Sunday, December 21, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Rigorous new research concludes that Republican administrations lead to a preponderance of zombie films, while Democratic administrations correspond with outbreaks of fictional (?) vampirism:

“Democrats, who want to redistribute wealth to 'Main Street,' fear the Wall Street vampires who bleed the nation dry,” Newitz argued, noting that Dracula and his ilk arose from the aristocracy. “Republicans fear a revolt of the poor and disenfranchised, dressed in rags and coming to the White House to eat their brains.”

Or perhaps the bloodsuckers' latest incarnation, as less-threatening undead citizens, reflects a more inclusive politics. “Suddenly,” said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, “the vampires have become people just like us.”
This is basically a dumbed-down version of Franco Moretti's theory that Frankenstein and Dracula were parables of labor relations that represented the fears of the upper classes and the lower classes, respectively.

At any rate, Obama's appointment of the appalling Ken Salazar to the Interior Department can be seen as a harbinger of this New World Order: since vampires are obliged to follow certain regulations, they menace us up to fifty percent less than zombies. It's morning in America! Or dusk, depending on how you want to look at it.

As long as we're trading in metaphor, we might as well pause to admire this rain-powered umbrella:
[T]he Lightdrops umbrella is constructed from a new type of fabric that harvests kinetic energy. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed just such a microfiber nanogenerator fabric earlier this year this year that when made into a garment like a shirt, “could harness power from its wearer simply walking around or even from a slight breeze…” Unfortunately, the zinc oxide coating in that fabric degrades when wet. Now designer Sang-Kyun Park is reported to be using a similar experimental material known as PDVF.

“As water pours over the surface, potential energy from raindrops slamming onto the conductive membrane called PDVF transforms into electrical energy powering embedded LEDs sending your umbrella ablaze with light,” Yanko Design reports. “The heavier the rain, the brighter the light to help you see your way.”
Ireland's SeaGen turbine is operating at full capacity:
[T]he turbine is now operating at its full capacity of 1.2 MW—the most power produced by a tidal turbine anywhere in the world to date....SeaGen will now move on to operating for up to 22 hours per day, with regular maintenance and further testing being carried out.

The next project to employ SeaGen is a 10.5 MW project off the coast of Anglesey, Wales which should come online in 2011 or 2012.
California has pledged to enact tough new greenhouse gas standards:
The plan commits the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 596 million metric tons (business-as-usual) to 427 million metric tons in 2020, or 30% from what would otherwise occur. This is a big deal!

California’s plan did not occur in the dark of night (like some environmental rulemakings we know). A two-year planning process included 250 public hearings and 42,000 written comments from stakeholders representing business, environmental groups, and community activists. The result is a 142-page document that lays out specific targets for cutting carbon in all major sectors of the California economy. Improvements in energy efficiency, fuel standards, and electricity from renewable sources will produce most of the emission reductions.
An Army veteran has been arrested for standing in the way of the border fence:
A 55-year-old Army veteran hunkered down in front of construction crews who were building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, halting work for about eight hours before she was arrested.

Judy Ackerman, one of about a dozen people at a peaceful protest east of El Paso on Wednesday, was handcuffed by Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers after several hours of figuring out which authority was responsible for removing her....

"They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up," said Ackerman, who said she's never been arrested before. "This is life. The river is life. But not the wall; the wall is death."
A new analysis technique may help to prevent illegal logging by tracing the origin of timber:
A researcher is using carbon and oxygen isotopes to track the origin of timber as part of a worldwide effort to develop methods to combat illegal logging.

Dr. Akira Kagawa, a wood scientist with the Forestry & Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan, has developed a technique that compares the ratio of various isotopes in tree rings to pinpoint the geographic origin of timber from temperate climates....Kagawa says the new technique is more precise, but notes that it doesn't yet work for tracking tropical timber that lack tree rings. Tropical timber is important because it is the dominant type of wood in the $10-billion-per-year illegal timber trade He says that improving current isotope analysis technique, sampling other isotopes or combining the technique with others used for determining the origin of wood (including DNA and chemical extracts) may hold the key for tropical timber.
Deep-sea coral reefs have been discovered off the coast of Florida:
At depths of nearly 1,300 feet (400 meters), the recently discovered reefs are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of species, according to scientists.

"Just imagine a 200-foot (61-meter) tall eerily white reef looming off the flat, muddy bottom," said John Reed, a senior researcher at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, who led the expedition.

Reed's team, from the Waitt Institute for Discovery, used high-frequency sonar attached to an unusual unmanned submersible—a relatively new technology—to map the ocean floor.

