Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Ceratosoma magnifica,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance."

(Photo by Jean-François Herve.)

Friday Hope Blogging

An open-source device called the MultiMachine "can be used in developing countries as a way to create jobs and assist in the fields of agriculture, transportation, education and food preparation. The very making of the machine imparts the skills needed to use it."

If you're interested in building your own, click here.

Malaysia is making rainwater collection systems mandatory for buildings with large roofs:

Under the plan, the harvested water would be used for washing cars, flushing toilets, watering plants, while saving treated water for drinking, cooking and showering.

"It's a sheer waste for treated water to be used to wash cars or water plants," the New Straits Times quoted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying. "When we use treated water for such chores our water bills increase and we are the ones who will lose out."
What queer customs they have in foreign lands!

Which reminds me: here's Bahrain's new World Trade Center, which sports "three 29 meter wind turbines, each supported by a 30-meter bridge spanning between the two towers":

Not to be outdone, Malawi has launched a fertilizer trees project, which will reduce small farmers' need for conventional fertilizers:
This restores nutrients and increases crop productivity — with potential to double or triple harvests. The trees can be interplanted with crops for 1-3 years before being cut and left to decompose, providing fuel and more fertiliser.
And Brazil is offering free Internet access to Amazon tribes:
The environment and communications ministers signed an agreement Thursday with the Forest People's Network to provide an Internet signal by satellite to 150 communities, including many reachable only by riverboat, allowing them to report illegal logging and ranching, request help and coordinate efforts to preserve the forest.
Speaking of which, Cargill has been forced to close an illegal soy export terminal in the Brazilian Amazon. And Peru has created an online biodiversity register:
The measure should ensure Peru's authority over its native genetic heritage, according to a press release from the National Institute for Natural Resources (INRENA), which will run the system.
There's hope for India's endangered Irrawaddy dolphin:
[F]ears of their imminent disappearance appear to have diminished after a 2007 survey showed 135 of the little-known species of short-beaked dolphins in Chilika.
Meanwhile, here in the good old US of A, the National Park Service has scrapped a daft plan to build an armored road on one of Florida's barrier islands:
[T]he road plan violated two NPS Management Policies; one directing that parks allow natural geologic processes to “proceed unimpeded” and another prohibiting placement of facilities in the path of natural hazards, except in emergency situations.
Burger King claims that it'll no longer buy from dairy and meat producers who cage their animals. In related news, a federal judge has ruled that the USDA must allow a Kansas meatpacker to test its cows for BSE:
The department threatened Creekstone with prosecution if it tested all its animals. U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the government does not have the authority to regulate the test.
San Francisco is the first US city to ban plastic bags. (If you don't bore easily, you can wade through my turgid analysis of this issue from a couple years back.)

A new form of "optical biopsy" reportedly allows for instant detection of precancerous tissue:
Wax and his former graduate student John Pyhtila reported in the March 2007 issue of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy that their fiber-optic device reliably differentiated between healthy and precancerous digestive tissue taken from the stomach and esophagus of three patients known to have a precancerous form of a condition called Barrett's esophagus. In less than a second, their fa/LCI-enhanced version of an endoscope, instruments used to visualize internal organs, provided the clinical information required for diagnosis.
In other medical news, simply reminding doctors of which antibiotics to prescribe can apparently reduce cases of hospital-acquired Clostridium difficile infections.
[U]se of a pocket-sized laminated card telling doctors which antibiotics to prescribe combined with feedback on antibiotics use and CDI rates led to a significant drop in prescriptions of broad-spectrum agents, and an accompanying fall in CD infections.
In the exciting world of vaporware, there's talk of a biofuel cell that "produces electricity from ordinary air spiked with small amounts of hydrogen."
The cell consists of two electrodes coated with the enzymes placed inside a container of ordinary air with 3 percent added hydrogen.

That is just below the 4 percent danger level at which hydrogen becomes an explosion hazard. The research established for the first time that it is possible to generate electricity from such low levels of hydrogen in air....
An interesting development, if true. But don't look for a commercial model any time soon.

There's also word of a fuel cell that runs on sugar:
Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any sugar source — from soft drinks to tree sap — and has the potential to operate three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium ion batteries, they say.
The photo at top is by Bill Atkinson, from his glorious series of gemstone photos (which I found through Coudal).

You'll find more fascinating photos at Eye of Science, and the historical image collection at the Smithsonian Science Service.

I also recommend Winter on Mars (via Plep), and the constellations at Agence Eureka:

Furthermore and notwithstanding: Henry Dixon's London. BibliOdyssey on the Theatrum Cometicum. A rare video of the great Syrian vocalist Asmahan. A pair of sketchbooks by the Czech artist Tavik Frantisek Simon. And the astonishing watercolors of Charles-Frédéric Soehnée.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Virus-Drinkin' Man

Because I believe devoutly in “teaching the controversy,” I thought I should call your attention to this weird article on avian flu, which is almost as rhetorically exuberant as it is factually inaccurate:

Many migratory birds are already heading for their summer homes in Russia. By the eternal laws of nature, birds are flying in large numbers to their nesting-places for the sake of raising a new generation.

Today, however, few people romanticize the spring return of birds because they have been discredited by the rise of avian flu.
Apparently, some Russian officials are demanding that these discredited birds be purged, in a sort of ornithological Yezhovshchina:
As spring arrives, there are more and more calls from various levels of Russian society to exterminate migratory birds.
The author, Tatyana Sinitsyna, tries to explain why this is a bad idea. Unfortunately, her arguments are almost as crazy as those of the people she’s attempting to educate:
[T]he massive shooting of birds would only encourage an epidemic because killed and wounded birds spread the infection.
On the other hand, she’s not nearly as crazy as Professor Yevgeny Voronin of the Skryabin Moscow Veterinary and Biotechnology Academy, who allegedly made this remarkable statement at a recent conference on H5N1:
At present, no type of animal flu is dangerous for humans….I can drink a medicine bottle of the H5N1 virus and nothing will happen to me. Students at our academy study virology and work with the live avian flu virus. I have never heard that anyone has suffered.
I’m not sure how this article made it onto the editorial page of the Belleville News-Democrat, but it’s likely to be a boon for Professor Voronin, who’ll probably be swamped in lucrative offers from conservatarian thinktanks within a day or two.

The End is Nigh

The Guardian is shocked to learn that you can buy poison on the Internets:

Toxic chemicals such as strychnine, arsenic and cyanide are freely available for sale on the internet, leading toxicologists have warned….

To demonstrate how easy it is to buy poisons, the Guardian obtained antique flypaper infused with between 200 and 400 milligrams of arsenic from the web marketplace eBay. Arsenic-laced flypaper has been implicated in a previous murder case as a source of poison.
That “previous murder case,” the article goes on to say, involved Frederick Seddon, who poisoned one of his tenants back in 1911.

The Guardian rather glumly concedes that the arsenic it procured might not be sufficient to kill an adult, but warns that it could cause “neurological effects such as numbness and pins and needles.”

As terrifying as it is to imagine the Islamofascist hordes stocking up on antique flypaper, there’s a silver lining: We can potentially fight terrorists by outbidding them on eBay.

Of course, there’s always the danger that they’ll respond by going to the hardware store and buying some Brodifacoum, or one of the thousands of other compounds with which criminally minded underachievers can poison people.

