Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

New Mexico has abolished the death penalty:

Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Wednesday repealing New Mexico's death penalty, making it the second state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Richardson, a Democrat who formerly supported capital punishment, said signing the bill was the "most difficult decision" of his political life but that "the potential for ... execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."
The execution of this monster, however, will proceed as scheduled.

Women in Egypt are learning martial arts:
In this male-dominated society it is unusual to see these women in their headscarves sparring with men, but such is the concern here at the rise of sexual harassment cases that the number attending this class grows every month.

Shaza Saeed, 14, is one of the new recruits. "I was on my way home from school and I was attacked - I didn't know what to do," she said. "But now I have learnt how to defend myself so I am not afraid any more. I think every girl should go to self-defence classes like this."
Denmark has legalized adoptions by gay people:
Denmark’s Parliament has passed legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. The bill puts gay and lesbian couples on the same footing as opposite-sex couples.

Gay couples had been fighting for a decade to have the law passed.
In related news, the US will sign "a United Nations declaration affirming that international human rights protections must include sexual orientation and gender identity, and condemning abuses against GLBT people." And a court has ruled that an anti-gay Christian group at UC Hastings College of the Law has no inherent right to funding and official support:
The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that the law school was within its rights to deny recognition and funding to a group that excludes LGBT students and non-Christians....

The ADF had to know this was a losing case—this has nothing to do with freedom of association, or religious freedom—these Christianists just can’t expect the school to support their bigotry with funding, office space and inclusion in official school publications.
The Obama administration has overturned the "Ashcroft Doctrine" on freedom of information:
New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines calling for a “presumption of openness” were issued today by Attorney General Eric Holder. The guidelines, fulfilling the directive of a presidential memorandum issued in January, overturn the “Ashcroft doctrine” of the Bush administration that allowed the government to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible. The attorney general’s announcement comes during “Sunshine Week” and follows the introduction of legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA in the Senate.
The administration has also vowed to stop prosecuting providers of medical marijuana in states where it's legal:
In the Bush administration, federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes even if the dispensaries appeared to be complying with state laws. The raids produced a flood of complaints, particularly in California, which in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana sales to people with doctors’ prescriptions.

Graham Boyd, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union drug law project, said Mr. Holder’s remarks created a reasonable balance between conflicting state and federal laws and “seem to finally end the policy war over medical marijuana.” He said officials in California and the 12 other states that have authorized the use of medical marijuana had hesitated to adopt regulations to carry out their laws because of uncertainty created by the Bush administration.
Charles Grassley (R-Hell) worries that medical marijuana may lead cancer and AIDS and MS patients to use "harder drugs" (like, for instance, medical narcotics). Hopefully, the money we save on prosecuting these "criminals" can be spent on research into a cure for Empathy Deficit Disorder, which some experts believe may affect up to 100 percent of congressional Republicans.

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that the Warming Cult hadn't done a very good job of explaining basic facts about the climate to the public, which is really no way to run a global Communist conspiracy. Obviously, people in high places took notice:
In an effort to improve understanding of climate science, a group of government agencies has combined efforts to produce "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science."

"There is so much misinformation about climate," said Tom Karl, director of the government's National Climatic Data Center. "We want to provide an easily readable document to help everyone make the most informed decisions. Having one product endorsed by the nation's top federal science agencies, as well as leading science centers and associations, makes this document an essential resource." Karl said.
The booklet is available here. Having skimmed it, I have to say that it may be a bit too subtle...not in terms of the information, which is solid and demolishes most of the major misconceptions, but in terms of arrangement and emphasis. Also, it doesn't really explain seasons and hemispheres, which I've come to believe comprise one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Americans. But other than that, it's quite good.

