Sunday, January 31, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

The SEC will require companies to disclose climate risks to investors:

In a 3-to-2 vote, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission determined today that companies “must consider the effects of global warming and efforts to curb climate change when disclosing business risks to investors.”
Two Republican members voted against the disclosure rule, on the grounds that it would "swamp investors with unnecessary information." Joe Romm's response is very much to the point:
That’s what conservatives do — they protect the people from unnecessary information. Thank goodness we didn’t swamp investors with information about risks pertaining to mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps a few years ago. Who knows what bad decisions they might have made with all that unnecessary information.
An infusion of cash from the stimulus bill has done wonders for the US geothermal industry:
The geothermal energy industry expanded by nearly 50 percent last year in confirmed new U.S. power projects, primarily because of cash from the federal stimulus law, the industry’s trade group said yesterday.

More than 6,440 megawatts of new U.S. projects are planned or under development, up 46 percent from 2008 numbers, the Geothermal Energy Association reported. The industry has a total installed capacity of more than 3,150 megawatts, up from about 2,900 megawatts in 2008.
Stimulus money is also funding this this laudable project:
Some U.S. military veterans are finding work helping sort through a massive government archaeological collection that has been neglected for decades.

The collection dates to the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started building dozens of locks, dams and reservoirs, and the ground beneath them was excavated for archaeological treasures.

In recent weeks, U.S. veterans -- many disabled -- have begun processing, cataloguing, digitizing and archiving the collection as part of a one-year $3.5 million project, funded with federal stimulus money.

It's part of the corps' effort to find American Indian cultural items and return them to tribes or their descendants -- something all federal agencies must do under a 1990 law.
The EPA is eliminating a loophole that allowed businesses to hide information about hazardous chemicals from the public:
USEPA has decided that when a chemical company encounters new information about the toxicity of a chemical product, that they must make public the name of that product. It used to be that they could check a box and claim "business confidential information" or "CBI." Pretty much every company did it and as a result there was really no way for the public to see if any new hazards had emerged.
Furthermore, the EPA appears to be formally acknowledging the link between land use and climate change:
This may be the first time that EPA has issued a report the directly links climate change mitigation with local land use strategies. Although this report focuses only on land preservation programs, it may signal the beginning of some thoughtful and needed discussions in area of federalism and climate change.
In California, demolition and cleanup of the Skaggs Island naval base is finally underway.
More than 50 government officials gathered on the long-closed, vandalized Cold War intelligence-gathering facility to mark the demolition's start, and the eventual conversion of more than 3,000 acres into a wildlife preserve.

The naval transfer of the property into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began many years ago, but the work finally intensified in 2008 with passage of legislation requiring the transfer and $8 million to pay for demolition.
(Photo: Sarah Rohrs/Times-Herald)

The DoJ is taking steps to combat violence against women in Native American communities:
After holding listening sessions with tribal leaders across the nation, [Attorney General Eric Holder] directed all 44 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices with federally recognized tribes in their districts to reinvigorate efforts to combat and prosecute violent crime, particularly against women and children. And he announced an additional $6 million to hire Assistant United States Attorneys—and additional victim specialists—to assist with the ever-growing Indian Country caseload.
A new study shows that states passed more pro-LGBT bills in 2009 than they did in the previous two years:
[D]espite disappointments in 2009, we witnessed a banner year for positive legislation affecting the LGBT community with as many positive bills passed this past year as in 2007 and 2008 combined.” Three hundred “good” LGBT bills were introduced last year and 50 passed, compared to 69 “bad” bills introduced and four passed.

In Wisconsin, public schools will be required to provide information on contraceptives in sex ed classes:
All public schools that teach sex education would be required to instruct students about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, under a bill headed to Gov. Jim Doyle.

The Democratic governor said Thursday he would sign the bill, which all Republicans opposed....

The bill elicited sharp debate, with Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit), a former nurse, saying teaching a solely abstinence-based curriculum has resulted in high rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

"We have done it your way," she told Republicans. "President (George) Bush spent $1.5 billion on abstinence-only education and it failed - it failed miserably."
Scott Roeder has been found guilty on all counts:
In reaction to the verdict, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal said, "Defense efforts to establish that Roeder's actions were justifiable failed miserably. The jury saw Roeder's actions for what they were: cold-blooded murder."
Satellites are being used to crack down on illegal logging in Madagascar.
Analysts in Europe and the United States are using high resolution satellite imagery to identify and track shipments of timber illegally logged from rainforest parks in Madagascar. The images could be used to help prosecute traders involved in trafficking and put pressure on companies using rosewood sourced from Madagascar.
In Borneo, meanwhile, indigenous communities have won an important court case:
The cases...had been filed by Iban and Malay communities against the Sarawak state government and an oil palm company that planned to establish an oil palm plantation on native lands.

Sarawak High Court Judge Datuk David Wond ruled that local communities have native customary rights over land claimed as state land by the Sarawak state government. In the ruling, the court said "customary practice of Malays must be given the force of law." The Bruno Manser Fund called it a "landmark decision."

See Chee How, a lawyer representing the Iban, called the decisions "a great victory for the people" and said it was "a historic day for Sarawak's native landowners."
Target will no longer sell farmed salmon:
Citing environmental concerns, Target has stopped selling farmed salmon products is working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to ensure that its wild-caught salmon is sourced responsibly.
The NOAA is increasing its oversight of naval sonar:
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has announced a series of sweeping new initiatives designed to push the Navy forward in its efforts to understand and mitigate the impacts of mid-frequency active sonar on marine mammals....

In a clear indication that NOAA may take a more proactive role in pushing the Navy to leave some areas out of its training zones, the letter stresses that “Protecting important marine mammal habitat is generally recognized to be the most effective mitigation measure currently available”....

All in all, this is a remarkable and very productive first step for this administration as it enters the long-contentious waters of active sonar regulation, ocean noise in general.
A Turkish town has banned fireworks displays for the benefit of sea turtles:
Especially during the summer months, the sound of fireworks is part of the evening soundtrack in Turkey, where pyrotechnics are often used to celebrate weddings, football victories, and official ceremonies alike. But a municipality on the country's Mediterranean coast has put the kibosh on such festivities, saying they can fatally frighten endangered sea turtles.

This week, the Kızılot municipality in Antalya's Manavgat district announced that it would ban fireworks during the summer season, when loggerhead sea turtles are breeding along the area's seven-kilometer beach, the Anatolia News Agency reported.
Nevada's Supreme Court has thwarted plans to build a massive pipeline that would siphon groundwater from the north end of the state to Las Vegas.
Critics panned the proposal to channel water, via a 300-mile pipeline, from ranching to casino country as an Owens Valley-like grab. A number of people filed formal objections....

