Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

Before getting to the positive news, let's accentuate the negative. You probably know that in Nicaragua, a woman with cancer is being denied chemotherapy because she's pregnant. What you may not know is that there are steps you can take to support her, no matter where you live. Please click here for more details, follow through, and spread the word.

In Utah, meanwhile, pregnant women whose (allegedly) reckless behavior (allegedly) results in a miscarriage may be subject to prosecution, thanks to a truly horrific bill that has passed the state house and senate. You'll find good suggestions for fighting this bill here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

A judge has ruled that an Oklahoma anti-abortion law is unconstitutional:

An Oklahoma statute barring the termination of a pregnancy based on the gender of the fetus has been deemed unconstitutional by a judge. District Judge Daniel Owens says the law violates the state's rule that legislation address a single subject.

The measure passed the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry last year.

The law also would have required doctors who perform abortions to provide information about female patients, including age, race, marital status, number of previous pregnancies and the reasons given for seeking an abortion.

Spain has relaxed its abortion laws:
Spain on Wednesday approved a sweeping new law that eases restrictions on abortion, declaring the practice a woman's right and doing away with the threat of imprisonment, in part of a drive toward liberal policies that has angered conservatives and the Catholic Church.

The new law allows the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks and gives 16- and 17-year-olds the right to have abortions without parental consent.
Maryland's AG has ruled that the state can legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states:
With the ruling, state agencies will be required to extend all benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy to married gay couples. These could include health insurance expansion, spousal legal immunities, property rights, the ability to file wrongful-death suits and perhaps some tax benefits, experts said yesterday.

"There is no law in Maryland that says we don't recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples," Gansler said. "Based on the law and the state of the law in Maryland and the Constitution of the United States, this is what the law is."
The US Navy will allow women to serve on submarines:
The Navy plans to allow women to serve for the first time on submarines, the only class of ship from which they are barred, military and congressional officials said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates notified Congress on Monday that the Navy intended to change its policy. Congress has 30 working days to object. Unless the House or Senate moves to block the shift, the policy could go into effect as soon as mid-April.
And the US Army will cut 7,000 contractor jobs this year:
The Army intends to insource 7,162 positions this fiscal year, McHugh said in testimony before the Armed Services Committee. From fiscal 2011 to 2015, the service aims to take back 11,084 positions and give them to civilian employees.
A new form of solar cell is said to be remarkably efficient:
Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has created a new type of flexible solar cell that enhances the absorption of sunlight and efficiently converts its photons into electrons. The solar cell does all this using only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells.

“These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials,” says Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of Caltech’s Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.
A UK start-up claims to offer a cheap storage solution for renewable energy.
The storage system uses two large containers of gravel, one hot (500C) and one cold (-150C). Electrical power is input to the machine which compresses/expands air to 500C on the hot side and -150C on the cold side. The air is passed through the two piles of gravel, where it gives up its heat/cold to the gravel. In order to regenerate the electricity, the cycle is reversed. The temperature difference is used to run the system as a heat engine.
If you'd like more details, the comments following the post are well worth reading.

At long last, the Hummer seems to be dead.
"We are disappointed that the deal with Tengzhong could not be completed," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances. "GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner."
Los Angeles is planning to build parks over freeways, both as a beautification effort and to reconnect bisected neighborhoods:
The cap concept, which essentially covers a portion of a freeway with a planted concrete lid, has gained popularity in the last decade as an urban “greening” solution. The multibillion-dollar projects are meant to knit together previously disparate neighborhoods, theoretically creating cohesion and larger-scale community gathering places without having to destroy or displace existing infrastructures.
Apropos of which -- sort of -- here's an interesting comparison of urban parking lots and Rotterdam after German bombing in WWII.

British Airways claims that it will soon be creating jet fuel from landfill waste:
The initiative is a partnership with US-based biofuels company Solena, and British Airways hopes to be using the fuel by 2014 to help it reach its goal of 50% reduced emissions by 2050. The fuel will be produced by feeding waste into a patented high temperature gasifier, producing BioSynGas which is then converted into jet fuel using the Fischer Tropsch process. As a bonus, the project will reduce methane emissions from landfill and create a further by-product of 20 MW electricity per year.
In Pakistan, smoke-free stoves are benefiting women as well as the environment:
The low-cost elongated stoves with two cells help save precious fuel wood in an area already stripped of trees. They are also a boon to women such as Rozan Nazar, who no longer have to walk five km, at times more, every day to collect firewood....

