Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Chromodoris kuniei. I believe you've met before.

The photo is by Mia Arisanti.

Thanks to a bout of insomnia, I spent last night switching over to the new Blogger. I lost all my changes, and I didn't much like Blogger's layout ideas, so I had to attempt a variety of hacks and workarounds to get things up and running today. I'll be changing things around further as time allows.

That said, those who wish to relieve the Dear Dead Days can now click on the "nudibranchs" tag below, and view dozens of 'em on one page. I'll eventually add tags to the other posts, too (assuming I can figure out what, if anything, they're about).

Friday Hope Blogging

Thanks to public and governmental opposition, "Divine Strake" - a demented quasi-nuclear test comprising 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil - has been cancelled:

The detonation of conventional explosives had been designed to test the effectiveness of weapons against deep underground targets but critics had expressed concern that dust containing background radiation could be spread into the air.

"I have become convinced that it’s time to look at alternative methods that obviate the need for this type of large-scale test," said James Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
You and me both, pal.

As further evidence that America is becoming a nation of limp-wristed metrosexuals, NASCAR is looking into ethanol. While I'm not in love with the stuff, I agree with Kyle Petty that the proposed switch has a certain amount of cultural significance:
Driver Kyle Petty says NASCAR's marketing horsepower might drive alternative fuels into the mainstream, helping consumers get over the image of hippies tinkering with their 1980s Mercedes to make them run on vegetable oil. "I think once you start seeing alternative fuels show up in places like racing and places where you least expect them, then you don't think about that guy with the Volkswagen van that runs off of whatever," Petty said.
NASCAR is also phasing out the use of leaded fuel this year, which pleases me primarily because it'll be yet another dagger in Steve Milloy's black, shriveled heart. He'll also be happy to know that in a recent poll, 82 percent of American respondents said that "industrial companies should be taxed according to the amount of pollution they produce." And that Minnesota is moving towards passing extended producer responsibility laws. And that the FDA's attempt to promote milk from cloned animals has suffered a serious setback:
The nation's biggest milk company, Dean Foods, said Thursday it will refuse milk from cloned cows.
Apparently, their customers don't want to buy it. Go figure!

This week also brings bad news for Milloy's erstwhile paymasters at Monsanto:
EU member states have for the third time snubbed the European Commission by backing a national ban on genetically modified maize products - in this case Hungary - which Brussels says is against international trade rules.
Canada's Supreme Court has struck down an anti-terror law that allows indefinite detentions based on secret evidence:
The court ruled unanimously that the government had broken Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms by issuing so-called security certificates to imprison people, pending deportation, without giving them a chance to see the government's case.
I've finally discovered why Echidne is so much more cogent and sensible than I am:
Eating chocolate could help to sharpen up the mind and give a short-term boost to cognitive skills, a University of Nottingham expert has found. A study led by Professor Ian Macdonald found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols — a key ingredient of dark chocolate — boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours.
Clearly, I should've eaten that absinthe chocolate myself, instead of mailing it to her.

An innovative Indian company uses Bollywood-style videos to explain the use of low-cost, water-saving drip irrigation systems:
IDEI's products cost around $30 and employ simple components that are easy to use. To make it even easier, IDEI has been running a marketing program to help farmer's learn how to adopt this technology. Their instructional tool is a Bollywood-style film that educates viewers about the benefits of drip irrigation. IDEI workers bring the film from village to village and either project it from the back of a truck...or project it onto the side of a house.
It seems that drowning is one of the leading causes of death in Uganda; despite the Ugandan population's reliance on that country's lakes, very few people have ever learned to swim. Therefore, a charitable organization is taking the sensible and humane step of teaching them:
[T]he program, run by the nonprofit Lake Bunyonyi Development Company, has taught 2,200 Ugandans to swim since 2003. The group, a government-registered charity, also funds programs for HIV/AIDS education, orphan care, agro-forestry and small livestock distribution, as well as offering scholarships for local students.
Speaking of sensible and humane, 46 of 49 nations have called for a ban on cluster bombs.

Grist reports on an interesting new computer server:
British firm Zybert's Z1 GEM server, which among other things is made completely out of recycled (and recyclable) parts, when "always on" runs at 45 watts and on 1 watt when idle. That's about 25 times less than a modern toaster -- 1146 watts -- and almost half the the wattage of a typical light bulb.
The Xoloitzcuintle, a 3,500-year-old Mexican dog breed, has rebounded from near-extinction:
Emotionally fragile, with delicate skin that burns easily and poor teeth that mean they prefer chewing carrots to bones, Xoloitzcuintles had nearly died out by the 1950s, when just a hundred or so were kept by Mexican artists and intellectuals.
Here's a mug shot:

Wild elk have made a similarly impressive comeback in Ontario, over a century after they were wiped out by hunters. And a beaver was recently seen swimming in the Bronx River; they haven't been seen in NYC for the last 200 years.

Coudal alerts me to Art of the Explosion, a terrific site devoted to pyrotechnics. Which reminds me that The Paul R. Dupee Jr. '65
Collection on Fireworks
features some marvelous pyrotechnical graphics, as thus:

And here, you'll find a number of video clips of fireworks from Poland.

Giornale Nuovo has compiled some incredible artwork by Pietro Ciafferi and Gherardo and Giuseppe Poli. Here's a sample:

Things recommends Flickr's Now and Then Pool, which is sure to keep me occupied for days (assuming I ever get done with Los Angeles Mapped.

But the best site I've seen this week - or possibly ever, for that matter - is Agence Eureca, whence I swiped this astonishing illustration:

(Photo at top: "G6 Nebula Magnus, Slender Network Nebula Coming Apart," taken in 1910 by an anonymous photographer at Mount Wilson University.)