In which case, it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re all doomed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Failed State

A CBS story on homeless veterans might seem to Christopher Griffin like an attempt to undermine public confidence by suggesting that there's been a catastrophic moral failure at the highest levels of government. But since the only veteran profiled is a Muslim (a fanatic!), who became homeless only after going to jail for robbery (a criminal!), I think it'll be pretty obvious to the astute reader that like most homeless Americans, he brought his troubles on himself.

Speaking of homelessness, The Economist reports on Iraq’s refugees:

It takes money and connections to make it out. So many of those who have left are from Iraq’s middle and professional classes, leaving crucial shortages of doctors, for example.
This adds to the misery of Iraq’s poor and displaced:
Dr Aziz Ali Baroud, a physician at Najaf Main Hospital, said the region’s hospitals cannot cope with the increase in people seeking medical treatment since the beginning of 2007. As a result, there are severe shortages in specialists and in medical essentials such as paediatric needles and heart disease drugs, he said, adding that abortions have become common among displaced women unable to cope with their situation.
It's not a choice, it's a child! And given that these hussies have manifestly refused to join the Culture of Life, you can hardly fault the US and Iraqi authorities for failing to provide them with humanitarian aid:
Neither Iraq’s American overseers nor the Iraqi government recognise their plight as a humanitarian emergency, requiring the direct and immediate attention of specialised agencies dealing with refugees, food or children. Instead, Iraq is seen as a development matter. Thus aid is channelled through government ministries the way it might be in the average poor country trying to get somewhat richer. The trouble is that Iraq more closely approximates to a failed state.
Personally, I’d question whether post-invasion Iraq is a failed state, but only because failure implies that there was an honest attempt to succeed.

The Way of Objective Reflection

PZ Myers effortlessly smacks down a clueless creationist who insists that “Mutations have NEVER produced additional DNA structures. NEVER!”

In response, Slacker Ninja makes an eloquent point:

I'm trying to rid myself of this idea of 'winning' or 'losing' an argument. When someone has the intellectual honesty to look at what their 'adversary' had been saying, discover and admit that they've been mistaken, we all win.
In other words, you “win” as long as you learn something, or improve your understanding of something you already knew. (Or already believed, in the absence of compelling reasons not to believe it.) Seems reasonable to me.

Then again...if what Kierkegaard's Johannes Climacus called “the way of objective reflection” leads me to “discover and admit” that the War on Terror is a necessary evil given the demonstrable threat of Islamic extremism, do we all win?

Depends on whether or not I’m correct, I guess.

Time will tell. Probably.

My diabolical insinuations aside, I agree with PZ’s summation:
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Mr McEwen is a decent, sincere person in addition to being a fervent believer in his religious dogma. However, he has been consistently misled. His sources have lied to him. And he is working hard to propagate those same lies to more people. That’s the real tragedy of creationism, that it is a fabric of outright dishonesty that persuades good people to do wrong, all in the name of their religion.
Amen to that!

In other news, Brian Doherty at Reason Online calls Milton Friedman “the last century’s most energetic and effective advocate of liberty.”

(Illustration: “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism” by William Hogarth.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oil and Water

The Colorado River is expected to provide less water in years to come:

Flows into Lake Powell are projected at 59 percent of normal this year, and the Bureau of Reclamation could very likely begin operating its reservoirs under critical drought conditions by the end of the year, he said.
Meanwhile, Colorado and Nebraska continue to bicker over water rights:
Nebraska has been using more than its legal share of the Republican [River]'s water. Underground water pumped by farmers is partly blamed for the problem. The state must reduce its consumption of the river water or face possible legal or financial penalties.
In Arizona, booming development is putting a strain on private wells:
[R]esidents who have wells and live next to large developments may find their wells too shallow to draw water when those developments start to fill with people.
And in California, a battle is looming over control of groundwater:
[T]he state is under increasing pressure to quickly develop new sources of water. Climate changes brought on by global warming threaten to disrupt water supplies and increase the risk of floods. Reservoirs, if approved, would take years to build and fill. At the same time, California continues to grow.
In other words, it’s business as usual in the desert West. However, the article on the Colorado’s dwindling flows makes an important point:
Royal Dutch Shell and other companies researching oil shale here have not divulged how much water in situ oil shale extraction will consume.

“There’s a misconception that it’s (oil shale development) all going to be new water, it’s really not,” Kuhn said. “Oil companies have existing valid water rights.” Some of those companies have water rights dating from the 1950s or 1960s....During a water shortage, water consumptive oil shale extraction could deny Gunnison Basin or San Juan Basin or other water users their water rights if they date from 1970s or 1980s, he said.
How much water are we talking about? A lot:
The United States Geological Survey has predicted that 1.5 to 1.8 trillion barrels of recoverable oil can be developed from oil shale in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. The U.S. Water Resources Council estimates that three barrels of water will be needed for one barrel of oil produced from oil shale.
The USGS figure is probably a tiny bit inflated, given that the Energy Information Administration recently estimated the total US supply of shale oil at about 1.2 trillion barrels, and no reasonable person – so far as I know – would dream of claiming that all of it is extractable (or that its energy density is comparable to that of real oil). Regardless, the (optimistic) 3:1 water-to-oil ratio bodes ill for those states “blessed” with shale oil deposits, and those adjoining them.

This story - about the Interior Department’s secret plan to destroy the wildly popular Endangered Species Act - probably has nothing whatsoever to do with shale oil development:
The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.
In unrelated news, the Pope has made an shocking announcement:
Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope said.
(Photo: "Uinta Basin Drill Pads" by Lin Alder.)

The New Flesh

A recent study on women's psychological responses to looking at fashion models claims that:

The rail-thin blonde bombshell on the cover of a magazine makes all women feel badly about their own bodies despite the size, shape, height or age of the viewers...all women were equally and negatively affected after viewing pictures of models in magazine ads for just three minutes.

"Surprisingly, we found that weight was not a factor. Viewing these pictures was just bad for everyone," said Laurie Mintz, associate professor of education, school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education.
It sounds plausible, given the widespread use of Photoshop to create "transhuman" faces and bodies that no amount of dieting or skin care could achieve.

It seems pretty obvious that this is an oppressive ideal, whether or not technology gives women the ability to achieve it. But "democratic transhumanists" like Dr. James Hughes claim that you have "the right to control your own body and mind," and that choosing to be "more than human" is simply an expression of this right.

One of the countless flaws in this argument is illustrated by the negative self-image of the women in the MU study. They didn't choose to feel bad about themselves, and they can't reasonably be accused of failing to control themselves. Their negative feelings arise from a specific social context and practice, as do the options they perceive as being available, or appropriate, to them. But people who preach the gospel of personal choice have an odd tendency to ignore these little details; you're free to choose, as long as you make the right choice from the options that have been presented to you (e.g., as long as you choose "progress," like all good people must).

Question Technology links to an interesting survey of democratic transhumanists, which asks "Will the ability to change skin, hair and body make racism irrelevant?" To their credit, most respondents say "no," which leads Dr. Hughes to call them "pessimists":
So the majority of the world that is Asian, South Asian and African will rush to look like Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt, thereby reinforcing racially-chauvanist ideals of beauty? Somehow I doubt it. And we’ll have to save the question of whether such a risk constitutes a reason to restrict access to body modification for later.
Dr. Hughes is entitled to his opinion, but I don't think it's coherent to argue that racism could be made irrelevant by human enhancement technology, while effectively arguing that it's irrelevant to that technology now. If conscious and unconscious "racially chauvinist ideals" aren't widespread and potent enough to affect our behavior and choices, it's hard to make the case that body modification is necessary to combat them. And if they are widespread and potent, it's hard to make the case that they won't influence the development and use of that technology.

