol Iannone has some interesting points to make about Art. It's come to her attention that academics have been studying The Sopranos. This bothers her because The Sopranos is "perverse and nihilistic" -- unlike Hamlet, or Moby-Dick, or Miss Lonelyhearts, or Journey to the End of the Night -- and therefore cannot possibly repay the attention of Serious People.

On second thought, maybe that's not quite it. Isn't the real problem that studying The Sopranos involves an "obscuring of the lines between popular and high culture"?

But then again, hasn't "high culture" had an inborn tendency towards perversion and nihilism for as long as any of us have been paying attention? And isn't this precisely how one distinguishes its grotesque hothouse blooms from honest weeds like Red Dawn and Atlas Shrugged? Isn't the difference between high and popular culture typified by the difference between Robert Mapplethorpe and Norman Rockwell, at least to hear the kulturkampfers tell it? And isn't an appreciation for high culture a veritable Devil's mark of elitism, as Al Gore proved when he boasted of reading Stendahl?

It's almost as though there's no consistent stance behind any of this jabbering, beyond a tightlipped envy of Academia's authority and captive audience.

Anyway, we're not to teach or learn about The Sopranos in college, whether it's presented as a work of art or a cultural phenomenon. Does that mean we can't watch it, either?

Yes and no.

Enjoying something privately is one thing — this was called a "guilty pleasure" back when we still believed in guilt — but trying to present it as a superb work of art and a second coming in the world of the imagination, as fans and critics often did, is another and more damaging thing.
We started out with the notion that The Sopranos shouldn't be discussed in college classes. Now, it turns out that fans and critics who think of the show as "a superb work of art" shouldn't be admitting it publicly, and are only doing so because "we" no longer believe in guilt.

For the record, I find our nation's appetite for violent imagery almost as disturbing as its appetite for incoherent pseudomoral posturing like Iannone's, and I sometimes wonder where it'll end. Perhaps we'll find ourselves supporting the death penalty along with a dwindling handful of tinpot dictatorships, or praising our president's self-interested bloodlust as "decisiveness," or hailing torturers and profiteers as heroes, or making a Delphic oracle of Nancy Grace. You never know.

(Illustration: "Judith Beheading Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1620.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Highly Intelligent Wolves


John Hawkins huffs, and he puffs, and he blows down the straw house of the metrosexual male:

[A] real man should be able to shoot a gun, catch a fish, hunt, take and throw a punch, know what to do if a tornado or hurricane hits, cook a steak, jump-start a car, change a tire, drive a stick shift, give a firm handshake, read a map, handle a budget, swim, tie a tie, give a 5 minute speech, comfort someone who has just had a loved one die, negotiate a raise or a price on something he's going to buy, and tell a pushy salesman "no."
Damn straight. Just yesterday, I shinnied up a tree over Squaw Tit Lake, and shot a 9-pound carp with my trusty Luger P08. I dove in and got it, and while swimming to shore I saw this guy standing there waiting for me. No sooner do I give him a firm handshake than he says I'm trespassing and poaching. Well, I started to tell him a few things about individual rights and wise use. About five minutes in, he socked me on the jaw pretty hard. But I came back with a right hook and laid him out flat.

After jumpstarting the car by coasting downhill and popping the clutch, I saw a funnel cloud coming my way. But I took a quick look at the map, and figured out how to get around it OK. I got home in time to cook up a steak, put on my tie, and balance my checkbook before heading out to buy a new riding mower. I figured I deserved a reward for wringing a raise out of my boss.

I'd jewed the salesman down by $500, and was aiming to get the price even lower, when he starts whining about how times are tough since his son died, boo hoo hoo.

"Natural law makes no false judgments," I told him. "Its decisions are true and just, even when dreadful." He sighed, and seemed to shrink inside. "I can let you have it for five percent over cost," he said, finally. "Congratulations," I said, "you just talked yourself out of a sale."

