Sunday, June 27, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

The US Department of Labor has affirmed the right of LGBT employees to take family leave:

"No one who loves and nurtures a child day-in and day-out should be unable to care for that child when he or she falls ill," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "No one who steps in to parent a child when that child's biological parents are absent or incapacitated should be denied leave by an employer because he or she is not the legal guardian. No one who intends to raise a child should be denied the opportunity to be present when that child is born simply because the state or an employer fails to recognize his or her relationship with the biological parent. These are just a few of many possible scenarios. The Labor Department's action today sends a clear message to workers and employers alike: All families, including LGBT families, are protected by the FMLA."
New York has passed a bill protecting students from harassment based on sexual orientation:
The Dignity for All Students Act, which would protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment in schools, has passed the New York state senate after years of effort. Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign the bill into law, which would mark the first time gender identity and expression are included in state law.
New York will also allow victims of sex trafficking to clear their criminal records:
The landmark legislation--New York's law is the first in the country--will allow trafficking survivors to start their lives over with a clean slate. As it stands, women who've been abused for years are then forced to disclose their criminal convictions to potential employers.

"Even after [the victims] escape from trafficking, that criminal record blocks them from decent jobs and a chance to rebuild their lives," says Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan, the author of the bill. "This bill will give them a desperately needed second chance they deserve.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled against fetal personhood:
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a fetus...cannot be treated as a separate legal person.

In the case, Ina Cochran v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (PDF), Cochran was indicted for first-degree wanton endangerment after both she and her newborn child tested positive for cocaine in December 2005. The Kentucky Supreme Court found her charge to be in contradiction to the Maternal Health Act of 1992 and dismissed her indictment.
An FDA advisory panel has approved a French contraceptive pill for use in the United States:
A US health panel Thursday voted unanimously to allow the sale of a controversial French birth control pill, which can prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected sex.
A Texas court has upheld the state education board's rejection of degrees in Creation Science.
The Texas Education Code (Sec. 61.301) authorizes the Board to regulate the use of "academic terminology" in order "to prevent deception of the public resulting from the conferring and use of fraudulent or substandard college and university degrees." The Board denied ICRGS's application because its curriculum which was designed to promote "scientific creationism" and "Biblical creationism" does not adequately cover the breadth of knowledge of the discipline taught. The Board's decision was based on the conclusion by the Commissioner of Higher Education that the school's program "inadequately covers key areas of science and their methodologies and rejects one of the foundational theories of modern science," and thus "cannot be properly designated as either 'science' or 'science education.'"

The court rejected ICRGS' claim that the Board engaged in "viewpoint discrimination", finding no animus toward any religious viewpoint. Applying a "rational basis" standard, the court rejected claims that the Board violated ICRGS' free exercise and free speech rights, as well as claims under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. The court concluded that the Board's "decision is rationally related to the State's legitimate interest in protecting the public by preserving the integrity of educational degrees."
The EPA will review its Bush-era policies regarding the testing of pesticides on humans:

In 2006, during the Bush administration, the EPA imposed a rule that allows experiments in which people are intentionally dosed with pesticides to assess the chemicals' toxicity and allows EPA to use such experiments to set allowable exposure standards....

Under the proposed changes to federal research ethics standards, the EPA would no longer accept such studies. If the EPA stops accepting them, corporations have nothing to gain by conducting them.

Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Simon Lewis, the UK's Sunday Times was forced to retract one of its many articles misrepresenting climate science:
[A]s Lewis notes, the Times “ignored interviews with two other experts, and mis-quoted me, concealing my interview comments to them that the IPCC scientific statement was defensible and backed by peer reviewed science (and concealing I sent them some of the scientific literature).”
The world's first solar-powered blimp will soon cross the English Channel:

The mammoth airship measures 72 feet long and 18 feet wide and has a nylon and polyethylene aluminum frame. It also features semi-flexible solar cells that can generate up to 2.4 kilowatts — enough to keep the blimp moving at 25 mph. The cells power a motor that turns two big red propellers, which in turn are expected to send the ship across the Channel in under an hour.

