Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This Present Era of Violence

Like everything else Georgie Anne Geyer bothers to notice, the violent reaction to Obama's timid healthcare reforms underscores the need for a new era of Civility, as exemplified and made holy by wealthy white people from the East Coast circa 1950.

When I look back at our recent history -- say, from after World War II to today, in effect from our high point of respect and influence in the world to our low point -- I see a steady, outwardly inconsequential but inwardly poisonous loss of respect for authority. Americans never were very comfortable with authority, but that discomfort was balanced by a respect for the law and for the vote. Once an election was held, the man or woman elected was, generally, respectfully regarded and treated.

Somewhere between, say, 1954 and 1964, we started to lose some of our respect for the law and the vote, for some reason. And things have only gotten worse since then, what with the permissiveness, the multiculturalism, the illegal aliens, and all the other signs/causes of "our" "cultural" "decline."
Surely, there were great down-to-the-mat political fights and nasty name-calling, but the difference is that before, this country's drama was largely acted out within its own four borders. Today, it is acted out before the entire world.
We're squabbling in front of the help, in other words. It's just not done!
In earlier years, too, as the Eastern Establishment held sway over the electoral choices of both Democrats and Republicans, it was their elegant, upper-class manners that were to be mimicked, especially by immigrants.
Honestly, I think America is a pretty awful place, what with its brutal policies and its ludicrous anxieties and its hateful self-regard and its preening ignorance. But unlike Geyer, I don't think we can fix these problems, or any others, by insisting that our politicians start wearing cummerbunds and affecting a Transatlantic accent. The fact that her dream world is vanishing is one of the few things I actually find heartening about living in this goddamn snake pit. And that goes double for the fact that it's become slightly more difficult to conceal one's bone-deep racism under a veneer of bourgeois civility (as Geyer herself demonstrates in most of her columns).

I see no reason for our immigrants, documented or otherwise, to buy into Geyer's version of Kultur. It wouldn't gratify me to see them wearing top hats, quoting Shakespeare, calling for smelling salts when vulgar language is used, or learning any of the other social graces that would make them Serious People according to tedious middlebrow reactionaries like her. If they're truly in the process of destroying "her" America, I can only hope that they do a thorough job of it. (In reality, though, she could probably learn more about civility from them than vice versa.)

Which is not to say that Geyer has no valid points. We're both troubled by "the cultural vulgarity of the greedy and the chaos of the philosophically unrooted." Where we differ is that I tend to see Geyer as exemplary of both. (I also object to being lectured about cultural vulgarity by an admirer of Tom Tancredo, and about philosophical deracinement by an admirer of Shelby Steele.)

It's nice that she thinks all Americans deserve healthcare -- really, it is -- but that stance is undermined, in my view, by her snobbish inability to hear the 200-decibel echo of her ugly racial obsessions in the anti-healthcare rhetoric she denounces.

Assuming for the sake of argument that we really are suffering from a poisonous lack of respect for authority, too much fucking and sucking in Hollywood films, and immigrants who don't know any better than to use their salad fork for the main course, what's the solution? As Maxine Nightingale explained back in 1975, we've gotta get right back to where we started from:

How to go back? That is the question. How to recover the style and polish and decency that once were yearned for in our public life? That is the challenge. The hope is that this present era of violence, name-calling and threats will awaken us to where we have come -- and to whence we must return.

At which point, it will have served its purpose.

(Photo via Morons with Signs.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Predictable Adversaries

At the outset of an otherwise mediocre article on AGW, Leslie Kaufman provides some useful background information for people who came in late:

The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals.
To put it another way, a scientific question was reduced to a matter of identity politics, so that it could be debated ad infinitum in the media, according to unreasonable rules that journalists enforce while pretending to be objective bystanders.

But now, "the debate over global warming" is also creating friction between groups that "might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters."
Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns.
Which is really just a roundabout way of saying that people who understand climate science tend to have a better grasp of climate science than people who don't. The fact that climatologists and weather forecasters both talk about rainfall doesn't make them peers, any more than my ability to play "Chopsticks" makes me Charles-Valentin Alkan's peer. The only surprise here is that anyone imagined otherwise.

Kaufman notes that only about half of America's weather forecasters have a degree in meteorology. It's probably coincidental that a recent study found that "only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring." But either way, who cares? What makes the opinion of these non-experts more compelling than that of any other non-expert?

Kaufman explains:
The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.
Some Americans may doubt AGW because they trust weathercasters. Others may trust weathercasters because they doubt AGW. Whatever the case, Kaufman predictably ignores the role of the media: the fact that dissenting TV weather forecasters tend to work for the very same businesses that routinely provide a megaphone to other non-expert denialists is somehow not germane to the issue of "public skepticism."

So some people who are frequently on TV say one thing, and other people who are rarely on TV say something else, an isn't it interesting how people disagree about stuff?
“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.
In another, more accurate sense, the question is: who has enough expertise to assess the data and draw conclusions that are likely to be trustworthy?

That's no fun, though. Isn't it better to reduce everything to a pissing contest, even if it means grotesquely misrepresenting the terms of the debate? Granted, you can't say that weather forecasters attempt to "predict the atmosphere" in the sense that climatologists do. And you shouldn't imply that forecasting three days of rain in Portland, OR requires the same knowledge and skills as climate modeling. And you can't pretend that the media are simply watching this Clash of the Titans from the sidelines; allowing one's weather forecasters to strut around in borrowed plumes is a management decision, after all.

But when all's said and done, views differ! And isn't that what matters most in a democracy like ours?
“There is a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions,” Mr. Henson said. “There are meteorologists who feel, ‘Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.’ ”
Damn straight. I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe climatologists do either.

The fact that meteorologists are vying with climatologists to be accepted as experts on climate data doesn't really strike me as an outbreak of populism. But it's nice to be reminded that although we praise individual effort as the solution to all life's problems, we tend to detest people who are actually rewarded for it. In a scrupulously fair meritocracy like ours, assuming that the people above you are phonies and cheats is almost as important as sneering at the poor.

Since we must maintain the polite fiction that the AGW debate takes place on a level playing-field, it's better to complain about the ignorance of meteorologists than the professional rewards they can earn by putting it on display.
“What we’ve recognized is that the everyday person doesn’t come across climatologists, but they do come across meteorologists,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Meteorologists do need to understand more about climate because the public confuses this so much.”
Sure. Because if meteorologists understood more about the climate, they'd stop resenting all those goddamn climatological elitists and admit that AGW probably isn't a hoax. And then, the executives who pay their salaries would reward their honesty by giving them more money and more airtime. And then, any doubters in the audience would conclude that these previously skeptical meteorologists had been swayed by the evidence, rather than indoctrinated into some sort of anti-human death cult. And then, at long last, we'd reach a public consensus as well as a scientific one. Which could conceivably lead to an eventual consensus on some sort of prospective solution, long after we're all mercifully dead and buried.

It's worth a shot, I guess.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Doctrine of the Powerful

Contrary to what Robert Green Ingersoll once said, heresy is the name given by the powerful to the doctrine of the powerful. It's what you're accused of — approvingly — when you dare to accept the conventional wisdom, while acting as though there are no professional rewards for doing so, and pretending that being handed a megaphone is roughly equivalent to being silenced.

