Thursday, May 31, 2007

This Isn't Happening

I've often had harsh words for corn ethanol (here and here, for example).

But this is the last straw:

Mexican farmers are setting ablaze fields of blue agave, the cactus-like plant used to make the fiery spirit tequila, and resowing the land with corn as soaring U.S. ethanol demand pushes up prices.

The switch to corn will contribute to an expected scarcity of agave in coming years, with officials predicting that farmers will plant between 25 percent and 35 percent less agave this year to turn the land over to corn.
If anyone wants me, I'll be draped neurasthenically across the fainting couch, with a vinegar poultice on my forehead.

Sending me a few bottles of Del Maguey mezcal might revive me. Might, mind you.

Anyone who's not too grief-stricken can read this post by Tom Philpott, who describes what stumbling after the mirage of corn ethanol is doing to this country, and the rest of the world.

Centre for Holy Wars

An article in the Telegraph makes a startling claim:

Bin Laden is probably as far away from achieving his strategic aims as he was before September 11. However, America, Britain and all of bin Laden's countless other enemies seem no closer to hunting him down, still less to crushing al-Qa'eda.

The probable truth is that what President George W Bush called the "war on terror" has reached a stalemate. Neither side is close to achieving their goals.
Having taken a few deep, shuddering breaths, I’m almost prepared to tackle the assertion that bin Laden is no closer to achieving his goals than he was before 9/11.

Putting aside the fact that 9/11 was, as far as we know, a “strategic aim” of al-Qaeda, let’s consider what 9/11 accomplished. It crippled this country emotionally, putting families, friends, co-workers and complete strangers at each other’s throats. It caused us to throw our laws, and whatever residual shreds of decency adhered to them, out the window, and inaugurated a political order so far beyond the bounds of what normally passes for democracy that even an authoritarian hardliner like John Ashcroft couldn’t stomach it.

The wars we’ve launched have rallied the Islamic world against us, appalled what few friends we had, and made terrorism an attractive career option for every brutalized, alienated Muslim from here to Terengganu. There’s also the small matter of deposing a secular regime in Iraq. You’d have to be fairly dim to believe that this wasn’t welcomed by radical fundamentalists (especially given how often we hear our own radical fundamentalists talk about the importance of deposing secularists).

The goal of terrorism is to destabilize society by provoking overreaction, paranoia, social friction, and the squandering of resources. That’s what 9/11 was intended to do, and that’s what it did. Lest there be any doubt on the point, here’s OBL himself:
All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa'ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note….
The fact that we’re stuck in an ever-escalating war of attrition for the foreseeable future doesn’t exactly hurt al-Qaeda's cause, either. All in all, I’d say they're doing a fine job of achieving their "strategic aims."

Not as fine a job as BushCo, though. For them, 9/11 has been an unanswerable excuse for everything from demonizing political opponents; to relaxing environmental laws; to “legalizing” torture, indefinite detention, and murder. It’s been used to hide criminal behavior, silence critics, gut laws, and make countless end-runs around the judicial system. It’s accelerated the transfer of the country’s wealth from the struggling poor to the redundantly rich, and enabled the building of the biggest and most heavily militarized US embassy on earth.

It’s allowed a gaggle of tenth-rate, stolidly anti-intellectual bumpkins to palm themselves off as the defenders of “civilization,” even as they continued an attack on rights, rationality, fairness, cosmopolitanism, and personal liberty that agrees in its broad outlines with the worst of radical Islam’s anti-modern rhetoric. It’s enabled these incomprehensible vermin to swarm throughout every level of government, and fulfill their instinctive, pointless mission of running it into the ground.

And of course, it bathed Bush’s rubbery brow in a fleeting blaze of holy light, before he fell back into his natural metier of blustering, uncomprehending self-destructiveness. If there’s anything Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush can agree on, it’s that 9/11 is the best thing that ever happened to them.

The problem with the “War on Terror” isn’t that it’s reached a stalemate. The problem is that both sides are against us, and both sides are winning.

(Photo at top: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), posing with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Shales and Husks of Men

There’s some interesting speculation about the effect of California’s pending greenhouse-gas legislation on Canada's disastrous tar sands industry:

[T]he California plan includes a formula that stipulates all greenhouse gas emissions during the life cycle of a fuel will be taken into account. In effect, not only does the crude oil product from the tar sands fail to meet the fuel quality standards of the California plan, but the greenhouse gas emissions that are generated to produce the crude would be more than sufficient to disqualify imports.
Sounds good to me! One can only hope the same calculations will be applied to American shale oil, which is once again being touted as our salvation:
Colorado and Utah have as much oil as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria, Kuwait, Libya, Angola, Algeria, Indonesia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates combined.

That's not science fiction. Trapped in limestone up to 200 feet thick in the two Rocky Mountain states is enough so-called shale oil to rival OPEC and supply the U.S. for a century.
This is journalism of a very high order indeed. You might as well say that cold fusion isn’t science fiction, because it’ll solve all our energy problems forever, just as soon as we figure it out.

To be fair, shale-oil extraction is a good deal further along than cold fusion:
"The breakthrough is that now the oil companies have a way of getting this oil out of the ground without the massive energy and manpower costs that killed these projects in the 1970s," said Pete Stark, an analyst at IHS Inc., an Englewood, Colo., research firm.
Indeed, the energy costs are negligible, as this description shows:
In the high desert near Rifle, Colo., Shell engineers are burying hundreds of steel rods 2,000 feet underground that will heat the shale to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which Teflon melts.

The heat will be applied for the next four years….
In other words, it’ll use less energy in four years than Al Gore’s gloomy fortress atop Death Mountain uses in the average month. Or about the same amount, once you factor in the energy cost of creating an underground ice wall.

Take that, doomsayers!

The AZ Star (second link, above) article notes a couple of other interesting approaches to the shale oil problem; I’ll let you explore those for yourselves.

In unrelated news, please be advised that “some of the nation's largest farming operations are paying rock-bottom rates for the electricity they use to pump federally subsidized water to their fields.”

(Illustration at top: "Night shift in the oil shale processing plant" by Peeter Somelar, 1977.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kill 'Em All!

One of the things that makes the death penalty an ethical disaster is the likelihood that it'll be inflicted on people who are not actually killers, but may as well be executed anyway because "they won't be missed."

Louisiana, for instance, wants to execute pedophiles:

The Louisiana Supreme Court last week upheld the death sentence for a pedophile, and the governor of Texas is soon to sign into law legislation to that effect.
The cynic in me welcomes the law, simply because of the merriment that'll ensue the next time a beloved priest or honorable politician is caught raping children.

But then, the cynic in me is a blithering fuckhead with the moral acumen of a spirochete.

It's safe to say that any pedophiles executed under this law will not have Friends in High Places. When a good (i.e., white, Republican, Christian) man like Randal Ankeney molests children, Maggie Gallagher and Peggy Noonan will present us with the edifying spectacle of a titanic battle between Good and Evil, and remind us that no one is beyond redemption. (Besides...were the children truly innocent? And isn't feminism ultimately to blame either way?)

When someone more disposible does it, they'll inform us that failing to punish certain crimes with death isn't morality, but self-coddling vanity that'll come to worse than nothing.