Sir James Dyson has created a bladeless fan for air conditioning:

The fan works like a jet engine, sucking air into a cyclone accelerator that amplifies it 15 to 18 times before blowing it out over an airfoil-shaped ramp. As that air is blown out, more is sucked in from behind. With no blades, the airstream is smooth and the contraption is easy to clean and more difficult to break one’s finger in (just sayin’). The fan runs on a modest 40-watt motor.

A new study suggests that telepresence is an important means of reducing CO2 emissions:

According to a new study of large companies using telepresence technology, U.S. and U.K. businesses that substitute some business travel with telepresence can cut CO2 emissions by nearly 5.5 million metric tons in total — the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing more than one million passenger vehicles from the road for one year — and achieve total economy-wide financial benefits of almost $19 billion, by 2020.

Scientists have discovered a coral reef hidden in a mangrove forest in the Virgin Islands:
According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), as many as 30 different species of coral are living happily among the roots in a "secret garden" of sort. Such a well protected and untouched coral ecosystem is a rare find in the Virgin Islands.

Photo: Caroline Rogers/USGS
Researchers are experimenting with a system that will warn gray whales away from wave energy buoys:
According to researchers, the sound energy (one-eighth of one watt) will be less than 1 percent of the sonar emitted from a fishing boat. Beginning in December, the researchers will observe the reactions of northbound single whales.
Two Hawaiian damselflies have won ESA protections:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two species of Hawaiian damselfly as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The damselflies are part of a backlog of candidate species that includes 245 species and are the subject of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups. The two insects have been waiting 26 years for protection.
The Department of Labor is allocating $78 million to the National Farmworker Jobs Program:
The program provides training and employment services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. It is authorized by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and is designed to counter the impact of chronic unemployment and underemployment experienced by migrant and seasonal farmworkers who depend primarily on agricultural labor jobs.

"Farmworkers do so much for families and for the nation's economy as a whole. These hard working members of our community deserve our support," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Today's grants are an opportunity to help these workers as they upgrade their skills to improve their chances of advancement in their current employment or seek opportunities in other industries."

A new study confirms the benefits of immigration:
Immigrants do not reduce native employment rates over the long run (10 years), while increasing productivity and average income for native-born workers. Immigration to the United States over the 1990-2006 period can be credited with a 2.9 percent increase in real wages for the average U.S. worker.
And Robert Creamer argues persuasively that supporting Arizona's racial-profiling law is liable to cause huge problems for the GOP:
According to data released by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Texas Governor Rick Perry has lost his early lead over Democratic challenger Bill White and the race is now tied. The movement from a previous PPP poll in February comes entirely from Hispanic voters.
Detroit's residents increasingly support shrinking the city:
“There’s nothing you can do with a lot of the buildings now but do away with them,” said Mae Reeder, a homeowner of 35 years on the southeast side, where her bungalow is surrounded by blocks that are being reclaimed by nature, complete with pheasants nesting in vacant spaces where people once lived.
Extracted teeth could be an ideal source of stem cells:

Like cells from embryos, the soft living tissue from inside teeth can be induced to become what are known as pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to form several different cell types.

Unlike embryonic cells, which are extracted from days-old human embryos, generating stem cells from dental pulp is a relatively non-invasive and non-controversial process.

An ancient Egyptian city has been discovered with radar.
The radar imaging showed the outlines of streets, houses and temples underneath the green farm fields and modern town of Tel al-Dabaa.

Dr Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the computer-generated images of the city, which is still buried under the ground, show a very detailed layout of ancient Avaris. Several architectural features including houses, temples, streets, cemeteries and palaces can be seen.

An artist is using a 3D printer to make objects out of human ashes:
Dutch Designer Wieki Somers just might have found the next new renewable building material — human ashes. For the Grand Hornu Images gallery exhibit “In Progress,” she used a 3D printer to turn human ashes into art. Somers created three pieces — a toaster, a mini vacuum cleaner and a scale — for the exhibit that was meant to have the designers rethink the idea of progress.
Animal alphabets. Children's books from the Lindsay Shaw Collection. Food labels from The B. Heller & Co. Collection. Medical graphics from the Richard Travers Collection. Stories from the Torres Strait. How the Yuungnaqpiallerput genuinely live. The Typographia Homepage. Photos by Guy Tillim. And an army of Jizo statues.