In related news, more than 1,000 new species were found in the Greater Mekong over the last decade:
The findings include 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, 4 birds, 4 turtles, 2 salamanders and a toad. The report further estimated that thousands of new invertebrate species were also discovered in the 1997-2007 period.

"It doesn't get any better than this," said Stuart Chapman, Director of WWF's Greater Mekong Program. "We thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books. This reaffirms the Greater Mekong's place on the world map of conservation priorities."

A strange frog has turned up in Cambodia:
Researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of frog in Cambodia. The amphibian is unusual in that is has green blood and turquoise-colored bones, a result of its transparent skin and a pigment that may make the species unpalatable to predators, according to Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

The Samkos bush frog (Chiromantis samkosensis) was discovered along with three other undescribed species of frog — the Cardamom bush frog (Philautus cardamonus), Smith's frog (Rana faber), and the Aural horned frog (Megophrys auralensis) — during surveys of the Cardamom Mountains, a remote range in Cambodia. The research turned up more than 40 amphibian species not previously known to occur in Cambodia.
The Center for Biological Diversity offers ringtones of the calls of endangered species:
[T]he Center is adding the calls of six endangered bird species to the site: Gunnison’s sage grouse, Bell’s vireo, Mexican spotted owl, northern goshawk, peregrine falcon, and tricolored blackbird. The new flock of ringtones also includes an entirely flightless but equally charismatic species: an elephant seal pup. In addition to the newcomers, animals ranging from the pocket-sized American pika to the 40-ton humpback whale are already making their voices heard on the Web site.

The ringtones, which can be downloaded for free, are intended to draw attention to the plight of endangered species while providing a natural alternative to the typical electronic jangle.
You can get them here.

You may recall last year's give-one-get-one promotion for XO laptops. They're doing it again this year, so do what you know you must.
The XO (which features a brilliant fold-flat design) is the only product sold by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which was founded in 2005 in an effort, “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each and every one with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.”
A Finnish company has built a better elevator:
“Buildings account for approximately 40% of the world’s energy needs and elevators can account for up to 10% of a building’s energy consumption,” says Jussi Oijala, SVP, KONE Technology. “Based on this, we see great potential to further reduce the impact of buildings on the environment by offering innovative and energy-efficient solutions to the market.”

KONE has been developing innovative solutions to improve the movement of people in buildings worldwide while decreasing its impact on the environment. Since its commercial launch in 1996, the KONE EcoDisc® hoisting machine has cumulatively saved the electricity production equivalent of a typical power plant. This figure represents avoiding the consumption of 2,000,000 barrels of oil, or the emissions of 100,000 cars driving the earth’s circumference.
A new paper attempts to quantify the benefits of LED lighting:
Innovations in photonics and solid state lighting will lead to trillions of dollars in cost savings, along with a massive reduction in the amount of energy required to light homes and businesses around the globe, the researchers forecast.

A new generation of lighting devices based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will supplant the common light bulb in coming years, the paper suggests. In addition to the environmental and cost benefits of LEDs, the technology is expected to enable a wide range of advances in areas as diverse as healthcare, transportation systems, digital displays, and computer networking.
Houston is already switching its traffic signal lights to LEDs.
Houston is poised to become one of a handful of U.S. cities to replace the light bulbs at all 2,381 of its traffic stops with energy-efficient bulbs that could save more than $4 million a year in electricity costs.
Here's the part that's really interesting:
Under state law, local governments can secure contracts without bidding if they involve energy savings measures.
Something further may follow of this masquerade.

Speaking of lighting, this is pretty interesting:
Duke University and United States Army scientists have found that a cheap and nontoxic sunburn and diaper rash preventative can be made to produce brilliant light best suited to the human eye.

Duke adjunct physics professor Henry Everitt, chemistry professor Jie Liu and their graduate student John Foreman have discovered that adding sulfur to ultra-fine powders of commonplace zinc oxide at about 1,000 degrees centigrade allows the preparation to convert invisible ultraviolet light into a remarkably bright and natural form of white light.

