Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All-Day Suckers

Kevin Drum claims that “the fact that Iraq is a clusterfuck” doesn’t necessarily vindicate people who were against the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, and also doesn’t necessarily prove that preventive war is wrong (he initially says “preemptive,” but then corrects himself).

Meanwhile, Megan McArdle claims that “doves” don’t deserve any credit for being right about Iraq, because “nothing that they predicted came to pass”:

If I say we shouldn't go to dinner downtown because we're going to be robbed, and we don't get robbed but we do get food poisoning, was I "right"? Only in some trivial sense. Food poisoning and robbery are completely unrelated, so my belief that we would regret going to dinner was validated only by random chance. Yet, the incident will probably increase my confidence in my prediction abilities, even though my prediction was 100% wrong.
The differences here are subtle, but important. Drum is being a schmuck, in that he suggests the invasion would’ve been acceptable if the UN had okayed it. The problem is, preventive war is illegal, so Drum’s essentially arguing that the war would’ve been better if a) it hadn’t been illegal; or b) the UN had ignored the fact that it was illegal.

McArdle, by contrast, is either lying or nuts. Plenty of people on the left predicted treasury-draining cronyism, insurgency, sectarian violence, civil war, a bumper crop of new al-Qaeda recruits…you name it. Atrios offers one example. There are others. The problem wasn’t a lack of informed or even prescient dissenters; the problem was that in the rare cases where they received any attention or airtime, they were presented as charter members of Saddam’s shoeshine brigade.

Who cares, though? The important thing is, people like McArdle and Drum were wrong for the right reasons. Sure, they may’ve been too naive, careless, cowardly, ignorant, or idealistic to be suspicious of BushCo’s motives or methods or lack of evidence. But at least they weren’t cynical (not about anyone who mattered, anyway).

Better yet, they didn’t fool around with giant puppets, or stride around on stilts while wearing rainbow-colored wigs. They kept their dignity. And isn’t that what this is all about, in the end?

I was a good deal less reasonable, I’m sad to say, in that I noticed that the people who wanted to invade Iraq were, by and large, war profiteers and former Iran-Contra figures. I found this more frightening than Saddam's balsawood drones, just as I'd previously found Elliot Abrams' whitewashing of the El Mozote massacre more frightening than the Sandinistas' prospective invasion of Harlingen, Texas.

In my admittedly extremist opinion, no one who’s unfamiliar with the background of these people has any business offering opinions about current American politics. And no one who is familiar with them could believe in good faith that their peculiar combination of postmodern theatrics and old-school racketeering would lead to anything but blood-drenched disaster in Iraq.

The Bush administration and its pet advisors are people who've demonstrated over the course of several decades that they can’t sneeze without costing the taxpayers billions, and can’t open their mouths without getting innocent people killed. They’ve been morally or factually wrong on almost every important issue of our time, from apartheid to SDI to public health. But they’re never so wrong, never so dishonest, never so dangerous, and never so deserving of pitiless, unyielding skepticism as when they propose to start wars.

I know it's not considered polite to say so, but political commentators who claim not to know this are either woefully ignorant dupes, or flat-out liars. Either way, they’re a danger to themselves and others, and don’t deserve to be taken seriously on any level. At least, not without first going through the rigorous public ritual of truth-telling, apology, repudiation, and atonement that we normally demand from, say, sexually indiscreet beauty pageant winners.

And even that’s not quite enough, really. Personally, I’m tormented by my knowledge that I could’ve and should’ve done more to stop this war before it started. The number of Iraqis we’ve killed thusfar weighs on my conscience, and makes me feel that I have blood on my hands. That’s one reason why I’m horrified by Drum’s casual claim that he turned against the war partly because “Bush wasn't serious about postwar reconstruction.”

The problem isn’t that Bush didn’t follow through on reconstruction; the problem is that commentators like Drum were foolish and ignorant enough to imagine that he might. That foolishness, that ignorance - that lack of seriousness - has helped, however tangentially, to kill and cripple a huge number of Americans and Iraqis.

It doesn’t mean that these commentators are unforgivable, necessarily. But it does mean that they should avoid abstracted, self-serving, pseudorationalist posturing like recovering alcoholics avoid bars.

And yet, Drum somehow finds it seemly to slap Atrios on the wrist for failing to devise a really airtight critique of the Bush Doctrine. As Iraq spirals out of control, he seems to want some acknowledgement of the fact that if everything had been completely different, he would’ve been right.

Iraq isn’t just a “clusterfuck.” That's a tough-sounding word, maybe, but it’s really just abstract, escapist bullshit. What’s happening in Iraq is murder, with malice aforethought, and it was enabled to a great extent by the casual contempt of people like Kevin Drum for the rule of law. Of all the political decisions an educated, intelligent person could’ve made in the last six years, the decision to support the Iraq War was by far the most serious. And if you got it wrong - if you helped, however modestly, to get us where we are today - you made just about the worst mistake you could’ve made, as an American and as a human being.

UPDATE: Thers has come up with a clever joke about Richard Cohen; see if you can divine its grain of deadly truth.
Cohen walks out into the street wearing a paper bag over his head. He gets run over by a bus. When he wakes up in the hospital a month later, he says, "who could ever have seen it coming!" And everyone laughs as the sitcom ends and the credits roll.

(This post originally appeared on 1/17/07.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of Chromodoris hintuanensis
and quick surprise.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

Everything old is new again! AIDG Blog reports on a hyperefficient engine built with existing GM parts:

[H]is conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock GM parts [emphasis] and snapping them together in clever new ways. “They could do all this stuff if they wanted to,” he tells me, slapping on a visor and hunching over an arc welder. “The technology has been there forever. They make 90% of the components I use.”
An African man has built a helicopter from scrap parts:
Mubarak Muhammad Abdullahi of the Kano Plains of Nigeria who has built a working helicopter over the last 8 months using scrap aluminum and parts from a Honda Civic, an old Toyota and from the remains of a crashed Boeing 747.
Also from Afrigadget, an interesting version of the horse and buggy:
Fitted with a solar panel that charges a 12 volt battery under the driver’s seat, the “HAPPY” becomes an independent, sustainable source of energy that powers cell phone connectivity, front and rear emergency lights and a small neon tube at night. Add a water filtration system, and the “HAPPY” doubles as a multi functional mobile business unit, that can empower an entrepreneurial owner, to generate income from it as a fresh water outlet, a mobile phone kiosk or a spaza shop – even after dark.
Israel is turning a dump into a recycling-themed park, complete with this scenic arch made of plastic bottles:

The historical and philosophical overtones of this article are a bit disturbing, overall, but I did like the stuff about benches made of crushed soda cans. (See also The City Museum, in downtown St. Louis.)