What's really appalling is that allowing the death penalty may actually make these cases harder to uncover and prosecute:
"We are very concerned that this may reduce reporting of sexual assault, since most child abuse is made by someone close to the child," said Karen Rugaard, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
Indeed. Given what we already know about familial denial in cases of sexual abuse, it's not hard to imagine parents dealing with the problem privately, instead of consigning Grandpa to Ol' Sparky. As for politicians and priests, the organizations to which they belong will have an even greater incentive to keep misbehavior secret.

I find white supremacists almost as nauseating as pedophiles, but I don't think it's a good idea to execute them, either. Speaking of which, a neo-Nazi named Kevin Strom has been charged with posession of child pornography, and with "enticing" a nine-year-old girl.
Strom was surprised by his wife Elisha...while apparently masturbating nude in front of a computer while looking at photos of young girls. Although he ran away from his wife, "she was able to observe that he was sexually aroused."
He also committed the largely aesthetic crime of writing a love sonnet to the little girl, and setting it to the tune of "Here We Come a-Wassailing."

In my experience, the standard "liberal" response to a case like Strom's involves gloating over the idea of him sharing a jail cell with that classic racist stereotype, the large, amorous black though rape were a legitimate way of settling scores, compared to the "barbarity" of the death penalty.

That's an emotional cesspool I prefer not to plumb at the moment. But I will suggest that the power deeply disturbed predators like Strom seek isn't likely to be made less attractive by the threat of death. As I've argued elsewhere, that threat's likely to lure them like bug zappers lure mosquitoes (much as they're already lured by this country's sick obsession with "childhood innocence," which assuages adult guilt at the cost of making children ideal victims).

UPDATE: In a conversation at Eschaton, Gomez made the additional point that it's unwise to have the same penalty for molesting a child, and molesting and killing a child. Some criminals may decide to take the "in for a penny, in for a pound" outlook.

Maybe so. On the other hand, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. What's important here is taking a tough stand. And what could possibly be tougher than killing people?

Fundamentalism's Tombstone?

I'm absolutely reeling from a recent post by Echidne, who discusses this article about the "Museum of Creation" that will open in Kentucky this spring.

It sounds as though it'll be the ne plus ultra of hallucinatory, high-camp Christofascist freak shows, and it will undoubtedly give America's ever-dwindling population of sane people yet another reason to hang their heads in shame:

[C]ontroversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.
If this is true, all I can say is that they apparently took a rather dim view of their own fitness to survive, since they shot themselves dead.

This next tidbit is so predictable that it's barely worth mentioning:
Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids.
I must say, the wheels of God's wrath grind very slowly indeed if it took Him centuries to invent a fatal disease with which to punish homosexuals. But maybe He was exhausted after conjuring up dinosaurs with which to terrorize Adam and Eve:
[V]isitors will see a tyrannosaurus rex pursuing Adam and Eve after their fall from grace. "That's the real terror that Adam's sin unleashed," visitors will be warned.
One always wishes to be tolerant of other people's beliefs. But I have to draw the line at people who think that Adam and Eve were not only real, but were chased from Eden by the Giant Lizards of the Lord. To put it bluntly, it strains my credulity.

This museum is further evidence that for all its sound and fury, conservative American Christianity is in utter psychic disarray, having broken not only with reality itself, but with anything remotely resembling its supposed beliefs. Garish monuments to dogma are exactly what you'd expect from a sickly faith that has replaced agape with triumphalist pomp and circumstance. One can only hope that the Museum of Creation ends up being Christian fundamentalism's tombstone.

(This post originally appeared on January 11, 2005.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

There is nothing too small, but my tenderness paints
it large on a background of gold,
and I prize Chromodoris tinctoria,
not knowing whose soul, released at the sight, may unfold...

Friday Hope Blogging

This feature is exceedingly hard to research each week, so if anyone feels like sending me items, I’d be very grateful (and will of course credit you). My e-mail is at the bottom of the page.

Having made this plea, I expect to be on Easy Street very shortly. But for now, there’s nothing to do but put what's left of my nose to what's left of the grindstone.

There was some fear that bricks made of recycled fly-ash would leach mercury. Oddly enough, they seem to do the opposite:

Researchers have found that bricks made from fly ash--fine ash particles captured as waste by coal-fired power plants--may be even safer than predicted. Instead of leaching minute amounts of mercury as some researchers had predicted, the bricks apparently do the reverse, pulling minute amounts of the toxic metal out of ambient air.
Go figure!

There's good news from POGO Blog:
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved language on the Defense Authorization bill last night which improves disclosure of Congressional earmarks and improves taxpayer protections for whistleblowers who work for defense contractors.
A new program would allow low-income people to use EBT cards at farmers’ markets:
The project will enable food stamp benefit recipients to purchase products from individual farmers' market vendors without each vendor being separately authorized by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services.
David Roberts links to an essay on “religious environmentalism” by Roger S. Gottlieb:
As religions become greener a number of other things happen as well. First, the global nature of environmental problems helps bridge the gap between different names for God, spiritual truth, or simple human goodness. As a result effective interfaith coalitions become increasingly more commonplace. The Interfaith Global Climate Change Network, for instance, has chapters in eighteen states and includes Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Native Americans in its membership….

This comprehensive perspective of eco-justice offers hope for a new kind of politics that will transcend both blind faith in the "market" and a moribund liberalism of separate and competing interest groups.
Gottlieb also makes a point I’ve made before, on the value of the religious vocabulary in situations where “most people would find even a language of rights inadequate, and one of "consumer preferences" patently absurd.” There are plenty of things to quibble with here, but all in all it's an interesting read.

Also via Grist, Vancouver’s initial stab at a new city plan is pretty impressive:
Vancouver should put high-density housing next to its major parks and along every one of its major streets, suggests the first draft of Vancouver's ecodensity charter, released today.

The city should also close down some roads to cars and require developers to include solar power, rainwater collection, and laundry drying facilities in any new project....The over-arching idea [is that]Vancouver needs to redefine what it means to be livable city.
Fairfax County, VA has voted to restrict big-box retailers:
Fairfax County Supervisors have approved a new measure to restrict the development of stores larger than 80,000 square feet, against the protests of the business community.
Meanwhile, Arizona has agreed to limit growth based on whether or not growth is feasible:
Arizona lawmakers voted Thursday to expand the state's growth management efforts, approving a bipartisan bill to empower counties and cities to place new restrictions on rural development without adequate water supplies.
Obviously, no one’s informed these folks that rain follows the plow.

