Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

To the Compiler of Memories

Frequent exposure to Chromodoris kitae
An inattention to the necessity
of changing damp clothes

Sweet affliction sweet affliction
Singing as I wade to Heaven

(Photo by Vishal Bhave.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Barack Obama has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:

[I]n signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.
See also this story in pictures.

Obama has directed the EPA to re-evaluate its decision on the right of states to strengthen clean air standards:
Continuing efforts to overturn more of the last administration's policies, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum today requesting the EPA consider approving a waiver that will allow 14 states to set their own stricter automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards.
(Incidentally, California regulated vehicle emissions before the federal government did.)

Furthermore, the EPA has agreed to analyze ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act:
In response to a petition and threatened litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to review how ocean acidification should be addressed under the federal Clean Water Act. Ocean acidification, the “other CO2 problem,” results from the ocean’s absorption of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, which increases the acidity of the ocean and changes the chemistry of seawater.....

The Center sought to compel EPA to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters from ocean acidification. The pH water-quality criterion is relevant to preventing ocean acidification because it is the measure of seawater acidity against which many states gauge the need to impose regulations on pollution.
A state panel has rejected a plan for offshore drilling in California:
The State Lands Commission voted against Plains Exploration & Production Co.'s request to expand drilling off Platform Irene in the Santa Barbara Channel.
A judge in California has ruled that contributors to the Prop. 8 campaign will not be allowed to hide their light under a bushel:
A federal judge denied a request Thursday to keep secret the names of donors to California’s anti-gay marriage initiative, saying the public had a right to know who gave money to state ballot measures.

Supporters of the Proposition 8 initiative, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage, had sought a preliminary injunction to remove the identities of those who contributed to their campaign from the secretary of state’s Web site.
And a Colombian court has upheld the rights of same-sex partners:
The ruling...said that to exclude same-sex partners would violate the principle of non-discrimination and human dignity as the expression of personal autonomy, protected by international law.

The Constitutional Court decision means same-sex couples will have pension, survivor and property rights.
Rod Blagojevich has been thrown out of office:
Once the State House impeached him earlier this month for abuse of power, the Senate did what was expected and voted to throw Blagojevich out of office. And on an identical 59-0 roll call, it barred the two-term Democrat from ever again holding public office in the state.
Perhaps he should consider moving to Indiana.

Russia is holding off on plans to aim missiles at Europe:
"The implementation of [Moscow's] plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy [missiles in Europe]," an official of the Russian military's general staff was quoted as saying.

The breakthrough follows signs from the Obama administration that it is edging away from George Bush's controversial proposal to site key bases for its anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In related news, central Asia is now a nuclear-weapon-free zone:
The parliaments of five central Asian nations have ratified the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. They are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

This is the newest of the nuclear weapon free zones. The Central Asian states have added some features to their agreement, most notably that all will adhere to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which specifies a greater degree of transparency and has only recently been accepted by the United States in one of George Bush’s last acts in office.
Non-hydroelectric renewable energy was the leading source of new generating capacity in 2007:
[F]or the first time ever, renewable energy sources, other than conventional hydroelectric capacity, accounted for the largest portion of capacity additions.
And in 2008, wind energy accounted for 42 percent of new capacity:
The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas....
American houses are getting smaller:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the average size of homes started in the third quarter of 2008 was 2,438 square feet, down from 2,629 square feet in the second quarter, while the median size declined from 2,291 square feet to 2,090 square feet during the period. The trend — fueled by new economic realities — is expected to continue while the downturn persists: a survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 88 percent of builders are "building or planning to build a larger share of smaller homes", while 89 percent are planning to build more lower-priced models.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, planned subdivisions are being converted to open space, without the slightest regard for what Joel Kotkin thinks.
The Buckingham Township deal is a win for open-space advocates in a fight that is being repeated across the country. As developers struggle to avoid bankruptcy, municipalities and land conservancies, often working together, are buying up land and easements in the real estate fire sale. Coming up with the cash isn’t easy for strapped municipalities in these tough economic times, but some had dedicated cash for these purposes when times were better, and some of the opportunities seem too good to pass up. The power struggle between developers and slow-growth proponents has shifted, in many cases giving environmentalists the upper hand, at least for now.
There's talk of using reclaimed water in Dallas/Ft. Worth. This, believe it or not, "is a money-saving venture because you are keeping water that is already in the area and using it again after it is processed." What'll they think of next?

A town in Wisconsin is using brewery wastes to power a hospital:
The renewable energy project is expected to generate three million kilowatt-hours per year by using waste methane gas discharged from the City Brewery waste treatment process and turning it into electricity.

“Rather than flaring the gas or releasing it into the atmosphere, it’ll be piped into an engine to generate electricity,” states Corey Zarecki, efficiency improvement leader at Gundersen Lutheran. The project—located on the City Brewery property—is expected to generate 8 to 10 percent of the energy used on Gundersen Lutheran’s La Crosse and Onalaska campuses. That is equivalent to planting 951 acres of forest, removing 670 cars from the road or enough electricity to power 280 homes. Corey adds, “Our goal of this project is to save our patients money and preserve the valuable resources of our communities.”
Oslo's buses will soon run on biomethane:
Biomethane is a by-product of treated sewage. Microbes break down the raw material and release the gas, which can then be used in slightly modified engines. Previously at one of the sewage plants in the city half of the gas was flared off, emitting 17,00 tonnes of CO2. From September 2009, this gas will be trapped and converted into biomethane to run 200 of the city's public buses.
Speaking of sludge, "a sewage treatment facility in central Japan has recorded a higher gold yield from sludge than can be found at some of the world's best mines.

In other sludge-related news, the contract between Detroit, MI and Synagro has been canceled:
The City of Detroit and Synagro Technologies have agreed to cancel a $1.2-billion contract to have the company recycle sewage sludge in the wake of a former Synagro vice president’s guilty plea to bribing city officials to win approval of the deal.
A cheaper method of producing gallium nitride could slash the cost of LEDs:
GaN, grown in labs on expensive sapphire wafers since the 1990s, can now be grown on silicon wafers. This lower cost method could mean cheap mass produced LEDs become widely available for lighting homes and offices in the next five years.
TreeHugger has more.

An influx of Somali immigrants seems to be rejuvenating a small town in Maine:
Although University of Maine enrollment has dropped systemwide since 2002, the student population at its Lewiston campus jumped 16 percent between 2002 and 2007. And Andover College, which opened a campus in Lewiston in 2004, had to start expanding almost immediately to accommodate a boom in applications. Enrollment doubled in two years. The reason? "Young people didn't want to go to a place that's all white," says Morrison. Practically everyone in Lewiston credits the Somalis' discovery of their town with much of its newfound success. "It's been an absolute blessing in many ways," says Badeau. "Just to have an infusion of diversity, an infusion of culture and of youth. Cultural diversity was the missing piece."
Greece has offered to help Iraq restore its archaeological sites and collections:
Iraqi museums and sites suffered extensive damage and looting in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The National Museum of Baghdad, a treasure trove of artifacts from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrians and Islamic periods, fell victim to bands of armed thieves. Up to 7,000 pieces are still missing.

