Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Perfect Transportation

I just noticed that Kathie Hodge of the Cornell Mushroom Blog - which I previously praised here - was kind enough to alert me to their recent time-lapse film entitled Pilobolus and the lungworm, which teaches a beautiful message about sharing:

Pilobolus species aren’t animal pathogens, but they have the same problem as the infective larvae—they need to get far from the offending dung heap to get a herbivore to eat them. With their far-shooting ability (sporangia land up to 3 meters from the dung), Pilobolus sporangia might be the perfect transportation for lungworms. To test this speculation, an experiment was designed to test what effect Pilobolus has on the dispersal of lungworm.
Two thumbs way up!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Agents of the Crown

Cryptome has compiled several articles on the MI5-funded "serial killer" Mark Haddock, a police informant ostensibly hired to provide information on terrorist attacks by the Ulster Volunteer Force:

McIlwrath added "Mark Haddock should have been in jail instead of being protected, but Special branch were now making sure he was being kept right. It makes me physically sick to think that I was sitting in my car paying this man tens of thousands of pounds to find out who was doing all the murders to find out that it is him who is doing them himself. I couldn't believe that people who were agents of the crown were committing murders, and a blind eye was being turned to it."
For some reason, this strikes me as an ideal introduction for Defense Tech's feature on microdrones:
[I]t’s not surprising that British SAS troopers should decide that rather than just spying on Taliban with their WASP micro air vehicles, they should be able to take them out. Sticking a small C4 charge on these toy-sized craft is a relatively crude approach, but one that should effectively convert them from silent spies to stealth assassins. And at $3,000 a time they are by no means the most expensive weapon around.
David Hambling suggests that swarms of microdrones could form a robotic network that would use "collective intelligence" to launch attacks, perhaps even synchronizing themselves like starlings:
A single insect-sized MAV carrying a few milliliters of napalm would be a dangerous nuisance, especially indoors or inside a vehicle. Several dozen of them would be lethal, especially when they can locate stored fuel or ammunition. Just program them to look for those distinctive ‘danger inflammable’ signs.
And hope that the enemy doesn't decide to stick them on dummy tanks, boulders, hospitals, or the houses of political enemies.

Hambling also envisions swarms of incendiary thermite-bearing "termites" that would infest enemy bunkers, and, like suicide bombers, choose effective sites at which to immolate themselves.
With their collective intelligence they can identify the complexes vulnerable points, and by combining together, they can destroy most things.
Hambling considers such species of drones to be "too indiscriminate to be used in an urban environment." But as the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo reminds us, what's "indiscriminate" to one person may be a moral necessity to another. Arthur "Bomber" Harris made this quite clear when he said, "I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier."

The idealist's vision for incendiary drones and their ilk is one of autonomy and decentralization, based on the advent of "intelligent machines" that can distinguish between friend and foe. I don't think that vision is realistic, although the attempt to achieve it is sure to result in all sorts of data-driven, quasi-predatory weapons. Still, as Russ Richards of Project Alpha says:
It will be difficult to overcome the resistance to replacing human pilots, soldiers, sailors, and Marines with robots. Or, to allow machines to make decisions.
And rightly so. After all, as the story of Mark Haddock demonstrates, it'd be a real shame if "tactical autonomous combatants" ended up killing people indiscriminately.

Monday, January 29, 2007

¡Viva La Reconquista!

Mark Steyn asks a rhetorical question:

Nobody’s anti-accents - well, okay, some folks are; I get a few complaints about mine). But people are concerned about the language the accent is speaking. If that’s not an issue, how come (to take an example sitting on my desk) the Post Office prints Priority Mail envelopes in English and Spanish?
This is utterly baffling. I've never seen Priority Mail envelopes printed in English and Spanish, and I'd be astonished if they existed. Last time I checked, Global Priority Mail envelopes weren't bilingual either, so I don't think he's confusing the two services.

In any case, Steyn needs to improve the quality of his anti-immigrant alarmism. Over at WND, they're accusing immigrants of spreading Morgellons disease, and have even gone so far as to post pictures of the fibrous material allegedly exuded by victims of this dubious ailment. If you're going to rely on apocrypha to stir up anti-immigrant outrage, you'll get a lot more mileage from a terrifying new disease than from bilingual envelopes.

Learn from the pros, Mark!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

There lies Ceratosoma sinuata,
Sea-maid in purple dressed,
Wearing a dancer's girdle
All to inflame desire:
Scorning her days of sackcloth,
Scorning her cleansing fire.

Friday Hope Blogging

An MIT study predicts great things for geothermal energy.

A comprehensive new MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.
You can read the full report here.

It turns out that investing in preventative medicine saves money as well as lives:
A new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) finds that polio vaccination in the United States has resulted in a net savings of over $180 billion, even without including the large, intangible benefits associated with avoided fear and suffering.
Behold the soul-annihilating horror of the Nanny State!

Apropos of saving money, WorldChanging discusses the PowerCost Monitor:
If you can see your pennies piling up on account of a light you left on in the bathroom, you can bet you'll remember to turn it off. It's the real-time feedback that's key. Reading a steep bill at the end of the month can't compare. It's also key not only to be able to know how many kWh -- but also how many dollars -- are burning away with your lightbulb.

Combining all these digits onto one little screen is the PowerCost Monitor from Blue Line Innovations, a Canadian start-up focused specifically on developing real-time energy feedback products for domestic energy consumers. According to their research, immediate feedback can result in 10-20% energy savings.
I'm pleased to learn about a new collaborative site called Howtopedia:
Howtopedia's building a wiki-style library of DIY recipes that promote sustainability by helping us all become a little more independent....

Howtopedia is teeming with entries about truly useful tools and low-tech innovations, many of which we've covered on Worldchanging in the context of appropriate development in rural non-industrialized areas, such as the Roundabout Pump, small-scale wind power, the pot-in-pot [desert] refrigerator, and the Rocket Stove. And it's not just hands-on projects, but also strategies and skills for things like improving one's entrepreneurial approach or activating one's community towards a common goal.
You can find a number of "low-tech innovations" on a wonderful site called Afrigadget, which compiles Africans' ingenious solutions to everyday problems.

I've expressed some skepticism here about hydrogen-powered cars, but hydrogen-powered lawnmowers seem comparatively feasible:
The researchers believe the first applications for their technology will be in smaller engines. Fuel cells are currently inefficient on such scales due to the need for fuel recycling and excess hydrogen in standard designs. The researchers' new design is closed, so 100 percent of the fuel is used and there is no need for a costly fuel recycling system.

"The system is ideal for small internal combustion engines that lack emissions controls and are highly polluting," said Benziger. "There is also no need for an extensive hydrogen distribution system for these small motors; the hydrogen could be supplied in returnable tanks such as the propane tanks used for gas grills."
California has banned perchloroethylene, a move I heartily support. The usual mob of Chicken Littles is predicting ruin for small dry cleaners. That's nonsense, by and large, but to the extent that it's true, it's quite possible to mitigate the effects (I took a tentative stab at the math and logistics here, and also described what I think is a sensible approach to phaseout).

California has also banned the purchase of electricity generated by coal-burning power plants:
The rules - aimed at reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming - could have a far-reaching effect on the energy market across the West.
Five hundred cosmetics manufacturers have agreed to stop using potentially unsafe ingredients in their products. Here's a list of signatories.

Congolese rebels have agreed to stop killing endangered gorillas:
[O]ne of Nkunda's commanders known as Colonel Makenga had met senior Congolese national park warden Paulin Ngobobo, and agreed a truce on gorilla killings.