A Seller’s Market

The entirely unplanned and unforeseeable chaos in Iraq is worrying nearby countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Accordingly, they’re using their record oil profits to stock up on fancy new weapons:

Some 900 weapons makers and security firms from around the world, including the U.S. and Russia, will compete for those military buys at the IDEX military show that opens Sunday in Abu Dhabi. At stake are contracts predicted to soar past the $2 billion signed at the last such show two years ago.

"The shopping lists are directly correlated to the threat perception," said military analyst Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "For the past 15 years, these countries didn't invest a lot in rearming." But now they're rushing to upgrade.
High time, too. Defense contractors have bills to pay like everyone else.

The Saudis apparently have their eye on the elegant Tiger helicopter gunships manufactured by Eurocopter. They'll definitely need them, if they really intend to intervene on behalf of the Sunnis in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Northop Grumman will tempt the Emirates’ jaded palates with unmanned drones, and “U.S. manufacturer AAI Corp. will demonstrate robots [sic] boats as a defense for offshore oil platforms and ports.” (That'd be the Interceptor, which strikes me at first glance as a rather dangerous thing to deploy around oil platforms and ports, especially given the current imperfections of collision-avoidance systems for UAVs.)

It looks as though Raytheon will be the belle of the ball, given the Gulf’s appetite for Patriot missiles. (Which reminds me: Raytheon recently granted legal protections to its transgender and transsexual employees, which must be deeply offensive to traditionalist customers like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. If these weapons are ever used against Americans, Dinesh D'Souza will know precisely who to blame.)

In related news, IDEX vendor BAE Systems has just had a bit of good luck:
Shares in Europe's largest defense contractor, BAE Systems, hit their highest levels in over seven years Thursday, just weeks after the British government called off an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), allowing several stalled arms contracts with Saudi Arabia to proceed....BAE has been charged with bribing members of the Saudi Royal family to win the contracts....The probe was dropped in December to avoid damaging relations with Riyadh, on the grounds of "public interest."
In unrelated news, Defense Tech reports on the recent downing of several US helicopters:
[T]he enemy has simultaneously figured out how to use the gear stashed in sheds and burrows around the country and found the cojones to use it....

Whether Stingers from the CIA by way of the Taliban or SA-18s from Russia by way of Iran, the bad guys have possession of weapons that can reach out and touch our rotary wing aircraft. That's a big eye-opener, considering that going by air was heretofore considered the safer alternative to traveling over IED-infested roads.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unintelligent Mechanisms

Philip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, has written an unwittingly elegaic piece on the early promise and current malaise of his pet discipline.

Here's my favorite part:

My hope was that the scientific community would agree that it is legitimate to question whether known natural (unintelligent) mechanisms can produce the immense quantities of genetic information that would be needed to generate complex new kinds of organisms, provided that the questioning was based upon scientific evidence rather than religious doctrine or scripture.
Of course it's legitimate to question this, and plenty of people have done so. Although Johnson cagily limits his inquiry to known natural mechanisms, the "questioning" he refers to is essentially what biologists do for a living. Unless, of course, he assumes that all unknown mechanisms must be the work of intelligence.

Despite having left an enormous naturalistic loophole in his own disingenuous argument, Johnson persists in seeing science's attempted adherence to naturalism as evidence of a conspiracy against ID:
[O]rthodox scientific bodies have had to take strenuous action to keep it from cropping up in science education, and even in scientific journals.
Lest anyone should think that this "strenuous action" amounts to anything more than peer review, and a reasonable insistence on standards, Johnson makes the self-falsifying claim that ID proponents aren't even allowed to discuss their theories, inside or outside the scientific field:
[T[hose who do not want the concept of intelligent design to flourish find it necessary to enact explicit rules against allowing scientists and others to discuss the possibility that there is a real intelligence behind complex genetic information.
Like most of his co-religionists, Johnson apparently believes that a real discussion hasn't taken place until everyone agrees with him. Little wonder, then, that his humble hopes keep being dashed:
I had hoped that the mainstream scientific profession could be persuaded to consider objections to Darwinism that rely solely on empirical evidence and logic and were directed only to the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism....Darwinists, including many in positions of authority in science, reacted by stigmatizing the concept of intelligent design in biology as “creationism,” as if it were another attempt to defend the literal creation chronology of the Book of Genesis, rather than a scientific movement that relies only on scientific evidence and logical analysis.
Shorter Johnson: Biblical literalists are hopelessly deluded, and can't be taken seriously. This is more evidence that, as I've argued previously, the Discovery Institute's "Wedge Strategy" is more of a boomerang:
ID's willingness to make certain tactical concessions to science set it on a collision course with young-earth creationism from the start. And as Michael Behe himself noted in Darwin's Black Box, its definitions are vague enough to leave open such naturalistic "escape clauses" as directed panspermia; thus, it provides no real support for the existence of any god, let alone a specific god like YHWH. For Biblical literalists, even the trace amount of science in ID is deadly poison.
The real problem comes in the next sentence:
Although the IDM did not identify the designer as anything more than a source of biological information, there was little doubt that believers in the Christian God, including me, would find scientific acceptance of ID highly encouraging.
Encouraging? O ye of little faith! Once again, American Christianity runs afoul not of the Scientific Establishment's materialism, but of its own.

It's also odd how this exciting new form of science - which is not to be confused with creationism, and relies "only on scientific evidence and logical analysis" - seems to be able to double effortlessly as Christian witness:
I see many signs that dissatisfaction with evolutionary naturalism is spreading throughout the world. One of these signs is the many languages into which some of my own books have been translated, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Czech, Finnish, and Macedonian....Clearly, reports of the death of God have been greatly exaggerated.
You are following this, aren't you? ID takes no stance whatsoever on the definition of "intelligence." But the translation of Johnson's books into Macedonian nonetheless deals a staggering blow to atheism. (How many languages has Dracula been translated into, I wonder?)