On the average, a woman would be spending 15 hours a week collecting wood. "It used to take me between two and three hours just to collect wood which is good for a day, sometimes two," said Nazar. "You can’t imagine how much of a relief this is. My life has eased so much."

The other women nod in agreement. They spend the extra time they get doing embroidery, chatting with each other. "I love that! We never had time to do that earlier!" Nazar exclaimed.
An article at WorldChanging discusses similar efforts underway around the globe. For instance:
To ensure a reliable alternative energy supply and to help empower rural women, one man has started a brilliant effort to ensure solar power takes hold in these villages. Previous efforts failed in large part due to the inability to maintain and repair the necessary equipment. Training young men as solar engineers proved futile, as they would quickly leave to more lucrative urban markets.

But, Mr. Bunker Roy, founder of Barefoot College of India, has found a solution to this problem: training illiterate grandmothers. From each African village, he brings an illiterate grandmother back to India for a month of intensive training on solar photovoltaic system maintenance and repair. Learning alongside other grandmothers from villages throughout Africa, the newly-trained solar engineers return to their home village with a newfound sense of confidence and purpose. And, most importantly, they remain in their village, providing a much needed service and passing on their knowledge.
Thanks to a BBC expose on rainforest destruction in Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil buyer has blacklisted a company with a poor environmental record.
Unilever has told Indonesian suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil from Duta Palma due to concerns over deforestation, reports Reuters.

Unilever's warning comes shortly after a BBC documentary linked palm oil used in the company's products to rainforest destruction by Duta Palma.
New research suggests that small tropical farms can preserve more biodiversity and produce more food than large-scale industrial operations:

In addition to better preserving biodiversity, the researchers point out that in many areas of the tropics small family farms match or exceed the productivity of large scale operations.

In fact, report co-author John Vandermeer says he advocates breaking up large-scale farms and incentives to encourage "a large number of small-scale farmers, each managing the land to best of his or her ability, using agroecological techniques.

Wal-Mart claims it will cut 20 million tons of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2015:

In order to achieve its goal, Wall-Mart will be partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental experts to measure the results of their efforts. They also plan to focus on product categories with the highest carbon footprint. Wal-Mart does not want to force companies it works with to make changes, but would prefer to instead work with them to find solutions that will reduce emissions and costs.

An idiotic anti-solar bill backed by Arizona Republicans has been withdrawn due to popular outcry:
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's office issued a brief statement saying that House Bill 2701 -- widely condemned by opponents who called it "the death knell of the solar industry" in Arizona -- had been withdrawn by its primary sponsor, Representative Debbie Lesko (R-9).
True patriots are well aware that Obama intends to scrap the Second Amendment any day now, and are accordingly stocking up on guns and ammunition. Oddly enough, this behavior actually supports our nascent envirofascist Nanny State:
As documented by John Helland at Conservation Minnesota...the state's bank account for fish and wildlife spending is getting an extra $4 million to $5 million because folks are buying ammunition before President Obama bans or restricts firearms....

The sales boost in the ammunition business includes an increased collection in a federal excise tax on bullets and sporting arms (11 percent) and handguns (10 percent) that gets split among the states. The tax goes into the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which was created in 1937 by Nevada Sen. Key Pittman and Virginia Rep. A. W. Robertson (he was TV preacher Pat Robertson's dad) for conservation purposes.
A new study details the role of the mass media in climate denialism:
"A variety of influences and perspectives typically have been collapsed by mass media into one general category of skepticism. This has been detrimental both in terms of dismissing legitimate critiques of climate science or policy, as well as amplifying extreme and tenuous claims."

Such claims are amplified when traditional news media position noncredible contrarian sources against those with scientific data, in a failed effort to represent opposing sides....
More research of this type would be very helpful, in my view.