The state Supreme Court ruling sends the parties back to a District Court, which will decide whether the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SWNA) must start the application process anew, as the protesters would like. Alternately, the court could recommend that the state engineer simply reopen the formal protest period.
A new light-based water purification system allegedly works even at night:
According to Technology Review, "Shang and his colleagues tested the photocatalyst by placing it in a solution containing a high concentration of E. coli bacteria and then shining a halogen desk lamp on the solution for varying lengths of time. After an hour, the concentration of bacteria dropped from 10 million cells per liter to just one cell per 10,000 liters."

But the kicker is that it keeps disinfecting for up to 10 hours after the lights go out, which means water can be disinfected even over night. The photocatalyst was shown to kill bacteria for as long as 24 hours after losing its light source.
In related news, a rotavirus vaccine could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the developing world:
For the first time ever, studies in Mexico and Africa, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrate a reduction in diarrheal disease deaths following rotavirus vaccine introduction in Mexico and vaccine efficacy among impoverished populations in Malawi and South Africa. Both studies underscore the importance of vaccination in achieving significant reduction of severe rotavirus infections among children in the developing world, where disease impact is greatest. Worldwide, rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea, which takes the lives of more than 500,000 children under 5 every year – with almost half of these deaths occurring in Africa – and causes the hospitalization of millions more.

The findings from these studies informed the World Health Organization's (WHO) recent recommendation that rotavirus vaccines be included in every nation's immunization program.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose claim of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism caused a steep drop-off in vaccinations, has been censured by the UK's medical regulator:
The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism acted unethically, the official medical regulator has found.

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.

The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.
I'm not sure what to make of this...maybe Cheryl will drop by and enlighten me.
Like the carnivorous plant, a new material developed at Northwestern University permanently traps only its desired prey, the radioactive ion cesium, and not other harmless ions like sodium.

The synthetic material, made from layers of a gallium, sulfur and antimony compound, is very selective. The Northwestern researchers found it to be extremely successful in removing cesium -- found in nuclear waste but very difficult to clean up -- from a sodium-heavy solution. (The solution had concentrations similar to those in real liquid nuclear waste.)

It is, in fact, cesium itself that triggers a structural change in the material, causing it to snap shut its pores, or windows, and trap the cesium ions within. The material sequesters 100 percent of the cesium ions from the solution while at the same time ignoring all the sodium ions.
Researchers claim that chimpanzees display altruistic behavior:
Chimpanzees can be altruistic just like humans, according to a new study that found 18 cases of orphaned chimps being adopted in the wild.

The kind-hearted chimp parents were discovered in the Taï forest in the West African country Ivory Coast. The adoptive caregivers, both male and female, devoted large amounts of time and effort to protecting their young charges, without any obvious gain to themselves....

"Based on some of the captive studies, you see very strong claims that what makes humans special is this ability to cooperate and be altruistic toward one another," Boesch told LiveScience. "In that sense the observation of Taï forest requires a big shift in our thinking about what makes us human, in the sense that this ability to be altruistic is something that we also see in chimpanzees."
Additionally, as well, and to boot: Antarctica's ghost mountains. The Efraín Barradas Collection of Mexican and Cuban Film Posters. Photos by Elery Branch. A candid view of Tethys behind Titan. Unidentified people. And Strange Worlds.

Stockholm mapped with old film clips (why doesn't every city have a site like this?). Speaking of which: The Open Road London, an early color film (via Coudal). Beatles infographics. The world's strangest tunnels. Photos by Sandra Louise Dyas. iPhoneography by Jeremy Edwards (via things). Discovering Bewick. And an amazing image of the 7/22/09 solar eclipse.

How trackable is your browser? You can find out at Panopticlick. In other computing news, Hitler responds to the iPad. Which leads us, inevitably, to The Silk Road Online. To say nothing of the Album Amicorum of the European peregrination of Ferenc Pápai Páriz (1711-1726). And the Asian peregrination of Aurel Stein. And The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration in American Culture.

WPA Sin Nombre showcases "Hispana and Hispano artists of the New Deal era." Book Art from the Hamburg Archives. Re:collection, an online archive of Australian graphic design. Banjo Women of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Landscapes by Thomas Ender. Vintage VW bus signage. Zeransky's Collection of Western Film Ephemera. The livros do cordel of northeastern Brazil. And, via things, photos by Ana Himes.

Last, a short but sweet film of Jupiter in rotation.

(Image at top: "Los Angeles Electric Isle" by Brooks Shane Salzwedel, 2008.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Eyes of Others

As part of the DoD's Quadrennial Defense Review for 2010, Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley discuss emerging threats to a "global commons" comprising sea, air, space, and cyberspace. It's an interesting use of the word "commons," in that these domains remain "free" to the extent that America dominates them.

Apparently, this contradiction has not escaped people in other countries:

[R]ising powers will not likely be content to simply acquiesce to America's role as uncontested guarantor of the global commons. Countries such as China, India, and Russia will demand a role in maintaining the international system in ways commensurate with their actual or perceived power and national interests. Such demands are already occurring, from declarations of interest in space capabilities, to indications that the Indian and Arctic oceans will become new global centers of gravity.
It sounds like what we're discussing is not maintaining these commons, but enclosing them. Though as we learned when we were trying to save Western Civilization from the Viet Cong, it sometimes becomes necessary to destroy a village in order to save it.
The consequences of a shift in the international system that opens [!!!] the global commons for other state and non-state actors to pursue their interests — and perhaps credibly threaten America's use of these domains — are likely to be profound....
One worry is that The Evildoers will "look for ways to deter, deny, or frustrate our ability to swiftly employ and sustain combat forces across a variety of scenarios." The logical method is asymmetric warfare, which involves "using both simple and sophisticated technologies in innovative ways."

Of course, a strong global posture isn't necessarily a good defense against these tactics. A few years back, we bankrupted and demoralized ourselves by launching two pointless wars, which just goes to show how easily strength becomes weakness. The state's "need" to launch and sustain attacks is a structural flaw that asymmetrical warfare seeks to exploit, as I've illustrated more than once with this quote from Mr. Osama bin Laden:
All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa'ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note …
One of the exciting new challenges, in coming years, will be to "[advance] our interests while legitimizing our power in the eyes of others." It's hard to believe no one thought of this before.

While legitimate global dominance has its diplomatic and philosophical aspects, it's sustained, as ever, by "power projection"...armed drones, for instance. Like heaven in the eyes of fundamentalist Christians, it's a generous gift from a loving father, and woe betide you if you dare to refuse it.

Being as the Obama administration has rejected the more déclassé aspects of BushCo's imperial arrogance, Flournoy and Brimley are careful to stress that "protecting and sustaining stability throughout the global commons cannot be achieved by America alone. We must lead in the creation of international norms and standards that can help advance the common good and expand the rule of law in these domains of growing importance."