This, mind you, is the movement that claims it will save science by placing its feet back on the path of intellectual honesty.

Coincidentally, an article by Elliot Sober in the Quarterly Review of Biology makes a point I've made here before:
"If ID is to be tested," he says, "it must be tested against one or more competing hypotheses." If the ID claim about the vertebrate eye is to be tested against the hypothesis that the vertebrate eye evolved by Darwinian processes, the question is whether there is an observation that can discriminate between the two. The observation that vertebrates have eyes cannot do this.

Sober also points out that criticism of a competing theory, such as evolution, is not in-and-of-itself a test of ID.... To contend that evolutionary processes cannot produce "irreducibly complex" adaptations merely changes the subject, Sober argues.
True enough. But then, all this presupposes that ID is intended to be a scientific theory, instead of a political strategy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Only Acceptable Outcome

As much as I'd love to be bickering over religion with everyone else, I keep getting distracted by stories like this one:

New government rules seeking to thwart terrorist attacks on chemical plants are facing stiff opposition from state leaders, environmentalists and others who say the regulations are flawed, vague and unlikely to protect the public....

In New Jersey, state lawmakers in 2005 passed stricter chemical security rules than those set to take effect at the federal level. The federal rules, however, would invalidate the New Jersey rules, in effect weakening chemical security in that state, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine says.
And this one:
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today barred media representatives and the public from a closed-door meeting with selected lobbyists and others called to discuss legislative and regulatory changes in the troubled site remediation program....

“It does not bode well that DEP wants to develop its new toxic protection plan in secret with the usual suspects,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe.
New Jersey has been a focus of post-9/11 security measures, at least in rhetorical terms, thanks to the number of people who live and work near its lengthy corridor of chemical plants. As I said a while back,
This is what James Inhofe (R-OK) sneeringly refers to as the security argument. In the looking-glass world of conservatarianism, wiretapping citizens without oversight is necessary because it might prevent a devastating attack, but enforcing chemical plant security is an intolerable infringement of fundamental American liberties.
Speaking of which, an article in Washington Monthly explains how Dick Cheney's son-in-law Philip Perry was instrumental in overriding New Jersey state law on behalf of the chemical industry:
The only acceptable outcome...would be for Washington to pass legislation giving the industry exactly what it wanted: a fig leaf of regulations to satisfy public opinion and a hidden gun that would take aim at New Jersey’s tough new regulations.

Enter Philip Perry....Perry reworked the language and helped to get it added to the spending bill in a conference committee. Under the new amendment, the DHS would have nominal authority to regulate the chemical industry but also have its hands tied where required. For example, the DHS would be barred from requiring any specific security measures, and citizens would be prohibited from suing to enforce the law. Best of all for industry, while the bill didn’t mention giving the DHS preemption authority, it didn’t bar it, either, leaving a modicum of wiggle room on the subject. In other words, if Perry was sufficiently brazen, he could claim for the DHS the power to nullify the chemical regulations in New Jersey.

He was sufficiently brazen.
The doctrine of states' rights seems to have lost a lot of its appeal for conservatarians, the high-minded rhetoric of Executive Order 12612 notwithstanding. It's one thing for a state to beat up on fags, but inconveniencing chlorine manufacturers is another thing entirely.

Enough about that, though. Anyone know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

UPDATE: Apropos of chlorine:
A truck bomb that combined explosives with chlorine gas blew up in southern Baghdad on Wednesday, and officials said it may represent a new and deadly tactic by insurgents against Iraqi civilians.

It was at least the third truck bomb in a month to employ chlorine, a greenish gas also used in World War I, which burns the skin and can be fatal after only a few concentrated breaths.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fools By Heavenly Compulsion

An article entitled U.S. Beliefs in Pseudoscience Worry Experts advises me that experts are worried by U.S. beliefs in pseudoscience. Faith in astrology, for instance, appears to be on the rise.

Why is this happening? Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University, explains:

One problem, she said, is that pseudoscience can speak to the meaning of life in ways that science does not. For example, for many women having a good life still depends on whom they marry, she said.

"What does astrology speak to? Love relationships," Losh said, noting that belief in horoscopes is much higher among women than men.
See how much clearer things are when you look at them scientifically?

In other news, it seems that an artificial reef made of old tires has turned out to be an environmental catastrophe. The project was spearheaded by Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University. His goal was to form new habitat for sea life, while getting tires out of landfills and into the ocean, where they belong:
McAllister helped found Broward Artificial Reef Inc., which got tires from Goodyear and organized hundreds of volunteers with boats and barges. A Goodyear blimp even dropped a gold-painted tire into the ocean at the site to commemorate the start. It's unclear how much it cost to build the reef, but McAllister said his group raised several thousand dollars. The county also chipped in, and Goodyear donated equipment to bind and compress the tires....

"The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area," McAllister said. "It just didn't work that way. I look back now and see it was a bad idea."
No word as yet on whether or not Professor McAllister believes in astrology.

Scared Stupid

The AP offers for your consideration a daft article on peroxide-based bombs, which it claims are "easy-to-make yet deadly." As evidence, author Laura Jakes Jordan trots out Matthew Rugo, who accidentally blew himself up with TATP in explosion-plagued Texas City, and Joel Henry Hinrichs III, who intentionally blew himself up outside an Oklahoma football stadium.

The claim that TATP is "easy to make" is not quite accurate, to put it politely. As Rugo's case shows, it's very dangerous and unstable. At least 40 Palestinian bomb-makers are believed to have been killed by it, and many others are undoubtedly hoping to be reunited with their missing limbs in Paradise.

Regardless, it's become an article of faith in American journalism that by mixing a few household chemicals together in a water bottle - or, in Jordan's article, a kitchen sink - you can instantly produce a bomb that'll take down a commercial jet. (As Dick Destiny said a while back, "You can set yourself on fire with a pint of gasoline in two minutes, too!")