Thus, Stewart Brand is a heretic for supporting nuclear power and seeing a positive side to slums, just like functionaries all over the planet.

Zoning in past the noise, Brand is saying heart-warming things about London and New Scientist. Then come the bombshells. Nuclear power. Now. Slums good. At the back of my mind, the word "heresy" is half-forming.
You heard it here first! This "hippy icon" from "supercool California" has dropped a "bombshell" by announcing his support for nuclear power! As he's been doing with monotonous regularity for years, to the dutiful astonishment of the hack journalists who are routinely assigned to cover his radical pronouncements, the likes of which no one has ever heard before! Ever!

One of the most important tactics for eco-heretics — and the journalists who love them — is to grant "old-style greens" enough retroactive power and authority to make wresting it away from them emotionally satisfying. If you can find the courage, somehow, to contradict the monolithic hippie establishment that effectively ruled America from the Summer of Love until the Reagan Revolution, you're a visionary thinker in perpetuity, even if no other idea ever wanders into your head. Such are the rewards of replacing "ideology" with "ecopragmatism."
[Y]ounger generations have never heard anything optimistic about the world, says Brand of students he has lectured to. They were especially enthralled, he says, by the idea that in the future biotechnology could be used by anyone.
I feel better already.

Meanwhile, South Africa needs coal, because it must grow, because growth is good, and growth requires cheap electricity, and coal provides cheap electricity, which makes coal good, no matter what dirty fucking hippies like Stewart Brand have to say about it.
A strong body of opinion holds that multilateral development banks should be discouraged from funding coal-burning power projects with carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. We share this concern but, after careful consideration, have concluded that the course we have chosen is the only responsible way forward.
We could use a popular term for this concerned, responsible, optimistic approach to AGW. I suggest "ecopragmatism."

In unrelated news, a Japanese editorialist notes the 20th anniversary of the Sarin attack on Tokyo's subway system:
The shock spread worldwide because the chemical-weapon attack was the first time weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were used in a major city with the intent to commit mass murder.
Blowing up cities with atomic bombs don't count as "mass murder," obviously. The same goes for firebomb attacks like Operation Meetinghouse, because intentionally creating firestorms in a densely populated city isn't mass murder and incendiary bombs aren't chemical weapons and their victims aren't "victims" in any morally meaningful sense. (And of course, all of that goes double for the activities of the Japanese Imperial Army.)

To suggest otherwise would be...well, not heretical, obviously. That term is reserved for sensible people.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Calm Despair

America was murdered yesterday, and those who loved her best are swearing revenge. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "The Tree of Libertarianism must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of anyone who says otherwise. ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ!"

As an illustration of what you get when you cross Yosemite Sam with The Turner Diaries, this stuff is funny for about five seconds. But I prefer the elegaic mode, and thus I turn to John Derbyshire, who understands that human societies inevitably follow the sad arc of his own dissipating life-force: As he flags and fails, so too does Civilization. It's as inevitable as sagging breasts, or humorless women at a dinner party. One can't prevent it; one can only look upon it with calm despair.

I see plainly that Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately to seal the watertight doors, repair the fissures, pump out the flooded zones. It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.
Just so, just so. Mere anarchy is loosed, the centre cannot hold, and the blood-dimmed tide of the white man's burden slouches toward the widening gyre and gimbles in the wabe. It is not a wonder that the world is so bad, but that there should be any good left in it.
It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived. It's the natural way: liberty is an unstable temporary aberration.
Or as Robert Falcon Scott wrote, with the last of his strength, in a diary that was found eight months later, beside his frozen corpse,
We could have come through had we neglected the sick.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Before getting into this week's news, I have to say that I agree with Helmut about healthcare reform:

Look, it may not be adequate at all as health care policy, but this is an old battle that is on the brink of a giant win for the American people and human decency. We need that.

As with most things, once the social norms are developed from even watered down legislation, where a health care system is widely accepted as a public good, it becomes possible to modify and improve it. That's how legislation works - it has to be tested out in practice. Although I have misgivings too about the central involvement of the insurance industry, criticism from the left that the bill must be all or nothing elides the realities of legislation....

Please call your representatives now and ask them to vote for the health care bill, especially if they're undecided or voting "no." Demand that they give coherent reasons why they're either voting against it or are still undecided.
If you need additional motivation, try this.

Meanwhile, the Senate has voted to reduce penalties for crack cocaine:

Late on Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate passed, by unanimous consent no less, a long-overdue bill that will help to reform one of the most egregious aspects of our nation's criminal justice system — the staggering 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. That we have arrived at this moment, less than a week after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-0 in support of the legislation, is a minor miracle that has taken years of advocacy to accomplish....

The Senate legislation, without question, takes important steps towards reforming one of the single worst aspects of the criminal justice system; however, it does not go as far as it should have. While the legislation will result in a reduction of the disparity, not to mention the first time since the Nixon administration that the Senate has voted to repeal a mandatory minimum, it leaves in place a sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine of 18 to 1.

The US Census Bureau may take a more equitable approach to counting America's prison population.

An agreement just reached between the U.S. Census Bureau and Rep. William Clay Jr. (Mo.), the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees census issues, may signal an historic shift in how the bureau reports prisoners to state and local governments. The accord creates at least a chance for prisoners’ overwhelmingly urban home areas to get a better break on legislative representation....

How the issue plays out over the long run won’t just influence state politics but big decisions in federal grants policies too. The Census Bureau itself last year identified some $436 billion worth of federal grant and direct assistance money that’s “allocated based on Census Bureau data,” with the largest items being Medicaid ($203 billion), unemployment insurance ($36 billion), highway funding ($34 billion). Nutrition, school and college aid, school lunches and Head Start are also impacted.

Mississippi will stop segregating HIV+ prisoners:
The Mississippi Department of Corrections agreed to end the segregation of prisoners with HIV, a longstanding discriminatory policy that has prevented prisoners from accessing key resources that facilitate their successful transition back into the community.

The decision by Mississippi’s corrections commissioner Christopher Epps, prompted by recent advocacy by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, leaves Alabama and South Carolina as the only states in the nation that segregate prisoners based on their HIV status.During the course of the debate, by the way, one Republican argued that pregnancies resulting from rape and incest are a "precious gift":

Los Angeles has reopened the Angel's Flight funicular railway:
At 6:45am this morning one of L.A’s many moribund rail lines reopened for passenger service , just in time for the daily commute. Admittedly, Angel’s Flight, the line in question, is only one-block long, but what it lacks in distance it makes up in spirit. Opened in 1901 and closed since 2001, when one of the cars struck another in a deadly collision, the story of Angel’s Flight is the story of rail and public transport in Los Angeles, a city that once upon a time, boasted the largest public rail transportation system in the world.

It's no longer illegal to keep bees in NYC:

Urban beekeepers in New York City no longer have to keep the honey of their labors a secret. The city's health board voted Tuesday to overturn a longtime ban on beekeeping within city limits....

People interested in starting a bee colony will need to register their hives with the city, but no license will be required. Health officials said the register will mostly be used to help resolve any complaints that may arise.