Which sounds pretty good, as long as we don't simply come up with norms and standards that sanctify transnational logistics, and enforce them "surgically" with all sorts of long-range, remotely controlled weapons. Unfortunately, we may have no choice, given the likelihood that there'll be opposition to our domination of the global commons...even though we can be fairly sure that this opposition will grow louder and more compelling and more violent as a direct result of the actions we're taking to head it off.

Such is life, though. Maybe thermite-bearing termites will help.

Either way, there are difficult days ahead, and "the same factors that may engender the rise of new great powers may also accelerate the decline of other states that — by virtue of poor leadership, economics, and/or geography — are unable to adapt to a new era and meet the basic needs of their populations." Let's hope it can't happen here!

On the bright side, Flournoy and Brimley are concerned about the effects of climate change. So we are making progress, of a sort.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Unpleasant Truths

Michael Cohen has written an eloquent but ultimately unsatisfying article on what's wrong with these United States. The gist of it is that Republicans are nihilistic sociopaths, Democrats are timid and unreliable and corrupt, and Americans across the political spectrum are spoiled brats who demand contradictory things and won't make any personal sacrifices to achieve them.

On health care, polls indicate that Americans want Congress to extend access, cut costs, and tame the insurance industry. But they don't want their own benefits affected, or government's role in the health-care system to increase, or be mandated to buy insurance. In short, they want change, but they reject the most commonsense means of bringing that change about and generally refuse to sacrifice for the greater good of society as a whole.
As for the media, they'd rather flatter the public's vanity than deliver unwelcome news:
Making the situation worse is that political news coverage, rather than explaining the gulf between voter expectations and political reality, often panders to the electorate's misguided notions....Voters complain that Washington must do more to help the economy but in the same breath decry government's expanding role or misstate basic facts about their government and are given a virtual free pass by reporters who take "customer is always right" attitude toward the electorate.
Well, sort of. Except that the media don't really take this attitude. Generally, the customers who are always right are the ones who agree with the center-right outlook on government and economics, which by an odd coincidence comprises the very same incoherent notions that Cohen decries. These voters get a "free pass" — whatever the fuck that means — not because they're customers, but because their self-defeating embrace of corporatist dogma makes them the authentic voice of Teh American People. As such, their opinions are the standard against which other viewpoints can be counted, weighed, and found wanting (which is one reason I cringe every time someone on "my" side pays pious lip service to this silly abstraction).

Despite everything, Cohen maintains a touching faith in our misguided population's willingness to embrace the truth when they hear it, and so he suggests this essentially homeopathic remedy:
Instead of feel-good rhetoric about everyday heroes or salesmanship about microtargeted proposals, which are the mainstays of the State of the Union, the president should speak unpleasant truths. That means condemning Republicans for their crude obstructionism and excoriating his fellow Democrats for their fecklessness. But, above all, he must explain to Americans that what they want from Washington cannot be accomplished if they are unwilling to countenance a larger role for the federal government—and remind them that the change they say they want is not possible without actual change and real sacrifice.
So if I've got this straight, Americans don't want to hear unpleasant truths, let alone believe them, let alone act on them. And Republicans tirelessly obstruct any honest attempt to define our problems, let alone solve them. And Democrats are weak or traitorous or both.

Meanwhile, the media can be counted on to inform us that real Americans don't nohow cotton to all this girly-man gum-flappin' about "limits to growth" or "shared sacrifice" or "realism," on account of they know what they know. (Remember, though: it's not because the media have any financial or ideological interest in maintaining an anti-collectivist and anti-regulatory status quo. They just don't want to upset their customers by correcting them. Opinions are personal property, after all, and property rights are sacred, if anything is.)

But what does all this evil and ignorance and bad faith matter, next to the pretty vision of America as Sleeping Beauty, and Obama as the prince who'll wake her from her spell?
The president should take his own advice and be honest with the American people about the challenges the country is facing.
Sure. And while he's at it, he should telekinetically levitate the Washington Monument, and hang it like the sword of Damocles over the Competitive Enterprise Institute. At this point, it seems like it'd be easier than taking advantage of a Democratic majority, high approval ratings, and the power of his office in order to make good on the campaign promises that got him elected.

Which is not to say that Obama shouldn't make an effort to acknowledge our root problems, assuming for the sake of argument that he actually shares Cohen's concerns, and is actually capable of being honest. If Obama comes out and says, "I don't think our system works. I think we've achieved a point of perfectly pointless hubristic stasis, and we're all going to die," no one will cheer his grasp of realpolitik more lustily than yours truly (except maybe for Thers). But I don't see how Cohen can seriously demand that Obama be honest about our troubles, when he himself refuses to acknowledge the economic logic behind the forces that make America "ungovernable" according to his worldview, and all too governable according to mine.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and fret officiously over the endemic corruption in Haiti.

(Link via Cheryl Rofer.)

UPDATE: You can find the text of the SOTU here. A mixed bag, overall, but I think the part where he said "Democrats will have to be the grown-ups and freeze spending long enough to get voted out of office, where Republicans will blow the budget all over again" should slake Cohen's thirst for unpleasant truths.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reaching Out

The fossil-fuel industry has worked tirelessly to hinder scientific inquiry in recent decades, so it pleases me to report that at least one firm is trying to help.

The B.C. businessman behind a proposed High Arctic coal mine is reaching out to the international scientific community — which has sounded alarms about the mine's potential threat to a "world-renowned" fossil site on Ellesmere Island — by inviting paleontologists to work with miners to dig for coal and ancient animal traces at the same time.
Well, why not? You may think the Tyburn Tree was barbaric, but you have to concede that it benefited medical science. That's the nature of Progress: You can't break eggs without making an omelet!

Weststar Resources Corp. president Mitchell Adam probably wouldn't put it that way. But unlike the average scientist, he does understand how things work in the real world:
Convinced the retreating Arctic ice will soon open a viable Northwest Passage shipping route, Adam said the world "still needs energy" and "for those concerned about potential fossils — well, let's go up jointly. They can scientifically study it, and we can take our samples, and we can share the freight and build a camp that's safe."
It's a generous offer, and Adam didn't have to make it. Worse business deals have been crammed down humanity's gullet with far less ceremony. And yet, at least one scientist is unappreciative:
"Destruction of these fossil sites will strongly affect our ability to understand how global climate change will impact these regions over the coming century," said society president Blaire Van Valkenburgh.
With all due respect to Ms. Van Valkenburgh, these potential fossils can tell us little about anything that really matters, for the simple reason that the species in question didn't have the ability, and therefore the obligation, to mine coal and ship it to China via the Northwest Passage. Scientists who wish to ponder the positive and theoretically less positive effects of these activities would be better off looking at our bones.

