Friday, September 28, 2007

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.


Anonymous said...

The photo at the top is also on the Finlandia cd of Urmas Sisask's Starry Sky Cycle: Northern Sky, performed by Lauri Väinmaa. It's a series of piano pieces named after the constellations. There's a cycle for the southern sky, too.

I see that the photo was taken in Vermont, but it reminds me powerfully of the dark winter times in Estonia.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words and the plug. Much appreciated.

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