Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

A court has overturned Florida's ban on gay adoption:

In a 28-page opinion, a three-judge panel of the court noted that gay people are permitted to become foster parents or legal guardians in Florida, yet are the only group not allowed to adopt.

“It is difficult to see any rational basis in utilizing homosexual persons as foster parents or guardians on a temporary or permanent basis, while imposing a blanket prohibition on those same persons,” wrote Judge Gerald Cope for the panel. “All other persons are eligible to be considered case-by-case to be adoptive parents.”

New York's new Smart Growth act will take effect next week:
On August 31, 2010, Governor David Paterson signed into law the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act, which is intended to...augment the state's environmental policy by declaring a fiscally prudent state policy of maximizing the social, economic and environmental benefits from public infrastructure development through minimizing unnecessary costs of sprawl development including environmental degradation, disinvestment in urban and suburban communities and loss of open space induced by sprawl....
The Obama administration has issued an emergency order that tightens safety standards in coal mines:
Citing a "grave danger" to the nation's coal miners, the Obama administration said Tuesday that mine operators must take additional steps to control the buildup of highly explosive coal dust underground....

Experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health urged a toughening of federal 'rock dusting' standards in reports published in 2006 and 2009. But MSHA officials did not act until another NIOSH report was published this May, a month after 29 miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

California has passed new renewable energy regulations:
The California Air Resources Board approved one of the strictest renewable energy regulations in the nation Thursday, requiring utilities to get a third of their energy from renewable resources by 2020....

When fully implemented, the renewable energy standard will remove between 12 million and 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, along with other pollutants, according to the air board. It also will be one the more important steps toward meeting California's greenhouse gas reduction law, AB32, which requires the state return to 1990 emissions levels by 2020.
Central American countries are using volcanoes for power:
Guatemala, which already has two geothermal plants, is offering tax breaks on the equipment needed to build more in hopes of getting 60 percent of its power from a combination of geothermal and hydroelectric sources by 2022. Costa Rica already operates four plants and will bring a fifth online early next year; it’s considering an additional two. El Salvador and Nicaragua are also expanding geothermal power from volcanoes.
The United States is donating $50 million for clean-burning stoves in the developing world:
Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a public-private partnership called the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves to which the US government will donate $50 million to increase the number of clean burning cook stoves in the developing world. In less developed nations, most people cook on stoves that use wood, kerosene or dung for fuel, which can be a major source of pollution for the home and the environment. They release climate change-causing smoke into the air and can cause terrible respiratory problems for the people who use them — it is estimated they cause 1.9 million deaths yearly. This new initiative will put clean burning stoves into the hands of about 100 million people worldwide by 2020.
Orangutans seem to be able to survive in timber plantations:
Selectively logged forests and timber plantations can serve as habitat for orangutans, suggesting that populations of the endangered ape may be more resilient than previously believed, reports research published in the journal PlosONE....

"This is important news for orangutan conservation because this iconic species is highly endangered with extinction in the wild," said Meijaard. "Their native habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has been much reduced in size and fragmented, and hunting of these apes continues in many parts of their range."
German researchers have discovered a new species of ape:
The new species was discovered in rainforests between the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: an area that contains a number of gibbon species.

The new species had been thought by past researchers to be the yellow-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus gabriellae), however analysis of the animals’ DNA and distinct calls convinced researchers that although the species looks almost exactly like yellow-cheeked gibbons, they were in fact a wholly different gibbon.

Both of the gibbons belong to the family of 'crested gibbons', one of the most imperiled groups of mammals in the world.
Scientists have also rediscovered several species of amphibian that were thought to be extinct:
A search for 100 of the world's 'lost amphibians'—unseen for decades and in many cases supposed extinct—have turned up three species so far, one of which hasn't been recorded since the Nazis were bombing London. The lost amphibian expeditions, formed by Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), have found surviving populations of the cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton Mosaueri) in Mexico, the Mount Nimba reed frog (Hyperolius Nimbae) in the Ivory Coast, and the Omaniundu reed frog (Hyperolius sankuruensis) from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The recently rediscovered Mount Nimba reed frog. Photo © Ngoran Germain Kouame.
Palm oil plantations built on peatlands will be ineligible for carbon credits under the CDM:
Plantations on peatlands will no longer be supported by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a framework for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions via projects in developing countries, reports Wetlands International.

