Friday, December 23, 2005

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I may not know which nudibranch this is, but I know what I like!

Friday Hope Blogging

A week in which Ted Stevens claims to have suffered the saddest day of his life hardly needs my help to seem cheery. (Students of pathology, take note: Attaturk mentions one of the sad days in Stevens' life that apparently distressed him quite a bit less.)

Throw in a crushing legal defeat for Wal-Mart, and an annihilating legal defeat for intelligent design, and this week's news starts to seem like the best we've had all year. Do I really need to gild the lily?

Sure I do. Engineer-Poet discusses a couple of important developments in the hybrid-car market. Here's one of them:

Honda has announced hybrid Civic price cuts and the possible withdrawal of non-hybrid Civics from some markets. With the hybrid price premium set to fall to $1700, there are fewer and fewer reasons to buy the conventional drivetrain. Eventually, Honda may no longer build them.

Getting rid of the non-hybrid Civic is a very big shift. A company which is willing to do this is probably open-minded enough to make other bold moves.
WorldChanging reports on the use of iPods as portable medical guides, with instructions on CPR and other emergency medical treatments:
FirstAidPod is an organization that provides emergency instructions as podcasts. The idea is that, while few of us carry around printed medical guides, many of us carry music players; if a medical emergency occurs, users can open up the correct audio file and listen to step-by-step instructions for handling common -- but life-threatening -- problems. Currently-available first aid podcasts include Infant CPR (.m4a) and Child CPR (.m4a), with Adult CPR coming soon.
WorldChanging also describes an interesting form of low-tech water desalinization:
Made of a rugged, transparent plastic, the Watercone is incredibly easy to use: fill up the base plate with salt water, place the cone over the plate, and wait. 24 hours later, a trough around the edge of the cone will contain 1-1.5 liters of fresh water, produced by evaporation/condensation. Pour the water out, and start again. Individual units are expected to cost around $50 apiece, although that will depend in large part on who manufactures them.
I enjoyed this article about two couples who created Indiana's Spicer Lake Nature Preserve. Even if you skip the article, click that last link and have a look at the's gorgeous. (Link via Beakspeak.)

The four people who protected the wetlands at Spicer Lake recently received an award for their efforts from the National Audubon Society. By way of contrast, three people who destroyed wetlands in Mississippi have received prison sentences and fines:
Sentenced were Robert J. Lucas Jr. of Lucedale, who developed the Big Hill Acres mobile home park in Vancleave; his daughter, Robbie Lucas Wrigley, an Ocean Springs real estate agent who sold at Big Hill Acres; and engineer M.E. Thompson Jr. of D'Iberville, who designed septic systems for the development.

Lucas received nine years in prison, and Wrigley and Thompson each got seven years and three months. Two corporations, Big Hill Acres Inc. and Consolidated Investments Inc., both run by Lucas, were fined. Big Hill Acres was ordered to pay $4.8 million and Consolidated Investment to pay $500,000. Federal officials hailed the sentences as the largest of their kind in U.S. history.
Here's a story that ought to please everyone:
The European Union (EU) will impose a complete ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed as from Jan. 1, 2006. The last four antibiotics which have been permitted as feed additives to help fatten livestock will no longer be allowed to be marketed or used from this date, said the European Commission on Thursday.
And while we're on the subject of unregenerate socialism, here's an unusual example of consumer activism from the sunny land of Sweden:
On January 1, the EU launched a system that enables companies which have not used up all their "polluting rights" to sell them to companies which have exceeded their limit.

The sale of emission rights is open to the public, a fact which has not escaped SNF. The group is giving the public the chance to buy carbon dioxide rights on its website for 350 kronor (37 euros, 44 dollars) per tonne, thereby depriving companies of those rights to emit the greenhouse gas.
Not a bad haul, eh? I seem to have gotten into the habit of ending this feature with links to aesthetically pleasing sites, so I may as well make it an official tradition. Visual Complexity compiles various graphic representations of complex networks. On a more populist note, Tick Tock Toys has an eye-gouging gallery of food advertising premiums here. For those of a more antiquarian bent, I recommend Robots of the Victorian Era.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

7 x 7

CKR at WhirledView has tagged me with a particularly long and involved Internet questionnaire, but you won't hear me grumbling about it. My humble roof may be crumpling under the weight of rodents who've been flooded from their lairs. The children may be coloring in my 1650 edition of The Booke of Pretty Conceits. I may have inadvertantly eaten several large pieces of glass. And I may be right in the middle of writing a post that will hurl the mighty face-first into the dust, and strike the yoke of tyranny from the shoulders of the oppressed. But all of these things can - nay, must - wait. First things first, is my motto.

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

1. Denial and isolation
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance
6. Burn those pictures of myself wearing that French maid's outfit
7. Take hostages
Seven Things I Cannot Do
1. Admit my incapacities
2. Play drums
3. Drink Retsina
4. Approve of myself
5. Stop buying books
6. The Australian Crawl (The Australian pub crawl, however, comes naturally to me)
7. Pay parking tickets before the fine increases
Seven Things That Attract Me to...Blogging
1. The money
2. The dames
3. The ability to bring down corrupt officials with a single well-turned phrase
4. Multiple deadlines every day!
5. Promoting the neo-Grindletonian worldview
6. Being put under illegal surveillance by a dozen conflicting government agencies that don't communicate with each other
7. Sententious disapproval from halfwits like George Simpson
Seven Things I Say Most Often

Well, I spend a lot of time in the car, so...
1. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?!"
2. "God damn you!"
3. "Maniac!"
4. "Move it, you crazy old fossil!"
5. "Get your Bush-loving ass over to Iraq, you goddamn chickenshit!"
6. "Hope you're enjoying your 4 miles per gallon, jerk!"
7. "Where are all these assholes going?"
Seven Books That I Love
1. Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
2. Real Life: Louisville in the Twenties - Michael Lesy
3. Travels in Arabia Deserta - Charles Doughty
4. Moominpappa at Sea - Tove Jansson
5. Sisters By a River - Barbara Comyns
6. English Eccentrics - Edith Sitwell
7. On Growth and Form - D'Arcy Thompson
Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over Again
1. The Seventh Victim
2. My Man Godfrey
3. Spirit of the Beehive
4. Caught
5. The Set-Up
6. It's a Gift
7. The Shop Around the Corner
Seven People I Want To Join In Too

Let's see...the wife and I both like that red-headed gal at the coffee shop, so...

Hmmm. I'm thinking I misinterpreted the question. I'll start over.

I don't think I've hit NYMary with one of these things yet, so there's a limit to how irritated she can get. And Juniper Pearl seems way too pleasant and even-tempered to get upset with me. Ditto for Hedwig. My pal Eli, of course, is so hypnotically compelling that he can hardly complain if people feel...well, hypnotically compelled by him. That goes double for Watertiger, who is a riddle inside a mystery, wrapped in an enigma and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. Then there's Wayne...who among us does not love Wayne?

Last, despite her recent harsh words about me, I guess I'll extend a feeler in the general direction of Ann Altmouse.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fish in a Barrel

Most sane people are justifiably contemptuous of "hunters" who frequent facilities where tame, drugged, or stunned animals can be gunned down at close range. What you may not know is that these lazy, cowardly buffoons can reward themselves for their ugly behavior by exploiting a loophole in the tax code, as can hunters who prey upon rare and endangered species:

[W]ealthy hunters have been killing a few "extra" animals, donating the trophies to pseudo-museums, inflating the value of these trophies and then taking a huge tax deduction for their "charitable" contribution (to "museums" that are sometimes in someone's basement or even abandoned railroad cars).
In his fine book Dominion, former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully dissects a statement by R. Bruce Duncan, author of "Secrets of Tax-Deductible Hunting":
[The tax break] is needed, according to Mr. Duncan, because "hunting costs double every ten years." Why are costs rising? Because availability is declining. Why is availability falling? Because demand has overtaken supply. Why is demand so overwhelming? In large part because of these very tax techniques which have put endangered big game animals within the means of more hunters than ever before. It is a vicious cycle of depletion and depredation, leaving fewer (and younger) animals at ever higher prices, the barriers on the hunters' appetite artificially removed by political lobbying and creative manipulations of the tax code.
Wherever there's a confluence of tax evasion, pointless brutality, wildly unequal power relations, and lurid displays of pseudo-masculinity, you're bound to stumble upon a heavily armed camp of GOP extremists. "Tax-deductible hunting," of course, is no exception. R. Bruce Duncan works closely with Safari Club International (SCI), an utterly corrupt anti-environmental organization with close ties to the Bush administration. Bush, in fact, recently put SCI's former chief lobbyist in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Much to his credit, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is trying to end this taxpayer-subsidized reward for sociopathy and perversion. You can click here to sign a petition supporting his efforts.