Zebari welcomed the Greek offer of cultural assistance, which he said followed an Iraqi request.
In the Congo, a population of endangered gorillas has increased dramatically:
The extremely rare mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park seem to have prospered during a warlord's reign over the refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to new census results.

The population—made famous by a series of murders in 2007—has grown by nearly 13 percent in the last 16 months, despite having no protection from civil war or poaching for 15 months, park rangers said Monday.
After being treated for cancer, a 111-year-old tuatara has fathered 11 babies:
Henry was at least 70 years old when he arrived at the museum, "a grumpy old man" who attacked other tuataras—including females—until a cancerous tumor was removed from his genitals in 2002, said Lindsay Hazley, tuatara curator for the Southland Museum and Art Gallery....

The new hatchlings, born at the gallery, will provide a badly needed boost to the tuatara's genetic diversity, Hazley added.

A new bird species has been discovered in China:
Chinese ornithologists say the find raises hope of further discoveries in China, which could boost the country's nascent interest in bird-watching and conservation....

After decades of nearly institutionalized persecution at the hands of Chinese authorities and citizenry, interest in bird life in growing in China.
It seems that honeybees can count:
Dr. Zhang believes this experiment helps to set insects next to mammals and birds in terms of intelligence. "There has been a lot of evidence that vertebrates, such as pigeons, dolphins or monkeys, have some numerical competence – but we never expected to find such abilities in insects. Our feeling now is that – so far as these very basic skills go – there is probably no boundary between insects, animals and us."
A new company offers students an alternative to buying high-priced textbooks:
BookSwim, a Netflix-style book rental program, has added a textbook program through a partnership with Books are rented for a full semester (125 days) and the return process, a la Netflix, is simple.
Increasing numbers of Chinese citizens are risking arrest by signing a pro-democracy petition:
When the document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter -- putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

Then something unusual happened. Ordinary people...with no history of challenging the government began to circulate the document and declare themselves supporters. The list now includes scholars, journalists, computer technicians, businessmen, teachers and students whose names had not been associated with such movements before, as well as some on the lower rungs of China's social hierarchy -- factory and construction workers and farmers.
Photo-irradiation can reportedly destroy methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus:
The authors report that the higher the dose of 470-nm blue light, the more bacteria were killed. High-dose photo-irradiation was able to destroy 90.4% of the US-300 colonies and the IS-853 colonies. The effectiveness of blue light in vitro suggests that it should also be effective in human cases of MRSA infection, and particularly in cutaneous and subcutaneous infections.

"It is inspiring that an inexpensive naturally visible wavelength of light can eradicate two common strains of MRSA. Developing strategies that are capable of destroying MRSA, using mechanisms that would not lead to further antibiotic resistance, is timely and important for us and our patients," says Chukuka S. Enwemeka, PhD, FACSM, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal and first author of the study.
Stem-cell treatment seems to have reversed cases of multiple scleriosis:
Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine appear to have reversed the neurological dysfunction of early-stage multiple sclerosis patients by transplanting their own immune stem cells into their bodies and thereby "resetting" their immune systems.

"This is the first time we have turned the tide on this disease," said principal investigator Richard Burt, M.D. chief of immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases at the Feinberg School. The clinical trial was performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where Burt holds the same title.
Researchers have discovered the mechanism of anaphylactic shock, which is -- obviously -- an important step in preventing it:
In the genetic mouse model, we showed that surprisingly, selective suppression of the genes coding for the G proteins Gq and G11 in vessel walls protected the animals from the most severe anaphylactic reactions", stated Professor Offermanns. Now the road is open for developing and testing substances that could be used directly to inhibit the triggering mechanism.
The photo at top comes from an absolutely incredible Flickr set by illryion, entitled The Great Salt Lake. Don't miss it! Also: Math problems of 1806, complete with bird doodle. Echinodermata. And screenprints by Mark Weaver.

Graphoscopes. Photos by Franck Juery. A collection of dead casino graphics (via Coudal). And a survey of American tea rooms, compiled by the author of Restaurant-ing Through History.

The Vincent Voice Library. A collection of caving photos and videos. Unreleased 1965 tracks by Fela Ransome-Kuti and Koola Lobitos, from the VOA's African music library. And the voluptuous horrors of of Socotra Island.

Last, a short survey of "Water Sound Images."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Radical Agenda

Joel Kotkin, scourge of urban renewal and poet of the cornucopian drosscape, has some friendly words of warning for Barack Hussein Obama:

In his remarkable rise to power, President Barack Obama has overcome some of the country's most formidable politicians--from the Bushes and the Clintons to John McCain. But he may have more trouble coping with a colleague he professes to admire: former Vice President Al Gore.
If you want an explanation, you'll have to wait a while. First, Kotkin needs to cobble together a bunch of background info that'd seem -- to the untrained eye! -- to render his theory incoherent.
[Obama's] choices on the environmental front are almost entirely Gore-ite in nature. Obama's green team, for example, includes longtime Gore acolyte Carol Browner as climate and energy czar, physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary and, perhaps most alarmingly, John Holdren as science adviser.
"Alarmingly"? Yes, absolutely. Because although Dr. Holdren is a distinguished scientist and the current director of Woods Hole Research Center, he's also a neo-Malthusian fanatic who hates puppies and sno-cones and Freedom.
They represent a more authoritarian and apocalyptic strain of true believers who see in environmental issues--mainly, global warming--a license to push a radical agenda irrespective of its effects on our economy, our society or even our dependence on foreign energy.
Of course, Kotkin and his ilk support the radical agenda of growth for growth's sake, and they do it "irrespective of its effects on our economy, our society or even our dependence on foreign energy." The main difference between them and scientists like Chu and Browner and Holdren, as far as I can tell, is that Kotkin et al reject all limits on growth as ideologically intolerable, whereas Chu et al are more likely to see certain limits as inevitable, given the fact that we live on a tiny ball that floats in an airless void.

Since Holdren, Browner and Chu are Fanatical Green Extremist Fanatics, it's only natural that they'd have the full support of Teh Media, who have always agitated in favor of green goals like hobbling the pulp and paper industry, and interfering with the bottom line of multinationals like General Electric and Vivendi SA.
They can count on the media to cover climate and other green issues with all the impartiality of the Soviet-era Pravda. Stories that buttress the notion of man-made global warming--like reports of long-term warming in Antarctica--receive lavish attention in The New York Times and on Yahoo!.

Meanwhile, other reports, such as new NASA studies indicating cooling sea temperatures since 2003, or the implications of two unusually cool winters, are relegated to the mostly conservative blogosphere.
At the risk of sounding like a fanatic myself, I'm going to suggest that this is because "the mostly conservative blogosphere" is the ideal place to find people who are stupid, dishonest, ignorant, or evil enough to claim that long-term warming in Antarctica is of less significance than "two unusually cool winters" for which climate scientists have a perfectly simple explanation.

Kotkin goes on to point out that pre-Copernican cosmology was wrong, and plate tectonics wasn't. (Who knows anything, when you come right down to it?) He adds that scientists are not immune to groupthink (unlike the mostly conservative blogosophere, which has always maintained a healthy skepticism towards the All-One-God-Faith of market forces).