They are now probing the solid state chemistry and physics of various combinations of those ingredients to deduce an optimal design for a new kind of illumination. Everitt and Liu have applied for a patent on using the preparations as a light source. "Our target would be to help make solid state lighting with better characteristics than current fluorescent ones," said Everitt, who also works with Foreman at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.
New York City is reducing its rat infestations via geomapping:
Every garbage can without a lid, every window screen that had been nudged aside just enough to let a rat slip by, grease marks from rat hair along a concrete wall — it all gets noted and pinpointed on the map. "We train our inspectors to see what everyone overlooks," says Corrigan, echoing Sherlock Holmes. "This is a living laboratory. There's probably 100 variations in rat colonies in New York as to how they behave."
Time to wrap things up. Deteriorating Field Recordings: A Photo Slideshow. An astronomical perspective on passage graves., "the comprehensive source for photographs of U.S. nuclear weapons systems." The anti-fascist art of Arthur Szyk. A collection of x-ray tubes. And suitcases from a state hospital attic.

Cylinder Recordings: A Primer. The music of fish and ants. Examples of The Modern Woodcut. Better yet, Ice: A Victorian Romance.

A survey of speculative lunar travel. An imperial palimpsest. Art Deco California (I'm now officially homesick). The life and times of a Victorian microphotographer.

And as tradition dictates, here's a movie for you.

(Image at top: "Robe Street, St Kilda, 1945" by Sidney Nolan.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

This smoke that carried us was sister to the rod that splits the rock and to the cloud that opens the sky. She didn't dislike us, took us as we were, scanty rivulets nourished on hope and confusion, with stiff jaws and Mexichromis multituberculata in our gaze.

(Photo by CW Ye.)

Friday Hope Blogging

England has the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe. You'd think the logical thing to do would be to promote abstinence in schools. Or failing that, to treat pregnancy as a just punishment for female impurity, so that the nation's emotionally crippled busybodies can feel better about their unwholesome fascination with the sex lives of children. (Or both!)

Instead, they've decided to offer contraceptive pills without a prescription:

A pilot scheme allowing pharmacists to give women the contraceptive pill without a prescription has been given the go-ahead for next year.

Women and girls aged over 16 will be able to get the pill at two London primary care trusts, Southwark and Lewisham, Pulse magazine says.
The UK's purity brigade is displeased, and has resorted to the time-honored tactic of Making Shit Up:
A spokesman from the Family Education Trust said..."There is no evidence to show that increasing young people's access to contraception results in lower teenage conception rates or reduces abortion rates."
Which begs the eternal question: To what sort of truth can such a lie be preferable?

The EU has proposed the daring idea of extending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to human beings.
The European Union (EU) wants this week's 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to also mark the expansion of the document to condemn the criminalization of same-sex relations.

A delegation from the EU hopes to convince the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to formally condemn treating homosexuals as criminals. The proposed declaration is intended to pressure the 80 countries that still consider same-sex relations a crime, including a handful, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh, where the punishment is death.
In Iowa, meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is considering the delicate matter of extending full legal rights to American citizens:
Those speaking at the forum were hopeful that Iowa, a state that granted the marriage rights of interracial couples more than 100 years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, will once again flex its pioneering muscles. It is a hope voiced by Mary Mascher, a Democratic member of the Iowa House of Representatives from Iowa City.

“I think our constitution clearly, clearly prohibits [a ban on same-sex marriage],” said Mascher, one of several legislators and local elected officials who signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the lawsuit. “[The Defense of Marriage Act] is discriminatory and I voted against that law when it was put on the books for that very reason. I thought it was unconstitutional and I believe that’s what the Supreme Court is going to rule.”
Perhaps someday, historians will be amazed that any sane person would've expected them to do anything else.

In related news, New Jersey's Civil Union Review Commission has concluded that "the state's two-year-old civil union law doesn't do enough to give gay couples the same protections as heterosexual married couples."

In Angola, efforts are being made to strengthen (and enforce) domestic violence laws:
Addressing the meeting, the minister of Family and Women Promotion, Genoveva Lino, said that although the Angolan constitution makes provisions on equal rights between men and women, matters related to gender violence in the country are gaining a worrying trend.

She said gender violence constitutes a grave human rights abuse from the civic point of view and requires a law that guarantees the protection to the victims, mostly women, and appropriate punishment to aggressors.
In India, illiterate "untouchable" women are working as healthcare providers:
Training is an ongoing campaign: Every Tuesday many of the women return for two days to discuss problems in their villages, review what they learned the previous week, and tackle a new subject, such as heart disease. The women sleep on the floor under one enormous blanket they sewed together from small ones.