"This is a very positive result. We weren't expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against," Wildlife Direct's statement quoted Ngobobo as saying.
A new species of rodent has been discovered in a Peruvian cloud-forest; it goes by the appealing name of Isothrix barbarabrownae:
The nocturnal, climbing rodent is beautiful yet strange looking, with long dense fur, a broad blocky head, and thickly furred tail. A blackish crest of fur on the crown, nape and shoulders add to its distinctive appearance.
Here's an illustration:

Another recently discovered creature, the chestnut-capped piha, has gained some protection thanks to efforts by the American Bird Conservancy and other groups:
"Thanks to the generous support of Conservation International, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, Robert Wilson, and Robert Giles, ABC has funded the purchase of an additional 1,310 acres, to be owned and managed by Colombian partner Fundación ProAves," said George Fenwick, the ABC president....

In addition to the piha, the reserve also contains populations of many other rare and restricted birds, including the black tinamou (known from one other site in southern Colombia, and one in central Peru), sharpbill, Stiles' tapaculo, Parker's antbird, semi-collared hawk, red-bellied grackle, multicolored tanager, black-and-gold tanager, and a wintering population of the rapidly declining cerulean warbler – a migratory songbird that nests in North America.
The piha is known locally for its song, which you can listen to here.

Speaking of birdsong, here's an x-ray movie of a singing cardinal. It's a little unsettling, but not nearly as unsettling as the sounds of termite head-banging.

Next up, the University of Hawaii's Infrasound Laboratory offers a gallery of "sounds recorded by a variety of infrasound recording systems. Signal processing algorithms were used to make them audible and occasionally pleasant. Many of the sound files are complex, and superpose breaking waves, distant storms, aircraft, and volcanoes." For starters, here's Kilauea.

Carthage Underground, a gallery featured at Underground Ozarks, comprises over 100 photos taken during the exploration of an abandoned quarry in Carthage, Missouri.

Also from the Ozarks, a haunting collection of Photographs from the Arkansas State Prison 1915-1937.

Last, via BLDGBLOG, a breathtaking series of wideangle photos by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, entitled Turkey Cinemascope.

(Photo at top via Museum of the History of Science, Ghent.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Portable Gods

Yesterday's demonstration of the active denial system - a directed-energy weapon that heats the water in human skin to an uncomfortable temperature - seems to have gone nicely:

During the first media demonstration of the weapon yesterday, airmen fired beams from a large dish antenna mounted atop a Humvee at people pretending to be rioters and acting out other scenarios that US troops might encounter in war zones....

Anyone hit by the beam immediately jumped out of its path because of the sudden blast of heat throughout the body. While the heat was not painful, it was intense enough to make the participants think their clothes were about to ignite….

"There should be no collateral damage to this," said Senior Airman Adam Navin, 22, of Green Bay, Wis., who has served several tours in Iraq.
This is the first time I've ever heard the ADS described as "not painful"; the whole point of the weapon is to produce a level of pain that people can't tolerate.

Beyond that, an angry mob whose members are simultaneously trying to get out of the path of a heat ray sounds to me like an unbeatable recipe for "collateral damage."

“Cheer up,” says Dick Destiny, “it may never happen!”
The military microwaver, you see, has always been coming but never quite arriving, perhaps one reason being because no sensible officer wants to see his career go down in flames over it when it's unleashed on a defenseless crowd and creates an atrocity that's captured on TV camera.
Although I agree with DD overall, I’m not entirely reassured by this argument. If a "sensible officer" doesn’t want to deploy the ADS, there are several ways of getting around that obstacle. Also, one nation’s atrocity is another nation’s weak-willed overindulgence; there are plenty of commentators and politicians whose biggest problem with the ADS will be that it gives "evildoers" a chance to escape.

That said, I do think the ADS is likelier to be used in a more relaxed and intimate setting, like a torture chamber.

Or perhaps it could serve as an invisible barrier against illegal border crossings. That could be very effective, especially if the pain rays were accompanied by a 75-foot, flag-waving, fire-breathing hologram of Michelle Malkin. In a post recently cited by Subtopia, Architectures of Control discusses the possible uses of projected or holographic images in conflicts large and small, and reproduces this snippet from a fascinating document called Nonlethal Weapons: Terms and References:

This reminds me of the “techno-colonial dream" described in 1883 by a New York Times op-ed piece, in which a phonograph serves as a "portable god" with which to overawe the savages. And of Henry Stanley, who used a concealed battery to shock African natives who shook his hand.

In other news, police in Tijuana are patrolling the streets with slingshots.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Long History of Advocacy

Last night, George W. Bush took the calculated political risk of acknowledging "the serious challenge of global climate change."

This morning, Kevin Mooney reveals the terrifying liberal plot to defund denialist thinktanks.

Climate change skeptics - and journalists who report on them - have become the target of a campaign aimed at stifling legitimate debate....

Leftist activists masquerading as scientists are promoting false notions of "consensus" in an effort to back calls for mandatory caps on CO2 and other "greenhouse gas" emissions....
The problem, it seems, is that "consensus" is being used to cover up "real disputes that exist in the science over the quality of data."

To anyone who's familiar with, say, evolutionary theory, it won't seem peculiar that scientific consensus could coexist with real disputes over the quality of data. But like ID discoverists, climate denialists like to portray this "contradiction" as evidence for their opponents' secret socialist agenda. Thus, Myron Ebell announces the awful truth about the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a key target of the UCS report, characterizes the UCS as a "hardcore left-wing activist" organization with a long history of advocacy.
I can't imagine anyone being shocked to learn that people who refer to themselves as "concerned scientists" have concerns about science. But Ebell apparently feels that he's blown the lid off their seedy little racket.

Next, Mooney offers a fair summary of the UCS's accusations against denialists associated with the Independent Institute, including their funding by ExxonMobil. Without a trace of irony, he quotes Fred Singer, who's fast becoming the Denial Industry's answer to Baghdad Bob:
"The facts and the data are pretty convincing now," he said. "Any warming taking place is largely due to natural variability, not human activity. The way we can tell is by comparing the pattern of warming with what greenhouse warming models predict. They don't agree."
The idea of a congressional investigation into Exxon's funding of denialists like Singer strikes Jeff Kueter, of the Exxon-funded George C. Marshall Institute, as deeply unjust:
"It smacks to me of McCarthyism and big-brotherism and is completely antithetical to the scientific process and the American political philosophy of free speech," Kueter said.
The Exxon-funded denialist Ben Lieberman can't help but agree, and suggests that the real problem is sour grapes on the part of anticapitalist one-worlders (who, like many figures in conservatarian mythology, are both all-powerful and totally ineffectual):
"What's really going on here is the skeptical arguments have merit and they are resonating with American people," Lieberman said. As a result, "there's a frustration on the part of alarmists who have not been able to scare the American people."
That'd certainly explain these survey results.

On a positive note, I have to give some credit to Bonner Cohen, who's managed to come up with an argument I've never seen before:
Cohen counters that the so-called "peer review process" is too narrowly focused, because it does not allow for input from geologists who are better positioned to gauge the question of global warming than climatologists.
Just for the record, here's what the Geological Society of America has to say about climate change:
The Geological Society of America (GSA) supports the scientific conclusions that Earth’s climate is changing; the climate changes are due in part to human activities; and the probable consequences of the climate changes will be significant and blind to geopolitical boundaries.
The American Geophysical Union concurs:
Human activities are increasingly altering the Earth's climate. These effects add to natural influences that have been present over Earth's history. Scientific evidence strongly indicates that natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of the 20th century.
It all seem very neat and tidy...until you consider the very real possibility that these once-great organizations have been infiltrated by double agents from New Swabia, and are fomenting global warming hysteria in order to usher in the Fourth Reich.