But why is Obama facing trouble from Gore? Well, first off, because Holdren, Browner, and Chu will probably band together to prevent infrastructure improvements.
With the likes of Browner, Chu and Holdren in charge--no matter what Congress's intentions are--an emboldened regulatory apparatus could use their power to slow, and even stop, many infrastructure improvements.
Needless to say, this strategy will be backed to the hilt by the MSM, who have always hated infrastructure and would prefer to transmit news and advertisements via carrier pigeon, as Mother Nature intended.

Once they've scuttled any hope of repairing infrastructure, these green mutineers will attempt to base a new economy on education and healthcare and art and computers and stuff. (You'd think this scheme would require infrastructure improvements, but it must not or Kotkin would've mentioned it.) This will strike a blow against the values of Real Americans...the kind who prefer to work in fast-food restaurants and coal mines, and view ailments like Phossy Jaw as a badge of honor.

Last, they will pursue a "renewables-only" energy policy, which may lead to "a permanently shrunken economy," assuming the recent era of glibertarian misrule hasn't done so already.

Fortunately, these miseries can be avoided if Obama can get Holdren, Browner and Chu "to toe a more sensible line." However, that will lead to the aforementioned problems with Algore, who has waited years to see America destroyed, and will be furious if Obama cuts the strings of his prize marionettes.

There's no telling how many innocent lives a Gore/Obama showdown would claim, but as Kotkin notes, "we do need to take history into account." The clash between the German and Russian branches of socialism during WWII seems to me to be a logical, and sobering, precedent.

Although it may not be obvious, I'm actually pleased by this column. Kotkin has always labored mightily to downplay his harebrained wingnuttery, but it looks like the genie is out of the bottle for good. The more rats pile onto the sinking ship of denialism, the more satisfying it'll be to watch it disappear beneath the waves.

(Illustration: All the Water and Air on Earth.)

Detroit's Welfare

The Times-Herald of Port Huron, MI is worried about the environment:

President Barack Obama carries the hopes of many Americans -- many who rightly believe his administration has a responsibility to reduce air pollution and set a national course toward a healthier environment.

There should be no dispute about the importance of that goal.
Having ruled out any possibility of disputing this, we can all agree that as important as a healthier environment may be, it's not nearly as important as kowtowing to the dead-enders who control what's left of our auto industry:
Obama's decision opens the way for the Golden State to set its own standards -- and at least 14 other states that adopted California's. Despite the euphoria many environmentalists might feel, the prospect is another challenge to the nation's embattled auto industry.
"Embattled" is one way of putting it. "Shortsighted," "arrogant," "corrupt," and "stupid" are other words that spring to mind. Particularly given what comes next:
Stronger emissions and fuel-efficiency standards...cannot come at the risk of the nation's weakened auto industry.

For now, new federal regulations must be considered in accordance with Detroit's welfare.
So there's no disputing the importance of cleaner air, but Detroit gets the final say on when and if we can have it. Seems to me I've been hearing that refrain for several decades now. Perhaps its basic assumptions are as flawed as the business model that led to the recent "need" for a massive bailout (or "Detroit's welfare," if you prefer).

That bailout, by the way, is not a reward for mismanagement, by any means. Nor does it amount to throwing money down a well. In fact, it's a cruel, cruel burden that Detroit bears only with the greatest difficulty:
Chrysler LLC and General Motors are fighting for their lives. The automakers are struggling to meet a number of stringent restructuring demands in accordance with the billion [???] dollars in emergency loans the Bush administration approved in December.
In other words, the "hardship" of restructuring gives the auto industry the moral authority to veto clean-air regulations in 15 or more states.

Once you've accepted this, you can pat yourself on the back for your patriotism and your understanding of the Free Market.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blessed Benefits

A 1944 pamphlet on propaganda, published by the US Armed Forces Institute, makes a couple of important points:

[I]f propaganda is not in harmony with the individual and his desire, it is likely to be met with cynical skepticism....

In addition...a man's own knowledge and information may cause him to hold to an opinion no matter how heavy the barrage of propaganda attempting to force him to change it.
Movement conservatism has, I submit, sidled away from these bracing truths in recent years, and this has led to a certain...tone-deafness in regard to life as she is lived in the cesspool of iniquity we call America.

As plenty of other bloggers have noted, the Right's current attempt to demonize contraception is roughly on a par with its horrific intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo (a subject on which I had my rather melancholy say here). Which is to say that it's going to cost them more than they'll gain.

If you, as a politician, measure the success of such tactics by the amount of chatter they generate on cable news, it's easy to miss the more crucial point that in the real world, real people are seeing you and yours -- once again -- as a pack of opportunistic busybodies and hypocrites whose commitment to "liberty" is belied by your unseemly appetite for panty-sniffing, your peacock strutting and screeching outside hospices and clinics, and your tireless freelance meddling.

Granted, Americans are seldom happier than when they're fretting over and resenting other people's enjoyment of sex. And yes, very few conservative politicians have gone broke denouncing things of which they're secret devotees; if a conservative politician speaks out against masturbation, you can be pretty confident that his house has a room devoted to it, the contents of which cost more than every healthcare facility in Haiti, and rival an oil refinery in their complexity and danger.

But sneering at contraception -- and, by extension, at the cost of bearing and raising children -- doesn't really come across as a moral stance to most people, I don't think. It's more akin to sneering at people for working at a car wash, or cooking their own food, or not having a chauffeur, or being a woman. There are plenty of stupid stances on which people will give you the benefit of the doubt, or even agree with you: people may be quite willing to believe that climate change is a socialist plot, or that Europe is three years away from sharia. These are subjects about which many Americans know little or nothing, so it's easy and fun to have strong, self-flattering opinions about them.

But when you get into areas where Americans have plenty of their own "knowledge and information," the congressional and media loudmouths who seemed Jeffersonian in regard to foreign affairs begin to look more like a cage full of monkeys who are baring their nasty little teeth and hurling clumps of dung at you.

And that's before you consider the specific economic stresses we're under, thanks to years of the glibertarian economics they championed. I know people who actually want kids, but are holding off because of the economy. I'd assume that there are lots of people like that, in houses great and small across this land, and that they deeply resent the implication that sex is strictly for people who can afford a child. Especially if they understand that our tax dollars pay for contraception for members of Congress, and for their healthcare, and their childcare, and the line of designer fucking machines they've installed in their fur-lined dungeons.

But here's how James Pethokoukis of US News and World Report views the matter:
This is wrong on so many levels, one of which is looking at children born to the "wrong people" as economic burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits. Wow.
Wow, indeed. So much for family planning, and the personal responsibility it entails. If it feels good, do it...and the Lord will provide! You can tell the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker that your baby is not a cost but a benefit, and instruct them to forward their bills to The Man Upstairs. And don't worry about what grinding poverty and stress do to your child's physical development or sense of self; as soon as your Blessed Benefit is old enough to understand Atlas Shrugged, he or she will forgive you everything.

There's a more basic fact to consider here, and it has something to do with the mixture of mawkish sentimentality and cold brutality that Pethokoukis has picked up from his political overlords: A lot of people really don't like Republicans, at this point, and many of them will approve of Obama's presidency to the precise extent that he grinds people like John Boehner into the dirt. When you're in this position, attacking programs that are infinitely more popular than you are is probably not a good idea.

