Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Setting suns reclothe fields, the canals, Ceratosoma amoena, the whole town, in hyacinth and gold; the world falls asleep in a warm light.

There, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.

(Photo by John Radoff.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Since the last couple editions of FHB were too short, I'm obliged to make this one too long. Enjoy!

A judge in Oregon has ruled that two sections of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional, while sneering at the administration's attempts to bully her:

"The defendant here is asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so," Aiken wrote in her ruling.
A Philadelphia court has ruled that a health clinic did nothing unlawful in giving a 16-year-old girl emergency contraception without notifying her parents. That's good in and of itself, but the logic of the ruling is particularly pleasing, in my opinion:
"The Constitution does not impose an affirmative obligation on (the) defendants to ensure that children abide by their parents' wishes, values or religious beliefs," McKee wrote. "Here, the center, a public health clinic, had no authority over Melissa, nor did center staff become involved in Melissa's reproductive health decisions without invitation," he wrote, adding, "Melissa was only given the pills because she asked for them."
New York has rejected millions of dollars in funding for abstinence-only education:
State health commissioner Richard Daines also said New York will redirect $2.6 million in state funds once designated for abstinence education to comprehensive sex education. Daines said the decision was based on evidence that the abstinence-only programs had little effect on teen pregnancy rates.

"The Bush administration’s Abstinence Only Program is an example of a failed national health-care policy directive, based on ideology rather than on sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public health-care policy," Daines said in a statement.
Conservative activists seem to be giving up on a plan to reallocate California's 55 electoral votes along party lines:
Days after a controversial organization began collecting voter signatures for a ballot measure to change California's winner-take-all presidential vote, a founder of the GOP-backed group says its major players are resigning - and the group will fold - due to lack of funding and support.
Japan intends to form cobenefit projects to reduce emissions in developing countries:
For instance, the introduction of technology to more efficiently burn fuel oil and coal in thermal power generators would help reduce emissions of such air pollutants as nitrogen monoxide and sulfur monoxide. At the same time, the measure would also result in less emission of CO2.
Merck claims that it will donate enough of its cervical-cancer vaccine to vaccinate one million women in the developing world.
Cervical cancer, caused by a sexually transmitted virus, is the No. 2 cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with nearly 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year. Most deaths occur in poor nations, where women rarely get tests to detect cervical cancer early, when it is most curable.
It's a start.

Effect Measure reports on a handheld detector that can detect the H5N1 virus in just 30 minutes:
The authors claim the method is 440 per cent faster, and between 2,000 and 5,000 per cent cheaper than current methods while being just as sensitive. Could be. They haven't tested it in the field we'll have to see if this device is as good as it sounds.

But it sounds good.
There's more here.

AIDG Blog discusses a low-tech syringe disposal using old soda cans:
The designer of Antivirus – a cap to protect was inspired by her own experience as a young girl in a Singaporean refugee camp, where she received a vaccination with an infectious needle, making her sick for a long time.

The cap is mounted on readily available beverage cans for segregation and isolation of used needles which are secured inside the permanently sealed can, preventing re-use of needles. The design embodies an element of sustainability in that it uses a waste product available even in low income countries.

Triple Pundit reports on "a fungi-based pest control system that is supposed to be more effective than any chemicals and is basically free."

A combination of consumer demand, regulation, and common sense is driving manufacturers away from halogen-based flame retardants:
Flame retardant formulators acknowledge that many of their customers are also steering them toward halogen-free offerings. Ikea was one of the first companies to announce that it would no longer use PBDEs in its furniture; its products have been free of brominated flame retardants since 2002. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, at least 10 other major manufacturers have also made similar announcements about discontinuing or phasing out either PBDEs or all brominated flame retardants; these include Apple, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Motorola, Panasonic, Philips, and Sony.
Here's a somewhat less glamorous example of chemical substitution:
Researchers in Finland have just published results of a study showing that farmers can substitute human urine for conventional fertilizer and get a notable increase in cabbage yields. Moreover, the crop's taste was at least as acceptable as that of the greens fertilized conventionally.
For some reason, the old song "She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas" is running through my head.

This is astonishing, if true:
Despite the fact that Ecuador depends on one-third of its budget from oil exports, there will be no oil extraction, no oil exploration from the ITT oil field under Yasuni. Under the YasunÌ-ITT Initiative the country will forgo the stream of revenues the oil would provide. Ecuador will be the first country in the world to deliberately leave significant oil reserves underground - and those revenues - for the betterment of the planet while seeking to build a sustainable green economy.
AIDG Blog reports that the World Bank is helping Vietnamese women take title to land:
It’s a simple act — putting a woman’s name on a land title. But it’s also a powerful act — and can offer women a way out of poverty.

In rural Vietnam, where 80% of the population live, women have been at a disadvantage because most land titles have traditionally been held by men. But with World Bank help, some 35,000 new joint land titles were issued in just two years….with spaces for two names, both husband and wife.
Smart Mobs discusses the role of technology in Burma's democratic uprising:
Burmese-born blogger Ko Htike, based in London, has transformed his once-literary blog into a virtual news agency and watched page views rise almost tenfold.

He publishes pictures, video and information sent to him by a network of underground contacts within the country. “I have about 10 people inside, in different locations. They send me their material from internet cafes, via free hosting pages or sometimes by e-mail,” he told the BBC News website.
Apropos of which, here's Mike the Mad Biologist:
[T]he people of Myanmar still march, only armed with the conviction that their government is unjust and that it can be changed through non-violent means. They are awe-inspiring and humbling, not only for their courage, but for their steadfast committment to dignity in the face of indignity.
A UK businessman has come up with an impressive water purifier:
Unlike most typical filters, which can eliminate bacteria but not viruses (which measure about 25 nanometers in length), Pritchard's bottle cuts them out and can even cut out faecal matter, thanks to a filter that takes out anything above 15 nanometers.
A little over a year ago, I said something unkind about the climate skeptic Patrick J. Michaels:
His credibility should be taken off life support and allowed to die a natural death.
The University of Virginia seems to agree, to some extent:
Michaels, whose utility industry funding and controversial views on global warming made him a lightning rod on climate change issues, called his resignation a sad result of the fact that his state climatologist funding had become politicized....
There's talk of using eggshells to help make hydrogen fuel:
The patented process uses eggshells to soak up carbon dioxide from a reaction that produces hydrogen fuel. It also includes a unique method for peeling the collagen-containing membrane from the inside of the shells, so that the collagen can be used commercially.
I report, you decide!

A young designer has come up with a new style of packaging that can be configured into furniture instead of being discarded:
Rather than throw away the packaging and leave nature (and a few hundred years) to deal with it, Ballhatchet’s concept allows the user to slide foam casing apart after delivery and reassemble the parts to form a neat self-contained entertainment stand with built in cable management system.