State of Exception

The "freedom-loving," "small-government" Right's insistence that George W. Bush can amend or ignore American law at will is becoming increasingly shrill and defiant, and increasingly bizarre. William Kristol, for instance, concocts an outlandish terra-related scenario in which Bush's illegal actions would supposedly be justified:

A U.S. president has just received word that American counterterrorist operatives have captured a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Among his possessions are a couple of cell phones -- phones that contain several American phone numbers. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, what's a president to do?

If the president were taking the advice offered by some politicians and pundits in recent days, he would order the attorney general to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The attorney general would ask that panel of federal judges for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to begin eavesdropping on those telephone numbers, to determine whether any individual associated with those numbers was involved in terrorist activities.

But the attorney general might have to tell the president he might well not be able to get that warrant. FISA requires the attorney general to convince the panel that there is "probable cause to believe" that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.
As ever, Kristol is too cute for words. 9/11 changed everything; in its wake, the president may flout our laws at his discretion. But we're not to assume that any post-9/11 alarmism has percolated down to the FISC, despite the fact that in 2004, the FISC approved - as per usual - every single application that came its way. Instead, we're invited to believe that Bush might not be able to get a legal wiretap of phone numbers found in the possession of "a senior al Qaeda operative." As evidence for this absurd proposition, Kristol invokes the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, "the French Moroccan who came to the FBI's attention before Sept. 11."

In making this illogical claim, Kristol conscientiously ignores the fact that the mishandling of the Moussaoui case had to do primarily with mistakes - to take the most optimistic view - at the FBI and DoJ, not at the always-obliging FISC. According to the Interim Report on FBI Oversight in the 107th Congress by the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Our review suggests that the same fundamental problems within the FBI that have plagued the agency in other contexts also prevented both the FBI and DOJ from aggressively pursuing FISA applications in the period before the 9/11 attacks. Such problems caused the submission of key FISA applications to the FISA Court to have been significantly delayed or not made.
This bipartisan report also addresses the question of domestic surveillance:
We are also conscious of the extraordinary power FISA confers on the Executive branch. FISA contains safeguards, including judicial review by the FISA Court and certain limited reporting requirements to congressional intelligence committees, to ensure that this power is not abused. Such safeguards are no substitute, however, for the watchful eye of the public and the Judiciary Committees, which have broader oversight responsibilities for DOJ and the FBI.
In an earlier post, I discussed the relevance of the German jurist Carl Schmitt's theories on the "state of exception" to the Right's current view of executive power:
In a "state of exception" - which might be caused by a terrorist attack, a pandemic, political unrest, or any number of other things - the sovereign must go beyond the legal system in order to preserve (one hopes) the preconstitutional spirit of the law; this dictatorial figure assesses the law from a point outside its boundaries, and modifies or annuls it as necessary....Schmitt argues that the possibility - or rather, inevitability - of the state of exception can best be addressed by a quasi-divine sovereign with broad extralegal powers, which must be available whenever the sovereign deems them necessary: "the law cannot protect itself."
Kristol makes an argument uncomfortably similar to Schmitt's:
[T]he Founders intended the executive to have -- believed the executive needed to have -- some powers in the national security area that were extralegal but constitutional.
"Some powers" is conveniently vague, of course. To invoke the Founders in defense of George W. Bush's specific, unnecessary extralegal maneuverings requires considerable insolence, and a remarkable amount of contempt for the public. James Madison said, “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home." And Thomas Jefferson said, "It is more dangerous that even a guilty person should be punished without the forms of law than that he should escape." There's no intelligent reason to assume that these men, or any other Founders, would've applauded BushCo's assault on their own system of checks and balances. More likely, they would've recognized Bush as a larval despot (at best), and Kristol as his shameless, cynical courtier.

Meanwhile, Adventus informs me that Dana Rohrabacher (R-Taliban) has been elucidating his own idiosyncratic take on constitutional law:
I'll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, DC, or New York or Los Angeles, it'll burn the Constitution as it does.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No Straw Left Ungrasped

Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation apparently fancies himself a deadly ironist.

You can do a lot of things when December rolls around and temperatures plunge. But would you hold an international conference on global warming? The United Nations did.
How about that, folks? It was cold in Montreal, but the UN held a conference on "global warming" anyway. What hypocrisy, eh?

This daft non sequitur leads to an equally daft complaint about the "contradictory" science of climate change:
[T]he speakers could never quite agree what we're up against. While most Kyoto enthusiasts have long argued the planet is getting warmer, a recent report in the journal Nature hints that a new Ice Age may be on the way. The report says the ocean current that keeps Europe warm may be shifting, which could make the continent cooler.
Before continuing, let's note Feulner's prejudicial use of the term "Ice Age" to refer to what he himself identifies as an example of regional climate change within an unsettled global system.
[N]o matter what, the worrywarts have the future covered. Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace explained, "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter; that's what we're dealing with." No wonder humanity is having trouble addressing the problems -- we can't even decide what the problems are.
Of course, scientists can agree on what the problems are, by and large. What they can't completely agree on is the full spectrum of possible results...which is not very surprising when you're talking about a problem in nonlinear dynamics. This is a point Feulner himself makes the moment it suits his purpose:
With all our scientific advances, we can barely predict what the weather will be tomorrow, let alone forecast what will happen 50 years from now.
Thus, Feulner acknowledges that scientists can't be expected to predict the precise results of climate change, while pretending that their lack of unanimity somehow renders them ridiculous. He uses a similar sleight of hand to "discredit" Guilbeaut, who's actually pointing out that global warming can have "contradictory" effects simultaneously (e.g., more rain in one region, and more drought in another).

The notion that a warming earth could lead to colder regional temperatures is widely accepted, and it's really not hard to grasp when you picture, say, melting ice caps. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explains the process in terms just about anyone can undertstand:
Warming is causing more water to evaporate from the tropics, more rainfall in subpolar and polar regions, and more ice to melt at high latitudes. As a result, fresh water is being lost from the tropics and added to the ocean at higher latitudes. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the additional fresh water can change ocean circulation patterns, disrupting or redirecting currents that now carry warm water to the north. Redirecting or slowing this "Atlantic heat pump" would mean colder winters in the northeast U.S. and Western Europe. But the heat gained from higher greenhouse gas concentrations is still in the climate system, just elsewhere. The result: a warmer earth, a colder North Atlantic.
Simple enough, unless you're a loony-libertarian dead-ender in utter thrall to Richard Mellon Scaife.

It's funny that Feulner sees fit to upbraid scientists for their intellectual sins, while making bizarre pronouncements like this one:
What we do know is that as a country becomes more affluent, it becomes cleaner.
To the miniscule extent that this is even arguably true, it ignores the fact that pollution control is usually achieved over the deafening protests of industry-funded Chicken Littles like Fuelner, who screech that it will destroy economic or scientific progress. I suppose you could argue that Britain's industrial revolution eventually resulted in some controls on industry, but its initial effect was to increase pollution, and I'll bet that this was its net effect, too. If anyone needs another example, the automobile contributed a great deal to the economic growth of the United States, while contaminating the environment with, among other things, millions of metric tons of lead. You can argue that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental costs, if you wish, but you can't coherently argue that economic growth leads reliably to a cleaner environment, unless your definition of "cleaner" is so idiosyncratic or dishonest as to be incomprehensible.

But of course, shills like Feulner aren't looking for coherent arguments; they're looking for sophistries with which to baffle an already confused public.

A Deep, Emotional Commitment

Ted Stevens (R-AK) claims to be clinically depressed over his ongoing inability to turn ANWR over to big oil:

"I'm seriously depressed, unfortunately, clinically depressed," he said. "And I've been told that's because I've been at this too long."
Stevens' self-diagnosis of mental illness does a great deal to explain his obsessive, unethical bullying on ANWR, though I suspect that depression is actually the least of his problems.