So why do they do it? Amanda thinks it's sour grapes. I think it has more to do with a schoolyard conception of sex that most conservatives seem never to have outgrown: it's a snake pit of cooties and faggotry and excretory functions -- simultaneously nauseating and good for a laugh -- which makes it, above all, an excellent stick with which to beat other people over the head. My guess is that given the chance to make fun of Nancy Pelosi for talking about contraception, sober political calculation went out the window: they simply assumed that forming a ring around Pelosi and chanting "Nancy likes condoms!" in singsong would make her a laughingstock, and earn the respect -- or at least the fear -- of the other children.

(Photo from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, 1890.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Impending Catastrophe

Chris Horner is all giddy and flushed because polls suggest that after the last eight years of gruesome warfare, inadequate healthcare, and general economic catastrophe, Americans do not view global warming as the most serious threat they face.

He also finds it bwahaha-worthy that people who do not believe in an unprecedented worldwide conspiracy to falsify decades of climate data are trying to figure out how to make a better public case for the demonstrable but complex facts on their side of the argument:

One of their contributors asking for suggestions would seem to indicate that they have yet to be clued in on talks about what to call this Edsel of a movement, on the heels of Pew and Rasmussen polling showing their team has wasted hundreds of millions of PR dollars already over the decades trying to sell this loser to the public.
If Horner is too modest to trumpet his own contributions to this outcome, that's fine. But he really ought to acknowledge all the visionary petrochemical firms that have done their utmost to prevent Americans from grasping the simple difference between climate and weather. Lord knows he wouldn't be writing this post without them!

Still, he has a point. Climate alarmists have indeed failed to exploit every rhetorical opportunity available to them. For example: It'll be 91 degrees tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur, but you won't see Al Gore hitting the networks to offer this context-free fact as a commonsense proof of global warming...even though highly trained cadres of junior climatalogical discoverists routinely treat every snowflake north of the equator as another nail in Gore's piano-sized coffin.

By the same token, references to the work of Tyndall, and magisterial explanations of borehole thermometry, aren't nearly as memorable as alliterative mantras like "it's the sun, stupid" or clever puns like "glow-ball warming," the conscientious use of which can make even the dimmest regulars at a topless barbershop sound like the Algonquin Round Table.

On the other hand, the GOP has spent millions on anti-choice dogmatics, and billions more on PR for George W. Bush and his awesomely outrageous wars, only to lose the White House to a black man with a foreign name whom it portrayed as a believer in postpartum abortion. So perhaps a little perspective is in order.

Also, a majority of Americans do believe in AGW, despite the past eight years of governmental interference with climate scientists. It's hard not to believe that public interest in this issue will increase under Our Supreme Exalted Dictator-for-Life Barack Hussein-Osama (especially once the re-education centers are up and running).

The most interesting thing about Horner's piece is that it follows a standard narrative in which the Right's enemies are everywhere and all-powerful, and yet weak as kittens. They're terrifying in their lust to destroy Western civilization, but so ridiculous and transparent that a child could see through them.

One of the things that makes communicating environmental threats difficult is that it tends to frighten people and make them apathetic. The denialist brand of alarmism is quite a bit different, in that it combines a constant threat with an equally constant spectacle of slapstick failure, and makes its believers feel that they're helping to solve the problem simply by laughing at Algore's weight. The Climate Conspiracy may be elementally evil...but how far is it going to get, realistically, when anyone can look out the window during one of Gore's speeches and see that it's snowing?

The ability of these people to live in simultaneous states of high peril and insouciant, cigar-chomping triumph has always fascinated me, and it's with this in mind that I approach David Robert's two-pronged call for a somewhat similar outlook:
  1. Greens, politicians, and other communicators need to get serious about calling climate change the impending catastrophe it is, with serious, dire consequences for people now living, certainly for their children. That means risking being called "hysterics" by conservatives and their dupes in the media.

  2. The same folks need to get better at showing the public the opportunities and benefits of action. It's about expanding the winner's circle and making damn sure everybody in it, or potentially in it, knows about it.
A couple of points come to mind. First, these communicators have been called "hysterics" for years, no matter how optimistic they claimed to be about our Bright Green Future, so I agree that worrying about the "risk" of being called this name is pointless.

On the other hand, "hysterics" is actually a pretty effective slur when it comes to climate change, for reasons ranging from the ordinary person's preoccupation with more immediate woes, to the toxic identity politics that misogynistically interprets sane concern for the environment and animals as womanish and shrill. This being the case, I'm not sure that a bold new resolve to be called names that you'll be called in any case is going to turn the tide, no matter how insistent you are about the Impending Catastrophe.

One alternative, I guess, would be to personalize things, as Horner and his ilk do when they pretend that AGW stands or falls with Al Gore. Instead of focusing on what needs to be done to help the environment, focus on the people who are standing in the way, and their motivations.

That's a dangerous course of action, and a distracting one, with far more opportunities for failure than success, and I've seen very little evidence that the modern Left is up to the job. That said, if there's ever been a time in recent American politics when the public is ready for that sort of message, this is it. In my view, the "communicators" Roberts talks about ought to be a little more willing to be accused of "class warfare," now and again.

But overall, I wonder if we need to fight "global warming" quite so explicitly. Couldn't it be more effective, among some demographics, to wage thousands of smaller battles on subjects that hit people closer to home? There are very few aspects of cutting emissions that don't offer other benefits, some of which can have a huge impact on everyday life. Consider bicycle-riding: You can promote it as a stern duty that must be undertaken for the sake of the few remaining polar bears, before it's too late, or you can present it as something that's healthy and pleasant and likely to reduce your risk of dropping dead from cardiac arrest, and treat any environmental benefit as a bonus.

Even if your goal is to warn of impending catastrophe, that kind of rhetoric has a lot more resonance when it's in reference to local issues. For example, coal plants aren't being rejected all over the country because of the IPPC consensus; that's part of it, no doubt, but the larger issue, usually, is going to be local air quality. It's easier to organize people against projects like these. And I think it's also possible to speak a little more negatively about them, partially because people feel that they have a little more power when it comes to local or regional issues, but also -- for better or worse -- because the "enemy" in these cases tends to have a face and a name and an address.

I do think that the "global" in "global warming" has the effect of instantly outnumbering and disheartening many people who hear it. And since this global problem stems from lots of local problems, it seems best to organize and act locally, with tangible, near-term goals as the consistent focus and any positive climate effects as an attractive benefit of actions that are seen as worthwhile regardless.

None of which should in any way dissuade concerned Americans from pointing out at every opportunity that Chris Horner is a fucking idiot.

(Photo at top by Alexander Petrenko.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Invasive Species

Danger Room reports that Israel has imported elands from Africa, in order to defoliate its border with Lebanon:

The antelope have been stationed on Israel's border with Lebanon, to eat up the "problematic foliage that distorts views of the Lebanese side and within which Hezbollah guerrillas could hide," Ha'Aretz reports....

There are now "between 500 and 700 elands" at military bases throughout Israel, according to the paper.
DuPont and Monsanto must be furious over this new harbinger of our dark green future. Look for Steven Milloy to take a sudden interest in the dangers of invasive wildlife later this week.

