Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

The EPA is setting tougher smog standards:

U.S. EPA today proposed significantly tougher smog standards after reconsidering the George W. Bush administration's controversial 2008 regulations.

The draft rule released by EPA proposes to revise the two standards aimed at protecting public health and welfare to comply with recommendations made by the agency's science advisers. The Bush administration had rejected those suggestions when issuing the 2008 national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, drawing criticism and legal challenges from environmental and public health groups.
Similar EPA rulings may reduce pollution in Texas, in the holy name of Islamo-etatiste dirigisme:
For decades, national environmental activism has crashed into Texas' go-slow policies. Now the Obama administration wants much more action from Texas on clean air.

To some, it's an unprecedented and unfair use of federal muscle.

"It's just an approach that is – I'm sorry to use the word, but hostile," said Kathleen Hartnett White. She's a former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under Gov. Rick Perry....White said she suspects that predominantly Republican Texas might be a White House target. "Call it paranoia if you'd like to – Texas paranoia," she said.

To others, the EPA is just making up for having sleepwalked through the President George W. Bush years.
The administration is also toughening standards for oil and gas drilling:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Wednesday that big oil and natural gas companies will no longer be "the kings of the world" like they were under the Bush administration, announcing new drilling policies to protect the environment on western federal lands....

Under the reforms, the department's Bureau of Land Management, which oversees onshore drilling activities, would take a more active role in deciding which parcels of federal lands should be leased instead of relying on energy companies to nominate the areas they want to explore.
The CIA has joined -- or rather, rejoined -- the Warming Cult:
[A] new data-sharing initiative between the CIA and top scientists...will use spy satellites and other CIA tools to help scientists figure out what climate change is doing to cloud cover, forests, deserts, and more.

The CIA collaboration isn’t entirely new — it was an ongoing project from 1992 until 2001, when the Bush administration shut it down. The original program, known as Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis (Medea), also used CIA tools to observe changes to the environment. Now that the Medea project has been restarted, scientists will try to continue research that has been left unfinished since 2001.
Obama has directed federal agencies to classify less information:
The new rules were outlined in changes Obama made to Executive Order 12958, which governs the management of classified information....

"I think the order will invigorate the declassification of historical records, and I hope that it will also prompt a new way of thinking about the classification of current records," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said....

Obama also ordered efforts to declassify hundreds of millions of pages of classified material be speeded up.
The United States and South Korea have dropped their respective HIV travel bans:
As of January 1st the HIV travel bans instituted in the United States and South Korea were lifted. President Obama first announced the end of the twenty-two year ban on visitors and immigrants entering the US in October. Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director, called the development "a victory for human rights on two sides of the globe."
Two endangered birds have gained protection under the ESA.
As the result of a Center for Biological Diversity settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last June, a federal rule was finalized today to protect the Galápagos petrel and Heinroth’s shearwater as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. As part of the settlement, the Service also published proposed listing determinations for 12 birds from Peru, Bolivia, Europe, and the islands of French Polynesia.
The NOAA has proposed habitat protections for the leatherback sea turtle.
If approved later this year, the areas would be the first critical habitat for leatherbacks in the open ocean....Only nesting beaches on the U.S. Virgin Islands and nearby waters are currently protected.

A judge has overturned a plan to re-open ORV trails in the Mojave Desert.
An administrative law judge for the Interior Board of Land Appeals upheld the Center for Biological Diversity appeal of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to open two off-road vehicle routes in desert tortoise habitat in eastern Kern County. The Bureau’s decision was tiered to the flawed West Mojave Plan, which was struck down in federal court last year. The two routes at issue in the Rand Mountains Management Area, an area of critical environmental concern, had been closed in 2002 to protect the imperiled desert tortoise from destructive off-road vehicle use that was tearing up the fragile desert habitat.
In 2009, US car ownership declined substantially:
A study by the Earth Policy Institute updated yesterday revealed that while Americans purchased 10,000,000 cars in 2009, they actually ditched 14,000,000 cars. This decline in the US car fleet by 2% could be a great sign of what is to come in terms of transportation preferences for the US. 2009 was the first year since WWII that the number of cars scrapped exceeded the number of cars sold, and more importantly the EPI study predicts that this trend will continue at least through 2020. The US car fleet is currently at 246 million cars dropping down from 250 at the beginning of 2009.
An African inventor has designed a flat parabolic mirror:
Dominic has cut inch wide 2 foot long pieces of flexible acrylic mirrors and arranged them at specifically computed angles. When angled towards the sun, this creates a perfectly focused beam of light. This concentrated energy can be used to heat water in a pipe for numerous purposes including generating electricity. The beauty of this gadget is that
  1. It is very cheap,
  2. It can be quickly dismantled or moved,
  3. It is easily transportable as it can be carried flat or in a tube,
  4. It is easily repaired if broken as the individual mirror pieces can be replaced (rather than having to fix or replace an entire parabolic mirror).
Inhabitat discusses a solar energy storage system based on compressed air:
The system uses clean technology during the day to pump heated and compressed air into an airtight chamber, which is released through a turbine to create power when it is needed the most.
A new solar-based technology desalinates lakes and ponds.
Around the world, closed-basin lakes, like the Great Salt Lake, the Alton [sic] Sea, and the Aral Sea, are losing water as a result of human and natural processes. With no outflow and high salt and mineral saturation, these lakes, through drought and evaporation, are being transformed into highly saline pools and some, like Walker Lake in Nevada, have become toxic to aquatic life.