Teach the controversy!

Quick But Traumatic

A number of groups are petitioning the EPA to ban two potent poisons used for killing undesirable wildlife:

The two targeted poisons are sodium cyanide capsules (used in M-44 ejectors) and sodium fluoroacetate (known as “Compound 1080”), a toxicant used in “livestock protection collars” [pictured above] strapped to the heads of sheep and goats. Both agents are classified by EPA as having the highest degree of “acute toxicity.” Compound 1080 is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water soluble toxin considered by several countries as a chemical weapon for its potential threat to water supplies. Compound 1080 has already been banned in California and Oregon but remains legal in eleven states.

These poisons are distributed by an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called Wildlife Services, which spend approximately $100 million per year aiding ranchers, farmers and special districts in killing wildlife, ranging from beavers to bears, deemed a nuisance. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, Wildlife Services claimed to have eradicated 2.7 million animals, principally birds.
The person who developed the petition clams that "death by sodium cyanide is quick but traumatic,” which is a pretty strange way of phrasing it. (I wonder if you can suffer PTSD in the afterlife?)

Nitpicking aside, this taxpayer-subsidized handout to the livestock industry is problematic, especially considering that Wildlife Services failed two consecutive audits on its handling of "dangerous biological agents and toxins.” The historical evidence of a black market for Compound 1080 is also somewhat disturbing.

Compound 1080 is manufactured solely by Tull Chemical Co., which produces it primarily for export. There’ve been several attempts to shut Tull down since 9/11, the logic being that 1080 could be used by terrorists to poison our water supply; the discovery of a can of 1080 in Iraq added fuel to this fire. Not surprisingly, Tull’s owner thinks this concern is silly:
Other chemicals could be just as deadly in the hands of terrorists, he argues, and someone else could start making the poison. Besides, unknown quantities of the poison could be stored around the United States from decades ago, before production was regulated.

"If they shut me down it's not like it's going to just go away," Wigley said.
That actually sounds fairly reasonable to me, although it’s possible that Tull should be shut down regardless, given reports that “the company transports deadly chemicals in unmarked trucks, has virtually no security and sits on the bank of a creek that regularly floods.”

Personally, I’m in favor of banning 1080 mainly because its sole legal use is a stupid and shortsighted one. I don’t worry about terrorists dumping it into my water, and I have mixed emotions about using the threat of terrorism as an argument-settler in cases like this; other issues, like land use and wildlife management, seem to me to be more urgent, and to have more important long-term implications.

Honestly, if our day of doom ever comes, I suspect it’s going to have a lot more to do with our time-honored methods of addressing everyday problems than with any sort of terrorist attack.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Enemy Action

Defense Tech reports that the DoD has been lying about the cause of death in cases where soldiers were killed by bacterial infections linked to combat hospitals:

"For a long time, the DoD claimed that the bacteria... was a naturally occurring organism in the Iraqi soil that infected soldiers when they were wounded by IEDs," Silberman tels Defense Tech. "As you'll see, this is not the case, and the DoD has known the true source of the infections -- the combat support hospitals in Iraq themselves -- for over a year and a half."

One marine's mom was told her son died of "injuries as a result of enemy action." Turned out, it was Acinetobacter, instead.
A. baumannii is resistant to a broad spectrum of antibiotics, and has been plaguing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. Indeed, it seems to have an affinity for war zones; the CDC claims that during the Vietnam War, "A. baumannii was reported to be the most common gram-negative bacillus recovered from traumatic injuries to extremities."

The bacterium can live on surfaces for weeks, which means that it can spread from former patients to incoming ones. And from hospitals in Iraq to hospitals in America:
About 240 cases have been treated at Army hospitals since 2003, Colonel Petruccelli said. Hospitals like Walter Reed now see 6 to 12 infected soldiers a month; before 2003 they had no more than one a month.
Back in September, a congressional study found that the Iraq War was costing the United States $2 billion per week. I can't help wondering what that money might accomplish if it were allocated to antibiotic research.

UPDATE: For more details, check out The Invisible Enemy by Steve Silberman, which was the source for the DT post.

An Overwhelming Case for Action

Having lost the scientific debate, climate denialists are increasingly demanding the respect they're due as good fellow creatures and children of God. For instance, they were very upset by Heidi Cullen's recent suggestion that the AMS should strip its certification from meteorologists who don't believe in anthropogenic climate change. That's extremism, you see.

I thought her idea was pretty good, myself. If you can't uphold the standards of your chosen field, there's no obvious reason why a professional body should have to tarnish its reputation - and those of your colleagues - by continuing to count you as a member in good standing. If I were certified by the AMA, I wouldn't want them to certify the homeopath down the street, because it'd dilute my credibility and the meaning of my accomplishments. From that standpoint, you can make a case that the AMS would be crazy not to distance itself from denialist dead-enders.

But ultimately, it's a silly argument. I agree with people like David Roberts, who feel that denialism is dying on its own, and manufactured scandals like this one are simply dragging out the process.

I'm still fascinated with denialist rhetoric, though...the postmodern relativist stuff, especially. People who once treated undergrad courses on the "phallocentric gaze" as evidence of declining academic standards have no problem hurling academic standards out the window, if it'll help to legitimize Exxon-funded pseudoscience. And people who formerly screamed bloody murder when Luce Irigaray talked about "sexed" equations are now willing to accept Michael Crichton's ravings as an antidote to the "hegemonic discourse" of mainstream climatology. (And why shouldn't they? The man can bend spoons with his mind!)

I actually sympathize, to an extent, with the conservative rank-and-file’s revolt against science, just as I previously sympathized with the Left's revolt against it (in the days before dewy-eyed technophilia became more or less a default stance of dirty fucking hippies). But there's a difference between critiquing science - in itself, or in its relation to political and corporate power - and embracing what Pierre Bourdieu calls the "naively Machiavellian view of scientists' strategies," in hopes of reducing them "to the calculated brutality of political power relations."

The latter approach used to have a certain radical chic, God knows, but these days it seems to be not entirely incompatible with "moderation." At least, that's what I gather from Eric Berger's article on the alleged overselling of climate change by a shadowy gang of "absolutists":

In their efforts to capture the public's attention, then, have climate scientists oversold global warming? It's probably not a majority view, but a few climate scientists are beginning to question whether some dire predictions push the science too far.
The opinions of "a few climate scientists" probably don't comprise "a majority view"? Fair enough.

Berger trots out Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the University of Colorado, as an example of a scientist who worries about overselling the dangers of climate change:
Vranes, who is not considered a global warming skeptic by his peers, came to this conclusion after attending an American Geophysical Union meeting last month. Vranes says he detected "tension" among scientists, notably because projections of the future climate carry uncertainties — a point that hasn't been fully communicated to the public.
Berger dutifully goes hunting for corroborative accounts of this "tension." He speaks to two scientists who dismiss it, and one who argues that if it does exist, it may simply have to do with struggles "between younger researchers and older, more established scientists."

On his last attempt, though, he hits pay dirt:
"I can understand how a scientist without tenure can feel the community pressures," says environmental scientist Roger Pielke Jr., a colleague of Vranes' at the University of Colorado.

Pielke says he has felt pressure from his peers: A prominent scientist angrily accused him of being a skeptic, and a scientific journal editor asked him to "dampen" the message of a peer-reviewed paper to derail skeptics and business interests.
See how Pielke takes abuse from both sides? What can this possibly mean, but that he's a principled moderate struggling bravely against the mirror-image extremisms of Al Gore and James Inhofe?