In today’s world, minor concessions to reality amount to heroism. Escondido, CA recently toyed with the idea of privatizing its sewer system, and came up with some interesting conclusions:
Deputy City Manager Charlie Grimm said last week that the city had contacted a consulting firm to determine what would be involved in privatizing a sewer system and got answers to three important questions:
- Could the sewer system be run more efficiently?
- Would the city reap any financial benefits?
- Would the city still have some control of sewer operations?
"Basically, down the line it's no, no and no, so we didn't spend a lot of time with it," Grimm said.
Probably wise, all things considered.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to allow the siting of an LNG terminal off the coast of California:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last Friday announced his rejection of BHP Billiton's proposal to anchor a 1,000-foot-long liquefied natural gas terminal 14 miles off the Malibu coast, effectively killing the project outside of the Australian energy and mining giant winning a court battle or an unlikely federal government intervention (which would be difficult since the current federal law states the governor's rejection stops the project).
An Alaskan mine will not be allowed to dump its tailings in a lake:
The decision has important implications for mining. A few years ago, the Bush administration redefined mining waste as “fill”, which can legally be dumped into streams and lakes. Couer Alaska’s mine, the first metals mine to get a permit under that new definition, would have set a dangerous precedent for allowing mines to dump toxic tailings into Western waterways. We can all breathe a sigh of relief — for now.
A fox has withdrawn his bid to guard the henhouse:
Yesterday, Michael Baroody withdrew himself as nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). News of the withdrawal came less than 24 hours before today's scheduled nomination hearing.

It is unclear whether the withdrawal came at the behest of the White House or was of Baroody's own accord. Either way, it is not surprising. The Senate nomination panel was preparing to grill Baroody on his ties to industry and obvious conflicts of interest.
A little-known, endangered species of turtle has been found in the Mekong River:
“This incredible discovery means that a unique turtle can be saved from disappearing from our planet,” said David Emmett, a CI wildlife biologist. “We thought it might be almost gone, but found it in abundance in this one pristine stretch of the Mekong, making the area the world’s most important site for saving this particular species.”
BLDG BLOG has posted a nice photospread on “the implosion of four cooling towers at the Chapelcross nuclear power station, in Scotland, where the UK used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.” Not sure whether this is good, bad, or indifferent in the grand scheme of things, but I’m a sucker for demolition (so long as the buildings are new enough).

That said, here’s a new building I’d rather not see demolished:

This incredible structure – built near Seville, Spain - comprises “a 300ft tall tower surrounded by 624 solar panels which will produce enough energy to power 60,000 homes.” Inhabitat has much more, including a video.

Nissan is attempting to recycle 100% of its vehicles:
Under the Nissan Green Program 2010 action plan, the company plans to accelerate its recycling efforts to achieve an average 95% recovery rate for end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) by FY2010. In Japan, this is four years ahead of the 2015 regulations.
Regulations, you’ll note, spur competitive behavior.

Also via The Seitch Blog, a solar heater made out of soda cans:
After a winter of freezing while working in the garage, Daniel Strohl was struck with the idea of creating his own solar panel garage heater. Fifty cans of Sprite later, he concocted a heater that was easily able to add 15 degrees of heat to the air.
Ethopia’s highest religious official has announced that it’s permissible to take anti-AIDS drugs and drink holy water at the same time:
Yonas, 41, who was in the congregation Wednesday, said he was pleased to know his preferred treatment was acceptable.

"I feel better now. Before, they forbade me to take the medicine," he said of his priests. "Now they welcome it."
Winning ideas in this year’s Development Market awards include novel mosquito traps, riverbank filtration, and health insurance for street children.

This may not be grounds for any sort of hope, but it’s certainly interesting:
Plasma astrophysicists at the University of Warwick have found that key information about the Sun’s 'storm season’ is being broadcast across the solar system in a fractal snapshot imprinted in the solar wind. This research opens up new ways of looking at both space weather and the unstable behaviour that affects the operation of fusion powered power plants.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency has produced the sharpest satellite image of the earth yet. It’s magnificent, and you can see it by clicking here.

With Nature and a Camera is an online version of Richard Kearton’s 1898 book of natural history, which includes plenty of nice photographic plates. (Link via Plep.)

BLDG BLOG has a fascinating post on the West Norwood Cemetery catacombs.

Once you’ve admired this picture sufficiently, be sure to read BLDG BLOG’s earlier post on architectural hallucinations.

BibliOdyssey has posted an amazing collection of engineering diagrams from the Renaissance, as thus:

Where is an interesting blog “about urban places, placemaking and the concept of ‘place’” (via Things). See also Subway Systems of the World, Presented on the Same Scale, which comes via AIDG Blog.

Just for fun, see if you can guess which of these images outlines Moscow’s subway system, and which was created by a spider dosed with chloral hydrate.

God only knows why it’s taken me so long to link to Vitaphone Varieties. Since they’ve recently posted an mp3 of the Dixieland Jug Blowers’ “Banjoreno” - one of my favorite songs - it’s definitely time to remedy the oversight.

On a slightly different aesthetic plane: The films of Irene Moon (some readers will recall that I linked to one of these in an earlier FHB).

Last, an incredible collection of ambrotypes at Luminous Lint, an incredible collection of cameo cards at (what is this?), and an incredible collection at Le Divan Fumoir Bohemien (via Angela).

(Illustration at top by Francesca Berrini, via Moon River.)

Deeper Penetration

The anti-environmental Right has done a good job of inducting off-road vehicle owners into its supremely cynical “Wise Use” movement, by arguing that mowing down the wilderness in dune buggies is an entitlement, if not a moral duty.

It’s not clear where the “wise” part comes in. Unlike hunters, who have a vested interest in conserving the habitat of the animals they hunt, ORV riders need conserve little more than mounds of dirt. A desert tortoise may deliver a satisfying bounce when you run it over, but once they’re all gone, a rock will do the same job perfectly well.

A recent ORV rally suggests that despite the prevalence of libertarian dogma in the Wise Use movement, its adherents tend not to respect the idea that one’s freedoms end where someone else’s begin:

”Groups of partiers were blocking an area and forcing women to bare their breasts in order to leave, along with numerous incidents of unwanted fondling of women. When law enforcement officers took action, the crowd became unruly, throwing objects at the officers.”
It’s probably irresponsible to suggest that this behavior has something to do with the rhetoric coming from our ailing nation’s radical-right thinktanks , but so what? Irresponsibility is my inalienable right as an American. While it’s true that certain subcultures are more likely to be thuggish than others, it’s also true that the Right has done its damnedest to ally itself with those subcultures, and to conflate their witless transgression of racial, sexual, and civic norms with “individual liberty.”

At any rate, this is not an isolated incident:
The U.S. Forest Service also reports rising attacks on its rangers in connection with ORV encounters. ORVs allow deeper penetration into remote, formerly wild, areas by people seeking to escape social restrictions, often leading to destructive acts.
Who could’ve imagined that contempt for the environment would go hand in hand with contempt for one’s fellow citizens, and for the law itself? Like anti-immigration extremism and racial pseudoscience, the ORV situation is a perfect example of how the Right puts a philosophical veneer on sociopathy in order to advance its business interests.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who's Who?

More than five years after George W. Bush said "You're either with us, or the terrorists," Amnesty International reports that the "War on Terror" is...well, divisive:

Fears stoked by the post-9/11 "war on terror" are increasingly dividing the world, Amnesty International said Wednesday....