A new system, developed by a doctoral candidate at the University of Nevada in Reno, uses solar-heated ponds and an innovative membrane technology to rescue these lakes with low-temperature desalination.
Scientists are calling for an end to mountaintop removal mining. As David Roberts notes, this is a daring stance:
Let’s say you trundle a bunch of enormous industrial equipment into North America’s oldest mountains (an intact temperate ecosystem boasting rich biodiversity, including a number of endangered species), clear-cut the forests, blow millions of tons off the top of the mountains, dump the rubble into the pristine streams below, and carry out the coal you find on enormous trucks, at high speeds, on narrow roads, through some of America’s oldest communities.

Think that would cause any ecological or human damage? Hmm ...

It might seem obvious, but as the media will tell you, “opinions on shape of earth differ,” so it’s helpful that a group of scientists has come along to assess the existing body of research on the subject.
While we're on the topic of intellectual breakthroughs, Uganda's president apparently believes that executing gays may not actually be a very good idea:
A provision that would impose the death penalty for some gays is likely to be removed from the proposed legislation following opposition from Uganda’s president, the country’s ethics minister said Thursday.

President Yoweri Museveni has told colleagues he believes the bill is too harsh and has encouraged his ruling National Resistance Movement Party to overturn the death sentence provision, which would apply to sexually active gays living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape.
The Obama administration has added language forbidding discrimination against gender identity to the federal jobs Website.
[C]ivil liberties and gender rights groups welcomed it on Tuesday as the clearest statement yet by the Obama administration that such discrimination in the federal workplace would not be accepted.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, “The largest employer in the country is doing what all the other large employers in the country are doing, so that’s really great news.”
The International Women's Health Coalition has compiled a list of the top ten wins for women's health and rights in 2009. It's well worth reading.

An immigration activist is using social networking technology to thwart Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "crime sweeps":
Every time word spreads that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is conducting one of his controversial crime sweeps, Lydia Guzman drives to the scene to see for herself.

The rumors often turn out to be false. But when they are true, Guzman, an advocate for immigrant and civil rights, springs into action, sending a wave of text messages to a wide network of contacts, who in turn forward the texts to their own contacts.

Guzman is the trunk of a sophisticated texting tree designed to, within minutes, alert thousands of people throughout the Valley to the details of Arpaio's crime sweeps, which critics contend are an excuse to round up illegal immigrants.

Guzman says the messages are part of a well-orchestrated effort to protect Latinos and others from becoming victims of racial profiling by sheriff's deputies. Deputies have been accused of stopping Hispanics, including U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, for cracked windshields and other minor traffic violations just to check their immigration status.
I'm pleased to say that this is not the worst of Arpaio's problems:
Two Maricopa County executives said Thursday they will appear before a federal grand jury next week to testify about allegations that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others in his office have abused their power.
In related news, a new study quantifies the economic benefits of immigration reform:
[L]egalization of 12 million people who are already here in the United States would result in a $1.5 trillion increase in the GDP over the decade following implementation of the law. Taking a more lukewarm approach, that is, simply giving those folks a legal status with no path towards citizenship, cuts that benefit almost in half, but is still a shot in the arm to the tune of $792 billion over 10 years. In contrast, pursuing a mass deportation policy leads to a net loss of $2.5 trillion.
Planners are increasingly rejecting suburban cul de sacs:
Earlier this year Virginia became the first state to encourage walkable neighborhoods by limiting the use of cul-de-sacs. State rules now require that subdivisions have through streets connecting them to adjacent residences and shopping areas. Developments that ignore the new rules will be denied snowplowing and other state services. Research shows that neighborhoods with more street connections and intersections reduce car use. Some of the country's most progressive-minded cities, including Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have also made it difficult to build new cul-de-sac subdivisions....