From what I’ve read of Pielke, his main concern seems to be that scientists are “politicizing” science by taking positions of advocacy (i.e., by expressing opinions he doesn’t agree with). Putting aside whether Pielke’s specific targets are guilty - and, more important, whether his standards oblige him to fall on his own sword - it’s hard to see how an issue with such a huge potential impact on society (and on politically connected industries) could be anything but politicized. Pretending to be above the fray is a popular gimmick, but it certainly isn't objective, or neutral, or moderate. Quite the opposite, actually.

Anyhow, Berger goes on to say that "nearly all climate scientists believe the Earth is warming and that human activity, by increasing the level of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, has contributed significantly to the warming." If that sounds serious to you, it's probably because you don't understand the uncertainties involved in predicting climate. Will earth get a little hotter, or a lot hotter? Only time will tell!
To the public and policymakers [but not to scientists?], these details matter. It's one thing to worry about summer temperatures becoming a few degrees warmer.

It's quite another if ice melting from Greenland and Antarctica raises the sea level by 3 feet in the next century, enough to cover much of Galveston Island at high tide.
Well, not exactly. Either way, you're looking at manmade climate change. And the two scenarios that Berger presents as possible outcomes aren't mutually exclusive, by any means.

Pielke gets the last word:
"The case for action on climate science, both for energy policy and adaptation, is overwhelming," Pielke says. "But if we oversell the science, our credibility is at stake."
I suppose you can lose credibility by overselling an "overwhelming case" for action, so it’s nice that Pielke’s trying to save these politicized scientists from themselves.

But I hasten to add that you can also lose credibility by claiming that there's an overwhelming case for action, and then indulging in hairsplitting, hippie-baiting, and general dilettantism. Or by claiming that the problem will be solved by the same splendid free-market principles that got us into it.

On that note, I believe I'll go burn some incense and read the Tarot.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

"Rest and look at Hypselodoris villefranca. Whatever
It is. Dogs and crocodiles, sunlamps. Not
For their significance.
For their significant. For being human
The signs escape you. You, who aren't very bright
Are a signal for them. Not,
I mean, the dogs and crocodiles, sunlamps. Not
Their significance."

Friday Hope Blogging

An article in New Scientist has a lead paragraph that almost brings a tear to one’s eye:

Laying down their swords over how we came to exist, leaders from scientific and evangelical communities in the US joined forces today in an unprecedented effort to protect what we have.
Sounds good to me. As does this:
The group was spearheaded by leaders of Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment in Boston, Massachusetts, and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an umbrella group that encompasses 45,000 churches, and represents 40% of the Republican Party’s supporters.
By an odd coincidence, the dirty fucking hippie who runs Lloyd’s of London is also demanding action on climate change:
Levene, formerly a skeptic on climate change, runs the world's biggest insurance market at London-based Lloyd's.

Lloyd's manages some of the world's most complex insurance risks, from celebrity body parts to oil rigs, and extends billions of dollars in global coverage.
A number of banks are refusing to invest in TXU’s demented plan to build 11 new coal-burning plants in Texas. Citibank, however, is not one of them, even though it’s signed the Equator Principles. If you bank with them, it wouldn't hurt to drop them a polite note asking them to live up to their green rhetoric.

I don’t normally discuss techniques for life extension here, but this one is very intriguing:
New research by the University of Warwick reveals that a Nobel Prize brings more than just cash and kudos - it can also add nearly two years to your life.
All I have to do is win a Nobel prize, and I’ll have two extra years to spend looking at sites like What’s the catch?

There’s probably a point to be made here about correlation versus causation, but I’ve got other fish to fry. For instance, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the Democrat Party’s latest attempt to hand America over to the Mohammedans:
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would roll back tax breaks from an oil industry that's enjoying record profits, recoup oil and gas royalty payments and create a fund to promote alternative fuels such as ethanol.

The legislation, called the Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation (CLEAN), fulfilled a Democratic campaign pledge to reach into the pockets of Big Oil within the first 100 hours of House business.
As shocking as that is, I understand that the Dhimmicrats' next plan is to put Osama bin Laden’s face on the $1 million bill.

BushCo plans to check the no-fly list for accuracy, and remove the names of innocent people (like Senator Ted Stevens' wife Catherine, who's frequently been mistaken for that well-known Islamofascist firebrand Cat Stevens). That's not as good as scrapping this insane system altogether, but it's a step in the right direction.

The Robo-Builder can apparently build a house in 24 hours, with no human assistance. Inhabitat has a film of this machine in action. It left me somewhat baffled; your mileage may vary.

There's a heartening development underway in the South Bronx:
The Bloomberg administration, hoping to inspire more imaginative design in working-class housing, intends to turn over one of a dwindling number of large tracts of city-owned land to a development team with an unusual plan — to build a low- and moderate-income housing complex bound together by courtyards and roof gardens that would be used for everything from harvesting rainwater to farming vegetables and fruit.
In a largely symbolic but still powerful protest against clearcutting, the First Nation in northwestern Ontario has declared a moratorium on all industrial activity within its territory:
Grassy Narrows spokesman Joe Fobister said the moratorium on logging in the territory north of Kenora, Ont., doesn't have any legal weight, but is a strong statement that clear-cutting is hurting the aboriginal community.
Technology Review has an interesting article on metagenomics:
Researchers at the Joint Genome Institute…have just finished sequencing the microbial community living in the termite gut. They have already identified a number of novel cellulases--the enzymes that break down cellulose into sugar--and are now looking at the guts of other insects that digest wood, such as an anaerobic population that eats poplar chips. The end result will be "basically a giant parts list that synthetic biologists can put together to make an ideal energy-producing organism," says Hugenholtz.
Make of it what you will. The same goes for this energy-autonomous vehicle, and the most recent (as of this writing) revolutionary breakthrough in hydrogen power.

(what is this) takes "a fond look" at horror vacui, which is the ideal introduction for the rest of this week's features.

Luminous Lint has a terrific exhibition of salt prints. As a sample, here's an 1854 image from Jerusalem.

Things recommends An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. Also, Photography of the Unexpected and Neglected Architecture, which includes this wonderfully oneiric photo from the Toronto Power Generation Plant at Niagara Falls:

Apropos of which, Coudal called my attention to this photoessay describing three brave explorers’ illegal descent into the tailrace tunnel hidden behind Niagara. (Perhaps this will lead to a new sport, like border ball.)

The Many Faces of Medical Caricature in Nineteenth-Century England and France would be worth visiting just for the homepage’s animated Misery-Go-Round. But the rest of it repays inspection, and then some. I also advise you to take a gander at the Jewish Public Library's Five Centuries of Bestsellers, and World's Fair Overview: 1851-1970.

If you've got several months to dedicate to virtual flânerie, you might also visit Paris: Capital of the 19th Century, and BigWhiteGuy's seemingly inexhaustible photo albums of Hong Kong.

Last, but certainly not least, I suggest that you direct your attention to The Bottle Imp, which is one of the great Surrealist narratives of all time.