Jordan also claims that "ecoterrorists and animal rights extremist groups such as Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are believed by authorities to use peroxide-based explosives."

Ideally, this belief would be based on some instance of the ALF or the ELF actually having used peroxide-based explosives. But as far as I know, neither group has ever done so, and I see no obvious reason to assume that they ever will.

Not long after claiming that TATP and its ilk are easy to make, Jordan blithely remarks that "peroxide-based bombs...are too volatile to handle casually." Presumably, then, terrorists who are laden with them won't behave casually. Which means that this clever terrorist-detection scheme stands a good chance of working perfectly (if you don't mind several hundred false positives per year, along with the occasional false negative):

Cameras fitted to seat-backs will record every twitch, blink, facial expression or suspicious movement before sending the data to onboard software which will check it against individual passenger profiles....

They say that rapid eye movements, blinking excessively, licking lips or ways of stroking hair or ears are classic symptoms of somebody trying to conceal something. A separate microphone will hear and record even whispered remarks. Islamic suicide bombers are known to whisper texts from the Koran in the moments before they explode bombs.
I don't think I need to comment on this article, which came from the bowels of the Daily Mail, except to say that the last sentence is perhaps the most entertaining use of the passive voice I've ever seen.


I hope I won't be seen as a Catholic-basher if I point out that Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, is intolerably ignorant:

Global warming doomsdayers were out and about in a big way recently, but the rain came in Central Queensland and then here in Sydney. January also was unusually cool.
Like most "skeptics," Pell confuses weather with climate. What's peculiar is that a few lines down, he acknowledges as much:
We all know that a cool January does not mean much in the long run, but neither does evidence from a few years only.
Basically, Pell's upset because he thinks scaremongers are using climate data from "limited periods and places" (instead of gathering data from all times and places, as an omniscient being would). Unfortunately, he's not upset enough to refrain from committing the same sin in the first goddamn paragraph of his article.

Pell's attention to the motes in other people's eyes is nothing if not judicious. He seems to feel that folks who believe in climate change are doomstruck fanatics who loathe the modern world, but he rejects the notion that they can be likened on that score to, say, fundamentalists:
A local newspaper editorial’s complaint about the doomsdayers’ religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity.
Last time I checked, "mainstream Christianity" promotes not just the destruction of the world as we know it, but all sorts of gaudy eternal torments for individual souls. Until it repudiates these doctrines, and the grubby forms of temporal power they aid and abet, its apologists really have no right to accuse anyone else of scaremongering.

Next, Pell offhandedly presents the Flood as an example of climate change:
We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history, e.g. the Ice Ages and Noah’s flood, where human causation could only be negligible.
Hmm. Let's see what the Bible has to say about that:
And Yahweh saw that man's wickedness was great over the face of the earth, and that all day the thoughts in his heart formed nothing but wickedness. And Yahweh regretted having made man on the face of the earth, and his heart grieved.
It's beyond me how a Catholic theologian could argue that humanity's role in this alleged catastrophe was "negligible." But perhaps Pell is simply "going beyond reason":
Christians don’t go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities.
That's simple enough, and it's really too bad that unlike Pell, poor old Kierkegaard didn't recognize the value of inferential statistics in resolving the "Absolute Paradox" of Christianity.

Which reminds me that what makes a great deal of mainstream Christianity ludicrous is not its otherworldliness so much as its creaky, fussy materialism, and its belief that, as Roland Barthes put it, one can "do the accounts of the ineffable."

But back to Pell:
What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.
Superstition, eh? Sounds like a recipe for winding up in Purgatory, at best. Maybe we'd all better start buying indulgences. Or perhaps we should make a purifying pilgrimage to the Electrical Jesus of Merseyside.

Cheap sarcasm aside, the Vatican's representative to the UN announced in 2006 that "the earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era," and noted that our consumption patterns are "causing serious harm to human health, the earth's climate and ecological systems on which all life depends." Perhaps Cardinal Pell should take his one-man crusade against "semi-religious hysteria" to Rome.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Since I skipped a week due to deadlines, moving, remodeling, and traveling, here are two candid views of Hypselodoris festiva.

(Photos by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

David Roberts makes some excellent points in his preamble to an interview with Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson:

As mayor of his city, Rocky Anderson has been unapologetically liberal. He's pushed through aggressive sustainability measures and energetically championed affirmative action, gay rights, and reform of the penalty-heavy justice system. He's also been a fierce and vocal critic of the Bush administration in general and the war in Iraq in particular.

His city? Salt Lake City, Utah, square in the middle of the reddest state in the Union -- the state with the highest percentage of Bush votes in 2000, a number that increased in 2004.

The real trick is, he's done all this while remaining extraordinarily popular; he was reelected in 2003 by a wide margin. He's even won over the business community, which was skeptical if not hostile at the start of his first term.
Engineer-Poet has an amazing post on the use of cold-storage warehouses as gigantic “batteries” for storing energy generated by wind power:
During periods of power surplus, the warehouses' refrigeration systems will be run full-bore to chill them by up to 1°C; when power production lags demand, the warehouses will shut off their chillers and coast on their stored heat-absorption capabity.
He also discusses a solid-oxide fuel cell powered by gasified chicken litter, and concludes “we look to be on-track for a Viridian green future, too late for comfort but sooner than anyone expects.”