The media love to portray Stevens as "wily" and "shrewd"; these are perhaps not the best words to describe a man who's spent most of his career trying unsuccessfully to force a wildly unpopular and costly act of ecological vandalism down the public's throat. "Sociopathic" would be more appropriate, as would "criminal."

Stevens' current strategy, which ties ANWR drilling to defense appropriations, is a typical symptom of this unpleasant old man's monomania, to which he's willing to sacrifice anything and everything. In describing Stevens' derangement, however, the WaPo finds itself getting a bit dewy-eyed:
Known for his "Incredible Hulk" necktie, Stevens famously described himself as a "mean, miserable SOB." But his growling delivery masks a deep, emotional commitment to Alaska -- a vast, distant and sparsely populated state that typically leads the nation in federal pork.
I don't know what sort of telepathy WP staff writer Shailagh Murray used to ascertain that Stevens' "deep, emotional commitment" is to Alaska itself, rather than to the money he's made for himself and his cronies by sucking with vampiric fixity at the federal teat. Stevens' willingness to buy votes in Alaska with money extorted from taxpayers in other states requires nothing more noble than greed and immorality, and one suspects that strutting vanity and callous self-enrichment would be his métier no matter which state were unfortunate enough to be encumbered with him.

As regards ANWR, Stevens isn't just greedy and immoral; he's also a hypocrite. Courtesy of Gristmill, here's a 1977 quote from Stevens:
These people would snake a pipeline across one of the great landscapes of the world, the Arctic National Wildlife Range. Some have appropriately compared splitting the Arctic National Wildlife Range by a 48-inch pipeline and haul road with slicing a razor blade across the face of the Mona Lisa.
Regardless of how one feels about drilling in ANWR, the anti-democratic maneuvers that Stevens and Frist have cooked up in order to make it "legal" should be opposed on principle.

Write or call your congresspeople, and make sure that Stevens remains clinically depressed until he's relieved of office by the one term limit that even Republicans can't override.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Glossodoris cincta, whose "color is so intense that human spirits are not strong enough to bear it, though it does not prevent them from falling into mystic love with it."

Friday Hope Blogging

Who among us does not love lighter-than-air crafts? Treehugger has a fascinating interview with Fred Ferguson, who's invented a lighter-than-air wind turbine based on the magnus effect. As Ferguson describes it:

The magnus effect was discovered in the mid 1800s when a scuffed up cricket ball flew further than a smooth one. Today we see the magnus effect in the flight of golf balls and baseball "curve" balls. Basically when a back spin is imparted to any object, cylinder or ball, moving through a medium (wind as example) the spinning object takes on the aerodynamic characteristics of a wing or air foil. The back spin due to the blades and position of our wind rotor creates a lift similar to a kite of the same size.
The Magenn Air Rotor has a number of applications, particularly in third-world villages and in the aftermath of disasters. Ferguson claims that small, backpack-sized units will probably be available in about a year.

You can read about Ferguson's other inventions here. At the same site, Ferguson goes into gratifying detail about the social and environmental impact of his air rotors, addressing such questions as aesthetics, noise, and avian mortality.

Earthtoys reports that Atlantic City is planning a fairly impressive wastewater plant:
Atlantic County's wastewater treatment plant will be the first in the United States to be powered by a system that combines solar energy arrays with a wind farm. By capturing energy from the sun and the Atlantic Coast winds, rather than burning fossil fuels, the hybrid solar-wind power plant will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of approximately 3800 homes and displace the need for an estimated 24,000 barrels of oil per year.

The new power plant, to be dedicated December 12th by the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA), is also one of the largest hybrid solar-wind power plants in the world. The 8 megawatt (MW) hybrid solar-wind power plant will generate an estimated 40,800,000 kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually.
The Alliance for Zero Extinction is an umbrella group comprising dozens of scientific and environmental groups. It's attempting to pinpoint areas where extinctions are imminent, and protect them:
AZE is first focusing on species that face extinction either because their last remaining habitat is being degraded at a local level, or because their tiny global range makes them especially vulnerable to external threats....AZE scientists working in collaboration with an international network of experts have so far identified 595 such sites that must be effectively protected to prevent the extinction of 794 of the world’s most threatened species.
AZE explains the importance of their work clearly, from the possibility of finding new medicines, to the value of ecotourism, which was estimated at $20 billion in 1997. Click here to see a list of member groups, all of whom accept donations.

Speaking of new medicines, the sea slug Aplysia may provide us with a new antimicrobial:
Derby's team, who discovered escapin and holds a provisional patent for its genetic sequence, has been studying the protein for its potential applications as an antimicrobial compound for the healthcare and marine industries. The team has determined that escapin prevents the growth of all major forms of bacteria as well as other microbes.
Last, BLDGBLOG showcases a lovely collection of treated globes that depict things like nameless places, satellite blindspots, and the global seafloor. They're beautiful and thought-provoking, and you can find 300 more of them here.

DHS: 404

I don't want to alarm you, but the Department of Homeland Security's computers are antiquated and faulty:

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services's systems have come in for particular criticism from outside analysts and government auditors....In some cases, for instance, information typed into one computer must be manually retyped into a second or third....

The agency's mainframes do not share data and are accessible only by some offices. An upgrade to Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system failed because of application incompatibilities, which meant one division had to undertake a cumbersome reversion back to Windows 95....

Even the bureau's two primary case-management systems, called CLAIMS 3 and CLAIMS 4, are accessible only to certain staff at certain offices. These rely on proprietary software developed by a string of contractors in the early 1990s, "do not share data, and are extremely expensive to modify," the ombudsman concluded. (CLAIMS stands for Computer Linked Application Information Management System.)
It'd be interesting to know the names of the contractors who designed this proprietary software, and how much they got paid to do it.

I suspect that systems like these add to the problems with quasi-Stalinist programs like the "no-fly list," which is currently targeting infants and members of Congress:
Sarah Zapolsky was checking in for a flight to Italy when she discovered that her 9-month-old son's name was on the United States' "no fly" list of suspected terrorists....In addition to babies, the victims of mistaken identity on the no-fly list have included aging retirees and public figures such as Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Since TSA can't or won't simply remove names from the list, it issues an explanatory letter to the victims of its errors, which is supposed to "facilitate" travel, but apparently has no effect:
John Graham, a 63-year-old former Department of State official, said his TSA letter had not helped at all. "I'm at a point now where I don't really care whether my name is on the list as a mistake, as mistaken identity or whether someone at TSA does intend to hassle me. The fact is, there's a total absence of due process," he said....

Peter Johnson, a retired bibliographer at Princeton University, said travel became "hellish" after he discovered his name was on the no-fly list in August 2004.

"I'm not sure if what's behind this is an effort to simply control people or if it's largely mismanagement and poorly conceptualized programming," Johnson said, adding that a TSA official had told him that there were more than 2,000 other Peter Johnsons in the United States who reported similar problems.
In light of the airline industry's ongoing financial problems, it's worth mentioning that Yahoo People Search lists 1135 Peter Johnsons, and 2123 John Grahams. Aviation officials estimate that the no-fly list has tens of thousands of names on it. How much money do airlines lose annually because of no-fly errors? And what's the cost to taxpayers of resolving these problems? Apparently, 28,000 people have filed applications for redress:
TSA spokesman Christopher White said the agency has seven people working full-time on processing applications to get on the cleared list. Considering the number of applications, that works out to less than 4,000 complaints per redress officer.
If each of these full-time workers could clear ten applicants a day - a laughable idea, really - it'd only take about 400 working days, or roughly two years, to correct a problem that should never have come up in the first place. Let's just hope these seven beleaguered officers don't have to make their corrections on multiple, unlinked computers.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Stamping of Tiny Feet

George Will confirms what many of us have long suspected. For conservatives, drilling in ANWR isn't about oil:

If geologists were to decide that there were only three thimbles of oil beneath area 1002, there would still be something to be said for going down to get them, just to prove that this nation cannot be forever paralyzed by people wielding environmentalism as a cover for collectivism.
Three thimbles, eh? It's good to know that it's worthwhile to engage in an act of epic futility, simply to prove to the world that you can.