The gap between Muslims and non-Muslims notably deepened, fueled by discriminatory counter-terrorism strategies in Western countries, warned the rights group in its annual report.
In related news - possibly - ABC reports that US taxpayers are paying to broadcast anti-Semitic rhetoric in the Middle East:
Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.
This incongruity might puzzle Iraqis, if they didn't have bigger things to worry about:
Bush's "surge" has put army and police checkpoints everywhere in Baghdad but Iraqis are terrified approaching them because they do not know if the men in uniform they see are in fact death squads.
Back home in the USA, the FBI is advancing the daring theory that white supremacist groups might be recruiting from the ranks of anti-immigration zealots:
Charles Frahm, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said there is increasing concern that the most radical elements of the anti-immigration wing may be "susceptible" to recruitment by white supremacists and other groups inclined toward violence.
Speaking of recruitment, Orcinus reports that in Arizona, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office hired a deputy they knew to be a former member of Aryan Nations:
Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Justin Dwyer, 39, a former leader in the neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations, on drug charges stemming from an undercover investigation. Dwyer himself was employed as a deputy in the sheriff’s office at the time of his arrest.
On the other hand, heavily armed white supremacists - on whatever side of the law - may be the only thing that can save us from WorldNetDaily's latest threat to the Republic: Resentful blacks.
Al-Qaida is aggressively recruiting black Americans for suicide operations against the homeland, say FBI analysts who have reviewed recent videotaped messages from the terror group's leaders.

Zawahiri....citing the teachings of Malcolm X, suggests that black Muslims who do not rise up against America are no better than "house slaves."
Cooler, whiter heads know better:
"The Arab is the true master of the African," said Bill Warner, director of the Center for Study of Political Islam. "Blacks like to imagine Islam is their counterweight to white power, not that Islam has ruled them for 1,400 years."
How true that is. Every day, I see blacks who are manifestly enjoying the thought that Islam is a counterweight to white power. It's as typical of black culture, these days, as razor fights and watermelon theft were in more innocent times.

To be fair, not all blacks have thrown in their lot with Osama; it's just the ones with an axe to grind:
[S]ome analysts doubt al-Qaida's pitch will resonate in today's black community beyond a handful of malcontents. They point out that African-Americans are no longer held back by institutional racism....
Of course, now that we're threatened by these Allah-loving ingrates, yesterday's institutional racism may well become today's common sense.

United we stand!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

My soul at least a solace hath
In dreams of Noumea alboannulata; and therein knows
An Eden of bland repose.

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Pardon my abruptness, but this is pretty amazing:

The £2m SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project brings together experts from across the world to develop a wood-powered generator capable of both cooking and cooling food...

Led by the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Nottingham, the project team will use thermoacoustic technology for the first time to convert biomass fuels into energy, powering the stove, fridge and generator.

Thermoacoustics refers to the generation of sound waves through the non-uniform heating of gas — illustrated by the 'singing' of hot glass vessels which can be heard during the glass blowing process. This phenomena has been known for centuries, but could offer new possibilities in the energy conversion process.
As is Pruned's explanation of the “hydrological playground":
While children have fun spinning on the PlayPump merry-go-round (1), clean water is pumped (2) from underground (3) into a 2,500-liter tank (4), standing seven meters above the ground.

A simple tap (5) makes it easy for women and children to draw water. Excess water is diverted from the storage tank back down into the borehole (6).
Click the link to see the diagram.

Diarrhea caused by rotavirus kills about 600,000 children per year, most of them in developing nations where delivery of the vaccine – which must be kept chilled – can be problematic. Accordingly, a team of students at Johns Hopkins has developed a quick-dissolving oral strip that doesn’t require refrigeration, and is easier to administer:
"The idea is that you would place one of these dissolving strips on the infant's tongue," said Hai-Quan Mao, the team's Johns Hopkins faculty advisor. "Because the strips are in a solid form, they would cost much less to store and transport than the liquid vaccine. We wanted this to be as simple and as inexpensive as possible."
Massachusetts is considering a bill that would keep protestors at least 35 feet from abortion clinics:
The bill would strengthen a 2000 law that created an 18-foot zone in which protestors had to remain at least six feet away from all staff and patients unless they obtained permission to move closer.
And Connecticut has made it mandatory for hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims:
Without fanfare, Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday signed into law a measure that requires all hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

The law has been the subject of intense controversy for two years, primarily because of opposition from the Catholic Church.
The Kansas Board of Education has voted to end its support of abstinence-only sex education:
“It’s pretty much what’s been taught in Kansas schools for 30-plus years,” she said. “It’s teaching kids the only foolproof way of protecting yourself is abstinence. However, it understands that kids need the facts and need information if they choose to become sexually active.”
Massachusetts is moving in the same direction:
"We don't believe that the science of public health is pointing in the direction of very specific and narrowly defined behavioral approaches like the one that is mandated by this funding," said John Auerbach, the state commissioner of public health.
The archfiend Clinton has devised yet another plan to destroy America:
A coalition of 16 of the world’s biggest cities, five banks, one former president and companies and groups that modernize aging buildings on Wednesday pledged investments of billions of dollars to cut urban energy use and releases of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.

Under a plan developed through the William J. Clinton Foundation, participating banks would provide up to $1 billion each in loans that cities or private landlords would use to upgrade energy-hungry heating, cooling and lighting systems in older buildings.
The Clinton Foundation is also working with Microsoft “to develop new technology tools to help large cities create, track and share strategies to reduce carbon emissions.”

If you’re blessed with friends or family who fancy themselves climate skeptics, you might want to bookmark the handy guide to climate myths at New Scientist (including my all-time favorite, It’s too cold where I live – warming will be great).

The ports of Vancouver, Seattle, and Tacoma have pledged “to reduce particulate emissions from ships at dock by 70 per cent by 2010 and those from cargo handlers by 30 percent."

At Entropy Production, Robert MacLeod discusses “the glittering future of solar power.” Data-hungry geeks will want to read the whole thing; others can get the highlights at Grist. My favorite part:
If solar can maintain the same growth rate is has for the past decade, solar can supply all of mankind's projected electricity demands 26 years from now.
There’s also an interesting article on solar power from space. Not sure how I feel about it, but I thought it was worth including anyway.

Bald eagles seem to be resisting the efforts of American patriots to wipe them off the face of the earth:
The number of bald eagles in Wyoming has grown to 185 breeding pairs, a population recovery that has exceeded expectations from ornithologists who predicted much lower recovery rates when the birds were first granted federal protection in 1967.

The bald eagle population is soaring nationally, as well, with the number of breeding pairs in the lower 48 states climbing from a low in 1963 of 417 to more than 9,700 today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.
Sonoran pronghorns are doing pretty well, too:
Five years after drought whittled the deer-like animal's population to a handful, pushing it to the brink of extinction, its numbers are back above 100.
You can read 100 more ESA success stories here. And you can read about hundreds of new life forms discovered in the Antarctic deep sea here:
"What was once thought to be a featureless abyss is in fact a dynamic, variable and biologically rich environment. Finding this extraordinary treasure trove of marine life is our first step to understanding the complex relationships between the deep ocean and distribution of marine life."
In California, a judge has reversed the approval for a Hilton hotel on the shore of Big Bear Lake:
“Not surprisingly, the courts have once again held that developers and the government agencies that support them must obey the law and deal with the environmental consequences of their actions,” said Drew Feldmann, president of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.
Another judge has issued an injunction against developers in Palm Springs:
“This injunction is critical to protecting the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and its critical habitat in Chino Canyon as well as least Bell’s vireo nesting sites along Chino Creek. It also protects a crucial movement corridor for the bighorn in the northern part of its range,” said Lisa Belenky, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We take heart that the judge agreed that there is no need to rush to develop yet another golf course and luxury housing development before the court can thoroughly review the merits of the case.”
And yet another judged has ruled that fish-stocking efforts must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act:
“This ruling is a tremendous victory for California’s native fish and frogs,” said Deanna Spooner, conservation director of the Pacific Rivers Council. “Now we can work to prevent future harm to these sensitive species from overstocking of the state’s streams, rivers, and lakes.”
California is also preparing to implement severe restrictions on fumigant pesticides:
"The agricultural industry had a free ride for over 10 years. These regulations should have been adopted in 1997," said Brent Newell, an attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment who represents the plaintiffs. "Emissions have increased, and the public has borne that cost by breathing polluted air in three air basins."
Industry groups are saying farmers will be driven out of business, because as everyone knows, it’s absolutely impossible to grow plants without fumigants. I refer them to that pitiless dictate of capitalism, adapt or die!

