Sunday, June 29, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

America's largest sugarcane grower has "agreed to sell all of its assets to the state and go out of business."

Under the proposed deal, Florida will pay $1.75 billion for United States Sugar, which would have six years to continue farming before turning over 187,000 acres north of Everglades National Park, along with two sugar refineries, 200 miles of railroad and other assets.

It would be Florida’s biggest land acquisition ever, and the magnitude and location of the purchase left environmentalists and state officials giddy.
The Committe of Natural Resources has voted to protect lands surrounding the Grand Canyon from uranium mining:
Upon today’s vote, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) requires Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to immediately withdraw subject lands from mineral entry for three years. The law allows emergency withdrawals when “extraordinary measures must be taken to preserve values that would otherwise be lost.”
Mexican activists have blocked a redundant tourist development on the Sea of Cortez:
Colectivo Balandra, as the group is called, successfully appealed to state officials whom have now designated a total of 5,000 acres of shoreline and sea as Natural Protected Area. La Paz and Balandra are located on the Sea of Cortez, the narrow strip of water that separates Baja California from the Mexican border.
Family planning advocates seem to be making some headway in the Philippines:
"[P]rominent forces" are publicly discussing the benefits of family planning in the Philippines, where for centuries the Roman Catholic Church has "exerted its influence" like it has in few other countries, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, family planning advocates have "existed for years on the fringes of society," but an increasing number of advocates are now urging the government to implement family planning policies to address the country's economic problems and slow its population growth.
Meanwhile, Scotland will offer free emergency contraception:
The emergency contraception is set to be supplied for free in most of Scotland's 1,200 community pharmacies under changes to their contracts.
Missouri's Supreme Court has affirmed the right of midwives to practice in that state:
The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday in a 5-2 ruling reinstated a law permitting midwives to work in the state without fear of potential criminal charges, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. The law essentially allows anyone certified in obstetrics to deliver infants.
The Arizona state senate has rejected a "protection of marriage" bill that would have amended the state's constitution for the benefit of bigots:
The 14-11 vote was two shy of what was necessary to send the initiative to voters, according to AP.
An anti-abortion initiative in Montana has failed pretty dramatically:
The proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have defined a fertilized human egg as a 'person' failed to gain enough signatures needed to make the November ballot.

CI-100 would have banned abortion, but supporters needed 44,000 signatures to make the initiative legit for the November ballot. Supporters obtained less than half of the signatures needed, gathering close to 22,000.
Adding to their disappointment, an 11-year-old Romanian girl who was denied an abortion after being raped by her uncle will be allowed to have one after all.

More states are rejecting abstinence-only education funding:
[A]lthough a federal tally shows that 28 states are still participating in the program, participation in the program is down 40% over the past two years. Arizona and Iowa have said they will no longer accept the funding as of Oct. 1.
Canada's Federal Court has issued several rulings in favor of Mexican women who are fleeing violence:
In a series of stunning decisions, the Federal Court of Canada has jumped to the defence of Mexican women trying to stay in Canada to escape violence and abuse.

Six rulings in the past six weeks tossed aside decisions by the Immigration and Refugee Board. In one case, the board had declared that a 17-year-old girl's kidnapping and rape by the Los Zetas drug gang was "horrific" but wasn't bad enough to meet the threshold of "atrocious and appalling."

All must now return to a different panel of the refugee board to have their case reheard for a final decision on whether they can stay.

"We are very thankful. Canadian people are very humanitarian," said one of the women seeking asylum in Canada, who wished to remain anonymous.
Subtopia reports on Amnesty International's Counter Terror with Justice campaign:
The Cell Tour began this year as a traveling exhibit designed to encourage visitors to experience the conditions of isolation, if just for a moment, and then to share their impressions in a video message through a touchscreen recording device situated on the wall in place of a mirror over a sink....

The exhibit, perhaps inadvertently, I see as a revelation of this hazardous notion that American justice is a deployable prison cell that can be made cheaply on time and at any time, shipped anywhere in the world day and night, and dropped off on doorsteps here and abroad when and wherever the global arbiters of detention see fit.
The Sietch Blog discusses a solar-powered solar panel factory. One can only hope that solar power will be used to build it.

In related news, here's a machine that can churn out 1 GW of solar cells per year. Inhabitat reports on a combination solar cell/solar thermal installation for rooftops. And Hawai'i, which relies heavily on oil imports, has passed an impressive solar energy bill:
Hawai'i will become the first state in the nation to make solar water heaters compulsory in almost all new homes. The measure, SB 644, was not listed among the 52 bills considered for veto by Gov. Linda Lingle, meaning the bill will become law with or without her signature.
A British dance club claims that 60% of its power will be generated by dancers:
The springs in the floor are connected to power generating blocks made of piezoelectric crystals. It's similar to what Enviu, a Netherlands-based research group, proposed for Holland-based clubs, but with a different accent. Like that system, the British club's crystals produce current when subjected to pressure created by the gyrating bodies above.
Speaking of filthy hippies, the EU's farm chief has come to the daring conclusion that supermarkets' aesthetic standards for fruit and vegetables result in an awful lot of food being wasted. Perhaps he's onto something?

A new study in PLoS ONE adds to the evidence that biodiversity can protect humans against disease:
Areas with higher levels of bird diversity have lower incidences of West Nile virus infection in human populations, reports a new study published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

While the reasons for the findings are still being studied, the results support other research linking biodiversity to human health — specifically the "dilution effect" or the pattern "whereby increased biodiversity in wildlife results in lower risks of humans becoming infected by animal disease," according to a statement from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
A fishing ban along the Great Barrier Reef has helped fish species to recover:
Scientists behind the new study found that the fish bounced back within two years after no-take reserves were established.

Garry Russ, a marine biologist at James Cook University who led the research, said his team was "surprised" to find coral trout population increases of up to 68 percent in such a short period of time.

"This represents a positive and unprecedented response to reserve protection," he said.
An attempt to find alternative nesting sites for Caspian terns seems to be succeeding:
A major initiative to create alternative nesting sites for the largest colony of Caspian terns in the world -- and to help protect juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River -- is finding early success.

A recent survey of a new nesting site at Crump Lake in southern Oregon, which was just constructed in February by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, found more than 135 nesting pairs of Caspian terns, as well as more than a thousand pairs of gulls and two nesting pairs of double-crested cormorants.
Duck populations have increased in Minnesota:
Minnesota remains well below the goal of an average breeding population of 1 million ducks, which is outlined in the state duck recovery plan. Much of the actual increase was attributed to the late spring and migrant ring-necked ducks.

“Even so, it’s always encouraging when we see improved wetland habitat conditions and increased numbers of breeding mallards and blue-winged teal from the previous year,” Cordts said.

Speaking of birds, GrrlScientist explains the changes that are afoot in avian phylogeny.

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by W.R. Grace, which means the company will have to face trial for its rather...cavalier approach to asbestos:
The defendants were charged with knowingly combining, conspiring, and agreeing among themselves and others to release asbestos into the air, defrauding the U.S. government and agencies responsible for administering laws to protect public health and safety, and conspiring "to conceal and misrepresent the hazardous nature of the tremolite asbestos contaminated vermiculite, thereby enriching defendants and others."
A new study suggests that organic milk is more nutritious than conventional brands:
Cows that graze on real grass and clover produce milk that contains more antioxidants, vitamins and the good-for-you fatty acids.