A more modest approach to recycling involves using old chewing gum to create street receptacles for old chewing gum:
Anna Bullus’s Bubble Gum Bin is made from Gumnetic, a new biodegradable material she developed made from sterilized used chewing gum and bio resin. The bin keeps chewing gum litter from our sidewalks and shoes and when full, the entire container is recycled to make even more bins. How’s that for cradle-to-cradle?
In a very early edition of FHB, I lamented "cases in which 'progress' causes people to abandon a technology before it's perfected," and discussed improvements that were being made to sails, so I was pleased to read Inhabitat's post on the KiteShip:
[C]ompany executives have announced a potential partnership with four shipping companies to build a $2 million, 13,000-square-foot kite to help haul ships as large as 400 feet long.
I was also fascinated, this week, by the recreation of the Great Squirt, an irrigation device depicted in a 1577 tome called The Gardener's Labyrinth:
Using traditional oak carpentry and leather valves and wooden pipes, it was built as closely to Hill's references as possible," he said.

"The machine is essentially a rudimentary" pump in a large oak barrel.

Researchers are investigating the alleged antimicrobial properties of French clay:
French clay that kills several kinds of disease-causing bacteria is at the forefront of new research into age-old, nearly forgotten, but surprisingly potent cures. Among the malevolent bacteria that a French clay has been shown to fight is a "flesh-eating" bug (M. ulcerans) on the rise in Africa and the germ called MRSA, which was blamed for the recent deaths of two children in Virginia and Mississippi.

"There are very compelling reports of clay treating infections, but that's anecdotal evidence, not science," said Lynda Williams, an associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Tempe. Williams is coordinating three teams of U.S. researchers (at ASU, USGS, and SUNY-Buffalo) studying healing clays under a two-year, $440,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health-National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her ASU colleague Shelley Haydel is lending her expertise in clinical medicine to perform the microbiological research.
In Montana, a dead stream seems to be coming back to life:
Silver Bow Creek, contaminated for more than a century by tailings and other mine waste, appears to be responding to environmental cleanup.

Recently, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks' employees found populations of live trout in the creek, once considered a dead stream.

The inventory revealed a larger presence of trout — including westslope cutthroat — than has been in Silver Bow Creek for about 120 years, Joel Chavez, who is managing the creek restoration project for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Scientists have discovered an enormous flock of sociable lapwings:
The RSPB’s Dr Rob Sheldon...said: “This discovery is something we didn’t dare dream of. The sociable lapwing is one of the rarest birds on earth and suddenly it’s been found in these large numbers.

“It shows just how important both Kazakhstan and Turkey have become for the survival of this species. The next step is to protect the bird, both on its breeding grounds and at all the key sites on its migration route.”

And a new population of the critically endangered Iberian lynx has been found in Spain:
It appears that the new population was discovered in previously unsurveyed estates in Castilla - La Mancha (Central Spain). This Iberian community is one of the most sparsely populated of Spain's autonomous communities.

At present, the exact numbers and location of the newly discovered population are being kept confidential, but the population is thought to be made up of both adults and cubs.
WorldChanging discusses hopes for biomimetic solar cells:
As a university write-up of the research says, "Nature produces silica on a scale of gigatons." The sponge's secret is molecular templating, which Morse and colleagues are learning to imitate. Technology Review reported that "Morse and colleagues have made more than 30 types of semiconductor thin films and tested their photovoltaic properties. They are now working to incorporate the semiconductors into functional solar cells."
In other news, Berkeley, CA plans to finance solar panels for thousands of residents:
The City Council will vote Nov. 6 on a plan for the city to finance the cost of solar panels for property owners who agree to pay it back with a 20-year assessment on their property. Over two decades, the taxes would be the same or less than what property owners would save on their electric bills, officials say.
An NYC apartment complex is using ladybugs for pest control:
Some 720,000 [ladybugs] were released by groundskeepers at the complex, which occupies 18 square blocks northeast of First Avenue and East 14th Street. The ladybugs are part of an effort by the complex’s new owners, Tishman Speyer, to move away from using chemical insecticides to protect the plants and grass that cover 40 acres there.
Pittsburg Paints will reportedly offer no VOC paints in 2008:
Aside from being free of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, the paints are pigmented to echo the growing interest in the ecological and environmental lifestyle choices and themes.
Greg Harman explains why San Antonio’s coal- and nuke-loving CPS Energy “must die”:
A collection of reports released this year argue that a combination of ramped-up efficiency programs, construction of numerous “combined heat and power” facilities, and installation of on-site renewable energy resources would allow the state to avoid building new power plants. Texas could save $73 billion in electric generation costs by spending $50 billion between now and 2023 on such programs, according to the research group. The group also claims the efficiency revolution would even be good for the economy, creating 38,300 jobs.
A high-desert straw-bale building has won LEED gold certification:
Resource- and energy-efficient, the Santa Clarita Transit Maintenance Facility designed by HOK exceeds California Energy Efficiency Standards by more than 40 percent, securing a new standard for straw-bale in high performance building design.
Carmakers are reportedly taking a new look at the electric car:
[T]wo allied car makers, France's Renault SA and Japan's Nissan Motor Co., as well as Honda Motor Co...have expressed skepticism about the economic wisdom of hybrids and are talking up all-electric cars.
This is very interesting:
Dr. Tracey discovered that the vagus nerve speaks directly to the immune system through a neurochemical called acetylcholine. And stimulating the vagus nerve sent commands to the immune system to stop pumping out toxic inflammatory markers. “This was so surprising to us,” said Dr. Tracey, who immediately saw the potential to use vagus stimulation as a way to shut off abnormal immune system responses. He calls this network “the inflammatory reflex.”