Thanks to Progress, however, they may not get the chance. If Ray Kurzweil and Glenn Reynolds are correct -- and why wouldn't they be? -- we'll soon be downloading our delightful personalities into ageless transhuman bodies that will adapt to a warming climate as effortlessly as Dick Cheney bites the heads off newborn puppies.

And that's precisely what worries me about the negativism of "scientists" like Van Valkenburgh: Are we really prepared to cripple a coal-hungry civilization that's on the verge of granting eternal life to the deserving, simply because we're worried about destroying a handful of alleged fossils that a few scientists claim may provide a debatable amount of insight into theoretical climate changes that are already happening and may actually be beneficial for some of us, assuming we play our cards right? Is that the human thing to do?

Mr. Adam has reached out to the international scientific community. Will they take his hand? Or will they slap it away, and doom themselves to philosophical as well as practical irrelevance?

Only time will tell.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lars for correcting me on Ms. Van Valkenburgh's gender.

Determined Terrorists

A thoughtful article in the Washington Post informs us that OMG we're all gonna die.

In early 2006, a mysterious cosmetics trader named Rakhman began showing up at salons in St. Petersburg, Russia, hawking a popular anti-aging drug at suspiciously low prices. He flashed a briefcase filled with vials and promised he could deliver more -- "as many as you want," he told buyers -- from a supplier somewhere in Chechnya.

Rakhman's "Botox" was found to be a potent clone of the real thing, but investigators soon turned to a far bigger worry: the prospect of an illegal factory in Chechnya churning out raw botulinum toxin, the key ingredient in the beauty drug and one of world's deadliest poisons. A speck of toxin smaller than a grain of sand can kill a 150-pound adult.
So can inadequate access to healthcare, and far more of us will face that threat in the coming year. Which I suppose makes illicit Botox a welcome distraction from our real problems.
Obtaining the most lethal strain of the bacterium might have posed a significant hurdle for would-be terrorists in the recent past. But today, the prospect of tapping into the multibillion-dollar market for anti-wrinkle drugs has spawned an underground network of suppliers and distributors who do most of their transactions online, the researchers found. Customers don't need prescriptions or identification, other than a shipping address.
As the article notes a couple of paragraphs later, "the amount of poison in a prescribed dose is so small that a determined terrorist would have to obtain hundreds of vials at $400 each to kill even a single person."

Still, al-Qaeda are nothing if not determined! And however little toxin there may be in counterfeit Botox, there's no denying that a single gram of botulinum toxin could kill a million people, give or take (as long as you lined them up in an orderly fashion, administered the correct dose under laboratory conditions, and refused to give them medical attention even if they could afford it).

You know what else could kill a million people? A million bullets. Think about it!

The WaPo saw fit to devote three pages to this "story." That's space they could've allocated to glibertarian arguments against healthcare reform, or yet another summary of denialist talking points from George Will, so I guess they must've thought it was really, really important.

In other news:
Whipped to a froth of fear and loathing by the Farm Bureau and county commissions, property-rights zealots who hate all things federal save farm support are using Rozol [chlorophacinone] to neutralize the Endangered Species Act and eliminate black-footed ferrets....

Because Rozol is so deadly to all wildlife, the law requires that it be placed inside prairie dog holes. Instead, the county commission's applicator showed up uninvited on the Haverfield ranch, tossing Rozol-laced bait around like confetti. The state has ordered him to pay a $2,800 fine.
UPDATE: Cheryl has more, as does Armchair Generalist.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

It's been another busy week for me, so I've had no time to compile stories for FHB.

But as always, you're more than welcome to post positive stories and interesting links in comments. What could be easier?

(Photo: "Collard Dove in Corkscrew Willow" by Kirsten Zwijnenburg.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

First things first: If you haven't yet donated to a humanitarian organization working in Haiti -- or even if you have -- you might consider giving some money to AIDG and Partners in Health, both of which have been doing valuable infrastructure-related work in Haiti for years.

Treehugger has a list of other organizations that are working on longer-term projects for improving the quality of life in Haiti. For a list of organizations that are working to provide immediate relief, click here.

A new study finds that healthcare in New Orleans is better than it used to be.

[D]espite being disproportionately low-income and uninsured...patients had fewer problems affording care and fewer instances of medical debt and inefficient care than most U.S. adults....

According to the authors, this shows that the post-Katrina primary care pilot program -- a system that relies primarily on a large network of local clinics funded by federal and local government, and given financial incentives to improve care -- could serve as a national model for providing primary care to vulnerable groups.
A Nevada state judge has thrown out a proposed "personhood" initiative.
The Nevada Personhood initiative proposed to amend the state Constitution by defining a person and extending due process rights from the beginning of biological development through end of life. The petition does not specifically mention abortion, but says its intent is to codify "the inalienable right to life for everyone, young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn."

Carson City District Court Judge James Russell said the measure was too broad and general in nature to be put before voters in November.
And a DC court has rejected an anti-gay marriage initiative supported by Congressional Republicans who clearly hate America:
The lawsuit was brought by several national anti-gay activists and backed by 39 Republican members of Congress....

“This second, back-to-back ruling by the D.C. Superior Court is an overwhelming victory for fairness, the rule of law and the protection of all D.C. residents against discrimination,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “D.C. has the right to govern itself and make its own laws without the interference of thirty-nine Republican members of Congress, more interested in scoring cheap political points than in the everyday lives of D.C. residents."
Speaking of Human Rights Campaign, they've created a new iPhone application that helps consumers support businesses that support LGBT equality:
The Buying for Equality iPhone application puts information directly in the hands of consumers in an easy to read format that divides businesses and their consumer products into red (brands to avoid), yellow (brands that have made some progress) and green (brands to support)....

These color-coded rankings are based on a company’s score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, a nationally recognized benchmark that scores major American corporations based on their workplace policies and commitment to fairness for their LGBT employees.
Canada's Supreme Court has rejected the arguments of a Roman Catholic who refused to pay taxes because the money might be used for abortions:
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal, in a ruling last summer, concluded paying taxes does not equate to support of any particular government policy.

The appeal court also found that legitimizing Little's claim would mean that anyone who opposed a government policy could dodge paying taxes, while still receiving public benefits, such as medical care.
With that in mind, perhaps we ought to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Mongolia has announced a moratorium on executions:
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday hailed a move by Mongolia's president to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty, saying that it sets a "leadership example in Asia."

President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj on Thursday told lawmakers that all death sentences -- carried out by gunshot -- would be commuted to 30-year prison terms, as he could not bring himself to sign any execution orders.
And Nepal's Maoist army is discharging its child soldiers:
Marking a milestone in Nepal's shaky peace process, around 200 former Maoist child soldiers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the Maoists' military wing, were discharged on 7 January after spending the last three years in the camp.