The study found that the milk of these cows was particularly nutrient-rich in the summer, when they had the greatest access to fresh grass. During this season, the milk contained 60 percent more of the fatty acid CLA.
Onwards and upwards. Stereoviews of the Middle East. A small but lovely collection of cigarette cards. And a larger and lovelier exhibition of Victorian Trade Cards in Kansas City.

Abecedarium: NYC "reflects on the history, geography and culture of NYC through 26 unusual words." If you're not in the mood to be baffled, you can view the landscapes of James J. Hanks, then and now (don't miss the movie).

Decorated and Decorative Paper is pretty much what it sounds like. Ditto for The Book of Accidents.

The Display Windows of Eaton's Department Store, on the other hand, is a bit more exciting than it might sound.

I didn't know Chopin's heart had been preserved in cognac. I wonder if it's still edible?

Some of the more grandiose hopes for the Intertubes may never be realized. On the other hand, you can read Troy McClure's IMDb Resume. And watch in amazement as an iron ball falls in sand. (Both via Coudal.)

Just because I posted a video here once doesn't mean I have to do it every week, right? So why do I keep telling myself that I'm not finished until I find one?

(Illustration at top: "Composition, lune et soleil" by Max Ernst, 1960.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ice Cream or Oil?

CNBC has posted a helpful slideshow that helps concerned consumers to become better informed -- in a certain sense -- about the price of oil. Its title is revealing: "More Expensive by the Barrel: Ice Cream or Oil?"

As you click through the slides, you learn that Coca-Cola is currently a bit less expensive than light sweet crude, while Perrier comes in at a shocking $300 per barrel.

"Who would have thought water would burn a hole in your pocket?" the caption asks...a sobering question indeed, for those whose vehicles are powered by imported soda water.

Still, it's nothing compared to the horror of the Starbucks latte, at $954.24 per barrel. If our society used these lattes to manufacture and distribute and sell oil, instead of the other way around, we'd really have something to complain about.

And get this: Those hippies Ben and Jerry are always talking about saving the planet...but their ice cream costs $1609 per barrel! Typical liberals, eh? It turns out that perfume is much more expensive than oil, too. You have to admit, it kind of puts things in perspective.

In a better world, a slideshow like this one might ask readers to think about oil's role in creating and transporting and setting the prices of the nonessential goods to which it's being compared. It might even manage to discuss interesting issues like external costs and goverment subsidies. But things being as they are, the slideshow is simply a propaganda piece for Big Oil, and it absolutely drips with contempt for its readers.

It also fails to acknowledge the "mileage" you get from a barrel of, say, Tabasco sauce. Sure, it costs $6155...but that adds up to about 2,789 bottles, which I'd say is an ample, if not generous, supply for most households. I love Tabasco and use it in almost everything I cook; even so, I doubt I've gone through 20 bottles of it in my entire life.

By contrast, $6155 will get you about 1,540 gallons of gasoline at current prices. That's 110 full tanks if you've got a 14-gallon tank, or roughly a year's supply if you're filling up twice a week, as so many drivers do. Perhaps this would be a better basis for comparison, since more Americans buy gasoline by the gallon than crude oil by the barrel?

Then again, doing it that way wouldn't be nearly as much fun. You know what else costs more than oil? Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945. So quit complaining, ya goddamn schmendriks, and fill 'er up!

Incidentally, the figures in this slideshow come from John S. Herold, Inc., whose "client base is comprised of virtually every major oil company."

(Photo by Steve Brandon, from his set Nepean, Ottawa suburb of infinite excitement!)

Sensitivity and Spam

If you're in a lab, it's nice to have a sensor or a reagent that's incredibly sensitive to trace amounts of a given compound. If you're in an airport screening line, this level of sensitivity is likely to create far more problems than it solves.

Designers of a new testing system boast that it's able to detect "an incredibly small quantity of material, as small as one dust-speck-sized particle weighing one trillionth of a gram, on an individual's clothing or baggage."

Which is exactly what we don't need. As I said in an earlier post, the primary practical result of deploying such a system would be that terrorists and practical jokers could "bring an airport almost to a standstill with an ounce or two of the right material." Intentionally overwhelming an airport with false positives would not only be globally disruptive and costly, but might also be the perfect prelude to an attack of a completely different type, for which no sensors are available.

Given its potential for rendering airport security useless or worse by overwhelming it with anti-information, it's quite appropriate that this system is called SPAMS (which stands for Single-Particle Aerosol Mass Spectrometry). Better yet, one of its capabilities is to assess multiple threats at if all goes well, it should be simultaneously able to detect medical technicians, people who've handled pseudephedrine tablets, and people who've fertilized their lawns. And all in mere seconds. Take that, Osama bin Laden!

Here's my favorite part:

The instrument also could assist in screening people for disease....
While I don't really believe that this is anything more than technocratic boilerplate, I have to admire the perfect insularity of the concept. The real world, with its moribund airline industry, and its long lines of angry travelers, and its undertrained and overworked security personnel, and its baffling array of laws and lawyers, is so far away at this point that we may as well be in Heaven. Anyone who can tune out everyday life to this extent could just as easily transcend terrorism and disease, it seems to me, and probably wouldn't need anaesthetic for a root canal.

Even without this handy feature, I think that mass deployment of SPAMS would simply represent a progression of our national autoimmune disorder; our vulnerability to our own defenses increases with their sensitivity to apparent threats.

(Photo at top via The Anti-Advertising Agency.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Pricked Balloon

Planet Gore is amused by the Democratic Party's attempt to hold a "green" convention this year. This scheme is both funny and sad, because it obliges the DemocRATS to fret over lunatic minutiae like the biodegradability of balloons and the source material for baseball caps, instead of screaming "if it feels good, do it!" like those avatars of moderation and self-control in the cornucopian wing of the GOP.

To test whether celebratory balloons advertised as biodegradable actually will decompose, Ms. Robinson buried samples in a steaming compost heap. She hired an Official Carbon Adviser, who will measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed. The Democrats hope to pay penance for those emissions by investing in renewable energy projects.

Perhaps Ms. Robinson's most audacious goal is to reuse, recycle or compost at least 85% of all waste generated during the convention.
As you can see, Ms. Robinson is a humorless, officious busybody whose attempts to "calculate" the "cost" of her "options" will come to worse than nothing. It all boils down to the issue of trust: If we can't trust the LIEberals to ignore the impact of celebratory balloons on Denver's waste stream, how can we trust them to run the country?

In unrelated news, the 2008 Republican National Convention is billing itself as "a green event." Attempts are reportedly being made to cut down on the use of paper, to improve energy efficiency and to use conferencing software to reduce the need for travel. Planet Gore hasn't yet gotten around to mocking GOP convention planners for their self-aggrandizing eco-piety, but I'm sure a stern talking-to is in the works.