Book Use, Book Theory. A survey of the Australian retrofuture, via Frontiers of Science. The Strobotop. Magnificent maps. Materials from the historic corporate archive of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company. Costume designs by B.J. Simmons and Co. The Singular Sufferings of Two Friends, who had lost themselves in an American Forest. The return of the repressed. Butterfly wings in 3D. Rhinoceroses in Romania. And Islands of Four Mountains from Above.

Alluvial porn, and how. Near the Egress, "a multimedia mash-up of b/w film, tintypes, stop-action video and custom soundtrack." Automats and Einfühlung. An exploration of display cabinets. The life of Frances Perkins. The Nineteenth Century in photographs, or vice versa. Journeying around an image. Astronomical snapshots, 1911-1915. Dueling geodata. Photos of New York. And recent acquisitions of the Monash Library.

L'instantanée. Notes towards a Martian Museum of Earth, and the Sands Mechanical Museum (via things). The USB Typewriter, "a new and groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence." Ten things you didn't know about the Lewis Chessman. The Rose of Bohemia, and a map of Starvania. The Printer's Handbook, and Carte Geografiche. Photos by Roger Fenton. Bowerbirds and their bowers. And a collection of early astronomical photographs.

Here's a movie, too.

(Photo at top: "La grande roue du jardin des Tuileries" by Pierre Dubreuil, ca. 1900. Via L'instantanée.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Dispossessed

Chris Hedges warns us about the rise of the Christian fascists. They're disenfranchised! They're politically connected! They're angry! And they hate us for our freedom!

To which one might reasonably reply, "What else is new?"

Christian fascists hate Otherness. No, really! Furthermore, they've retreated from a world that humiliates and bullies them, and found solace in religious fantasies that project their lust for petty vengeance onto God. They'll kill us all if they get the chance, and add insult to injury by chanting the Pledge of Allegiance over our bones.

So far, so good. The question is, will they get the chance? As Hedges sees it, one more terrorist attack could allow them to wrest the country from "us" (which translates, I'm guessing, as "people who get mawkishly sentimental about the Enlightenment"). One problem with this line of thinking is that the country isn't actually "ours." It's run for profit, generally speaking, by people whose zealotry is of a somewhat different order than R.J. Rushdoony's, and they seem unlikely to hand it over to the dominionists without a fight.

Beyond that, the idea that the country will simply fall on its knees before cadres of Chistian extremists is a bit too close to the standard right-wing danger narratives about Muslims or gays for my taste. If I don't accept Mark Steyn's vision of Europe groaning under the yoke of sharia in the near term, I'm not sure why I should accept Hedges' vision of Christofascists seizing control of every branch of government.

Building and administering a theocracy is hard work, especially in a country this large and diverse, and I don't think Hedges' "diffuse and fractious" fascists are up to the job. That doesn't mean they won't try, of course, or that people won't get killed as a result. But for most of these "radicals," dominion is a mere daydream. It'd be nice if it happened, especially if someone else did all the work and took all the risks. But by and large, it's simply an escapist fantasy. Although Hedges has a number of worthwhile insights into his subject -- worthwhile in the all-important sense that they agree with mine -- he fails to notice that revolutionary rhetoric often becomes more garish the more passive and defeated its adherents are. (Revolution, as Simone Weil said, is the opium of the people.)

Given how lurid Hedges' fears are, his solutions seem kind of laughable. The Christian fascists hate us, passionately and implacably: we can't negotiate or reason with them, because they "cannot acknowledge the legitimacy of other ways of being and believing."

But are we downhearted? No! Because we can buy off these Holy Warriors with the very same activist social programs that they view as the work of Teh Devil. After all, when you're dealing with a terminally angry cult of masculinity, nothing turns away wrath faster than collectivist platitudes and state-enforced charity:

Let us openly defy the liberal establishment, which will not save us, to demand and fight for economic reparations for our working class. Let us reincorporate these dispossessed into our economy.
Great idea! I wish I'd thought of it.

