Friday, April 02, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

A judge has ruled that human genes cannot be patented:

On Monday, federal district court Judge Robert Sweet made history by issuing the first ruling ever that human genes can’t be patented.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been issuing patents on human genes for over 20 years, giving private corporations, individuals, and universities exclusive rights to those genes and to test, study, or even look at them. This is the first time a court has said that this practice is unlawful.

Washington state has banned the shackling of pregnant inmates:
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that bans the use of restraints on female inmates in labor or post-partum recovery except under emergency circumstances, and severely limits the use of restraints on inmates in their third trimester as well. This kind of shackling is not only an infringement upon a woman’s constitutionally protected reproductive freedom, but especially burdens poor women and women of color who are over-represented in the prison system.
Colorado has forbidden insurers from charging women extra money for coverage under individual insurance plans:
Gov. Bill Ritter said Monday it's time to end discrimination in health care as he signed a bill ensuring that women in Colorado will no longer have to pay higher insurance rates than men.

Ritter said gender discrimination allowed insurance companies to charge rates up to 60 percent higher than rates for men.

The Supreme Court has ruled that lawyers who represent immigrants must tell them whether pleading guilty to a crime could lead to deportation.

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that lawyers for people thinking of pleading guilty to a crime must advise their clients who are not citizens about the possibility that they will be deported.

Likening deportation to the punishments of banishment and exile, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for five justices, said the Constitution guaranteed competent legal advice on at least some collateral consequences of guilty pleas.

“It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the mercies of incompetent counsel,” Justice Stevens wrote.

The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps is disbanding:

Carmen Mercer, the group's president, made the announcement only days after circulating a new call to action to its members to come to the border "locked, loaded and ready."

The group has struggled through leadership conflicts, financial mismanagement battles, and failed political campaigns over the years. This recent action reflects a split in the organization over accelerating liability threats due to its membership base which is difficult to control, increasingly hostile and aggressive.

The House of Commons has exonerated Dr. Phil Jones and CRU:

Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words “hide the decline” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous....

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.

We have a new START Treaty. Details are scanty and early reviews are mixed, but Cheryl Rofer makes an essential point:
[T]he best outcome may be what got us to this New START. The negotiations themselves are part of moving forward for the two nations. They give both a view into the other’s thinking, and they allow the negotiators to form personal relationships, or at least to become aware of the other’s limitations and strengths. Both sides view these negotiations as the beginning of a continuing interaction.
The EPA's new water regulations will prevent mountaintop mining:
The Obama administration Thursday spelled out tighter water quality standards for surface coal mines in Appalachia in a move that could curtail mountaintop removal mining.

The policy will sharply reduce the practice of filling valleys with waste from mountaintop removal and other types of surface mines in a six-state region, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

The DOT and EPA have finalized the new standards for auto emissions:

According to the EPA, today’s combined rule will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 960 million metric tons and save some 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the covered vehicles. The new rule, which covers more than 60 percent of all U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, will increase national gas-mileage standards for covered vehicles by about 5 percent per year, with the standard reaching 35.5 mpg for model year 2016, ahead of the existing deadline to achieve 35 mpg by 2020.

Colorado's largest utility is making a substantial shift from coal to natural gas:
Xcel Energy...has come to an agreement with the state government where it would retire coal plants powering about 900 megawatts by 2017 and replace them with natural gas-fired power. This move will mean a 30 percent reduction in Xcel’s Colorado coal fleet and a cut of as much as 5 million tons a year in carbon pollution. And this is all without federal legislation requiring cuts in emissions.
US manufacturers of guns, guitars, tools, and furniture are now required to reveal the source of the wood they use:
April 1st, 2010, marks the beginning of US enforcement for basic transparency requirements under the Lacey Act for guitars, revolvers, hand tools, pool cue, and certain furniture. This requires manufacturers of such items to declare basic information about where their wood comes from and how it is sourced.

"The declaration requirement of the Lacey Act is a critically important part of achieving greater supply chain transparency and legality, the over-arching goals set forth by Lacey," said Alexander von Bismarck of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in a press release."For the first time, companies are required by law to ask basic questions about their supply chains and understand exactly where their wood comes from."
Argentina has created a new protected area for the Rockhopper penguin:
Argentina has announced the establishment of a new protected area in the Province of Santa Cruz, along its 3,000 mile coastline. The area, named Parque Marino Isla Ping├╝ino ('Penguin Island Marine Park'), covers 650 square miles (1,700 square kilometers) of coastal miles and nearly 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the Atlantic shore.

"This decision by Argentine officials represents a significant commitment by the government to protect an extraordinary marine ecosystem,” said Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Latin American Programs Avecita Chicchon. "The creation of this park will help to ensure a future for the threatened species in this region and will protect the area’s unique natural heritage."

Photo by Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society
Wisconsin has severely restricted the sale of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus:
Recognizing the need to protect Wisconsin's lakes and rivers, which support a large and economically important tourism industry, and which provide drinking water for a large portion of Wisconsin's residents, the State no longer allows sale of phosphorus-containing lawn products intended for maintenance (recurring) application. There are exemptions for starting up a new lawn, gardening, and so on, but the bottom line is that retailers and producers are going need to stock no-phosphorus lawn care products.
The Aramark food service company has agreed to pay more for tomatoes in order to benefit laborers:

Food service giant Aramark agreed to pay extra for Florida tomatoes produced under a strict code of conduct....