Vitamin D could help protect people against TB, especially during times of diminished sunlight:
Scientists have shown that a single 2.5mg dose of vitamin D may be enough to boost the immune system to fight against tuberculosis (TB) and similar bacteria for at least 6 weeks. Their findings came from a study that identified an extraordinarily high incidence of vitamin D deficiency amongst those communities in London most at risk from the disease, which kills around two million people each year.
The "One Laptop Per Child" project is off to a promising start in Uruguay:
The computers are designed for children, boast extremely low electricity consumption, a pulley for hand-generated power, 1 gigabyte of flash memory, built-in wireless networking and a screen with indoor and outdoor reading modes.
The photo at top is from a glorious exhibition of photographs by Hugh Mangum, "an itinerant photographer from a prominent Durham, North Carolina, family, [who] traveled a rail circuit through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia" from the 1890s to 1922. Very highly recommended!

You might as well have a look at The Muybridge Cyanotypes, a Flickr set listed at Coudal.

Also via Coudal, All 6,288 Smithsonian Images; some lovely examples of industrial silhouette photography; and Soviet matchboxes, a Flickr set by Dan Mogberg.

I heartily recommend Glimpses of Navajo Life in the Fifties, a series of photographs by Don Blair. And Saturn from Above.

Audubon's Aviary is also worth a look. As are Majesty Sublime - which commemorates Alexander Wilson's 1804 walk from Niagara to Philadelphia - and this collection of American relief prints. Furthermore, Images de Bretagne has a nice collection of vintage postcards.

Those with a green thumb may wish to visit Harvest of Freedom: The History of Kitchen Gardens in America, and Mail Order Gardens, which compiles gorgeous graphics from early seed catalogs.

There are more great graphics in The World Awheel: Early Cycling Books at the Lilly Library:

And From Revolution to Republic In Prints and Drawings:

And, of course, no tour of the Internets would be complete without a visit to this history of Scottish Cinema Design:

Novelty Plus Dread

A post at Danger Room describes how the Iraq War serves as a proving ground for IEDs and triggering devices, and how designs pioneered against our troops are being globalized.

Take the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which have become so common in Iraq. "Bomb makers [there] during the past four years have benefited from the lessons of trying to defeat a sophisticated enemy who is using complex countermeasures, National Defense magazine notes. Now, "the daily onslaught... is spreading to... Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Algeria." And there are "strong indications that [the Philippines'] Abu Sayeff, [Indonesia's] Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist groups are really collaborating to have a common type of IED."
Which shows once again that the ticking time-bomb scenario so beloved of authoritarian hacks has nothing to do with reality. Terrorists are constantly adapting and evolving, like so many other organizations, towards decentralization, automation, remote action, and information warfare.

Apropos of which, David Hambling discusses the possibility of using toy planes as remote-controlled missiles.
Some of these planes can carry a significant payload – like Bergen's Industrial Twin helicopter - "a workhorse capable of lifting up to a 25 lb. payload or fly for one half hour on a tank of gas" - take one away today for $5,500.
Obviously, we need to ban model planes. And pull instructions for building them off the Internet. And while we're at it, let's increase surveillance of hobby shops.

Stories about clever new terrorist tactics make good newspaper copy, which - thanks to the phenomenon of misleading vividness - makes them seem more plausible. Which in turn makes it seem that something must be done about them, now, before we're all killed!

As Bruce Schneier says, "Novelty plus dread equals overreaction":
We need to "do something," even if that something doesn't make sense; even if it is ineffective.
Or even if it's evil. In a fine op-ed, retired Marine generals Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar describe how torture, once it's accepted as effective, becomes seen as a duty:
These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb.
Absolutely. After all, if you don't torture 'em, how will you know if they're holding out on you?

All of which is really just a scatterbrained preamble to Danger Room's interview with John Robb, who argues that there are no American politicians who understand the novel aspects of fourth-generation warfare. The whole thing is well worth reading, but I particularly liked this passage:
My solution -- and this could be for anything from terrorism, climate change, to bird flu -- is to start at the bottom to build resilience at the local level. You can’t stop global system shocks at the border. They occur too quickly and our borders are too porous. So, in order to mitigate their effects, you need to build stability into our systems at the lower levels. One way to do this is by enabling systems that help communities operate autonomously of the national services grid for a period of time. If that were to occur, autonomous communities little affected by the shock, would help to rapidly reboot the larger system.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cities of Panic

In an article on “the urbanization of panic,” Franco Berardi argues that panic increasingly “tends to become the urban psychic dimension”:

During the past centuries, the building of the modern urban environment used to be dependent on the rationalist plan of the political city. The economic dictatorship of the last few decades has accelerated the urban expansion. The interaction between cyber-spatial sprawl and urban physical environment has destroyed the rationalist organisation of the space.
It seems doubtful to me that “rationalist organization” was ever a reliable bulwark against urban anxiety, not least because Kathryn Milun argues so convincingly in Pathologies of Modern Space that the “intense emptiness” of the 19th-century city’s rationally planned public squares created a near-epidemic of agoraphobia.

It’s not clear what Berardi means by “panic.” He has a firm idea of what causes it, though:
The social organism is unable to process the overwhelmingly complex experience of metropolitan chaos.
Maybe not. But then, the social organism has no obvious need to do this. On the contrary, we function by not processing all the stimuli that come our way. We may indeed be overstimulated or confused or anxious, but it’s not certain that this is simply because urban life is too “chaotic” or “complex”; some city dwellers may be panicked because they hate their job, or can’t afford to pay their medical bills. After all, man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Or so I hear.

Berardi goes on to insist that cities produce “a stimulation too strong and too rapid” for human beings. Granting that urban life has some intractable problems, this seems a little highhanded. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed that some people seem to be…well, happier in the city. But perhaps it’s only because they don’t understand their abject subordination to "Semio-Kapital":
Semio-Kapital…is not about the production of material goods, but about the production of psychic stimulation. The mental environment is saturated by signs that create a sort of continuous excitation, a permanent electrocution, which leads the individual mind as well as the collective mind to a state of collapse.
”The mental environment is saturated by signs,” eh?

Why am I always the last to know these things?