I took little pleasure in all this, though, probably because feminism has robbed me of the simpering female audience my efforts deserved, and left me playing to an empty hall. If I'd been prancing around in pink Capezios, singing "The Nightmare Song" from Iolanthe, you know the bitches would've come running.

That said, there's more to being a Real Man than giving firm handshakes, scaling fish, and overawing Wal-Mart greeters. Here's Hawkins again:
Not everybody has the same religious beliefs or version of patriotism, but men should understand that standing up for God, country, and what's right is important because it sets a much needed example for others to follow.
I seem to detect an ambiguity here, if not an aporia...particularly when we problematize the historical givenness of the distinction between res gestae and historia rerum gestarum....

[slaps self back and forth across face, takes a shot of bourbon, pretends to have something in eye]

What I mean to say is, dang, that Hawkins fella tells it like it is, sure as shittin'. I always say you can believe whatever the hell you want, long as you set a good example by believing the right things. 'Cause if you don't, you ain't worth a bucket of warm spit, haw haw.
We human beings are born savages, not much different than highly intelligent wolves. It's only because we have been socialized, civilized, taught better, and bathed in the grace of God that we have the wherewithal to live together respectfully in a civilized society.
When you see a Real Man like Hawkins come out and speak the truth like this, in front of God and everybody, you can't help wondering why the Feminazis and the Atheists and the Commies and the Fags and the Dykes and the Hippies and the Muslims and the UCC and the Academics and the Gangbangers and the Blame-America-Firsters and the Liberation Theologists and the Eco-Freaks and the Postmodernists and the Liberals and the Welfare Queens and the Peaceniks and the Socialists and the Climate Cultists and the Latte Sippers and the Vegetarians and the ACLU and the EPA and the UN and the Surrender Monkeys and the Evolutionists and the One-Worlders and the Quakers and the Babykillers and the Democrat Party can't just shut up for once and listen to reason.

I swear, it's almost like there's something wrong with them.

The Week in Denialism


Henry Payne stares into the abyss, and vice versa:

If Kempthorne just ruled that global warming is an imminent danger to the polar bear’s habitat, then, how long will it be before greens take the next tactical step and sue to limit industry from producing carbon dioxide?
Something like this actually happened, he explains:
Joining with the environmental-racism movement and backed by a Clinton executive order, [EPA chief Carol Browner] Browner argued that locating industries near black populations created a “disproportionate impact” by exposing them to pollution — therefore violating their civil rights. Naturally, activists found courts willing to uphold this nonsense....
What makes this especially charming is that Payne doesn't dispute that these industries are disproportionately sited in minority neighborhoods (which is just as well) nor even that this causes health problems for residents (ditto). As far as I can tell, what qualifies as "nonsense" here is the idea that any sensible person should care (along with the democratic principle that allows citizens to agitate for a redress of grievances). To paraphrase Brecht, perhaps American industry should dissolve the people, and elect another.

Incidentally, there was a time when restrictive covenants impeded even a clean and articulate darkie like Nat "King" Cole from living among his betters; it doesn't take much effort to see the connection between ownership restrictions in white neighborhoods and forced accommodation to industrial pollution in minority ones.

Patrick J. Michaels says that global warming stopped in 1998 (as long as you ignore what's happened since). Also, polar bear populations are at a record high (as long as you take their drastically diminished 1950s population as your starting point). All of which demonstrates that Michaels is a genius (at least when compared to a flatworm).

Don Martin complains that people only care about polar bears because they're "majestic," and only get choked up about seals because "they graphically gush blood all over ice floes" when you slaughter them. If they really cared about endangered animals, they'd destroy Western Prosperity for the sake of the Vancouver Island marmot, instead. Polar bears are mere symbols, don't you know, which is why it's so offensive that the Bush Administration has given them "mostly symbolic protection." Besides, they eat seals. How you like 'em now, hippies?