Granted, there's evidence that people who are prone to fascism are more prone to fascism in tough economic times. But it's hard not to object to Hedges' salvific view of "our economy," especially since he just spent a great deal of time identifying it, quite accurately, with "the culture of death" against which Christian fascism is reacting. Hedges falls into the same trap as a lot of leftish commentators on the Christian Right, in that he simultaneously wants them to be inherently anti-Enlightenment, and amenable to Enlightenment rationality at its most middlebrow and trivial (i.e., economic).
The liberal class has proved useless in combating the largest environmental disaster in our history, ending costly and futile imperial wars or stopping the corporate plundering of the nation. And the gutlessness of the liberal class has left it, and the values it represents, reviled and hated.
This sounds good. But how much of it is actually true? How much of it, for that matter, is coherent? What, exactly, is a "futile imperial war"? Are useful ones preferable? Is the liberal class -- whatever that is -- reviled and hated for failing to live up to its alleged ideals, or for making the occasional timid step in that direction? I'd love to live in an America that doesn't launch imperial wars or despoil the environment, just as I'd love to have a magic hat, but the idea that the liberal class is denying us this utopia through "gutlessness" is a bit hard to swallow.

On a more light-hearted note, Hedges advises us that "the Democrats have refused to repeal the gross violations of international and domestic law codified by the Bush administration." This is terrible, because it means that when the Christian fascists ruthlessly seize absolute power, they'll be able to use Bush's extralegal tactics against us! Otherwise, they'd be forced to sit in the Halls of Power and twiddle their thumbs, since it'd never occur to them to codify their own gross violations of international and domestic law.
The naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have “values,” only strengthens its legitimacy and weakness our own. If we do not have a right to be, if our very existence is not legitimate in the eyes of God, there can be no dialogue. At this point it is a fight for survival.
OMG our survival is at stake! Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out!

But on second thought, isn't everything our fault, when you come right down to it?
We failed them; we owe them more: This is their response.
Pobrecitos. We must heal their psychic wounds, by reincorporating them into an imaginary pluralist mainstream they've already rejected.

On third thought, fuck that noise. It's time to gird our loins and battle the Hun!
Let us not stand meekly at the open gates of the city waiting passively for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching toward Bethlehem.
Oooh, a reference to Yeats' "The Second Coming"! What better proof could there be that Hedges has given this matter Serious Thought?

In summation: the typical behavior of the usual suspects is a shocking new threat to what little remains of Authentic Civilization. This crisis mandates immediate action of some sort, lest the Forces of Darkness mow us down and use our skulls as paperweights.

Like I said, what else is new?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

China has ruled that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible:

The top judicial and law enforcement bodies in China have issued new guidelines that seek to halt the use of torture in obtaining confessions or witness testimony, especially in death penalty cases.

The rules, announced Sunday, would nullify evidence gathered through violence or intimidation and give defendants the ability to challenge confessions presented during their trials.

In Turkey, a court has imposed severe penalties on officials who authorized torture.
The heavy sentences for nine prison and police officials for torture, leading in one case to death, is a momentous verdict that should signal a renewed effort by the Turkish government to end torture in custody, Human Rights Watch said today. The case is the first in which a Turkish court convicted a senior prison official for torture by guards under his command.
The Obama administration has extended more benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees:
"For far too long, many of our government's hard-working, dedicated [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] employees have been denied equal access to the basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy," Obama wrote in a memo to the heads of federal departments and agencies. "This kind of systemic inequality undermines the health, well-being, and security not just of our federal workforce, but also of their families and communities."
The Malawian men who were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor for the grievous crime of homosexuality have been pardoned and released:
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were released late Saturday, hours after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned them without condition.

South Carolina has passed a law that reforms state sentencing guidelines:
South Carolina's Republican governor today signed off on a sentencing-reform law that passed the state's Republican-controlled legislature by a wide margin. It reduces sentences for some non-violent offenders while increasing them for certain violent ones and it improves post-release supervision. It also ends the ridiculous sentencing disparity between powdered and rock cocaine, ends mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug possession and lets more inmates participate in work-release programmes. It is also projected to save the state $400m over the next five years—no small potatoes for a state looking at a billion-dollar shortfall.
Believe it or not, overwrought anti-immigrant narratives about violence along the US/Mexico border seem to be inaccurate:
It's one of the safest parts of America, and it's getting safer.