Research is now underway to see whether tweaking the brain's acetylcholine system could be a natural way to control the inflammatory response.
In other medical news, a biotech company is producing an anti-malarial drug at an amazingly low price:
Keasling can chemically synthesize artemisinin. He feeds microbes sugar, and the microbes produce the drug....

The result of his work is that the price of artemisinin is dropping - quickly. To take that price drop to market, Keasling partners with Amyris Biotechnologies and OneWorld Health. He does this without patents and without royalties - open-source pharma, if you will.
The UK will offer vaccinations against cervical cancer to every young girl in the country:
Every girl in the UK aged 12 and 13 will be offered a vaccination to help protect them from developing cervical cancer, it was announced today.

The injections, to be rolled out by the Government from the start of the next school year, will protect the girls from human papillomavirus, known as HPV, which causes around 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.
And in Scotland, every child will be given free school meals:
The Child Poverty Action Group hailed the move as a "massive step forward".

John Dickie, head of the campaign group in Scotland, said: "Universal free school meals could make a huge impact in tackling family poverty and improving children's health and ability to learn.
In America, meanwhile, "60% said they would be willing to repeal tax cuts to help pay for a health-care program that insures all Americans." (9/11 changed everything!)

Time has a nice article on Freeplay Energy, a UK company that provides battery-free devices to the developing world.
"It all comes back to the problem of power. There is huge energy poverty in the world, and that energy poverty causes more pollution," says Rory Stear, founder of Freeplay Energy, a London-based company that makes hand-powered radios, lanterns, flashlights and portable generators — ingeniously simple products that provide affordable energy anywhere without requiring disposable batteries.
This is part of Time's massive feature on Heroes of the Environment, which is well worth a look.

The photo at the top is by Carol Golemboski. It's from her series entitled Psychometry, which recycles material from thrift stores and estate sales.

Speaking of recycled material: The Wilhelm Scream, via Effect Measure. And the BibliOdyssey Book, which I hereby command each and every one of you to buy. Now.

Coudal directs me to an astonishing gallery of Japanese manhole covers:

Also: Peter Schoeffer: Printer of Mainz. A plea for help from the Global Electrophonic Fireball Survey. The elusive dog’s nose fungus, "a large perithecial ascomycete." Cycles of Arthropods. And some gorgeous photographs of Prague by Stanko Abadžic.

And last, for CKR, a small collection of scientific illustrations from an Estonian schoolbook (via Things):

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Incendiary Other

The news that Fox is blaming the California wildfires on Al-Qaeda brings a few scattered thoughts to mind.

When I was a kid, I read a rather silly thriller called Goodbye California, in which terrorists planted atomic bombs along the San Andreas fault
in order to trigger a massive earthquake. If OBL - or whoever's walking around in his clothes and beard - knows what's good for him, he'll hint that AQ is looking into a similar arrangement, and that they've decided to practice by triggering mudslides with conventional explosives. A casual remark like this could generate plenty of valuable PR when the inevitable happens. ("Oh Noes!!! AQ iz in teh Wadati-Beni0ff z0nez, triggrin teh megakwakez!!!1")

Kidding aside, Mike Davis has eloquently described California's tendency to personalize natural disaster:

Anglo-Californians have always criminalized the problem of mountain wildfire. The majority have never accepted the natural role or inevitability of the chaparral fire cycle. (Conversely, there has been a persistent tendency to naturalize the strictly human causality of tenement fire.)
In another article, he elaborates:
The political, as distinct from scientific, discourse in each generation has been obsessed with the identification of an incendiary Other responsible for fire destruction.

In the early 20th century, this cruel-hearted and selfish man...was portrayed as an Indian, sheepherder or, most frequently, a tramp. During World War I, the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) were believed to be lurking behind every burning bush in California. A decade later, major wildfires — like the 1930 Decker Canyon blaze — were usually blamed on itinerant farm workers, especially the Okies. A year after Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, FBI agents and National Guardsmen were combing Las Flores Canyon for clues to the identity of Axis saboteurs responsible for the 1942 Malibu fire.
The syndrome is older than that, of course. During the Gold Rush, fires in mining towns were habitually blamed on Chinese immigrants. In her interesting book Roaring Camp, Susan Lee Johnson gives a lurid example:
By the late 1850s, fire itself had become a metaphor for Chinese sexual commerce....[I]n 1857 and 1858, for example, costly conflagrations consumed parts of Columbia and Mariposa. In both cases, newspapers blamed the blazes on Chinese residents, claiming that the fires began in Chinese brothels. After Columbia's calamity, a correspondent telegraphed the San Joaquin Republican to report that the fire...was "caused by an opium smoker" at a house of prostitution.
And it may've been, for all I know, just as this or some future wildfire might be the fault of terrorists. But as Slavoj Zizek points out, pathological fantasies aren't any less pathological just because they turn out to be true. A Chinese man who causes a fire doesn't retroactively validate the feverish 3 a.m. presentiments of the bigots who just knew something like that would happen if those slant-eyed heathens were allowed to live among decent Christian folk. Those people would be crazy either way, just as the people who see AQ's hand in every bridge collapse and wildfire would be crazy even if AQ actually did blow up a bridge or start a wildfire.

Worrying about a serious problem doesn't automatically make you a serious person. The fact that the stateside scourges of Islamofascism can't accept this is what makes them such effective force multipliers for AQ. In their lust to be "proved fucking right," they've tied their credibility to that of the terrorists, and accordingly see every real or rumored disaster as another step along their personal Path to Glory.

(Illustration: "A Fresh Eruption of the Pacific Coast Vesuvius," from The Wasp: v. 8, Jan. - June 1882.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

I’m very, very, very busy right now, so compiling even a short edition of FHB would be utterly irresponsible.