They are the first of around 3,000 young disqualified Maoist ex-combatants, a third of whom are female, to be released by mid-February from seven Maoist cantonments across the country....Their discharge was agreed under a December 2009 plan signed by the government, the Maoists and the UN.
Endangered jaguars will receive habitat protections.
In a far-reaching reversal of Bush administration policy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the United States and develop a jaguar recovery plan....

Critical habitat designation will result in protection for large swaths of the Southwest, a region that jaguars used to call home but in which they’re now rarely found. A recovery plan for the jaguar will provide a road map for recovery of jaguars to the United States, whether through natural migration or reintroduction.
A breeding population of a little-known bird has been found in Afghanistan.
"Practically nothing is known about this species, so this discovery of the breeding area represents a flood of new information on the large-billed reed warbler," said Colin Poole, Executive Director of WCS's Asia Program. "This new knowledge of the bird also indicates that the Wakhan Corridor still holds biological secrets and is critically important for future conservation efforts in Afghanistan."

A new bird has been discovered in Borneo:
While walking along a 250 meter-high canopy-walkway set-up for tourists, Richard Webster discovered a bird he didn't recognize feeding on mistletoe berries. He took photos of the individual and later shared them with Dr. David Edwards, an ornithologist from Leeds University who has been studying birds in the area for three years. After checking with several museums, they realized that no one had ever recorded such a bird....

The species, known only as the 'spectacled flowerpecker, has not yet received a scientific name.
California is set to embark on its most ambitious dam removal project.
[G]overnment officials and a Monterey water company on Monday agreed to tear down the 106-foot-tall San Clemente Dam. The move is a victory for endangered steelhead trout which for decades have been blocked from their spawning grounds by the obsolete concrete structure on the Carmel River....

"What we're doing here is truly of national significance," said U.S.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Salinas, who fished in the Carmel River as a boy. "We are going to have some tough days ahead. But it is the right thing to do and we are going to get it done."
San Francisco is shutting down one of the dirtiest power plants in the state:
"Five years ago, San Francisco had two of the most polluting power plants in California," Mayor Gavin Newsom said, referring to Mirant and the Hunters Point plant that closed in 2006. "At the end of this year, we will have no polluting power plants in this city."
Portland General Electric has offered to shut down Oregon's only coal-fired power plant 20 years ahead of schedule:
While a 2020 shutdown is supported by a variety of advocacy groups, some environmentalists are looking to convince regulators and a federal judge that PGE should close it even earlier.

"The best deal for ratepayers and the environment is to close by 2014," said Michael Lang, conservation director at the Friends of the Columbia Gorge. "We'll demonstrate that even PGE's own data supports that conclusion....It seems to me that they're clinging to dirty, outdated technology, but clinging a little less tightly."
And in a victory for indigenous activists, an Interior Department judged has vacated the Black Mesa Coal Complex's permit.
Peabody Western Coal Company’s Black Mesa Coal Complex has suffered a major setback as an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of the Interior vacated a permit for the massive coal-mining complex. The judge vacated the permit in response to one of several appeals filed by Navajo and Hopi residents as well as a diverse coalition of tribal and environmental groups....
In New Mexico, meanwhile, "the 3,000 members of the Jemez Pueblo are on the verge of building the nation's first utility-scale solar plant on tribal land."
Indian tribes control more than 55 million acres of land across the nation, and those lands are capable of producing an estimated 535 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year from wind power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Tribal Energy Program. Solar has even greater promise, at 17 trillion kilowatt hours per year, or more than four times the amount of electricity generated annually in the U.S.
Alberta's new energy minister is hinting at the need for controls on the development of oil sands:
Although he gave few details as to how he would do it, environmental groups said his comments mark a dramatic change in Alberta's attitude toward the oil sands.

“I don't think we've ever seen any sort of explicit acknowledgment that the pace and scale of development is something that can be addressed and indeed is something the government of Alberta has the ability to address,” said Simon Dyer, the oil sands program director for the Pembina Institute.
Four oil companies have given up drilling leases on the Rocky Mountain Front near Glacier National Park:
They've returned leases to the Bureau of Land Management - leases that affect about 29,000 acres in the Badger-Two Medicine Area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest....

Occidental Petroleum, Rosewood Resources, X.T.O. Energy, and B-P relinquished the leases without compensation....In 2006, Sen. Max Baucus wrote a provision into federal legislation that says the areas can never be leased again.
The Obama administration is scrapping Bush's idiotic funding guidelines for transportation projects:
"We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in announcing the change on Wednesday.

The Bush administration began using a formula in 2005 to approve projects that chiefly relied on commute times and costs, according to LaHood's agency.

In a speech to the Transportation Research Board, LaHood promoted the idea of "livability," or combining transportation options with urban development plans to make it easier for people to move through their towns while lessening the impact on the environment.
Researchers claim to have invented a better, cheaper method for mosquito sampling:
In both field and lab tests, the Prokopack outperformed the current gold standard for resting mosquito surveillance – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Backpack Aspirator (CDC-BP). In addition to having a longer reach, enabling it to collect more mosquitoes than the CDC-BP, the Prokopack is significantly smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier to build....

Mosquito-borne diseases rank among the world's top killers, and Vazquez-Prokopec hopes that more affordable and efficient surveillance methods will help save lives.
For the first time, a salmon farm has been approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program:
The sustainability nod from the consumer education group means that these salmon also will be assigned a green "Best Choice" rating on Seafood Watch's Web site. The approval follows several months of intensive site visits by Seafood Watch scientists and reviews of the company's production facility, feed ratios, fish contaminant and pollution discharge levels, and more.
California has adopted the country's first statewide green building code:
The regulations, called Calgreen, will help the state meet its goal of trimming greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020.

Beginning next January, every new building in the state will have to reduce water usage by 20 percent and recycle 50 percent of its construction waste instead of sending it to landfills. Commercial buildings will be required to have separate water meters for indoor and outdoor water use. Mandatory inspections of air conditioner, heat and mechanical equipment will be also be instituted for all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.
And, as you've probably heard, the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set back the Doomsday clock by one minute.
"We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons," the board said in a statement. "For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material. And for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable."
This is absolutely fascinating (to me, anyway).
[Georges] Méliès’s early shorts were often pirated abroad, and a lot of money was being lost in the American market in particular. After the Lubin company flooded that market with bootleg copies of a 1902 film, Méliès struck back by opening his own American distribution office. Separate negatives for the domestic and foreign markets were made by the simple expedient of placing two cameras side by side. The folks at Lobster realized that those cameras’ lenses happened to be about the same distance apart as 3D camera lenses. By taking prints from the two separate versions of a film, today’s restorers could create a simulated 3D copy!

