Friday, March 16, 2007

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.)


echidne said...

So lovely to read. Thanks

Phila said...

My pleasure, Echidne! Thanks for the vote of confidence...

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, as always.

Hope the re-settling is going well.