In Cameroon, farmers have struck an impressive blow against globalization:
This...was a spectacular victory, a real triumph. It catapulted Njonga, an educated farmer, from the narrow world of Cameroon onto the stage of international politics. In his own country, he is now seen as an expert on the consequences of globalization. He showed his fellow Africans how to defend themselves against a system of global trade in which they usually end up the losers. He now travels to places like Sao Paulo and Hong Kong to attend conferences on the consequences of growth and the limits of globalization.
The Sietch Blog describes Enrique Pe–alosa's attempts to make Bogota more livable:
By shifting the budget away from private cars, Mr. Pe–alosa was able to boost school enrolment by 30 per cent, build 1,200 parks, revitalize the core of the city and provide running water to hundreds of thousands of poor.
California's San Joaquin kit fox has been given a bit of extra protection:
Wildlands, Inc. announced the approval of a second conservation bank in Merced County in 2007. The 684-acre Deadman Creek Conservation Bank will permanently preserve habitat of endangered and threatened species.
Researchers are seriously entertaining the mindboggling hypothesis that birds can "see" the megnetic field:
Cryptochromes, which fulfill the molecular requirements for sensing the magnetic reference direction, have recently been found in retinal neurons of migratory birds (Mouritsen et al., PNAS, 2004). Furthermore, studies investigating what parts of a migratory bird´s brain are active when the birds use their magnetic compass showed that the cryptochrome-containing neurons in the eye and a forebrain region (“Cluster N”; Mouritsen et al., PNAS, 2005; Liedvogel et al., EJN, 2007) are highly active during processing of magnetic compass information in migratory birds....

These findings strongly support the hypothesis that migratory birds use their visual system to perceive the reference compass direction of the geomagnetic field and that migratory birds are thus likely to "see" the geomagnetic field.
While we're on the topic of migrating birds, here's a nice story:
A building in New York City that's infamous for the number of migrating birds that slam into it every year has adapted its facade to accomodate them instead.
Scientists have discovered a huge, unexpected kelp forest in the tropics:
Graham says scientists don't know everything about how kelp forests work. One thing they thought they knew for sure was that there wasn't any need to look for kelp beds in the tropics.

That's because tropical waters were supposed to be too warm for plants like those. Every now and then a bit of kelp would come up with an anchor in the tropics, but Graham says few of his colleagues even noticed those reports.
There's more info here, including some speculation on whether this discovery means that marine biodiversity may be somewhat resistant to climate change. In a somewhat related story, it seems that Amazon forests may be more resistant to drought than was previously expected.

In Vietnam, meanwhile, researchers have found 11 new plant and animal species.
Within the ancient tropical forests of a region known as Vietnam’s “Green Corridor,” scientists found a snake, five orchids, and two butterflies as well as three other plants new to science and exclusive to the Annamites Mountain Range. Ten other plant species, including four orchids, are still under examination but also appear to be new species.
A fascinating new device allows scientists to read ancient scrolls without unrolling them:
[S]cientists from the University of Cardiff have developed a technique that uses a powerful X-ray source to create a three-dimensional image of an iron-inked document.

The team then applies a computer algorithm to separate the image into the different layers of parchment, in effect using the program to unroll the scroll.
The photo at top is by Lynn Saville; it comes from a beautiful exhibition called Night Vision. I also recommend Steven Smith's photographs of the Suburban West. If you need an antidote, you could try this collection of photos and ephemera related the earliest productions of operas by Gilbert and Sullivan. Or Lower the Lights, which is a virtual magic lantern exhibit.

Objets dans l'Objectif is a terrific survey of still life photography, and other artistic investigations of objects. The section entitled Series / Typologies is especially good.

France's Bibliotheque Nationale has also posted a breathtaking exhibition called L'Art de Livre Arabe, as well as exhibitions on Etienne-Louis Boulee and the "terror and fascination" of La Mer. As with the "Objets" exhibition, the text is in French, but all three sites are worth a visit even if you can't read 'em.

You might want to browse through the Architectural Resources at the American Antiquarian Society. Or The Steedman Architectural Collection, whence comes this gorgeous image:

I also enjoyed Picture Perfect, a collection of artwork from Canadian children's books, which includes this striking painting by Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver:

You can follow this up with The Labrador Inuit Through Moravian Eyes, and Mapping America: 500 Years of Cartographic Depictions.

If you'd prefer to study African cartography, you may proceed To the Mountains of the Moon.

There's a rather...diffuse exhibition of Sacred and Secular items at King's College, London. You're probably better off with Luxurious Nature Smiling Round, an exhibition comprising "more than 200 illustrated natural history books, predominately in ornithology and botany, and including many of the landmark works in the field."

Also: Image and Enlightenment: Illustrated Books From the Age of Reason to the Romantic Era. And a survey of Cabalistic talismans at BibliOdyssey.

Affiches du Métro is a Flickr site of French subway posters, recommended by Coudal and by yours truly. Last, via Things, an incredible gallery of Model Railroad Slums.

Global Alarm Bells

A new article by Bjorn Lomborg reasserts the denialist credo on polar bear populations, which was trotted out earlier this week by Walter E. Williams:

Consider a tale that has made the covers of some of the world's biggest magazines and newspapers: the plight of the polar bear. We are told that global warming will wipe out this majestic creature. We are not told, however, that over the past 40 years - while temperatures have risen - the global polar bear population has increased from 5000 to 25,000.
As I mentioned earlier, there's no evidence for the initial figure of 5000. And the fact that polar bear numbers have increased - as a result of conservation efforts - doesn't mean they're not threatened by climate change.

Since mentioning global warming seems to shut some people's brains down, here's a simple analogy. Suppose hunting reduces a population of antelope to 500, and as a result, a ban on hunting is enacted. Suppose further that after ten years, the antelope population has rebounded to 5000, but scientists are worried that a persistent regional drought could reduce the population to 400 or less. Obviously, you can't calm the scientists' fears about drought-related mortality by pointing out that hunting-related mortality remains low, because they're two different things.

If Lomborg's training in economics gave him (or left him with) any ability to appreciate such ethereal distinctions, he's keeping it to himself. In fact, he proceeds to apply the same basic error to human society: our life expectancy is going up, so how could it possibly go down?
Things have improved immensely in both the developing and developed worlds. In the past 100 years, scientists have won many of the most important battles against infectious diseases, to the extent that poverty is now the main reason for a lack of treatment. Global average life expectancy in 1900 was 30 years; today, it is 68....

Perhaps most importantly, all of these positive trends are expected to continue. The United Nations estimates that average life expectancy will reach 75 years by the middle of the century, and that the proportion of those going hungry will drop below 4 per cent.
The United Nations also estimates that global warming will disrupt food supplies, and cause water shortages, and increase disease, and destroy prime agricultural land; and that these problems will be especially devastating in the developing world. (Also, if we killed everyone in countries with life expectancies below sixty years, the global average would go up from that point forward; that doesn't necessarily mean that the survivors would be happier or better people. Life expectancy and quality of life are very different things.)

In summation, all this talk about the expected continuation of positive trends reminds me of Bertrand Russell's gag about inductive reasoning in chickens.

The rest of the article reiterates Lomborg's call for economic triage and care rationing; like shrewd investors, we should put our money where it'll earn the highest return. This sounds reasonable enough, until you remember that a lot of the problems Lomborg's talking about are interrelated, or even synergistic; and that in addition, attempts to remedy them must take projected climate change into account.

As an example, Lomborg mentions the vast number of people who don't have clean drinking water. Water supply and climate, obviously, are pretty intimately connected. Also, improving water safety involves issues like drainage, land use, and the ability of infrastructure to withstand flooding; all these things are likely to be affected by climate change (and we should bear in mind, here, that Lomborg is not a denialist when it comes to AGW).