Motorola is setting up wind and solar generators for its GSM cell sites in Namibia:
The use of alternative power sources makes it potentially more viable for operators to connect people in remote communities with little existing infrastructure or even roads. Motorola has gone for a combined wind and solar powered system (rather than selecting one or the other) because the same rig can be used in a variety of different environments….Excess power from wind and solar systems might be either sold to power-generating firms, where connections to a grid are possible, or supplied as a resource to the community around a base station.
Bruce Schneier spotlights the innovative security system for the One Laptop Per Child program:
We have set out to create a system that is both drastically more secure and provides drastically more usable security than any mainstream system currently on the market. One result of the dedication to usability is that there is only one protection provided by the Bitfrost platform that requires user response, and even then, it's a simple 'yes or no' question understandable even by young children. The remainder of the security is provided behind the scenes.
There are more details here, including a clever anti-theft system. There’s also interesting work being done on a “$10 Laptop,” which comprises "a Linux OS image running Sugar on a USB stick." More details here and here.

I’ve discussed the use of pay toilets in India before. A new article goes into more detail:
These toilets are affordable for the poor, and the cheapest model can be constructed for as little as $10….Sulabh's systems often come with an innovative modification: the attachment of a biogas plant. Through these plants, human waste produces biogas that, when mixed with diesel fuel, can power electrical devices such as streetlights. A similar technique of wet-sanitation is being replicated elsewhere in India by groups like BORDA.
In 1990, only 20 percent of India’s population had access to clean drinking water. Currently, the figure is about 85 percent, thanks to improved sanitation.

An Australian inventor is working on a windmill that’ll condense water out of air:
His solution is an innovative windmill which, unlike the conventional three blades, has several blades arranged around a vertical column that can take wind from any direction. The secret lies in a cooling process kicked off by the blades which propel the air into a "chiller" box where water molecules condense on specially designed plates.

Whisson points to ancient tribes in the area that is now Ukraine who used pyramid-shaped rock structures to cool air and produce their water. The design of his collection plates was also assisted by analysing the body of a beetle that has adapted to its harsh desert environment in Namibia.
The European Commission hopes to harmonize laws and penalties that apply to pollution and other environmental crimes. The usual complaints about infringement on national sovereignty are being made, but as the Commission notes, these objections are incoherent:
"Environmental crime usually has cross-border implications, as it often involves trans-boundary activities and often has trans-boundary effects such as the resulting pollution of the environment", the paper states.
The Norwegian battery-powered car Think is going back into production. Its former manufacturer declared bankruptcy, after buying the company from Ford in 2002. The first cars will be available in summer. They’ll allegedly go 180 km between charges, and reach a top speed of 100 km.

In related news, Technology Review reports on the possibility of self-assembling batteries.
Researchers at MIT have designed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that assembles itself out of microscopic materials. This could lead to ultrasmall power sources for sensors and micromachines the size of the head of a pin. It could also make it possible to pack battery materials in unused space inside electronic devices.
In science-journalese, the word “could” tends to mean “there’s almost no chance it’ll work, but we’d still like huge amounts of funding.” All the same, the prototype is fascinating, so I thought it was worth a mention.

BLDGBLOG has an odd story on the growth of “novel forms of bacteria and fungi” in a flooded, highly contaminated open-pit mine:
These include "a strain of the pithomyces fungi" that, if used medically, "could block headaches," and "a strain of penicillium fungi" that might help prevent "the growth of lung cancer cells."
There’s that “could” again! The medical possibilities are certainly intriguing, but not as intriguing as the notion that we’re witnessing the first stirrings of the mineral race described in Joseph-Henri Boex’s Les Xipehuz (1887).

Speaking of interspecies conflict, Janice Neitzel at Triple Pundit reports that Smithfield Foods is phasing out its use of gestation crates:
My colleague emailed me last week, “I never thought I’d see this, not in my lifetime.” On January 25, 2007, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the U.S., announced it will be phasing out hog gestation crates over the next decade. Several days later, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest pork producer followed suit.
Oddly enough, Smithfield claims that they’ve made this decision in response to demands by Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

A new study in Agronomy Journal indicates that farmers can increase yields by forsaking industrial monoculture:
A study by George Boody and colleagues has calculated, on a watershed basis, that diverse, synergistic farms can be profitable and simultaneously benefit the environment. They showed that when farms are converted from corn/soybean monocultures to more diverse operations, net farm income can increase by as much as 108% while generating significant environmental and social benefits.
Coudal steers me to a series of flags by the Brazilian artist Icaro Doria, who uses their design elements to communicate statistical information, as thus:

Also via Coudal, and also thought-provoking: Flight Patterns.

I was intrigued by this article on the Octagon Earthworks…not so much because it seems to have been a primitive observatory, but because it's described as one of the “Seven Wonders of Ohio.”

An acoustic recording installation has recorded the resonant tones of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. You can listen (and watch) here. You may also enjoy the insect sounds compiled at; I find it's a nice soundtrack for Ant Cam. Or these glorious posters from Circus Museum.

(The photo at top is an aerial view of Boston, taken in 1860 by James Wallace Black.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Old Master Painter

In a few badly chosen words, the New York Times explains the latest findings from the Electric Power Research Institute:

[S]ome in the utility industry are arguing that it will take decades of investments and innovation to get substantial reductions in their emissions of greenhouse gases.
What a shame, eh? It makes me wish we’d known about the need to reduce emissions twenty years ago. Or even ten, for that matter. But of course, no one had any inkling of the climate problem back in those carefree days. In 1987, the American climatological community’s biggest worry was the untimely breakup of Twisted Sister.

At any rate, the EPRI study apparently calls for solar and wind to produce 6.7 percent of our national kilowatt-hours by 2030, which seems a bit modest to me. But perhaps they don't want to distract their readers from the tantalizing prospect of "clean coal."