Two 1903 titles – I think that they were The Infernal Cauldron [Le chaudron infernal] and The Oracle of Delphi [L'oracle de Delphes] – triumphantly showed that the experiment worked....Watching the film through red-and-green glasses, you initially saw nothing in your right eye, while the left one saw the image in 2D. Abruptly, though, the second print materialized, and the depth effect kicked in. The films as synchronized by Lobster looked exactly as if Méliès had designed them for 3D.
As if that weren't enough, illuminated books by Erica Van Horn. Vintage Polish book design. A photo that documents the important role of alarmingly long ladders in zeppelin construction. A steam-powered bi-plane. And Martian tendrils.

And not only that, but forensic landscapes by Emma Wilcox. Photos by Louis Stettner. Photos by Alexis Pike and Zubin Pastakia. Sixteen alternative processes from one negative. The coal-pit Podmoskovnaya and the secret town of Bechyovinka. And via things, photos by Thomas Wrede.

Also: The Known Universe. Entertaining evidence that cars are safer than they used to be. The voluptuous horror of the toad-lily. A lunar spherule. Paintings by Clare Woods. Drawings and photographs by Stephan van den Burg. And photos by Naomi Vanderkindren.

This week, we'll finish things up with a little music.

(Photo at top: "Wheel of Samsara" by Douglas Capron, 2008.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Advertising Space

Google has patented a new system that will allow companies to advertise on billboards and signs captured in Street View.

In this patent, Google describes how it plans to identify buildings, posters, signs and billboards in these images and give advertisers the ability to replace these images with more up-to-date ads. In addition, Google also seems to plan an advertising auction for unclaimed properties.
As fascinating as this idea is, I'm far more interested in the options for product placement. Old pickup trucks covered in NRA stickers could be replaced with the latest luxury sedans. Soda bottles could be placed label outwards in pedestrians' hands. Up and coming bands could be seen leaning arrogantly against brick walls, or loading their gear into clubs.

Better yet, why not have movie tie-ins? If some dramatic scene takes place at a certain intersection in Baltimore, Google could easily add that imagery to the appropriate address on Street View.

It needn't be done digitally. A more logical method would be to reshoot the street scenes as needed, with whatever content reputable advertisers are willing to pay for. And it needn't be strictly mercenary, either; a scheme like this might well aid community redevelopment and rebranding efforts. If a street or town has a bad reputation, discarded mattresses can be cleared away, feral dogs hauled to the pound, and figures of ethnic menace replaced with Boy Scouts and nuns. With a little spit and polish, the mean streets of Trona could look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

There are also interesting possibilities for political campaigning. Candidates could be "accidentally" photographed enjoying local delicacies, tackling purse-snatchers, or praying outside abortion clinics. It'd be useful for negative campaigning, too: We're not saying that's definitely Nancy Pelosi burning an American flag in front of an inner-city mosque, but the controversy is undoubtedly illustrative of something.

Of course, there are possibilities for abuse. But that's true of everything under the sun, and I suspect that sensible guidelines for self-policing are being drawn up as we speak. All in all, I'd say this is the most exciting marketing idea since 19th-century British electricians "made the well known features of Mr. Gladstone appear in ghostly outlines in the heavens."

(Photo by Cobalt123.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Anxieties of Our Time

When we last encountered Frank Furedi, he was using the principles of metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology to prove that environmentalists are wrong because they say depressing things that frighten people. Bourgeois complacency, to him, is as integral to human excellence as stereo vision and opposable thumbs, and anyone who challenges it has no more ethical sense than a spirochete. For Furedi, it'd be insane to wonder whether one can write poetry after Auschwitz; he prefers to attend to practical matters, like whether the poem should be about babies or unicorns.

His latest column begins by considering the snowstorms in the UK. Like Mona Charen, he knows perfectly well that weather isn't climate. And like Charen, he sees something sinister in the fact that scientists keep reminding him of this. If global warming is a real threat, why are scientists trying so hard to convince us that it's actually happening?

There's a bigger problem, though. Furedi is able to tap into the Collective Unconscious as easily as you or I might order a pizza, so he knows that when we talk about "extreme weather," we're really talking about ourselves.

Extreme weather is not so much a scientific as a cultural metaphor that expresses the anxieties of our time. The conceptual linkage of weather with extreme symbolises a growing tendency to endow natural phenomena with moral meaning.
First off, weather per se is not a scientific or a cultural metaphor; it's fucking weather, for fuck's sake. Second, the "conceptual linkage of weather with extreme" is based on the hard-won knowledge that some types of weather are more powerful than others, which is why we place, say, hurricanes into different categories depending on their strength. Third, the word "extreme" has no moral meaning whatsoever in this context; it's simply a measure of relative force. As much as Furedi might wish to pretend this is some sort of bizarre value judgment that stands in need of glibertarian deconstruction, I'm pretty sure that like most people who have the choice, he's more likely to stay indoors during episodes of "extreme" weather.

Last, you have to be a truly monumental asshole to complain about the "growing (!) tendency to endow natural phenomena with moral meaning" while arguing that decades of scientific data on natural phenomena, extreme and otherwise, should be dismissed as evidence of a collective character flaw.

Speaking of know what this crazy idea that human activity can affect the climate reminds Furedi of, when you come right down to it? A belief in witchcraft!
Today unexpected weather conditions are blamed on the impact of human beings on the environment. In medieval times unusual climatic episodes were seen as the handiwork of wicked demonic forces. Witchcraft was used to account for virtually every misfortune and unpleasant act. It was the climatic change brought by the so-called Little Ice Age in the 16th century that led to a resurgence of witch-hunting in Europe. From 1380 onwards, accusations of magic and weather-making increased dramatically in inquisitorial trials.
This is fertile ground indeed. In medieval times, witch hunters used to prick moles and warts with knives and needles in order to "prove" that people were witches. Today, climatologists take core samples from the polar ice caps in order to "prove" that people are using some sort of magical, unquantifiable power to affect the climate. When you treat these obsessively penetrative, probing behaviors as cultural metaphors, they're almost identical!

Thanks to Furedi's psychohistorical Doctrine of Signatures, we can easily ascertain which sciences are on the right track, morally speaking, and which signify the return of some repressed irrationality from the Bad Old Days. Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds are simply an improvement to the gentle art of gardening; you'd have to be insane to let it worry you. But as for ecotoxicology...weren't Jews once accused of poisoning wells, much as mining companies are now accused of contaminating groundwater? That being the case, couldn't one argue that the extraction industry is, in fact, the Jew of enviro-fascism?

The answer is plain to all those who are versed in Naturall Philosophy, for so universal and perpetual an Analogy can arise from nothing but its Pattern and Archetype in the infinite God our Maker.

Incidentally, Ferudi is the author of a book called Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?. Which just goes to show that it's lonely at the top.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Last Days of Man on Earth

As you all know, American universities are run and staffed by Marxists, hippies, beatniks, queers and Frenchmen. From Sarah Lawrence to MIT, higher education is a hotbed of Blame-America-Firstism, Deleuzian rhizomatics and quasi-pornographic ruminations on the Lesbian Body.