UPDATE: There's more on the GOP's plan here. It seems to be pretty similar to that of the Dems, right down to "an effort to measure the millions of tiny carbon footprints created by each of the 45,000 people expected to be either directly, or indirectly, involved in the convention." I guess this means they're having "problems" too, by PG's standards.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Good Stopping Point

This is the sort of news that always brightens my day.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new $214 million infectious disease laboratory in Atlanta, scientists are conducting experiments on bioterror bacteria in a room with a containment door sealed with duct tape.

The tape was applied around the edges of the door a year ago after the building's ventilation system malfunctioned and pulled potentially contaminated air out of the lab and into a "clean" hallway.
The facility in question is a BSL-3 Q fever lab. Q fever's potential as an incapacitating agent was heavily researched during Operation Whitecoat, not least because it's extremely infectious, and hardy enough to withstand a broad range of environmental conditions. It's very unpleasant, but it's not normally fatal and it does respond to antibiotics. (Which is undoubtedly why we'd stockpiled 5,098 gallons of it by 1970. What's not to like?)

Although the CDC's position seems to be that duct tape is adequate to prevent contaminated air from circulating, they are planning to install a self-sealing door, just as soon as it's convenient:
The construction to install the new door will begin sometime between November and next April, possibly sooner, depending on when there is a good stopping point in the experiments being conducted by the Q fever scientists.
Or, I suppose, a bad stopping the ones reached by UoT-San Antonio and Boston University during their work with tularemia.

Revere has lots more.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

No one moulds us again out of earth and clay,
no one conjures our dust.
No one.

Praised be your name, No one.
For your sake
we shall flower.
Halgerda diaphana.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Congress is contemplating some large-scale conservation programs:

With little fanfare, Congress has embarked on a push to protect as many as a dozen pristine areas this year in places ranging from the glacier-fed streams of the Wild Sky Wilderness here to West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. By the end of the year, conservation experts predict, this drive could place as much as 2 million acres of unspoiled land under federal control, a total that rivals the wilderness acreage set aside by Congress over the previous five years.
The DoJ has ruled that Social Security must recognize the children of gay couples:
The federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents Washington from recognizing or providing benefits to same-sex couples, but it does not explicitly address the benefits of children of such couples.
An anti-gay group in Maine has given up on trying to overturn an anti-discrimination bill:
"We're pulling the plug," Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said Thursday in Augusta. The group failed to attract the voter, volunteer and financial support it needed to continue its campaign, he said.

The group collected only a third of the 15,000 voter signatures it had set as a goal for primary election day June 10, Heath said. Citing tags opponents had applied to initiative backers, he said potential volunteers "don't want to be aligned with bigotry and homophobia and hatred."
Funny how that works, eh?

New research suggests that private vice doesn't necessarily lead to public virtue:
Six day care centers imposed a fine on parents who picked their children up late. The effect? Tardiness doubled, and it stayed high even when the fine was removed. Parents, it seems, stopped seeing lateness as an imposition on teachers, and instead saw it as something that could be purchased with no moral failing.

Another example is a study this year which showed that women donated blood less frequently when they were paid for it than when it was an act of charity.

These examples show that economists ignore human altruism at their peril. Standard economic theory assumes that incentives that appeal to self-interest won't affect any natural altruism that may exist, but that assumption is clearly wrong.
Apropos of which, new research suggests that great apes can think ahead:
Two female chimpanzees and one male orangutan, from Lund University Primate Research Station at Furuvik Zoo, were shown a hose and how to use it to extract fruit soup. They were then tempted with their favorite fruit alongside the hose to test their ability to suppress the choice of the immediate reward (favorite fruit) in favor of a tool (the hose) that would lead to a larger reward 70 minutes later on (the fruit soup). The apes chose the hose more frequently than their favorite fruit suggesting that they are able to make choices in favor of future needs, even when they directly compete with an immediate reward.
Western conservationists are working with their Iranian counterparts to protect the rare Asiatic cheetah:
Hunter, an Australian, said he believed "both Iranians and Americans realize that we cannot afford to allow politics to affect the cheetahs. If we did, we could lose them."

Iranian officials expressed similar views.

"I love anybody who works for conservation and wildlife protection. It doesn't matter who it is," said Ali Akhbar Karimi, a 59-year-old veteran from Iran's Department of Environment in Yazd province.

In related news, France has canceled $20 million of Madagascar's debt in return for conservation efforts:
The new agreement is part of Madagascar’s ambitious national effort, pledged by President Ravalomanana, to triple the size of the country’s protected areas. The funds will be managed through the Foundation for Protected Areas and Biodiversity—a conservation trust fund established by WWF, Conservation International and the Government of Madagascar to support the country’s distinct ecosystems and extraordinary wildlife. With this agreement, the fund has reached its endowment target of $50 million.
Certain members of the prosperity-hating, anti-capitalist Warming Cult are calling for more government action on climate change:
Detailed climate change recommendations to the Group of Eight leaders, backed by an influential group of CEOs from many of the world’s largest companies, were delivered today to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan, who will host the G8’s annual summit next month in Hokkaido, Japan....

In their recommendations, the CEOs urge adoption of a rapid and fundamental strategy by governments to bring about a low-carbon world economy. They call on the G8 and other developed country governments to provide leadership through deep absolute cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)...
Of course, they're really just looking for relevance after the fall of Communism. It's kind of sad, when you think about it. (That goes double for Effect Measure, which has been trying to explain the basic science of climate change in terms that laypeople can easily understand.)

A new study suggests that latrines are preferable to toilets in many parts of the world:
[I]nstalling water-guzzling appliances such as toilets can actually promote unsanitary conditions when the effluent is discharged untreated into once-clean rivers and streams. A properly built latrine, on the other hand, keeps sewage safely separate from drinking water.

"Our challenge has been to look at what interventions make the most difference," Watkins said. Their findings show that small changes can be more important in preserving health than big engineering projects....
Inhabitat alerts us to yet another new wind-turbine design:
The AeroCam’s unique design allows Broadstar to manufacture, transport, and install, and maintain it at lower costs than conventional turbines. A 250kW system will retail for $250,000, making it the world’s first turbine to break the $1/watt cost barrier. The AeroCam is designed to operate smoothly in wind-speeds from 4-80 mph, and these low rotational speeds mean that it produces a negligible amount of noise.

Activists in Portland, OR are trying to depave unused parking lots, and have already had one heartening success:
Hundreds of conference participants helped break and remove asphalt from a 3,000 square foot parking will continue to work with Goldsmith Properties to transform this now asphalt-free site into a community greenspace. Once completed, the site will be used to educate the public about pavement removal and storm water drainage management.
Americans are driving a lot less in recent months:
For the sixth-straight month, the number of miles Americans drove declined, by a cumulative total of 30 billion miles from November to April, the Federal Highway Administration reported Wednesday. That's the biggest decrease since the oil shock of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Here's an odd idea:
Taiwanese inventor Peng Yu-Lun believes that trains are more energy inefficient than they have to be, hobbled ecologically by the totally unnecessary task of having to stop to pick up passengers. To counter the problem, he has invented a concept for a constantly moving train, or a "non-stop MRT system."
AfriGadget reports on reuse and recycling among Kenyan ironworkers:
Even more interesting to me (probably because it moved and did stuff with fire), was the bicycle-turned-to-bellows that kept the fire going that would heat the metal rods. It’s a fairly simple, yet ingenious contraption that utilizes old materials with a little bit of engineering. The thing runs all day, every day too, so it’s made to last.
Last, you can now opt out of receiving phone books.