The virtue of conservatism is supposed to be that it's hard-headed and business-savvy. The bottom line, return on investment, cost/benefit analysis...these are the keen weapons with which conservatives fight the limp tyranny of bleeding-heart emotionalism.

Except when they prefer to stamp their tiny feet and howl like titty-babies, that is. The most cogent arguments against drilling in ANWR are cost/benefit arguments. Will's argument is based on nothing more than the petulance of a small man who feels thwarted by forces beyond his control. Drilling in ANWR has essentially become a test of manhood for this silly little person; if an oil company isn't able to thrust its mighty drill vigorously into the moist, yielding earth of ANWR, he'll feel personally diminished.

Will's definition of "collectivism" is pretty comical, too.
The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality.
This, of course, explains why liberals devised the Patriot Act, and want to regulate and criminalize people's sexuality, and support racial profiling and indefeinite detentions, and have directed the Pentagon to spy on religious groups that oppose the Iraq War.
People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government.
What Will calls a "large cohort" is what most of us would call a country, the collectivity of which is strongly implied by the motto "united we stand."

As for the remark about "wards of a self-aggrandizing government," one can profitably compare it with Andrew Card's famous claim that George W. Bush sees America as a 10-year-old child, or with Bush's own stated belief that God made him president.

Will's bland irrationality reminds me once again how acute Flann O'Brien was in making arbitrariness the central horror of Hell: "Anything can be said in this place and it will be true and will have to be believed."

So Late So Soon

Readers who've committed everything I've written here to memory - the majority, I'm sure - will have no trouble recalling a post entitled They Hate Us For Our Tiny Windmills, which proved once and for all that I'm more than equal to the task of slaughtering fish that dwell in barrels.

That post was about the inclusion of miniature golf courses and water parks on BushCo's list of terrorist targets. A year and six days have passed since I wrote it, and I'm happy to report that although the list still isn't finished, the miniature golf courses have been removed from it.

In addition to turning conservative orthodoxy on its head by creating an enormous new bureaucracy, President Bush appears to have staffed it with people who are completely unresponsive to his authority.

President Bush ordered the plan to be completed by December 2004. A year after that deadline and nearly three years after the department was created to protect the nation against terrorism, officials still don't have a workable database of possible targets.
How fucking hard is it to compile a list of vulnerable sites? And how fucking hard is it to punish or fire people who can't or won't deliver it on time? It's not hard at all, of course. When assessing BushCo's policies, you should usually assume that if a system seems not to be working, you misunderstand what it was intended to do.

Here's my theory, for what it's worth. Although every state knows perfectly well where its chemical plants and nuclear plants and airports and refineries are, they're attempting to shake loose federal money on essentially false pretenses, by pretending that isolate malls and city buildings in obscure towns are ideal targets for Al-Qaeda. Instead of rejecting these pretenses, and heaping shame on the heads of people who make them, BushCo is trying to figure out how to reward cronies with anti-terrorism dollars, and punish enemies by witholding them. In essence, BushCo administrates the entire country on a system of baksheesh and patronage, which makes a task as simple as identifying realistic terrorist targets virtually impossible.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) appears to agree with me, to some extent. In a recent op-ed piece, he said:
Continuing to distribute these funds throughout the nation irrespective of actual risk to particular states and communities is an irresponsible and dangerous proposition.

DeLay Innocent, Bush Declares

This post's title is a reference to a headline that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about 35 years ago: "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares."

Nixon's comment was widely considered to be an act of shocking irreponsibility, and it made headlines across the country. Although the jury was sequestered at the time, Manson was somehow able to smuggle a copy of the paper into the courtroom, and hold it up in front of the jury. The jurors were interviewed, and swore - truthfully, one hopes - that they hadn't been influenced; thus, a mistrial was narrowly averted.

Manson's stunt was an extraordinary circumstance, of course. But regardless, it was clearly improper for Nixon to make his pronouncement in the middle of a trial...not merely because it could've influenced the jury to find Manson guilty, but also because it could've forced a mistrial.

Jim VandeHei, commenting on Bush's stated belief that DeLay is innocent, notes:

It is highly unusual for a president to express an opinion about a pending legal case.
That's an exceedingly polite way of putting it. It is unusual, of course, but the reason it's unusual is that it's both outrageously stupid and ethically indefensible. Among other things, it shows clear contempt for - or ignorance of - the Sixth Amendment.

And again, the danger here is not merely that DeLay is more likely to be found innocent; given Bush's unpopularity, and the deteriorating public estimation of his honesty, Bush's comments could arguably prejudice a jury against DeLay. Whether you're for DeLay or against him, you ought to be appalled by Bush's idiocy and indiscretion in this case.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bound For Glory

The Library of Congress has compiled a terrific online exhibition of color photos taken between 1939 and 1943 by photographers from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information.

Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI). Comprised of seventy digital prints made from color transparencies taken between 1939 and 1943, this exhibition reveals a surprisingly vibrant world that has typically been viewed only through black-and-white images. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations, the nation's subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country's great mobilization for World War II.
Lovely stuff, and well worth an unhurried visit.

A Warning to Republicans

Despite having received Lou Dobbs' personal seal of approval, the California Border Police Initiative is a miserable failure.

A proposal to create a state-run border police force won't be on the ballot this summer after failing to garner enough signatures to qualify for the June election.

The initiative would have created a California agency to help the federal government patrol the California-Mexico border and arrest illegal immigrants in nonborder communities like North County and Southwest Riverside County. Backers of the measure fell about 100,000 signatures short of the 600,000 signatures required to put the initiative on the June 6 ballot, campaign director George Andrews said Monday, the deadline for turning in the signatures.
Please note that line about "nonborder communities." Despite its name, the "Border Police" would've operated throughout the state, creating a monumental headache for local law-enforcement agencies, and - almost certainly - harassing anyone who "looks illegal."

The Initiative was doomed to be struck down as unconstitutional even if it had passed, of course. It's probably just as well that it won't make the ballot, from the Republican perspective. Although some commentators have claimed that illegal immigration will be a huge issue in the 2006 elections, the defeat of Jerry Kilgore (R-VA) ought to be as sobering for the GOP as it was for the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Kilgore ran....on the death penalty and especially immigration, which ought to be a warning to Republicans in Congress who think getting tough on the border is the key to victory in 2006. At times Mr. Kilgore seemed to be running for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Commissioner, not Governor. But immigration is an issue, like trade, that always looks better in the polls than it does on election day; very few people vote because of it.
Even if they did, they might find themselves outvoted by big business. The Department of Labor estimates that illegal immigrants comprise 53 percent of the nation’s agricultural laborers; the real number is probably a good deal higher, given that capitalism thrives on dirt-cheap, disempowered labor. The Bush administration - like the GOP as a whole - tends to give factory farms a regulatory pass at the expense of family farms that obey the law, and the corporations that run these huge farms have generally been willing to fill Republican coffers in return. Thus, as I argued earlier:
GOP politicians must promise much, and deliver as little as possible, while pretending that liberals are tying their hands.
A new study questions whether illegal immigration has actually hurt California's economy, all things considered. Whether it has or not, I suspect that stupid, expensive, bigoted, and hysterical responses to illegal immigration ultimately pose a greater risk to California than the immigrants themselves do. Consider, for instance, this pointless border fence:
The wall will devastate the Tijuana Estuary, home to some of the rarest plants, birds and coastal land in the country....

History has shown that walls don't work; they just push migrants into more dangerous crossing areas where they are more likely to die. Data compiled by the Mexican Migration Project shows that in 1988 about 70 percent of crossings occurred either at Tijuana-San Diego, or in Texas at Juarez-El Paso, while 29% crossed in more remote border regions. After the construction of walls, that 29% had grown to 64%. Undocumented migrants simply started going around the more fortified sectors.

That has made border crossings more deadly. The chance of dying while crossing is triple what it was a decade ago. The inland landscape east of San Diego is harsh, outside temperatures range from over 100 degrees to well below zero, and there is no water. This year, 472 have died as of Sept. 30 and 26,000 have been rescued.
As I see it, we're wasting money, sacrificing natural resources, and killing people in order to pretend that illegal immigration isn't being driven primarily by the firms that profit from it, most of which tend to back - and be backed by - the cheap-labor wing of the GOP.