(Photo at top: "Ribbon Lightning," taken circa 1885 by William N. Jennings.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Physical Assets

Someone calling herself J. Goodrich argues that providing student loans is an appropriate function of government:

Financial markets are incomplete in the sense that a student cannot acquire a loan against the collateral of future earning power (except with the help of the government and the rules and regulations to ensure such help).
Atrios elaborates:
As we lack indentured servitude (a good thing), and there's no physical asset associated with education (a mortgage lender can take your house if you default, a student loan broker can't appropriate your brain), student loans aren't backed by anything.
Both writers are too quick to see this as a market failure, mainly because they’ve failed to reckon with the worldchanging power of the entrepreneurial spirit:
Police in southern India are investigating reports that poverty-stricken survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami sold their kidneys because of the slow pace of rehabilitation after the disaster. Up to 150 people, mainly women around the coastal city of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, are believed to have sold their organs for 50,000 rupees (£575) in the past few months.
Why shouldn’t this visionary form of bootstrapping be encouraged here, as a way for low-income students to collateralize their loans? While it’s true that having only one kidney can eventually lead to health problems, it’s also true that the formalized use of organs as collateral would assure successful graduates of getting a healthy replacement organ from new loan applicants. This would give students a tangible, real-world stake in their education, and help them to stay on track while pursuing an MBA in international business from Thunderbird.

Some doctors have already called for deregulation of kidney sales. If that happens, the kidney trade in Tamil Nadu could provide yet another example of how business opportunities in “first-plus-third" economies are leading to an exciting new era of decentralized global innovation.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All-Day Suckers

Kevin Drum claims that “the fact that Iraq is a clusterfuck” doesn’t necessarily vindicate people who were against the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, and also doesn’t necessarily prove that preventive war is wrong (he initially says “preemptive,” but then corrects himself).

Meanwhile, Megan McArdle claims that “doves” don’t deserve any credit for being right about Iraq, because “nothing that they predicted came to pass”:

If I say we shouldn't go to dinner downtown because we're going to be robbed, and we don't get robbed but we do get food poisoning, was I "right"? Only in some trivial sense. Food poisoning and robbery are completely unrelated, so my belief that we would regret going to dinner was validated only by random chance. Yet, the incident will probably increase my confidence in my prediction abilities, even though my prediction was 100% wrong.
The differences here are subtle, but important. Drum is being a schmuck, in that he suggests the invasion would’ve been acceptable if the UN had okayed it. The problem is, preventive war is illegal, so Drum’s essentially arguing that the war would’ve been better if a) it hadn’t been illegal; or b) the UN had ignored the fact that it was illegal.

McArdle, by contrast, is either lying or nuts. Plenty of people on the left predicted treasury-draining cronyism, insurgency, sectarian violence, civil war, a bumper crop of new al-Qaeda recruits…you name it. Atrios offers one example. There are others. The problem wasn’t a lack of informed or even prescient dissenters; the problem was that in the rare cases where they received any attention or airtime, they were presented as charter members of Saddam’s shoeshine brigade.

Who cares, though? The important thing is, people like McArdle and Drum were wrong for the right reasons. Sure, they may’ve been too naive, careless, cowardly, ignorant, or idealistic to be suspicious of BushCo’s motives or methods or lack of evidence. But at least they weren’t cynical (not about anyone who mattered, anyway).

Better yet, they didn’t fool around with giant puppets, or stride around on stilts while wearing rainbow-colored wigs. They kept their dignity. And isn’t that what this is all about, in the end?

I was a good deal less reasonable, I’m sad to say, in that I noticed that the people who wanted to invade Iraq were, by and large, war profiteers and former Iran-Contra figures. I found this more frightening than Saddam's balsawood drones, just as I'd previously found Elliot Abrams' whitewashing of the El Mozote massacre more frightening than the Sandinistas' prospective invasion of Harlingen, Texas.

In my admittedly extremist opinion, no one who’s unfamiliar with the background of these people has any business offering opinions about current American politics. And no one who is familiar with them could believe in good faith that their peculiar combination of postmodern theatrics and old-school racketeering would lead to anything but blood-drenched disaster in Iraq.

The Bush administration and its pet advisors are people who've demonstrated over the course of several decades that they can’t sneeze without costing the taxpayers billions, and can’t open their mouths without getting innocent people killed. They’ve been morally or factually wrong on almost every important issue of our time, from apartheid to SDI to public health. But they’re never so wrong, never so dishonest, never so dangerous, and never so deserving of pitiless, unyielding skepticism as when they propose to start wars.

I know it's not considered polite to say so, but political commentators who claim not to know this are either woefully ignorant dupes, or flat-out liars. Either way, they’re a danger to themselves and others, and don’t deserve to be taken seriously on any level. At least, not without first going through the rigorous public ritual of truth-telling, apology, repudiation, and atonement that we normally demand from, say, sexually indiscreet beauty pageant winners.

And even that’s not quite enough, really. Personally, I’m tormented by my knowledge that I could’ve and should’ve done more to stop this war before it started. The number of Iraqis we’ve killed thusfar weighs on my conscience, and makes me feel that I have blood on my hands. That’s one reason why I’m horrified by Drum’s casual claim that he turned against the war partly because “Bush wasn't serious about postwar reconstruction.”

The problem isn’t that Bush didn’t follow through on reconstruction; the problem is that commentators like Drum were foolish and ignorant enough to imagine that he might. That foolishness, that ignorance - that lack of seriousness - has helped, however tangentially, to kill and cripple a huge number of Americans and Iraqis.

It doesn’t mean that these commentators are unforgivable, necessarily. But it does mean that they should avoid abstracted, self-serving, pseudorationalist posturing like recovering alcoholics avoid bars.

And yet, Drum somehow finds it seemly to slap Atrios on the wrist for failing to devise a really airtight critique of the Bush Doctrine. As Iraq spirals out of control, he seems to want some acknowledgement of the fact that if everything had been completely different, he would’ve been right.

Iraq isn’t just a “clusterfuck.” That's a tough-sounding word, maybe, but it’s really just abstract, escapist bullshit. What’s happening in Iraq is murder, with malice aforethought, and it was enabled to a great extent by the casual contempt of people like Kevin Drum for the rule of law. Of all the political decisions an educated, intelligent person could’ve made in the last six years, the decision to support the Iraq War was by far the most serious. And if you got it wrong - if you helped, however modestly, to get us where we are today - you made just about the worst mistake you could’ve made, as an American and as a human being.

UPDATE: Thers has come up with a clever joke about Richard Cohen; see if you can divine its grain of deadly truth.
Cohen walks out into the street wearing a paper bag over his head. He gets run over by a bus. When he wakes up in the hospital a month later, he says, "who could ever have seen it coming!" And everyone laughs as the sitcom ends and the credits roll.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


In an op-ed on energy independence, the redoubtable neocon magus Frank Gaffney Jr. introduces a new term for the decisive ideological challenge of our time:

Last week, President Bush addressed the nation to describe a "way forward" in the War for the Free World and its Battle of Iraq.
Very nice! I like it much better than "War on Terror," "Global War on Terror," or "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism."

Not long ago, Stephen J. Hadley said, "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative." And he's right. It's not enough to say what you're against; people want to know what you're for. That's why "Coke Adds Life" is a better slogan than "Coke Will Annihilate Pepsi and the Vermin Who Drink It."

Of course, WFTFW (AIBOI) is a bit wordy, but it's still a vast improvement over "The Struggle Against Ideological Extremists Who Do Not Believe In Free Societies Who Happen To Use Terror As A Weapon To Try To Shake The Conscience Of The Free World" (TSAIEWDNBIFSWHTUTAAWTTTSTCOTFW), which Bush test-marketed back in 2004.

The rest of Gaffney's piece isn't quite as exciting, but it's worth a look all the same:
[O]ur society and economy...are at risk of grievous disruption if either of two things happen: (1) There are disruptions in the supply of oil from overseas sources and/or (2) the price of oil products goes through the roof.
Don't could happen!