One American institution, however, has always served as a hard, rigid, jutting bulwark against the feminine softness and decadence of postrationalist academia: The University of Chicago.

During the interminable anticapitalist Bacchanalia of the Cold War era, UChi stood out like a gleaming, sanitary thermos in a yurt strewn with handmade wineskins. No matter how disgustingly carnivalesque other schools became, with their toga parties and their human-rights petitions and their pleas for responsible condom use, UChi wasn't afraid to "rock the boat" by providing serious, nicely dressed white men with a place to speak authoritatively about money.

And we're all better for it. If it hadn't been for these nonconformist visionaries -- and the countless political, industrial, media, and military leaders who worshipped them as gods -- Jimmy Carter might well have made Ram Dass chairman of the Fed, and today's currency values would be based on something totally intangible, like karma.

But now, according to Candace de Russy, everything may be about to change...forever!

[A]s Mal Kline demonstrates in a substantial paper, UChi is increasingly coming to resemble much of the rest of academe. By way of example, Kline notes that the campus is the current workplace of Steven D. Levitt, the self-described “rogue economist” who co-authored Freakonomics and who posits that legalized abortion leads to lower crime rates.
Milton Friedman would be spinning in his grave, if he weren't already wailing in Hell. How sad it is to see this Mecca of libertarianism become a mere sandbox for a bleary-eyed sentimentalist like Levitt, whose rigidly reductive opinions on human nature, self-congratulatory "heretical" views on global warming, hatred of political correctness, and unbounded admiration for Milton Friedman clearly mark him as a creature of the Radical Left.

Levitt's not even the worst of this new breed of UChi professors. There's one guy with an ethnic-sounding name who actually talks about "the economics of disadvantage," instead of defending capitalism against tie-dyed naysayers like Levitt. And there's at least one female professor whose behavior can only be described as...well, let's just say "immodest." A hardheaded, no-nonsense, unblushing approach to the moral failings of the poor is one thing, but matter-of-fact discussions about S-E-X are quite another.
Kline also dissects looks at Jane Dailey’s magnum opus, “Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown,” which he calls notable for its "sheer salaciousness."
OMG that sounds totly hawt! I'm gonna have to see if I can find a copy. Online porn has been seeming a bit tame to me lately, so this could be just the thing to put the lead back in my pencil.

Anyway, it's clear enough that the University of Chicago is falling prey to the same sort of hypersexualized Foucauldian anti-market dirigo-etatiste secular-relativist dogma that's made a national laughingstock of Yale and Stanford.

Unless, of course, this is yet another of those pulse-quickening danger narratives that conservatarians invent for motivational purposes, like Kuwaiti babies being tipped out of their incubators or balsawood planes carrying anthrax spores across the Atlantic. In which case, it seems fair to say that the whole thing's pretty fucking silly.

Particular Weather

Mona Charen belongs to the intellectual breed of climate denialists, which means that she avoids wild accusations about UN-administered death camps, and concentrates on feelings and appearances and language and tone and the microscopic niceties of debate. It's not that climatologists are completely wrong, necessarily. It's just that she'd be much less mistrustful if they granted her ignorant assumptions the same provisional validity she grants theirs. Or would grant theirs, if it didn't keep snowing in winter.

Speaking of winter, and snow, it's now snowing vigorously on a geographically tiny but emotionally enormous portion of the world's surface. Some people say this debunks global warming. Charen's not saying it does -- she's no fanatic! -- but what if it did? And besides, if cold weather doesn't disprove the theory of AGW, then how could hot weather support it? Once we admit that a cold winter doesn't necessarily signify a new ice age, aren't we conceding that climatology is little more than a glorified form of nephomancy?

Turnabout's fair play, in science as in everything else. If someone, somewhere, blamed Hurricane Katrina on global warming -- or even suggested that such events might be more common in a warming world -- then why shouldn't a week of low temperatures in Europe disprove all evidence of warming, now and forever?

Could it be global cooling? A Tory MP was jeered for suggesting as much in parliament. If the members had been hooting the unscientific use of particular weather to draw vast conclusions about climate, the derision would have been justified. But the avatars of climate change have been over-interpreting changeable weather for years. So the members were probably just towing [sic] the climate change party line with their catcalls.
So they were right to jeer, sort of, 'cause the MP was being unscientific. But it's equally unscientific to treat hot weather as evidence for AGW, or even as consistent with it. Which leaves everything up in the air, since the case for or against AGW rests entirely on the kneejerk interpretation of snowstorms and heatwaves. Australia's balmy but Germany's frozen solid, so everything evens out and we can await further evidence, which will arrive next winter, like clockwork.

It's fine for Charen to complain about "the unscientific use of particular weather to draw vast conclusions about climate." But if climatologists make the same point, it's "spin control."
The cold snap has spurred the "warmists" to spin control. Here's a typical AP headline: "Cold Weather Doesn't Disprove Global Warming: Experts." And this from the Voice of America: "Meteorologists: Global Warming and Cold Weather Go Hand-In-Hand." The World Meteorological Organization is at pains to distinguish between weather and climate.
Fuckers. I mean, sure, they're right, granted. But isn't there something a bit seedy and disreputable about how eager they are to correct people? Aren't they a bit too excitable? Aren't scientists supposed to be more objective?

As noted above, some scientists thought Hurricane Katrina had something to do with global warming. That's unscientific, because you can't draw conclusions about climate from "particular weather." And it's also demonstrably false, because "the 2009 hurricane season was unusually mild." Isn't it possible that despite the Chicken Little antics of these "hurricanists," hurricane activity may actually be diminishing, or dying out entirely? Is that any more absurd than the claim that they'll increase, given what we've seen, with our own two eyes, of "particular weather"? Does anyone know anything, when you come right down to it?

Either way, we can stop worrying about global warming, which isn't happening, probably, or is natural and therefore harmless, probably. We needn't worry about global cooling either, because views differ on that scenario, just as they do on warming, which we've already ascertained is imaginary or harmless or both.

We also needn't worry that our experts have not merely gotten climate science wrong, but gotten it so ludicrously wrong that the average high-school dropout can dismiss their findings and their data as easily as he'd toss aside a cigarette butt. For what is book-learnin' in the life of a nation, compared to the humble convictions of an honest heart? And when you think about it, who's more likely to solve the vexing problem of perpetual motion: an optimistic amateur, or some "expert" who's had the Second Theory of Thermodynamics drummed into his or her head by one of our cookie-cutter universities?

If anything, we should see this stark failure of the scientific establishment as analogous to the fall of the Soviet Union, and rejoice at the creative, entrepreneurial forces it will unleash.

It's all good, in other words. The only cloud I see on our horizon is the elitist power grab that's currently being planned by vegan activists, UN one-worlders, and disgraced climatologists from the University of East Anglia. But as long as it keeps snowing in winter, I can't help but believe that common sense will prevail.