The decision, which came last Friday during the executive board meeting, will bar biofuel plantations established on peatlands from earning carbon credits that could then be sold to industrialized countries to "offset" emissions. The concern is that under the CDM, carbon finance is used to perversely subsidize conversion of carbon-dense peatlands for oil palm plantations, a process that generates substantial greenhouse gas emissions, thereby undermining any potential carbon dioxide savings from use of palm oil-based biodiesel.
In related news, General Mills has agreed to stop buying palm oil from unsustainable sources:

Environmentalists on Friday praised a decision by U.S. food-maker General Mills to stop buying palm oil from companies accused of rain forest destruction — the latest in a string of multinationals to announce policy reversals....

"We are concerned about the role of palm oil expansion in the deforestation of the world's rain forests," the company announced on its website.

Common bacteria may be able to degrade AZO dyes in textile effluent:
Certain species of lactic-acid bacteria produce a red coloration when combined with tartrazine, a yellow food-coloring agent—commonly known as FD&C Yellow No. 5—that belongs to a class of synthetic chemicals known AZO dyes. During testing, ARS researchers noticed that several Lactobacilli also modified other AZO dyes, including those used and discharged by the textile industry into wastewater streams
Hooray, says I, for ornithopters!

Aviation history was made when the University of Toronto's human-powered aircraft with flapping wings became the first of its kind to fly continuously....For centuries engineers have attempted such a feat, ever since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485.

But under the power and piloting of Todd Reichert, an Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), the wing-flapping device sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, and covered a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 kilometres per hour.

You can see a video of the flight here.

In other aviation news, keep watching the skies!
Witness testimony from more than 120 former or retired military personnel points to an ongoing and alarming intervention by unidentified aerial objects at nuclear weapons sites, as recently as 2003. In some cases, several nuclear missiles simultaneously and inexplicably malfunctioned while a disc-shaped object silently hovered nearby. Six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about these events at the National Press Club and urge the government to publicly confirm their reality.
Surely it's no coincidence that the United States and Russia have asked the IAEA to safeguard the plutonium removed from their nuclear weapons. Cheryl Rofer explains:
This is a good thing in the immediate sense that there should be international oversight of that material and in the larger sense that the United States and Russia are opening up weapon-related stuff to inspection.
Researchers have discovered a letter in a previously unknown language:

"Our investigations determined that this piece of paper records a number system in a language that has been lost for hundreds of years," Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, said.

A photograph of the letter recently released by archaeologists shows a column of numbers written in Spanish and translated into a language that scholars say is now extinct.

Addictive ads (1894-1954). The Hand Drawn Map Association (via things). Money art by Kristima Lakoff. The good old days of Letraset. Scenes from the 35th Parallel. Pomological watercolors and Bheoir Lochlannachis. The Edison Mental Fitness Test (I got 86 percent, which makes me an unemployable failure). And the National Maritime Museum's astronomy photographs of the year.

Robots! The song of the blue wren anatomized. The fire syringe anatomized. Emblemata amatoria, and how. Building NASA. The UK Sound Map. Cortot discoveries. Sketches by João Cristino da Silva. Photos by Carl Curman. Photos by Sakis Dazanis.

"When thou a Dangerous Way dost goe, Walke surely, though thy pace be slowe." Apropos of which, dust models. New views of Saturn's aurora. Vesuvius 1944 and Klyuchevsky 2010. Randomized cryptozoology via Tops and Tails. "Coming Attractions" slides are among the coming attractions at Starts Thursday! Also, painted photographs.

And a short film about seashells, dedicated to someone very sweet.

(Image at top: "This series of images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a dark mass of gas and dust, called a core, where new stars and planets will likely spring up." Via NASA.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

I found that I had a bit of breathing room this morning, and it felt all wrong. Life without stress, deadlines and unremunerated effort is no life at all!

I was at a loss, for a moment, until I remembered that I keep this millstone handy for just such an emergency.

By which I mean that it's good to be back, of course.

Anyway. Increasing women's access to education seems to lower child mortality, for some odd reason.

[R]esearchers at IHME...found 31 countries had improved the average years of schooling of reproductive-age women by more than three years between 1990 and 2009. This includes several countries in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. In seven of the world's 10 most populous countries, women of reproductive age had on average received more than six years of schooling by 2009, meaning they likely completed primary school.

Most of the countries on pace to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 – reducing the child mortality rate by 66% between 1990 and 2015 – have improved their average years of schooling for reproductive-age women faster than the global average of 1.9 years since 1990.
Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that Jerusalem must fund construction of a gay community center:
Thursday’s ruling was the latest sign that a hostile climate toward Jerusalem’s gay community may be abating....