There's also a larger issue, which is that a good deal of poverty and immiseration in this world is caused, sustained, and sanctified by the free-market orthodoxy that Lomborg champions as Our Only Hope. I'm not exaggerating here; Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus identifies free trade as one of the humanity's four "top priority concerns"; the other three are hunger, AIDS, and malaria.

They probably should've included pathological guilt among the wealthy, which is increasingly being touted in his circles as the most dangerous possible side-effect of climate change:
Global alarm bells might cause pangs of guilt for wealthy Westerners, but they don't give us an adequate understanding of what is going on. We all need to hear both sides of the story.
Except when it comes to trivialities like polar bears, or water availability, in which case Lomborg's say-so should be good enough for anyone who's not a doomstruck Marxist sourpuss.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A World of Trade-Offs

Let's pretend, for a moment, that it's a good idea to conserve energy and reduce pollution. Let's also pretend that shorter commutes save more energy, and produce less pollution, than longer ones.

Given these premises, it seems logical to conclude that shorter commutes are a good idea, as the Urban Land Institute has in fact done:

The report, "Growing Cooler: Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change," analyzed scores of academic studies and concluded that compact development -- mixing housing and businesses in denser patterns, with walkable neighborhoods -- could do as much to lower emissions as many of the climate policies now promoted by state and national politicians....

Compact growth, according to the study, allows consumers to spend less on gas and saves taxes that would otherwise be spent on pumping water and building new roads to far-away subdivisions. "Southern California's regional planners have found that by locating new housing near transit corridors, they can save $48 billion that they would have spent on new roads," said Amanda Eaken, a planning consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Not surprisingly, free-market fundamentalists see this as little more than neo-Leninist agitprop:
James Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group that has battled environmentalists over land-use issues, dismissed "the latest anti-sprawl crusade based on global warming" as "no different from every other anti-sprawl campaign from Roman times to the present."
"Rational choice" is what supposedly gives market forces their moral authority, so it's odd that conservatarians so consistently reject the idea of educating consumers. Burling seems to think that we haven't learned anything about land use or climate or energy over the past 2000 years...or at least, nothing consumers need to worry their pretty little heads about. "So long as people ardently desire to live and raise children in detached homes with a bit of lawn," he says, "there is virtually nothing that government bureaucrats can do that will thwart that."

Except to impose land-use regulations, or make planning decisions that encourage compact development, or educate people about externalities and opportunity costs so that they understand the consequences of their choices...all of which are things that people like Burling passionately oppose precisely because they are effective. Burling's claim that "government bureaucrats" are impotent is belied by his own efforts to thwart them, along with whatever public or expert opinion influences their decisions.

Peter Gordon, meanwhile, takes things several steps further:
Socialism collapsed but climate change arrived just in time to save social engineering. So there are now many suggestions on how to redesign our cities and our lives.
Gordon equates public debate with public planning, and public planning with socialism, and socialism with tyranny; compact development and the gulag are different not in kind, but in degree. If we truly want to be free, we must transfer our rights and responsibilities to a single, omniscient authority:
We live in a world of trade-offs and must think about the costs. Social engineers cannot do this very well and this is why socialism collapsed and why we look to markets to do what committees of wise men and women cannot.
Is that explicit enough for you? We must let the Market "think" for us...about the long-term costs and trade-offs of land use, no less. If you ask me, this - rather than "socialism" - constitutes the real hive-mind assault on human autonomy and responsibility.

The Market, in this fantasy, is the ultimate brand; its perfection bestows dignity and worth upon even the shoddiest products, just as the human soul should - but somehow doesn't - upon wage slaves in the Marianas. If all the options presented to you are drab or dangerous, the fact remains that you have the freedom to choose between them; in this way, you can consume choice itself as a sort of meta-product (the authenticity of which is demonstrated by the fact that all manufacturing marks have been carefully filed off).

The sucker standing in front of a three-card monte table also enjoys this elemental freedom; the game may be rigged, but the choice of cards is totally up to him.

UPDATE: The Sietch Blog has some interesting figures on the cost of commuting:
[G]ridlock is creating a $78 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel — that’s 105 million weeks of vacation and 58 fully-loaded supertankers.

Talk about waste. A gallon of gas has about 19 pounds of CO2, meaning that 2.9 billion gallons of gas wasted means 55.1 billion pounds of CO2 needlessly pumped into the atmosphere every year.
(Illustration: "A comparison of the concentration of traffic delay in San Francisco and Los Angeles," via Moving Past Push Pins.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Energy-Consuming Things

Walter E. Williams is upset because John Dingell wants to end mortgage-tax deductions for houses over 3,000 square feet, which use considerably more energy (and raw materials) than the average house.

The problem with Dingell's proposal, apparently, is that its focus on larger-than-average houses is so arbitrary:

The average U.S. home is around 2,300 square feet, compared with Europe's average of 1,000 square feet. So why doesn't Dingell call for disallowing mortgage deductions on houses more than 1,000 square feet? The reason is there would be too much political resistance, since more Americans own homes under 3,000 square feet than over 3,000.
One of the alleged problems with mitigating climate change is that it'll cause economic hardship. But Williams' gripe seems to be that Dingell's scheme doesn't cause enough hardship. If your goal is to discourage oversized houses, it's hardly outrageous to target houses that are more than 700 square feet bigger than the average (especially given that what's "average," these days, is already skewed upwards by the craze for McMansions).

Also, the average size of Europe's housing is beside the point. Europe's houses could be smaller than ours for a number of reasons, ranging from the antiquity of its cities, to its generally high density, to the comparatively small land areas of its constituent countries, to the fact that so much of its housing was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt with counterpart funds under the Marshall Plan. It's a wee bit counterproductive to suggest that we should adopt this standard or none at all.

It's nowhere near as counterproductive as what comes next, though:
[C]ongressmen are using climate change hysteria to funnel money into their districts. Rep. David L. Hobson, R-Ohio, secured $500,000 for a geothermal demonstration project. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., got $500,000 for a fuel-cell project by Superprotonic, a Pasadena company started by Caltech scientists. Money for similar boondoggles is being called for by members of both parties.
Boondoggles, indeed. If God had meant us to use geothermal energy, he would've filled the earth with molten rock.

I'd say that the concept of technological progress is alien to Williams, except that he spends the next paragraph prattling about it:
Al Gore might even consider me carbon neutral and possibly having carbon credits because my carbon offsets were made in advance. For example, for the first 15 years of my life, I didn't use energy-consuming refrigerators; we had an icebox. For two decades I listened to radio instead of watching television and walked or used public transportation to most places. And for more than half my life I didn't use energy-consuming things such as computers, clothes dryers, air conditioning and microwave ovens. Of course, my standard of living was much lower.
So people can invent things that make life easier or better, after all...even when they're receiving government money, as Raytheon was when Percy Spencer invented the microwave oven. Go figure!

Williams ends by prescribing the NCPA's crackpot tract "A Global Warming Primer" as an antidote to climate alarmism:
What about public school teachers frightening little children with tales of cute polar bears dying because of global warming? The primer says, "Polar bear numbers increased dramatically from around 5,000 in 1950 to as many as 25,000 today, higher than any time in the 20th century."
Public school teachers, mind you; teachers in private schools all agree with the NCPA.