That's about it for this week. Except, of course, for some examples of early scientific film at The Bioscope (you might want to read the article on Kinemacolor, too). And Archetypal Nature. And Ernie Gehr's Eureka. And a generous collection of Chinese Paper Gods.

Also: The earliest known Intertubes. The earliest known example of computer music. And he most recent known issue of Polar Inertia.

Here's a movie for you, too.

(Photo at top via Stuck in Customs.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thinking About Minorities

My more alert readers will already have noticed that we got us a colored boy running for president. And having done so, they're probably wondering how Obama's chances would look to a hidebound, provincial Edwardian teenager who was suckled on G.A. Henty and Herbert Spencer.

We may not have the time machine we'd need to collect a specimen like that, but we do have John Derbyshire. And we should be glad of it. For the same sharp eye that allows him to detect incipient sagging in the breasts of 22-year-old crones may yet help us to cut the Gordian Knot of American race relations.

Obama has a few things going for him, according to Derbyshire. First, "blacks and guilty white liberals" will vote for him. So far, so good!

Second, Morgan Freeman has a certain...numinous quality in some of his films. Like Shaquille O'Neal's athleticism, Duke Ellington's sense of rhythm, and Nat Turner's thirst for blood, this is bound to rub off on Obama, on account of he's black too.

Third, we're probably gonna be stuck with a black president eventually, and some people may want to get it over with ASAP. Fourth, and weirdest, Americans believe that people in other countries will admire us if we elect a black guy, and of course nothing matters more to us than the approval of furriners. That's just how we are, y'see.

Don't take Derbyshire's word for this last bit. Consult your own soul, and see if you can find it within yourself to disagree. I'll bet the Devil John Derbyshire's head that you can't manage it.

Anyway, Obama's four positives can be condensed into the proposition that Americans are stupid and shallow. Now, on to the negatives!

First, some Americans don't care much for black folk. (Such is life!) Second, Obama's supported by a gaggle of elitist snobs (and not the good kind, like John "I Weep for teh Vanished Splendor of teh Raj" Derbyshire).

Whites simply don’t care that much about blacks one way or t’other. Whites don’t regard blacks as consequential. White/black conflict is often annoying and occasionally scary, but it’s never existentially acute.

A much bigger factor, I believe, will be voters who reject Obama as a way of working off resentment against other whites.
Whites don't regard blacks as consequential! You heard it here first (or maybe you didn't, come to think of it). Either way, what else can this mean but that white racism will play a negligible role, at best, in this election?
White resentment of blacks is a molehill; white resentment of media, academic, and political types — most of them white — who (as people see it) cover up for minorities, is the mountain.
So white racism scarcely exists, and white resentment of blacks is a mere molehill...but if you try to "cover up" for these goddamn murdering mongrels and their dysfunctional culture, you'd better believe you'll get your head handed to you right quick by White America. Quod non erat demonstrandum!

The sad thing is, Derbyshire's not entirely mistaken. People will indeed vote against Obama to spite white liberals. Sure, the basic impetus here is still racism, and the classic conservatarian scare-figure of white liberalism was created in part to provide exactly this sort of alibi for it. But the fact remains that we're drifting into an age where you can't be called a racist unless you hate people for no good reason. Disliking blacks because they have dark skin is frowned upon, by and large. Disliking them 'cause they're lying, thieving, drug-addled welfare cheats is at least defensible, in many circles (though you might want to phrase it a bit more delicately, and throw in some statistics to make things seem properly scientific).

But hating a bunch of effete ivory-tower academics who fawn over ghetto culture, and make excuses for its criminality, and are in secret accord with the average black's ever-smoldering dream of Bloody Revenge...why, that's not racism at all! It's perfectly rational anger at white elitists, so you can indulge in as much of it as you like with a clear conscience.
This kind of thing generates widespread resentment — not so much against minorities, whom white Americans think about as little as they can get away with, but against the whites who cover up for minority misbehavior, and pretend that it is something to do with “us"....
This is, in its own warped way, somewhat insightful. You can indeed "get away with" thinking less about minorities if you deflect your rage onto white people who defend them. And a certain amount of people who vote against Obama will undoubtedly do so out of resentment and mistrust that they've simply shifted from race to some other, more respectable issue. Which not only allows them to avoid thinking of themselves as racists, but -- much more important -- allows them to launch racially negative discussions almost anywhere, under the agreeable fiction that they're simply talking about "white elitism."

Not a bad little racket, all in all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Futures and Pasts

America's irrepressible fifth column of Islamopacifascist defeatocrats keeps insisting that the Iraq War is Vietnam all over again -- even though it's quite clear to cooler heads that it's actually World Wars II through V -- so Rich Lowry figures he might as well take their ball and run with it. Thus, we now have it on good authority that the Iraq War is like the Vietnam War...not for us, but for al-Qaeda:

When the United States lost Vietnam, it lost credibility and saw an emboldened Marxist-Leninist offensive around the Third World. Al-Qaida is a global insurgency and not a nation-state -- and thus its circumstances are radically different from ours 40 years ago -- but it has suffered a similar reputational loss.
Lowry hastens to add that things were very different back when AQ was "winning" in Iraq, which is an era I must've slept through. But now that its "indiscriminate killing" and "lunatic decrees" are becoming unpopular, it's losing political capital. Which I guess gives the US an opportunity to win Iraqi hearts and minds at long last (as long as it can restrain itself from indiscriminate killing and issuing lunatic decrees).

Beyond noting that Lowry doesn't seem to have a very clear practical idea of what "victory" in Iraq might entail, I have to disagree with his analogy. I say that the Iraq War is in fact much more like the Second Anglo-Maratha War was for the Peshwa Baji Rao II...not from our standpoint, mind you, but from that of the ethnic Kurds. For non-Kurdish Sunnis of the Hanafi school, the war is more reminiscent of the Second Rif War, which, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, was itself not entirely dissimilar to the Third Anglo-Maratha War. It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that Blackwater's role in the conflict, despite certain radically different circumstances, recalls nothing so much as most, though not all, of the Janissary revolts.

All of which tends to confirm my suspicion that although 9/11 changed everything, Iran's Shiite majority is nonetheless in roughly the same position as the Poles during the First Silesian Uprising, while the United States, having forgotten the stark lessons of the Ifni War, risks following in the footsteps of the Saharan Liberation Army at the Battle of Edchera.

I don't think it's too much to ask for concerned Americans to take note of these striking historical parallels, so that we can move our national debate forward.

(Illustration: "Tet Offensive, 1968." Source: United States Military Academy.)

The Safest Option

Having blocked a US bid to use the Great Lakes as a gunnery range, Canadian authorities have turned their attention to more important land-use reclassifying lakes as tailings dumps for the benefit of the mining industry.