Now that Israel has pressed this exotic animal into military service, how will its enemies respond? If the countries surrounding Israel suddenly start stocking up on spotted hyenas, this might suggest that a new biological arms race is underway. It'd probably be wise to classify zoos as dual-use facilities, just in case.

In Algeria, meanwhile, 40 alleged terrorists have died of a disease alleged to be bubonic plague. Guess what this proves?
Dr Igor Khrupinov, a biological weapons expert at Georgia University, told The Sun..."Contagious diseases, like ebola and anthrax, occur in northern Africa. It makes sense that people are trying to use them against Western governments."
Well, sure. Plague occurs in northern Africa, and Algeria is in northern Africa, so if terrorists hiding in the wilds of Algeria are dying of must logically be a failed bioterror plot. Assuming otherwise would be like assuming that an eland just happened to wander over to the Israel/Lebanon border.

The natural world is increasingly implicated in our conflicts, it seems; perhaps we'll end up with a new natural order in which species are geographically distributed according to their wartime (i.e., everyday) usefulness, and a plague epizootic among ground squirrels will be all the excuse one needs to launch a preemptive strike against a foreign government.

Which raises an important question: In an era when cameras and transmitters can easily be implanted in a springbok's horns, and rats can be controlled by radio, can we afford the luxury of cross-border animal migration any longer? Obviously, we need to deploy a reliable microbe-herding system wherever possible. But how much good will this do when hummingbirds and bar-tailed godwits are allowed to flit across the borders of sovereign nations as though they didn't exist?

"Joking" aside, no sooner did I write this than I stumbled upon a like-minded quote from Jena Osman at Subtopia:
By definition, a refuge is a safe place for those in danger: a nature refuge shelters wildlife from over-hunting and habitat loss, a refugee camp protects innocent civilians from perilous warring forces. But the closer one looks at these spaces of protection, the more permeable their borders, the more complex the acts of isolation they require....

In this climate, a place of refuge (be it for birds, for natural resources, or for people) seems less possible than ever.
(Image at top from "Scrap Happy Daffy" 1943.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

The first few days of Obama's presidency have been fairly satisfying, even to a intransigent mope like myself.

First, there were his steps towards greater transparency:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order and two presidential memoranda heralding what he called a "new era of openness." Announcing a Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act to reestablish a presumption of disclosure for information requested under FOIA, President Obama said that "every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known...."

President Obama also issued an executive order reversing changes made by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Records Act (PRA), stating he would hold himself and his own records "to a new standard of openness." The PRA order permits only the incumbent president (and not former presidents' heirs or designees or former vice presidents) to assert constitutional privileges to withhold information, and would provide for review by the Attorney General and the White House Counsel before a president could claim privilege over his or her records.
Then, there was his order to shut down Guantanamo, along with CIA detention centers worldwide:
US President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as well as all overseas CIA detention centres for terror suspects.

Signing the orders, Mr Obama said the US would continue to fight terror, but maintain "our values and our ideals".

He also ordered a review of military trials for terror suspects and a ban on harsh interrogation methods.
He also picked a critic of warrantless wiretaps for a prominent spot in the Justice Department:
In late 2005, following the public disclosure of the N.S.A. wiretapping program approved by President Bush, Mr. Kris wrote a 23-page legal analysis that described as "weak" and likely unsupportable some of the Bush administration’s key legal arguments in justifying the program.
Since all I really expected Obama to do was overturn the Global Gag Rule and pursue sane environmental policies, all of this is lagniappe, as the saying is.

Speaking of which, Obama has overturned the Global Gag Rule:
It will allow US aid, usually through the US agency for international development, to flow to HIV/Aids clinics, birth-control providers and other organisations that advocate or provide counselling about abortion across the world. It is known as the "global gag rule" because it denies US taxpayer dollars to clinics that even mention abortion to women with unplanned pregnancies.
And he's also blocked BushCo's loosening of air-quality regs, and its delisting of gray wolves from the ESA. And scientists seem happy with him too, for whatever that's worth.

This is kind of interesting, as well:
New research by Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management professor Ray Friedman finds that the presidential run of Barack Obama has had a strong positive impact on the test-taking achievement of African Americans.

Documenting what Friedman and his co-authors call the “Obama Effect,” the study found the performance gap between black and white Americans in a series of online tests was dramatically reduced during key moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama’s accomplishments garnered the most national attention.
Los Angeles is considering turning its alleys into parks:
Only 7.8 percent of the city is parkspace, making L.A. the most park-poor big city in America. Re-envisioning alleys as pocket park spaces is one way to address the shortage, according to Wolch, who envisions landscaped alleys providing connections between housing and schools, parks and shops.
WorldChanging has more.

In Italy, architects collaborated with children to design a housing cooperative, with interesting results:
The first phase began in 1995 with a research project involving 700 children from 12 local nursery and infant schools. 50 teachers and 2 child psychologists worked together with a group of 20 architects, engineers, surveyors, builders and carpenters: talking to the children, taking them on trips to learn about architecture, encouraging them to draw, building models with them.

Since there was no specific school curriculum for that age group, classes could devote the whole academic year to the project....

In Coriandoline, children are allowed to play in all the communal areas, including the garages - which double up as covered playground areas. With their entrances that look like the mouths of giant monsters, the garages are buried under hills that the children can play on. The hills have been planted with a specially selected combination of plants to give them different coloured leaves and flowers to see and scents to sniff all year round. Inside the apartment block there are slides alongside each flight of stairs and distorting funfair-style mirrors in the lift.
In Indonesia, schools destroyed by the 2004 tsunami have been replaced with better, safer facilities:
Yuliatic, a sixth-grade teacher who has taught at school 51 since 1987, said her students were now eager to attend classes in the new school, as evidenced by Rada: "I find I want to come to school more regularly than at the old one ... There I was lazy about coming to study and the old school leaked with the rain and was constantly wet."

Rada, who wants to be a doctor, added: "It seems like there are better students at this new school. We're getting improved grades and can concentrate better ... and the teachers pay more attention to us."
Voters in Nashville have rejected an "English First" initiative:
"The results of this special election reaffirms Nashville's identity as a welcoming and friendly city, and our ability to come together as a community," Mayor Karl Dean said in a news release.
A Louisiana appeals court has upheld New Orleans' granting of health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees:
The decision by the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District comes a year after the Civil District Court for Orleans Parish ruled that the State Constitution does indeed grant the city of New Orleans the authority to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees and maintain a registry of domestic partners for city residents.

The anti–gay Alliance Defense Fund appealed that ruling, saying that the registry violated state laws prohibiting marriage for same–sex couples and that local governments lack the authority to govern such arrangements.

The Court of Appeal rejected those arguments.
There was a similar ruling in New York:
A mid-level New York State appeals court has upheld a policy granting benefits to the same-sex married partners of state workers.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal practice, argued that then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer acted illegally when he directed the Department of Civil Service in 2007 to extended health benefits to those spouses.

The ADF, which fights LGBT issues across the country, is representing four upstate taxpayers. Attorney Brian Raum told the five justices of the Appellate Division that Spitzer had usurped the authority of the legislature....The appeals court rejected the ADF arguments, allowing the lower court ruling to stand.
Scotch distilleries claim to be going green:
Scottish authorities have given planning permission for a consortium of distillers to build a biomass-fueled combined heat and power plant near the heart of the whisky industry in Speyside.