Amusingly (in a sense), the associated site includes quotes from a government brochure published in the fifties:
During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-1958, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a pioneering science education publication, Planet Earth: Mystery with 100,000 Clues. The brochure pointed out that Earth's natural greenhouse effect was being altered as "our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate." The brochure went on to warn that if this continued, the result "would have a marked warming effect on Earth's climate" that could "cause significant melting of the great ice caps and raise sea levels in time."
It's surely no coincidence that this brochure appeared immediately after Joe McCarthy died. He would've instantly recognized it as a bid by the one-worlders to seize control of our air conditioners.

Apropos of this vast conspiracy, some activist judge has blocked BushCo's last-minute ruling that allowed people to carry concealed, loaded guns in national parks.

And Bruce Nilles describes what happened after the Wisconsin Public Service Commission denied a request to build a new coal plant:
Now, the company has decided to invest that money in clean energy – specifically, wind power.

In a story with an incredible headline – “Denial of Coal Plant Blows Utility Toward Turbine Deal” – Alliant Spokesman Rob Crain says, “The PSC expressed concern over carbon, and we listened.”

The coal industry has been spending millions of dollars to convince us they’re the cheapest and easiest way to keep the lights on. They tell us that change is costly, and they want you to believe that clean energy is not a viable alternative and that greenhouses gases aren’t a concern. And yet here is a utility doing just the opposite – listening to what the public, the science, and decision makers are telling them.
Sale of oil and gas leases in the Monongahela National Forest has been blocked:
Yesterday, a little more than a week after conservation groups filed a protest against a plan to sell oil and gas leases on an area of the Monongahela National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew the parcel from the upcoming lease sale....

“This oil and gas project was going to further threaten bat species already spiraling rapidly toward oblivion,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have a responsibility to make sure their actions do not harm endangered species or their habitat, and yet that responsibility was being ignored.”
US government agencies claim that they will streamline the process of developing offshore renewable energy:
Under the agreement, the Interior Department will have jurisdiction over offshore wind and solar energy projects, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will oversee offshore projects that generate electricity from wave and tidal currents.

"This agreement will help sweep aside red tape ... our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Joseph Romm runs through the latest battery research:
Battery advances seems to be flowing as fast as electrons these days -- and super fast charging batteries may hit the market in as little as 2 to 3 years. And that's critical because the car of the very near future, plug in hybrids, are a core climate solution. And electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence.
In Detroit, artists are buying foreclosed and gutted properties, in hopes of transforming them into sustainable homes:
In the crumbling Motor City, Mitch and Gina Cope have been purchasing ailing properties at rock-bottom prices, and are encouraging other artists to do the same....

"Our idea — instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house," [Mitch] Cope says.
Time has a somewhat related article on "recycling" the suburbs:
The suburbs need to be remade, and just such a transformation is under way in regions that were known for some of the worst sprawl in the U.S. Communities as diverse as Lakewood, Colo., and Long Beach, Calif., have repurposed boarded-up malls as mixed-use developments with retail stores, offices and apartments. In auto-dependent suburbs that were built without a traditional center, shopping malls offer the chance to create downtowns without destroying existing infrastructure, by recycling what's known as underperforming asphalt. "All of these projects are developer-driven, because the market wants them," says Ellen Dunham-Jones, a co-author of the new book Retrofitting Suburbia.
Another article in the same series includes an interesting discussion of the interstate highway system:
The first great advantage of the interstates is that they represent an established right of way. The government owns the road-beds and adjacent land, so rail and power lines can be laid down without the need to purchase more land. "Right of way is a precious resource," says Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who has become a point person in Congress on infrastructure issues. "It's been developed over centuries at great cost. It's strategically located and immediately available."