Automakers are urging Congress to uphold the EPA's right to regulate auto emissions:

Detroit's Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., and six other automakers urged Congress Wednesday not to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first-ever limits on tailpipe emissions.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- which includes General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Daimler AG, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG -- sent a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders urging them to reject efforts led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to overturn the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health.

The Christian Coalition seems to be backing Lindsey Graham on climate legislation:
Could the Christian Coalition give fledgling climate legislation the leg up it needs? The organization boasts 2.5 million supporters, largely conservative Republicans; if they embraced the cause, they could give a big boost to efforts to build a bipartisan coalition for a clean-energy and climate bill.
Although I don't quite trust Graham or the CC, I thought the story was interesting enough to include here. Caveat lector, as per usual.

I don't quite know what to make of this, either.
Darfur has long been plagued by significant droughts, however in 2007 scientists at Boston University discovered the region has one of the biggest underwater lakes in the world. Putting these two facts together, Polish firm H3AR designed an incredible water-harvesting skyscraper that would draw h2o from underground and create an artificial lake!

Darfur’s underground lake covers a distance of 19,110 square miles....H3AR’s Watertower aims to tap this resource through good design and effective water management. The skyscraper would work as a hospital, a school, a food storage center, and most importantly, a water storage center.

Conservationists have blocked an auction of publicly owned oil and gas leases in West Virginia:
Conservationists prevailed today in an effort to stop the sale of publicly owned oil and gas on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The groups asserted that oil and gas development on the two proposed lease parcels would threaten endangered bats, a native brook trout fishery, clean drinking water, and other ecological and scenic resources of the forest.
And a federal judge has ordered the BLM to suspend oil and gas leases in Montana:
A federal judge has approved a first-of-its-kind settlement requiring the government to suspend 38,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Montana so it can gauge how oil field activities contribute to climate change.

At issue are the greenhouse gases emitted by drilling machinery and industry practices such as venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere.

The California red-legged frog has won important ESA protections:
In response to litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated more than 1.6 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog in 28 California counties. The designation is three-and-a-half times as large as the Service’s 2006 designation, which the agency acknowledged was flawed because of political interference by the Bush administration. “With protection of its habitat, the California red-legged frog has a chance at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Mexican and American NGOs are collaborating to restore the Colorado River delta:

“Economically, the local people can work in eco-tourism and bird-watching. It will make a healthier area with more birds, trees and fish,” Arroyo said. Environmental groups have also gotten involved in turning the Las Arenitas primary wastewater treatment plant pond — located about 45 minutes’ drive from Mexicali — into a giant wetland. The reeds along its banks filter leftover contaminants before the water is returned to the Colorado River.

The site is attracting scores of waterfowl, luring in birdwatchers from all over the region and even grabbing the attention of the state government, which has promised Arroyo’s team funding for a visitor center and a parking area.

Janet Napolitano has halted construction of a "virtual fence" along the Mexican border:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday that she has cut off funding for a costly surveillance system billed as a "virtual fence" to protect the Southwest border....

"Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost effective way possible," Napolitano said in a written statement. "The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines."

Chilean slum dwellings will be equipped with solar hot water systems:

For Chile - a country with stark economic inequality and few fossil fuels - it's a way to help the poor while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions....

For a family of four, using 10.5 gallons of water per day at a temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit, consumption of gas for heating water should drop by 62 percent. The new insulation standards should reduce energy demands for heat in winter by 45 percent and cooling demands in summer by 35 percent, said Minister of Energy Marcelo Tokman....

China intends to have a smart grid in place by 2015:
With the smart grid, electricity can be sent across longer distances with higher efficiency, which can boost the development of large hydropower, nuclear power and renewable energy bases. Electricity generated by wind farms and solar power plants can be more easily connected with the grid, said industry insiders.

State Grid Corp said earlier it planned to invest 100 billion yuan ($14.6 billion) into building ultra-high voltage power transmission lines over the next three to four years.
Mexico City's efforts to clean up its air seem to be paying off:
"In recent years we have beat the records for most days with passable ozone readings. In 2009 there were 185 in the acceptable range and we have started out 2010 with the greatest number of clean days, 50 out of the first 60," Martha Delgado of the Mexico City environment office told AFP.
Frito-Lay is offering the first 100%-biodegradable chip bag:
The corn-based polymer chip bags are set to hit store shelves soon and can be expected to biodegrade in a backyard compost pile within 14 weeks. Right now, Frito-Lay is only rolling out the new bags under their Sun Chip brand, so don’t try throwing your Doritos bag into your compost bin — you’ll only have to fish it out later.
AT&T has designed a phone charger that -- believe it or not -- doesn't use power when it's not charging phones:

Unlike traditional cell phone chargers, which continue to draw power even after a phone is unplugged, the ZERO automatically senses when users disconnect their phones. The charger then immediately cuts the power supply from the wall socket, so even if a charger is left plugged in for days, it’s not using any electricity.

In a stunning victory for the revolutionary vanguard of the international proletariat, Toshiba has stopped manufacturing incandescent lightbulbs:
Yesterday, Toshiba ended its manufacture of mass-market incandescent light bulbs–bulbs that use a ton of energy, burn out quickly and pale in comparison in terms of energy efficiency to CFLs and LEDs. The move ends the company’s 120-year history of incandescent bulb production. The decision signals that the lighting industry is poised to become significantly greener.
In related news, a new type of CFL will not release mercury if broken:

Clear-Lite Holding’s CFL bulb isn’t mercury-free, but it does feature an outer “skin” to prevent users from releasing mercury if the glass breaks. In a lab test performed by Cambridge Materials Testing, ArmorLite bulbs dropped from a height of five feet and crushed on a counter didn’t let loose any mercury – a good sign for accident-prone bulb users.

The country's first commercial plasma gasification system will be built in Oregon:

"Our goal is to extract as much value as possible from waste and this project will help us recover valuable resources to generate clean fuels, renewable energy and other beneficial products," said Dean Kattler, area vice president for Waste Management Pacific Northwest. "This project strengthens our focus on renewable energy and new technologies that use waste as a resource."

Boston is making a massive effort to improve the energy efficiency of its public housing:

The $63 million project will renovate 4,300 apartments in 13 Boston Housing Authority developments to save electricity, water and millions of dollars. Toilets will be replaced with low-flow models, lights will be replaced with LEDs and compact fluorescents, and boilers will be upgraded to cut down on heating costs, among other improvements....

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will continue to pay the same amount for utility costs for the Boston housing units. The local housing authority is borrowing funds for the retrofits against the future payments. Ameresco, which is being contracted for the renovations, says the improvements will save taxpayers $7 million a year over the next 20 years.

In Minnesota, Hennepin County is experimenting with "a results-only work environment, or ROWE, which gives everyone in a company the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done."
[T]here is some initial evidence that ROWE has made things much more efficient. They used to have a two-week backlog of public support cases to process. Now that's down to five days.
The EPA will provide free online access to the TSCA Inventory:
This inventory contains a consolidated list of thousands of industrial chemicals maintained by the agency. EPA is also making this information available on Data.Gov, a website launched to provide public access to important government information....