All indications are that cul-de-sacs are less safe than pre-war neighborhoods layed out in the traditional grid. An article by Philip Langdon in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of New Urban News shows that, according California accident statistics, cul-de-sac neighborhoods see more car crashes than the denser pre-war neighborhoods. The older grid patterns also have quicker response times for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. And accidents and crimes in the older neighborhoods are more likely to be reported faster since they have more people on the streets.
This is interesting:
Researchers from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB), in cooperation with colleagues from Oxford and Bristol Universities, as well as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK, have for the first time observed a nanoscale symmetry hidden in solid state matter. They have measured the signatures of a symmetry showing the same attributes as the golden ratio famous from art and architecture.
And so is this:
Scientists who compare insect chirps with ape calls may look like they are mixing aphids and orangutans, but researchers have found common denominators in the calls of hundreds of species of insects, birds, fish, frogs, lizards and mammals that can be predicted with simple mathematical models.

Compiling data from nearly 500 species, scientists with the University of Florida and Oklahoma State University have found the calls of crickets, whales and a host of other creatures are ultimately controlled by their metabolic rates — in other words, their uptake and use of energy.

"Very few people have compared cricket chirps to codfish sounds to the sounds made by whales and monkeys to see if there were commonalities in the key features of acoustic signals, including the frequency, power and duration of signals," said James Gillooly, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of biology at UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. "Our results indicate that, for all species, basic features of acoustic communication are primarily controlled by individual metabolism, which in turn varies predictably with body size and temperature. So, when the calls are adjusted for an animal's size and temperature, they even sound alike."
Apropos of which, a new technique measures the amount of disruption underwater noise causes to whale communication:
A small group of researchers, with Chris Clark of Cornell as the lead author, took a giant step forward in addressing the impacts of ocean noise on the communication ranges of whales. They came up with a clear and strikingly rigorous set of new metrics that will allow researchers and ocean planners to have a much more practical picture of how numerous noise sources combine to create cumulative impacts on acoustic habitat. The new approach centers on the “Communication Space” of individual animals, as well as groups, and provides an intuitively obvious way to both imagine and assess the effects of ocean noise – measuring the area in which an animal can hear or be heard by others of its species.
Scientists in Italy have reportedly used rattan to make synthetic bones:
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics in Faenza found that by heating rattan wood at high pressures while adding calcium and phosphate, they can create a synthetic for bone that is load-bearing, durable, and structured so much like real bone that blood and tissue cells have no problem treating it as if it were a continuation of the actual bone.

The material has been tested out successfully in sheep, finding that the material is so thoroughly accepted by the body that it became difficult to see the fuse where the synthetic bone ends and the real bone begins.
The Library of Congress has put thousands of historic texts online:
Nearly 60,000 books prized by historians, writers and genealogists, many too old and fragile to be safely handled, have been digitally scanned as part of the first-ever mass book-digitization project of the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC), the world’s largest library.
You can access the collection here.

That said: X-ray photography by Nick Veasey (via Coudal). Book covers by Dick Bruna. Interesting letterheads. Bad grammar, anthropomorphized and anatomized. African soundscapes. Photographs of the aurora.

Transit archaeology. Remnants of the Biosphere. Square pictures from Square Picture. And Lost Neighborhoods of Detroit.

The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine is an idea whose time has definitely come, and I for one applaud the nascent Culture of Virtual Death (via things). Also, Vintage Future, a tumblr. Endless Instant, a photographic notebook. Images of hotel beds and Malacca in transit. And lovely photos of homes at night.

Last, a short film, dedicated to the ones I love.

(Photo at top by Bill Fantini, whose work is available for purchase here.)


charley said...

thanx for the pix.

i liked the night houses the best.

the africa stuff was nice, but i'm guessing a lot of it was HDR. interesting technique, but a bit much.

i actually know who madame blavatsky is, (pats self on back).

and the film with the yarn, very cool.

good job.

word verification: coalness

i think that must mean something.

Liri said...

Wonderful as always, Phila. Thanks for all the time you devote to this.
-Liri aka Sharl

four legs good said...

Wicker bones??? cue the jokes about WICKERMAN!!

really, that's a fascinating bit of research.

Pictures are great as usual.

Tacitus Voltaire said...

via things). Also, Vintage Future, a tumblr. Endless Instant, a photographic notebook. Images of hotel beds

i do appreciate so much any chance to contemplate beautiful images, unusual things, and worthy acts

Phila said...

i liked the night houses the best.

Not surprised to hear that. I thought of you when I stumbled on those.

the africa stuff was nice, but i'm guessing a lot of it was HDR. interesting technique, but a bit much.

Yeah, I hear ya. I kind of feel that way about the Stuck in Customs blog. Beautiful in many ways, but verging on kitsch, IMO.

Phila said...

Thanks for all the time you devote to this.

You're very welcome!

Marcellina said...

You really do have a great blog!

rootless-e said...


zimady said...

Thanks for including the link to Endless Instant, my photoblog! I noticed a bit of traffic from your site and followed it back. It's an interesting space you have here - I'll be visiting again.

In case anyone's curious, the Africa photo's are not HDR. I tend to push the dynamic range so the end result is similar. It's great to hear what people think! Thanks for looking.