This is one of the reasons I can't quite go along with Donna Haraway’s oft-cited claim that “cyborg imagery” is, or could be, "a powerful infidel heteroglossia." Remaking one's body in response to racism or misogyny could just as easily be seen as capitulation as liberation.

At any rate, the means by which fashion models virtually “evolve” reminds me once again of the duplicating mirror in Fitz-James O’Brien’s From Hand to Mouth (1858), which produces a flock of dysfunctional birdlike creatures by amplifying certain avian features at the expense of others:
It was a feathered cripple. It was all hump. It stood on one long attenuated leg. Its neck was tortuous as the wall of Troy….

The reproduction…went on, and the prolific mirror kept sending forth a stream of green abortions, that after a little while were no longer recognizable as belonging to any species of animal in the earth below, or the heavens above, or the caverns that lie under the earth.
Long live the New Flesh!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Dendrodoris denisoni, "wearing gown upon gown
upon a body of nothing but light;
yet each seperate petal is at the same time the negation
of all clothing and the refusal of it."

(Photo by Philibert Bidgrain.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Lots of gadgetry in the news this week. Ecos Lifelink is a “mobile, portable structure which provides water purification, electricity and even wireless internet access - all through the power of the wind and the sun.”

The design of the two 20 foot modules make the Ecos LifeLink system easily portable to disaster relief sites and to provide water and electricity to remote locations. The portable wireless satellite system provides internet connectivity which allows for voice over IP and VSAT communication reaching a 30 mile range, while providing 16 kW of power and water filtration that provides 30 gallons per a minute making the most contaminated water sources comply with World Health Organization standards.
(Via Inhabitat.)

Rumor has it that a strange new device dramatically reduces the energy consumption of refrigerators:
It is made of wax, is barely three inches across and comes in any colour you like, as long as it's black. And it could save more greenhouse gas emissions than taxes on gas guzzling cars, low energy light bulbs and wind turbines on houses combined. It is the e-cube, and it is coming soon to a fridge near you.

Invented by British engineers, the £25 gadget significantly reduces the amount of energy used by fridges and freezers, which are estimated to consume about a fifth of all domestic electricity in the UK. If one was fitted to each of the 87 million refrigeration units in Britain, carbon dioxide emissions would fall by more than 2 million tonnes a year.
A battery-free hydraulic-hybrid system utilizing nitrogen gas will soon be tested in UPS trucks:
When you press the brakes, the wheels drive a pump that compresses nitrogen gas, which is inexpensive and inert. When you accelerate again, that compressed gas runs the pump in reverse to help power the vehicle.
Inhabitat reports that Wal-Mart has launched a sustainable design competition:
In partnership with The Green Electronics Council’s EPEAT program, Walmart will co-develop a standards scorecard that will evaluate products for energy efficiency, durability, upgradability, end-of-life, packaging, and use of innovative (less toxic) materials....The winner’s product will be carried in Wal-Mart stores throughout the nation.
Also from Inhabitat, micro wind turbines:
Unlike large-scale wind turbines, Motorwave’s micro-wind turbines are light, compact (25 cm rotor diameter), and can generate power with wind speeds as low as 2 meters/second.
New technology is fine, but I’m more gratified to learn that simple, inexpensive biosand filters actually do reduce the incidence of waterborne disease:
“These kinds of filters have been used in the developing world since the 1990s, but there was only anecdotal evidence that they actually improved health,” said Christine Stauber, a UNC doctoral candidate who helped direct the project in the Dominican Republic. “It was really exciting to collect scientific evidence in an objective study that showed the filters actually worked….”

International Aid, a non-profit humanitarian healthcare agency, cited the UNC study while announcing a major safe water initiative that focuses on the distribution and use of a filter that uses the gravel and sand technology, but is housed in a plastic, rather than concrete container. The new filter weighs about 15 pounds, compared to about 300 pounds for the concrete filters.
Speaking of clean drinking water, the Tap Project recently invited NYC restaurant customers to pay one dollar for the glasses of water they usually get for free. Each dollar goes to UNICEF, and provides 40 liters of clean water. A heartening number of restaurants participated. It’s a great idea, and I hope it'll catch on elsewhere.

Anil Gupta’s Honey Bee Network “collects and disseminates traditional knowledge and helps facilitate and spread grassroots innovation throughout India and elsewhere.” WorldChanging describes a recent lecture by Gupta, and spotlights such inventions as the bicycle hoe and the pedal-operated washing machine.

A study of a remote Amazon tribe recently found that parents who understand traditional plant lore have healthier children than those who don’t, “independent of other factors such as education, market participation or acculturation.”

In the aftermath of a telemedicine conference in Botswana, a number of pilot projects are being proposed for sub-Saharan Africa:
These demonstration projects will be used to inform and to help develop a framework for extending eHealth, which should be considered as part of the European Union Strategy for Africa commitment to utilise Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance interconnectivity in Africa.
In other telemedicine news, a Basque researcher has devised an interactive digital television system, which may be convertible for use on mobile devices.

4,000 acres of public land near Fallon, Nevada have been closed to off-road vehicles to protect a rare butterfly:
“The closure is a good first step toward protecting the Sand Mountain blue butterfly, which exists nowhere else in the world,” said Lisa Belenky, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
WorldChanging discusses the growing public and private interest in zero-waste practices, and “and the ‘total makeover of the global economy’ that will be required in order to obliterate the concept of throwing things away. Well worth reading in full.

There are several interesting stories on mapping this week. First off, the European Space Agency is mapping sea surface temperatures around the Galapagos and Coco Island as part of its effort to protect biodiversity:
Maps of the sea surface temperature around Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean are being produced daily and are available online in full resolution in near-real time as part of the Medspiration project, an ESA-funded effort to represent the most reliable temperature of the seas on a global basis.
You can view the maps here.

It seems that DNA analysis can aid anti-poaching efforts by identifying the source of ivory:
Wasser's team used DNA analysis to determine the origins of a 6.5-ton illegal ivory shipment (representing 3,000–6,500 poached elephants) confiscated in Singapore in 2002. By examining the tusks and taking random DNA samples to track genetic differences, they were able to prove that the ivory came from a small area in and around Zambia, and not from a variety of locations as was initially assumed. This ability to pinpoint the origin of confiscated ivory is considered critical to future elephant conservation efforts.
Biologists have created a global map of estimated plant biodiversity:
"This allowed us to estimate the richness of yet unsurveyed parts of the world," says Jetz. "The global map of estimated plant species richness highlights areas of particular concern for conservation and provides much needed assistance in gauging the likely impact of climate change on the services plants provide to humans. It may also help to pinpoint areas that deserve further attention for the discovery of plants or drugs yet unknown to humanity."
An interesting article on allelopathy discusses the possibility of making herbicides from the chemicals that certain plants produce as a defense against other plants.
Fujii and other agricultural scientists have been working aggressively to identify the defensive chemicals. Some of the researchers look to cultivate plant varieties that naturally keep weeds at bay, while others are scouting for bodyguards that will protect a high-valued crop from nutrient- and light-robbing bullies.
Seismic tests off the coast of Vancouver have been defunded by the Canadian government:
Environmental groups praised the decision, saying the loud seismic blasting planned by Canadian and U.S. scientists, using massive air guns, had posed an unacceptable risk to animals living in or migrating through the testing area.
Pruned has some astonishing photos of the giant crystal caves of Naica. Go thou and seek 'em out.