Honestly, it’s a little late in the day to assume that cities are inherently productive of alienation and anxiety or “a state of collapse,” whether or not they’re interacting with “cyber-spatial sprawl.” As I see it, Berardi’s critique is not all that different from the Nazi critique of Weimar cosmopolitanism. Which is to say that it’s one-sided, at best.

What I find interesting about these anxieties is not the extent to which they’re causing minds to collapse, but the extent to which they’re holding them together. There’s a fairly obvious link between panic and escapism (and between cultural theory and escapism, for that matter), and what seems like a nightmare to you or me may be preferable, for some people, to a far more intolerable reality.

While traveling in the Midwest recently, I spent some time talking to a self-professed libertarian at a coffee shop. He told me he lived alone on 40 acres about an hour outside the city, and had a good-sized stockpile of weapons. He was prepared (i.e., yearning) for the breakdown of society, and if “they” came to get him, he was willing (i.e., hoping) to go out in a blaze of glory. His vision of human nature was fairly dark, even by my dour standards. But it seemed to make him happy, and the more apocalyptic his scenario became, the more he seemed – in Charles Mackay’s fine phrase – “to delight in hearing his own organs articulate it.”

In my experience, that attitude is a lot more common among suburban and rural dwellers than urbanites. At Eschaton the other night, we were talking about what it was like to live in NYC on and after 9/11 (as I and many other regulars did). Several of us felt that there was far less panic among New Yorkers than among Americans who lived thousands of miles away (in the suburbs, usually) and were at little risk – then or now – of falling prey to terrists.

Thinking about it today, I wonder if these people simply felt left out, and were jealous. One thing I do know is that downplaying the threat of terrorism in general, or of some specific weapon like botulinum toxin or EMP, tends to make them angry. They seem to want more panic in their lives, not less.

Maybe it’s not panic at all, for all I know. Maybe it’s desire, dressed up in an emotionally acceptable disguise.

Over at Subtopia, Bryan Finoki uses Berardi’s article as a jumping-off point for a far more compelling discussion of “the implicit panic in structures like border fences and detention centers, bunkers and nuclear shelters, urban conflict zones, foreign embassies, paramilitarism and slumaphobia, etc.”

If we want to, we can find “implicit panic” in everything from seatbelts to non-slip shower mats. I think that what’s important about Bryan’s examples of “architectures of control” is who they represent as a threat (i.e., the poor, minorities, foreigners, and so forth), and to what extent we experience that representation as gratifying or convenient or what have you. From this standpoint, one could argue that Berardi is wrong because he misses the point that “cities of panic,” far from being too complex, are too simple, inasmuch as they tell us what we want to hear. (Unlike, say, the somewhat more ethically demanding City of Refuge.)

Bryan suggests the possibility of viewing “panic as a new prototypical capitalist form,” which I think begs the question of what capitalism has been based on up 'til now. You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that a system that treats competition as a quasi-religious duty is going to be fueled to a huge extent by panic. In concentrating on the city “as an architectural weapon to enforce behavior” – as something imposed on us, in other words - I think we run the risk of ignoring the extent to which “cities of panic” are where we want to live, perhaps because (as I’ve argued previously) there’s a lack of meaning elsewhere.

(Illustration: "Apocalyptic Landscape (Nr. Halensee Railway Station), 1913" by Ludwig Meidner.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Lou Dobbs stands by his reporting on America's leprosy epidemic, which he says is caused by - wait for it, now - immigrants:

On "Lou Dobbs Tonight" this past Monday, Dobbs said he stands "100 percent behind" his show's claim that there had been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the United States over a recent three-year period, and he further suggested that an increase in leprosy was due in part to "unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country."
It's shocking how those illegals sneak past our leprosy detectors. Is nothing at all sacred to these subhumans?

I've already dealt with this nonsense at some length, so I won't reiterate it here. What's interesting is that Dobbs claims that he got his leprosy stats from Madeleine Cosman.

The late Ms. Cosman was a prominent conservative activist with no degree in medicine, and a rather lurid fixation on the "versatile" sexuality of immigrants:
Recognize that most of these bastards molest girls under age 12, some as young as age 5, others age 3, although of course some specialize in boys, some specialize in nuns, some are exceedingly versatile, and rape little girls age 11, and women up to age 79.
Perhaps daydreaming over Medieval history inspired her lunatic claim that there were 7,000 cases of leprosy in America over the course of three years. That's as good a theory as any, given that there's no evidence for her statistics, and plenty of evidence against them.

One can only speculate as to whether she was familiar with this evocative passage from The Confession of Agimet of Geneva:
On Friday, the 10th of the month of October, at Châtel, in the castle thereof, there occurred the judicial inquiry which was made by order of the court of the illustrious Prince, our lord, Amadeus, Count of Savoy, and his subjects against the Jews of both sexes who were there imprisoned, each one separately. This was done after public rumor had become current and a strong clamor had arisen because of the poison put by them into the wells, springs, and other things which the Christians use - demanding that they die, that they are able to be found guilty and, therefore, that they should be punished.
In addition to her race-baiting misrepresentation of leprosy statistics, the versatile Ms. Cosman left behind "a vast library of illuminated manuscripts and a large collection of handguns."

(Illustration by  Giovanni Sercambi, via The Florida Holocaust Museum).

A Faulty Anthropology

Given that Iraq's child-mortality rate is the highest in the world, it's a trifle...unedifying to see Western commentators fretting over a "shortage of children."

That said, it's hard not to admire the ease with which Patrick Kelly, vice president of the Knights of Columbus, anatomizes the problem:

"The problem consists of a faulty anthropology that detaches human freedom from the truth and values the person in strictly individualistic and materialistic terms," observed Kelly. "This was the great error of communism, and it now presents an enormous challenge to the consumer cultures of the West."
The great error of communism was its overemphasis on individualism? Surely Mr. Kelly is a queer farfetched man.

Though he's not alone in that, God knows:
Author and public policy expert Phillip Longman says the concept that if your parents never had children, chances are you won't as well, rings true across the world today.
That's a sentence worth printing out and carrying with you, just in case you come across someone who needs an anaesthetic.

The article insists that the child shortage is "not being fueled by high child mortality rates." I guess that makes a certain sort of warped sense, so long as your concern is with regulating sexual behavior, rather than with the survival of children per se. But even so, it's quite possible that some people are failing to procreate to the satisfaction of busybodies like Patrick Kelly because they're so completely fucking horrified by how we treat the children who are already here.

(Illustration at top: "An exhibit comparing white and Negro fetuses from the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, 1921." Via The Adoption History Project.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Sadder, Duller Place

When Sao Paulo, Brazil voted to ban outdoor advertising, one member of the City Council complained:

"I think this city is going to become a sadder, duller place," said Dalton Silvano, who cast the sole dissenting vote and is in the advertising business. "Advertising is both an art form and, when you're in your car or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom."
Brazilian journalist Vinicius Galvao describes what happened next:
[I]n a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area....

Sao Paulo's just like New York. It's a very international city. We have the Japanese neighborhood, we have the Korean neighborhood, we have the Italian neighborhood and in the Korean neighborhood, they have a lot of small manufacturers, these Korean businessmen. They hire illegal labor from Bolivian immigrants.

