Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

It's a strange and busy week for me, so this'll be a very short edition. (You can thank the sharp-tongued unequal_monica_nyc at Eschaton that I'm doing it at all!)

Sweden has legalized same-sex marriage:

Sweden on Wednesday became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Following a five-hour debate in Parliament, the legislation was overwhelmingly passed on a 261 to 22 vote, with 16 abstentions. The new law will go into effect May 1, replacing a 1995 law that allowed civil partnerships.
Meanwhile, in the Land of the Free, the Iowa Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that laws against gay marriage are — wait for it, now — unconstitutional:
“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in the 69 page ruling.
The court also discounted civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” the ruling said.

The decision means that gay and lesbian couples may immediately obtain marriage licenses and be allowed to marry under Iowa law in 21 days.
And the Vermont house has tentatively approved same-sex marriage, and given us a fleeting glimpse of that rarest of endangered species, a principled Republican:
Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry, said he favored limited government and maximizing the ability for people to choose their own lifestyles. He said he had voted against Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil union law in 2000 but had changed his thinking.

"This to me is not about religion, civil rights or the institution of marriage," Hube said. "This to me is about being true to a set of principles. People should have the opportunity to make choices and have control over their own lives."
There are only a few days left for public comment on the rescinding of the HHS "conscience" rule; click here to add yours. My own views are pretty well summed up here:
What American fundamentalism lacks in living, active morality, it makes up for with gratuitous acts of ugly, pietistic snobbery that are calculated to disgust and alienate people of good will. The same transgressive thrill that the secular Right gets from arguing in favor of scientific racism, the Religious Right gets from insisting on the right of "ethical" doctors to cast stones instead of healing wounds. It's soulless, dead-hearted busywork for the terminally childish and vain.
West Virginia's Blair Mountain has been saved from the coal industry:
After 500 mountains in Appalachia have been blown to bits by mountaintop removal, one peak was most likely saved today: Blair Mountain in West Virginia, the site of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War, was officially approved by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to be placed on the National Register.

This is a huge victory, as the tide continues to turn in the movement to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Some consider it the Bunker Hill of the labor movement. But the great battle in 1921, when thousands of union coal miners and World War I veterans donned their uniforms and took up arms to liberate and unionize the last coal camps in southwestern West Virginia held hostage to ruthless outside coal companies, has emerged as one of the great symbols of Appalachia's fate today.
A federal court has upheld the legal rights of three US detainees in Afghanistan to challenge their detention:
A US federal court ruling that three detainees in US custody at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan who were arrested abroad be given the same legal protections as Guantanamo detainees expands the role of federal courts in protecting detainee rights outside the US, Human Rights Watch said today.
Significant progress was made on abolishing the death penalty in 2008:
Last year, countries around the world abolished the death penalty, including Uzbekistan and Argentina. The report states that “Europe and Central Asia is now virtually a death penalty free zone…” The only shameful example left is Belarus, which still has the death penalty and still executes people.

In addition, countries that have the death penalty used it less in 2008. Amnesty International found that out of 59 countries that still use capital punishment, only 25 executed anyone. Not all countries, however, demonstrated such restraint. According to the report, China executed about 1,718 people, Iran executed about 346 and Saudi Arabia killed about 102 people.
A large population of endangered dolphins has been found in the waters off Bangladesh:
“This discovery gives us great hope that there is a future for Irrawaddy dolphins,” said Dr. Brian Smith, the study’s lead author. “Bangladesh clearly serves as an important sanctuary for Irrawaddy dolphins, and conservation in this region should be a top priority.”
Quebec will protect 4.5 million acres of land:
The Montreal Gazette wrote: "The latest protected swaths comprise half of Quebec's Boreal Forest in the northern part of the province, including more land around George River and eight sites in Nunavik."
I'm not sure what to make of this:
For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries, described in the April 2 online edition of Science, could be manufactured with a cheap and environmentally benign process: The synthesis takes place at and below room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents, and the materials that go into the battery are non-toxic.
This is also interesting:
"Jackdaws seem to recognize the eye's role in visual perception, or at the very least they are extremely sensitive to the way that human eyes are oriented," said Auguste von Bayern, formerly of the University of Cambridge and now at the University of Oxford....

{T]he birds were able to interpret human communicative gestures, such as gaze alternation and pointing, to help them find hidden food, they found. The birds were unsuccessful in using static cues, including eye gaze or head orientation, in that context....

The findings are particularly notable given that most other species investigated so far, including our closest relatives the chimpanzee and "man's best friend," the dog, are not particularly sensitive to eye orientation and eye gaze, von Bayern said. Rather, she continued, chimps and dogs seem to rely on other cues such as head or body orientation in determining the looking direction of others and do not appear to appreciate the eyes as the visual organs. The results suggest that birds may deserve more respect for their mental abilities.
That's about as much as I can manage today, but here are a few links to keep you occupied 'til I get back:

Proyecto Agua (via dataisnature). America's vanishing grave houses. A 24-hour astronomical webcast. Slides mounted by Cornelius Poulton. A history of the Lost Airfields of Greater Los Angeles (speaking of which, some remarks on flight and film). A bestiary of calligraphic animals. Useful information on your water footprint. And a gallery of photos by Helen Leavitt, who died this week at the age of 95.

Last, some vitally important information for the modern housewife:

(Illustration at top: "The Brooding Rook's Heaven" by Mary Newcomb, 2001.)


charley said...

wow, thanx to monica, and thanx for the helen leavitt.

thanx, phila.

Anonymous said...

Yay -- the republic of your soul is saved!

I don't understand the virus-produced batteries, but I dig the water-footprint chart.

And thank fuck for Iowa; now queer people don't have to hide in New York!

Hope you have a great weekend, Phila. I'm off to look at the Helen Levitt pix.


rootless-e said...