Farmworkers helped develop the agreement, which mandates a strict code of conduct for growers. Aramark also will pay a 1.5-cent premium for every pound of tomatoes picked, with the extra money going directly to harvesters, who will now earn 82 cents for each 32-pound bucket they pick, up from 50 cents per bucket. The raise means their annual earnings could rise from about $10,000 to between $16,000 and $17,000.

A brown kiwi has hatched at the Smithsonian National Zoo:

One of the world's most endangered birds--a brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)--hatched at the Smithsonian's National Zoo's Bird House early yesterday....

The box will be not be on exhibit, but will be accessible by webcam on the Zoo's Web site. "Since kiwis are nocturnal, the best time to view the chick exploring and foraging in its box will be in the evening," the zoo said.

Photo by Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo

California's "ghost fleet" will finally be cleared from Suisun Bay:

The U.S. Maritime Administration, the federal agency responsible for San Francisco Bay’s ghost fleet, has agreed to clean up and remove the abandoned and decaying ships from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet....

Under the settlement, which must be approved by the Court, MARAD will permanently remove all of the obsolete vessels for disposal by September 2017, starting with the worst ships first. More immediately, MARAD will get rid of the piles of hazardous paint chips from vessel decks within 120 days and, by September of next year, clean all peeling paint from the exteriors of the 25 worst ships while in dry dock.

The EPA's new auto emission standards are based on grams of CO2 emitted per mile:
This is a good change. Miles per gallon of gas generally corresponded to a car's cleanliness in the past, but we're entering a time when cars can have multiple energy inputs and aren't just exclusively powered by gas. This will be a better way for the EPA to measure the environmental impact of cars in a future where they use many different fuel sources.
A small handheld device may allow health workers to check patients' immune status in a matter of minutes:

Right now it’s difficult, if not impossible, to quickly detect HIV in patients living in impoverished countries. That may all change soon, though — researchers at a California outfit called the Palo Alto Research Center have built an iPod-sized handheld device that can offer up an immune check-up in under 10 minutes — all with a prick of the finger.

The $250 prototype device analyzes blood taken from a finger prick by sending blood cells through a laser beam-illuminated channel, where a detector checks out light patterns to count CD4+ T cells — immune system cells killed by HIV....

The research center’s device could be invaluable to third world health workers who may not have access to labs.
Researchers have apparently grown human bones from liposuctioned fat:
The lab breakthrough is a huge step forward for bone-replacement procedures. Being able to grow any bone from actual human tissue could eliminate the need for bone grafts, a painful procedure that requires harvesting bone samples from other parts of the body. Growing human bones could also replace titanium bone implants, which aren’t as biocompatible as human tissue.

Researchers say they’ll test the grown bones in animals and a few humans, and the process may be used in hospitals within the next decade.

Washington DC's tax on plastic bags seems to have been amazingly effective:
[T]he number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and other establishments dropped from the 2009 monthly average of 22.5 million to just 3 million in January. While significantly reducing plastic waste, the tax simultaneously generated $150,000 in revenue, which will be used to clean up the Anacostia River.
The advent of devices like the iPad may drastically reduce the print run of magazines:

Magazines are being printed in volumes every day, and the sheer bulk in waste is staggering. Time magazine prints more than four million copies a year, all in a slick glossy format that has not always been recyclable. But now, a technological gadget could provide a means for curbing the amount of glossy magazines that are produced–and therefore the number that end up in landfills....

From a convenience standpoint it makes sense, since you can download a wrinkle free perfect copy when you feel the urge. There are no trips to the mailbox or news stand, and physical storage is a non-issue.

Music Makes Me, an audio blog "for lovers of 78s, vinyl, jazz, esoterica and the spoken word." Photographs of Tehran by Alfred Yaghobzadeh. A survey of Teabonics. Drawings made around dead flies. Map art by Susan Rankin. Photos by Sally Gall. And helpful advice on being kind to books.

The National Colour Palette (via Coudal). Microscopic stars and imaginary snapshots. Sleeping insects, covered in dew. Nineteenth-century printed illustrations based on photographs. Red and White. Paintings by Horace Trenerry. And paintings by Eric Ravilious.

Book covers by Eyke Volkmer. Ernst Haeckel: Die Radiolarien. A palette of palates. A tour of the Uglich Hydropower plant. Photos by Hans de Loof. Bird's-eye views of Lithuania. And a survey of vintage advertising art by Donald Brun.

Also, a movie, obviously.

(Illustration at top: "The Fort" by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1925.)


Karin said...

Great job as usual, Phila.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, wonderful.


charley said...

sally gall.

i've seen her work

she's a fox.

grouchomarxist said...

A small handheld device may allow health workers to check patients' immune status in a matter of minutes

It's the prototype for the medical tricorder!

Thanks yet again for the delightful miscellany, Phila.