If you're depressed by these statistics, it's probably because you've forgotten all about the power and the glory of biofuels. Assuming you work for ConAgra or ADM, you'll be thrilled to learn that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced a plan to take land out of the Conservation Reserve Program and turn it over to corn production.
"There is a need for corn, there is just no doubt about it," Johanns told reporters after a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday.
You'll also be happy to know that climate change is easing the plight of Tibetan farmers:
[A]s he surveys the dazzling peaks surrounding him and counts his flock, it is hard to persuade Mr Tsawang that [global warming] is a problem. "Things are getting better and better," he said. So far this year I have only lost seven sheep."
Mr. Tsawang may seem like a solipsistic, scientifically illiterate hayseed, but his thinking on global warming agrees perfectly with that of America's best and brightest (like Dr. Patrick Michaels, who assures us that "we're going to prosper, we're going to adapt, we're going to live with it.")

With these glad tidings in mind, let's consider China's promising approach to the problem of deforestation:
Villagers in southwestern China are wondering why more than $60,000 was spent to paint an entire barren mountainside green.

Workers who began spraying Laoshou mountain in August told villagers they were doing so on orders of the county government but were not told why, media reports said Wednesday.

The official Xinhua News Agency estimated the cost of the paint job at $60,600 and quoted villagers as saying that if spent on actual plants and trees, the money could have restored a far greater area of barren mountain.
Maybe so. But as food photographers will tell you, sometimes the real thing simply doesn’t look very appetizing, which is why breakfast cereals tend to be photographed floating in bowls of glue.

I think the Chinese approach has lots of potential as an adaptive response to climate change. A snow-covered mountain painted under the supervision of Thomas Kinkade would be a terrific tourist attraction, and would probably look better in photos than anything we've got now. And honestly, how many of us would notice if the Arctic's bare rocks were covered in several coats of high-gloss white enamel?

It's not just a matter of aesthetics, either. A recent article in Science News actually mentioned the possibility of "covering large areas" of the earth with white paint "to reflect visible light from Earth into space." Admittedly, there are almost no scientists who'd entertain this idea, let alone approve of it. But that's all the more reason to take it seriously, lest we fall prey to "groupthink."

I really think it's worth a shot. Even if it doesn't work, it'll be an eye-pleasing stopgap until we get around to implementing Frosty Hardison's world baptism/nuclear refrigeration scheme.

Waste to Energy

The Alamogordo Daily News has taken the remarkable step of fact-checking the pronouncements of anti-immigration activist Cliff Milburn, a member of the New Mexico Minutemen, who claims that "busloads of children...come across the border from Las Palomas, Mexico, to attend school in Luna County, New Mexico":

Las Palomas and Columbus, N.M., have a number of intergovernmental agreements to share various services. For example, Columbus provides fire and ambulance services to Las Palomas; kindergarten through sixth grade students from Las Palomas are bused to school in Columbus. The students are not illegal immigrants. Columbus and the school district are reimbursed by Las Palomas for providing those services.
Milburn also claims that "800 illegals a day receive medical service at Thomason Hospital in El Paso." The ADN begs to differ:
Thomason's emergency room treats, on average, 145 people a day, and the hospital has a total of 346 beds.
Apparently, Milburn is worried about disease, too. And with all those cases of Morgellons plaguing the Southwest, who can blame him? Even if it's not a real disease, we can still blame illegal immigrants for the prevalence of meth psychosis, one common symptom of which is delusional parasitosis.

Somehow, Milburn neglected to mention the link between illegal immigrants, meth, and identity theft:
“Look at the states that have the highest rates of identity theft -- Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Colorado,’’ Mr. Morales said. “The two things they all have in common are illegal immigration and meth.”
Actually, these states all have three things in common: illegal immigration, meth, and Carl's Jr. franchises.

I hardly think I need to spell out the implications.

Perhaps it'd be worthwhile to look at some accurate statistics relating to illegal immigration. Subtopia describes the exciting boom in inflatable detention centers:
“With roughly 1.6 million illegal immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, ICE holds more inmates a night than Clarion hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines....”

[T]hese new immigration detention zones are reviving old communities leftover from the mining industry that now thrive around the replacement industry of operating prisons; truly a carceral urbanism.
We all know how valuable unregulated, disempowered, dirt-cheap labor is to agribusiness. The boom in private detention facilities shows another way in which illegal immigration contributes to the local and national economy, and helps to rejuvenate towns that have been devastated by offshoring and other desiderata of the Invisible Hand.

There are even more exciting possibilities, though. Large detention centers produce impressive amounts of sewage, which can be used as fertilizer for nonfood crops like cotton and alfalfa, or - for more enlightened communities - as a source of sustainable power:
"For every megawatt of (waste to energy) you make in the state, you keep a half-million dollars in the state," says Mulder, who estimates that converting all of Michigan's sewage into electricity could produce between 30 and 50 megawatts each year -- enough to power more than 25,000 households annually.
It's almost as elegant and impersonal as the nitrogen cycle: immigrants come across the border, perform a bit of quasi-slave labor, spend a year or two as part of a sewage-fueled power plant (with a bit of piecework on the side, perhaps), and then return to their home countries to begin the cycle anew.

Granted, this might upset a few people like Cliff Milburn. But the people who count don't care what folks like him think, any more than their early 20th-century forebears cared whether some old codger preferred his mule team to the Model T. You can't stop progress!

(Photo by Kirsten Luce.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

All sorts of strange things are afoot in the EU. England's educational authorities plan to teach all schoolchildren about climate change:

The plans, to be published on Monday, will ensure that, for the first time, issues such as climate change and global warming are at the heart of the school timetable. Pupils will also be taught to understand their responsibilities as consumers - and weigh up whether they should avoid travel by air to reduce CO2 emissions and shun food produce imported from the other side of the world because of its impact on pollution.
Many town halls in England plan to triple the permit fees for high-emission, gaz-guzzling vehicles:
According to a spokesman for the ACT at least nine other London authorities alone are ready to use parking charges as a weapon.