Andy Lomas’s Images of Aggregation are formed by computer-generated accretion.
Influenced by the work of D'Arcy Thompson, Alan Turing and Ernst Haeckel, they study how intricate forms of plant and coral like structures can be created by digital simulation of flow and deposition.
It's worth a look.

Recent finds at Coudal include a wonderful historical photoblog called Shorpy - whence came the beautiful snow scene at the top of this post - and The Silent The Complete, which surveys “modern ruins in Finland.”

I'm also enraptured with WikiSky, “an annotated map of outer space.”

Meanwhile, Moon River alerts us to Shawn Lani’s Landfall, Szymon Szczesniak’s amazing views of Egypt, and Guillermo Kuitca's Anselm Kieferesque map-on-mattress.

Last, a few leftover links, offered without comment:

Cookery Books in Special Collections.

African-Americans in the WPA Collection.

Archival Artifacts: A Series of Mini Exhibits Based on Curious Items.

John Barleycorn Must Die: The War Against Drink in Arkansas.

A Handful of Dust

Not content with stealing the same vase over and over again, looters are pillaging unguarded archaeological sites all over Iraq:

Though the museum is now safe—its doors bricked shut and collections entombed behind welded cellar doors—the country's 12,000 archeological sites are mostly unprotected and the Iraqi government is hard put to stop their plunder.

The longtime former director of the state board of antiquities fled to the United States last August after receiving a death threat. Car bombings and other violence mean the guards who would look after remote sites are often unable to get there.
With no way to stop the looting, archaeologists are reduced to monitoring historical sites via satellite; holes appear in the landscape as the sites are dug up:
At sites dating to 1700 BC, 63 percent of sites were looted, with 84 million square feet of ground torn up and some 30 million square feet of the surface missing entirely.
By an odd coincidence, the antiquities trade seems to be thriving in Afghanistan, too:
"I bought my pieces from the villagers. Then I brought them here," says shopkeeper Ghawsuddin.

"Many Pakistanis buy them. The most beautiful go overseas, he says. "Of course it is a pity to see our riches sold off, but most Afghans are poor and illiterate and for them the treasures mean little more than survival."
There’s speculation that poverty-stricken Iraqi looters are hoarding antiquities at home, in order to sell them later. Other looters seem to be more organized, and I can't help wondering about the possibility of an arms-for-artifacts trade. Whatever the motivation, though, the results are disastrous:
After brief exposure to sun and open air, many of Mesopotamia's clay artifacts, particularly cuneiform tablets, quickly decompose and therefore could be lost forever.

If that is the case, "a huge amount of Mesopotamia is turning to dust….”
In The Destruction of Memory, Robert Bevan understates matters considerably when he says:
America’s awareness of Iraq’s contribution to its cultural self is not comparable to Eisenhower’s strong sense of the centrality of Italy’s art treasures to Western culture.
I'd propose that this awareness isn't comparable because it doesn't exist. But even if it did, it wouldn't necessarily result in Eisenhowerian sentimentality about our shared past. On the contrary, it'd probably make us more desperate and brutal in our efforts to distance ourselves from the Evildoers (who, come to think of it, are very likely to have no word for freedom).

To be fair, we don't particularly care about our own historic sites, either:
One of the last surviving communities built by freed slaves after the U.S. Civil War is on the verge of disappearing, despite long efforts to save it.

The old buildings of Freedmen's Town in Houston are being bulldozed to make way for new homes in a transformation that preservationists say is wiping out an important piece of history....The loss of Freedmen's Town is particularly significant because historians believe it was the largest of the freed slave settlements that was still intact architecturally and to some degree culturally.
In other looting news, the GAO reports that the US still hasn't secured Iraq's munitions dumps:
Failure to guard the sites "has been costly," the Government Accountability Office report said, noting looted munitions are being used to make roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq....

In the report, the Defense Department said that commanders are aware of the problem, have done similar surveys over the past three years and lack the manpower for a new one without harming the war effort.
In other words, if we try to secure the munitions that comprise "the No. 1 killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq," we won't have sufficient troops to combat the people who are using these munitions in a war of attrition against U.S. soldiers.

On the bright side, at least we're aware of the problem.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Typical Human Arrogance

Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems to me that as the market for hardline climate denialism dwindles, “centrist” rhetoric is geting more irrational and petulant.

Consider Adri Mehra, who makes this odd argument in the course of his attack on “cultural alarmism”:

Apparently, since 1975, we've become more powerful than the sun.

Yes, compadres, even though the mass of the flaming center of our entire solar system is that of 332,946 Earths, it has become a near-religious commandment that the burning of our little humdrum underground liquid supply is somehow having more of an effect on our global temperature than the 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit star we revolve around.
What’s even more ridiculous, in my view, is that people actually spend money to heat their homes. How could a tiny furnace possibly compete with the blazing heat of the sun? It just doesn’t make sense.

Mehra goes on to establish his centrist street cred with a faux-evenhanded attack on “liberal scientists” and “neo-conservative shills.” The sane and responsible view of climate change, we learn, is represented by clever people like Mehra, whose lack of ideological blinders allows them to perceive that the sun is a huge ball of fire.
Let's start with the facts. The Earth is indeed getting warmer - a terrestrial rise of about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, leading to 2005 being the warmest year since records began in the late 1800s, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies….

The overriding myth, however, is that there is a scientific consensus condemning humanity as the main contributor to the warming of the Earth.
Like David Limbaugh, Mehra finds evidence of hubris in the presumption that human activity could change the earth’s atmosphere:
This is a shining example of typical human arrogance, and it smacks of the very hubris Aristotle rhetorically warned us about before the overconfidence of Oedipus became his own fatal flaw.

Asserting intellectual human supremacy over small woodland creatures is one thing, but lording ourselves over the central body of our universe as the prime mover of temperature is quite another matzo ball.
Aristotle warned us rhetorically? Duly noted.

But let’s get back to Science:
The prevailing public opinion on man-made global warming pays amazingly little attention to the simple cyclical nature of solar variation, or changes in the intensity and abundance of the sun relative to Earth.

"The sun has been at its strongest over the past 60 years and might now be affecting global temperatures," reported Dr. Sami Solanki, the director of the renowned Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, in 2004.
This is a breath of fresh air, wouldn’t you say? While the IPCC runs around shrieking like Chicken Little on meth, Mehra bemusedly invites us to consider whether the sun “might now be affecting global temperatures.” The “simple” (!) matter of cyclical solar variation has, you see, been overlooked by the scientific community throughout its multi-decade investigation of climate change. Fortunately, Mehra is here to instruct them on First Principles. (While chiding other people for arrogance, no less. A great day’s work, begob!)