It's the U.S.-Mexico border, and even as politicians say more federal troops are needed to fight rising violence, government data obtained by The Associated Press show it actually isn't so dangerous after all.

The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.

New York has passed a bill of rights for domestic workers:
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, just approved by the New York State Senate, gives nannies, housekeepers and other caregivers basic rights and safeguards against employer abuses. The provisions, which could impact some 200,000 workers, include overtime pay, vacation days, medical leave, advance notice of termination, and one precious day off each week.
The California Assembly has voted to ban plastic bags:
The state Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting California pharmacies and grocery, liquor, and convenience stores from using plastic bags. The bill also calls for customers to be charged for using store-issued paper bags.

Lawmakers say the purpose of the bill is to reduce the number of plastic bags headed for the landfill and to get rid of the bags that commonly end up in the ocean or riverways.

Hawaii has banned shark-fin soup:
Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, has signed into law a ban on shark-fin soup beginning July 1st, 2011, according to Reuters. The soup is currently served in a number of Chinese restaurants in Hawaii, but the trade has decimated certain shark species due to overfishing.

Restaurants will be allowed to finish their inventory of shark fin, but after next July fines will run from a low of $5,000for a first offense to a high of $50,000 and up to a year in jail for the third offense.
A legal settlement requires the federal government to finalize ESA protections for seven penguin species:
The court-ordered settlement results from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) challenging the Obama administration’s failure to finalize its determination that these penguins warrant Endangered Species Act protection due to threats from climate change and commercial fisheries.
The EPA has set new limits for sulfur dioxide:
USEPA has upgraded an outdated SO2 standard, which involved long term (daily) average concentration limits, to a short-term standard that better protects asthmatics, for example. By early 2013 expect enforcement to begin against a one-hour SO2 health standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb). Full implementation will take place over more than a decade, however.
Efforts to protect the Brazilian rainforest appear to be working:
Protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon are proving highly effective in reducing forest loss in Earth's largest rainforest, reports a new study based on analysis of deforestation trends in and around indigenous territories, parks, military holdings, and sustainable use reserves.
In Germany, unused cigarette machines are being repurposed to sell books:
The nifty machines feature a rotating selection of books of various genres, including graphic novels, travel guides, and poetry collections. Four euros (about $5 American dollars) will fetch you any available work, all written by local writers.
And US Army researchers seem to have found a treatment for the Ebola virus:

One of the world’s deadliest pathogens, which gives its victims a gruesomely bloody exit, might finally be contained. After decades of unsuccessful research, a collaboration based out of the Army’s labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland has devised an experimental injection that cures the Ebola virus by targeting its genetic material.

The injection uses a novel technique, called RNA interference, to stop viral cells from replicating. Scientists packaged RNA snippets into particles that were then injected into four rhesus monkeys, who’d been infected with a dose of Ebola that was 30,000 times more potent than the virus’ most lethal strain, which already has a measly 10 percent survival rate. The snippets latched onto key viral proteins, and cured all four monkeys after a week of daily injections.

Heart and Soul Nebulas in Infrared. The City, seen as an Arboreal Necropolis. A collision with Jupiter. A 600-year-old window. And what may be the world's oldest rock art:

The Sun Shines & The Igloo Melts. Canvassing for suffrage. "A cinema excursion in the great black metropolis of New York," courtesy of British Pathe's Twitter feed, courtesy of The Bioscope. Soviet soft drink labels. And the Digital Archive of Šechtl & Voseček Studios.

Elk rescue in Estonia. Masters of architectural photography. Redesigned BP logos. Vintage computers. Vintage roman policier covers. A field guide to Mimpish Squinnies. Romanticism and landscape design. And Found Functions.

And a movie, obviously.

UPDATE: I decided to replace Len Lye's The Birth of the Robot with the film above, because it occurred to me that most of my readers are probably not in the mood for animated petro-triumphalist propaganda right now, no matter how visually interesting it is.

(Image at top: "Ice and Sea" by Sidney Nolan, 1964.)