Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

In China, public outcry has halted the construction of a paraxylene plant. That’d be remarkable enough, but it turns out that the protestors organized the response with text messages:

Angry locals had denounced the project as an "atomic bomb" threatening the seaside environment, the report said, adding they claimed to have circulated nearly a million mobile phone text messages urging family and friends to protest the plant.
Food for thought, I’d say.

Taiwan plans to shut down its nuclear waste dump on Orchid Island:
Taiwan will shut a nuclear waste dump on sparsely populated Orchid Island by 2016, eliminating a toxic risk and a source of friction with indigenous people on this tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean.
This is not such good news for the Taiwanese, as their toxic sludge will now have to be repatriated. On the other hand, keeping one’s nuclear waste within one’s own borders seems to me like a pretty basic moral responsibility.

Brazil has decided to subsidize birth control:
Less than a month after Pope Benedict XVI criticized government-backed birth control measures during a visit to Brazil, Lula da Silva said the plan will give poor Brazilians "the same right that the wealthy have to plan the number of children they want."
The World Bank has awarded almost $200,000 to a group that will bring clean-burning charcoal to Haiti:
This project has developed an array of technologies to produce clean-burning cooking charcoal from agricultural waste materials at a lower cost than current methods. Converting agricultural residues to charcoal leads to a significant reduction in airborne particulates, and thus to improved respiratory health. This agro-charcoal does not contribute to deforestation and is more affordable than conventional wood charcoal. Moreover, local jobs and micro-enterprises will be created, further increasing incomes and consequently improving health.
Speaking of airborne particulates, a federal court has ruled that Idaho farmers must end the practice of field-burning:
Grass seed farmers on the Rathdrum Prairie burn their fields each summer to prompt a new crop without replanting. People with respiratory problems have complained about the health effects of the smoke, and the issue has resulted in multiple lawsuits.
What makes this case especially noteworthy is that the EPA not only took the side of the farmers, but encouraged the governor to make an end-run around the federal court:
[T[he EPA sent a letter to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter offering the opinion that Idaho could continue to allow burning because the 9th Circuit decision didn’t come right out and say it “vacated” a previous EPA approval of field-burning in 2005. The decision did say that the EPA’s 2005 approval was “legally unsustainable.”
Thus, this ruling is a victory over pollution and Bushist corruption.

Apropos of agriculture, it seems that relatively small changes to current practices could dramatically reduce the incidence of schistosomiasis:
“We know agricultural and irrigation practices play a large role in the transmission of schistosomiasis,” he said. “Altering these practices, in addition to providing the medicine and pesticide, may be the best way to drastically reduce, or even eliminate, the spread of the disease.”
Meanwhile, in Africa, urban gardens are improving the lives of poor city dwellers:
Lipepele and her husband took the vacant land next to their one-room home and planted sweet potatoes, which have highly nutritious leaves. Following the Mama Bongisa advice, they mounded the earth to get as much surface area as possible and to prevent Kinshasa's harsh rains from flooding the beds.

Soon they had enough crops to improve their diet; and after that they were able to sell the excess to buy caterpillars, fish, and other proteins.
WorldChanging directs what little there is of my attention to Worldbike, which is designing “cargo bicycles” for the developing world. The assumption that old technologies have been perfected, or become outmoded, is something that I’ve tried to challenge since I began this feature, so I found Worldbike’s promo literature very interesting:
Worldbike designs higher-strength, longer-wheelbase bicycles with integrated cargo capacity….Why hasn’t it been built before? Because American recreational customers are the singular focus of the bicycle industry. But things are changing.
They're also changing in Oregon, where computer recycling will soon be mandatory and free:
Legislation that earned final approval Tuesday in the Oregon Senate will redirect televisions and computers into a mandatory recycling program, which would be free to the public and financed by electronics manufacturers.

The passage of the plan comes after similar bills short-circuited in 2003 and 2005 - but the legislation moved to the top of the agenda with the shift of the statehouse to Democratic control.
Financing such programs is a lot cheaper when you avoid using toxic materials, so it’s no surprise that Intel has vowed to make all future processors completely lead-free.

Democratic gains in Oregon also enabled the passage of an important bill protecting women's reproductive rights:
The new law, effective on January 1, 2008 requires private health insurers to cover birth control prescriptions and also requires hospitals to provide sexual assault survivors with emergency contraceptives.

The bill was introduced to the Oregon legislature in the early 1990s, but Republicans have blocked its passage in the House since then. The Democrats gained control of the House in November 2006 and, with a majority in the Senate, recently passed the legislation.
Minnesota legislators have passed a landmark energy bill:
[Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul] says as impressive as a 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions might sound, it won't be enough to stop global warming. So Anderson convinced her colleagues to set a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota by 80 percent by the year 2050....

After much debate and a few compromises, utilities companies agreed to support the bill.
As most readers will know, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was recently destroyed by a tornado. Now, some interesting rebuilding ideas are being kicked around:
Local politicians, along with state leaders, are talking about a new town with energy-efficient technology and sustainable energy sources….