Gaffney's prescription is basically ethanol, methanol, and hybrid cars, along with "production of advanced, high-performance lithium-ion batteries." That's in line with the recommendations of the Set America Free Coalition, which was founded by R. James Woolsey in one of those odd moments when he wasn't cashing in on the War for the Free World and its Battle of Iraq, or demanding that we bomb Syria.

Just for the record, the SAFC is a bit too captivated by biofuels and coal-to-liquids for my tastes. And I also worry that these neocon dingbats will use whatever credibility and visibility they gain by pushing for energy independence to promote things like preemptive war, EMP fearmongering, and dubious geoengineering schemes (in fact, EMP alarmist Lowell Wood is now touting himself as the man who'll save us from climate change with geoengineering).

That said, who among us does not love lithium-ion batteries?

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Lot of Talk About Feelings

Thers has written a fine denunciation of Josh Trevino, who recently waxed nostalgic over Boer War-style concentration camps (but not Nazi-style ones, so stop saying that!).

Thers ended his post by quoting from Heart of Darkness, not because doing so is particularly clever or original, but because its relevance to current conservative rhetoric is obvious to anyone with a goddamn brain:

[Mr. Kurtz's report] gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence -- of words -- of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'
But Trevino won't have it like that, 'cause his momma didn't raise no suckas. He draws himself to his full height - aflame with a pellucid probity that vitiates the impuissant obloquy so vainly essayed by the tongues of the imponderous (or words to that effect) - and announces that:
'[E]xterminate all the brutes' is hardly an apt description of British strategy in the Boer War....
Bwa ha ha! You lefty suX0rz are totally pwned, LOL!!!! And if you must persist in thinking that Conrad had a point about how easily the West's sentimental burbling about "spreading light to the dark corners of the earth" devolves into racialist bloodlust, then know, oh foolish mortal, that you do so under the pain of Josh Trevino's displeasure.

Meanwhile, NRO's Rod Dreher complains that the Iraq War has caused him to see "the limits of finitude of American power." Apparently, he used to think that as long as you have power, you get to have whatever you want, whether it be the Suppression of Savage Customs or a second helping of butterscotch pudding.

Dreher's piece is notable more for its sad-sack abjection than its forcefulness. And since he's already a laughingstock among Bush cultists, he certainly won't earn any brownie points by spouting meaningless pre-Reagan catchphrases like "question authority." Worse, Jonah Goldberg has pointed out that "there's a lot of talk about feelings" in Dreher's piece. In other words, Dreher's a pussy. And unless you want to be a pussy too, you'll prefer not to walk any portion of our national Via Dolorosa in his Birkenstocks.

Real conservatives like Goldberg don't go in for that touchy-feely stuff any more than they sit down to pee. Unlike the softheaded liberals in dairy states, they understand the imperfectibility of human nature, and the impossibility of avoiding "unintended consequences" when you undertake massive social re-engineering projects (unless you put someone smart in charge, like General Pinochet). That's what makes 'em great, and that's why it'd be a tragedy for America and the world if the chaos in Iraq hurt their credibility with the public or their peers.

Thus, as the floodwaters of disillusionment lap at the Plantation-style verandah of the Kool Kids' Klubhouse, dead-enders like Trevino and Goldberg still hope to protect themselves by building a sky-high levee out of Iraqi corpses. Not for their own sake, you understand, so much as for the good of humanity.

How many darkies must die to maintain the illusion of conservatarian competence?

How many ya got?

I mean, when you think about it, the fact that we're so civilized is really the only thing that keeps us from civilizing the brutes, isn't it? It's a Chestertonian paradox, by God, and what could be more admirable or instructive than that? We can be proud that we've kept our claws sheathed up 'til now - hooray for the better angels of our nature! - but from here on out, we need to practice the art of cruelty with a steady hand and a dry eye. For as no less imposing a military strategist than Josh Trevino has made clear, "to eschew it is folly."

Aye, it were folly indeed to eschew it, and those who contemplate it, why, they show a want of wits. Not until we lay down the law book and the lorgnette will we be able to mop up these Muslim chappies properly. And our children will thank us when Iraq has friendly natives and year-round skiing, like Dubai.

Plus, as Mark Steyn notes, "great powers can't go around losing every war that comes up and expect to remain great powers."

If you're a member of what Steyn calls "the parochial left," you might see this as an excellent argument against allowing peabrained authoritarian loudmouths to drag your country into unnecessary wars that it can't win. But that's just because you don't have Steyn's grasp of geopolitics.

Come to think of it, you probably don't have his grasp of anthropometric history, either:
[A]ny proper study of Continental “standards of living” or “biological standards of living” should take into account U.S. defense welfare, which relieves Continental governments of the need to maintain credible militaries and enables them to provide generous social programs instead. Hence, the paradox of all these 6’5” Dutchmen and Scandinavians protected by squat knuckle-dragging 5’2” Americans. Those Continentals seem tall because they’re standing on the backs of Texan midgets.
Well said! The fog of war can be well-nigh impenetrable at times. But as long as thinkers like Trevino, Goldberg, and Steyn remain on the job, Western Civilization's triumph over the savage races is assured.

(Illustration at top from the French magazine L'Assiette au Beurre, circa 1901.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Hypselodoris purpureomaculosa is it?
With a soúth-wésterly wínd blústering, with a tide rolls reels
Of crumbling, fore-foundering, thundering all-surfy seas in; see
Únderneath, their glassy barrel, of a fairy green.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

I've written a few posts about the Army's rather...impetuous plan to dump nerve gas hydrolysate in the Delaware River. Today, I'm happy to say that my efforts have paid off:

Under heavy pressure, DuPont Co. yesterday dropped out of an Army plan to dispose of caustic wastewater from the destruction of the deadly VX nerve agent in South Jersey....

"There will be no VX byproduct dumped in the Delaware River," said U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews (D., N.J.). "This is a real victory for the residents of South Jersey and the health of the Delaware River."
If you have any other problem you'd like me to solve, write it on a piece of lined notepaper, place it face up in a shoebox full of hundred-dollar bills, and send me an e-mail notification with your address. My trusty couriers will do the rest.

Israel's Yarkon River was formerly so contaminated that a couple of athletes who fell into it died. Now, after years of rehabilitation, about one-third of it is cleaned up. That's nice, but as Treehugger points out, the really heartening thing is the extent to which such efforts require cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
That’s because people are understanding that there is no use in rehabilitating rivers and parks if there isn’t cooperation from all the people who share Israel’s borders. A concept that gets good PR for the environment is the partnering of Palestinians and Israelis on different local issues. The most recent incarnation is the joint Palestinian-Israeli cleanup of the Alexander River that runs through the center of Israel.
AlterNet has an interesting article on the Zero Waste movement:
According to GRRN, "Markets today are heavily influenced by tax subsidies and incentives that favor extraction and wasteful industries." It's mainly for this reason -- and not for lack of the appropriate technology -- that waste has persisted, even in the wake of increasing environmental awareness. GRRN estimates that we have the existing technology to redirect 90 percent of what currently ends up in landfills.
Boeing-Spectrolab claims to have built a photovoltaic cell that's 40.7% efficient at converting sunlight to energy:
The solar cell represents "the highest efficiency level any photovoltaic device has ever achieved," according to David Lillington, president of Spectrolab. That claim has been verified by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. Most of today's solar cells are between 12% and 18% efficient.
That being the case, it's just as well that homeowners will soon be able to rent solar panels:
The rental program, called REnU, is billed as a cost-effective response to the challenges many would-be solar users face when confronted with the high costs of solar system equipment, installation, and maintenance. The program’s only upfront charge is a security deposit of roughly US$500, which is paid back—with interest—at the end of the contract. The REnU website has a “solar savings calculator” that estimates the amount of money households will save by switching to solar power.
According to Inhabitat, the Skystream residential windmill "can produce 400 kilowatt hours of energy per month, up to 90% of an average household’s energy consumption."