Which is what obliges me to do it. I can’t go on, I’ll go on!

Speaking of which, no blog is less replaceable, to my mind, than Adventus, so I was heartbroken when RMJ announced recently that he was shutting it down. Having been away from Outer Blogospheria for a bit, I only noticed this morning that he’s had a change of heart, which is as close to a miracle as I’d care to hope for on this gray, sickly morning. You can celebrate by reading this post, which touches on many issues I’d be writing about – though never so well - if I had time.

With RMJ's thoughts in mind, it’s interesting to read about those other people who won the Nobel Prize:

Societies should not rely on market forces to protect the environment or provide quality health care for all citizens, a winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for economics said on Monday. ... "The market doesn't work very well when it comes to public goods," said [Professor Eric] Maskin.
See also Geoff Manaugh on regressive urban environments. Do we really want a "sustainable" version of this?

Anyway. For the first time, a coal plant has been denied a permit because of C02 emissions:
"Denying the Sunflower air quality permit, combined with creating sound policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions can facilitate the development of clean and renewable energy to protect the health and environment of Kansans," said [Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment].
David Roberts has lots more on the decline of coal:
At least 16 coal-fired power plant proposals nationwide have been scrapped in recent months and more than three dozen have been delayed as utilities face increasing pressure due to concerns over global warming and rising construction costs.
A new malaria vaccine apparently shows some promise:
The study, being published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, was small, comprising only 214 babies in Mozambique, and intended to show only that the vaccine was safe at such young ages. But it also indicated that the risk of catching malaria was reduced by 65 percent after the full course of three shots. 'We're now a step closer to the realization of a vaccine that can protect African infants,' said Dr. Pedro Alonso, the University of Barcelona professor who leads clinical trials of the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine.
It used to be that cities and towns comprised a refuge from the wilderness. Now, of course, it’s wilderness that requires a safe haven from the built environment. What in human terms would comprise a reservation, or a ghetto, or a concentration camp, is simply “habitat” for animals. Thus it is that an overgrown backyard in San Francisco provides a bit of hope for the Pacific chorus frog:
Urban wildlife sanctuaries, including an overgrown Capp Street backyard, are helping bring a tiny frog’s once-familiar bellow back to San Francisco.

“At one time, the chorus frog was the sound of the Bay Area,” said Jim McKissock, who has seeded The City in recent years with the young of the only remaining local population. “Now they’re virtually all gone.”
Uganda has decided not to turn a large chunk of protected rainforest over to a sugar planter:
Government officials were not immediately available for comment on what the newspaper said was a final decision not to allow Mabira forest to be destroyed and replaced with sugarcane.
Chicago plans to tax bottled water:
"It's not a tax on water, it's a tax on plastic," says Alderman George Cardenas, who introduced the measure to help offset revenue declines from the city water system, reduce litter and decrease the amount of oil used to produce and transport bottled water."
In Atlanta, meanwhile, a water shortage has caused perfectly normal citizens to entertain the freakish notion of greywater recycling, which was initially dreamed up by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army while high on LSD:
Now what once was considered a radically "green" way to supplement our water supply is becoming acceptably "grey".

Grey water is water that has been used, but is still clean enough to be used again. Previously, using grey water is something only committed environmentalists did. Now, it is something we will all have to look at.
Radical, indeed. I can't wait to use it in my handmade Stalin bong!

Triple Pundit discusses the virtues of subsurface irrigation:
The flow rates through the tubing vary from 0.6-0.9 GPH (gallons per hour) released through one-way drippers spaced 12” apart and buried 4-6” deep beneath the ground’s surface. Netafim drip/micro products support sensible water use by using virtually every drop of water.
And WorldChanging has a long piece on terra preta:
While still under the radar of most policymakers, gasification and terra preta are starting to appear on the scene. In the US this year, Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) is promoting legislation that would give subsidies of up to $10,000 for farmers who set up gasifiers and use the terra preta on their fields, and $100 million in related research grants.
San Francisco will turn off its lights for an hour on Saturday night. Which is nice enough in itself, but the article discusses some other interesting developments:
Many buildings now have installed motion sensors to shut lights off automatically, often with the help of money paid into a fund by electricity customers….In a move last month that could spread nationally, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will now allow high-rise owners to meter each tenant's electricity usage and penalize energy hogs, rather than rely on one bill for an entire building.
AIDG Blog discusses the tantalizing possibility of turbine-free wind power:
The Windbelt is essentially a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Shawn’s design was inspired the vibrations that caused the collapse of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) in 1940.
Temas Blog reports that the Brazilian state of Paraná will export its Zero Waste Program to other states:
The object of meeting with the Bahian municipal officials is to turned them into, with help and training from Ascompita (and help from SEMA), into what SEMA likes to call "muiltiplier agents" — people who will go out and pass on the insights, training, materials and knowledge to others, who in turn will do the same to third parties, so forth. This is the model SEMA has been employing in its Zero Waste Program, conducting workshops, discussions, hands-on training, etc. with anyone and everyone, from schools to social clubs to police and firemen (I have seen some photos of policemen being taught how to construct solar water heaters from PET bottles, for example).
That's not all you can do with discarded bottles, of course:
Rather than use expensive brick or wood, a group of young environmental activists in Bolivia filled 25,000 plastic bottles with sand and used the recylclables to build walls for a home that's much sturdier than the shacks used in the South American country. Once stacked, the bottles were reinforced with steel and cement.
See also Casa de Pedra, via Things.

Here's an interesting building from Solar Decathlon 2007, a Flickr set from Inhabitat.

In other news: The discovery of a Victorian Ice house. The birth of an iceberg. A survey of Martian topography at Pruned. And some very...evocative photographs of electric "spectacular" billboards on the Atlantic City Boardwalk:

(Photo at top: "Ice Form #3" by Huntington Witherill.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

You Can't Win!

The Orange County Register reveals the shocking truth about Hollywood:

For all its high-profile posturing on matters environmental, the entertainment industry is second only to the oil industry among major California polluters....
As someone who relies on the entertainment industry for moral and scientific guidance, I'm crestfallen, to say the least.