CBC News has learned that 16 Canadian lakes are slated to be officially but quietly "reclassified" as toxic dump sites for mines. The lakes include prime wilderness fishing lakes from B.C. to Newfoundland....

Under the Fisheries Act, it's illegal to put harmful substances into fish-bearing waters. But, under a little-known subsection known as Schedule Two of the mining effluent regulations, federal bureaucrats can redefine lakes as "tailings impoundment areas." That means mining companies don't need to build containment ponds for toxic mine tailings.
Simple enough, right? Since no one can seriously expect "tailings impoundment areas" to be havens for fish, the welfare of fish currently living in and downstream from these lakes becomes something of an abstraction.

Elizabeth Gardiner of the Mining Association of Canada explains that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
In some cases, particularly in Canada, with this kind of topography and this number of natural lakes and depressions and the end it's really the safest option for human health and for the environment," she said.
I'm going to go out on a limb, for once in my life, and suggest that if turning 16 freshwater lakes into tailings impoundment areas really is "the safest option," then mining in this case is not an economically or socially or politically or morally viable activity, period.

(Photo: "Nickel Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario" by Edward Burtynsky, 1996.)

A Biased Education

Cinnamon Stillwell bears sad tidings:

It turns out that Western liberal democracies can be subverted without firing a shot.
Roll over, Prince Metternich, and tell Carl Schmitt the news!

Stillwell offers this daring insight as a preface to her account of the "soft jihad" that's allegedly targeting Our Children. As evidence that the true nature of Islam is being obscured in American schools (whose administrators, in their defense, may themselves have been indoctrinated by George W. Bush's representation of Islam as "a religion of peace"), she offers this anecdote:
Last month, students at Friendswood Junior High in Houston were required to attend an "Islamic Awareness" presentation during class time allotted for physical education.
Her source for this story is Bob Unruh at WND; his article conforms to that site's standard practice in that it relies heavily on hearsay and doesn't mention the date on which the event took place (WND generally avoids giving dates for the events it describes, probably because they can then be recycled in later articles without losing any immediacy).

For the record, the presentation took place on May 22, in the wake of an alleged physical attack on a Muslim student.
According to students, they were taught that "there is one God, his name is Allah" and that "Adam, Noah and Jesus are prophets." Students were also taught about the Five Pillars of Islam and how to pray five times a day and wear Islamic religious garb.
Now, I wasn't there, but I'm willing to bet that these children weren't actually taught that "there is one God, his name is Allah." Instead, they were told that this is what Muslims believe, which is not exactly a secret. And they probably weren't taught how to dress like Muslims, but to comprehend why some Muslims dress the way they do. Still, it sounds much scarier when you use language that blurs the distinction between awareness and advocacy, don't you think?

To Stillwell, such presentations are an example of "using taxpayer dollars to implement a religious curriculum," which means that "not only are children receiving a biased [!] education, but possible violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause abound." This ought to be a wake-up call for schools that are currently teaching students how to perform human sacrifice like the Aztecs, or indoctrinating them into Popery by describing the splendors of the Italian Renaissance.

For his part, Unruh quotes a parent who laments that "this was put right at the end of the school year...which will most likely prevent a Christian response."

In other news:
Violence created by thirst for petroleum, at least at this point, looks to be a likely catalyst that will force all nations to the final battle in the Middle East. Armageddon is a war that likely begins with the galloping forth of the second rider on the red horse of war (Rev. 6:4). It culminates with the return of Jesus Christ in the clouds of glory to the one place on earth with the largest pools of oil (Rev. 19:11).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Taking Up a Serpent

In pursuit of her trade as a spawner of monsters, Echidne has invited me to post at her place on weekends. I've agreed, and have already lowered the tone considerably.

Lord only knows where it will all end.

Sunday Music Blogging

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

If a jackal bothers you, show it a hyena.
If a hyena bothers you, show it a lion.
If a lion bothers you, show it an elephant.
If an elephant bothers you, show it a snake.
If a snake bothers you, show it a stick.
If a stick bothers you, show it a fire.
If a fire bothers you, show it a river.
If a river bothers you, show it a wind.
If a wind bothers you, show it Chromodoris tinctoria.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo inmates have the right to challenge their imprisonment in a civilian court:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times"....

The court said not only that the detainees have rights under the Constitution, but that the system the administration has put in place to classify them as enemy combatants and review those decisions is inadequate.
An appalling dissent, which sounds more like a tabloid op-ed than a legal argument, was written by John Roberts, of whom David Broder once said, "Roberts's only problem is that he has set a standard so high, it will be difficult for the next nominee to measure up."

Which leads us ineluctably to the subject of open-air cesspools full of hog waste.
Thirteen years after a big hog waste pool in Onslow County gushed through earthen walls, over roads and into tributaries of the New River and launched an effort to replace such open-air cesspools, the state has chosen three farms to install innovative technologies to replace the old way of storing animal wastes.

The N.C. General Assembly years ago ordered new technologies developed to replace stinking hog waste pits such as the one at Ocean View Farms that held the feces and urine of 10,000 hogs. The state's action this week has been a long time coming.
Good things come to those who wait, eh?

Apropos of stinking waste pits, an impressive power plant will be built in California's Central Valley:
A proposed Central Valley power plant will tap three potent sources of renewable energy at once - the sun, crop stubble and cow manure.

The plant, near the old oil-patch town of Coalinga in Fresno County, will combine a large solar farm with a generator that burns orchard trimmings, agricultural waste and, yes, excrement....

The plant's design will allow it to do something not typically associated with solar power. It will keep running, and generating power, at night.
It's wonderful that society has progressed to the point where such things are conceivable. Back in 1922, people had to content themselves with power plants that ran on sewage gas:

The Birmingham engine runs about six hours a day and is used to operate a centrifugal sludge pump that moves the wet sludge from the gas-generating tank to the drying grounds. In this process a small proportion of the waste material produces enough power to run the pumps of the sewage disposal plant. If all the material were used, there would probably be enough gas available to light the city.
In related news, rising fuel prices are causing shippers to look anew at the Erie Canal.
According to the federal transportation department, shipping by water is far more energy-efficient. In a tractor-trailer, one gallon of fuel is needed to transport one ton of freight 59 miles. On a barge, the same load will go 514 miles on a gallon of fuel."
Hooray for Progress, says I.

Australia may end its 12-year ban on funding abortion services abroad:
The United States and Australia are the only countries that provide development aid on the condition that none of the money be used for abortion services, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance Bob McMullan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Egypt has launched an ambitious family planning program:
Egyptian Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali said on Tuesday that the country had set aside 480 million Egyptian pounds (around 90 million dollars) to cope with its overpopulation problem through family planning....

With an average of 3.1 children per woman, rising to five children in rural areas, the Arab world's most populous country had seen a declining birth rate until 10 years ago.
Behold the irreversible phenomenon of demographic shift.