The court said the city must help fund the center because it serves a significant chunk of the city’s population. The city said it would not appeal the decision.

A federal judge has ruled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" unconstitutional:
A federal judge said she will issue an order to halt the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, after she declared the ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled Thursday that the prohibition on openly gay service members was unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is closing additional caves and mines to protect bats:
While most important bat caves have long been closed on refuges to protect bats from human disturbance, the new policy also closes mines, which can also be significant roosting and hibernating sites for bats, particularly in western states. Approximately nine different refuges with mine complexes will see these sites made off-limits by the new directive. The agency is also planning to implement new research and monitoring protocols for those caves to address white-nose syndrome.
In the Amazon, indigenous tribes and ranchers are joining forces to combat wildfires:

Facing the worst outbreak of forest fires in three years, cattle ranchers and indigenous tribesmen in the southern Amazon have teamed up to extinguish nearly two dozen blazes over the past three months, offering hope that new alliances between long-time adversaries could help keep deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon on a downward trajectory.

Environmentalists have defeated a logging company in Tasmania:
Gunns Limited, an Australian logging company, that has been engaged in a long-running battle with environmentalists over the firm's cutting of old-growth forests on Tasmania, conceded defeat Thursday, reports the Environment News Service.

Speaking at the ForestWorks conference in Melboure, Australia, Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange said the company will transition its operations from native forests to plantations, effectively ending the practice that has won the company so much animosity from green groups over the years.
Apropos of which, it seems that ants may prevent elephants from deforesting the savanna:
These insect defenders might be having an even larger effect on the African savanna ecosystem, the scientists say. When there are enough elephants around, they can destroy so many trees that they convert wooded areas into open grassland. The ants may be preventing that. “It really is a David-and-Goliath type of story,” says Palmer. “These little ants are up against these huge herbivores, protecting trees and having a major impact on the properties of the ecosystems in which they live.”
In Cambodia, threatened vulture populations are rebounding, thanks to conservation efforts:
Cambodia is now the only country in Asia where vulture populations are increasing....

WCS says the vulture population in Cambodia is rebounding as a the result of several programs organized by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. Local communities are paid to protect vulture nests, while vulture food sources are supplemented by ‘vulture restaurants,’ feeding stations that also provide an opportunity to see the birds.
Also in Cambodia, researchers have found surprisingly high numbers of white-shouldered Ibis, which is Asia's rarest waterbird:
The discovery, which exceeds the previous estimate of 330 birds by 30 percent, was welcomed by conservationists.

"Discovering so many White-shouldered Ibis really improves our chances of saving the species," said Hugh Wright, a doctoral student at University of East Anglia and an expert on the species, in a statement. "During this record-breaking count, one of our main sites actually had far fewer birds than in previous surveys. I don’t believe these birds move very far and they were probably still present at that site. Considering previous counts, this means that the actual population could even exceed 500 birds."
Photo: Hugh Wright/UEA

A previously unknown spider species is able to spin 82-foot webs above flowing water:
Researchers Matjaz Kuntner and Ingi Agnarsson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History found the giant webs suspended across flowing bodies of water. It's the first time any spider has been shown to achieve such a feat, the team reported in a new study....

The scientists are interested in determining how exactly the Darwin bark spiders build their webs across streams, rivers, and lakes. In Madagascar, they observed orb-shaped webs spanning up to 30 square feet, with anchor lines up to 82 feet in length.

Vegetation along the Potomac River is recovering:
The Potomac, which runs through the heart of the United States Capital, has suffered centuries of environmental degradation. Water quality has declined steadily as more humans have populated its watershed. However, according to new research, the river is beginning to benefit from restoration efforts that have improved water clarity and reduced nutrient overload. The result has been a ten-fold increase in native submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). This SAV consists of plant life below the water surface which is an important habitat for fish and other marine life.
Baltimore has finally begun tearing down its "Highway to Nowhere":
The demolition of the roadway will reunite the communities of West Baltimore that have been physically separated since the highway’s construction in the early 1970’s. The full improvement project is scheduled for completion in fall of 2010.
There's more info here.

A federal judge has banned the planting of genetically engineered sugar beets:

[The Center for Food Safety], along with some organic seed producers, sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, arguing that the USDA did not look carefully enough at the potential impact of cross-pollination before it approved genetically engineered sugar beets.