This misinformation about polar bears is so widespread, thanks to fiends in human form like Williams, that Polar Bears International has created a page to debunk it:
The early estimates of polar bear abundance are a guess. There is no data at all for the 1950-60s. Nothing but guesses. We are sure the populations were being negatively affected by excess harvest (e.g., aircraft hunting, ship hunting, self-killing guns, traps, and no harvest limits). The harvest levels were huge and growing. The resulting low numbers of bears were due only to excess harvest but, again, it was simply a guess as to the number of bears.

After the signing of the International Agreement on Polar Bears in the 1970s, harvests were controlled and the numbers increased. There is no argument from anyone on this point. Some populations recovered very slowly (e.g., Barents Sea took almost 30 years) but some recovered faster.
In other words, Williams is using the fact that the bears responded well to conservation efforts as proof that they're not threatened by climate change.

Sometimes I really wish I believed in Hell.

(Photo via Monthly Review.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Morbid Districts and Deadly Cantons

Eric Umansky (via Bruce Schneier) makes the grim connection between Iraq's "surge" in cholera cases and the crackdown on chlorine bombs:

I'm sure nobody intended for the restrictions to be so burdensome that they'd effectively cut off Iraq's clean water supply. But that's what looks to have happened. What makes it all the more tragic is that chlorine--for all the hype and worry--is actually a very ineffective booster for bombs. Of the roughly dozen chlorine-laced bombings in Iraq, it appears the chlorine has killed exactly nobody.

In other words, the biggest damage from chlorine bombs--as with so many terrorist attacks--has come from overreaction to it. Fear operates as a "force multipier" for terrorists and in this case has helped them cut off Iraq's clean water. Pretty impressive feat for some bombs that turned out to be close to duds.
Perhaps because I'm so angry, the only thing I can think of is Henry Mayhew's 1849 vision of a pathological map of London:
[S]o well known are the localities of fever and disease, that London would almost admit of being mapped out pathologically, and divided into its morbid districts and deadly cantons. We might lay our fingers on the Ordnance map, and say here is the typhoid parish, and there the ward of cholera; for as truly as the West-end rejoices in the title of Belgravia, might the southern shores of the Thames be christened Pestilentia.
Perhaps a similar map could help Iraq along its road to partition.

(Illustration: "Mr. Grainger's Cholera Map of the Metropolis, 1849.")

A Creeping Darkness

If we pass anti-discrimation laws that protect homosexuals, it will interfere with our ability to discriminate against homosexuals, and may even lead us to...accept them.

This is the horripilating dystopian vision of Mychal Massie, who sees the Employment Nondiscrimination Act as a huge throbbing penis aimed squarely at his epiglottis.

While the nation's news outlets are riveted on the Jena 6 and O.J. Simpson, an insidious undermining of the workplace advances virtually unnoticed.

That creeping darkness is the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA, H.R. 2015. If the proposed measure becomes law, it will add "actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity" as a category to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It would give special employment rights to homosexuals and the transgendered that would not only harm the integrity of faith-based organizations, but it would specifically undermine an employer's ability to grow his/her business in a productive and profitable way.
It's a stark moment of decision. Will American business follow the road to worldly riches paved by powerhouses of bigotry like Dixie Services, or court bankruptcy by emulating pro-perversion also-rans like The Gap, General Mills, and GlaxoSmithKline?

One of Massie's weirder arguments is that gays aren't sufficiently oppressed (yet) to constitute an oppressed minority, and can therefore be oppressed with impunity:
Homosexuals and cross-dressers may in fact be a lot of things, but an oppressed minority they are not. And I, for one, resent their temerity in suggesting that a rejection of their chosen lifestyle is in any way equivalent to what truly oppressed peoples in this country went through for the right to vote, sit at a lunch counter and/or stay in the hotel of their choice.
Since gays aren't oppressed, we mustn't defend their right to stay at a certain hotel or eat at a certain lunch counter or work at a certain job, because that would be an infringement of the business owners' right to discriminate against them.

After all:
Business owners and companies are in business to be successful, and, accordingly, there are acceptable protocols pursuant to same within the martinet [sic] of said business culture.
Massie claims that gays are incredibly powerful and wealthy and influential, and simultaneously wants us to believe that accepting their money, or their labor, is a one-way ticket to financial ruin. His argument hinges on the idea that if you can't discriminate against gays, they'll come to work looking like "Boy George in Liza Minnelli 1980s drag makeup, complete in his working girl commuter-friendly disco sneakers."

I'm not so sure. The heterosexual lifestyle is perfectly legal, but straight bank managers don't usually show up for work in sheer bustiers and microskirts, or t-shirts that say "you don't have to be a cat to lick a pussy." Massie realizes that his scenario sounds farfetched, so he backs it up with a truly inspired example of petitio principii:
[I[f the examples I have delineated are not intended and expected outcomes of those supporting ENDA, then why is there a need for such legislation?
If Massie hadn't forbidden the comparison, I'd be reminded of the racists who claimed that the civil rights movement existed for no other reason than to give black men access to white women. Since he has, I'm reduced to pointing out that his argument makes no sense at all.

Don't conclude from all this that Massie's a bigot, though. His only real problem with gays is that they force him to dwell obsessively on the ins and outs of gay sex:
In all of the countless discussions and debates in which I have participated, I have never heard it once said that homosexuals are xenobiotic or xenogenetic – the discussions center on the act itself....
I have no trouble believing this, since Massie's the only person I've ever seen throw these words around without knowing what they mean.

I also believe that his "countless discussions" of homosexuality "center on the act itself"; I'm sure there are plenty of gay men and women who think about gay sex much less frequently - and avidly - than the typical WND columnist.

Having shown off his attainments in genetics and ecotoxicology, Massie goes on to reveal himself as a modern-day Zeno:
Organizations and companies that have served the public for decades would be forced into adopting that which they are opposed to, or lose their ability to continue serving the public. Where is the civil right in that?
It's a tough question. But I'm going to go out on a limb, and say that it's implied in the word "public," which refers to a community of citizens whose civil rights, in Thomas Jefferson's opinion, "have no dependence upon our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Flat Evil

In one of his typically economical summations of the Evildoers' weltanschauung, President Bush explained that "they're flat evil. That's all they can think about, is evil."

A brain that thinks about nothing but evil will look as abnormal to an fMRI technician as it does to God, which may offer Civilization a powerful weapon against the theory, as well as the practice, of evildoing:

SSRM Tek is presented to a subject as an innocent computer game that flashes subliminal images across the screen -- like pictures of Osama bin Laden or the World Trade Center. The "player" -- a traveler at an airport screening line, for example -- presses a button in response to the images, without consciously registering what he or she is looking at. The terrorist's response to the scrambled image involuntarily differs from the innocent person's, according to the theory....

Marketed in North America as SSRM Tek, the technology will soon be tested for airport screening by a U.S. company under contract to the Department of Homeland Security.