(Illustration: "Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbor's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water" by J.M.W. Turner, circa 1842.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Nostalgic Remark

Jake Sherman and Mike Allen of Politico discuss the recent outrageous comment by Harry Reid. Was it the worst thing ever said by anyone, or was it just really, really, really bad? Will he step down, or will he brazen it out like the cynical old power broker he is?

It's hard to say. All we know for certain is that Reid's political career hangs in the balance, which means that any misguided attempt to explain away or relativize his indescribably offensive hate speech must be viewed in light of the Democrat Party's white-knuckled lust for power.

It's true, in a sense, that Trent Lott may've once said something or other that offended certain black people. Unfortunately, Sherman and Allen have no access to any transcripts or articles that quote this ancient misstatement, so the incident will have to be described in general terms.

When Lott made a nostalgic remark about the segregationist Dixiecrat presidential run of Strom Thurmond, his Republican allies quickly abandoned him. Democrats are sticking by Reid so far.
That pretty much says it all. Lott made a "nostalgic remark" and was cast into the Outer Darkness, never to be heard from again. Reid made a "disastrous remark" and is apparently everyone's BFF. It kinda makes you wonder who the real racists are.

You also have to bear in mind that this is not the first time Reid has said intolerable things.
He called President George W. Bush a “loser,” Justice Clarence Thomas “an embarrassment” and Bill Frist, his predecessor as majority leader, “amateurish.” He referred to Alan Greenspan as a “hack.” And he had to backtrack after saying the U.S. was “losing” the war in Iraq.
These are very strong words indeed, and one could be forgiven for assuming that they were inspired by a soul-deep loathing of America and capitalism. But in practical terms, this outrageous conduct has to be balanced against Reid's reptile cunning, which has "taken the Senate to the brink of passing the historic health reform bill" despite strong public opposition to the bill's exorbitant cost, its strict rationing of care, and its creation of so-called "death panels." Without him, the Democrats' controversial attempt to remake the United States in the image of Hoxha's Albania might well be doomed to failure. It's little wonder, therefore, that Al Sharpton has been working overtime to defend Reid's crude racism against the justifiable (for once) outrage of his own people.

It'll be exciting, in a strictly dispassionate and nonpartisan sense, to see how it all plays out.

Struggling to Cope

If it's snowing in the Northern Hemisphere, in the middle of winter, global warming must be a hoax. It's just common sense!

Granted, South Australia recently "issued a statewide 'catastrophic' fire danger warning after temperatures passed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit)." And people are collapsing from heat stroke in Melbourne, which "sweltered overnight, with the mercury hovering above 34C for most of the night." And Australian farmers are expecting "massive crop losses" thanks to prolonged high temperatures.

But none of this does anything to change the fact that the UK has been decidedly chilly. Greg Pollowitz has the details of this developing scandal, which you won't hear about in the MSM. Apparently, Great Britain is covered in snow and ice and sleet; these are empirically verifiable phenomena that all honest readers must concede are the polar opposite of "warming." How's that for an inconvenient truth, doomsayers?

A garden-variety liar would leave it at that. But Pollowitz has bigger fish to fry, and so he quotes this dispatch from the frontlines of Teh New Ice Age:

Hospitals have been struggling to cope with rising numbers of patients who have broken bones after falling on icy paths.
Brace yourself, friends, because here's what Pollowitz has to say about this sad news:
"Struggling to cope?" I guess socialized medicine only works properly on sunny days.
Bwahahahahaha! This is funny, see, 'cause there's a natural disaster underway, and many more people than usual are seeking medical attention, and it's overwhelming local medical facilities!

Aren't you glad it it can't happen here?

(Photo via NASA/GSFC.)

Connecting the Dots

Government bureaucrats are incapable of doing anything right. That's why it's so shocking that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wasn't prevented from boarding a plane in Amsterdam, as he would've been if the Obama administration were competent, which just goes to show that government-run healthcare can't possibly work, the VA and Medicare notwithstanding, especially since the USPS sometimes misdelivers packages during the Christmas rush.

That, more or less, is the considered opinion of Star Parker. If you want to understand it, all you have to do is "connect the dots."

First, think about this: How can a government that didn't adequately inspect Abdulmutallab's underwear hope to offer adequate healthcare?

Despite extensive information on the would-be terrorist, each piece of which was incriminating on its own, the man evaded a vast government bureaucracy and almost blew up a plane filled with Americans.

Yet, Democrats, with the health care bill they are now piecing together behind closed doors, will bring all American lives and health care under the purview and control of government bureaucracy.

Talk about an inability to connect the dots.
Unfortunately, that's just how bureaucracy is. Unless we're talking about corporate bureaucracy, in which case we need to remember that nobody's perfect. Just as white conservative men who go on shooting sprees tell us nothing about white conservative culture, corporate bureaucrats who make fatal errors while toying imperiously with people's lives tell us nothing about corporate bureaucracy.

The plain fact is that government is hopelessly unreliable and untrustworthy, except when it comes to administering the death penalty, bombing foreign capitals, and regulating our sex lives. To deny this is to be an idealist of the worst sort.

Obama himself admits that the horrific act of violence Abdulmutallab (would've) committed (if he'd been able to) is "not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systematic failure across organizations and agencies." Like the existential threat of taxation, this underscores the need for spontaneous collective action:
What saved the lives of innocent Americans were private citizens, using their own brains and initiative that acted to bring this terrorist down.
Think of the money and lives we'd save if we let airlines rent guns and Tasers to American air travelers, instead of relying on Interpol to protect them! And besides, who's gonna be better at screening airline passengers: a vast, dithering bureaucracy that's been corrupted by quotas and diversity training, or a spontaneously organized group of concerned citizens with an inbred skepticism of names like "Abdulmutallab"? I say we give obviously non-Islamic passengers access to metal detectors, specula, and bulletnosed flashlights, and let rational self-interest and the Wisdom of Crowds work their magic.

Parker goes on to report that during this past holiday season, a package she mailed went astray. Imagine that the USPS is the Obama administration, and the package is the physical well-being of your dimpled, golden-haired children, and you can see just how dangerous this error would be, if it actually were. And consider this: If you can't trust the government to deliver an autographed copy of Liberal Fascism to a centrist relative in Houston, how can you trust it with the health of your sigmoid colon? Connect the dots, people!

FedEx, by contrast, is a private company and never loses or misdelivers anything. Star Parker knows someone who heard this from his dentist, so that settles that.

None of which should be taken to imply that government is completely useless:
National security is a job of government.
We can only pray that these freedom-hating bean-counters will restrict their blinkered, incompetent, inefficient efforts to this fundamental task, before someone gets killed.

(Illustration via The Fed. Thanks to Abie for the reminder.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010