The op-ed concedes that "while moving in the green direction Hollywood's realized economic benefits switching to more efficient lighting and cooling systems, and cutting back gasoline consumption with hybrid cars" (while hinting that these benefits will amount to less than nothing, so long as anyone in the industry feels smug about them).

However, it draws the line at any attempt to reduce or offset CO2 emissions:
CO2 is an essential atmospheric gas, the very stuff on which plants subsist.
And as everyone knows, you can't have too much of a good thing.

To sum up, we should henceforth be guided in "matters environmental" not by trendy celebrities, but by anonymous hard-right editorialists who agree with Zeno that it's impossible to make progress via discrete steps. Please make a note of it.

Next, an editorial in The Monitor announces that environmentalists were correct when they argued that "we need to develop alternate fuel sources if we expect to be able to generate electricity very far into the future."

The problem is, this has emboldened them to think that they're right about other stuff. As if!
[Y]ou might logically assume that South Texas environmentalists would be jumping for joy over news that someone actually wants to invest millions of dollars to build two wind farms in Kenedy County capable of generating 388 megawatts of cleanly produced electricity — enough to power about 90,000 homes.

Sorry, bad assumption on your part — maybe because it involved using the words “logically” and “environmentalists” in the same sentence.
It's very pleasant to be lectured on logic by someone who believes that the chain of causality magically ends once you've designated a particular course of action as a "solution."

The environmentalists in question comprise radical groups like the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, who are worried that the turbines (and their construction and maintenance) "will have some sort [!] of adverse impact on the area’s bird population." According to the author, this is typical of the environmental movement's absurd desire to "have it both ways" (e.g., to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and protect migratory birds).

The editorial fails to address the possibility that the wind farm could be re-sited, redesigned, or otherwise improved, so that it'd generate wind power without destroying the unique wetlands and grasslands that lie along this central migration route, and serve as the winter home of 90 percent of the world's redhead ducks. Apparently, logic decrees that industrializing the lower Laguna Madre is the price we must pay for "clean" energy.

And if you can't manage to grasp this cold, hard fact of life…well, you'd better steel yourself for the consequences:
Environmentalists need to get their act together or they will never be taken seriously and will continue be derided as “enviro-nazis” by the likes of commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.
There's another, more plausible option: compromise, and be called names by O'Reilly and Limbaugh anyway. In this case, at least, I suspect environmentalists can have it both ways.

(Illustration via Idioms By Kids.)

The Soul of the Plot

The frost’s on the pumpkin, the fodder’s in the shock, the turkey’s in the straw, the bat's in the belfry…what else can all this mean, but that Islamofascism Awareness Week is drawing nigh?

All over “Christendom,” respected scholars like David Horowitz will be putting aside their alembics and retorts, their abaci and astrolabes, and training their penny-bright eyes firmly on this underexamined issue. Don’t expect Michelle Malkin to concern herself with immigrant lepers, or Baron Bodissey to speak out against leprous immigrants; the week will be consecrated to nothing but the contemplation of Nazi Ragheads, and no quarter will be asked or given.

Cynics might be amused by this proclamation. They'd probably say it's a bit like a child who wakes up screaming every night declaring Nightmare Awareness Week, or a miser declaring Hoarded Treasure Awareness Week, or a prisoner in solitary confinement declaring Cell Awareness Week, or Christopher Hitchens declaring Alcohol Awareness Week, or Thers declaring Bacon Awareness Week.

Cynicism, fortunately, died on 9/11, along with 3,000 brave, God-fearing, all-American heroes whose spirits will not rest easy until every Musselman from here to Chinnanallaballi is wailing in Hell.

Though Horowitz and Co. have often been accused – with some justice - of cowardice, and opportunism, and dishonesty, and stupidity, and ignorance, and venality, and racism, and silliness, and incoherence, and irrationality, and defamation, and amorality, and fraudulence, and viciousness, and paranoia, and authoritarianism, and stark staring insanity, it’s only fair to point out that fighting a phantasmagorical catch-all enemy is in many respects more difficult - if not more heroic - than fighting a strictly intelligible one.

As harrowing as it may be to dodge bullets and IEDs in Iraq, can it really compare to battling the miasmic influence of Edward Said’s Orientalism, or hunting for defeatist messages in the latest offering from Pixar, or cataloging the prospective rampages of that pitiless Wahhabist firebrand John Edwards?

Fire a round of bullets into an Iraqi hospital orderly, or an Afghani wedding guest, and the threat he posed to Civilization dies with him. Write a broadside against postcolonial theory, and you’ll just make its adherents more determined than ever to theorize. Sad to say, this is an all too typical denouement of this “play of hopes and fears,”

With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
Though the subject doesn’t really call for it, I’ll end on a slightly serious note. The last time I made fun of “Islamofascism” – or one of the last times - I was challenged to explain my problems with the term. This time around, I’ll state my objections up front:
I view fascism as implacably statist and/or racist, which doesn't seem to fit Wahhabist Islam very well.

Also, the blanket term implies that there's a single ideological cause for violence committed in a variety of locales by a variety of groups, which is pointlessly reductive; its only real purpose is to blur the distinction between religious and secular violence, and between legitimate and illegitimate grievances.

It's convenient for propaganda purposes, granted, but it makes it harder to address real-world problems, whether you're talking about addressing them through warfare or diplomacy or education or what have you. Which seems to me to be a high price to pay in order to provide cowardly layabouts…with a unifying myth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Humorless Fanatics

America's kulturkampfers are normally a tough-minded, unemotional bunch. But remind them about the Christlike sufferings of Larry Summers - or, if you're in a hurry, wait for them to remind themselves - and they'll weep like a captured squonk.

For instance, the irrepressible George Leef is heartstricken that unlike Larry Summers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given the opportunity to say stupid things on an American college campus:

The New Republic points out the idiocy of embracing freedom of speech for a murderous dictator, but refusing to listen to a respected scholar.
It's probably my superficial, postmodern intoxication with the play of difference that causes me to believe there's a distinction to be made between "embracing freedom of speech" and "refusing to listen" to someone who's exercising it.