As for Dr. Solanki, Mehra obviously got his information from a 2004 article in the UK Telegraph. Here’s the part he conveniently left out:
Dr Solanki said that the brighter Sun and higher levels of "greenhouse gases", such as carbon dioxide, both contributed to the change in the Earth's temperature but it was impossible to say which had the greater impact.
That minor detail didn’t stop the Telegraph from announcing that “global warming has finally been explained.” or Mehra from rewriting their article in an attempt to make himself seem scientifically literate.

Presumably because he’s writing for a college newspaper, Mehra goes on to complain about “the filthy industrial robber barons” who’ve polluted “our oxygen and water supply via chemicals and particulates in exhaust smoke,” as well as the lack of a living wage and universal healthcare, and “the bogus war on terror.” Then, with the exquisite comic timing of a young Carrot Top, he takes a delicious - and completely unexpected - swipe at Al Gore for being, like, totally fat.
If Al Gore wasn't slimming down now for a possible presidential run, we could have probably started to orbit around him instead.
Word, dawg. I read that shit, and I’m like “Yo Al, whussup? If you so smart, holmes, how come you got that big fat ass?”

If Mehra’s gnarly ‘tude doesn’t convince you to embrace the nonideological ideology of radical centrist antidenialist denialism, I don’t know what will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and bone up on this whole “sun” thing. It sounds fascinating.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Exceptionally Grave Damage

Something seems to have driven a beaked whale to strand itself on North Carolina’s Outer Banks:

The 15-foot nursing mother had bleeding around both ears, but a scientist who performed a necropsy couldn't say what caused the whale to beach….

In January 2005…37 whales beached and died on the Outer Banks. The Navy said a sonar exercise it was conducting was several days earlier and more than 200 miles away.
Well, that puts them in the clear. After all, “mid-frequency sonar can emit continuous sound well above 235 decibels, an intensity roughly comparable to a Saturn V rocket at blastoff.” Clearly, if the sonar had been to blame, the whales would’ve beached themselves immediately, no matter where they were. (As all old salts will tell you, the eerie ability of whales to teleport themselves is one of the most intractable Mysteries of the Sea.)

Despite having this airtight alibi, the Navy has decided to claim the state secrets privilege in order to avoid providing information on its sonar use to environmental groups.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter… said disclosure of the information requested by plaintiffs "could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security."
Given the “exceptionally grave damage” this administration routinely causes to national security as an expression of its highest philosophical aims, it’s hard to believe that any of our enemies would notice this comparatively obscure disclosure, let alone take advantage of it; it’s like expecting a kid in a candy shop to get excited about a pack of Saltines.

On the other hand, I suppose Secretary Winter wouldn’t say it unless it were true.

Our Hospitality

Dr. Samuel Keim has a humane and reasonable idea: He wants to launch a temperature-based warning system that will estimate the danger of death for immigrants crossing Arizona’s deserts.

If you’re having a hard time figuring out a downside to this idea, which has the potential to save lives and US medical resources, it’s probably because you’re not a vicious xenophobic crackpot like Barbara Coe:

Barbara Coe, an activist who's conducted civilian patrols of the border in Arizona and elsewhere with the Minuteman Project, excoriated Keim's proposal as "criminal."

"That's called aiding and abetting," said Coe, also founder of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. "Illegal aliens are criminals.”
And as everyone knows, all criminals deserve the death penalty, without benefit of trial or hope of appeal. It may not be in the Constitution, but it’s probably in the Bible somewhere. And if it’s not...well, that was obviously just an oversight.

By Coe’s logic, an ER surgeon who saves a gang member’s life after a gun battle is “aiding and abetting,” too. After all, if the poor schmuck didn’t want to bleed to death, he shouldn’t have been breaking the law.

But perhaps I’m being a bit unfair to Coe, who hastens to add that “nobody wants anybody to die.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Enmeshed in Extremist Networks

Cal Thomas wants you to know that today is Iraq’s Independence Day. Or will be, probably, if this war – which may have started in 1968, or possibly earlier - ever actually ends:

This larger war did not begin on March 20, 2003. The first shot may have been fired in 1968 when three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an El Al plane bound for Israel. Or, it might have begun in 1948 when Israel was officially reconstituted in its ancient homeland by the United Nations and recognized by the United States and other countries….

This war will not end in the next year, in another four years, or perhaps in 100 years….
We don’t know when it started, and it may not end for 100 years. And as Mr. Thomas insightfully notes, “premature hope can be a dangerous thing.”

And yet....
If stability is achieved and freedom preserved, March 20, 2003, will no longer be seen as the "beginning" of a war, but as Independence Day for a nation whose renaissance may just turn the tide of this world war in freedom's direction.
Hmmm. If Thomas turned out to be right, it’s safe to say that a grateful posterity would wind garlands of flowers around his tombstone, and millions of planchettes would spell out “BWA HA HA” as hordes of deceased FReepers swarmed triumphantly to the nation’s Ouija boards. It looks to me like we’d better give Thomas the benefit of the doubt for now, lest we look foolish posthumously.

In the meantime, Global Islamofascism remains diabolically cunning and resourceful. A story at Phi Beta Cons suggests to the discerning reader that multiculturalist indoctrination has made a generation of female college students so desperate for “dark meat” that they’re willing to aid and abet terrorists:
According to a Dutch researcher, one reason such women become enmeshed in extremist networks is that they come under the influence of "Moroccan lover boys" — a phrase used by analysts to characterize attractive radicals who lure emotionally needy women into committing criminal acts.
Sadly, the Dutch researcher is not named, and neither are the “analysts” who coined the taxonomic term “Moroccan lover boys.”

But that’s by the by. The important thing here is the threat posed to our nation by pathetic, clinging, simpering, overeducated sluts with a white-hot passion for illicit sex and Islamic martyrdom. Can stability be achieved, and freedom preserved, while these hussies swarm like flies around every greasy Islamofascist lothario who plies them with Koranic exegesis?

Hell, not even a harebrained Pollyanna like Cal Thomas could be optimistic enough to believe that.

An Assault on Guyhood

An op-ed writer named Daniel Clark has obligingly revealed the psychosexual dread at the root of climate denialism:

The latest point of emphasis in the global warming movement is that cattle farming endangers the planet by producing too much methane. So now, steaks and hamburgers are classified as instruments of destruction, along with large vehicles, lawn mowers, and charcoal grills. It can't be much longer before cowboy movies, cigars and hockey are held to be enemies of the earth as well.

This has got to be the most blatant assault on guyhood since ABC moved Coach to the same night as Roseanne, and turned Hayden Fox into Phil Donahue. It's a wonder that liberals don't cut to the chase, by simply claiming that global warming is caused by testosterone. Then, they could make public school nurses siphon the offending fluid from the boys during health class.
At first, it seems like lame comedy. After all, Clark couldn't seriously believe that his "manhood" is threatened by TV scheduling changes, could he?

Apparently, he could and does. Further, he believes that the environmentalists' brutal assault on his fragile masculinity stems from their worship of that hideous bitch goddess Nature:
Conveniently, it turns out that Gaia is a shrew, who demands that her men be reduced to henpecked, metrosexual noodles. Manliness makes Gaia angry, and we wouldn't like her when she's angry, because she'll turn into a green monster and start smashing everything to bits.
Needless to say, someone whose "manliness" relies on homoerotic crutches like cigars and cowboy movies has much bigger problems than Gaia-worshipping environmentalists, and these problems lead Clark to indulge himself in an orgy of commodity-fetishistic gender performativity that makes Judith Butler sound like St. Thomas Aquinas.

