Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

Wyoming has rejected a bill that would've defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual right:

After an hour of impassioned debate Friday, the House defeated an attempt to define marriage in the state Constitution as a union between a man and a woman.

House Joint Resolution 17, also known as the "Defense of Marriage" resolution, failed by a vote of 35-25.
Members of Congress are calling on Obama to freeze construction of the border fence:
"We, along with our constituents, understand the importance of protecting our borders," the letter reads. "Though there are places where a fence is the most feasible option, we strongly believe the Bush Administration's approach of constructing a fence along much of the Southwest border was ill-conceived as it was void of any meaningful input from the local communities or the Border Patrol Sector Chiefs who are most familiar with the challenges of securing our border."
The Migration Policy Institute agrees:
Members of an influential Washington think tank today recommended major changes in the nation's immigration policy, including freezing construction of a security fence along the U.S.- Mexican border and suspending "zero-tolerance" prosecution programs against all people caught crossing segments of the border.

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan group whose presenters included former U.S. immigration chiefs under both parties, recommended 36 steps the Obama administration can take without congressional approval to alter policies developed during the Bush administration.
Also, local opposition to the construction of immigrant detention centers is increasing:
The immigration crackdown of recent years has been possible, in part, because the Bush administration has greatly expanded its detention space. This is set to continue in next year's budget, with new centers planned in several states. But some are meeting local resistance.
I don't know what I expect to come of it, if anything, but this is a remarkable thing for a US president to say:
The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that’s not a smart way to build communities.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has shelved BushCo's plans to drill off the US coast...for now:
The Department of Interior will now conduct a 180-day review of the country's offshore oil and gas resources, leaving the door open for possible offshore oil exploration. The agency will hold four public meetings over the next few months - in Alaska and on the West, East, and Gulf Coasts - to hear from state and local officials, industry, and environmental groups on the proposal.
And Nevada has shelved plans to build a coal-fired plant near Ely:
[I]t is welcome that Nevada will be spared this source of smog, haze and unhealthy air and water for the next decade — and probably longer. That is because Congress, likely this year, will pass regulations that have been inevitable for some time.

The regulations will require that coal plants vastly reduce the noxious emissions that have been allowed to pollute our cities, countrysides and waterways, contributing to global warming and causing serious health problems. The cost of bringing about such reductions will almost certainly steer power companies away from building coal plants.
South Carolina's governor is opposing the construction of a new coal plant, too. Better yet, funding for nuclear power and "clean coal" have been stripped from the stimulus package:
"This is a big victory for common sense and the American taxpayer," said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear who helped lead the campaign on Capitol Hill to cut the $50 billion from the bill.
A new study suggests that improving energy efficiency could cut US electricity consumption by 30 percent:
An assessment of the "electric productivity" of the 50 states indicates that shoring up performance gaps through energy efficiency could not only cut consumption by 30 percent, but also eliminate the need for more than 60 percent of coal-fired generation, according to a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute.
In many areas, reducing water consumption is an excellent way to reduce energy use:
"It takes a lot of energy to move, treat, clean, and use water. A remarkable amount of water, it turns out," Gleick said. "So whatever we can do to reduce the energy required to meet our water needs reduces greenhouse gases."
The UK vows that it will make every home in the country more energy efficient by 2030:
All UK households will have a green makeover by 2030 under government plans to reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills.

Cavity wall and loft insulation will be available for all suitable homes, with plans to retrofit 400,000 homes a year by 2015. Financial incentives for householders will also be available for low-carbon technologies such as solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps, paid for by a levy on utility companies.
Eleven islands in the North Sea will attempt to become waste-free:
The islands from six countries will follow a "cradle-to-cradle" philosophy, which calls for using renewable energy and products made from materials that can be endlessly reused or organically decomposed.

Innovations will include electric vehicles, a desalination system for drinking water that removes salt in a usable form, and purification of household water – including human waste.