The word on the street is that Brookhaven lab scientists have stabilized platinum electrocatalysts for use in fuel cells.
Platinum is the most efficient electrocatalyst for accelerating chemical reactions in fuel cells for electric vehicles. In reactions during the stop-and-go driving of an electric car, however, the platinum dissolves, which reduces its efficiency as a catalyst. This is a major impediment for vehicle-application of fuel cells. Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have overcome this problem.
The EU is bringing a whole new meaning to "off-road vehicle":
Gas-guzzling sports cars, 4x4s and people carriers could be priced off the road within five years after a crackdown on carbon emissions to be announced by the European Commission this month.
An interesting new water purification system has been developed in response to Hurricane Katrina:
Engineers have developed a system that uses a simple water purification technique that can eliminate 100 percent of the microbes in New Orleans water samples left from Hurricane Katrina. The technique makes use of specialized resins, copper and hydrogen peroxide to purify tainted water.

The system--safer, cheaper and simpler to use than many other methods--breaks down a range of toxic chemicals. While the method cleans the water, it doesn't yet make the water drinkable. However, the method may eventually prove critical for limiting the spread of disease at disaster sites around the world.
Speaking of Katrina, a jury has ordered State Farm to pay a $2.5 million penalty for refusing to cover losses suffered by a couple in Mississippi:
Yesterday’s decision was the first by a jury in a sprawling dispute that sprang up after thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the insurers were accused of narrowly interpreting coverage and vastly underpaying claims.
A new site called WikiLeaks claims to provide a safe means for whistleblowers to report on government and corporate wrongdoing, in the form of "an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis":
Their goal is to ensure that whistle-blowers and journalists are not thrown into jail for emailing sensitive documents. That was the fate of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to a 10-year term in 2005 after publicising an email from Chinese officials about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

According to the group's website, its primary targets include China, Russia, and oppressive regimes in Eurasia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. It is not limited to these countries, however, and people anywhere will be able to use the site to reveal unethical behaviour by governments and corporations.
You can get more info here.

President Bush has suffered a setback, which means that the rest of the world has inched slightly forward:
The Bush administration yesterday withdrew a proposal to change the way federal agencies assess environmental hazards, health threats and other risks, after an expert panel declared that it was so scientifically flawed that it “could not be rescued.”
Too bad. Perhaps the next proposal could be drawn up by that noted polymath Frosty Hardison; I'm sure he works cheap.

Changing lobster-fishing strategies could help to save the endangered North Atlantic right whale:
The authors propose that if Maine restricted its lobster fishing season to 6 months and reduced the number of traps by a factor of ten, the more optimal fishing strategy--including decreased costs and improved total income--would allow greatly reduced risk to the remaining right whales while providing benefit to fishermen.
A new form of life has been discovered in the Arctic. It seems kind of surprising, until you remember that we really haven't been looking for very long, and we're often distracted by one thing and another.
The researchers have discovered a new group of microscopic organisms, which they have baptized "picobiliphytes": pico because of their extremely small size, measured in millionths of a meter, bili because they contain biliproteins, highly fluorescent substances that transform light into biomass, and phyte meaning they are plants.
Save the Bay, a Northern California-based wetlands protection group, plans to plant 40,000 seedlings around the bay, which will protect the clapper rail and other endangered species.
"The overall goal is to restore 100,000 acres in the Bay Area to tidal wetlands in partnership with other agencies," said Marilyn Latta, the advocacy's habitat-restoration director....

Volunteers can join Save the Bay for canoe trips to the island and to help plant seedlings there. Such outings are set for Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 17.
Tyson Foods must pay $1 million in penalties for the appalling problems caused by its meat-processing plant in Joslin, Illinois:
Tyson must pay $100,000 for environmental projects for Rock Island County schools, $50,000 for construction of the Quad City Botanical Center Children's Garden in Rock Island and $45,000 to remove low-concentrations of metals in a soil pile in the residential portion of Bass Street Landing in Moline.

An additional $600,000 has been earmarked for installation of idling reduction technology on Tyson-leased trucks and heavy vehicles, and $100,000 will be given to the Illinois EPA Special State Projects Trust Fund and another $100,000 to the Attorney General State Projects and Court Ordered Distribution Fund. A $30,000 civil penalty also was awarded to the state EPA, according to Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc.
The photo at the top is from a lovely gallery of gelatin silverprints by Jonathan Bailey. Check out the rest of his work, and if you've got a couple days' worth of time on your hands, you might also browse through all the carbroprints, bromoils, and cyanotypes exhibited at Alternative Photography.

If that doesn't satisy your appetite for the work of the antiquarian avant-garde, you can proceed to these gum bichromate images of Ghana. Or these stunning camera obscura photos by Shi Guorui (link via Subtopia).

Of all the photos I've seen this week, though, I think my favorite is this image from a Flickr set by Chicanery in WI (whose other work is well worth a look, too):

That reminds me: The University of Wisconsin's Relief Map Restoration Project is attempting to raise money to repair vintage relief maps like this one:

In addition to being a worthy cause, the photos are fascinating.

Not quite as fascinating, however, as John Logie Baird's Phonovision. After clicking the link, you can scroll down to see a small clip of the Paramount Astoria Girls, as captured by this mechanical television in 1933. And thanks to this BBC test card gallery, we even know what Baird's test card looked like:

Last, a beautiful online exhibition called The Old Order and the New spotlights photos taken in East Anglia between 1885 and 1895 by Peter Henry Emerson.

That ought to shut you people up for a while. Meantime, if anyone wants me, I'll be here, with a beehived divorcee at one elbow, and a sloe gin fizz at the other.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Small World

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is attempting to get American businesses exempted from the Clean Air Act by blaming local air pollution on China:

“This boils down for me to a pretty patent attempt by the Chamber to shift responsibility for clearing up air pollution from its members to sources offshore,” said the director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, John Walke.

He insisted that most of the areas in non-attainment would fail to meet the federal standards regardless of the foreign-born pollution within their borders, an assertion that the Chamber disputes.
Here's one of the Chamber's counterarguments:
“When an area is in non-attainment [of the Clean Air Act], no manufacturer in the U.S. will work there and companies already there leave the state: They go to China,” William Kovacs, who heads up environmental lobbying for the Chamber, said.
Well, if American companies are setting up shop in China because they can't or won't comply with U.S. air standards, then it's pretty goddamn obvious that we have to weaken those regulations. Otherwise, increased pollution in China could adversely affect U.S. air quality. Right?

I discussed the problem of Chinese desertification a couple of weeks ago; it takes approximately five days for dust from Mongolia to cross the ocean. Apropos of which, Lawrence Berkeley Lab is conducting a fascinating census of airborne microbes:
An airborne bacterial census will also enable scientists to track how climate change impacts the microbial composition of the atmosphere. This process is already occurring. Wind-blown dust and biomass from Africa’s expanding Sahara desert are reaching North America in significant quantities.
A primary goal of this research is to measure normal fluctuations in airborne pathogens, so that the hundreds of bioterror sensors currently deployed in American cities will properly:
“Almost all of the bacterial bioterror pathogens are in the environment and in the air naturally, so we need to find their natural backgrounds,” says Andersen.
In Austin, Texas - which happens to have been the site of LBL's recent microbe census - there was reportedly a small mishap with a container of genetically engineered avian flu:
Rather than waiting for the aerosolized flu to settle, the centrifuge had been immediately opened. In an invisible puff of air, virus particles wafted out of the machine. Now, the virus was floating around the whole lab, stirred by air movements, then slowing settling on exposed surfaces or being sucked out the exhaust which, hopefully, had effective HEPA filtration (the UT documents are silent on this item).
The recent die-off of Austin's birds is probably just a coincidence, but I'm guessing that people will get plenty of mileage out of that coincidence in the event of a flu pandemic.