"If it's a clean result, the passengers are allowed through," said Rusalkina, during a reporter's visit last year. "If there's something there, that person will need to go through extra checks."
I assume "clean" means a properly horrified or angry subconscious response, as opposed to, say, resentful nostalgia for the dear dead days of national unity. Or pride at having been "proved fucking right" about the ragheads.

Once we've used this system (and this one) to purge the body politic of active and larval terrorists, I'm hoping we can redesign it to screen public servants for authoritarian tendencies. It could flash subliminal images of torture at Abu Ghraib, and inflatable detention camps on the Texas border, and the active denial system, and perhaps even SSRM Tek itself, and then measure the subject's enjoyment. Anyone who showed signs of excitement - more drooling than usual, for instance - would be barred from holding public office.

There may be a few false positives now and again, but that's a small price to pay to keep American democracy safe.

(Photo at top via Mr. Bali Hai.)

An Attraction to Legacy

An article in The Boston Globe describes the changes that are supposedly afoot in the life sciences:

For half a century, the core concept in biology has been that every cell carries within its nucleus a full set of DNA, including genes. Each gene, in turn, holds coded instructions for assembling a particular protein, the stuff that keeps organisms chugging along.

As a result, genes were assigned an almost divine role in biological "dogma," thought to govern not only such physical characteristics as eye color or hair texture, but even much more complicated characteristics, such as behavior or psychology. Genes were assigned blame for illness. Genes were credited for robust health. Genes were said to be the source of the mutations that underlay evolution.

But the picture now emerging is more complicated, one in which illness, health, and evolutionary change appear to be the work of almost fantastical coordination between genes and swaths of DNA previously written off as junk.
With this in mind, let's peek in on Dr. Lonnie Aarssen, as he searches assiduously for the "Mommy gene":
“Only in recent times have women acquired significant control over their own fertility, and many are preferring not to be saddled with the burden of raising children," says Lonnie Aarssen, a Biology professor who specializes in reproductive ecology. "The question is whether this is just a result of economic factors and socio-cultural conditioning, as most analysts claim, or whether the choices that women are making about parenthood are influenced by genetic inheritance from maternal ancestors that were dominated by paternal ancestors.”
These women "prefer" not to be "saddled" with a "burden"...what else could this be but a clue to the rigors of daily life in the Pleistocene?
Dr. Aarssen suggests that because of inherited inclinations, many women when empowered by financial independence are driven to pursue leisure and other personal goals that distract from parenthood.

“The drive to leave a legacy through offspring can be side-tracked by an attraction to legacy through other things like career, fame, and fortune – distractions that, until recently, were only widely available to men”.
Enjoy it while it lasts, bitches, 'cause the times they are a-changin' back:
The women who leave the most descendants will be those with an intrinsic drive for motherhood. The ones who would rather forego parenthood in order to have a career, lavish vacations and leisurely lifestyles will of course leave no descendants at all. Over time those genetic traits that influence women away from motherhood will necessarily be ‘bred out.’
I suppose we could fret over the loaded language here (e.g., an "intrinsic drive" that some women would "rather forego"), but it'd be irresponsible given the gravity of the threat we face. If feminism is to survive, its adherents must learn to ignore "personal goals that distract from parenthood," as well as the "economic factors" that seem (to the untrained observer) to offer an alibi for childlessness.

Can these barren quasi-women learn to embrace the "genetic predisposition for mating and having children"? Or will they continue to heed their "genetic inheritance from maternal ancestors that were dominated by paternal ancestors," and consign themselves to the evolutionary ash-heap?

Only time will tell.

(Illustration by W.K. Haselden, 1906.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

An Atavistic Idea

An op-ed by Shikha Dalmia and Leonard Gilroy addresses the growing outrage over the NAFTA Superhighway, an apocryphal transcontinental freeway that’ll supposedly link Canada and Mexico. Interestingly, the authors aren't as upset by the fact that the Superhighway plan (as envisioned by its largely conservative opponents) doesn’t exist as they are by the idea that anyone would oppose it if it did.

Isolationist conservatives, emboldened by their jihad last year against the Dubai Ports World deal, have identified this road project as the spearhead of a conspiracy to dissolve the United States of America.
I suppose I could take some satisfaction in seeing this Muslim-baiting language turned so casually against the demographic that pioneered its use, but I don't quite have the heart for it. In this case, at least, we have a common enemy:
After the Dubai Ports debacle, in which anti-terrorism hysteria forced Congress to thwart the transfer of U.S. port management leases held by a major British ports operator to a company based in Dubai, the atavistic idea that foreign investment erodes American sovereignty is back into vogue.
God knows I have mixed emotions about American sovereignty, in theory and in practice, but the idea that foreign investment can erode it doesn't strike me as “atavistic.” Or rather, whether it’s atavistic is less interesting to me than whether it’s true.

And it is true, of course, as Dalmia and Gilroy themselves concede when they rail against American politicians for “protectionism.” Never mind whether individual laws would have good or bad effects; Dalmia and Gilroy oppose them in principle, as obstacles to the free flow of capital. You can agree or disagree with this philosophy, but you can’t pretend that embracing it requires no adjustments to American sovereignty (or, more important, to morality and rationality).

For sheer sophistry, though, it’s hard to beat this:
The paradox of protectionism is that it damages the very thing it seeks to protect.
And the paradox of “free trade” is that it requires coercion. And the paradox of libertarianism is that it limits our thinking to the paint-by-numbers options approved by libertarian dogmatics. And the paradox of democracy is that it allows people to vote for dictators. There's a lesson here, certainly, but it's not the one Dalmia and Gilroy propose to teach.

Anyway, I’m pleased to see conservatives catching on to the fact that patriotism and hypercapitalism are not necessarily compatible, let alone identical. Beyond that, it’s interesting to think about why this imaginary highway, of all things, affects them so strongly. Apropos of which, Bryan Finoki asks:
How have conflict zones abroad been re-incorporated into the domestic fabric of the city, or inside the nation rather than merely existing as a space outside of national sovereignty? Is part of the effect of globalization with the spread of capital and military investment a new internalization of the conflict zone?
This is a question that preoccupies me particularly as it relates to the definition and defense of microborders, and the extent to which globalization tends not to erase national borders, so much as to atomize and mobilize them.

About which, I hope to have a bit more to say tomorrow.

Saturday Nudibranch Blogging

I want to give you something, my child,
for we are drifting in the stream of the world.
Our lives will be carried apart,
and our love forgotten.
But I am not so foolish as to hope that
I could buy your heart with Halgerda malesso.

(Photo: Antidio & Paolo Rossi.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

Another brief edition, I'm afraid. I hope to be a bit less overwhelmed next week.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has delivered a richly deserved defeat to Phill Kline:

An appeals court has dismissed an appeal of a federal judge's decision that health care providers and others are not required under Kansas law to report underage sex between consenting adolescents....