Until now, the consolidated public portion of the TSCA Inventory has only been available by purchase from the National Technical Reports Library or other databases. By adding the consolidated TSCA Inventory to the Agency’s website and to Data.Gov, EPA is making this information readily available to the public at no cost.

And C-SPAN is putting its complete video archive online:
C-SPAN may not be the most riveting television, but it does provide a way of experiencing American politics without some O'Reilly or Olbermann telling you what to think. It's the primary source, unmediated. So it's great news that the network is making its entire archive—160,000 hours of video, dating back to 1987—available online in a searchable, user-friendly C-SPAN Video Library.
Gardasil seems to prevent post-surgical recurrence of cervical cancer:
A new study shows that the Gardasil vaccine reduces the likelihood of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related disease recurring after teen and adult women already have had surgery to remove cancer or certain pre-cancerous changes, said Warner Huh, M.D., an associate professor in the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology and lead presenter on the study.
A fascinating new device can allegedly "print" buildings:

The printing process starts with a thin layer of sand. The printer then sprays the sand with magnesium-based glue from hundreds of nozzles, which binds the sand into rock. That rock is then built up layer by layer, eventually taking shape of whatever object it is destined to become, be it a curvy sculpture or an entire cathedral....

An Economist article on climate science makes an interesting point:

In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

Anyway: Nomadic dunes of Mars. Landscapes of Chuchotka. Five photos (so far) taken through coin-operated telescopes. A huge collection of cigarette cards. Cinemas of Newcastle. Photographs from geological expeditions to Argentina in the 1920s. And the postcards of Louis Marquez.

Blue. Pinhole solargraphy. Photographs by Sasha Koja. Historical topographic maps of California. Transportation Futuristics. Sketches by Ernest Blumenschein. Orca calls galore, courtesy of this Orchive. And arcus clouds galore, courtesy of this Arcive.

Photographs by Edmund Teske. Matchbook designs by Saul Bass. Drawings by Simon Evans. The gamma-ray sky. Stereo views of Ireland (h/t: Peacay). Wildlife incursions into modern cover design. And vintage cover graphics from Naturwissenschaft und Medizin.


(Photo at top: "Harmony" by Iain Stewart. Via Luminous Lint.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Dim-Witted Public

John Horgan takes exception to the idea that insights gleaned from neuroscience could help scientists to "frame" global warming in a way that would make it more coherent and palatable to the public.

Framing is just spinning, and neuroframing is spinning plus brain scans.
Although he acknowledges that we don't reliably "make choices based on self-interest [!] and reason," and are more likely to be influenced by "fear, suspicion, empathy and other emotions," Horgan worries that making the effort to adapt to this reality will simply reinforce the perception -- or the "frame," if you prefer -- that environmentalists are deceptive.
First of all, we don’t need MRI studies to tell us that we’re emotional, complicated creatures. Moreover, many people already view environmentalists as self-righteous and manipulative. This is a framing problem that neuroframing may exacerbate. The message is that environmentalists will go to extraordinary lengths—seeking guidance from cutting-edge brain science!--to help the dim-witted public see the world in the same enlightened way that environmentalists do.
There are a few problems here. First, choosing your words carefully, with regard to their likely effect on the perceptions of your audience, isn't going "to extraordinary lengths," nor does it necessarily imply that you believe your audience is "dim-witted." You'd think a professional science writer would understand this.

Second, Horgan blurs the distinction between "environmentalists" and "scientists," which is a perfect example of how not to proceed. The idea that environmentalism amounts to a special interest of some sort is fantastically weird and wrongheaded, in my view, but it's very common all the same. Given what the term signifies in everyday discourse, it's neither accurate nor constructive to conflate environmentalists with working climate scientists.

Third, Horgan seems to think that "framing" represents some sort of a departure from ordinary discourse (his own, for instance). But communication is...well, communicative, not just of facts and opinions but also of implicit and explicit messages about the speaker and the listener. Presenting oneself or one's field as the de facto embodiment of honesty and rationality and objectivity is no less a matter of framing than the tactics Horgan objects to (and can just as easily be attacked as elitist, arrogant, unethical, or whatever).

Horgan also seems to have fallen prey to the Broderist delusion that if you stop giving your opponents ammunition, the spirit of Fair Play will oblige them to stop shooting at you. This is a very popular response, nowadays, to organized bullying by corporatist reactionaries. You can ask the Democrat Party how well it's worked (or if you've succumbed to cynicism, how well it's intended to work).

My own concern about what Horgan calls "neuroframing" is that it may overlook the actual structure of the journalistic field and the money and allegiances that produce it, which is a bit like trying to describe space-time without any reference to gravity. It's not just that scientists have to understand how to talk to the public; it's that they have to understand how to talk to the public through media that distort their positions at best, lie about them at worst, and would never dream of subjecting the accuracy and honesty of their own journalists and editors to the microscopic scrutiny they give the IPCC.

That said, philosophical and political concerns about what constitutes legitimate knowledge and authority can't necessarily be overcome by "laying out the facts as clearly and honestly as possible," as Horgan recommends...especially if someone from, say, the CEI is brought in to ensure that what Pierre Bourdieu calls "the naively idealized vision of the 'scientific' community as the enchanted kingdom of the ends of reason" is properly balanced by "the cynical vision which reduces exchanges between scientists to the calculated brutality of political power relations." (Teach the controversy!)

And these are actually the least of my qualms about Horgan's article. Get a load of this:
Not all global-warming skeptics are ignorant, irrational idiots. I teach at an engineering school, and about one third of my students identify themselves as global-warming skeptics. They tend to know more about global warming than students who accept it as a fact.
I really don't want to be lectured on effective communication by someone who fails to see the rhetorical pitfalls here. If I were to claim that "evolution skeptics tend to know more about evolution than students who accept it as a fact," I'd be accused of talking nonsense, at best. I don't see what makes Horgan's version of this argument respectable or relevant or coherent.

As for the bit about "ignorant, irrational idiots"'s silly, because a call for improved framing doesn't imply that people are idiots. And it's hypocritical, because Horgan not only acknowledges that human beings are irrational by nature, but also seems to believe that skeptics are ignorant (as evidenced by his desire that they be exposed, again and again and again, to the "facts").

Furthermore, Horgan has no problem calling people "wackos" when it suits his purposes.
Inconvenient Truth was a framing masterpiece, but Al Gore’s linkage of global warming to Katrina, however qualified, has made it easier for wackos to claim that single weather events, like the big blizzards that struck Washington, D.C., this winter, contradict global warming.
Maybe so. But is overstating the significance of single weather events what we're talking about when we talk about "framing"? Is this, or anything like it, what the neuroframers with whom Horgan has been hobnobbing actually recommend? Failing that, is it an inevitable result of their approach? If not, then what in God's name is Horgan's point?
Climategate showed that some climatologists have become so obsessed with framing that they have harmed their credibility.
Much as I hate to stray from the dispassionate objectivity of scientific discourse, that's a metric assload of unmitigated fucking bullshit. This attack on scientists "harmed their credibility" because their goddamn e-mails were stolen and cherrypicked, and because intentional misrepresentations of the things these e-mails said were treated as intellectually serious and scientifically relevant by countless media outlets, while simple and factual corrections were either ignored, or dismissed as mere opinion.