An internal report by the DoJ finds that John Yoo and Jay Bybee showed "poor judgment" in inventing pseudo-legal justifications for torture.
Poor judgement indeed. Yoo and Bybee are now well known for their role in enabling the atrocities that went on in black sites and at Guantánamo. Waterboarding. Extreme sleep deprivation. Stress positions. Some detainees were tortured to death. We all know the results of those legal memos.
You can ask the Attorney General to hold them and their superiors accountable by clicking here.

Tom Coburn has apparently expressed a willingness to change our country's absurd federal sentencing laws for crack cocaine. The ACLU's Blog of Rights reports:

To say that Sen. Coburn’s words are a momentum booster is an understatement. By way of background, more than two decades ago, based on assumptions about crack which are now known to be false, heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses were adopted into federal law. Sentences for crack offenses are currently equivalent to the sentences for 100 times the amount of powder cocaine, and the impact has fallen disproportionately, and with devastating force, on African-Americans.

The Obama administration, to its credit, has consistently stated support for completely eliminating the 100-to-1 cocaine sentencing disparity, and to now have one of the most conservative members of Congress saying that we’re going to see legislation passed is indeed momentum-building and provides this Washington cynic with some much-needed hope.

I'm a bit more skeptical. I think any serious attempt to resolve this issue will result in a flood tide of conservative racism against which Coburn will swim in vain (assuming for the sake of argument that he's sincere, and is not simply baiting a trap).

But I've been wrong before, and I hope to be wrong again. Either way, the story seems noteworthy.

A simple test could dramatically reduce antibiotic use:
The German researchers found that testing for a marker of bacterial infection known as procalcitonin (PCT) helped identify patients whose respiratory tract infections would respond to antibiotics, and stopped others being offered unnecessary drugs....

In a study in the European Respiratory Journal, Tobias Welte of Hannover Medical School said "a simple PCT-guided strategy of decisions on antibiotic treatment" could cut the antibiotic treatment rate by more than 40 percent with no risk to patients.
By the way: Subterranean bridges and underwater archaeology. Beautiful bookbinding. Nineteenth-century photographic backgrounds. Photos by Gregory Halpern (via wood s lot). The World Without US. The Flour Art Museum. Paintings by Florine Stettheimer. And images from the Rousel Archives.

Phonograph records made of melting ice. (The same artist has created an interesting moonbulb, as well). Drift Station Bravo. Some remarks on artificial ice islands. QSL cards from the South Pole. Finnish tourism posters. And the art of cancellation.

Two feet of snow. The distribution of income by religion. Odessa's robot guardian. Photos by Mark Dambrink. iPhone photos by Nick Maggio. A sound walk across California. And vintage firework packaging.

And a movie.

(Illustration at top: "The Angel Marshes" by Mary Newcomb, 1992.)


Tacitus Voltaire said...

True patriots are well aware that Obama intends to scrap the Second Amendment any day now, and are accordingly stocking up on guns and ammunition

on the other hand, i have been having a passionate argument with "conservative" correspondants of mine who are outraged that i would object to the effective dismantling of the 4th amendment by the "patriot" act.

why, by insisting on the importance of such antiquated niceties as "Warrants [issued] upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized" before federal agents can read your email or seize your business records, i was assured that i might as well be escorting the terrorists into walmart armed with machine guns and bombs, accompanied by the aclu reading them miranda rights as we stroll

hey - what am i complaining about? we still have nine whole amendments left... and counting...

Phila said...

I got into a similar conversation with a libertarian I met at a coffee shop in Louisville, KY. Nice enough guy, but he couldn't quite comprehend that it's incongruous for someone who's worried about government tyranny to insist that the government be given more power to detect and crush dissent.

It's definitely a common outlook. I can't decide whether it means they don't believe their own rhetoric, or they hope dismantling the Constitution will hasten the Final Showdown.

Odd people, either way.

Southern Beale said...

And here's another one:

NCAA yanks Focus on the Family ad amid concerns about group's stance on gay relationships

The National Collegiate Athletic Association removed a Focus on the Family banner ad from one of its Web sites this week, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said Wednesday.

The NCAA made the decision after some of its members — including faculty and athletic directors — expressed concern that the evangelical group's stance against gay and lesbian relationships conflicted with the NCAA's policy of inclusion regardless of sexual orientation, Williams said.