Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Sorry for the sporadic posting. I've been sick. And busy. And traveling. And tired. And heartbroken. And preoccupied with my garden. And annoyed with the Intertubes.


Argentina is the first South American country to legalize same-sex marriage:

Argentina's Senate passed a gay marriage law early on Thursday following more than 14 hours of charged debate, as hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the Congress in near-freezing temperatures. Senators voted 33-27 for the proposal, with three abstentions.

"We're now a fairer, more democratic society. This is something we should all celebrate," Maria Rachid, a leading gay rights activist, said as supporters of the law hugged each other and jumped up and down after the vote.

A Boston judge has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
Yesterday, Boston federal judge Joseph L Tauro ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that same-sex marriages must be subject to the same benefits as heterosexual marriages. Tauro ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in two separate court cases, but it is uncertain whether the ruling will be hold up during appeals but if maintained by the Supreme Court, it will protect federal benefits for same-sex marriages.

Judge Tauro wrote in the ruling, "This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status....The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state."
Blog of Rights has more.

Alabama has expanded its domestic violence laws:
The changes provide greater privacy to victims filing protection orders, and expand the definition of abuse to include a wider range of relationships — namely, dating relationships.
You can and should send a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, "asking her to investigate hospitals that refuse to provide emergency abortion care, and issue a bulletin making clear that refusing to provide this care violates federal law."

While you're at it, be sure to support John Abraham, who is being bullied and threatened by the appalling Lord Monckton for daring to correct that exquisitely sapient grandee on a few minor points of fact.

Congress has passed financial reform legislation. It's a mixed bag, obviously, but POGO has identified some of the positives, as thus:
The bill strengthens and expands the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) authority to reward whistleblowers who provide the agency with tips. Specifically, the SEC can offer reward payments tied to any judicial or administrative action that results in sanctions of over $1 million, and the whistleblower can receive anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of the amount recovered (the current limit is 10 percent, and is only available for tips on insider trading). The bill also prohibits employers from retaliating against whistleblowers who participate in the program. Whistleblowers who experience retaliation can file for relief in district court, and are eligible for reinstatement, back-pay, and compensation for legal fees.
For the second year running, investment in renewable energy has outstripped investment in fossil fuels.

According to figures from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency-backed Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) project, the amount of new energy capacity coming from renewable sources in Europe and the US also topped that coming from fossil fuels and nuclear for the second year.

Renewables accounted for 60 per cent of newly installed capacity in Europe and more than 50 per cent in the USA last year. The REN21 report predicted this year or next will see the same milestone reached on a global level, with rapid expansion in Chinese wind farms leading the rapid increase in renewable energy capacity in developing economies.

Europe has banned illegally harvested timber:
The legislation, which passed 644-25, will require all companies selling timber products in the E.U. to prove their wood is legally sourced. Companies that fail to demonstrate credible sourcing practices will be subject to fines.
Apropos of which, illegal logging is declining worldwide:
A new report by the Chatham House finds that illegal logging in tropical forest nation is primarily on the decline, providing evidence that new laws and international efforts on the issue are having a positive impact. According to the report, the total global production of illegal timber has fallen by 22 percent since 2002. Yet the report also finds that nations—both producers and consumers—have a long way to go before illegal logging is an issue of the past.
New York has opened its first federally funded EV charging station:
The station is the first of 100 that will be installed in the New York City metro area this year to get the region ready for the release of EVs later this year — like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. When those vehicles hit the streets of NYC, an infrastructure of charging stations will be awaiting them, thanks to a federally-sponsored program called ChargePoint America.
India is cracking down on noise pollution.
A nationwide decree deems 10am to 6am as a time for quiet, during which restrictions have been imposed on the use of horns, sound-emitting construction equipments and bursting of firecrackers,” the federal environment ministry said.

This is an interesting idea:

Today over 1 billion people around the world need — but lack — access to eyeglasses. Seeking to provide for this need, Adlens has created a set of specs affixed with fluid-filled lenses whose magnification can be adjusted with just a simple turn of the dial! A clever design for health and well being, the ingenious lens could prove to be particularly useful in the developing world, where resources for vision care are scarce or priced beyond the means of individuals.

We can only hope that the liquid in these spectacles isn't aqua divina.

A Japanese cat rehab clinic is helping to protect endangered birds:
So far, more than 100 newly tamed cats have found new homes -- and they don't seem to miss their old ways. "Maybe because they missed people, the captured cats show affection once they're tamed," said Yasushi Komatsu, vice chairmen of the TVMA.