"The islands will be a catalyst for innovation for the whole region," German chemist Michael Braungart said at the unveiling of the project late Wednesday.
Grenada, Spain is using electric hearses:
“We are not only the first cemetery in Spain to use CO2-free, electric hearses to carry coffins, but we are the first in Europe. In one city in Romania, the dead are brought into the cemetery on the back of an electric golf cart while in Tarrasa, Catalunya, they use a trailer pulled by a low CO2 emitting car.
In future, they may be partially powered by bumps in the road:
A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks.
In the Philippines, the Catholic Church is taking a stand against mining:
Over the past few years, Bishop Arturo Bastes has spearheaded the church's campaign to shut down a gold and copper mine in Rapu-Rapu island, in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine's Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and now is working on shutting down the new owners -- a consortium led by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp....

"It's written in the Bible," Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: "Do not defile the land where you live and I dwell."
Researchers claim that biodiverse crops seem to result -- somehow -- in less nitrate damage to rivers:
Modern farms tend to produce fewer crop varieties; this lower crop biodiversity can negatively impact surrounding watersheds. According to the study, within a given area, a higher biodiversity of crops led to less dissolved nitrogen in surrounding water bodies.
Speaking of biodiversity, the Center for Biological Diversity, whose effectiveness in raising legal challenges to anti-environmental policies I've praised many times, "has created the Climate Law Institute to extend the reach of current environmental and human health laws to encompass global warming, pass new climate legislation, and reinvent America’s approach to protecting endangered species and public lands."
The path-breaking institute will be directed by Kassie Siegel, the current director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy program. That program will be replaced by the multidisciplinary institute, which will expand and direct climate change work across the Center’s biodiversity, oceans, public lands, urban wildlands, and international programs.
There seems to be some truth to the broken windows theory:
Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded. In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "bro ken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime.
Inhabitat reports on a rooftop garden prototype in Los Angeles:
SYNTHe is a self-sufficient ecosystem that could offer a myriad of environmental benefits. Besides helping to filter pollutants, increasing thermal insulation of the roof, and reducing storm water runoff, the roof top garden sets forth a complete productive cycle. Food will be grown, consumed, and ultimately returned to the cycle in the form of compost on the premises.

A Spanish quarry has been turned into a "post-industrial" tourist site:
In actuality, not only has the quarry been turned into an outdoor history museum decorated with artifacts, it's been landscaped as an arboretum showcasing native Minorcan flora. In keeping with the stonecutters' tradition of cultivating orchards and vegetable gardens in disused quarries, each excavated spaces plays host to a different plant community. So there is a quarry room for fruit trees, another for bushes and shrubs, and another containing cultivated olive trees and aromatic plants. In one quarry, there is a pond containing freshwater Minorcan plants.

Click through to see more pictures; you won't be sorry!

Apropos of which, Plep mentions the abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which could benefit from a similar approach to rehabilitation. You can find many fascinating pictures here.

California is reducing the population of its overcrowded prisons:
Tens of thousands of California inmates will have to be released over the next two to three years to relieve overcrowding that has ravaged prison medical and mental health care, a panel of federal judges said Monday.
Pfizer claims that it will reveal the payments it makes to doctors:
The disclosures will begin early next year and are planned to include all payments to a doctor or other prescriber exceeding $500 in a year, the New York firm said.

The move comes after introduction last month of legislation to require such disclosures, and revelations of astronomical payments to some doctors that were not revealed to universities and hospitals that employed them.
In related news, the American Psychiatric Association may cut some of their ties with drug companies:
[Dr. Daniel] Carlat and other psychiatrists have been studying the issue and have proposed that the American Psychiatric Association cut back on medical education seminars funded by drug companies.

Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the group that represents 38,000 doctors, said the proposal is one of several the association's board will take up next month to address concerns that psychiatrists have become too cozy with drugmakers.

The APA and some prominent psychiatrists have been targeted in a probe by Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley. He has faulted several noted child psychiatrists, including Dr. Joseph Biederman of Harvard University in Boston, for failing to disclose hefty payments from drug companies.
Yoplait will no longer be made with milk containing rBGH:
Saying consumers want the change, General Mills on Monday announced it would suspend by August the use of milk produced from cows injected with a synthetic hormone in all Yoplait yogurt.
The work of a researcher who suggested that the MMR vaccine causes autism has been found to be inadequate, to put it very politely indeed:
[A]n investigative report by The Times in London...seemed to show fairly conclusively Wakefield had doctored the data to have in come out the way he wanted....This explains why no one has been able to replicate his findings: in fact there was no demonstrable relationship between the autism seen in his 12 child case series and the vaccination itself.
The linked post discusses the role of science journals in this debate, and is well worth reading.