But if the citizens have the will to build anew, with the best in “green” technology, they should have access to efficient energy sources, smart architectural design and the finest in community concepts. Happily, the state of Kansas, businesses and nonprofit groups seem willing to help.
One thing they could do is make sure that each house is equipped with this new power switch:
It is a button placed at the door of your house, and upon pressing it will turn off all of the non-essential electricity users. So rather than making sure all of the lights are turned off and other gadgets and appliances, this House-Off Switch can do it all with a simple push.
Iron nanoparticles can apparently remove arsenic from drinking water, without the problems that plague standard iron-based filtration systems:
Researchers from Rice University….have created a filtering system that uses nanoscale magnetite (Fe3O4) to bind both As(III) and As(V), which can then be removed from water with a magnet. Preliminary tests with Brownsville groundwater and Houston tap water have been encouraging, and now the team is working to scale up its filter for use in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Things continue to go poorly for the Minutemen:
The top leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps have been terminated by the group's president, Chris Simcox, for requesting a meeting to discuss a lack of financial accountability by the organization's leadership.
That’s just the beginning of Simcox’s problems; the SPLC has much more. Regardless of one’s stance on illegal border crossings, the MCDC is an absolute snake pit. It’s probably too much to hope that any of its members will shift their focus from illegal immigration to economic exploitation, period. Regardless, the public meltdown (and possible prosecution) of a high-profile demagogue like Simcox strikes me as a good thing.

There’s renewed hope that antibodies from H5N1 survivors can be used to prevent or treat the disease:
[M]onoclonal antibodies generated from blood of human survivors of the H5N1 virus are effective at both preventing infection in mice and neutralising the virus in those already infected. The research had been fast-tracked for funding by the UK's Wellcome Trust and is also supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health in the US and the Swiss National Science Foundation.
In other medical news, there’s talk of a promising new treatment for uterine fibroids:
A noninvasive ultrasound procedure effectively shrinks uterine fibroids and significantly relieves fibroid-related symptoms in women, according to the results of a multicenter clinical trial reported in the June issue of the journal Radiology. Magnetic resonance-guided, focused ultrasound surgery (MRgFUS) allows radiologists to precisely target fibroids without harming healthy surrounding tissue.
Satellite monitoring could help to save polar bears from the effects of climate change:
In a project named "Warm Waters for Cool Bears," WCS will use both current and historical satellite imagery to predict where sea ice is likely to persist and where subsequent conservation efforts to save the species will be most effective.
And there's fascinating news about the music of the spheres. Or one sphere, anyway:
"The sun's interior vibrates with the peal of millions of bells, but the bells are all on the inside of the building," said Scott McIntosh of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead member of the research team. "We've been able to show how the sound can escape the building and travel a long way using the magnetic field as a guide."

The new result also helps explain a mystery that's existed since the middle of the last century -- why the sun's chromosphere (and the corona above) is much hotter than the visible surface of the star. "It's getting warmer as you move away from the fire instead of cooler, certainly not what you would expect," said McIntosh.
If you don't yet share my obsession with signage and typography, I advise you to go directly to Lettermade, without passing "Go" or collecting $200.

That link comes from Coudal, which also alerts me to Dark Roasted Blend’s astonishing survey of Communist Gothic architecture by Yakov Chernikhov, whose work reminds me of everyone from Piranesi to Rizzoli to Turner.

Also via DRB, underwater sculpture in the West Indies. I like the idea much more than the execution, though some of the images did put me in mind of Thomas de Quincey’s Savannah-la-Mar, which “fascinates the eye with a Fata-Morgana revelation, as of human life still subsisting in submarine asylums sacred from the storms that torment our upper air.” Your mileage may vary.

I’m far less ambivalent about Airform Archives - a site compiling “things related to sound, visual art, architecture, modernism, music, design, fluxus, 78's, literature, film, ephemera, and much more” – which has some marvelous old photos of musicians, as thus:

Archaeological Collage shows how the streets of Portland, Oregon have changed over time, with an interface similar to that of the Third View project. Very nice! Meanwhile, Cornell Mushroom Blog holds forth on "the aerial dance of nematodes, waving their glassy noses around in the air like cobras charmed by some microscopic swami." That brings us, naturally enough, to the University of Sheffield's National Fairground Archive Image Database. Which is as good a place to leave you as any.

(Photo at top: "After the Storm, Arch Cape, Oregon" by Rolfe Horn, 2000.)


ERic said...

You regularly do an excellent job ripping Global Warming naysayers. I'm interested in what you think about this article:

I'm sure that there've been reports like this around, but it's new to me.

Phila said...

Thanks, Eric. I'll have a look at it.

Anonymous said...

And on a more general note, Phila, just want to say how much I appreciate Friday Hope Blogging. It ... erm ... gives me hope. There's a small switch deep in my brain that seems, when Fridays are calm enough to allow, to direct me to Bouphonia and hope. Thanks.

Phila said...


Alright, I had a look at it. Very briefly, there are two problems. The first is that natural warming and manmade warming aren't mutually exclusive. The question of our contribution to warming would remain even if the post in question were accurate. As a very rough analogy, a disease might become more contagious or virulent naturally, and be exacerbated by our actions.

Second, we have much better historical climate records for earth than for Neptune, and those records show that the sun is not the primary cause of warming on earth.

For a more detailed debunking of this claim, click here and here.

Phila said...

Thanks, cal! That means a lot to me.

ERic said...

Thanks, phila!