I'd Walk a Mile for Gay Sex

Much as I admire Cliff Kincaid for his all-out war against the traitorous Islamofascist dupes at Fox News, honesty obliges me to note - yet again - that he's an utter buffoon. Here's exhibit A:

Have you noticed that many news organizations, in honor of former ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings, have embarked on a quit smoking campaign? So why don't our media launch a campaign advising people to quit engaging in the dangerous and addictive homosexual lifestyle?
Good question. The first reason is that people who dwell outside the fairy ring of sexually retarded conservatism are generally aware that homosexuality isn't unnatural, and has been observed in many species. They also tend to realize that homosexuality is very likely to be at least partially genetic, and that whatever its basis, it's not simply a matter of deciding that turning gay might be a nice change of pace. Only ideologues and the ignorant take the ludicrously antiquated stance that one chooses to be homosexual the same way one might choose to get a tattoo or a nose-ring.

Come to think of it, one of the mantras of conservatism is that liberalism hobbles excellence and rewards mediocrity, by putting everyone on the same level regardless of merit. And yet, the conservative movement is infested with scientifically illiterate ciphers who, like Kincaid, have no problem demanding that knowledgeable people cripple themselves by descending to the conservative's level of ignorance and bigotry.

Speaking of ignorance and bigotry, here's a fairly droll case in point:
It appears that the homosexual lifestyle is as addictive as smoking.
Sounds like they'd rather swish than fight! But you can't blame them, really. After all, pleasure helps your disposition!

Pathologizing an everyday form of sexual expression as "addictive" is a classic gambit of sexually crippled hysterics. It had very little preventative effect when deployed against masturbation circa 1880, and it's even less efficacious today. Even if one were to grant that homosexuality is a conscious choice, it takes a very strange sort of mind to decide that once a person has made that choice, his or her basic human desire for sex constitutes more of an addiction than it would otherwise. But then again, Kincaid specifically said the lifestyle was addictive, so perhaps gay folks simply get off on paying taxes to a government that denies them basic human rights.

Or perhaps, if they're really perverted, they enjoy being told by sanctimonious bigots that America spends too much money on AIDS research:
Not only will the media not highlight this fact [i.e., the "fact" that it "appears" that homosexuality is as addictive as smoking], reporters shy away from the facts concerning the great disparities in federal funding favoring AIDS over other diseases. The FAIR Foundation points out, "The lion's share of the federal research budget is spent on AIDS—a disease that is killing a fraction of Americans each year when compared with diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's. Even the flu kills twice as many people as AIDS."
There are a couple of problems with that flu statistic. First off, the time between disease onset and mortality is much shorter for flu than for AIDS; flu victims are likely to die within days or weeks, while AIDS victims are increasingly likely to live for at least several years. As notes,
People with AIDS are surviving longer and are contributing to a steady increase in the number of people living with AIDS. This trend will continue as long as the number of new diagnoses exceeds the number of people dying each year.
The CDC claims that flu kills about 36,000 people in an average year (that number is disputed). In 2004, roughly 38,730 new diagnoses of HIV infection were reported in the United States, and there are thought to be about 1.1 million Americans currently living with AIDS. Unlike flu, of course, AIDS is a death sentence if left untreated. In other words, a small percentage of flu cases requires expensive treatment to postpone or avoid a fatal outcome, as opposed to 100 percent of AIDS cases.

Kincaid says it would be "humanitarian" for the media to advise people against being gay, because gay sex can lead to AIDS. Of course, the conservative illiterati insist that the usefulness of condoms in reducing the risk of HIV infection must not be taught in schools, nor promoted with tax dollars. In fact, the efficacy of condoms must be downplayed or denied, while the far more alarming failure rate of abstinence pledges is ignored entirely. Kincaid himself has argued that condoms are actually responsible for the increase in AIDS cases.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants to identify the real advocates for perversion and immorality in our society could do worse than have a look at Mr. Kincaid.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Deceiving Picture

In the past, I've been steadfastly opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But thanks to Gale Norton, I've seen the error of my ways:

"ANWR would supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years," she told a friendly audience at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, "New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years, California for 16 years or New Hampshire for 315 years."
Remarkable, isn't it? And it just keeps getting better, the more you look at it. According to my calculations, the oil from ANWR would provide enough petroleum to run Ludlow, California for 467,198 years. Why, by the time it ran out, we'd all be dead! So much for those peak-oil fanatics!

Some innumerate clod had the nerve to ask Ms. Norton how much mileage the country, taken as a whole, would get out of ANWR. Her response:
"When you look at it for the whole country, you really get somewhat of a deceiving picture," the secretary answered. She said that's "not the way this operates," and said the question "assumes that unless a source of energy is going to meet all of America's needs then it's not worth looking at."
Well said. It's true that if you allocate the oil from ANWR to the whole country, and take the most optimistic possible view of ANWR's yield, it would run out in about 18 months. But that's clearly the wrong way to look at things. It's divisive, both mathematically and politically.

Apparently, Ms. Norton had to contend with quite a bit of this sort of defeatism from members of the conservative Heritage Foundation:
[T]he questions were gently skeptical. One questioner pointed out the tepid support for ANWR from oil companies, "leading some on Wall Street to say this is more of a political issue than an energy economics issue." Another person pointed out that Norton's forecast of a million barrels a day from ANWR was "somewhat underwhelming."

Norton mustered every conceivable argument for the project. She spoke of personal sacrifice: "I've been to ANWR, shivered outside in 75-below wind chill." She invoked Hurricane Katrina: "We've put a lot of eggs in one basket" in the Gulf of Mexico. She tried the wasteland argument: "It contains no trees, deep water lakes or mountain peaks....
No deep-water lakes? Shocking. Ought not to be allowed.

It's true, as far as I know. ANWR does, however, have marshes and lagoons that comprise breeding habitat for 130 species of birds. And according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, raising fuel economy to 39 miles per gallon would make available 16 times more oil than drilling in ANWR would.

That's on the one hand. On the other, imagine how far ANWR's oil would go if you owned every drop of it. You'd have countless centuries of gasoline! You could own a fleet of Hummers, and not live long enough to make a noticeable dent in your own personal supply of oil. Isn't that sort of self-reliance and individualism precisely what the American dream is all about? Do you really want to forgo myriad lifetimes of security, comfort, and convenience in order to protect a place that doesn't even have a deep-water lake?

I think not.

It Takes All Kinds

This world is adorned in diverse ways, decorated with rare ornaments.

Street Mattress is a site devoted to photographs of discarded mattresses...11,627 and counting.

Le Tyrosémiophile is a gorgeous site that celebrates the glories of antique French cheese labels.

Old plate 78s is a Russian site that compiles "Music and the songs, which you can listen having unloaded with these pages to, are written down from old plates with the subsequent restoration of a sound." Stated in less exuberant prose, this site features mp3s of songs from Russian 78s, and galleries of their labels.

The Online Archive of American Folk Medicine comprises 3,200 published works, accessible through a search window. I typed in "rabies," and got references to "omelette of pulverized oyster shells" and "cauterization of wound with heated iron bar made from horseshoe found having full number of nails."

Acoustic Environments in Change documents changes in the sonic environment of six European villages.

The field recordist Robert Garfias has posted decades' worth of music "from Burma, Romania, The Philippines, Turkey, Korea, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and in addition smaller collections of recordings from Spain, Mexico, Central America, India, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand and probably others as they occur to me."

The Online Museum of Shopping Lists commemorates discarded shopping lists from the UK.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Due Notice Taken

Terri Schiavo ended up in a coma because she suffered from bulimia. Her husband was vilified and threatened with death; she herself was treated by the Right as a symbol of perfect innocence: a sexless, pliant, endearingly pathetic angel.

Rigoberto Alpizar suffered from bipolar disorder; he was gunned down stupidly and dangerously in front of his wife, to the gratified applause of the Right.

The hospice workers who looked after Terri Schiavo were fiends created by the culture of death; the air marshals who shot Alpizar are protectors who represent the culture of life. Fifteen years of failed medical treatment was not enough for Terri Schiavo; fifteen seconds of deliberation and caution were more than Alpizar and his wife and family deserved. The Schiavo case proves that the system is corrupt; the Alpizar case proves that it works. As the Washington Times said, chillingly:

Mr. Alpizar's death is a reminder of how seriously the marshals treat airline security. We should all take due notice.
Praise the lord, and pass the ammunition. Taser International suggests that air marshals could be given less-lethal weapons...tasers, for instance. For once in my life, I'm inclined to agree with them.