And between "refusing to listen" to a respected scholar, and disagreeing with what he says.

And between disagreeing with him, and providing compelling evidence that his "academic speculation" amounts to little more than bad-faith bullshit.

And between visiting a college in one's capacity as a foreign leader, and running it in one's capacity as its president.

Leef seems to understand that he's sunk himself in a dangerous rhetorical swamp, and accordingly attempts to pull himself out by his own hair, like Baron Munchausen:
Why are so many American professors humorless fanatics who think that everything they do has to revolve around pushing their political vision?
Beats me. As I understand it, Summers is a hero to conservatives for arguing, despite a lack of relevant expertise and evidence, that women are underrepresented in the sciences because they lack certain "intrinsic aptitudes." If that doesn't qualify as "pushing a political vision," it's hard to imagine what would. Even granting the conservatarian tendency to see informed disagreement with male-supremacist pseudoscience as neo-Lysenkoism, it's hard to see how Leef can claim with a straight face that people "refused to listen" to Summers.

Between that, and the fact that he feels personally affronted by the mere existence of Latina/o Studies, I'm thinking Leef may want to direct his search for humorless fanatics to the nearest mirror.

(Illustration via Oldtasty.)

The Enviably Comfortable

I've been busy lately, so the Right's orchestrated attack on a couple of children has barely percolated into my noggin.

For better or worse, I'm old enough to remember a time when things like this didn't happen. You probably are, too; it wasn't that long ago. If you're 30 or older, you can probably remember a time in America - before Michelle Malkin and her ilk burst upon us like a pinata full of cockroaches - when political marginalization was the least you could expect for subjecting injured children to nationwide slander.

Everyone agrees that healthcare is a serious issue. Everyone knows that accidents and illnesses can have huge medical, financial and legal consequences for children and their parents. None of the vacuous goons currently abusing the Frost family would claim that a scenario like the one Graeme Frost described is impossible; they'd be laughed off the face of the earth if they tried. Instead, they treat all individual victims of for-profit healthcare, and all individual beneficiaries of government aid, as frauds and underachievers who have a grubby private interest in their own health and that of their loved ones (unlike the advocates of for-profit care, who are concerned solely with the well-being of the Collective). The system will always be fallible in theory and blameless in practice.

We all know this. What we don't know - what we're afraid to imagine - is how much lower these fanatics are able to sink. Previously, their topsy-turvy victimology has portrayed middle-aged sexual predators as victims of teenagers, and the military as victims of "enemy combatants" who'd hanged themselves, and torturers as victims of the tortured, and the Vice President as the victim of the man he shot in the face, and the President as the victim of a bereaved mother. Everything that used to make the arrogance of power so intolerable - the callousness, the capriciousness, the disdain for individual lives - is now supposed to merit sympathy to the precise extent that it gets the outraged response it deserves from humane people. The Conservatarian commentariat has gone from sneering at the special pleading of Black Lesbian Nuns in Wheelchairs to portraying themselves as the ultimate oppressed minority; reasonable remonstrance with their cruel, ugly worldview is an act of intolerance along the lines of torching a synagogue.

And now, the poor downtrodden creatures find themselves cringing under the rhetorical lash of an injured 12-year-old, who had the gall to point out that vetoing SCHIP could mean that other injured kids won't be cared for as well as he was.

The thing is, this would be a valid concern even if the Frosts were every bit as wealthy as their detractors falsely claim; the family's financial status is completely beside the point. If he were a responsible or kind or honorable man, Bush would've signed SCHIP for exactly the reason Graeme Frost recommends: to ensure that vulnerable children will have access to appropriate healthcare. What infuriates the Right is the logic and decency of Frost's position; that's what has them lashing out and hissing like vampires who've been splashed with Holy Water. The debate here isn't about how much money you can earn building cabinets in Baltimore; it's about whether poor children should receive medical treatment as a matter of course, without first having to convince some grotesque cartel of antisocial cranks that they and their families are "worthy" of being treated like human beings.

Speaking of which, here's an edifying exchange between Thers and one of his trolls:

What are all of you doing to help poor children (when you aren't huffing and puffing on behalf of the enviably comfortable)?

Advocating for a rational healthcare system so that the poor don't have to accept charity from condescending, clueless maniacs like yourself.
UPDATE: The Democrats hoped that Graeme Frost would put a human face on SCHIP, but Republicans understand that attacking the human face of an issue is a reliable way to undermine its political support. Their goal, obviously, was to cause as many people as possible to base their opinions about SCHIP not on the reasonably clear-cut ethical and logical issues, but on negative emotions - or failing that, lazy suspicions - about the Frost family.

This is what bugs me about liberal attempts to trot out examples of "the deserving poor"; doing so buys into the essentially conservative notion that we can, and should, distinguish officially between different types of poverty (usually by applying standards that perpetuate it, such as the idea that "cheaters" are irredeemable).

Back in the eighties, Ronald Reagan's carefully crafted fantasy of the Welfare Queen, driving around haughtily in her Welfare Cadillac, did quite a bit to drive real images of black poverty out of the public consciousness. And the attempts to counter that image with images of the deserving poor simply reinforced the notion that we have the ability and duty to make this distinction (before we pull people out of the gutter, no less) rather than the ability and duty to relieve poverty per se, as Nathaniel Hawthorne argues:
There is so much wretchedness in the world, that we may safely take the word of any mortal professing to need our assistance; and, even should we be deceived, still the good to ourselves resulting from a kind act is worth more than the trifle by which we purchase it.
UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin comes face to face with the Enemy.

(Illustration: "The American Workingman of the Future, When the Labor Agitators Have 'Improved His Condition" Until He is Perfectly Satisfied With It," from Puck, ca 1890.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

It’s 2:53 PM. Can I research and write a normal-length edition of FHB in just under two hours? Only time will tell!

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case arguing that religious organizations should be able to block employees from purchasing contraceptives through their health-insurance plans.