Hell hath no fury like Cal Thomas scorned. John McCain has "joined the warming cult," and this leads Thomas to conclude that "the era of big government is so not over" (like, totally!).

This is a fine column, really. It's one of Thomas's best. For proof, I direct you to this remarkable piece of political jiu-jitsu:
[T]he apostle of global warming, Al Gore, and his new disciple, John McCain, want us to believe in a 2008 version of the Pete Seeger anti-war lyric: "we were — knee deep in (carbon monoxide) and the big fool said to push on."
He neglected to call Seeger a Commie, but other than that, I'd give it a 9.8.

So what should McCain have done? I'm almost too excited to tell you:
Mr. McCain would have done better to push back against the global warming cult and conduct a raid on the cultists similar to what Texas authorities did to the FLDS polygamists.
Oh, hell yes. Just imagine the look on the cultists' faces when The Man comes down on their crash pads and communes! I can honestly say that I'll be at least as disappointed as Cal Thomas if McCain doesn't take this excellent advice to heart.

(Illustration via The Sietch Blog.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging


What distinguishes
Hypselodoris whitei from mortals?
That many waves in their sight roll,
an eternal stream:
us the wave lifts,
the wave swallows,
and we sink.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging


The California Supreme Court has ruled that gay citizens have the same rights as straight ones:

The majority opinion, by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, declared that any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation will from this point on be constitutionally suspect in California in the same way as laws that discriminate by race or gender, making the state's high court the first in the nation to adopt such a stringent standard.

The decision was a bold surprise from a moderately conservative, Republican-dominated court that legal scholars have long dubbed "cautious," and experts said it was likely to influence other courts around the country.
Glenn Greenwald adds:
No rational person can criticize the Court's decision here without having at least a basic understanding of the governing California precedents. Anyone who condemns this ruling without having that understanding will be demonstrating a profound ignorance of -- and contempt for -- how the law works.
Ya don't say. The LA Times article is quick to point out that conservative activists aim to amend the state constitution this November. My prediction: They'll lose. Repeatedly.

Rape kits will soon be available for free, nationwide:
Starting next year across the country, rape victims too afraid or too ashamed to go to police can undergo an emergency-room forensic rape exam, and the evidence gathered will be kept on file in a sealed envelope in case they decide to press charges.

The new federal requirement that states pay for "Jane Doe rape kits" is aimed at removing one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting rape cases: Some women are so traumatized they don't come forward until it is too late to collect hair, semen or other samples.
Another nail in the coffin of men's rights. (You can't have too many!)

The Supreme Court has inadvertently upheld a ruling that allows South Africans to sue American corporations for aiding and abetting apartheid:
The court couldn't take up an apartheid dispute involving some of the nation's largest companies because too many of the justices had investments or other ties with those corporate giants....

The result is that a lawsuit will go forward accusing dozens of corporations of violating international law by assisting South Africa's former apartheid government. The companies and the Bush administration had asked the court to intervene, arguing that the lawsuit was damaging international relations, threatening to hurt South Africa's economic development and punishing the companies using a fuzzy legal concept.
The BLM has restricted off-road vehicles from 55,000 acres of the Sonoran desert. It's a start.
“The vehicle closure is welcome news, but the Bureau of Land Management should be doing a lot more to protect the national monument,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Off-road vehicles still have unfettered access to over 500 miles of routes and 270,000 acres on the monument. The agency is obligated to protect all of these lands from motorized abuse.”
A large parcel of privately owned California wilderness has been designated for conservation:
At a press conference on a sunny hillside 60 miles north of Los Angeles, the Sierra Club and others unveiled a deal to protect the largest contiguous parcel of land designated for conservation in California history -- 240,000 acres of stunningly diverse landscapes on the privately-owned Tejon Ranch south of Bakersfield. (Think about that: This is 2008 and we're still preserving massive hunks of land -- in Southern California no less!) At 375 square miles, the preserve of desert, woodlands, and grasslands is eight times the size of San Francisco and nearly the size of Los Angeles.
Yet another court has ruled against yet another of the Bush Administration's environmental policies:
In a reversal of the Bush administration’s attempt to accelerate logging for profit in the Sierra Nevada’s national forests, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 14th that the U.S. Forest Service likely violated long-standing federal environmental laws when revising the Sierra Nevada Framework, a management plan for all 11 national forests in eastern California.
Subtopia surveys the German Green Belt:
While the "inner German border” that once divided East and West Germany decades ago, stretching 879 miles from the Baltic Sea to the Czech Republic, was a tangled jungle of barbed wire, landmines, booby traps and soldier patrols, it was also, much like the Korean DMZ, a kind of sanctuary for considerable wildlife.