One official defender of the killing makes an interesting argument:
"Hollywood has this perception that we are such marksmen we can shoot an arm or leg with accuracy. We can't."
It's odd that someone who might have to use a gun in a pressurized cabin at 35,000 feet would bristle at the suggestion that he should be an especially accurate marksman. If Alpizar had actually had a bomb, it's possible that shooting him would have detonated it. At any rate, any terrorist who makes it through multiple security checks - as Alpizar did - will certainly understand the usefulness of the dead man's trigger.

Alpizar's brother expresses his skepticism about the official narrative in direct, honest language - the sort of language that's completely alien to the administration's indefatigable shoeshine brigade:
"With all the advances that the U.S. has supposedly made in their war against terrorism, I can't conceive that the marshals wouldn't be able to overpower an unarmed, single man, especially knowing he had already cleared every security check," Carlos Alpizar said Thursday of his brother's death, in a telephone interview from Costa Rica. "I will never accept that it was necessary to kill him as if he was some dangerous criminal."
Unfortunately, the hysterics and idolaters who make up Bush's base long ago decided that no amount of pointless death or suffering could tarnish the glory of the War on Terror; it justifies all actions and answers all objections, particularly when counterbalanced by such tender mercies as the ghoulish exploitation of a woman with a liquefied cortex.

We should all take due notice.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

If "compression is the first grace of style,"
Nembrotha lineolata has it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles”,
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

--Marianne Moore, very slightly adapted for the occasion by yours truly

Friday Hope Blogging

This week, I have nothing to offer but a cursory run-down of some interesting stories.

We-Make-Money-Not-Art on the Edible Estates project:

Fritz Haeg is unleashing an attack on the American lawn, this "carpet of conformity." Over the next three years, Haeg's Edible Estates project will replace the front lawns of nine single-family homes with food-producing vegetable gardens. The families have agreed to maintain the gardens, so the work is a permanent living installation....We're stuck with this idea that plants that produce food are ugly, and lawns that you have to pour chemicals on and mow are beautiful," says Haeg, who hopes his lawns can reverse that thinking.
Treehugger on the Sarkis Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion at Hackensack University Medical Center:
[The Center realized that constructing and operating a building with environmental hazards can possibly result in basically a building that made people sick. And since they are dedicated to making people healthier, they wanted to create an environment that would heal. The new hospital not only meets U.S. Green Building Council guidelines for LEED but far exceeds them. They’ve installed systems that save energy and promote clean air and water and they also use environmentally responsible cleaning supplies, linens, medical equipment and even food for the patients. Specific examples include: formaldehyde-free wooden toys and PVC-free plastic toys for children, establishment of a rooftop garden to generate energy savings, cotton insulation made from pre-consumer recycled denim jeans and power receptacles are available in the parking garage for alternative power vehicles. And that’s just to name a few!
Sounds great. Now all we need is universal health care, so that people can afford to visit it.

In Washington, another dam is slated for demolition, and I say good riddance.

NASA engineer Tom Woodbridge thinks he's on the verge of a revolutionary advance in sea power:
His father's idea, to use the rocking motion of the waves to generate electricity, came from looking at his son's Slinky toy back in 1972. After noticing how easily it transferred energy, he thought, why not use something like the Slinky as a coil that rocks?

It's a radical departure from most attempts at ocean-based electric generators, which try to use the force of the waves to turn a wheel....Tom Woodbridge has a system that follows his father's principle of capitalizing on the rocking. But there's no Slinky. Think Pogo Stick inside a floating drum. The rocking motion of the waves pushes a long cylinder of magnets up and down a copper coil.
afghans for Afghans "is a humanitarian and educational people-to-people project that sends hand-knit and crocheted blankets and sweaters, vests, hats, mittens, and socks to the beleaguered people of Afghanistan. This grassroots effort is inspired by Red Cross volunteers who made afghans, socks, slippers, and other items for soldiers and refugees during World Wars I and II and other times of crisis and need." You can also buy patterns, which will support women's literacy classes in Kabul. If you knit or crochet, or no someone who does, you could do worse than steer them to this site.

Last, via Shea Gunther, and purely for your aesthetic enjoyment, The Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a brilliant photographer who developed a method for producing color photographs without using color film in 1907 Russia....Sergei developed a camera that took three black and white photos in rapid succession shot through a red, green, and blue filter, leaving him, essentially, with three black and white images that are equivalent to the RBG Photoshop channels. Sergei then projected the three channels back through a red, gree, and blue filter on top of one another to get a color image.

The photos have a really dreamy and smooth quality to them and are definitely worth the click to check ‘em out.

Realms of the Boreal Pole

Nick Jans has written a problematic article on the development of Canada's boreal forest. My initial assumption was that Jans is some sort of shill for big oil, but after doing some research I don't think that's the case at all. Nonetheless, I think his use of language, and his basic assumptions, are worthy of close and skeptical examination.

The first thing Jans wants you to understand is that this is a forest that's very, very large:

I sit staring from the plane window, down at a seemingly endless, un-peopled expanse of lakes, river and forest. Even from a height of 25,000 feet, the landscape spills over the rim of the horizon. As an Alaskan, I'm used to thinking large, but this place stuns me, its vastness as incomprehensible as the distances between stars. What I'm looking down on is a mere fragment of western Canada's Mackenzie River basin, an area more than twice the size of Texas. Even the Mackenzie itself is all but swallowed by the scale of things. As an Alaskan, I'm used to thinking large, but this place stuns me, its vastness as incomprehensible as the distances between stars.
To me, the tip-off that there's something askew here is the line "incomprehensible as the distances between stars." It doesn't ring true emotionally. The comparison of a vibrantly living and abundant portion of the earth to the dead wastes between stars may simply be an instance of simile gone berserk, but I think you'll find that it sets an appropriate tone for what follows.
There's far more than wild country here. Though off the average American's radar, the largest oil pool outside of Saudi Arabia lies in the Mackenzie basin - the vast tar sands deposits in Alberta - along with untold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas there and farther north, on the river's great arctic delta.
"Far more"? Again, an interesting choice of emphasis. A "seemingly endless," "incomprehensible" expanse of forest suggests an equally endless and incomprehensible amount of life (and, for anyone interested in climate change, carbon; the boreal forest is the largest repository of carbon on land).

But never mind that. There's "far more" beneath it: an oil pool. The word "pool" conjures up an easily accessible bounty, as with an oasis in the desert. In reality, exploiting tar sands is more akin to a mining operation, in which about a million tons of earth are moved per day.

So we've ascertained that "untold" wealth lies beneath a "mere fragment" of land "swallowed" within a vast and redundant forest. That sounds fairly tempting. But some people might have scruples about mowing down the wilderness for oil, and it's important to reassure them.
We all know where this is headed. It's the same old story: Big energy companies come in, and Nature gets walloped in the name of progress. But what's remarkable so far about the Mackenzie drainage development is the mantra that's being chanted by an unlikely consortium of environmentalists, Indian tribes, and big industry: conservation first.
Jans goes on to describe the Canadian Boreal Initiative in terms that are less journalistic than avuncular:
Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) has emerged as a top-level player in shaping the future of the Mackenzie basin and the course of development across Canada's boreal region - at 1.4 billion acres stretching across the northern brow of the continent, one of the largest contiguous forestlands in the world. Working closely with all the various interests, led by respected conservationists and scientists and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts (a major U.S. public charity that promotes environmental conservation), the CBI has fostered a plan as wide as the boreal landscape itself.
Actually, this plan isn't quite as wide as the boreal, given that it protects roughly fifty percent of the forest, and doesn't specify - as far as I can tell - precisely which parts will be handed over to industrial exploitation, and who will make that determination.

This site claims that CBI is a fraud, but the evidence it cites is ambiguous. This site accuses CBI of misleading advertising. But by and large, it's not easy to find criticism of the group or its aims. As Jans notes, CBI is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. These trusts were set up by the children of Sun Oil founder Joseph Pew. Oddly enough, Suncor - Sun's descendent - is one of the major players in tar-sands development, and in the CBI itself. I find this connection interesting, though it may be nothing more than a coincidence.