The appeal was filed by former Attorney General Phill Kline, after his office lost a challenge to his interpretation of the law. Attorney General Paul Morrison joined in a motion filed by an abortion-rights advocacy group seeking the dismissal of Kline's appeal.
Speaking of unpleasant people, off-road vandals have lost yet another legal bid to gain access to Surprise Canyon:
The National Park Service closed the upper portion of the canyon to vehicles in 2002. Since these closures, Surprise Canyon has experienced a remarkable recovery, evidenced by thriving vegetation and the return of such endangered species as the Inyo California Towhee after decades of absence.
A wave hub, which allows wave-power producers to send electricity to the grid, has been approved in the UK:
The installation is expected to generate up to 20 megawatts of energy, enough to power 7,500 homes and eliminate 300,000 tonnes of CO2 over 25 years. Four companies have already been selected to build projects at the hub.
Scientific American has an interesting post on solar-thermal energy:
[P]hysicist David Mills, chief scientific officer and founder of Palo Alto, Calif.–based solar-thermal company Ausra, has bigger ideas: concentrating the sun's power to provide all of the electricity needs of the U.S., including a switch to electric cars feeding off the grid. "Within 18 months, with storage, we will not only reduce [the] cost of [solar-thermal] electricity but also satisfy the requirements for a modern society," Mills claims. "Supplying [electricity] 24 hours a day and effectively replacing the function of coal or gas."
In related news, a Canadian hospital is installing a solar-thermal system to deliver hot water.

A paper in Policy Sciences floats the daring proposition that centralized, nonrenewable power is a bad idea:
Sovacool’s paper shows how...alternative approaches can offer policy makers solutions to curb electricity demand, minimize the risk of fuel interruptions and shortages, help improve the fragile transmission network, and reduce environmental harm. He concludes that “it is these miniature generators – not mammoth and capital-intensive nuclear and fossil fuel plants – that offer the best strategy for diversifying electrical generation in a competitive energy environment.”
A couple of Minnesota utilities seem to agree:
This week's decision by Great River Energy and a smaller Minnesota utility to pull the plug on their one-quarter share of the proposed Big Stone II plant could be a signal that no more traditional coal-burning plants will be built in these parts.
And in Kentucky, a coal-fired power plant has been fined for violating the Clean Air Act:
In a landmark settlement filed today, East Kentucky Power Cooperative, a coal-fired electric utility, has agreed to pay an $11.4 million penalty to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act's acid rain program, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.
California's PG&E, meanwhile, has agreed to provide $1.2 million to Habitat for Humanity in order to equip HoH homes with solar power.
"Through this innovative partnership which combines funding, education and employee volunteers, PG&E is helping Habitat to get one step closer to our overall goal of eliminating substandard housing."
This is a clever idea:
Intellity is an intelligent energy saving device that reads the magnetic stripe on Onity hotel-specific keycards to identify and differentiate guest and staff keycards, while disconnecting electrical equipment when guests are out of the room.
And so is this:
Green-Zip-Tape, a patented demountable tape provides an alternative method for hanging sheet rock for later de-construction and reuse. Drywall has traditionally been a barrier to gaining easy access to structural components of the building for repair or reuse. This tape and associated screw connectors allow drywall to be easily removed [as pictured] and replaces the traditional nailing mechanism, which can damage the drywall and inhibit reuse.
A court in the Philippines has blocked the introduction of genetically engineered rice:
The order prohibits the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) from approving Bayer's application to introduce LL62 for food, animal feed and the manufacture of other products. A statement from the court said the order would "preserve the status quo until the merits of the case can be heard". No date has yet been set for the a new hearing.
Exploration of an Indonesian reef has led to the discovery of dozens of new species:
Dr Mark Erdmann of Conservation International (CI), who led the two missions, commented: "These reefs are species factories. This region is simply mind-blowing in terms of its diversity. For our surveys to uncover over 50 new species of coral, fish, and mantis shrimp in less than six weeks is unheard of in this day and age. From the perspective of marine - and especially coral reef - bio-diversity, it is unparalleled for an area of this size.''
Also: Two-Thirds Primary. Alexander Hammid's Aimless Walk. An 1851 volume entitled On the Truths Contained in Popular Supersitions. A little treatise on Supermarket Mycology. And the terrifying SmileyCam.

(Photo at top: "Diatoms," by Harold Taylor.)

Sorting Out the Facts

Dan Page, a newspaper editor from a state whose economy is unique in that it's "based on carbon-based energy," is embarking on a bold intellectual adventure:

I want to be better prepared to sort out the facts about climate change from the emotion, hysteria and media noise.
In practical terms, this involves listening rapturously to what S. Fred Singer has to say, and then agreeing with it. This delicate philosophical operation is known in denialist circles as Challenging One's Beliefs, and is usually consecrated to the memory of Science's Martyrs (e.g., Galileo, Gobineau, and William E. Dannemeyer).

If you're not impressed by Page's dedication to completing the project of the Enlightenment, perhaps you'll be swayed by "Henry E. Payne III, president of the Scott Depot-based manufacturer of high-technology silicon power controls," who "believes many West Virginians would benefit from hearing Singer, who doesn't mind offering opinions that give discomfort to those who believe the sky is falling because human beings are burning fossil fuels."

Or maybe you'll heed the warnings of Thomas Sowell and Cal Thomas, whose assessment of global warming brings them as close to agreement as two fiercely independent columnists for are likely to get. Here's Cal Thomas on Al Gore's bloodthirsty army of climate jihadists:
There are at least two characteristics all fundamentalists share. One is the exclusion and sometimes suppression of any and all information that challenges or contradicts the belief one wishes to impose on all. The other is the use of the state in pursuit of their objectives, overriding the majority's will."
Or as Thomas put it in an earlier, funnier column:
That great theological nag named Paul...writes of those who ignore God's requirements for humankind: "Although they know God's righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:32)

Does that not fit our present state of mind and cultural condition? Don't liberal activists and their judicial enablers regularly tell us that to affirm an immutable standard, especially if it comes from God, violates church-state separation?
Let's get back to Page, though. When assessing climate change, I think we can all agree that the important thing is to remain objective. Or failing that, pleasantly befuddled:
I am not a scientist or climatologist. I don't fully understand how or why others have embraced the views Al Gore and his media accomplices are promoting.
You may think that Page lowers himself by implying that AGW is something Gore dreamed up in his million-dollar sweat lodge while high on ayahuasca. But you can rest assured that his gutter commands a wide view of the stars:
I also tend not to believe everything our politicians tell us, especially those who are enamored with the latest popular movement that vilifies our country and risks our prosperity.
Very wise, too. It's far better to be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong ones. And it'd be a tragedy if the fashionable dictates of "science" prevented us from expressing our love for our country by extracting its coal, polluting its air, and standing implacably in the way of its progress.

(Illustration at top: "Blind Man's Bluff" by Helen Nehill.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

I’m extremely busy this week, so I wasn’t able to do much work on this feature. Here are a few links, though:

Good news about malaria.

Shipping containers as server rooms.

Birth control pills may prevent some cancers.

New Jersey Supreme Court rejects insane abortion rule.

Sixty-five percent of Americans oppose mountaintop removal.

Well-behaved homes: an example of humane architecture.

A bar-headed godwit's 18,000-mile flight, which included "a non-stop flight of over 8 days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a roundtrip flight between New York and San Francisco, and then flying back again to San Francisco without ever touching down."

New issues of Polar Inertia and Micscape.
If you’ve got any positive news, feel free to post it in the comments!