That’s my way of summarizing the story. Now, read the AP’s version, and see if you detect any subtle differences in emphasis:

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to enter a church-state dispute over whether some religious organizations can be forced to pay for workers' birth-control health insurance benefits, a growing trend in the states.
In related news, Connecticut’s Catholic hospitals will dispense emergency contraception to all rape victims:
The church fought legislation for two years, arguing that it would force Catholic employees at the hospitals to behave immorally, according to the Associated Press. In a recent statement however, the bishops conceded that the use of Plan B cannot be judged as an abortion. "To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act," the statement read.
A judge has issued a stay against the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to allow cattle grazing on public lands that include endangered tortoise habitat:
A judge agreed with conservation groups October 1 and ordered the Bureau of Land Management to hold off on its decision to increase cattle grazing on 136,167 acres of public land. This desert region, known as the Ord Mountain Allotment, includes 101,033 acres of federally protected critical habitat for the desert tortoise, within a Desert Wildlife Management Area that the Bureau is supposed to manage to protect threatened desert tortoises and other imperiled animals and plants.
Larry Craig’s devotion to the Tearoom Trade may have an unexpected benefit for salmon:
The surprising fall of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, removes a longtime obstacle to efforts by Democrats and environmentalists to promote salmon recovery on Northwest rivers.

Craig, who was removed from leadership posts on the Senate Appropriations and Energy committees after a sex scandal, is known as one the most powerful voices in Congress on behalf of the timber and power industries. Environmentalists have fought him for years on issues from endangered salmon to public land grazing.
The Sietch Blog discusses a new method of growing rice:
[T]he system of rice intensification (SRI) method has helped increase yields by over 30% — four to five tonnes per hectare instead of three tonnes per hectare, while using 40% less water than conventional methods.
The California Public Utilities Commission has made a fairly staggering proposal:
All new residential construction in California will be zero net energy by 2020. All new commercial construction in California will be zero net energy by 2030.
Researchers have discovered thousands of marine microbes:
Using new DNA sequencing techniques, the researchers have identified as many as 37,000 different kinds of bacteria huddled near two hydrothermal vents on an underwater volcano off the Oregon coast.

"Many of these bacteria had never been reported before," said Julie Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, whose study appears in the journal Science.
Speaking of the Journal Science, CKR informs me that it's "now printed on 30% post-consumer recycled paper."

A frog that was thought to be extinct has been found in Costa Rica:
The species, which has not been seen since the 1980s, was rediscovered by zoologist Andrew Gray, 43, while on a trip to Costa Rica.

Pruned gives Grasscrete two thumbs up:
[N]ot only is it aesthetically beautiful, or at least less of a strain on the eyes than huge swats of Wal-Mart asphalt, the reintroduction of vegetation into former concrete jungles should counteract the urban heat island effect.
Last, UC-Berkeley is putting 300 full-course lectures on YouTube:
Berkeley has always been on the leading edge of what it calls the 'open-source video movement,' launching a video streaming portal in 2001 and participating in the initial launch this year of Apple�s iTunes U, which offers free downloadable audio and video podcasts of lectures. The university announced on Wednesday that select courses, as well as some special events and lectures, would now be posted on Berkeley's YouTube portal, free of charge and available to anyone with an Internet connection.
The pick of this week’s visual litter is probably Insects in Picture Books.

Furthermore: Japanese ambrotypes. Everything you ever wanted to know about Mount Pleasant, “the largest sorting office in the world.” Sources for and editions of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. Vintage matchbooks from Giant Market. A collection of coins and currency from Colonial America.

Weather flags from the 1800s, via Coudal. And via Things, the demolition of the Sellafield cooling towers.

(Photo at top: “If you went outside at exactly the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun appear to move? With great planning and effort, such a series of images can be taken. The figure-8 path the Sun follows over the course of a year is called an analemma. With even greater planning and effort, the series can include a total eclipse of the Sun as one of the images. Pictured is such a total solar eclipse analemma or Tutulemma - a term coined by the photographers based on the Turkish word for eclipse. The composite image sequence was recorded from Turkey starting in 2005. The base image for the sequence is from the total phase of a solar eclipse as viewed from Side, Turkey on 2006 March 29. Venus was also visible during totality, toward the lower right.” Via NASA.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bitter Rivalry and Hate

In 1857, Manhattan was patrolled by competing police departments: the Municipals and the Metropolitans. According to a contemporary, their rivalry was relatively mild, at first:

Notwithstanding this duality of city guardians, there were no more murders, robberies and assaults, than usual. All this time war was progressing, although no overt act was committed, the arms used as yet being only the tongue of bitter rivalry and hate.
Soon enough, though, things escalated:
Friction soon developed between the rival police forces. On June 14, 1857, The New-York Times reported that members of the Metropolitan Police Force had arrested a man for disorderly conduct on East 9th Street, but that he had been immediately seized by a member of the Municipal Police Force. A group of the Metropolitans promptly “remonstrated” with the Municipal, and soon regained custody of the miscreant, in the process arresting the Municipal and another city officer who had attempted to come to his assistance.
Now that you've read that, read this:
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and a spinoff group of disaffected Minuteman members plan separate monthlong deployments along the border, beginning Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The Minuteman group said it will have members on patrol along the Mexican border in Arizona, California and Texas, and also plans to post members along the Canadian border in Washington state....