And it's already being put to use in some places. In the new expansion of the Portland Light Rail system in Oregon, the trains run alongside the road. And in Portland some stretches of that road are also being equipped with solar panels to power the roadside lights. But maybe the most audacious idea comes from the Al Gore-affiliated Repower America, a clean-energy advocacy group. Highways could be one of the routes for the new, more efficient electrical power grid that Repower advocates. And that grid would be available for battery-powered and hybrid vehicles to draw from and even sell surplus power back to. Envision a system in which you drive to a light-rail station along the interstate, plug into a smart grid at the parking lot and ride the train to work while your car recharges.
A critically endangered plant has received ESA protection from the Obama administration:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is listing a Hawaiian plant, Phyllostegia hispida, from the island of Molokai as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The plant is the first species protected under the Endangered Species Act by the Obama administration. The plant was first designated as a candidate for protection in 1997. It was recently thought extinct and Fish and Wildlife had considered emergency-listing the species, but that was delayed by the Bush administration. Today, just 24 plants of the species are known in the wild.
A very small frog has been discovered in the Andes:
The tiny frog took biologists by surprise since as a general rule species in higher altitudes tend to be larger than similar species in lower regions. Measuring at less than half an inch, the Noble's pygmy frog is not only the smallest frog in the Andes, but one of the smallest vertebrates in the world above 3,000 meters.

Frances Moore Lappé describes how the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte ended hunger:
The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
Lindsay Beyerstein notes that the stimulus will benefit hospitals that care for the poor:
Some good news just arrived in the form of a press release from the Department of Health and Human Services, announcing that the $268 million stimulus dollars have been made available to support hospitals caring for the poor and the uninsured.
A new test can detect Alzheimer's disease in its earliest stages:
The test, which measures proteins in spinal fluid that can point to Alzheimer's, was 87 percent accurate at predicting which patients with early memory problems and other symptoms of cognitive impairment would eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, they said.
There's also word of an improved TB test:
"A report from South Africa showed that the extensively drug-resistant TB strains can kill within 16 days, on average," says Graham Hatfull, Ph.D., the lead author and close collaborator of Dr. Jacobs. "In rural Africa, it takes too long to collect samples, send them off, do the test, and have the data sent back. Clinicians need rapid, relatively cheap, and simple methods for detecting TB and drug-resistant strains in the local clinic. This test provides a quick diagnosis so the patient can be isolated and treated."
This is interesting (though not really surprising, IMO):
Africans who are cocooned from Western culture recognize expressions of happiness, sadness and fear in the same musical passages that Westerners do.

This finding provides the first solid evidence for a universal human ability to distinguish basic emotions in music, asserts a team led by cognitive scientist Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.....

His team’s investigation indicates that Mafa and Western listeners similarly derive emotional meaning from the tempo and key of musical passages. Both groups tended to classify fast-paced pieces as happy and slow ones as scared or fearful, and mostly agreed on which passages were sad, but assigned no particular tempo with them. Mafa and Westerners also generally regarded major-key pieces as happy, minor-key excerpts as fearful and passages with an indeterminate key as sad.

Mafa music exclusively expresses joy and happiness. Village revelers blow fervently through flutes made of iron, clay and wax at various rituals, including a harvest event. No word exists in the Mafa language for music, which is viewed as an inseparable element of ritual.
In conclusion: Secondhand Toys (via things). The almost inconceivable Chand Baori stepwell. Some astonishing photos of an undersea eruption off Tonga. (You can also see live footage here). A film of the Kodak factory, circa 1958. And images of Namibian sand dunes by The Coultate's (via dataisnature).

Walls of death and zipper heads. Images of early machine technology. And unbelievably beautiful aerial views of mountains and glaciers from Bradford Washburn.

Photos by Petur Thomsen (via wood s lot). Playing cards made in a Russian prison versus playing cards made in the Irish Free State. Home economics explained: A Taste for Science (related: Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays). And a marvelous collection of historic instrumentation and atomic ephemera.

Last, a brief glimpse of a Shanghai street acrobat.

(Image at top: "Glacier" by Sidney Nolan, 1964.)


peacay said...

I want an Andean frog!

Thanks phila. Visiting here is like going to one of those all-you-can-eat restaurants.

Phila said...

Visiting here is like going to one of those all-you-can-eat restaurants.

This is kind of like having God compliment me on building a house of cards....