Meanwhile, in a heartening example of psychographic shift, Southern Baptists are increasingly distancing themselves from "Southern Baptists":
"The word Baptist is such a turnoff," said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut, who has documented the name-changing trend. "There is a kind of national skepticism about evangelical Christianity because of the religious right and the connection to the Bush administration. You say 'Baptist' and people almost automatically think conservative."
The EPA has blocked the expansion of a ConocoPhillips refinery in response to concerns about air quality:
"This is a huge win for anyone living near a refinery, but especially the communities in the Metro East area and for St. Louis," said Ann Alexander, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and lead litigator on the challenge.
There's new evidence that the SUV is on its way out:
Nissan pounded the latest nail into the coffin today when it followed General Motors, Ford and Toyota in saying it will scale back production of trucks and SUVs in favor of fuel-efficient cars now that the bottom has fallen out of light truck market. Car sales, which accounted for half of the industry's volume last year, hit 57 percent last month while truck sales fell by double-digits to their lowest mark since 1995.

Need more proof the SUV is a goner? Ford's venerable F150 pickup ended its 17-year-run as the best-selling vehicle in America last month, dethroned by the Honda Civic and three other Japanese sedans. General Motors is looking to unload Hummer, the epitome of gas-guzzling excess, after sales fell 60 percent in May. The number of Civics sold in one month exceed the number of Hummers GM expects to sell all year.
A researcher hopes to make "greener" asphalt:
Asphalt, which is used to pave over 90 percent of American roads, is processed in Western countries through a process requiring the tar-like substance to be heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, an energy-intensive procedure that also produces carbon emissions. In less wealthy parts of the world, though, a "cold mix" approach has long been used; the asphalt isn't heated, but is sheared into fine particles and mixed with water and surfactants so it can be spread across a road's surface until it hardens.

Now a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Hussain Bahia, intends to adapt these African and Indian techniques - developed by road-builders who couldn't afford to heat asphalt to make it pliable - for use here.
Sounds pretty good. On the other hand, the researcher's name is Hussain, so it's possible that the whole thing's a terrorist plot.

Houston will try a "tele-nursing" system in order to reduce the use of ambulances and ERs:
Hoping to cut back on the number of ambulances responding to non-emergency calls, the City Council voted Wednesday to hire round-the-clock "tele-nurses" to work with 911 dispatchers.

For callers who do not have a true emergency, a nurse will offer first-aid advice over the phone, or help them find a clinic or doctor.
Ships have been asked to make a detour around an important right whale habitat, in order to reduce the risk of fatal collisions:
“In the first four days (since implementation of new policy), we’ve seen evidence of vessels complying,” says Angelia Vanderlaan, a PhD candidate studying biological oceanography at Dalhousie University. “Since this is new and it is a voluntary measure, I’m hoping it will work.”
A new study suggests that island birds can adapt to new predators:
The new study flies in the face of a widely accepted theory that suggests that island birds are especially vulnerable to predators because they've missed the opportunity to evolve alongside them, unlike their mainland counterparts.

"The main findings of our study are that naïve endemic island birds are not necessarily trapped by their evolutionary history as is generally considered to be the case, but they have the ability to change their behaviors in ways that appear adaptive," Massaro said.

"More importantly, our study demonstrates that such a change can occur over an ecologically relevant time scale of years and not centuries."
A sea dragon in a Georgia aquarium has become pregnant:
In the wild, the survival rate for sea dragon babies is low, but in captivity it's about 60 percent, Gladish said. The fish is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of threatened species, mostly because of pollution and population growth in its native Australia.

Only about 50 aquariums worldwide have sea dragons.

A new study proves conclusively that almost all legitimate environmental science comes from discoverists who are affiliated with conservative think tanks:
The study, published in this month's issue of Environmental Politics, analyzed books written between 1972 and 2005 that deny the urgency of environmental protection. The researchers found that more than 92 percent of the skeptical authors were in some way affiliated to conservative think tanks - non-profit research and advocacy organizations that promote core conservative ideals.
As if to underscore these findings, a patchouli-drenched gaggle of Stalinist hippie cultists from 13 national academies of science has just issued a laughably unscientific plea for "action" on climate change. And in the EU, a foolhardy attempt to limit carbon emissions has led to a Second Dark Age:
Despite its hasty adoption and somewhat rocky beginning three years ago, the EU "cap-and-trade" system has operated well and has had little or no negative impact on the overall EU economy, according to an MIT analysis.
As if that weren't enough, the UK's traditional way of life is threatened by a weird new type of washing machine:
A washing machine using as little as a cup of water for each washing cycle could go on sale to environmentally conscious Britons next year.

Xeros Ltd, which has been spun out of the University of Leeds to commercialize the technology, said on Monday the new machines would use less than 2 percent of the water and energy of a conventional washing machine.
A new water filtration method is reportedly "cheaper and can recycle about five times faster than today’s system."
The system involves a spiral filtration system. Water is funneled through lightweight disks as they spin, separating dirt and particles from the clean water. Another advantage of the new invention is that much less land space is needed than for a water-treatment plant.
Researchers claim to have figured out how rice absorbs arsenic:
"Our observations ... may provide a key to the development of low arsenic crops for food production," the team from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden wrote in the journal BioMed Central Biology.
Colombia has created a rainforest reserve for the conservation of medicinal plants:
The Orito Ingi-Ande Medicinal Flora Sanctuary encompasses 10,626 hectares of biologically-rich tropical rainforest ranging in altitude from 700 to 3300 meters above sea level. The sanctuary is based on an initiative launched by local indigenous communities with the support of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), an innovative NGO working with native peoples to conserve biodiversity, health, and culture in South American rainforests. Members of the communities — which include the Kofán, Inga, Siona, Kamtsá, and Coreguaje tribes — combined their rich knowledge of medicinal plants with cutting-edge technology to determine the placement and extent of the reserve. Their contributions to the effort are reflected in the name of the reserve, according to ACT.
A new bird flu vaccine sounds promising:
The advance is good news not just for preparations in case of a pandemic, but also because it offers a way to make shots for seasonal flu much faster. That gives health officials crucial extra time to better match annual shots to the flu strains circulating.

It also would reduce dependence on the antiquated system of using millions of eggs to make flu vaccines and could cut production time roughly in half, to as little as 12 weeks, according to maker Baxter International Inc.
The best blog I've stumbled on this week is Room 26, which is a "cabinet of curiosities" from the Beinecke Library. Just to get you started, here's a collection of useful oratorical gestures, and a scene from the lands of Browlia and Frowlia.

But if I had to sum up what I love most about teh Interwebs, I'd probably just point to Type in the Toronto Subways.

Who among us does not love sunken cities? Here's one in California, and here's one in the UK. Also: Herman Sörgel’s Atlantropa Project, which involved a "proposal to dam the Mediterranean at both ends, using the reduced inflow to generate massive amounts of hydroelectricity (110,000 Megawatt via several dams, of which 50,000 MW via the Gibraltar dam alone)."

Just to round things out: Hungarian water towers at night (via Dark Roasted Blend). A primer on video microscopy, with examples. Hagley Museum Machinery (via Coudal, IIRC). And a gorgeous collection of color images from The Paris Exhibition of 1900 (via Plep).

Last, a short film made by Mary Ellen Bute in 1940.