(Photo at top by Eirik Johnson, via Luminous Lint.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Growth at the Edges

An article in the LA Times (via Atrios) hints at the connection between the subprime housing market and suburban sprawl:

Most communities are seeing price declines, and the downtrend is strongest in outlying suburban areas such as in Riverside County, where affordable homes attracted droves of first-time buyers -- many of whom could not qualify for traditional fixed-rated mortgages.
It's interesting to compare this sober post mortem with the LAT's giddy boosterism for the housing boom in Antelope Valley, which ran four pages without mentioning groundwater.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, commutes are getting longer:
"I think what it means is that Atlanta continues to grow," Pisarski said. "And it continues to grow at the edges, and I think this is kind of an indication of the way the world's going to continue to function in the future."
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

This growth "at the edges" often makes it unfeasible for children to walk or bike to school, which increases traffic congestion and pollution, while making children more prone to obesity:
"Forty years ago, half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent travel on their own steam. One-quarter take buses, and about 60 percent are transported in private automobiles, usually driven by a parent or, sometimes, a teenager."
I can't help wondering to what extent this cheap imitation of the American Dream is fueled by subprime auto loans, as well as subprime mortgages.

On the bright side, there's plenty of room for growth in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where parking spaces outnumber drivers 3 to 1:
"Tippecanoe County parking lots turn out about 1,000 pounds of heavy metal runoff annually, said Purdue professor Bernard Engel, who used a computer model to estimate changes in water-borne runoff caused by land-use changes.
Some people have suggested smart growth - or even no growth - as a solution to problems like these. But Wendell Cox worries that such policies constitute "land rationing":
Smart growth seeks to control suburbanization (pejoratively called "urban sprawl") and has been pursued principally by liberals committed to the current orthodoxy of urban planning. The problem with smart growth is that it takes away opportunity through land rationing and other overly restrictive strategies that increase housing prices."
Or to put it another way, the problem with restricting growth is that it restricts growth.

If only everything else were that simple.

(Photo at top by Steve Smith.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Irritability in Mice

When you've wandered as long as I have through the parched terra cognita of climate denialism, a dirty puddle of alkali water can look an awful lot like an oasis.

By which I mean to imply that whatever other charges you can make against Paul Driessen, you can't fault him for a lack of originality.

Alarmists have blamed global warming for hurricanes, tornadoes, malaria and even the Minneapolis bridge collapse, teenage drinking, terrorism, suicides and "irritability" in mice.
The problem with this argument is that the people who believe in global warming are liberals (or worse), which means they're in favor of teenage drinking, terrorism, and suicide.

Other than that, though, he makes a good case. I agree that the Grand Guignol of climate alarmism has been too reliant lately on the threat of peevish mice; even the Sterno drinkers in the cheap seats have been shrugging it off.

I think we'd do better to pretend that the meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is unnatural, so that it'll worry people instead of making them feel cheerful and confident.

The rest of Driessen's piece is a bit more predictable, but it does have its moments. The gist of it is that AGW will soon be thoroughly discredited. This means that the dupes, opportunists, Luddites, dirt-worshippers, and unregenerate Marxists who currently comprise the bulk of AGW's true believers will move on to greener pastures (in Greenland, perhaps!), and only lunatics will be left. In other words, everything will change while remaining the same.

In response to the charge that denialism is a particularly lucrative form of wingnut welfare, Driessen explains that he knows you are, and asks what he is:
Newsweek said climate holocaust "deniers" had received $19 million from industry, to subvert the "consensus" it claims exists about global warming. It made no mention of the $50 billion that alarmists and other beneficiaries have received since 1990 from governments, foundations and corporations.
As cute as it is to see Driessen invoke the effects of subversion to suggest that there was never anything to subvert, it's nothing compared to his exquisitely blasé allusion to "other beneficiaries."

Could he mean, say, NOAA or NASA? Or the NSF? Probably not; they'd surely qualify as alarmists. The same goes for these dirty hippies. And these ones.

After racking my brains for the better part of five minutes, all I can figure is that he's talking about the nuclear industry.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Conspiratorial Message

Candace de Russy informs us that when the WTC collapsed, it took our civility with it:

One of the ominous after-shocks of 9/11 has been the increasingly virulent quality of public discourse – including about 9/11 itself!
I love the exclamation point; I'm picturing de Russy clapping her hands stagily against her cheeks, like the kid in Home Alone.

Atrios makes a somewhat similar complaint, and notes that Andrew Sullivan was very quick to let his post-9/11 wrath stray from Islamist Evildoers to the decadent coastal enclaves of Liberalism (New York City, for example).

That's not what de Russy's talking about, though. What worries her is "a well-orchestrated campaign to put forth the conspiratorial message that persons or elements within the U.S. government had foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks."

The joke, obviously, is that de Russy is attacking this "conspiratorial message" with a conspiratorial message of her own. The idea that holes or inconsistencies in the official story - or even just the scale of the event - would naturally give rise to alternative theories doesn't occur to her; if Americans weren't being manipulated by some shadowy cabal, they'd simply swallow the official story like the tonic it is, and go back to conducting numerological analyses of the Book of Revelation.

Beyond that, de Russy's biting the hand that feeds her. The American tendency to see a sinister hidden narrative behind every event - from hurricanes, to outbreaks of disease, to the choice of novels in a freshman lit class - is the substrate on which PBC and its sister sites grows and thrives; the careers of ciphers like de Russy would be unthinkable without it (as would the Iraq War; one of the things that made the AQ/Saddam connection so attractive, I'm sure, was the völkisch assumption that conspiracies are more plausible the more unpopular people they implicate).

Never mind about that, though. Behold, if you dare, the havoc wrought by this "well-orchestrated campaign":
[S]igns reading "9/11 Truth Now" were brandished at debates at St. Anselm College in early summer, and one activist there called out to an individual working for presidential candidate Giuliani, “Are you aware from talking with Giuliani that the buildings were going to collapse?"
Which just goes to show that it's hard to get good help nowadays, even if thy name be Soros.

My own feelings about the 9/11 Truth movement can be illustrated, I hope, by a short anecdote. After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she fell briefly in thrall to a woman who blamed her illness on chemical exposure. Clippings and pamphlets were produced, and corporate villains identified, and there was no sense talking to the doctors about it because they were in on it too. My mother was pleased by the thought that she was at the center of a vast conspiracy, and accordingly began shifting her attention from fighting the cancer that was killing her to fighting for the "truth" of her alternative reality. The fantasy seemed to be worse than reality on the face of it, but it was sheer escapism all the same.

In the same way, the 9/11 truthseekers' endless arguments over the failure point of steel are a comforting escape from the utterly damning official narrative; you can't act until you've convinced everyone that there was a conspiracy. And since you can't do that, you'll never have to act.

I should add that I don't find the idea that "persons or elements within the U.S. government had foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks" unthinkable. I just find it irrelevant, by and large. If BushCo has done nothing more than what it admits to, or demands respect for as the highest expression of its principles, it's corrupt and dangerous beyond all reckoning. The obsessive search for secret evidence against them strikes me as a way of avoiding the evidence we have.