The health workers did not become village authorities instantly. It took months or years for a village to start listening, a process helped along by medical successes, such as delivering a high-caste woman's baby or curing a child's fever. The women also have backing from a mobile team—a nurse, paramedic, social worker, and sometimes a doctor—who visit each village every week in the beginning, then less and less often. The mobile team sees the hardest cases and reinforces the authority of the village health worker. Sadafule told me that she and the mobile team went to the house of a high-caste woman in her village. As the caste system requires, the woman made tea for the visitors, but not for Sadafule—an Untouchable. "The social worker put the cup in my hand," Sadafule said. She had prescribed medicine, but the high-caste woman didn't trust her, and asked the nurse the same question. The nurse confirmed the prescription and asked Sadafule to take the medicine back out of her bag and give it to the woman.
In Chicago, laid-off workers won an important victory:
Laid-off workers at Republic Windows & Doors agreed to leave the closed Illinois plant they've been occupying in protest for six days, accepting a deal Wednesday night that will give each of them about $6,000.

Workers will receive about eight weeks' severance pay, accrued vacation time and two months of healthcare coverage, officials said. About $1.75 million will be put into an escrow account to be supervised by the workers' union.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service will extend ESA protection to Hawaii’s picture-wing flies:
“Protection of critical habitat is essential for the recovery of Hawaiian picture-wings, unique and extraordinary Hawaiian endemic species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The picture-wings are often overlooked, but have made significant contributions to science.”

Few Hawaiian species are as amazing as the 111 species of picture-wing flies that have evolved from a single female that migrated from the mainland some 5 million years ago. The study of the picture-wings, one of the most remarkable examples of specific adaptation to local conditions, has contributed greatly to humanity’s understanding of biology and evolution. Scientists recently determined that Hawaiian picture-wings and their associated ecological communities have traits that are enormously important in humanity’s search to cure diseases such as West-Nile virus, AIDS, and even cancer.
There's new evidence that elephants live shorter lives in zoos than they do in the wild.
A new study from Science provides disturbing evidence that one of the zoos’ most popular animals, the elephant, faces a far shorter lifespan in captivity than in the wild. The findings raise new ethical and scientific questions regarding the rightness of keeping elephants in captivity and the causes of their shorter life-spans.
That being the case, it's probably just as well that the Los Angeles city council has voted to halt a $42 million elephant exhibit at that city's zoo.

Scientists studying great apes have reported an instance of spontaneous whistling from an orangutan:
In a paper published this month in Primates, an international journal of primatology that provides a forum on all aspects of primates in relation to humans and other animals, Great Ape Trust scientist Dr. Serge Wich and his colleagues provide the first-ever documentation of a primate mimicking a sound from another species without being specifically trained to do so. Bonnie, a 30-year-old female orangutan living at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., began whistling – a sound that is in a human’s, but not an orangutan’s, repertoire – after hearing an animal caretaker make the sound.

“This is important because it provides a mechanism to explain documented between-population variation in sounds for wild orangutans,” Wich said. “In addition, it counters a long-held assumption that non-human primates have fairly fixed sound repertoires that are not under voluntary control. Being able to learn new sounds and use these voluntarily are also two important aspects of human speech and these findings open up new avenues to study certain aspects of human speech evolution in our closest relatives.”
Some odd worms have been found in an undersea mud volcano:
The worms absorb chemicals such as methane from sediment and deliver the substances, via their blood, to the bacteria, which in turn produce organic carbon. The carbon nourishes both creatures.

Hilario has already named another genus from the expedition Bobmarleya -- the worm's "dreadlocked" appearance reminded her of the Jamaican singer, she said.

New research that confirms the obvious may help to make doing the right thing comparatively thinkable:
Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options....

The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife.
All the same, there's probably something to be said for making biofuels out of coffee grounds:
In the new study, Mano Misra, Susanta Mohapatra, and Narasimharao Kondamudi note that the major barrier to wider use of biodiesel fuel is lack of a low-cost, high quality source, or feedstock, for producing that new energy source. Spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent oil by weight. That's about as much as traditional biodiesel feedstocks such as rapeseed, palm, and soybean oil.

Growers produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee around the world each year. The used or "spent" grounds remaining from production of espresso, cappuccino, and plain old-fashioned cups of java, often wind up in the trash or find use as soil conditioner. The scientists estimated, however, that spent coffee grounds can potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world's fuel supply.
A San Francisco company has found a logical use for waste products of a different kind:
Mary Risley, a well-known San Fran chef, started FoodRunners with help from a few other food professionals in 1987. The founders wanted to be proactive about addressing hunger in San Francisco. After years of creating massive amounts of food for banquets, parties, and cooking classes, only to throw the excess in the garbage, they came up with the idea to redistribute the leftover food using a few trucks and a phone line. Now, more than 20 years later, the organization has more than 200 volunteers and delivers more than 22,000 pounds of food per week to people who need it most.
I'm sure Bill O'Reilly will be sending these folks a sizable check, just as soon as he captures and kills the author of the Washington Atheism Plaque. 'Tis the season!