Helius Energy Plc said on Wednesday it and the Combination of Rothes Distillers Ltd would build the plant, which would use distillery by-products and wood chips to generate 7.2 megawatts of electricity, enough for about 9,000 homes, and heat.
The EPA has blocked a coal-fired power plant in South Dakota:
This is a great day for clean energy and people’s health: Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overturned the State of South Dakota’s approval of the massive Big Stone II coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s decision comes after the state failed to require state-of-the-art pollution controls for the coal plant - controls that would address harmful soot, smog and global warming pollution.

Today’s decision is also a victory for the rule of law - with the EPA signaling that it is back to enforcing long-standing legal requirements fairly and consistently nationwide and that they’re concerned about pollution and global warming.
Oregon's new AG has come out against LNG terminals and pipelines:
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger on Tuesday made clear his opposition to proposed liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) terminals and pipelines.

Speaking at a state Capitol rally, the Democratic attorney general said the projects would harm the environment and make for bad public policy.

"For the last 50 years, this country has had no energy policy," Kroger told rally attendees. "Do you want LNG from Iran and Russia or do you want energy independence?"
(h/t: ErinPDX.)

All sorts of strange things have been discovered off the coast of Tasmania:
Bizarre carnivorous sea squirts, large spider-like creatures and an ancient fossilised coral reef have all been found in a voyage into ultra-deep Australian waters.

The scientific examination Chronology of the Tasman Fracture, a four kilometre-deep crack in the earth's crust off the coast of Tasmania's south-west, has led to the discovery of creatures never seen before.

Norwegian activists are working to ban oil exploration along that country's coast:
Norwegian communities and conservationists today launched a campaign to ban oil exploration and development from parts of their Arctic coast, linking up with WWF-supported campaigns already underway in Alaska and Russia to protect vulnerable fisheries and communities.

The campaigns are supported by studies showing oil returns would be less than those provided in the long term through the protection and sustainable exploitation of resources.

“It is complete madness to trade in a sustainable fishery that could continue to accommodate the interests of both people and nature for generations, for a few years of quick and dirty profits from oil,” said Rasmus Hanssen, Secretary General of WWF Norway.
Gabon has banned the harvesting of four hardwood species:
The ITTO notes that "although individually the volumes of each of the four species are not that significant, the ban will mean a noticeable reduction in the harvest volumes per hectare."
In Sumatra, there's evidence that law-enforcement efforts can prevent deforestation:
Using satellite imagery, ecological data, interviews, and GIS modeling to map tropical deforestation in and around Bukit Barisan Selatan over a 34 year period, David Gaveau and colleagues found that law enforcement effectively "reduced deforestation to nil" in areas where it was undertaken.
In related news, a new study very tentatively suggests that some second-growth rainforests may sustain more biodiversity than was previously expected:
Robin Chazdon, from the University of Connecticut, told the meeting that many species considered to be old-growth forest specialists are in fact doing well in secondary forests, at least in small proportions.

In Costa Rica she has found that 176 species (59 per cent) of old-growth tree species were present in second-growth forests. Of 123 species expected to survive only in mature forest, some 94 occur as small stems in second-growth forests.
A new company claims to have built a better lightbulb:
Seattle startup Vu1 Corporation plans to launch a new type of light bulb that functions like a TV tube. Contrary to what you'd think, the technology is amazingly environmentally friendly. Vu1(View One) has raised $13 million to develop a brand new technology by fusing three existing technologies. "It is not induction lighting. It is not plasma. It is not fluorescent. It is not halogen. It is not LED," said Ron Davis, the chief marketing officer in an interview with Greentech Media.

So what is it? It’s an ultra energy-efficient flood light which is reminiscent of the way old TV tubes worked with the only difference being that the light bulb lights a room much better. The light bulb is comprised of an integrated electron source which fires electrons attached to a phosphor-coated glass. The phosphor, upon contact, transforms the signals into bright light.
Trust, but verify!

That goes double for this:
Inspired by the aquatic wriggling of beetle larvae, a University of Pittsburgh research team has designed a propulsion system that strips away paddles, sails, and motors and harnesses the energy within the water's surface. The technique destabilizes the surface tension surrounding the object with an electric pulse and causes the craft to move via the surface's natural pull....

This method of propulsion would be an efficient and low-maintenance mechanism for small robots and boats that monitor water quality in oceans, reservoirs, and other bodies of water....
And this:
Planting crop varieties that better reflect sunlight back out to space could reduce summertime temperatures by more than one degree Celsius in some parts of the world, researchers announced yesterday.

The reduction, they say, would at certain latitudes be equivalent to a seasonal offset of about 20 per cent of the regional warming expected by the end of this century due to the build-up of carbon dioxide.

Researchers from the United Kingdom say that such a plan could be achieved without disrupting food production, either in terms of yield or the types of crops grown.
The Cornell Ornithology Lab has added non-bird sounds and videos to its library:
With the addition of marine and other, non-bird, animal sounds to the library, as well as the launch of a video collection to complement its audio, the library has expanded beyond a simple collection.

"We've adjusted our self-view," said professor of ornithology and library director Jack Bradbury. "We started as a collection of bird sounds. We're now a museum of animal behavior."
Perhaps they'll eventually expand into cryptozoology, and include the sounds of the world's imaginary animals, along with demons, ghosts, and so forth. In the meantime, we have recourse to the The Obakemono Project. Oddly enough, none of it's as frightening as these abandoned polar lighthouses, or the Abandoned Mines of NY/NJ.

Some thoughts on the Tarim Desert Highway, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Bonestell Panorama. A collection of biological specimens in blown glass.

Also: Rephotography of the Black Hills. Astonishing images from the First Australasian Antarctic Expedition, and the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.

And last, of course, a short film.

(Illustration: "Out of the Dark" by Kurt Schwitters, 1943.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things to Come

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, Obama's going to destroy "free enterprise, market-dominated, laissez-faire America" and replace it with "a socialist democracy in which the government dominates the economy, determines private sector priorities and offers a vastly expanded range of services to many more people at much higher taxes."

The bad news is, this effort will be no more effective -- in terms of improving our quality of life, broadening our emotional horizons, and maintaining a bare minimum of human decency -- than the New Deal.

Read it and weep:

In implementing his agenda, Obama will emulate the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt (not the liberal mythology of the New Deal, but the actuality of what it accomplished). When FDR took office, he was enormously successful in averting a total collapse of the banking system and the economy. But his New Deal measures only succeeded in lowering the unemployment rate from 23 percent in 1933 when he took office to 13 percent in the summer of 1937. It never went lower.
It seems as though Morris and McGann are trying to worry us by arguing that Obama will, at best, avoid a total collapse of the banking system and the economy, and cut the unemployment rate in half over the course of his first term.

As scaremongering goes, this is pretty tepid stuff. There's nothing about instituting sharia, or seizing the nation's guns, or appointing Ward Churchill to the SCOTUS, or tearing down the Washington Monument and replacing it with a 555-foot replica of Piss Christ. I expect a good deal more from my Trilateralist Reptilian Shapeshifters, and I imagine that the readers of feel the same way.