And there was a lot of billboards in front of these manufacturers' shops. And when they uncovered, we could see through the window a lot of Bolivian people like sleeping and working at the same place. They earn money, just enough for food. So it's a lot of social problem that was uncovered where the city was shocked at this news.
The notion that Sao Paolo's well-off citizens were previously unaware of the city's slums is hard to accept, not least because that troubled city's best and brightest are inclined to travel everywhere by helicopter. Still, this is an effect of outdoor advertising that I hadn't really considered before.

On the bright side, the city's blanks signs provide the perfect testing ground for subliminal advertising.

(The photo at top is from Sao Paulo No Logo, a Flickr set by Tony de Marco.)

Things About Stuff

CKR has an interesting post on climate science:

One of the objections to climate science and the IPCC process is that science is about facts, not consensus.

It’s about both, actually. Scientists are a lot less deterministic lot than is popularly supposed. Some do indeed measure particular properties or effects down to the fourth or ninth or whatever place after the decimal point, but for the most part, the world is slipperier than that. Or it would be nice to believe that scientists pin down causes and effects in an unambiguous way: smoke cigarettes, and you’ll get lung cancer.

That example shows that it’s not so simple. We all know someone who smokes and has lived a long and healthy life. But it still makes sense to discourage smoking, because many people who smoke do get lung cancer, and the cigarettes are the cause of that lung cancer. Probability there, not determinism.
Subtopia discusses an article on "the urbanization of panic":
Berardi describes the state of urban territory as striated by new dimensions of panic where the mental and physical environment of the city overlap in an over-saturation of signs “that create a sort of continuous excitation," he writes, "a permanent electrocution, which leads the individual mind as well as the collective mind to a state of collapse.”
There's an awful lot of stuff I'd take issue with in the theory-laden source article. It's hard to say whether I'll ever get around to it, though. For now, the questions that occur to me are: 1) Is panic really "urban"?; and 2) Is "panic" really panic?

David Neiwart reports on a picnic in Rapid City, MI, at which a KKK flag was flown:
Probably the most noteworthy aspect of the story is the way everyone in the community scrambles to cover for the person who raised the flag. They're all equally quick to deny that the flag's appearance meant anything racial....

If white people sometimes wonder why minorities sometimes view their protestations off innocence on racial issues with deep suspicion, they need only look at incidents like these for a simple explanation.
Except that for many people, assigning ill will to the accuser rather than the accused provides the simplest possible explanation for racial incidents.

Stories like this one show how racism has essentially become inadmissible; it's as though it were so rare a phenomenon, and so inexplicable a form of mental or ethical perversion, that almost any other explanation is not only more plausible, but also more in keeping - perversely enough - with the "civilized" value of tolerance.

Speaking of tolerance, VastLeft extols the virtues of being reasonable:
Maybe it’s part of the plan, the rightwing going so far off-the-rails that the Democrats are stuck being the boring Mr.-and-Ms. Fixits, while the Repubs create all those mind-boggling new realities. But, maybe it’s time we remind people how boringly reasonable we are. It just may be that reasonable is the new reasonable.
Damn straight. Death to extremists!

Kidding aside, Amanda Marcotte would take issue - as would I - with the "Mr.-and-Ms." part of VL's equation:
If you pay very close attention to the way Democrats and liberals are dismissed by the right and in the mainstream, you’ll notice that it’s the same set of dismissals issued to silence and discredit women out of hand. Despite all indicators that we marched off to war because a bunch of neocon wingnuts watched way too many war movies in the 80s, the idea that liberals are ruled by emotions and conservatives are rational still has play (look at any Sensible Liberal® defending his support for the war, and you’ll see that myth played out)....

And it’s all because Republicans have been coded as masculine, and the Democrats as feminine, and thanks to sexism, we believe that masculine is more rational than feminine, regardless of piles of evidence to the contrary.
My thrusting, probing male intellect tells me that the young lady is on to something (I'd emphasize that the "rationality" in question is of the conservatarian variety, and therefore has more to do with kicking ass than, say, devising a sensible trade policy).

Which reminds me: Echidne has written an excellent piece on the media's portrayal of gender research.

(The photo at top is by David Levinthal, from his series "Hitler Moves East 1975-77." Via Coudal.)

Stuff About Things

Here are some links that didn't make it into last week's edition of Friday Hope Blogging.

Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell compiles Cornell's source material, notes, and other ephemera.

Historical Photography of the American West in 3D is a fascinating collection of stereo cards and anaglyphs.

Out of the Teeming Sea comprises 19th-century glass models of marine invertebrates by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

The Illustrated Word at the Fin de Siècle details "the relationship between fin de siècle aesthetic and political theories, and between literary, artistic, and journalistic culture and paid particular attention to the role of the visual in the media of the period."

America and the Utopian Dream is notable less for its rudimentary survey of utopian and dystopian literature than for its collection of ephemera relating to American utopian communities like Kaweah.

Death of the Father: An Anthropology of Ends in Political Authority asks the immortal question: "Of what significance is the symbolization of the Father and his dead body for the form of national authority that follows the collapse of a regime?"

A Buzz About Bees presents historical material on bees and beekeeping.

New York Street Photography features photos taken in the 1960s and 1970s by Diane Arbus, Roy Colmer, Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Thomas Struth, and William Gedney.


Time, Tide and Tonics: The Patent Medicine Almanac in America.

Vive la différence! The English and French stereotype in satirical prints, 1720-1815.

Under the North Pole: The Voyage of the Nautilus.

The Animal Kingdom: Six Centuries of Zoological Illustration. See also Animals Are Allowed in the Library.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Let my senses be lit
by Mexichromis multituberculata
without which love dies or sleeps!

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Lots of interesting community redevelopment stories this week. For starters, Youngstown, Ohio has come up with an interesting plan for smart shrinkage:

Youngstown, a former steel-producing hub, has been losing residents for years as a result of the closing of most of its steel mills. But rather than struggle to regain its former glory or population, it has adopted an economic-development plan that boils down to controlled shrinkage. By accepting the inevitable, the city says it can reduce its housing stock, infrastructure and services accordingly.

Neighborhoods that are "emptying out" will eventually be converted to greenspace through mass demolitoin of decaying housing and commercial structures. The city estimates it will take about four years to bulldoze the biggest eyesores, including about 1,000 abandoned homes and several hundred old stores, schools and other structures.
WorldChanging has a great article on the Harlem Children’s Zone:
It costs $3,500 per child per year to educate a kid in a Harlem Children's Zone school. In return, it's been shown, those kids are much more likely to be well educated, have better job prospects, live healthier, contribute more to their communities and in general contribute to the general good. Early investment in kids shows a solid ROI.
An urban planner whose family formerly lived in St. Louis’ ghastly Pruitt-Igoe projects is helping to revitalize this blighted area:
To date, more than 200 apartments and homes in the neighborhood have been renovated, and new restaurants and shops have opened, many along the Manchester Avenue business district.
There are interesting efforts afoot to increase land-ownership among denizens of “manufactured housing” (e.g., trailer parks), through such mechanisms as resident-owned communities:
The New Hampshire model of resident-ownership is a cooperative one. To acquire a community, homeowners first form a nonprofit co-op in which each household has one share and one vote. The co-op finances the purchase by borrowing money from local banks and the loan fund. This means that homeowners do not have to take out individual loans to buy in. Public subsidies are used for fixing unhealthy and unsafe water and septic systems and deteriorating roads.
The Los Angeles City Council has agreed unanimously to restore the LA River:
It took five years to frame the details, but the roots of the proposed river restoration go back to a fledgling group of environmentalists who in the late 1980s began insisting that the river could be much more than a concrete-lined flood control channel.