Again, before Horgan rejects framing, he might want to note that there's a huge difference between reinforcing the victim-blaming denialist narrative of "Climategate," and presenting it, accurately, as an orchestrated and pathologically dishonest media spectacle based on a fucking crime, for fuck's sake.

In summation:

Environmentalists should forget about neuroframing. And that’s my we-map talking.

And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be, or if you'd like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Music Blogging

Take care.

The Dream

Chris Good checks the stock ticker of our national soul, and finds that unexamined faith in meaningless abstractions is down 2.8%.

The "American Dream" means different things to different people, but according to a new poll from Xavier University Americans think it is increasingly harder to attain, even as they say hard work makes the dream possible.
According to this poll, the American Dream is one or more of the following: opportunity, freedom, family, financial security, happiness, a good job, home ownership, wealth, or something else entirely. E pluribus unum, just like it says on our worthless fiat currency.

What does "opportunity" mean? Hard to say. What does "freedom" mean? Beats me. "Happiness"? God only knows. What's the difference between "financial security" and "wealth"? It's anybody's guess.

It's times like these I wish we had a more unanimous and concrete national dream, like the Iranian Dream of beheading infidels, or the Québécois Dream of annexing Maine and Vermont in the name of Lebensraum.

Putting these quibbles aside, the lesson here is that no matter which vague concepts you reflexively invoke when asked to define the fuzzy outlines of the alleged Dream that makes America a theoretical Promised Land for prospective non-failures, all is not well.
Think of it as a much more detailed version of Right Direction/Wrong Track polling, and a possible explanation for the strong anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiments shown in generic election polling--a facet, or a motivating factor, in voter dissatisfaction.
Now we're getting somewhere: Most people who feel dissatisfied with the brightness and trajectory of their personal ignis fatuus blame those fuckers for ruining things in some unspecified way, or failing to do something or other about it, posthaste.

Who can deny that it's time for a change of some sort?

(Image via Morons With Signs.)

My Appointed Rounds

Neil Pearce on the political economy of incarceration:

[B]ecause the Census historically counts inmates where they’re imprisoned, their numbers actually swell population counts — and legislative representation — for rural areas. The losers in political clout are then the very urban areas most of the prisoners come from.

The Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group that documents the impacts of mass incarceration, found 21 counties across the nation where at least 20 percent of the population were prisoners from another county. The reformers’ “case celebre” is Jones County in eastern Iowa, where a backhoe operator was elected to the Anamosa City Council with just two write-in votes, one his wife’s. Why? Because 95 percent of his ward’s population consists of 1,300 inmates in Iowa’s largest penitentiary– and none of them can vote.

Seven state senate districts in upstate New York, the Policy Initiative has calculated, would not have met minimum population requirements in the last decade if they’d not had significant prison populations. California, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Maryland are among other states in which the census count of inmates held in lightly populated small town areas can impact the political balance.

Tim Stevens on cyberwarfare:
The facts of cyberterrorism, or state-sponsored cyberattacks, are heavily-guarded by national security protocols, but the case has yet to be made that these are really significant risks, despite what you hear senior officials say. And this is the point: you cannot use the darkest imaginings of those with high-level security clearances to promote ends with little consideration of the ethical and practical implications of the means of achieving them. Crime and espionage are not necessarily acts of war, and the fact that they are being subsumed under the rubric of "war" should worry those who care about international relations, diplomacy, the role of security agencies, the relationship between state and industry, and about the constitutional contracts between the individual and the state.
Cervantes on the comfort of having powerful enemies:
We want to have powerful enemies. They comfort us. "It is less scary to place all our fears on a single, strong enemy than to accept the fact our well-being is largely based on factors beyond our control. An enemy, after all, can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated. . . A research team led by social psychologist Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas reports on four studies that suggest people are 'motivated to create and/or perpetually maintain clear enemies to avoid psychological confrontations with an even more threatening chaotic environment.'"

Indeed. But, the fact is, our real enemies can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated; it's just that they are more complex and less palpable than al Qaeda or the communofascist plots of the Obama administration. Structural unemployment, growing economic inequality and declining living standards of working people; multiple environmental crises; the threat of emerging infectious diseases; these and other pressing problems are understandable and they are not insoluble. But they require us to give up some cherished illusions and confronting them requires accepting the likelihood of troubled times and struggle ahead. For many people, it's just easier to worry about the bearded guy holing up in the mountains halfway around the earth.
William R. Freudenburg on the American media's bottomless appetite for climate denialism:
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a major report, its main conclusions get a few stories, while most of the attention goes to small errors that don’t affect its substance – and that show up about once every 1000 pages. On the other hand, when the American Enterprise Institute publicly offered $10,000 to any "scientist" willing to attack the climate science for money, that was somehow not treated as a scandal. There was barely a mention of it in the American press, and even after that information trickled out, the AEI and similar think tanks continued to be treated as perfectly credible sources for juicy quotes – without even a disclaimer to note that the quotes came from AEI, "which was revealed last year to be offering pay for reports that repeated its party line."
Obscene Desserts on Fremdscham:
The phenomenon of 'fremdschämen' refers to an empathic process in which person A feels ashamed in place of person B. Person B is not aware that they are in a situation about which they need to feel shame; person A, however, absolutely is. From this embarrassing feeling of being touched by the situation in which person B finds himself unknowingly, person A feels vicariously ashamed for him....

[I]t occurs to me that the noun form, Fremdscham (so, something like 'vicarious shame'), seems ready for export.
(Photo at top: "Tornado in the mid-west 1936" by Michael Paul Smith.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reverting to Type

Thanks to an anonymous benefactor -- who will undoubtedly make up for today's good deed by kicking a puppy -- I now have scientific evidence that public virtue leads to private vice. (And not the good kind of private vice, which leads to public virtue.)

A pair of Canadian psychologists, having noted that exposing people to the Apple logo makes people more creative, naturally assumed that buying green products would make people more ethical, "given that green products are manifestations of high ethical standards and humanitarian considerations."

Imagine their surprise when this hypothesis turned out to be almost as inaccurate as the premise on which it was based.

Mazar and Zhong said their study showed that just as exposure to pictures of exclusive restaurants can improve table manners but may not lead to an overall improvement in behaviour, "green products do not necessarily make for better people".
The only thing weirder than the assumption that green products could "necessarily make for better people" is the assumption that appearance and reality normally coincide when people make buying decisions.

Does all this mean that if I donate to charity, volunteer at a soup kitchen, take in a stray animal, protest an abortion clinic, or engage in any other activity that's typically viewed as an expression of "social responsibility and ethical conduct," I'm (arguably) slightly more likely to feel justified in stealing or cheating or lying? Or is it only green consumerism that threatens to activate my inborn propensity to Evil? Views differ, no doubt. Mazar and Zhong seem to lean strongly toward the former position, but there's no sense letting that get in the way of a good story.