Fortunately, Morris and McGann are just warming up.
Roosevelt passed crucial and permanent reforms that have dominated our lives ever since, including Social Security, the creation of the SEC, unionization under the Wagner Act, the federal minimum wage and a host of other fundamental changes.

Obama's record will be similar, although less wise and more destructive.
In other words, we have it on excellent authority that Obama will not-fail almost as non-miserably as FDR did. Break out the sackcloth and ashes! And hark to a few more of the signs and wonders that foretell the End Times:
[Obama] will begin by passing every program for which liberals have lusted for decades, from alternative energy sources to school renovations to infrastructure repairs to technology enhancements. These are all good programs, but they normally would be stretched out for years. Freed of any constraint on the deficit....Obama will do them all rather quickly.
Thus does an eight-year Golden Age of fiscal responsibility end: in a crimson orgy of infrastructure repair, sound energy policy, and the sort of school renovations that were hailed as acts of Christlike mercy when we imposed them on the Iraqis at gunpoint.

But don't panic yet, because that is not, in fact, the bad part. Here's the real problem:
[I]t is not his spending that will transform our political system; it is his tax and welfare policies.
You might suppose that Obama thinks these "good programs" should be paid for by the citizens who need them and will benefit from them, in accordance with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's Adam Smith's view that government's duties include "erecting and maintaining those public institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain."

In fact, his plans are far more sinister:
Will he raise taxes? Why should he? With a congressional mandate to run the deficit up as high as need be, there is no reason to raise taxes now and risk aggravating the depression. Instead....Obama will raise spending and increase the deficit so that conservatives cannot cut taxes. And when the economy is restored, he will raise taxes with impunity since the only people who would have to pay them would be rich Republicans.
To recap: Morris and McGann argue that Obama is going to fix a bunch of problems that badly need fixing. In the process, he will save the economy and reduce unemployment by roughly half. And rather than raising taxes for you and me and the man in the next street, he's going to send the bill to the very people who clamored for and defended the vicious and stupid economic policies that got us where we are today.

Maybe that doesn't frighten you as much as it should; perhaps you're made of sterner stuff. Well, get this: Thanks to Obama's "healthcare reforms," the old and the sick will be obliged to die, even -- or especially -- if they have money, because "rationing based on income and price will be seen as immoral."

Meanwhile, Teh Mexicans will flood the country, deafening the greater part of us with their novelty auto horns and narcocorridos. Soon enough, they'll become citizens, work indefatigably, save their money, become wealthy, and vote conservative:
[Obama] will weaken border controls in an attempt to hike the Latino vote as high as he can in order to make red states like Texas into blue states like California. By the time he is finished, Latinos and African-Americans will cast a combined 30 percent of the vote. If they go by top-heavy margins for the Democrats, as they did in 2008, it will assure Democratic domination -- until they move up the economic ladder and become good Republicans.
[insert random quote from Yeats' "The Second Coming" here]

What all this means, in purely practical terms, is that "Obama's name will be mud by 2012 and probably by 2010, as well. And the Republican Party will make big gains and regain much of its lost power."

On the downside, "it will be too late to reverse the socialism of much of the economy, the demographic change in the electorate, the rationing of health care by the government, the surge of unionization and the crippling of talk radio." Because as everyone knows, you can't change a country's economic system overnight...unless thy name be Obama, in which case you can pull down the temples of Western capitalism as languidly as you'd flick a snowflake baby from a $75K designer suit made in a Cuban slave labor camp that has a bigger carbon footprint than Al Gore's house and the US military combined.

Could Morris and McGann be wrong? That's the daring theory advanced by this baby aardvark.

(Illustration: "A temple of the machine-worshippers: Instead of angels, figures of communist agitators have been placed in the spandrels; for their heads wheels have been substituted, which are set in motion from the altar by means of driving belts. In the foreground the mechanized community." Via Katardat.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

An increasing number of legal groups are calling on the California Supreme Court to strike down Prop. 8:

Los Angeles County Bar Association President Danette Meyers said that the question of whether a protected class may be barred from enjoying a fundamental right based on a bare majority vote is a matter of statewide importance.

“The implications of the question are wide-reaching; if the majority can relegate disfavored minorities to second class citizenship via the initiative process, no fundamental rights are safe,” said Meyers.
The House has risked the wrath of Ayn Rand's galvanized corpse by voting to expand healthcare programs for children:
With enthusiastic support from President-elect Barack Obama, the House on Wednesday passed a bill to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. President Bush twice had vetoed similar legislation.

Mr. Obama will probably be able to sign the bill within days of taking office on Tuesday. The Senate might take action within a week.
This is a nice idea:
The Extraordinaries turns spare time into social good by delivering volunteer opportunities, on-demand, to mobile phones, which can be performed on mobile phones in 20 minutes or less.
In Spain, trains are becoming more and more popular:
Air travel has been so big that the route linking Madrid and Barcelona was the busiest in the world in 2007 with 971 departures per week. That started to change in February when the government joined the two cities, which are 410 miles apart, with a high-speed line that cut travel time to 2 hours and 35 minutes. Other lines have opened or are in the works, each of them carrying AVE trains capable of 220 mph, and they're stealing passengers from airlines.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, is stealing runways from airlines:
Environmental campaigners say they have dealt a blow to the proposed expansion of London's Heathrow Airport by buying up land earmarked for the construction of a controversial third runway.

Greenpeace said the purchase of a field next to the airport threw a "massive spanner" into the plans, which were being considered by the UK government on Tuesday morning amid speculation that a decision to authorize the expansion may be delayed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Los Angeles' ban on billboards:
A federal appellate court issued a ruling Tuesday upholding Los Angeles' citywide billboard ban, handing a rare victory to the city in its uphill battle to regulate outdoor signs.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the city's 2002 outdoor advertising ban does not violate a sign company's 1st Amendment right to free speech, reversing a lower-court ruling.
In related news, California lawmakers have proposed a two-year ban on digital billboards:
The proposal comes a month after L.A. adopted a three-month ban on all billboards and follows a decision by the Federal Highway Administration to launch a multimillion-dollar study to determine whether the changing electronic messages pose a road hazard.
While we're on the subject of civic beautification, Subtopia has a nice post on mural-painting on Iraqi blast walls, and the possibility of finding a positive use for these barriers.
Tragic as it may be to say, the blast wall galleries are actually gorgeous. I realize that’s probably a controversial statement to the degree that such walls could ever be considered ‘gorgeous,’ but with all due respect the local artists (known as Jamaat al-Jidaar, or "the Walls Group") I think they have more than met the grim realities of the concrete barriers with triumphant spirit – if these imperial bricks could ever be reclaimed by those they lord over then I would say many of Baghdad’s inserted walls have been.
The DoD has taken steps to limit the revolving door between government and defense contractors:
Congress spoke (Sec. 847) and the Department of Defense (DoD) acted by putting out a revolving door interim rule for public comment.

The rule will require covered DoD officials (Certain Executive Schedule, Senior Executive Service, and general or flag officer positions) to obtain a post-employment ethics opinion before accepting a paid position from a DoD contractor within two years after they leave DoD service. It will also require that DoD contractors ensure that new hires have an ethics opinion. Failure to do so could result in canceling the contract, suspension, or debarment.
Next, a few introductions are in order. A pink iguana has been discovered in the Galápagos:
"What's surprising is that a new species of megafauna, like a large lizard, may still be [found] in a well-studied archipelago," Gentile told National Geographic News.