Interest seems to cross party lines.
There are also plans to connect Spain and Morocco by rail.
Throughout the world, rail, one of the older forms of passenger transportation, is undergoing a renewal, with the Europe-Africa rail link being only one example of new passenger rail lines being considered.
The Dutch have figured out how to make a better greenhouse:
In the new greenhouse, good climate control with sustainable energy resulted not only in an increased crop yield but also a lower gas bill.
And the French want to hand out free bicycles. (Clearly, these power-mad social engineers don’t understand that this removes the incentive for people to buy bicycles, without which no society can escape a descent into tyranny.)

Not to be outdone, the socialist weasels in Canada claim to have come up with a cheap, safe cure for cancer:
The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe. It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells.
Of course, even if the drug worked and were made available tomorrow, Canadian cancer sufferers would die long before they ever saw a drop of it, thanks to that country’s waiting list for lifesaving medical treatments. (Did you know that the waiting time for a blood transfusion in Canada is 8.7 years? It’s true; I read all about it at NRO.)

I’m as skeptical as anyone of Wal-Mart’s sincerity on environmental issues, but as David Roberts points out, they seem to be going way beyond what’s necessary for mere greenwashing:
"Sustainability 360 takes in our entire company - our customer base, our supplier base, our associates, the products on our shelves, the communities we serve," said [Wal-Mart CEO Lee] Scott. "And we believe every business can look at sustainability in this way. In fact, in light of current environmental trends, we believe they will and soon."
At least ten other multinational corporations seem to agree.

Speaking of skepticism, Treehugger reports on a prospective electric vehicle that’ll travel 350 miles on a ten-minute charge, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour. It won’t hurt you to look, I guess.

The endangered shortnose sturgeon seems to be recovering (in the Hudson River, at least):
For the first time in U.S., and probably global, history a fish identified as endangered has been shown to have recovered -- and in the Hudson River, which flows through one of the world's largest population centers, New York City.
The Tibetan antelope may be on the rebound as well:
Returning from a recent 1,000-mile expedition across Tibet's remote Chang Tang region, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologist George Schaller reports that the Tibetan antelope -- once the target of rampant poaching -- may be increasing in numbers due to a combination of better enforcement and a growing conservation ethic in local communities…."China has made a major effort to control poaching," said Schaller. "The large poaching gangs of the 1990s, which were at times arrested with 600 or more chiru hides largely ceased to exist.
A number of people – including me - have issues with PETA, but I applaud campaigns like this one, both for their compassion and their effectiveness:
POM became a target of animal rights activists because of research the company did into the medical benefit of pomegranate juice. On Jan. 17, the owners of POM parent Roll International, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, said the company had ceased all animal testing and had no plans to do so in the future.
This article doesn't describe the research, which was...bizarre, to put it politely. If any firm wants to test the effects of fresh pomegranate juice, I hereby volunteer to drink a quart per day at their expense.

Or perhaps I should simply make my own, now that I've been inspired by WorldChanging's feature on urban agriculture projects like Victory Gardens 2007+.

In addition to banning the incandescent lightbulb, California may make it easier for renewable energy companies to connect to the grid:
If the new payment mechanism is approved and implemented, it would be a first-of-its-kind removal of a huge financial barrier that has hindered development of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources across the country….
Four dams on the Klamath River may be demolished:
If the dams were removed, the Klamath, which straddles the Oregon-California border, has extraordinary potential to rebound as a major salmon resource, according to fish biologists and regional officials.
There’s talk about reconsidering the practice of putting housing developments next to freeways:
A new study about the effects of local highway pollution on children's health has determined that living near highways can cause lifelong health risks. The results may cause many planners to reconsider where new housing and schools are developed.
And last, via Adventus, President Bush's recent visit to a Peoria diner was received in what I consider to be the proper spirit:
In town to deliver remarks on the economy, the president walked into the diner, where he was greeted with what can only be described as a sedate reception. No one rushed to shake his hand. There were no audible gasps or yelps of excitement that usually accompany visits like this.... Except for the click of news cameras and the clang of a dish from the kitchen, the quiet was deafening.
The photo at top is by Diane Cook; it's called "Underwater World, San Francisco, California."

Luminous Lint has a fine exhibition of cyanotypes, including a number of plant studies.

I also recommend Tin Tabernacles and Other Buildings, a beautiful photographic survey of 19th-century corrugated-iron buildings by Alisdair Ogilvie (via Coudal).

And Moon River links to some lovely experimental films by Toshio Matsumoto, which you can watch online. (I liked the first two best.)

If that's too placid for you, this site will let you view a half-hour documentary promoting an amazing 4-DVD set of Soviet propaganda cartoons. (I'm hoping I can get my Red paymaster George Soros to buy me a copy.)

If you're seeking a cheaper and more direct route to neurasthenic collapse, I recommend acoustic levitation.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Denialist Meltdown

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has alerted the media that its collection of “experts” is ready and willing to respond to the upcoming IPCC report. As DeSmogBlog notes, there are four of them: Myron Ebell, Iain Murray, Mario Lewis, and Chris Horner. Needless to say, these men have absolutely no background in climate science.

As I’ve mentioned before, Murray may well be the dimmest of the professional denialists. His latest CEI post is par for the course:

So the IPCC report that’s going to be released on Friday isn’t gloomy enough, eh? It will find less projected temperature rise and less predicted sea level rise than it did in 2001.
The story to which Murray links explains why this is:
The melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are a fairly recent development that has taken scientists by surprise. They don‘t know how to predict its effects in their computer models.
Yep, that certainly is a crushing blow to the climate alarmists!

Over at the Corner, Murray explains his theory in a bit more detail:
Our best information has it that the IPCC calculates that 0.8 degrees centigrade has already occured.