Why don't environmentalists ban styling gels and lattes, instead of steaks and riding mowers? Because styling gels and lattes are feminizing, natch. And the sad truth is, environmentalists are less interested in saving the earth than in tempting he-men like Clark to get pounded in the ass while dressed as a French maid.

Never mind that environmentalists haven't banned steaks, and have criticized the cosmetic and coffee industries. What matters here are Clark's feelings. Having wet his finger - by dipping it in water, not sucking it - and raised it forcefully in the prevailing cultural breeze, he understands that concern over climate change is part of a calculated assault on "guy stuff":
[T]he global warming movement seeks to repress guyhood in order to perpetuate itself. If a guy is shown a picture of a sad-looking polar bear adrift on an ice floe, his first thought will be something like, "I've heard that bear steaks are tough, but maybe if you marinated them in beer, they'd turn out all right." At that point, the alarmists' emotional ploy is foiled. In a world without guy stuff, however, his vacant mind may be invaded by irrationalities like, "Who will take care of the polar bears' children?"
What's "guy stuff," exactly? Well, it' know, guy stuff. Submarines, for instance...they're long and hard and full of seamen. Jackhammers. Oil rigs. Bottles of beer (especially when they're shaken up and sprayed all over your favorite tight end or wide receiver). Getting lost for hours in strange cities, instead of asking for directions like some goddamn sissy faggot who goes around having to ask people about stuff.

Clark's jocular tone can't quite drown out the dentist-drill whine of his sexual insecurity. As reality becomes ever more emasculating for conservatarian dead-enders, avoiding it becomes a moral duty on a par with avoiding the ballet. Their default response to the "emotionalism" of the feminist/liberal/environmentalist axis is to sentimentalize the products that signify masculinity, and finger their power tools as ecstatically as a Carmelite nun might finger her Rosary.

In the real world, of course, faggots, commies, and feminazis routinely enjoy steak and beer and ride power mowers. But in the proud, heaven-penetrating towers of Hard America, these sacraments are reserved for Authentic Men like Jonah Goldberg, whose contempt for those who speak publicly about "feelings" doesn't prevent them from chattering breathlessly about their giddy emotional response to cow butchering and oil drilling.

This is why mere facts and figures will never convince a certain type of denialist. To them, climate change is a fraud not because it's based on junk science, but because it's a "women's issue."

Monday, March 19, 2007

All For the Public

In the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, a thoughtful journalist asks a daring question: Does America need another Robert Moses?

Those who say “yes” seem to feel that reconstruction failures in New Orleans call for a new era of imperious extralegal maneuvering by power-mad thugs. As the article notes:

[Moses] ran roughshod over his opponents, dug up dirt on adversaries, and bulldozed hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes.
Sounds like a nice change of pace, alright. But Moses still has some detractors, especially among our ivory-tower elitists:
Reed Kroloff, dean of Tulane University's architecture school, admits that he wakes up some mornings feeling "desperate for any action."

But he resists the idea that a "benign dictator" is the answer.
He does, eh? Well, with all due respect, it sounds like Kroloff needs to lay down the Derrida and the crack pipe, and start living in the real world.

Kidding aside, it’d be interesting to know how Moses might qualify as a “benign dictator,” even if we were to accept for the sake of argument that such a creature could exist. It seems pretty obvious that bullyboy authoritarianism isn’t a reasonable corrective for democracy’s faults, any more than knocking someone’s teeth out with a crowbar is a reasonable corrective for poor dental hygiene. More to the point, democracy’s most serious fault is precisely this tendency to devolve into authoritarianism, which is not an alternative to weak leadership, but a symptom of it.

In an earlier article concerned with rehabilitating Moses’ reputation, several experts express awe at what he accomplished:
“The grandeur of those buildings — all for the public,” Ms. Ballon said. “He executed 17 urban renewal projects in nine years. That’s staggering.”
Love him or hate him, ya gotta love him!

It's true that a wiser, more compassionate, and more competent person might’ve been able to execute these projects without putting architecture in the service of segregation, or crippling public transit for generations. But who cares? Moses was decisive; he got things done.

Granted, we probably wouldn’t praise a surgeon who saved patients' lives by murdering bystanders and harvesting their organs, no matter how confidently he wielded his scalpel. But urban renewal is a much more complex issue; it deals with confusing, abstract concepts like “public housing” and “infrastructure” and “urban populations.” There’s no room for sentimentality here (unless you’re talking about aesthetics, or the erotic thrill that certain people get from contemplating the insouciant abuse of power).

Maybe I’m oversensitive, but as we enter the fifth year of a disastrous illegal war - whose architects ran roughshod over their opponents, and dug up dirt on their adversaries - I think it’s kind of unseemly to speculate, however politely or tentatively, on whether we’d be happier if we turned our collective decision-making over to an unelected “benign dictator.”

(Photo at top shows construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, circa 1957.)

The Geometrid Horror

I figured I’d ease myself back into things by posting a short collection of interesting links, even though I know I’ll regret it when Friday rolls around.

Childrens’ 19th Century Science Literature compiles some incredible illustrations, such as John McCook’s study of The Geometrid Horror from Tenants of An Old Farm:

Fiji Online Museum has a nice exhibition of glass plate negatives, whence comes the image at the top of this post.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has a glorious collection of Tall-Tale Postcards. It comprises a million cards, give or take, and they’ll pay you ten dollars for every minute you spend browsing through them.

I also enjoyed Life As He Knew It: Photographs of Black Los Angeles from the Walter Gordon Collection. If If that site’s too generalist for you, perhaps you’ll prefer All Frocked Up: Glimpses of Cross-Dressing in Saskatchewan. Or World War I Belgian Embroidered Flour Sacks.

Also, be sure to have a look at Pruned on Sites of Managed Anxiety, and read BLDGBLOG’s fascinating post entitled Earth’s Secret Surfacing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Hexabranchus sanguineus. Photo by Jun Imamoto.

I've finally installed both myself and a DSL connection in my gracious rural desmesne, so look for regular posting to resume on Monday, if not sooner.

Thanks for your patience and kind words!

Friday Hope Blogging

POGO Blog details the promising congressional efforts to pass "open government and oversight legislation," including the Accountability in Contracting Act:

Finally, after over a dozen years of fleecing the taxpayer by contractors and their Congressional allies, Chairman Henry Waxman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is to be congratulated for his “Accountability in Contracting Act” (H.R. 1362). Predictably, the contractor trade associations and the Administration will vigorously oppose the more important provisions of this bill relating to revolving door restrictions and disclosure of contractor overcharges. However, Chairman Waxman is off to a fast start in his efforts toward correcting the wasteful government contracting system.
In related news, Effect Measure discusses the Open Access bill, and explains why it’s a good idea;
[T]he Federal Research Public Access Act (S.2695)…would require tax-payer funded research to be freely available within 6 months of publication -- in other words, Open Access for federally funded research….

[R]equiring tax-payer funded research to made available 6 months after publication is a bare minimum. We paid for it once. Why should be pay for it again and in the process line the pockets of a ten billion dollar industry?
Meanwhile, the Texas state senate has unanimously voted to increase regulatory oversight of the coal-crazed thugs at TXU:
The Senate approved legislation Thursday that would strip TXU Corp. of some of its power plants and increase state authority over TXU operations – including the right to approve the utility's proposed $45 billion sale.