Clinical trials of an anti-HIV vaginal gel seem to be promising:
An investigational vaginal gel intended to prevent HIV infection in women has demonstrated encouraging signs of success in a clinical trial conducted in Africa and the United States. Findings of the recently concluded study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, were presented today at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Montreal.
A new approach to antibiotic design could slow the development of drug resistance by targeting bacterial communication:
Individual bacteria monitor the concentration of signalling molecules, and when it reaches a certain level, change their behaviour. That concentration provides a rough indication of when the number of cells in a particular population has reached a certain critical mass - known as a quorum. When a quorum is reached, pathogenic bacteria shift from a benign state and begin attacking the host by secreting toxins.

But hacking the bacterial communication system could make it possible to prevent this transformation, and leave the cells waiting in a safe form for an attack signal that never comes. That would give the immune system extra time to naturally clear the bacteria from the body, says David Spring at the University of Cambridge, UK.

His research group has now developed an artificial molecule that could lead to a treatment to destroy the quorum signals sent out by many bacteria, including Pseudomonas - a bacterium that can lead to life-threatening conditions such as meningitis, and that is the primary cause of mortality in individuals with cystic fibrosis.
Scientists seem to have gained some insight into photosynthesis:
Analysing energy transport is an important way of understanding the inner workings of a wide range of systems, from biological processes to car engines. However, in very small-scale systems such as photosynthetic molecules, quantum effects come into play making it difficult for scientists to explain how photosynthetic molecules are able to transport energy with remarkably high efficiency.

Until now, one of the major obstacles has been the lack of a direct way of probing some of the fundamental mechanisms involved in the flow of energy between electrons in molecules.

"These new pictures are instantaneous snap-shots of energy being transported between electrons across a protein. Remarkably, the pictures go further in unravelling the complex way the electrons interact. This gives us something akin to a fingerprint for electronic couplings," says Dr Ian Mercer from the School of Physics at University College Dublin, the lead author of the new study, who is a visiting researcher at Imperial College London.
This is...interesting:
The extinction of species is a consequence of their inability to adapt to new environmental conditions, and also of their competition with other species. Besides selection and the appearance of new species, the possibility of adaptation is also one of the driving forces behind evolution. According to the interpretation that has been familiar since Darwin, these processes increase the “fitness” of the species overall, since, of two competing species, only the fittest would survive. LMU researchers have now simulated the progression of a cyclic competition of three species. It means that each participant is superior to one other species, but will be beaten by a third interaction partner. “In this kind of cyclical concurrence, the weakest species proves the winner almost without exception,” reports Professor Erwin Frey, who headed the study. “The two stronger species, on the other hand, die out, as experiments with bacteria have already shown. Our results are not only a big surprise, they are important to our understanding of evolution of ecosystems and the development of new strategies for the protection of species.”
Now, then. Photos of Kenyan women, visible from space. Imaging the Thyacline (someone's gotta do it). A history of wine. The rephotographic journeys of John Hannavy. And some postcards from South Dakota.

Furthermore: Photos by Inge Morath (I recommend The Road to Reno). Botanical illustrations by Olive Pink. And entomological illustrations from the Franclemont Collection.

Neanderthal music (I'd give it a nine 'cause I can dance to it, but I wouldn't buy it). Codex Gigas. Beautiful and horrible stalactites of melted brick. An Australian dust storm in the shape of Ayers Rock (via Coudal). Histories and photos of unknown New Orleanians.

And, in conclusion, Colour on the Thames.

UPDATE: If you've got room after all that, RMJ has dessert.

(Photo at top via Stuck in Customs.)


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for all your work on this Friday post, it's much appreciated.

Last week I launched JURN is perhaps something you might want to include in your next edition? It's a Google Custom Search that lets you search the contents of over 1200 free academic journals in the arts & humanities. Free, no ads.

Joe Blow said...

"Wyoming has rejected a bill that would've defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual right"

Is that why that little girl is running to have sex with that goat?

SEE! See what happens when you don't do what GOD wants?!