Considering the far less humane options thought of by other nations to deal with invasive species, Japan's cat rehab seems to offer a real win-win solution. It just goes to show that with a bit of extra effort given to preserving the lives of endangered species, the lives of those endangering them can be spared too.
UNESCO is setting up a Traditional Knowledge Inventory:
The Traditional Knowledge Institute gathers and protects historical knowledge and promotes and certifies innovative practices based on the modern re-proposal of tradition as well. Using traditional knowledge does not meat to reapply directly the techniques of the past, but rather to understand the logic of this model of knowledge. it is a dynamic system able to incorporate innovation subjected to the test of the long term and thus achieves local and environmental sustainability.
Thousands of endangered animals have been rescued from a black-market warehouse:

The warehouse, described as a "mini zoo" by Kuala Lumpur Wildlife Department deputy director Celescoriano Razon, held thousands of birds, leopard cats, and albino pygmy monkeys, in addition to other species. Authorities said that the animals were likely being held to breed, or to sell.

"We thank the police for rescuing the animals," Razon said, "and will work closely with them to bring the criminals to justice."

There's strong evidence that the chicken came before the egg.

"It had long been suspected that the egg came first, but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first," Sheffield University's Colin Freeman, according to a report in the Metro.

Why it crossed the road remains an inexorable mystery, just as God intended.

Photos from Close Up. Photos from far away. It's Mars Day (shouldn't it fall on a Tuesday?). Paula and her Paulistas. A gallery of Hairy Grotesques, many of whom have doppelgängers in my neighborhood. And Leon Levinstein's New York photographs (via wood s lot).

St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle
(via The Bioscope, natch). Historypin (via things, inevitably). Calling cards. That Old Time Religion. Titles on display at The Monkey's Paw. And assorted tracts and pamphlets.

And — wait for it, now — a movie.

(Image at top: "Mars' Labyrinth of the Night" via NASA/JPL/AS.)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

NOTE: The soundtrack is awful, so you may want to mute it before watching.

Friday Hope Blogging

Google has announced that it will offset the costs of legal discrimination against its same-sex employees:

Google will begin covering the extra costs that employees in committed same-sex relationships incur because of the legal differences between marriage and domestic partnership.

According to a 2007 report from the Williams Institute, a research group that studies policy issues surrounding the LGBT communities, domestic partners will pay about $1,069 more a year in taxes than a married employee with the same coverage.

“If you were to add it all up, it’s not like we are talking hundreds of thousands per employee,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations. “It will cost some money, but it was more about doing the right thing.”

In other words, they're paying people to turn gay. It's time to partner up and collect!

Apropos of which, Iceland has legalized same-sex marriage, and the country's prime minister has accordingly married her partner:
Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir has married her long-term partner, her office said on Monday, making her the world's first national leader with a same-sex spouse.

Sigurdardottir, 67, married writer Jonina Leosdottir on Sunday, the day a new law took effect defining marriage as a union between two consenting adults regardless of sex.

The two had had a civil union for years and changed this into a marriage under the new law, which was approved by parliament earlier this month.
A new law in New York state will make it easier for midwives to practice their love:

New York State midwives had a big victory on Wednesday with the unanimous passage of the Midwifery Modernization Act (MMA) in the New York State Senate. It had already passed the Assembly and will have to be signed by the Governor.

New York City home birth midwives were essentially put of out business by the closure of St. Vincents Hospital on April 30th, because it was the only hospital that would provide them with a signature on their Written Practice Agreement (WPA). The MMA removes the requirement for a WPA, allowing these midwives to practice once again. This doesn't mean the midwives won't work with back-up physicians and hospitals, but it does mean that finding a doctor to sign won't be a barrier for them.

A male birth-control pill may be available in as little as three years:
Researchers in Israel have finally been able to create an oral pill that deactivates sperm before they reach the womb. And they’ve developed a version that means it only needs to be to be taken once every three months.
A new Palestinian radio station is run by and for women:
Founder and manager Maysoun Odeh tells VOA the station wants to entertain, but also empower women. "We broadcast success stories of women regionally, internationally, or locally in which they can take example from, and they know that they can do something and they can achieve something regardless of the situation," she said.
Dr. Michael Mann has been exonerated once again of any wrongdoing:

Few if any American climate scientists have been as falsely accused — and thoroughly vindicated — over both their academic practices and scientific results as Dr. Michael Mann.

Today, Penn State issued its final and complete exoneration of Dr. Michael Mann in the matter of his scientific practices “for proposing, conducting, or reporting research,” primarily related to the famous — and thoroughly vindicated — Hockey Stick....