Photo at top: "Desert Sunrise, Mohave Desert 1925" by Milton Inman.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wildness and Wet

One of the many difficult decisions we face, as the wise stewards of creation, has to do with the "appropriate" flow rate of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Should we have a steady stream that generates maximum power for the ever-growing cities of the Desert West? Or should we try to recreate the natural flows we've destroyed, in hopes of making this official "wilderness area" seem as untouched as possible?

Since construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, the Colorado River’s volume through the Grand Canyon has been artificially set. On March 4, 2008, Interior allowed a 60-hour high flow experiment through the canyon. Both National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials expressed concern that any benefit to wildlife from a single surge would be lost if not repeated, since a more natural flow pattern is needed to lift sediment onto beaches and facilitate reproduction of endangered canyon fish.

The most outspoken has been Superintendent Steve Martin who wrote that “Based on current scientific information, lack of inclusion of additional high flows could lead to impairment of the resources of Grand Canyon National Park.” This “impairment” finding makes Interior’s steady flow regime legally vulnerable and has sparked an intense campaign by water users to force Martin to retract his statements.
As fascinating as I find this artificial flow rate, what's really interesting here is the attempt to make Superintendent Martin "unsay" a word that might trigger certain inconvenient legal mechanisms. It's as though the law is a demon that can be raised by carelessly saying some forbidden word.

While we're on the topic of wilderness, and language, depopulation in North Dakota is reportedly leading to a process of "rewilding," and this, in turn, has inaugurated a new era of "eco-tourism."
Off the Beaten Path, an operator based in Bozeman, Mont., was one of the first to take advantage of interest in rewilding. Among its custom and group tours, it runs guided six-day wolf-watching trips. “They know they just want to see wolves,” said Bill Bryan, a co-founder and chairman of the company, of his growing clientele.
The opportunities for growth presented by this region's failure to grow are limited only by our imagination. Jeep safaris, self-guided auto tours and "prairie flights" are ideal for those who want to experience the quiet serenity of The World Without Us, and all three are likely to increase in popularity. But the real money is in big-game hunting. Not just because you can charge a tourist $2000 to shoot a bison, but also because the sort of people who can afford to spend that kind of money on canned hunting are accustomed to a certain degree of luxury:
Accommodations on many extended Upper Midwest trips tend to be rustic, with basic lodges or ranch houses; on the self-drives, you can cruise for hours through the desolate plains moonscapes without coming to a sizable town.

But that will change. “Five years from now, you’ll have the infrastructure here for a more upscale experience,” said Mr. Bryan of Off the Beaten Path.
Some people might worry that this "rewilding" is simply a new form of exploitation that's bound to follow its own course of pathological growth, and will end by consuming its own attractions. It could be true, for all I know.

But in the meantime, you can't deny the appeal of pretending you're back in the more innocent days of the 19th century, when the West was just beginning to be tamed.
“The most incredible thing is, if you want to experience the Great Plains the way it was in the 19th century, you can still have that experience,” said Ted Lee Eubanks, chief executive of Fermata, a company that helps regions develop eco-tourism. “You can still stand right in the wagon ruts from that time.”
I'm willing to bet you can still follow them, too.

(Photo of Glen Canyon by Alejandro Marentes.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Meaningful Difference

The EPA has come to a predictable conclusion on the legality of "pumping polluted water from farms and suburbs into the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee":

"Clean water permits should focus on water pollution, not water movement," said Benjamin Grumbles, an EPA assistant administrator....
The logic behind this distinction is that water occasionally needs to be transferred from one place to another for legitimate reasons. Flood control is the obvious example; you can see how contaminated water might be released into a sensitive area during a flood, or in order to avoid one, although you might also feel that other, better flood-control options should be pursued.

Allowing polluted water to be transferred without treatment, for what the EPA calls "later public use," is a bit more troubling, especially given the EPA's highminded insistence that its primary concern is "to stop polluters from dumping waste into the nation's waterways."

Essentially, the EPA's stance is that the South Florida Water Management District doesn't dump any waste into the water in question; it simply moves already-polluted water from one place (e.g., the farms and suburbs whose runoff it has the legal right and the moral obligation to monitor) to another (e.g., a source of public drinking water).

What seems to be at issue is whether there's "a 'meaningful difference' between where the pump draws its water and where it deposits it."

If only there were some way of settling this question.

In other news:
Water utilities would get earlier warning of viruses, bacteria or chemicals that could be introduced into drinking water systems by terrorists under a test monitoring program set for expansion beyond Cincinnati.

The pilot program ordered by the Department of Homeland Security in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks uses continuous monitoring of public water for contaminants that could sicken or kill millions of people.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Eliminating the Impossible

The lead-up to the tragic knife attack in Tokyo will seem very familiar to Americans. So will the government's response, in some ways (though, I hasten to add, not in others).

Government officials scrambled to respond to Sunday's attack. In an emergency meeting, the ruling coalition considered limiting access to knives like the one used in the stabbing, which had a five-inch blade.

"Obviously, the suspect possessed the knife without a legitimate reason," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said. "I think we have to seriously consider what we can do to step up the restrictions."
Of course, someone might buy a knife for a legitimate reason before deciding to kill people with it. And in this case, the knife seems to have been something of an afterthought, since the murderer began his attack by driving a rental truck into a crowd of pedestrians. It's also fair to say that large knives (and axes, and hatchets, and meat cleavers) will continue to be widely available to any murderer who wants them, government rulings notwithstanding. Indeed, the chances are pretty good that the next person who's destined to go on a knife-wielding rampage already owns a large knife, and has for years.

But let's put all that aside, and reflect for a moment on what a knife actually is: generally speaking, it's a piece of sharpened metal attached to, or equipped with, a handle. How on earth are you going to "step up the restrictions" on a low-tech object that people have been making by hand since the Bronze Age?

It's likely that the goal here is simply to make rattled citizens feel better, by giving them the impression that the People in Charge are seeing to things. But many of us, far from being comforted by gestures like these, are more alarmed by them. How comforting is it to live under a government that not only finds it plausible to limit access to knives, but also believes that successful restrictions would somehow thwart bloodthirsty maniacs, instead of obliging them to stroll down to the hardware store and buy an axe or a chainsaw? More to the point, how comforting is it to live under a government that's cynical enough -- or experienced enough -- to think that people will actually be soothed by talk like this?

I understand that this sort of spectacular freelance violence, in particular, constitutes a challenge that has to be formally addressed by the authorities, and that the Japanese government deserves credit for not pointing out how much better the massacre would've turned out if everyone in the vicinity had been armed with a five-inch blade. Secretary Machimura's quote is interesting mainly as an example of what constitutes an official "solution" in a given society. I don't know much about Japan, but I know that like any other country it has its own pathologies. And I suspect that this eagerness to discuss restricting the availability of knives is based on a reluctance to discuss something a bit more fundamental. When solutions are being debated by the powers that be, it's often what doesn't seem possible that's really worthy of attention.