What I found most interesting about their actual paper is the method by which people were identified as "conventional" versus "green" shoppers.
Upon arrival participants were led to a cubicle equipped with a computer and informed that they were going to engage in a number of unrelated tasks. They were first assigned to one of two online stores that carried a mix of green and conventional products but differed in the ratio of these two types of products: the green store carried nine green and three conventional products; the conventional store carried nine conventional and three green products....There was no difference in number of products, product categories, or price....

Participants in the purchase condition were invited to select products that they would like to purchase. Participants were offered to fill their baskets (maximum one item per product) up to $25 and were told that one out of 25 students would be randomly chosen to actually receive their purchased products.
Hmmm. So certain participants were designated as "green consumers," seemingly at random. And they were told to "shop" for goods that appealed to them, which only one out of 25 participants would actually receive. Would it be fair to say that this is an imperfect model of actual buying behavior, not least because it seems as though no money changed hands? And is it at all possible that the "green" participants' like or dislike of the products assigned to them made them more likely to take compensatory measures?

It's hard to say. The only thing that's reasonably clear is that these findings explain why everyone hates Algore, or should.
When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to "green" type.
Isn't science wonderful, sometimes?

UPDATE: Although the conclusions here, such as they are, apply to human behavior generally, Iain Hollingshead of the Telegraph finds it within himself to claim the opposite:
Most people are sufficiently balanced without having to swing to opposite ends of the moral spectrum. We can give money to charity without dipping into the company till at the same time....

No, what this study really does is to confirm our deep-rooted suspicion that there is something fishy about people who profess to be greener than thou.
Mazar and Zhong, of course, make no attempt to claim that there's something uniquely wrong with people who buy green products. Quite the opposite. And as noted above, it seems that the "green" participants in their study did not necessarily subscribe to any sort of green ideology whatsoever, let alone "profess to be greener than thou."

One wonders what good deed "licensed" Hollingswood to misrepresent this study to his readers.

An Unexpected Out

In The New York Times, Peggy Orenstein introduces us to an exciting new type of woman known as the "Femivore," who seems to be an urban bourgeois version of a farm wife.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper.
The "feminist predicament," as far as I can tell, is that feminism somehow overlooked the fact that women are often expected to be Domestic Goddesses whether they have careers or not. Now, once again, the miracle of constrained choice is bringing women's expectations into line with that bedrock reality, to the seemingly inexhaustible surprise of cultural commentators who write for The New York Times.

Once upon a time, Orenstein explains, "middle-class housewives" were "trapped in a life of schlepping and shopping." And then, "a generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment." But "others merely found a new source of alienation," perhaps because relative semi-equality in the workplace did not necessarily translate into equality in the home.

Femivores have apparently managed to resolve these issues by tending chickens, which, as Orenstein portrays it, seems to combine the transgressive thrill of feminism with the rich cultural rewards of doing what's expected.
Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy.
As usual, the NYT treats the women in its demographic to an interesting mixture of cheerleading and contempt. There's an implication that educated, middleclass women are the only ones who matter, and that they're trendy and shallow and neurotic, and that any neo-traditionalist drudgery to which they submit, willingly or otherwise, comprises some sort of obscure rebuke to feminism and is therefore novel and newsworthy.
Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse.
That doesn't sound like "conventional feminist wisdom" so much as realism. More to the point, conventional feminist wisdom also recognizes the reality of patriarchy and misogyny. That's more than you can say for the average NYT article on "the feminist predicament," which tends to take place in a rhetorical world that has been carefully stripped of explicit references to male domination. It's a bit like extracting figures from a film of a storm, and presenting them as mimes who are merely pretending to walk against the wind.

Anyway, feminism said you have to have two incomes to survive, but Femivorism extols the time-honored virtues of home economics.
Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?
Beats me. I suppose it might depend on who carries more debt.

Even if Femivores are smug, trendy obsessives who seek "instant legitimacy," we still have to give them credit for expanding their consciousness beyond the dreary confines of "conventional feminism."
My femivore friends may never do more than dabble in backyard farming — keeping a couple of chickens, some rabbits, maybe a beehive or two — but they’re still transforming the definition of homemaker to one that’s more about soil than dirt, fresh air than air freshener.

You can transform the definition of "homemaker" all you like, but as long as it's applied primarily to women, it's going to be problematic. As Orenstein actually does acknowledge, sort of, finally:

[I]f a woman is not careful, it seems, chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage.

Of course, it's not "chicken wire" cooping women up, in Orenstein's scenario; it's men who refuse to engage in "a genuinely egalitarian relationship," and a culture that still sees this refusal as normal, if not ideal. Looking at it that way, without any coy metaphorical distractions, you can see that there's something a little bit unseemly about advising would-be Femivores to be "careful," lest they create "a dangerous situation."

As if they have no one but themselves to blame if things go wrong. As usual.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Common Ground

The Washington Examiner has hacked into the Intertubes and discovered a shocking new eco-scandal, which we may as well call Websitegate.

They don't discuss the subject too openly outside their own circles, but environmentalists make crystal clear on their Web sites that they want to stop all coal-based power production in this country. They claim coal can never be made clean, so it must be eliminated before it's too late to do anything about global warming. Ted Nace puts it succinctly in a Grist Web site post: "The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis."
It's just like Poe's "Purloined Letter": if you don't want anyone to know about your radical agenda, you should explain it in crystal-clear terms on a popular Website that's closely monitored by your opponents.

Incidentally, the quote attributed to Ted Nace is actually from a press release by James Hansen and nine other scientists. But what does it matter? These green doomsayers are all alike!

"Regardless of whether one agrees with the goal of eliminating coal-fired power production," the editorial informs us, it's hopeless. Although it'll always be possible for new and better technologies to extract more coal and oil -- and to mitigate the effects of AGW, should they ever materialize -- the average glibertarian's starry-eyed technophilia evaporates the moment we start talking about renewables.
What [environmentalists] don't want to talk about is the fact that there's no way those sources are going to replace coal-fired power production by 2030.
So let's all just stop trying. It's the American way!

Know why else environmentalists are stupid? Because they hate natural gas:
[T]hey don't want to talk about the fact that there's another extraordinarily plentiful and much cleaner energy source — natural gas — that can readily replace coal and lower energy costs more effectively than any alternative source. In fact, the same environmentalists who are shutting down coal plants are also opposing increased natural gas production.
As everyone knows, Grist speaks for all environmentalists everywhere, so it'll be instructive to see what its writers have to say about natural gas. In an article called "Should Greens Ally with Natural Gas Against Coal?", David Roberts acknowledges that "rapidly shifting the nation's power dispatch from coal to gas would be the fastest way to reduce emissions in the short-term." This echoes points made by Joe Romm, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and -- wait for it, now -- Ted Nace, who says that "from a climate perspective shutting down gas while keeping coal would be the wrong outcome because coal is far more carbon-intensive a fuel than natural gas."

Of course, these writers also acknowledge that natural gas isn't a risk-free panacea for all our ills, because they're neither liars nor lunatics. But that's not quite the same thing as saying "no one's allowed to increase production of natural gas, ever, under pain of our displeasure."

We hear a lot about the importance of finding common ground on climate issues. But oddly enough, the fact that many environmentalists basically agree with this editorialist's point on natural gas doesn't obviate the need to lie about their "extremism." Quite the opposite, in fact. I wonder why that is?