And this “Investigatory Committee of faculty members with impeccable credentials” not only exonerated him unanimously, they did so even though one of the scientists they interviewed in the course of their work was the much debunked, shameless defamer of climatologists, Richard Lindzen!
The US State Department has decided not to build a training center in the middle of an endangered squirrel's habitat:
Just hours after the Center for Biological Diversity announced it would sue over the project, the federal government today scrapped plans to build a sprawling State Department training center in rural Maryland in habitat for the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. The Foreign Affairs Security Training Facility had been proposed for the Ruthsburg area.

“It was clear from the outset that bombing and live-ammunition exercises shouldn’t be conducted anywhere near these rare squirrels,” said Bethany Cotton, a staff attorney at the Center. “This is a victory not only for the fox squirrel, but also for the rural character of Queen Anne’s County.”

Washington state is planning to build the country's first electric highway:

Washington state is about to turn a section of Interstate-5 — all the way from Canada to Oregon — into the nation’s first electric highway. Thanks to a $1.32 million federal grant, they’ll be able to install 10 Level-3 electric charging stations along the route. Each station is capable of charging at 400 volts and 30 amps or more and at these stations a typical EV would be 80% charged in just about 30 minutes. Plug in, grab a cup of coffee, chat with fellow travelers, and be on your way.

Britain claims that it will not expand Heathrow and other airports:

Building new runways at three airports near London would make it hard to meet Britain's target to reduce greenhouse gases, the government argues. It would also increase noise and air pollution. Besides, like new highways, more runways will only encourage more frequent use, such as jetting off to Spain and Prague for the weekend.

Africa's largest wind farm is now up and running:

The first phase of a massive renewable energy plan is now in place in Morocco with the official opening of a 165 turbine wind farm just outside of Tangiers. Official sources say that the wind farm — located in the town of Melloussa — is the largest on the African continent. The wind farm was inaugurated today by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and is estimated to have cost about $250 million dollars to install. The final project — which includes solar, wind and hydraulic power — will supply Morocco with 42% of their total power needs.

An appeals court has rejected General Electric's bid to strike down EPA cleanup regulations:

A U.S. appeals court rejected on Tuesday a legal challenge by General Electric Co to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) orders that direct companies to clean up hazardous waste....

The ruling was a setback to GE's long-running effort to overturn a provision of Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as the Superfund law that seeks to ensure that polluters pay for the environmental hazards they created.

The detergent industry has finally announced a voluntary ban on phosphates:
Activists have been trying to get phosphates banned for 40 years, but soap-makers have lobbied intensively, claiming that it was impossible to remove that ingredient from their products (or that if they could do it with laundry detergent, it couldn't be done with dishwasher detergent, and so on). But over the years, many green soap-makers have shown the public that it could be done.

Yet another study shows that organic farming methods can be more productive than conventional ones:
Supporters of organic agriculture got a boost on Thursday with a scientific study that said pesticide-free potato farming improved control over crop-munching insects and delivered bigger plants....

In organic fields, where the use of agricultural chemicals was closely controlled, pests and predators evened out, the researchers found.

Pest densities in these fields were 18 percent lower, and potato plants were 35 percent larger, than in conventionally-farmed fields.

Britain's NHS will no longer fund homeopathy:

The British Medical Association (BMA) has voted to stop offering homeopathic treatment on the NHS....They also say that homeopathic products should no longer be labelled “medicines” and should instead be marked “placebo” when sold in pharmacies.
A new chip that mimics human lung behavior could reduce the need for animal testing:

The device, about the size of a Tostito chip, breathes like a lung and is transparent, allowing researchers to watch for inflammation and make real-time measurements of how much of an aerosolized medication or a toxic substance — or how many nanoparticles, whose health effects are poorly understood — make it into the simulated bloodstream. The lung chip will therefore reduce the need for animal testing. It could also allow environmental health advocates to counter the questionable human-subject research that the pesticide industry fought the EPA to allow.
Bent Objects. A gallery of unicellular organisms. Landslide taxonomy. A little treatise on egg art. The Candela Structures. A Russian train cemetery. And some remarkable photos of London during the 1944 blackouts.

Desktop Earth. The world of threads. The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection of folk songs. Unseen Hands: Women printers, binders and book designers (via Peacay). A new Antarchitecture. And winter in Berlin, or vice versa.

The British Cartoon Archive (via Coudal). Discoveries of the 20th century. Propane grilling vs. charcoal grilling. The Television Production Music Museum. Walls, trash-art and Lenin, courtesy of Photocoma. And all the colors of the sun.

Also, a cartoon.

(Photo at top: "Clapper Bridge, Kingston" by The Retronaut, 2010.)