To his credit, Jans recognizes that the boreal is in serious trouble:
Despite its almost unimaginable vastness, and despite the efforts of the CBI and its adherents, the boreal is shrinking at an alarming rate. Wood product demand gobbles up 5 acres every minute, and about a third of it has already been allotted to timber developers. Small surprise that some bird species are in sharp decline.

And with massive new projects such as the Mackenzie gas pipeline and accelerating oil development on the immediate horizon, and the world's growing appetite for ever-dwindling resources, the boreal's future is far from secure....Nonetheless, this might be one of those rare times when we get to have our cake and eat it, too. Enough of the boreal remains intact to provide a window - albeit a time-sensitive, narrowing one - of opportunity.

As audacious and pie-in-the-sky as it seems, CBI's vision seems to be catching on. Oil giant Suncor, which owns rights to the Alberta tar sands, and paper giant Domtar are among the framework's signatories.
A "pie-in-the-sky" vision seems to be catching on, eh? Well, it wouldn't be the first time, God knows.

Michael M'Gonigle, Eco-Research Chair at the University of Victoria, asks the essential question:
What is going to happen after the 50% is used up? Is the global growth economy going to stop? Are multinational companies going to say "a deal's a deal"? Ask the folks in Sarawak and Amazonia and Siberia.
Alternatively, you could ask the people in BC. A somewhat similar scheme ostensibly intended to protect the Great Bear forest has produced little more than an unsupervised orgy of clear-cutting:
"The logging underway in our territory at Tom Bay by Western Forests Products is completely unacceptable to us and clearly does not represent the type of forestry practices we envisioned when we signed the General Protocol Agreement with the province last April," said Chief Robert Germyn of the Heiltsuk First Nation who is a co-chair of the First Nations Turning Point initiative.
Perhaps a disaster of this sort won't happen with the CBI. But if there's any compelling evidence to that effect, Jans should've presented it, instead of simply rewriting CBI's press releases.

Trouble in Paradise

Cliff Kincaid - the angst-ridden chihuahua in charge of the conservative "media watchdog group" Accuracy in Media - continues his entertaining jihad against Fox News. Having formerly accused Roger Ailes of making common cause with Hillary Clinton, Kincaid now raises the volume on ultra-right accusations that Rupert Murdoch is in the back pocket of the notorious Saudi billionaire Al-waleed bin Talal:

Accuracy in Media (AIM) is urging a full inquiry into a report that a Saudi billionaire caused the Fox News Channel (FNC) to dramatically alter its coverage of the Muslim riots in France after he called the network to complain. The Saudi billionaire, Al-waleed bin Talal, is a friend of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and controls an influential number of voting shares in the company.

"This report underscores the danger of giving foreign interests a significant financial stake in U.S. media companies," declared Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media.
Earlier, Frank Gaffney had expressed dismay over Al-waleed's involvement with Murdoch and NewsCorp (Fox's parent company), particularly as regards NewsCorp's deal with the Prince's own Rotana Audio Visual Company, which Gaffney accuses of producing jihadist agitprop:
Rotana Audio Visual Company, which operates TV channels in the Middle East, has signed a deal with DirecTV, the TV-satellite firm controlled by NewsCorp. As a result, it would seem Rotana will be able to beam its programs into U.S. cable boxes without interference from federal regulators, or anybody else....Can we rely on Rupert Murdoch to keep the Saudi prince from abusing his new platforms? Perhaps not. After all, Mr. Murdoch is having succession, financial, and other problems with his business empire.
Given the Right's indulgent standards for proof of conspiracy, Kincaid's article effectively proves that Fox has put its resources and "credibility" at the service of international Islamofascism, just as Gaffney feared it would. Interestingly, Kincaid calls liberal media critic Danny Schechter as a witness for Murdoch's prosecution, despite having proclaimed elsewhere that Schechter is dishonest. It seems that any stick will serve for beating up Murdoch, at this point.

This week, Kincaid also attacked Bill O'Reilly for being a hypocrite, a money-grubber, and a toady to Murdoch.

Happy holidays, and pass the popcorn.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

An American Traitor

Here are some words of wisdom from Bob "Gunny Bob" Newman, one of the Right's second-string psychopaths for hire:

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Robert Garwood. Clayton Lonetree.

Four Americans with one thing in common: they betrayed their country for personal gain....

Today we have a fresh crop of American traitors. To the great humiliation of the legendary Marine Corps, one is a retired Marine Reserve colonel. Another is a former naval officer. The third is a medical doctor and former governor. All three have openly and brazenly aided the enemy by offering them encouragement and incentive to continue their war against America, and all three have knowingly and willingly insulted the American military and attempted to demoralize the very men and women serving in our armed forces, whose mission it is to defend the Constitution of the United States that guarantees the rights of all Americans.

Yet no charges have been brought against these traitors – Rep. John Murtha, Sen. John Kerry and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean – and none will, despite their hero status within al Qaeda....

[Y]esterday, in a radio interview, Howard Dean insisted that the American military was so incompetent and moronic that it stood no chance of victory against al Qaeda in Iraq. Absolutely no chance. Dean is now on Osama’s Ramadan card list....

Kerry, Murtha and Dean have betrayed their country and aided the enemy for personal gain.

Somewhere, two ropes and a prison cell are being wasted.
I don't think I need to comment on these remarks. As Rod Steiger said in The Big Knife, "this man buries himself with his mouth."

Elsewhere, I've documented the Right's typically flexible views about "demoralizing" troops in wartime. The only thing I'd like to add is that there's something supremely offensive - even amongst offenses as enormous as those "Gunny Bob" gets paid to commit - about the notion that American soldiers are a bunch of pathetic, malleable shrinking violets who'll fold like umbrellas if they happen to hear Howard Dean express pessimism about Bush's leadership, or Jack Murtha call for an exit strategy. I honestly don't think that men and women who have the character and determination to make it through basic training, and to face bombs and bullets daily in Iraq, are mere passive receptacles for stateside political rhetoric of any stripe. To suggest that they have to be protected from dissent and debate - while fighting for "freedom," no less - seems to me to be a projection of the right-wing punditry's collective cowardice and weakmindedness onto the only people in the country who are making a real sacrifice in this war.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Old Frontier

Somehow, I missed this report on Lawrence Livermore Lab's patent for a drone aircraft powered by a Stirling engine. This would essentially be an environmentally friendly surveillance craft; as such, it strikes me as an exciting step towards our Dark Green Future.

Meanwhile, Coudal Partners reports that Lloyd Zapato has a modest proposal for a new system of pneumatic transportation. Most of you are probably familiar with the pneumatic dispatch systems that delivered mail in old office buildings. What you may not know is that from 1870 on, larger pneumatic systems were devised that transported freight and even people. New York, in the early years of the 20th century, had a pneumatic mail system covering all of Manhattan and some of Brooklyn; a number of European cities still use pneumatic mail systems today, as do many hospitals, banks, and offices in America.

Pneumatic transportation systems have been something of a chimera for inventors; Lockheed, as late as the 1960s, was interested in building a pneumatic shuttle from New York to Philadelphia, which supposedly would've traveled at 390 miles per hour. Nothing came of it, largely because the cost wasn't competitive with that of conventional transportation.

Companies like Swisslog are hard at work improving pneumatic systems (e.g., by using RFID tags to improve tracking and routing), and such improvements are of great interest to people who dream of pneumatic passenger systems. Zapato, for instance, claims that his "Intelli-Tube" system will shuttle us around according to Internet packet-switching protocols:

The Zapato Personal Pneumatic Tube Pod Mark IV (A) featuring: a pressurized, single-occupancy cabin; reinforced nose-cones; gyroscopic stabilization; and full on-board electronics including user-friendly navigation, communication, and entertainment systems. Tapered ends, along with centralized flange placement (B), allow for handling of tighter curves than old-fashioned tubular models. The dual-purpose flanges create an air-tight seal for optimum pneumatic pressure and also contain the transceiver that lets the pod communicate with the Inteli-Tube system. The InteliTube detector ring and routing computer (C) reads pod navigation information and redirects it to its proper destination. The air-pressure regulation ring (D) controls pod velocity and direction.
I have no comment about Zapato's idea, or related schemes like the Russian Flexitaxi, except to say that I feel uncomfortably claustrophobic just thinking about it (despite Zapato's assurance that I'll be able to travel in the nude). But I do think increasing pneumatic freight transport is a very good idea, especially for hub-and-spoke distribution systems. The idea of getting delivery trucks off the road is an attractive one, God knows. Thus, I'm happy to report that a New Jersey firm with the unfortunate name of Tubexpress wants to build "an automated system for transporting general commodity freight through underground concrete pipelines, connecting nation-wide metropolitan centers." The German CargoCap system has similar aims.