In other news, a new study looks at the opportunity costs of extracting tar sands:
The £250bn cost of developing Canada's controversial tar sands between now and 2025 could be used to decarbonise the western economy by funding ambitious solar power schemes in the Sahara or a European wide shift to electric vehicles, according to a new report released today.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Spanning invisible bridges
from you to Chromodoris annae and things
from the air to your breath

Talking to flowers
that you love

Living in the house of breath
a human flower time

(Photo by Nick Hobgood.)

Friday Hope Blogging

House Democrats are claiming that they will not allow Bart Stupak's views on abortion to derail healthcare reform:

Anti-choice zealot Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich) overplayed his hand. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced today that the House Democrats will move forward without a deal on abortion coverage.

Why are they finally telling Stupak to pound sand after endless rounds of negotiations? First off, Pelosi had the strategic advantage of having very little to offer Stupak and his shadowy band of anti-choice Democrats. Second, Stupak's alleged coalition is looking more like a paper tiger every day.
In related news, a former teacher named Connie Saltonstall will challenge Stupak in this year's Democratic primary:

"I've had to vote for him because he's a Democrat and not a Republican -- he was not as bad as the other side," she said. But Saltonstall said Stupak's stance on abortion in the health care debate "crossed the line" for her.

"That has happened not only with me but with many Democrats in the district," she said. Saltonstall told me her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls of support from inside the massive 31-county district.

A group called Catholics for Marriage Equality has launched a Website that expresses the following shocking opinions.
As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage. Therefore, we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church....

We remember that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, treated with suspicion, ridiculed because of our sacred rituals, and questioned as to our allegiance to “foreign authorities.” Memory challenges us to remain vigilant whenever bigotry and injustice enters into public discourse.
Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Forty-eight Hawaiian species will gain long-overdue ESA protections:
In response to a 2004 petition and two lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is finalizing listing for 48 species from the island of Kauai with designation of critical habitat. Most of the species are plants, and many have been waiting decades for protection. Two birds, Akekee (Kauai akepa) and Akikiki (Kauai creeper), were also included....

Of the 48 species, 31 have been waiting for protection on the candidate list, in many cases for more than 20 years.
Golden sedge (Carex lutea) will also receive be protected:
“This proposal is a lifeline for the golden sedge,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting critical habitat for this rare and delicate species will give it a chance for survival and recovery.”

Only eight populations of golden sedge are known today, limited to an area within a two-mile radius of the Onslow/Pender County line in southeastern North Carolina. Threats to the plant’s existence include fire suppression; habitat alteration such as land conversion for residential, commercial, or industrial development, mining, drainage for silviculture and agriculture, and highway expansion; and herbicide use along utility and highway rights-of-way.
The Maldives has designated its territorial waters as a shark sanctuary:
[T]he island nation has declared 90,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean a safe-haven for sharks, banning shark fishing as well as any trade in shark fins.
The EU has announced that it will support a ban on the Atlantic bluefin tuna trade:
Conservation groups applauded a decision today by the 27-nation European Union (EU) to support a ban on international commercial trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, to be voted on at a wildlife trade convention starting this weekend.

The EU said it would vote to list Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), joining a growing list of supporting countries, including the United States of America....
And the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies is urging its members to stop using tiger bones in traditional medicine:
“Tiger conservation has become a political issue in the world. Therefore, it’s necessary for the traditional Chinese medicine industry to support the conservation of endangered species, including tigers,” said Huang Jianyin, deputy secretary of WFCMS.

The statement also calls on all WFCMS’ members to promote tiger conservation and encourages them to abide by all relevant international and national regulations on wildlife trade.
One of the world's rarest flowers is blooming:
[T]he Middlemist's Red exists in only two known locations: a greenhouse in the UK, and a garden in New Zealand. Imported to Britain two hundred years ago from China, back when flowers where a luxury item, it has since been exterminated in its original homeland.

That the Middlemist's Red survives today is conservation success story. "It's the importance of getting as many people as possible to ensure they stay with us on this Earth," Fiona Crumley, the head gardener at the Chiswick House told the BBC.

For the first time in a century, a condor has laid an egg in Pinnacles National Monument.
The egg is the latest encouraging development in the slow recovery of the endangered birds in the regions they historically inhabited. The effort has been hampered by hunters and lead poisoning of the birds.

A female released in the park in 2004 and a male released the same year 30 miles west at Big Sur had been observed engaged in courtship behavior earlier this year, Carl Brenner, a park spokesman, said.

“They are now the proud parents of a small egg,” Mr. Brenner said.

Colorado is increasing its renewable energy standard:
On March 5, the state Senate approved a measure to increase Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES) to 30% by 2020, and on March 8th, the House finalized the bill, sending it to Gov. Bill Ritter for his signature.

The legislation confirms Colorado’s leadership in nurturing the development of clean, renewable energy just six years after voters approved the state’s first RES – 10% by 2015. In 2006 the state legislature doubled the RES to 20% by 2020, and with enactment of the latest measure only California will have a set a more ambitious state requirement than Colorado, 33% by 2020.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will replace older diesel trucks:
Did you know that replacing a pre-1994 diesel truck (or at least the engine) with a 2004-2006 model could cut soot pollution by about 2/3, and reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by more than half? Post 2007 diesel trucks are even better, with a reduction of soot particles by about 95% and NOx by at least 3/4. That's a pretty big difference (though it doesn't solve CO2 emissions), and it especially matters in big ports where countless diesel trucks congregate every day. This is why the EPA along with partners are announcing a program to replace the dirtiest trucks servicing the port of NY/NJ.
British MPs are putting pressure on BP and Royal Dutch Shell in regard to tar sands.
British Members of Parliament have joined the campaign to force two of the world's biggest energy companies to provide more information on their oil-sands operations, adding to the pressure the firms will face at their upcoming annual meetings.
In response to legal action, Walmart has agreed to improve the design of two proposed supercenters:
The Center for Biological Diversity has settled two lawsuits brought against Walmart over the global warming impacts of proposed Supercenters in Perris and Yucca Valley, California. The settlement requires Walmart to install three rooftop solar facilities of at least 250 kilowatts, incorporate cutting-edge efficiency measures into the design of the proposed stores, and implement a refrigerant audit and improvement program at certain existing Walmart stores in California....

The Yucca Valley settlement also includes a $120,000 contribution to the Mojave Desert Land Trust for land-conservation purposes and acknowledges the right of the Coalition for Environmental Integrity of Yucca Valley, also a party to the Yucca Valley settlement, to endorse a ballot initiative prohibiting development of the Supercenter and other discount superstores in the Town of Yucca Valley.
A new approach to creating solar cells could cut production costs substantially:
[A] company called 1366 Technologies may have found a way to [reduce costs] by growing a nearly pure wafer directly from melted silicon rather than forming an ingot that is then sawed. The idea could cut wafer costs by as much as 80 percent....