When the Berlin Wall fell German environmentalists fought to protect the long line of no-man’s-land as a Green Belt, connecting it with Europe’s larger green belt that has followed the path of the Iron Curtain from the north of Finland south to the Adriatic Sea.
Read the whole thing.

Endangered scarlet macaws that were born in captivity are reproducing in the wild:
The ZooAve Center for the Rescue of Endangered Species has released 100 of the birds into the wild in the last decade. But biologists didn't spot offspring until last year, said biologist Laura Fournier.

Since then, they have recorded 22 chicks born in the wild, and four more scarlet macaw couples have laid eggs, Fournier said.


The tropics are more biodiverse than previously thought:
Doing DNA analysis on Blepharoneura fruit flies in Latin America, biologists led by Cornell professor Marty Condon found a surprising number of different species occupying separate parts of the same plant. Many of these were "hidden" species, species that were both physically concealed within the plant and species that "hidden" in that they were nearly indistinguishable from other species without genetic analysis. In all the researchers identified 52 different species from 24 different host plants from the cucumber, sampled from an area spanning from Mexico to southern Bolivia and from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts.
A new study suggests that bats could aid in tropical reforestation:
Once agricultural land becomes depleted and is subsequently abandoned, a wave of seed inputs is needed to help foster habitat regeneration. However, a lack of suitable roost sites and resources tends to keep most potential seed dispersers at bay. Attracting bats, which pollinate close to 1000 plant species and disperse their seeds widely via excretion, might then help accelerate the process -- if the right incentives are provided.

To test this hypothesis, a team of scientists led by the Leibniz Institute's Detlev Kelm built and installed 45 roosts in two Costa Rican habitats -- one in continuous forest and the other on recently abandoned agricultural land a few miles away. At the same time, they also set up traps to collect bat feces as a measure to quantify seed dispersal. Their findings indicate that 10 bat species quickly colonized the roosts, five of which occupied them permanently in both forested and agricultural habitats. As was expected, seed input around the roosts rose dramatically: The researchers calculated that 69 different seed types, mostly early-successional plant species, were transported to the deforested areas.
Scientists have discovered the microorganisms responsible for consuming undersea methane releases:
The importance of the anaerobic oxidation of methane for the Earth’s climate is known since 1999 and various international research groups work on isolating the responsible microorganisms, so far with little success. Pernthaler and co-workers developed a new molecular technique to selectively separate these microorganisms from their natural complex community, and subsequently sequenced their genome. The findings were exciting: Besides identifying all genes responsible for the anaerobic oxidation of methane, new bacterial partners of this syntrophic association were discovered and the ability to fix N2 could be demonstrated.
Another breakthrough is claimed in solar-cell efficiency:
Hoex was able to achieve the increase in efficiency by depositing an ultra-thin layer (approximately 30 nanometer) of aluminum oxide on the front of a crystalline silicon solar cell. This layer has an unprecedented high level of built-in negative charges, through which the – normally significant – energy losses at the surface are almost entirely eliminated. Of all sunlight falling on these cells, 23.2 per cent is now converted into electrical energy. This was formerly 21.9 per cent, which means a 6 per cent improvement in relative terms.
Four Legs Good alerts me to this charming biomimetic approach to solar power:
Scottish architecture firm ZM Architecture have come up with a brilliant scheme to provide solar power to the city of Glasgow - and do so in a way that is provocative, creative, and aesthetically appealing. The proposal? To design Solar Lily Pads which will float in Glasgow’s River Clyde and soak up the sun’s rays, sending electricity to Glasgow’s grid while also stimulating urban riverfront activity.