Which reminds me, in an odd way, of what Sherlock Holmes used to say: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

(Photo: "Canaanite sword with ebony and ivory inlaid hilt (top: KW 275, length: 45.4 cm), Canaanite dagger (middle: KW 296, preserved length: 33.5 cm), and a Mycenaean sword (bottom: KW 301, preserved length:45.5 cm)." Via the Institute of Nautical Archaeology.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Whovever you are: step out in to the evening
out of your living room, where everything is so known;
your house stands as the last thing before great space:
Whoever you are.
With your eyes, which in their fatigue can just barely
free themselves from the worn-out thresholds,
very slowly, lift Chromodoris bullocki
and place it against the sky, slender and alone.
With this you have made the world.

(Photo by FaizaL Omar.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Another short edition, I'm sorry to say, thanks to another hectic week. Regular posting -- or something like it -- should resume on Monday.

The California Supreme Court has denied a request to stay its decision on same-sex marriage:

Wednesday's denial clears the way for gay couples in the nation's most populous state to get married starting June 17, when state officials have said counties must start issuing new gender-neutral marriage licenses.
The Center for Biological Diversity has reached a settlement with the US Fish and Wildlife Department:
[T]he agency has agreed to revisit a grossly flawed 2005 decision to protect “critical habitat” for the arroyo toad, a decision tainted with political interference by notorious Bush administration official Julie MacDonald.

According to the agreement, a new proposal for critical habitat is due in October 2009 with a final new decision due by October 2010.
The US will reportedly protect Arctic seas from commercial fishing:
President Bush today established a U.S. policy halting the expansion of industrial fishing into the Arctic until we have more information. The policy in part states that "the decline of several commercially valuable fish stocks throughout the world's oceans highlights the need for fishing nations to conserve fish stocks and develop management systems that promote fisheries sustainability," and also states that until international agreement for managing Arctic fishing are in place, "...the United States should support international efforts to halt the expansion of commercial fishing activities in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean."

"This is the first significant step the U.S. government has taken to protect the Arctic Ocean," said Jim Ayers, Vice President of Oceana.
NOAA claims that two species of dolphins may be rebounding after restrictions on the use of purse-seine nets:
The numbers of northeastern offshore spotted and eastern spinner dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are increasing after being severely depleted because of accidental death in the tuna purse-seine fishery between 1960 and 1990, according to biologists from NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

“These estimates are encouraging because they are consistent with what we would expect to see if these stocks are recovering, now that reported fishery mortality has been dramatically reduced,” said Dr. Lisa Ballance, director of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center protected resources division. “However, we have to be careful not to jump to final conclusions. We need to resolve the uncertainties around these estimates before we can definitively say these stocks are recovering.”
The Oregon Zoo has hatched one California condor chick, and lost another.
Tuesday, keepers celebrated the arrival of spring's fifth and final hatchling. Wednesday, they mourned the loss of another -- an ailing month-old chick that died during emergency surgery.

Because California condors are critically endangered, each hatch brings the species closer to recovery, and each loss is keenly felt, said Shawn St. Michael, the zoo's condor curator. Only about 300 of the huge, prehistoric looking birds exist today....

The zoo's program, which is off-limits to the public because of the birds' fragile status, has produced 15 eggs since it was established. Four Oregon-hatched condors now fly free -- one near Central California's Pinnacles National Monument and three near northern Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Hat tip: ErinPDX at Eschaton.

Grist reports on solar hybrid lighting:
You take a parabolic concentrator and focus some sunlight, optically split with plastic fiber into visible light and heat. Pipe the visible light through diffusers throughout the building. It saves lighting electricity, of course, but unlike skylights or conventional T8s, it adds almost no heat to the building. In a cooling climate it saves about a third as much in air-conditioning energy as it does in light.
Plans are afoot to generate electricity from exhaust.
Researchers are working on a thermoelectric generator that converts the heat from car exhaust fumes into electricity. The module feeds the energy into the car’s electronic systems. This cuts fuel consumption and helps reduce the CO2 emissions from motor vehicles.
We'll see, I guess.

AIDG Blog alerts me to an interesting design for a rainwater-cooled house.
The tank cools the house, stores rainwater and is a structural element too.

This sort of cooling where a surface of the structure is at a lower temperature than the ambient air only works in climates where the air is dry.

Seems like an appropriate-tech version of this design should be possible.

Peruvian authorities will reportedly make an effort to protect isolate tribes from the effects of logging:
Authorities from the Madre de Dios region said they are working with NGOs to put in place a monitoring scheme that would keep outsiders from the areas where the indigenous groups live.

The local government would also take steps to halt illegal logging.
Here's more info on the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, which I discussed in an earlier edition of FHB:
The agreement remains a theoretical exercise, at least until Israeli and Palestinian political leaders manage to strike a lasting deal. But for now, Dodd, Boytner and other participants sound pleased with the increasingly rare example of a successful Israeli-Palestinian effort toward a common goal.
Colorado researchers are studying ancient agricultural techniques in the Four Corners:
Corn may seem like an impossible dryland crop for the Four Corners region. With an annual rainfall of 13 inches and soils full of clay, it's certainly not Iowa. Yet the early Ancestral Puebloans successfully grew enough corn, beans and squash without irrigation in a short growing season to support populations that equaled today's population in Montezuma County.
In related news, a new study in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment suggests that big farms can profitably switch to organic practices:
[M]elding organic techniques with ideas from big-farm management helped one grower navigate the jump, the new study says. This success could point the way toward cheaper, more widely available organic produce, and away from environmentally damaging fertilizers and pesticides.

How did they do it? That�s the answer being sought by a Pueblo Farming Project at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center northwest of Cortez.
BoingBoing discusses an open-source earth block machine:
The Liberator project aims to make an "open source" compressed earth block machine that can turn out 3-5 blocks per minute for a total cost of $1,000-$1,350. That's enough blocks to build a new house every day, turning dirt into shelter. The project page does a good job of making the case for the efficiency of compressed earth blocks, challenging some of the conventional wisdom on the subject.
Oklahoma's governor has rejected a deranged bill that would've required the state attorney general's office, rather than schools, to foot the bill for lawsuits relating to the separation of church and state. More details here.

In conclusion: The astonishing History of Sealand (via Plep). Plenty of bridges. A film of visible magnetic fields (via GrrlScientist). The joys and terrors of Surinam Insect Metamorphosis.

220 Dates for the End of the World!! (They all turned out to be wrong...but don't worry, it'll happen!). A 180-foot poster of the inner Milky Way. A poignant effort to identify forgotten faces. And an equally poignant survey of Movies and Conduct, circa 1933:
The first picture which stands out in my memory is “The Sheik” featuring Rudolph Valentino. I was at the impressionable and romantic age of 12 or 13 when I saw it, and I recall coming home that night and dreaming the entire picture over again; myself as the heroine being carried over the burning sands by an equally burning lover. I could feel myself being kissed in the way the Sheik had kissed the girl. I wanted to see it again, but that was forbidden; so as the next best thing my friend and I enacted the especially romantic scenes out under her mother’s rugs, which made excellent tents even though they were hung over the line for cleaning purposes. She was Rudolph and I the beautiful captive, and we followed as well as we could remember the actions of the actors.
Here's a pinboard film to end with. Stick with it.

(Photo at top by Marie Šechtlová, 1963.)