"This is a great step," said Lewis MacAdams, founder of the activist group Friends of the Los Angeles River. "One of our first slogans was when the steelhead trout returns to the Los Angeles River, then our work is done, and to see an acknowledgment of steelhead in the plan -- well, I like that."
A new bill would dramatically expand cleanup of the Everglades:
The measure...includes new restrictions on polluted stormwater runoff from new developments, and on the dumping of sewage sludge into the Lake Okeechobee watershed, which environmentalists say is a major victory.
In other news, scientists are creating an “Encyclopedia of Life” that will catalog and track every species on earth:
The ambitious electronic encyclopedia will catalogue the details of every species thus far identified and put all this information on the Internet so anyone can access it.

"This will be a fantastic resource for the developing world," said James Edwards, the new executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life project headquartered in Washington at the Smithsonian Institution. Until now, researchers and students from the South had to travel to the big 10 natural history museums located in the North to learn about species in their own countries, Edwards told IPS.
A speculative project called seedPOD would offer similar benefits to farmers:
seedPOD will host an open archive of resources which can be augmented and developed through the discoveries made by citizens and farmers. We call it Wikiseedia -- a collaborative, free online agricultural encyclopedia.
Speaking of which, eight South African plants allegedly hold potential for treating hypertension. It’s amazing what you can find, when you bother to look.

South Pacific nations have joined together to ban bottom-trawling:
The landmark deal will restrict bottom-trawling, which experts say destroys coral reefs and stirs up clouds of sediment that suffocate marine life.
There’s been yet another resignation at the Department of the Interior, which BushCo stacked with a gaggle of pro-extraction industry, anti-environment zealots:
Burton’s tenure at the agency was fraught with decisions and policies which impaired the government’s ability to collect oil and gas drilling fees owed to the federal government and Native Americans.
Glenn Beck has one of the least popular shows on TV, but his “expose” on global warming didn’t even manage to meet his conservatarian paymasters’ sadly diminished expectations:
Beck's special, "Exposed: Climate of Fear," was a commercial flop, finishing dead last in total viewers among CNN, Headline News, Fox News, and MSNBC programs that night.
Next stop, Palookaville! It’s also interesting that Rupert Murdoch claims to have gotten religion on climate change; time will tell whether this is sincere, or an attempt to promote industry-approved “solutions” from a standpoint of faux-centrism. Ditto for GM's decision to join the Climate Action Partnership.

Meanwhile, 31 states are working together to track greenhouse gases:
"This includes a lot of deeply conservative states who have signed on that we weren't expecting," said Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman for the California Climate Action Registry, the only current statewide emissions tracking system, which helped develop the multistate program.
A coal-fired plant in upstate New York is being shut down, which is good news for Thers and Molly, their 257+ children, and their ducks.
The emissions from the 350-megawatt Lovett plant are linked to acid rain and smog. At the time of the settlement, state environmental officials said the emissions from Lovett alone, which looms over the west bank of the Hudson River, represented a quarter of the sulfur dioxide and almost a third of the nitrogen oxide released by electric generators in seven counties in the Hudson Valley.
And Wal-Mart is apparently taking steps to reduce the amount of mercury in its compact fluorescent bulbs:
Wal-Mart said it estimates a third less mercury will be used in the production process of the bulbs it buys, effectively removing an average of 360 pounds of mercury per 100 million CFLs sold in its stores.
Not bad. But as David Roberts notes, LEDs are a better bet:
The cost of LED lighting should be coming down quickly. Polybrite founder Carl Scianna said the cost of individual white-light diodes, several of which go into an LED bulb and make up much of the cost, have come down in price from about $8 to $1.50 in a year.

“They're going to keep going down,” Scianna said. “By the middle of next year, they'll be priced for consumers.”
A Swiss-built ship has completed the first solar-powered Atlantic crossing:
According to the organisation, the 14m-boat produced 2,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy during its voyage thanks to a roof of photovoltaic panels mounted above the twin-hulled design.

The solar energy was used to power the boat's electric motors and any surplus was stored in batteries, allowing it to travel at a constant speed of 56 knots day or night, the group's website said.
Meanwhile, affordable solar-power systems are making a big difference in rural India:
Jyoti Painuly, senior energy planner for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), lists examples of people who have profited from the scheme: "There is the food vendor who told us 'Now my food doesn't smell of kerosene, so I sell more of it,' and the tailor who said that he can work a few extra hours during the day, bringing in more money."
There’s talk of using the jet stream as an energy source:
"My calculations show that if we could just tap into 1 percent of the energy in high-altitude winds, it would be enough to power all civilization. The whole planet!" said atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University.
Make of that what you will.

Argonne National Lab claims to have found a way to improve rechargeable lithium-ion batteries:
In recent tests, the new materials yielded exceptionally high charge-storage capacities, greater than 250 mAh/g, or more than twice the capacity of materials in conventional rechargeable lithium batteries….In addition, by focusing on manganese-rich systems, instead of the more expensive cobalt and nickel versions of lithium batteries, overall battery cost is reduced.
And there’s some interesting work being done on engine redesign:
The new method would eliminate the mechanism linking the crankshaft to the camshaft, providing an independent control system for the valves.

Because the valves' timing would no longer be restricted by the pistons' movement, they could be more finely tuned to allow more efficient combustion of diesel, gasoline and alternative fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel….
And an initial conference on agrichar brought experts together to discuss the potential of carbon-negative biofuels:
n simple terms, the agrichar process takes dry biomass of any kind and bakes it in a kiln to produce charcoal. The process is called pyrolysis. Various gases and bio-oils are driven off the material and collected to use in heat or power generation. The charcoal is buried in the ground, sequestering the carbon that the growing plants had pulled out of the atmosphere. The end result is increased soil fertility and an energy source with negative carbon emissions.
As some of you may recall, Engineer-Poet has discussed this process at exhaustive length.

The New Yorker has a fascinating article on the Antikythera Mechanism, a mysterious device that was recovered in 1900, after spending roughly 2,000 years in the Aegean Sea.

I also recommend Country and Landscape, a gorgeous online exhibition comprising early images of Australia. And the magnificient pinhole photography of Bill DeLanney

Via Things comes Catalog Tree, your source for Broxomatic tachographs, and mental maps of Werkplaats Typografie.

If that's too much for you, you can calm yourself with Bert Teunissen's Domestic Landscapes (via Coudal). Or the Expériences amusantes unearthed by Agence Eureka. Or NASA's amazing panoramic view of "A Dark Sky Over Death Valley." (Click the link, or the photo, to see an enlarged version.)

Last, here's a time-lapse film of an auroral display from British Columbia:

(Photo at top: "The Downs by Moonlight" [1870], via Luminous Lint.)