The Hispaniolan solenodon was rediscovered in Haiti:
The Hispaniolan solenodon has only one living relative, the Cuban solenodon, which Turvey describes as “only distantly related”. Both species are often referred to as a ‘living fossils’ since they are essentially a windows into the early mammals of the Cretaceous.

The solenodon is unique in more ways than outward appearance. “They are the only living mammal species that are able to inject venom through specially modified teeth, similar to the way that snakes inject venom – a very unusual adaptation for a mammal!” explains Turvey. While there are other venomous mammals, including two species of shrews and the male duckbill platypus, they are capable of only passively conveying venom; shrews' venom resides in their saliva and duckbill platypuses possess a poisonous claw on their hind leg.

And an odd "chirruping Purple Frog" has been captured on film for the first time:
Discovered only in 2003, the unique purple frog has been captured on film for the first time in India’s Western Ghats. A team of biologists from the University of Delhi, led by Dr. Sathyabhama Das Biju, captured several seconds of film of the frog running swiftly while calling for a mate with a distinct squeak.

The frog evaded discovery for so long, because it spends the majority of its life buried up to four meters underground, only surfacing for a few weeks during India’s monsoon to mate. This is not the only aspect of the species that makes it notable however: the purple frog comprises an entirely new family of amphibian.

In addition, 17 new species of reptiles and amphibians were discovered in Tanzania:
“These results, documenting the high species richness and the outstanding number of putative endemics of the forests, strongly highlight the biological importance of the South Nguru Mountains and place them among the most important sites for the conservation of herpetofauna in Africa,” wrote Menegon and Nike Doggart, a co-author of a report published in the journal Acta Herpetologica.
The black abalone has gained protection under the ESA, which is no mean feat, these days:
The federal government today designated the black abalone as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The action comes in response to a formal administrative petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in December 2006, which sought protection of the species. The black abalone — an intertidal mollusk historically ranging from near the California/Oregon border to Cape San Lucas, Baja California — has declined by as much as 99 percent in most of its range.
The climate skeptic Roy Spencer has launched an inadvertant but harrowing attack on the Inhofe 650 (or whatever the number is at this point):
Roy has clearly disqualified virtually every member of Inhofe's list of 650 "experts" who dismiss the IPCC's view of climate science. Not only are the Inhofe 650 members not experts on climate feedbacks, but also most of them are not experts on any aspect of the climate.
The real punchline here is that the indefatigable Inhofe stooge Marc Morano sent Spencer's comments out in a mass e-mail. Teach the controversy!

The photo at the top comes from Micscape's article on William Gatrell (1864-1902), Victorian Era Microscope Specimen Mounter. They have a new issue out here, with lots of other fascinating photos and information.

Once you're finished there, you can examine these frozen soap bubbles (via Plep), and this gallery of tilt-shift photos and videos (via things).

A huge underground lake has been found in Hungary. Was this foretold in The Ripley Scroll? The answer may lie in a small collection of albumen photomontages with watercolor embellishment.

It occurs to me that it's sunny outside; it's time I ran along. Here's your movie.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Hallucinatory Cult

The denialists at Planet Gore may not have too many climate scientists on their side, but they do have Camille Paglia, which ought to tip the scales in their least among anti-Lacanian, neopagan, militantly bourgeois libertarian chatterboxes and the Salon readers who love them.

I usually steer clear of Paglia, but her current outburst is too grotesque to overlook. For Planet Gore to palm her off as an amicus curiae is roughly equivalent to the Sierra Club citing Charles Manson on the dangers of pollution (except, of course, that Manson was relatively cogent and well informed).

Here, she sets forth her sterling credentials as a person who refuses to listen to things she doesn't want to hear:

In the 1980s, I was...skeptical about media-trumpeted predictions about a world epidemic of heterosexual AIDS.
There's the media for you: No sooner does a frightening, deadly, sexually contagious disease come along, than they blow things out of proportion and get people all upset. If only cooler heads like Paglia had prevailed, and the media had insisted — despite the lack of evidence — that AIDS was and would always remain a disease of faggots!

Now, some bleeding hearts may point out that the worldwide toll of AIDS is, in fact, devastating, and that women account for roughly half of the global caseload. Others might note that gathering data on the sexual orientation of people with HIV/AIDS is neither routine nor reliable. And a few people might even argue that even if heterosexual AIDS statistics aren't quite horrifying enough to satisfy a ghoul like Paglia, this may have something to do with the very coverage she decries; as someone who was sexually active in the early eighties, I can say with some confidence that straight people practiced safe sex a lot more frequently after reading frightening things about AIDS.

But this, unfortunately, is the position in which sensible people will always find themselves, vis a vis dingbats like Paglia. If we were able to avert some sort of climate disaster, she and her pals at Planet Gore would use our very success as proof of our scaremongering; after all, the bad stuff we predicted didn't happen.
And I remain skeptical about the media's carelessly undifferentiated use of the term "AIDS" for what is often a complex of wasting diseases in Africa.
This is lovely. The media are "careless," because they haven't defined AIDS cases out of existence per Gary Null or Michael Fumento or whatever self-styled "expert" Paglia has tapped in order to obtain the nourishing sap of Truth. Note, however, that she's no zealot: AIDS is not always, but often a "complex of wasting diseases." This is how a judicious person speaks of the matter, and everyone from the WHO to the CDC would do well to take notice. (And don't go arguing that there may be some sort of connection between being immunodeficient and suffering from "a complex of wasting diseases"; we are in the fierce realms of the Dionysian, and you should've checked your impuissant Apollonian "logic" at the door.)
We should all be concerned about environmental despoliation and pollution, but the global warming crusade has become a hallucinatory cult.
And not the good kind, either, like academic Western paganism or obsessive pop-music fandom or the god-drunk revels of the Bacchantes. This is the bad kind of hallucinatory cult, which posits some sort of...of...continuum between local and global pollution, as though one could simply travel from point A to point B by passing through the space between, despite what Zeno of Elea had to say on the matter. It all comes down to the arrogance of scientific priestcraft, which can tell us the chemical composition of the Mona Lisa but not why she's smiling, if you get my meaning. It's bondage, in other words. And not the good kind.
Until I see stronger evidence, I will continue to believe that climate change is primarily driven by solar phenomena and that it is normal for the earth to pass through major cooling and warming phases.
Instead of wondering whether it's possible for evidence to be strong enough to establish a proposition of which Paglia doesn't approve, let's consider her use of the word "major." A major warming phase sounds like grounds for...well, let's just say concern. It seems like the sort of event for which one should try to prepare, at the very least, whether one's aim is to protect important species, or national infrastructure, or the Renaissance artwork on display in the Doge's Palace, or queer fetish clubs near the Chelsea docks, or all of the above. But as per usual with the natural-variation crowd, "it's (primarily) the sun, stupid" is simply a rallying cry for smugness and apathy.

Be sure to tune in next week, when Planet Gore trots out Wang Hongcheng to debunk climate orthodoxy once and for all.

(Photo: Hallucinatory cult activity at the South Pole, courtesy of NOAA.)