That may make silicon photovoltaics, which are the most efficient currently at turning sunlight into electricity, as cheap as thin-film solar cells, whose advantage is cost but which are not as good at creating electric current. In fact, rapidly decreasing cost for solar power means some experts expect such distributed electricity generation to cost the same or less than electricity from today's grid by as soon as 2015.
An Illinois Democrat has made a sensible proposal:
Birds may see pleasanter skies in the US soon, if Congressman Mike Quigley has his way. Quigley, a democrat from Illinois, has introduced legislation that would require all federal buildings to become bird-friendly, potentially saving the lives of millions of birds every year....

The legislation would require every building constructed, acquired, or altered by the General Services Administration (GSA) to use bird-friendly design and materials to the maximum extent feasible.
Zion National Park -- one of my favorite places on earth -- will wisely incorporate soundscape management into its planning process:
Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth has announced two open houses in March on the topic, and public comments are being accepted until April 9 as part of an initial information-gathering stage. This will inform the drafting of a Soundscape Management Plan Environmental Assessment, which will aim to to link soundscape management to the existing park management direction, and “ensure that natural soundscapes are protected for present and future generations.”
Photo by David Iliff

IBM claims to have developed a new form of recyclable, plant-based plastic:
Not only are the material’s components greener than traditional petroleum-based products, the production process uses significantly less energy....

The new compounds can be up-cycled and down-cycled into many different types of plastics. A plastic bottle can have a new life as a car bumper. Previously it was difficult to remake polymer compounds that retain the strength of the original materials.
"People" who "live" in the grubby socialist hellholes of Old Europe seem to be embracing NoMix toilets:
Now that we know that NoMix toilets are being positively received in pilot programs, I think the next step is to expand those pilot programs in Europe and to start preparing the general public in North-America to the idea that there might be a better way to deal with human waste (and in this case, waste is a bit of a misnomer; it's actually a great resource if we capture the methane to make electricity and use the nitrogen and phosphorus).
Los Angeles has come up with an innovative recycling program:
Los Angeles is about to start a new pilot program with the innovative company RecycleBank. About 15,000 homes will be eligible for the program. Their recycling bins will be tagged, and with every pickup the weight of the stuff they recycle will be recorded. Based on how much they recycle, each household will get RecycleBank "points" that they can redeem at businesses such as CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond, and El Pollo Loco, among others. Apparently, the total tally could reach the equivalent of $400 a year per household.
David Roberts discusses some benefits of the proposed Rural Energy Savings Program.
First off, rural homes -- over 20 percent of which are manufactured homes -- are substantially less efficient than their urban and suburban counterparts. That's why, even though their homes are generally smaller and their electricity is generally cheaper, the average rural household pays $200-$400 more a year on energy bills than comparable urban households. And given that they make roughly $10,000 less per year, that's not chump change.

Second, rural Americans are precisely the ones most politically hostile to climate action, which they see as a liberal political program that primarily benefits cities and coastal elites. Direct energy benefits to rural homeowners could help change the political landscape and ease further action.

The IPCC's conclusions on AGW, and the process it used to arrive at them, will be reviewed by the world's science academies.
The Inter-Academy Council has been asked to finalise its conclusions by August, in time that its recommendations can be discussed and adopted at October's IPCC meeting.
Of course, all these academies accept AGW, so we can't trust anything they say. What's needed here is some healthy skepticism (by which I mean rigid, ineducable, angry disbelief, coupled with a fanatical commitment to circumstantial ad hominem).

Meanwhile, the EPA has agreed to regulate ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to consider how states can address ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. The settlement responds to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity that challenged EPA’s failure to recognize the impacts of acidification on coastal waters off the state of Washington. The suit, brought under the Clean Water Act, was the first to address ocean acidification....

According to the settlement, EPA will initiate a public process for the EPA to develop guidance on how to approach acidification under the federal Clean Water Act. Specifically, EPA will consider a provision of the Act that requires states to identify threatened or impaired waters and set limits on the input of pollutants into these waters.
And the White House is finalizing a national law limiting car emissions:
The new regulations aim to raise vehicles’ fuel economies to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, a 42 percent increase from the current average of 25 miles per gallon....

While the new standards represent a huge increase over the average fuel economy, many new vehicles (especially hybrids) already get 35 miles per gallon or more. Still, the legislation is significant because it sets the first national standard for car and truck emissions. Previously, emissions standards were dictated by states.
Hospitals are increasingly reusing "single-use" medical equipment:
Health care is the second largest contributor to waste production in the United States. (The food industry holds the dubious distinction of being the first largest contributor.) So, it’s significant that more than 25 percent of U.S. hospitals now reprocess medical devices as a way to decrease waste –and cut costs.....

[T]he FDA now allows the reprocessing of more than 100 different items previously designated as “single-use devices” (SUDs). And, in an opinion piece in this month’s Academic Medicine, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine say they have found reprocessing to be a “commonsense strategy” that has a “reliable safety record of excellence identical to that of new equipment, while being friendlier to the environment.”
Read the whole article to discover why these devices was originally designated for only one use. Or if you're short on time, take a wild guess.

Scientists are using brain imaging to quantify the effects of Gulf War Syndrome:
Nearly two decades after vets began returning from the Middle East complaining of Gulf War Syndrome, the federal government has yet to formally accept that their vague jumble of symptoms constitutes a legitimate illness. Here, at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting, yesterday, researchers rolled out a host of brain images – various types of magnetic-resonance scans and brain-wave measurements – that they say graphically and unambiguously depict Gulf War Syndrome....

The panoply of quantitative changes being revealed by brain imaging “is demystifying Gulf War Syndrome,” says Haley. Indeed, before long, he predicts, “we’re going to come up with tests whereby doctors can diagnose affected vets.” And one day, he hopes, the information emerging from these images may actually point toward treatments.
This is interesting:
As they scrambled recently to trace the source of a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds around the country, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used a new tool for the first time — the frequent-shopper cards that millions of Americans swipe when they buy groceries.

With permission from the victims, investigators followed the trail of grocery purchases to a Rhode Island company that makes salami, then zeroed in on the pepper it used to season the meat.

Never before has the CDC successfully mined the mountain of data that supermarket chains compile.
As is this:
Taking the contraceptive pill can help women live longer and reduce their risk of serious diseases, according to a major new study by Scottish researchers.

They found that women who had taken the Pill – even for a short time – could expect to have longer lives than those who had never used oral contraception. The research, led by the University of Aberdeen, showed those who took the Pill were less likely to die from any cause – including all types of cancer – and heart disease.
That said: Collages by Larry Carlson (h/t: Peacay, IIRC). Typographical kaleidoscopes. Sunken forests. Dueling food pyramids. Vintage Popular Science articles on Japan. Helene from Cassini. And via Coudal, the EPA's Documerica Project.

Solarization. The Dreyfus Affair on film. The Society for Commercial Archaeology. Photos of the Swiss Alps by Stefan Somogyi. Photos of water by Chris Wabb. And the world's first Intra-Space Stamp Album.

Toronto Sound Ecology (via BLDGBLOG). Yukon aurora with star trails. The Lost Border (via wood s lot). Bioephemera. Paintings by Rose Wylie. The Coral Reef Crochet Project. And a collection of handmade gameboards.

And here's a cartoon.

(Photo at top from "Archäologie der Arbeit" by Fritz Fabert.)