Which is another reason de Russy and her ilk probably ought to be grateful for the popularity of "the conspiratorial message."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday Music Blogging

(h/t: Stunt Woman)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Ceratosoma amoena, Goddesse of the Minde,
Passed through hope, desire, griefe and feare,
A simple Goodnesse in the flesh refin'd,
Which of the joyes to come doth witnesse beare.
Constant, because it sees no cause to varie,
A Quintessence of Passions overthrowne,
Rais'd above all that change of objects carry,
A Nature by no other nature knowne:
For Glorie's of eternitie a frame,
That by all bodies else obscures her name.

(Photo via Underwater Australasia.)

Friday Hope Blogging

This week, we'll start with an exceedingly wise meditation on sustainability and self-reliance from Red State Green:

I don’t believe the world’s going to end. I don’t do what I do out of fear of the future.

There’s a lot of fear out there among people who are watching the economic news, and I don’t think fear is a good place to work from. You make stupid mistakes when you’re afraid. Your life becomes worse sometimes than the thing you fear.

Planning for a possible future is good. Running afraid isn’t, and I don’t want any of you to be in that frame of mind.
Read the whole thing, by all means.

The New York Times discusses the trend towards planting native plants along highways:
Many states are choosing native plants for the 12 million acres of roadsides and median strips around the country to save on maintenance costs and provide wildlife habitat.
These policies are opposed by a number of silly people, as one might expect. But what's more irritating is the Times' headline representation of the planting as an example of "Environmental Enlightenment." There aren't too many other sciences where you get treated like some sort of dewy-eyed mooncalf for doing things correctly; no one considers it "enlightened" to bank highways properly on turns, or to install lightning rods on skyscrapers; they consider it doing your fucking job. I'll feel like we've made a very important step forward when commonsense resource management no longer has to be presented as an arcane hippie ritual.

Politicians are beginning to notice that coal plants are unpopular:
In early August, Mayor John Engen (D) won city council support to buy electricity from a new coal-fired plant scheduled to begin operation in 2011. He said the city government would save money on its electric bills.

But three weeks later, Engen pulled out of the deal after receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from constituents upset that Missoula would contribute to the creation of a coal plant....
A court has ruled that California must reduce water deliveries from the Sacramento Delta to the Bay Area and Los Angeles:
A U.S. District court judge late Friday agreed with environmentalists’ claims that the tiny Delta smelt is endangered by current pumping levels of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, the vast water systems that serve about 25 million Californians.
Despite Schwarzenegger's initial tantrum over this "devastating blow," he actually ends up saying something fairly reasonable:
“Following today's ruling, there can be no doubt, we need more water storage and greater conservation efforts to meet the needs of our growing population, respond to the challenge climate change presents and meet the requirements of what the court has imposed,” the governor says.
California has also passed a landmark bill requiring hunters to use lead-free ammunition in condor habitat:
At a hearing on August 27, the commission received overwhelming testimony from condor recovery managers, toxicologists, and the Los Angeles Zoo, where poisoned condors are treated, that ongoing poisoning from lead ammunition fragments is impeding the recovery of the condor, and that regulations requiring non-lead ammunition are needed. Ammunition manufacturers and hunters testified that numerous calibers of non-lead bullets are currently available for big-game hunting, ammunition manufacturers and retailers are capable of quickly responding to an increase in non-lead bullet demand, and the cost of non-lead bullets is not a significant factor that will deter or impede hunting. The Condor Preservation Act will initiate a coupon program to provide hunters within the condor range non-lead ammunition at no or reduced charge.
In related news, the Center for Biological Diversity has prevailed in a lawsuit against the National Marine fisheries Service:
The settlement of the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., sets enforceable deadlines for all remaining overdue critical habitat rules for species under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act for most marine species. The species covered by the settlement are the elkhorn coral, staghorn coral, smalltooth sawfish, and green sturgeon. The corals and sawfish occur in Florida, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, while the green sturgeon lives in California.
California has also won a summary judgment against the DoI, which had been allowing oil companies to stiff the state on oil royalties:
No one knows how many hundreds of millions Johnnie Burton and her cohorts allowed oil, gas, and mining companies to pocket on her watch. It will take years of litigation, investigations and oversight to unravel the mess.

Another rumor on the grapevine is that Lucy Dennett, Associate Director of Minerals Revenue Management (MRM), may be leaving. Numerous investigations into misconduct and criminal activity are pending against the agency. Perhaps in a sign of what's to come, her "Associate Director's page on the MRM's website is blank today.
A federal judge has struck down a particulary noxious aspect of the Patriot Act, which allowed the government to gather private information about citizens without a warrant:
Regarding the national security let the law stand might turn an innocent legislative step into "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.
The decision has been stayed pending appeal.

The world's most endangered sea turtle seems to be on the rebound:
"We're not there yet, but it's encouraging, much more encouraging than where we were a few years ago when there was a real question of whether the turtles were going to make it," said Donna Shaver, a research biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey at the Padre Island Field Research Station.

You can "adopt" one of these goodly beasts by clicking here.

The UK will relax some longstanding restrictions on abortion:
Legislators in Great Britain are preparing to make abortion more accessible to women by removing a requirement for prior approval from two different doctors and, in some cases, allowing nurses to perform the procedure. Members of parliament from all parties are set to "modernize" the 1967 abortion law by enabling women who are less than 12 weeks pregnant to abort without consulting a doctor, and allowing women over 12 weeks pregnant to consult just one doctor instead of two....
Japanese researchers have invented a battery that runs on sugar:
The battery presented by SONY showed the highest output ever by a battery of this kind at a very respectable 50mW of power, or about enough to power a portable MP3 player. The Bio Battery is a type of battery that uses energy sources such as carbohydrates, amino acids and other sources of enzymes and it is based on the work of Professor Kenji Kano from Kyoto University. It is still a bit big, with a length, height and depth of 39mm all around an it does take about a minute to get started. Still, they way that it works is simply nothing short of amazing. Simply add sugar to the battery and voila, instant power.
Argentina has shut down a Shell refinery. The results are bound to be...interesting.

Con-Agra will stop using diacetyl in microwave popcorn:
Diacetyl, a fake butter flavoring, has been known for years to cause severe lung damage among food-industry workers who inhale it in vapor form. New evidence suggests that it also harms consumers.
The average conservatarian tends to sneer at the idea of conserving habitat and species. Here's yet another reason why this is not merely stupid, but also self-destructive:
Thousands of interesting new compounds have been discovered inside the bodies of marine sponges according to scientists speaking today (Tuesday 4 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.
It's not hopeful, exactly, but I highly recommend Echidne's recent series of posts on Evolutionary Psychology. She's brilliant, and a pleasure to read, and what she has to say is important.

Once you've done that, youse larrikins can take a dekko at God's Own Earth, thanks to Picture Australia (via Things).

I also recommend Moscow Metro (via Coudal). The site's in Russian, but the URLs are in English, so you can hover over a link to see where you're going. Here's an illustration from the section on infrastructure:

Last, here's a fascinating video Elroon alerted me to. It reminds me a bit of Kafka's Odradek:
One is tempted to believe that the creature once had some sort of intelligible shape and is now only a broken-down remnant. Yet this does not seem to be the case; at least there is no sign of it; nowhere is there an unfinished or unbroken surface to suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing looks senseless enough, but in its own way perfectly finished. In any case, closer scrutiny is impossible, since Odradek is extraordinarily nimble and can never be laid hold of.

(Photo at top by Didier Massard.)