The unanimous Senate was reacting to reports earlier this week that TXU had manipulated the state's wholesale electricity market to reap millions in additional profits.
And Chevron has been forced to drop its plan to build an LNG terminal off the coast of Baja California:
Chevron had in early 2005 gained a concession title that would have allowed construction of the proposed Baja LNG terminal based offshore in Mexican territorial waters, but the company had been fending protests from environmental groups that said the terminal would harm sea mammal and bird habitats.
World deforestation has slowed, somewhat:
[M]oves by some countries to replant forests has meant the annual net loss has dropped from around 9 million hectares in the 1990s to 7.3 million, according to the "State of the World's Forests 2007" report.
Better than nothing, I suppose.

Borneo’s clouded leopard turns out to be a unique species:
“ For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique,” said Adam Tomasek, head of WWF’s Borneo and Sumatra program. “The fact that Borneo’s top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo.”

A new species of snapper has been recognized in Brazil:
"This discovery that a large, popular fish is a species new to science shows how little we know about the oceans that surround us," Moura said.
And a new species of bamboo has been discovered in North America:
"Most people have no idea that we have native bamboo in the U.S.," Clark said. "But it has been a very important plant ecologically. And there's recent interest in using it for re-vegetation projects because it's native and was used for habitat by so many different animals, especially birds."
I wasn’t aware that kitty litter is environmentally problematic, though I’m not exactly surprised. An article by Kathy Ansell helpfully details the pros and cons of alternative products.

Speaking of alternative products, there’s talk of making flooring from cow manure:
As with the wood-based original, the manure-based product is made by combining fibers with a chemical resin, then subjecting the mixture to heat and pressure. So far, fiberboard made with digester solids seems to match or beat the quality of wood-based products.
It’s safe to say that this product has some PR hurdles to overcome. Of course, ordinary plywood uses cow blood as a binding agent. But manure? That’s downright repulsive.

Then again, many designers are using waste products – including old candy wrappers - to make fashion accesories. One such designer makes an interesting point:
“You get much more creative design when you have to respond to the messy and untidy aspects of the world in which we live,” he said. “If you have to deal with a material that is worn out, scarred and scratched from use, you have to be very creative to make a product with a character of its own.”
Whatever else you want to say about manure, you must admit it has character!

People who own the Playstation 3 can volunteer its computing power to help cure a variety of diseases:
A Stanford chemistry department group directed by Professor Vijay Pande oversees the Folding@Home project, which uses software programs to simulate the way proteins change shape - the way they fold - within the human body. Correct folding is necessary for proteins to perform their many functions, such as carrying oxygen from lungs, while misfolding can lead to conditions such as Alzheimer's.

The complex software simulations, whose ultimate scientific value is yet to be determined, require so much computer time that some segments of research can't be completed within a graduate student's years at the university. But when the simulations can be downloaded to a PS3, the speed of the research will be multiplied, depending on how many people participate.
In other medical news, there’s interesting research being done on the use of the polio virus to destroy neuroblastoma tumors:
"A tamed poliovirus represents a significant step in finding viral treatments that can kill tumors without harming patients," said Hidemi Toyoda, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician and postdoctoral research fellow in Stony Brook's Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. "Effectively, we have harnessed a virus that was deadly in children just a few decades ago, namely polio, and used an essential aspect of its nature to destroy a disease that is deadly today."
There’s also talk of using gallium as an antibiotic:
"Gallium acts as a Trojan horse to iron-seeking bacteria," said Singh. "Because gallium looks like iron, invading bacteria are tricked, in a way, into taking it up. Unfortunately for the bacteria, gallium can't function like iron once it's inside bacterial cells."

The researchers showed that gallium killed microbes, and prevented the formation of biofilms. Importantly, gallium's action was intensified in low iron condition, like those that exist in the human body. Gallium was even effective against strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa from cystic fibrosis patients that were resistant to multiple antibiotics. In mice, gallium treatment blocked both chronic and acute infections caused by this bacterium.
The Seattle Times interviews a dry cleaner who decided to turn his back on perchloroethylene. Against all odds (or at least those dreamed up by industry lobbyists), he’s still in business:
Standing in front of his new machine, the Rynex Pro, Shin said the new solvent makes customers' clothes feel softer and is good for the environment. "This machine," he said, "is better."
That’s just the sort of attitude that makes America’s enemies question our resolve.

Modest Needs provides financial relief to people undergoing sudden, unexpected problems:
Modest Needs is a charitable organization reaching out to the people who conventional philanthropy has forgotten: hard working individuals and families who suddenly find themselves faced with a small, unexpected expense that threatens their ability to remain self-sufficient - the unexpected car repair, the unanticipated visit to the doctor, the unusually large winter heating bill….

Since 2002, Modest Needs' donors have stopped the cycle of poverty for 3112 individuals and families who stood to lose everything over a short-term financial emergency.
It’s a lovely idea. Have a look at their site, and if you like what you see, please do consider donating.

Things alerts me to a site memorializing The Kodak Coloramas, which hung in Grand Central Station for 40 years. More interesting, though, is the link to an article in the Guardian on sound and symbolism:
'Wolfgang Kohler's delightfully simple 1929 experiment asked volunteers to match a pair of abstract figures to one of two nonsense words, "maluma" and "takete". Immediately, and virtually without exception, people matched maluma to the soft round figure and takete to the sharply angular one. Some sort of shared symbolism related the sounds to the shapes.'
If I weren’t so busy this week, I’d have plenty to say about this. But I'd venture to say the article’s just as compelling without my input.

That goes double for Maori Studies, a postcard series from 1904.

I also enjoyed History of the Miniature Case. Here’s a sample:

Last, I advise you to ponder the drawings of Guy de Cointet, and marvel at the paintings of Eric Joyner.

(Photo at top: Lagoni, Parco Nazionale dell'Appennino Tosco-Emiliano (PR) by Luca Gilli, 2002.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This is Hypselodoris bullocki.

Posting will probably be sporadic next week, because I'll be on the road for several days. After that, things should be back to "normal," more or less.

Friday Hope Blogging

The Salt Lake Tribune has an interesting op-ed on the "morality" of fossil fuels:

Human suffering related to fossil fuels has not been accurately calculated. Deaths from mining, drilling and processing fuels are among the highest of all industries. Casualties of wars and famines related to oil are staggering. Present and future deaths from fossil fuel-related pollution and climate change loom in nightmarish numbers. Yet, the morality of energy policy is largely ignored.

A moral solution will require major changes, like replacing the internal combustion engine with fusion or something we have not yet imagined. We marshaled our intellectual resources to do impossible tasks like putting a man on the moon and developing an atomic bomb. Another impossible task awaits, unleashing American ingenuity to develop a moral energy system.
"Major changes" is one way of putting it. As Derrida probably wouldn't have said, technology is responsibility, or it is nothing at all. Mere "ingenuity" - American or otherwise - is not enough to create a moral energy system, the antique delusions of utilitarianism notwithstanding. Moral responsiveness is a very difficult thing to impose on an individual, let alone on a society or a world. Hell, it's a very difficult thing to impose on ourselves, especially when doing so is at all inconvenient.