A federal judge agreed.
The Obama administration claims that it will plug 3,500 oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Center for Biological Diversity applauded today’s order from the Obama administration to permanently plug nearly 3,500 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration also said about 650 unused production platforms will be dismantled.

“This is an important first step in cleaning up what’s become a dumping ground for the offshore oil and gas industry,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center. “These old wells can and do leak oil that only adds to the environmental problems the Gulf has suffered in recent decades.”

The tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati has closed most of its territorial waters to fishing, in the rather touching belief that it will teach the rest of us a lesson: Is there a message you would like to convey to the broader public?

President Anote Tong: We must get away from the idea that one person, one action cannot make a difference. One million is 1+1+1 and so on. Every person and every action is important.... What gives you hope?

President Anote Tong: I refuse to believe that any individual with a conscience would deliberately continue on a business-as-usual path knowing that their actions would result in the demise of others.
Cambridge University researchers have designed a cheap, organic solar cell:

The university team has reportedly come up with a commercial model that combines efficiency improvements, a longer lifespan, low-cost (and low-toxicity) raw materials, a cost-effective manufacturing process, and a product line that focuses on economies of scale and ease of installation. If this can be done, then cheaply produced solar cells have the ability to transform poorer countries and their energy demands.

Researchers may have found a way to render MRSA harmless:
Dr. Shoham identified a bacterial protein, known as AgrA, as the key molecule responsible for the release of toxins. AgrA, however, needs to be activated to induce toxin production. His goal was to block the activation of AgrA with a drug, thus preventing the cascade of toxin release into the blood that can lead to serious infections throughout the body. The screening for AgrA inhibitors was initially carried out in a computer by docking a library of 90,000 compounds and finding out which compounds would fit best into the activation site on AgrA. Subsequently, about one hundred of the best scoring compounds were acquired and tested in the laboratory for inhibition of the production of a toxin that ruptures red blood cells. Seven of these compounds were found to be active. Testing compounds bearing chemical similarity to the original compounds lead to the discovery of additional and more potent compounds. More than a dozen active compounds have been discovered by this method.
The UN hopes to ban DDT (even though it was already banned by Rachel Carson, who is consequently worse than 12 naked Hitlers dancing the macarena on a box of puppies).

"The aim ... is to achieve a 30 percent cut in the application of DDT worldwide by 2014 and its total phase-out by the early 2020s if not sooner," the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.

As all true patriots know, DDT hasn't been used anywhere on earth since Carson issued her monstrous ukase, so the UN can only be aiming to intensify DDT non-use by nearly a third. This will make lost jobs and productivity 30 percent harder to unlose, and rekill millions who have already been sacrificed to the anti-human death cult of enviro-fascist anophelephilia.

Which is why I support it, natch. (Here's something else we can all agree on: Sasquatch Israel!)

In related unrelated news, French supermarkets are offering self-service wine dispensers:
Astrid Terzian introduced this concept that hearkens back to a bygone era when wine would arrive in Paris shops in tonneaux and consumers would bring their own flagons to fill. But today, Terzian says, she started this scheme in fall 2008 to fill a niche, tapping into two key themes, environmental awareness and the economy. (She actually wanted to buy a wine property and run a B&B but it was too expensive. So she turned to what she says she knew how to do: sales.) The elimination of packaging mass means that the wine can be shipped much more efficiently from a cost and carbon perspective.
Globe Genie will virtually teleport you to random streets worldwide. Just think: People used to say "shut-in" like it was a bad thing. (Link via things.) Furthermore, odd bits of London. And shotgun tracts of the Lower Mississippi. And photographs by Sean D. McCormick. And via wood s lot, photographs by Frank Robert.

William Notman and the Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC, Canada (1858-1860). Indian textile designs. Vintage mobile cinema. A Soviet menu from 1967. Extremely long exposures (also via things). A Charley Harper mural in the Cincinnati federal building. And a collection of photograms.

Works of Industry of All Nations
. Animated albums. You can now create your own soundtrack for a silent film online, which means you must. Zoomorphic cities vs. caves of Borneo. The lifting of Chicago vs. the undermining of Chicago. Shooting gallery portraiture vs. report cards. And, inevitably, some Eastern European matchbook covers.

And a movie, obviously.

(Photo at top: "Blondin crossing Niagara Falls on the high wire" by J. McPherson. Via Luminous Lint.)