It's very odd how nothing seems to stay where you put it. Through a process that can only be described as supernatural, pesticides in Costa Rica have traveled from one place to another:
Researchers say that a meteorological quirk created by mountain ranges carries the pesticides to destinations previously considered too far from agricultural areas to be of concern.
You can talk all you want about "meterological quirks," but I know the handiwork of goblins when I see it.

On the bright side, Norway has figured out what to do about a sunken U-boat that carried 65 tons of mercury intended for the Japanese munitions industry:
[T]he plan is to pour up to 300,000 tons of sand down a vertical chute to create a burial mound. The mound would rise about 10 meters feet above the surrounding sea floor, enough to cover the highest points of the wrecked vessel. The sand would then be covered by a half-meter-thick layer of rocks to prevent erosion.

"There is nothing temporary about such a solution," Gjellan asserted. "We have been told it would last forever, with zero leakage."
In an unrelated story, zircon doesn't work as well for nuclear waste storage as some people had hoped:
[R]esearchers have argued that zircon, or similar synthetic ceramics, could trap nuclear waste within their crystalline structures for at least 241,000 years, the time plutonium-239 takes to become relatively safe.

Now a study shows that this is unlikely. It turns out that alpha particles released as plutonium decays knock the atoms in zircon out of position faster than originally predicted, impairing the material's ability to immobilise waste (Nature, vol 445, p 190).
Other than that, things are going pretty well, wouldn't you say?

Outright Lies

A sympathetic SFGate article on Spocko features this droll counterattack from KSFO:

In a statement Wednesday, KSFO program director Ken Berry said, "Many of the remarks attributed to KSFO on the Internet are old, lacking context and, in some cases, outright lies. When our hosts have stepped over the line, they have apologized and have been reprimanded."
Which line is that, Ken? And which of Spocko's audio clips are "outright lies"?

I guess we'll find out at noon tomorrow. KSFO is planning a sort of community outreach program, in which the hosts targeted by Spocko will take calls and e-mails from interested parties, and perhaps even apologize for - or at least explain - some of their more offensive remarks. That's the official story, at least. My assumption is that it'll actually be an unctuous wingnut love-in, with plenty of starstruck listeners begging the hosts to stand firm against political correctness, and a handful of inarticulate lefty dissenters trotted out for cheap laughs. But only time will tell, and I'd be very pleased if I turned out to be mistaken.

They've asked Spocko to participate; needless to say, he wasn't stupid enough to accept. Spocko's strength is that he appeals in good faith to broad community standards and sensible business practices (e.g., questioning the wisdom and morality of funding people who want to exterminate half your prospective customers). He has nothing to gain by singlehandedly taking on these bullies - and their engineers and audience - on their own turf. He understands that they're hothouse flowers, and can thrive only in a heavily controlled environment; the idea that their abuse of power could effectively be addressed by helping them to abuse their power further is a nonstarter, obviously.

Since they've essentially lost the real battle with Spocko, it's not surprising that these folks would want to drag him into their lair for a carefully choreographed rematch. My understanding is that Melanie Morgan has called Spocko a coward for refusing to climb into KSFO's hot seat, but as he points out, there's no reason such a debate couldn't have a more evenly matched lineup, and be held on neutral territory. For that matter, there's no reason Morgan et al couldn't venture out of their bubble, for once, and into "enemy" territory, without their training wheels or safety net. No reason, that is, beyond the obvious fact that they want ratings, and complete control of the discussion. And revenge.

It's not cowardly to decline an invitation to one's own lynching. What's cowardly is being unwilling to debate your opponent unless you and your cronies outnumber him four to one, and can cut him off or shout him down at will, and can choose whether or not to give his supporters a voice (as opposed to regular listeners who agree with you that "the liberal tree needs to be pruned").

KSFO's morning show is a microcosm of modern conservatism, really: thin-skinned, petty bullies remarkable only for their ability to lie fluently, and their inability to take even a fraction of the abuse they dish out.

Having gotten that out of my system, I'd like to draw your attention to the "Make a Donation" button at Spocko's Brain, which allows you to contribute to his legal defense fund. Alternatively, you can contribute to the EFF, which has been giving him free legal help. Or both.

I'll leave the last word to Spocko:
I’ve been called a hero. I’m not a hero, a hero is a journalist in the middle-east working his or her ass off to tell a story that might cost them their life. Consider donating to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

My button for donations is on the right. It’s the button for PayPal right under Spocko's United Reserves Against Killing of Journalists and Liberals (Hey that spells out SURAK, of JAL wow what a coincidence!), and I put it up only at others’ insistence, but if you don’t have money, your kind words are welcomed too.
(Crossposted to Online Blogintegrity.)

The New Multiculturalism

Peak Energy has a good post on the recent controversy at a school in Federal Way, Washington, whose genius loci is apparently a fellow named Frosty Hardison:

"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."
I've seen many oddball refutatations of global warming, but the notion that it won't make things hot enough is a new one on me.

On the other hand, Hardison's wife agrees with him. So for now, at least, it's two against one:
"From what I've seen (of the movie) and what my husband has expressed to me, if (the movie) is going to take the approach of 'bad America, bad America,' I don't think it should be shown at all," Gayle Hardison said. "If you're going to come in and just say America is creating the rotten ruin of the world, I don't think the video should be shown."
Damn straight. There's no need to believe anything that might make you feel bad about yourself, or your country, unless it has something to do with sex. Which is why we should restrict our ahistorical, prejudicial scapegoating to fags, the media, and all former members of the Clinton administration.

Luckily, the dispute in Federal Way will be solved through strict adherence to the principles of Scientific Inquiry:
School Board members adopted a three-point policy that says teachers who want to show the movie must ensure that a "credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented," that they must get the OK of the principal and the superintendent, and that any teachers who have shown the film must now present an "opposing view."
Credible and legitimate denialism? They might as well demand the Gorgon's head while they're at it.

All this is necessary because, as Board president Ed Barney suggests, there are other beliefs out there, and it'd be wrong to indoctrinate children by pointing out - in a science class, for instance - that some of them are more plausible than others.

That sounds a bit like multiculturalist relativism to me. But as far as I can tell, the Right's famous arguments against "lowering academic standards" by teaching ebonics, or "thwarting the pursuit of excellence" by giving prizes to winners and losers, don't apply here even tangentially. For some reason, the idea that there's a qualitative distinction to be made between the peer-reviewed findings of world climatologists, and the bad-faith bullshit spouted by conservatarian economists like Alister McFarquhar, remains scandalous to the pitiless scourges of postmodern thought.

Beyond that, a speaker's credibility depends more on her audience than her facts; very few of us will ever manage to become "credible" to people like Mr. and Mrs. Hardison, so long as we insist on interfering with their smug pursuit of cheap grace.

Then again, who cares? It's not like anything important hinges on this debate.

UPDATE: Frosty Hardison is much, much crazier than I thought, not least because his solution for global warming is worldwide baptism, and a nuclear-powered refrigerator at each pole.

Isn't it nice that he's able to control what his neighbors' children can, and can't, learn about in school?