Meanwhile, the Patriots' Border Alliance, created after disagreements this spring led to the expulsion of several original Minuteman Civil Defense Corps members and officers, is to stage its inaugural 30-day border watch operation starting Saturday in the Palominas area, south of Sierra Vista and west of Naco.
Click here if you wish to trace the complex genealogy of these squabbling superpatriots. You should also note the alleged problems between citizen's groups and federal agents.
Volunteers who have converged on the Mexican border to watch for illegal immigrants are disrupting U.S. Border Patrol (search) operations by unwittingly tripping sensors that alert agents to possible intruders, an agency spokesman complained Monday.
This is why the border must be guarded by machines. You'll never hear Raytheon's Active Denial System 2 compare System 1 to male genitalia, or call it "a swine who lives in a cat box," even though System 2 is clearly superior when it comes to dealing with harsh border conditions:
System 2 was built for 125 degrees Fahrenheit with sun loading, and for rain. System 1 – you can’t let it rain a whole bunch. We’re not watertight. As soon as it starts raining, we pull it into the garage. System 2 has been tested for rain and tested for dust.
While I suspect that ADS sentries could be taken out with a few bullets, or even a well-aimed brick, the idea of an invisible line that can't be crossed appeals to the poetic side of our nature. Mayors who oppose the building of a border fence may want to consider deploying ADS to keep defense contractors (and their horde of undocumented laborers) from approaching the proposed worksite:
Mayors along the Texas-Mexico border have begun a quiet protest of the federal government's plans to build a fence along the border: They are refusing to give access to their land.

Mayors in Brownsville, Del Rio and El Paso have denied access to some parts of their city property, turning away federal employees assigned to begin surveys or conduct other preliminary work on the fence meant to keep out illegal immigrants.

"This is exercising our rights. This is our property. We are not going to make it easy for them," said Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, who refused last month to sign documents granting government workers permission to enter city property.
Perhaps the Minutemen - and their bickering splinter groups - should undertake a new campaign to keep the borders' borders open.

(Image at top via Urbanography.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Evolution of the Eye

Mayor Bloomberg's recent visit to London has given him a special insight into the rights and responsibilities of American citizens:

Residents of big cities like New York and London must accept that they are under constant watch by video cameras, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.

"We are under surveillance all the time" from cameras in shops and office buildings, "and in London they have multiple cameras on every bus and in every subway car," he added.
This isn't authoritarianism, but a gesture of blessing from the Invisible Hand:
"The people of London not only support it, but if Ken Livingstone didn't do it they would try to run him out of town on a rail. We live in a dangerous world, and people want to have security cameras."
Our "dangerous world" also threatens us with devastating accidents and illnesses. But the notion that we could adapt and improve the UK's healthcare system remains controversial at best, despite widespread public support.

Also, drivers remain more dangerous than terrorists, but I don't see New Yorkers begging Bloomberg to ban cars, or force them to drive at five miles per hour within city limits.

But then, danger is being redefined - and personified - as "terrorism," and the public's predictable panic and confusion is conveniently being hailed as informed consent to surveillance.

I don't like arguing against the inadequacy of surveillance cameras, for the same reason I don't like arguing that torture doesn't work; doing so implies that authoritarian measures would be OK if only they were more effective. That said, there does seem to be some evidence that London's security cameras don't work:
A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any....

A report by the criminal justice charity Nacro in 2002 concluded that the money spent on cameras would be better used on street lighting, which has been shown to cut crime by up to 20 per cent.
Well, what of it? Creationists routinely attempt to question the evolution of the eye by asking "what good is five percent of an eye?" Like a few cells with a rudimentary ability to distinguish between light and dark, London's surveillance system may turn out to be a step on the path towards 20/20 vision.
"We can read fingerprints from about five meters...all 10 prints," said Bruce Walker, vice president of homeland security for Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N). "We can also do an iris scan at the same distance."
And as we all know, seeing is believing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

More Green Areas

The brand of objectivity that equates microeconomics with Deus sive Natura usually requires reporters to be politely optimistic about the effects of climate change on Greenland's agricultural sector.

A new article in the Christian Science Monitor takes a somewhat more nuanced view of the matter. First, though, it offers up the standard palaver from one of Greenland's civic boosters:

"Spring is coming many weeks earlier now, and the last five winters have been very short and rainy," says Tommy Maro, mayor of Qaqortaq, the region's principal town. "It will be exciting to see how the land will change in the next 20 years. Maybe we will have more sheep farmers, more green areas, more things we can grow."
Mr. Maro apparently believes that the nation that dies with the most sheep farmers wins.

The CSM points out that things aren't quite that simple. What will allegedly benefit Greenland's farmers is already ruining its hunters:
[E]ven in northern Greenland, the sea hasn't frozen solidly for nearly a decade, effectively isolating thousands of Greenlanders for half the year and wiping out the livelihoods of hundreds more subsistence hunters who pursued seals and polar bears on the ice.
I find this candor refreshing. Most of the articles I've read on Greenland's looming Gilded Age don't have much to say about the loss of livelihood in the north.

As an aside, it's interesting how easily journalists can switch from sentimentality about traditional ways of life to mawkishness about Progress. In the US, for instance, the mythology surrounding truck drivers is pretty much inviolable, despite the fact that cross-country trucking is an eminently stupid and inefficient way of transporting goods. Environmentalists, by contrast, supposedly want to drag us back to the bad old days of cave-dwelling, root-gnawing, and surgical tools made of chipped flint.

It's almost as though there's some hidden criterion journalists can use to distinguish noble workers who are fighting for their traditional way of life from Luddites who'd rather bless the darkness than light a candle.

The article goes on to point out that warming a cold climate could lead to other outcomes than warmer, milder weather, and in doing so, hints at the shocking truth that warm climates are not automatically "better," locally or globally, than cold ones:
[N]obody knows for sure the long-term effects of Greenland's warming climate. Scientists expect that warmer sea temperatures will drive shrimp farther north, where they are less accessible, but they may be replaced by other species. Melting glacial ice may prove good for the country's expanding hydroelectric industry, but thinning sea ice is already claiming lives of people who rely on it for transportation.

Even in the south, the weather is proving a mixed bag. On the Qassiarsuk town landing stand a number of refrigerator-sized plastic-wrapped parcels – hay shipped in for local farmers' sheep. "In the beginning of the summer we had very dry weather, and the grass did not grow," explains Kiista Isaksen, mayor of the municipality of Narsaq, of which Qassiarsuk is a part. "Now it's raining too much."
The only correction I'd make here is that nobody knows the short-term effects of Greenland's warming climate, either.

But whatever they are, I'm sure its citizens will "adapt"...just like the citizens of Mashkan-shapir did.

(Photo at top by Poagao.)