The last word, for now, will go to Lawrence Vance and Milton K. Mills, who assessed pneumatic freight systems for the Federal Highway Administration:
[P]neumatic pipeline freight systems, the antecedents of current tube transportation proposals, have had high operational reliability virtually free of accidents and with an extremely low rate of cargo damage. Tube transportation systems offer clear environmental and energy-saving benefits, particularly in comparison with trucks. All current tube transportation proposals envision the use of electrical power, and they are likely to be very clean and energy-efficient. Air pollution from trucks will be reduced in proportion to the number of trucks removed from the road. Underground systems reduce intrusion in environmentally sensitive areas, and they are especially beneficial where surface land values are high, where surface conditions are already congested, or surface routes are unavailable. These are not new issues, but they are becoming more important with nationwide urban growth. Tube transportation has no significant energy advantage over railroads, but if trucks were removed from the congested areas, highway fuel use would be reduced.

For Your Consideration

Export Control Blog on a rather dramatic example of how U.S. sanctions affect Iran. Be sure to click through to ECB's post on Iranian aviation woes, written in June of this year.

Next time you board an airplane and immediately start grumbling over the lousy legroom or indifferent attitude of the (now probably pension-less) cabin crew, spare a thought for the poor Iranian air passenger. A quarter-century of more-or-less steadily escalating US sanctions prohibiting sales of aircraft and aircraft parts have taken their toll on commercial aviation there. Iran is now one of the most dangerous places in the world to fly – not in absolute terms but certainly compared to your chances in other countries.

(Link via Arms Control Wonk.)
Peak Energy on biofuels.
Sadly, the goal of bio-diesel being competitive with gasoline will be just perpetually out of reach, like a carrot on a string.
Tom Philpott on Monsanto.
The idea that this engineered form of overproduction is going to "feed the world" is fanciful. Today, literal mountains of unsold field corn dot Iowa's landscape; meanwhile, much of the world goes hungry.
Defense Tech discusses the war, on drugs.
BZ or "Agent Buzz" is the military name for 3-quinuclidinyl benzillate, an extremely powerful hallucinogen. After experimenting with a whole stash of mind-altering substances including cocaine, heroin and LSD, the Pentagon selected BZ for weaponizing. Its major advantages are that it can easily delivered in an aerosol cloud, and it is very safe.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bjorn Again

The anti-environmental activist Bjorn Lomborg is such a demonstrable fraud that I don't usually bother to keep up with his antics. Why should I waste my time trying to decipher his articles, when I could be addressing the infinitely more important mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript, or the Oak Island Money Pit?

Once in a while, though, Lomborg offers up such a pretty specimen of willful illogic that I can't help but tape it to the refrigerator door of my soul. Previously, I noted his claim that it doesn't matter if the ocean rises 50 cm in coming decades, because it rose 25 cm in past decades and "it is something we dealt with." Basically, his argument amounted to an inability to add 50 to 25, and get 75. That incapacity, I'd say, is an exceedingly slender thread from which to hang scientific pretensions as weighty as Lomberg's.

His latest article - titled The Relative Unimportance of Global Warming - isn't quite as entertaining, but it comes close enough to warrant an honorable mention.

Lomborg is different from most climate skeptics, in that he usually prefaces his ravings with this forthright credo:

To be sure, global warming is real, and it is caused by CO2.
It's not the most detailed explanation of climate change I've ever seen, but by the standards of Lomberg's peers, it still counts as a penetrating and insightful statement.

Unfortunately, once he's said that, he's talked about as much sense as he can manage. Take a gander at this pretty conceit:
[I}mmediate action will do little good. The Kyoto Protocol will cut CO2 emissions from industrialized countries by 30 percent below what it would have been in 2010, and by 50 percent in 2050. Yet, even if everyone (including the United States) lived up to the protocol's rules, and stuck to them throughout the century, the change would be almost immeasurable - postponing warming for just six years in 2100.
Some people might find Lomberg's standards for measurability a bit too stringent. Six years is a fairly long time to postpone a catastrophic event, especially when your only solution for that event depends - as Lomborg's does - on finding a technological fix.

But perhaps I'm splitting hairs. I'll give this one to Lomborg, if only because he needs rope for the noose he's making.
Global warming will mainly harm developing countries, because they are poorer and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, even the UN's most pessimistic forecasts project that by 2100 the average person in developing countries will be richer than the average person in developed countries is now.

So, early action on global warming is basically a costly way of doing very little for much richer people far in the future. We need to ask ourselves if this should, in fact, be our first priority.
Why are you furrowing your brow like that? It's perfectly simple. In 2100, the average person in, say, Guinea-Bissau will be richer than the average person in the United States is today. Therefore, "early" (i.e., tragically late) action on global warming is essentially a handout to unborn people who will be much better off financially than many of us currently are. In other words, when you resign yourself to eating strawberries grown without methyl bromide, you merely increase, ever so slightly, the decadent luxury of foreign freeloaders from the year 2100 AD. One can almost hear their mocking laughter echoing back through the decades.

Having tossed this army of straw men on the smoldering funeral pyre of his intellect, Lomborg is ready to consider real solutions - the kind men like.
Some of the world's top economists - including four Nobel laureates - answered this question at the Copenhagen Consensus in 2004, listing all major policies for improving the world according to priority. They found that HIV/AIDS, hunger, free trade and malaria were the world's top priority concerns. These were problems on which we could do the most good for our money. On the other hand, the experts rated immediate responses to climate change at the bottom of the world's priorities.
What's the Copenhagen Consensus, you ask? It was a meeting of economists and their fellow-travelers, organized by none other than Bjorn Lomborg, which labored mightily to arrive at conclusions eerily similar to his own. Major funding came from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, a dubious philanthropic group started by Ryōichi Sasakawa, a Japanese fascist and organized crime figure with thought-provoking ties to Reverend Moon's Unification Church. Other sponsors included the pro-business Tuborg Foundation, and The Economist magazine. You can read more about it here, and decide for yourself whether its conclusion that trade liberalization is one of the world's top four priorities was arrived at through reasoned debate, or brought to the meeting as a basic, unanimous assumption.

The rest of Lomborg's article says that restrictive measures like those mandated by Kyoto are expensive, and don't deliver worthwhile results for their cost. Instead, he favors a worldwide research program into energy alternatives:
[W]e should be concentrating on investments in making energy without CO2 emissions viable for our descendants....[We} should suggest a treaty binding every nation to spend, say, 0.1 percent of GDP on research and development of non-carbon-emitting energy technologies....Such a massive global research effort would also have potentially huge innovation spin-offs.
I don't disagree with Lomborg's point about research and innovation, although I think the requirement that every nation should contribute a flat amount is high-handed for a number of reasons (e.g., the fact that in certain developing regions, the bulk of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions occurs at the behest of first-world countries).

That said, Lomborg's wrong to downplay the importance of reducing emissions. First, one can argue that regulation often drives innovation; contrary to their image as groundbreaking innovators, businesses have a tendency to resist change through sheer irrational stubbornness, and often require multiple wake-up calls of increasing intensity before they'll take steps that are actually in their best interests. Second, firms that fight for their "right" to ignore Kyoto tend to be bad citizens in other ways; they're more likely to pollute water and air in ways that may not contribute to global warming, but are still socially undesirable. Third, the costs of reducing a business's carbon footprint are not necessarily as high as Lomborg claims, and can be mitigated by such benefits as new patents, and various other forms of competitive advantage (including consumer goodwill).

It's not an either/or choice in any case. Cutting emissions and increasing research into solutions are equally wise, and equally necessary. My suspicion is that the firms most likely to reject regulatory solutions are also the ones most unlikely to produce innovative solutions to climate change. It may well be that for all their technological triumphalism, Lomborg and his ilk are ultimately apologists for dinosaur industries, and other corporate dead-enders, who stand in the way of adaptation and innovation.