Speaking of biomimicry, a new design for wave-power generation mimics the motion of underwater plants:
Biowave mimics the swaying motion of the sea plants found in the ocean bed. The system looks like three buoyant blades which are constantly oscillating to the motion of the sea. As they sway in the tide, electricity is generated. If at any point the system is in danger because of the strong currents, it simply lies in flat until the ocean calms down.
And the fins of humpback whales have inspired a new blade design for turbines:
When biologist Frank Fish spied a figurine of a humpback whale in a Boston gift shop and noticed the pointy bumps along its fins, he said, "That has to be wrong."

But when the shop manager produced a photograph that showed the leading edge of the long fins was indeed serrated like the teeth on a saw, Dr. Fish was intrigued and decided to investigate.

He discovered that these bumps, called tubercles, are this creature's secret weapon, allowing a whale the size of a school bus to make tight turns and capture prey with astonishing agility.

Fish, a biology professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, is now using this technology perfected by nature to produce fans with serrated blades that use 20 percent less electricity than traditional models. This finding contradicts conventional designs that strive for the smoothest possible edges.
Rock Port, Missouri, is the first American town to be powered entirely by wind:
"What's interesting is my husband is in the oil business but that's alright, we're thrilled to have wind energy here. As Americans we need to get more independent," Rock Port resident Kim Bunton said.
Here's one of those ideas that seems obvious, now that it's been done:
The SOLo Lounge Table, by Intelligent Forms, is a sleek, chic outdoor table that not only looks fantastic, but comes with a built-in solar panel surface in order to power all of your electronic gadgets!
A company is making biodegradable dishware from fallen leaves:
The fallen leaves, which would traditionally have been burned on the roadside, are collected, sterilized, steamed and pressed into plates. The process uses no chemicals, glues or bonding agents, and over 80% of the water used during the steaming and pressing process is recaptured and recycled.
Cellphones may soon be used to transmit medical imaging:
A team of engineers at the University of California at Berkeley has developed a technique for transmitting medical images via cellphones. This potentially could bring medical imaging to the ‘three-quarters of the world’s population which has no access to ultrasounds, X-rays, magnetic resonance images, and other medical imaging technology.’ The lead researcher said that this new system would make imaging technology inexpensive and accessible in non-industrialized countries.
This is interesting:
A Swiss marine biologist and an Australian quantum physicist have found that a species of shrimp from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, can see a world invisible to all other animals.

Dr Sonja Kleinlogel and Professor Andrew White have shown that mantis shrimp not only have the ability to see colours from the ultraviolet through to the infrared, but have optimal polarisation vision — a first for any animal and a capability that humanity has only achieved in the last decade using fast computer technology.
Now for a mad dash to the finish line. Luminous Lint is working on a "Photographic Full Body Map"; follow the link to help out. Also: The Domestic Soundscape, "a record of ideas concerning the sounds of the home and our relationship to them."

Country Fair Winners and Macrophotography of Soap Bubbles: Is there a connection? The answer may lie in a Japanese caricature map at BibliOdyssey.


The Western Soundscape Archives. An example of Botanical Otology. A glimpse at The Nightside of Japan. Photos by Harry Callahan.


Metallic monsters along a Russian river, and photos by Juliane Eirich, both via Coudal.

Last, a glimpse at the garden.



(Illustration: "Malaysian Flower Cave" by Robert Rauschenberg, 1990.)