And yet, as Lewis Mumford said, "I'm a pessimist about probabilities; I'm an optimist about possibilities." Which leads us, more or less, to a fairly remarkable pair of statements in favor of gay rights by Republican state representatives from Wyoming. Here's Rep. Pat Childers:
My mother was left-handed but forced to write right-handed by tying her left hand behind her back. People do not do things that way now....

Our definition of marriage has been in place since the late 1800’s and does define it as a civil contract between a man and a woman. It does not make it right with the understanding of human makeup as known today.
And here's Rep. Dan Zwonitzer:
Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privelges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong. It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society....

I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.
That's the voice of authentic humanity, and we shouldn't allow the fact that it's rarely heard from Republicans to blind us to the fact that it's rarely heard, period. Pam Spaulding makes an essential point:
When I see the foot-dragging and hand-wringing by so many Dems at the thought of being strongly supportive of equality in public (lest they lose a single fundie vote) and compare that to the sincerity of people like Childers and Zwonitzer who put themselves politically on the line, it makes you wonder what the word “ally” really means in this struggle....
And Robert M. Jeffers makes an even more essential point than that:
The stranger who comes to you may be a king disguised as a pauper. Or the stranger may be a pedophile, a rapist, a murderer. Either could repay your hospitality in a coin out of all measure to the hospitality you have shown; but not every anticipated payment is also a desirable one. Just as we imagine the king would repay us generously, we imagine the murderer would repay us by taking something away. Even though the king has as much power of life and death as the murderer, and the murderer as much capacity to be generous as the king. Still we imagine that once we know who the stranger is, we know what the stranger will do. But hospitality functions in that area of “unknowing,” in that point in time where the stranger remains a stranger, and all possibilities are still open. Hospitality functions, then, at the very moment of our greatest vulnerability.
A point at which all possibilities are still open, eh? Makes me wonder what the blogosphere would look like if it didn't so often serve this country's dominant political interests by encouraging us to believe that we know who the stranger is, and who the ally is, and what he or she will do.

If these insomniac ramblings strike you as insufficiently hopeful, you may be pleased to know that the Taiwanese have invented an energy-efficient computer chip:
According to their numbers, their chips use less than a sixth the energy of an Intel Pentium, and less than a quarter the energy an AMD Athlon uses. In addition to efficiency, VIA has started a program called "carbon-free computing", where they offset the carbon that will be produced by the manufacturing and lifetime energy use of their CPU's. They do these offsets by building renewable power generation in developing countries, restoring forest and wetlands, and doing energy conservation.
BLDGBLOG has a fine post on wind batteries, and the mounting of windmills on decommissioned offshore oil platforms:
In the lead-acid batteries most commonly used, the chemicals that store the energy remain inside the battery. The difference with the installation on King Island is that when wind power is plentiful the energy-rich chemicals are pumped out of the battery and into storage tanks, allowing fresh chemicals in to soak up more charge. To regenerate the electricity the flow is simply reversed.
A new device called the Solar Cube provides electricity and clean water in the event of disasters.
Portable and assembled on site, the Solar Cube is powered by sunlight and wind, and can provide up to 3,500 gallons of clean drinking water per day from polluted water or salt water — enough to sustain hundreds of families in an emergency.
An innovative latrine system is being built for Kenyan slum dwellers:
The bio-latrine technology involves anaerobic digestion system to transform human waste into fertilizer or gas that can be used for domestic cooking, heating and lighting....The system has no moving parts and can be constructed using conventional building materials with very minimal maintenance requirements, suitable for populations in small scale settlements and large institutions.
Afrigadget has pictures.

Denver is trying out an interesting approach to helping the homeless:
The city of Denver has recycled old parking meters to help in the fight against homelessness.

The old parking meters have been placed at various locations in downtown, including Skyline Park, reports CBS station KCNC-TV....The money will be used by several organizations to provide meals, job training, substance abuse counseling and housing to the homeless.
The use of hydrophones may protect endangered whales from being killed by ships:
Clark says the advantage of audio surveillance is that it works day and night and in all weather. Spotting right whales from the air requires daylight and clear skies.
BirdLife International has announced sightings of the large-billed reed-warbler, which has been lost for 139 years. Here's a photo:

Ornithologists have also discovered a large population of the endangered sociable lapwing:
Previous estimates placed the global population of this Critically Endangered species at between 400 and 1500 individuals. However the expedition team reported seeing over 1200 birds in one day and over 1500 in total during the trip, all within a few grassland sites in Northern Syria. The finding gives tremendous encouragement to conservationists working to save the bird across Central Asia (where it is a summer resident) and the Middle East (where the bird winters).
In other bird news, the Tejon Ranch Company in California's Tehachapi Mountains is banning the use of lead hunting ammunition, which routinely kills condors that feed on carcasses.
"Kudos from Audubon to the Tejon Ranch for not only making the right decision, but for its leadership role in ending the use of lead ammunition on the ranch,” said Glenn Olson, Vice President and Executive Director for Audubon California. “As California's largest private landowner, Tejon Ranch and its decision today highlights the role private landowners can play in conservation."
Scientists have discovered a number of previously unknown species in the waters off Panama:
"It's hard to imagine, while snorkeling around a tropical island that's only a three-hour flight from the United States, that half the animals you see are unknown to science," said Rachel Collin, coordinator of the trip and a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).
There's an interesting story about ecotourism in Ecuador:
The Paz brothers once planned to clear their plot of cloud forest for agriculture but then discovered that the antpitta birds they hunted with slingshots loved disemboweled earthworms. They began to wonder whether these elusive birds could attract tourists to their land so they set up an ecotourist operation.

Pearson says that the brothers, charging $10 a tourist while permitting no more than 15 visitors a day by appointment only, now earn $5000 to $7000 a year, much more than they would have earned with their original plan to cut down the forest and grow fruit trees and bushes.
The Minutemen are having some problems, what with founder Jim Gilchrist suing the group after they fired him for allegedly embezzling $400,000. Amusingly enough, they've also turned him in to the IRS for tax fraud. Pass the popcorn!

Inhabitat reports on the launch of the Open Architecture Network, " a completely open-source website with a simple mission: 'to generate design opportunities that will improve living standards for all.'
[T]he Network is now up and running (debuted at the 2007 TED Conference yesterday), providing a platform in which anyone, anywhere in the world, can view, post, adapt, and comment on humanitarian, sustainable, replicable, and scalable design solutions.
Speaking of architecture, you may want to have a look at Architectonic Fixations, which compiles early photographs of world architecture from the collection of Russell Sturgis. But you'd be better off proceeding directly to this history of the Fairmount Water Works.

The Tulane Carnival Collection features early Mardi Gras float designs, such as this watercolor from 1882:

You can also view a selection of costume designs and invitations, and - if you're inclined - fit them into Diderot and d'Alembert's Map of the System of Human Knowledge.

Coudal recommends Peter Gedei's cave photographs. Which reminds me that I've been meaning to link to this 360-degree panorama of the Krizna Jama Carst Cave in Slovenia. And the Gas Tank Museum.

Last but not least, BibliOdyssey has amazing features on dictionary iconography and the infinitesimal.

(The photo at top is by Jhodie Duncan. It shows Purkinje cells, which are "neurons of the cerebellum that communicate electrical impulses through structures known as dendritic trees.")