Subtracting that 0.8 from the projected temperature rises in the Fourth Assessment Report gives us a projected temperature rise this century of just 1.2 to 3.7 degrees centigrade. It also lowers the "best guess" for temperature rise to 2.2 degrees centigrade. This compares to the Third Assessment Report range of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees for 1990 to 2100.
There are several problems with this, but let’s focus on the obvious one, which is that Murray cites a single temperature (in centigrade, no less!) as the “best guess,” while the IPCC gives a range:
The panel predicted temperature rises of 2 - 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. That was a wider range than in the 2001 report.

However, the panel also said its best estimate was for temperature rises of 3.2 - 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2001, all the panel gave was a range of 2.5 - 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
These charts from a BBC article, which compare IPCC-predicted changes to observed changes, should help interested readers to understand what a ludicrous fucking buffoon Murray really is:

Meanwhile, the AEI is offering payments of $10,000 to scientists and economists who’ll attack the IPCC report (purely in the interests of sound science, you understand):
Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.
I’m guessing they’ll have more luck with the economists than the scientists. Either way, though, Ben Greenberg of Greenpeace sums up the AEI nicely:
They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash.
Debra J. Saunders leans down from her dingy furnished room in Palookaville long enough to stick up for fellow dunce Frosty Hardison. She claims that there’s a conspiracy to pretend that dissenting scientists don’t exist, instead of clear evidence that the vast majority of them are either cranks or shills:
Global warming believers heap scorn on religious zealots for not valuing science and knowledge. Yet the thrust of their argument to prove apocalyptic global warming relies on denying the existence of views and scientists who clearly exist.
Predictably, Saunders trots out petrodollar whores Fred Singer and Richard Lindzen. For variety’s sake, she also invokes the “60 Canadian scientists” who signed a letter stating that there’s a consensus on climate change. Unfortunately, as David Roberts points out:
The letter was a vapid collection of myths; among those 60 scientists were long-time skeptics, known liars, and at least one guy who was tricked into signing. A few weeks later, 90 scientists -- who unlike the original 60 were Canadian and active in climate research -- wrote a letter of their own, denouncing the first.
In other news, Naomi Oreskes has written a fascinating article about the long consensus on climate change, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

UPDATE: A commenter was deeply distressed by my use of the term "petrodollar whore" in reference to Richard Lindzen, on the grounds that it's been ten years or so since Lindzen had gotten any payouts from the oil industry. No proof of this was offered, mind you, but I'm happy to assume the claim is accurate regardless. Why wouldn't it be?

I toyed with the idea of rewriting the line to read "former petrodollar whores," but worried that this might not be accurate in re Fred Singer. Accordingly, I decided to strike out the offending phrase. This allows readers to reject or accept the term (and its relevance) as they see fit, which was of course impossible previously.

An Invitation to Mischief

Mark Krikorian has seen the future, and he's frightened:

The metastasis of what used to be political asylum continues. Prompted by the egregious 9th Circuit, an immigration judge has granted asylum to a homosexual man from Mexico because people in Mexico don't like homosexuals. This continues the ongoing march of the culture wars through asylum policy, where persecution based on race, religion, nationality, or political opinion just isn't prying open our borders enough for some people. So, instead, the final basis for asylum, "membership in a particular social group," has become an invitation to mischief for activist judges and anti-borders attorneys everywhere. The goal seems to be to apply our social norms to all foreigners abroad, extending an effective right to immigrate to anyone from any benighted Third World society that mistreats the handicapped, homosexuals, or women — which, of course, includes most of the planet.
Let me lie down for a moment, until this ringing in my ears goes away.

That's better.

Alright, then. Societies that mistreat homosexuals are "benighted," which is why America must refuse asylum to foreign homosexuals and deny equal rights to our own homosexual citizens.

The alternative would be to "apply our social norms to all foreigners abroad," which would be wrong, even though the American system is the best on earth, and shines as a beacon to freedom-loving people throughout this darkling world. Instead, we must apply our social norms to all foreigners abroad, by denying asylum to homosexual refugees.

In an earlier column on immigration as asymmetrical warfare, Krikorian inadvertently offers an even better reason to oppose asylum for this particular species of "wretched refuse":
[I]neffective immigration control leaves us naked in the face of the enemy.
Indeed. Yearning to breathe free is one thing; yearning to suck my cock is quite another. And I have quite enough worries in that department as it is, thanks.

Existential Threats

Abigail Kimbell has just been put in charge of the US Forest Service. PEER explains why this is interesting:

The new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Abigail Kimbell, was responsible for the largest reprisal action ever undertaken against agency whistleblowers, according to documents posted today by two whistleblower advocacy groups. In all, Kimbell purged 44 whistleblowers while she was Supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Of those 44, eight ultimately won a $200,000 settlement with the agency in 2003, while Ms. Kimbell was promoted to Regional Forester.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants to punish an employee whose lab results were “not ambiguous enough”:
White’s lab showed water pollution levels so high that, in some cases, samples had to be substantially diluted just to get them on scale for instrument concentration determination. These profound pollution levels make the issue of Data Qualifiers largely irrelevant to the purpose for which the data is used – establishing whether water-bodies are considered impaired for purposes of the Clean Water Act....

“These charges are utterly ridiculous; in essence, DEP is saying that the water pollution numbers are too awful to be true,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, whose organization is putting together a defense team for White.
In related news, a safety inspector with the FAA may be fired “for helping two reporters write about dwindling federal safety oversight of commercial airlines.” And corporate e-mails reveal that GlaxoSmithKline “distorted trial results of an anti-depressant, covering up a link with suicide in teenagers.”

All of this can only mean one thing: Regulatory agencies are trampling the rights of private enterprise, and must be brought to heel:
The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.
With this problem solved, the government can devote more resources to fighting terrorism…whether that means deploying new surveillance cameras to protect existing surveillance cameras, or shortening the response time to blinking signs with cartoon characters on them.

Personally, I think anti-terrorist agencies need to hire more members of LGF, who have an unexcelled grasp of the existential threats facing the civilized world.