A UK development includes an interesting automated waste-collection system:
The building features a courtyard containing three collection points adjacent to the building entrances. Each collection point has three separate chutes which look similar to a post box. Residents separate their waste into three streams, organic material, recyclable items including glass, paper and plastic and non recyclable waste. The waste is placed in each chute through a door similar to a washing machine where it drops into a holding point.

Periodically the accumulated waste is sucked through underground pipes at speeds up to 70km/hr to the central collection point. Each holding point features a remote controlled valve which means only one pipe is needed for the three waste streams. Waste can be sucked from up to 2km away from the central collection point. The waste is sucked into a compactor before being deposited into a lorry sized container. These are collected by the council’s waste contractor.
Geothermal tests in East Africa look promising:
Geothermal energy generation in Africa could take a leap forward in 2009 after exploratory studies in Kenya exceeded all expectations, it was announced yesterday.

A new enterprise — the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) — will drive forward the plan to harvest the steam locked among the rocks under East Africa, according to leaders of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP). They made their announcement at the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland.
You may want to join the World Community Grid's effort to improve solar panels:
IBM and researchers from Harvard University are launching a new World Community Grid project to discover organic materials to create a more efficient and lower cost solar cell. The path-breaking effort will use idle computer power from volunteers to create large supplies of new clean energy.
The BushCo has abandoned yet another daft anti-environmental scheme:
The Bush administration has dropped controversial plans that would have allowed some existing power plants to expand without having to install new pollution controls.

Environmentalists declared victory on Wednesday while a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency said there was not enough time left in its term for the administration to finalize the rules changes it had sought.

Abandoning a second proposed change, the EPA also said it will not seek to loosen rules concerning plants near national parks and wilderness areas, according to the environmental group National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
Residents of a Kenyan slum have turned a garbage dump into an organic farm:
"It started with the removal of the garbage," Kahumbu told "This was done physically and took three weeks! From there we started the seed beds as we prepared the growing beds on the cleared land. The beds were dug up and levelled before adding farmyard manure... Drip irrigation and a water tank were installed just as the seedlings were ready to be transplanted, after which the transplanting was done. Later we added a vermiculture set- up. And all the while the guys were learning how to tend their future and budding crops. Voila!" Vermiculture refers to producing nutrient-rich organic fertilizer by composting with the help of particular species of earthworm.
And residents of Macedonia reportedly planted six million trees in a single day:
The project was begun by Macedonian opera singer, Boris Trajanov. "If Macedonia, a country of two million people, can plant six million trees, we can only imagine how many trees can be planted in other, bigger countries," he told Reuters.

Trajanov hopes to spread the idea to other nations.
Omaha is considering tough new rules on digital billboards:
Omaha By Design scored a victory Wednesday in its push to improve the city's visual appeal.

The group persuaded the City Planning Board to recommend tough regulations on digital billboards, including how many may be installed in Omaha and how long their images may be displayed.

In a 6-1 vote, the Planning Board approved a series of regulations that are much more restrictive than what billboard companies wanted and even more restrictive than what city planners were seeking.
In Australia, there's talk of turning swimming pools into living spaces:
The regions 360,000 swimming pools would first be emptied of their water and then transformed, through architectural intervention, into a comfortable domestic space, "complete with a small bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, garden alcove and rooftop windows."
Matthew DeLong offers evidence that Obama may not be too keen on building border fences:
Buried in an article about an interview President-elect Barack Obama gave to The Chicago Tribune yesterday is this little nugget that should reassure supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
Asked if he would support the extension of the fence between the U.S. and Mexican border, Obama deferred to his nominee for the Homeland Security Department, Janet Napolitano.
This is good news for anyone who opposes on principle the construction of physical barriers between peoples. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano has long been a vocal critic of the fence and supporter of expanding the legal immigration process. It would be difficult to imagine that completion of the planned 700-miles of fencing — of which less than 250 miles was completed as of last month — will be very high on Napolitano’s list of priorities.
Cheryl Rofer discusses a new group dedicated to nuclear abolition:
Events seem to be moving toward nuclear abolition faster than I ever could have imagined.

There's a new organization out there with some pretty impressive names behind it: Global Zero....

Signers include Margaret Beckett, Richard Branson, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chuck Hagel, Max Kampelman, Robert McNamara, Jack Matlock, Her Majesty Queen Noor, David Owen, Thomas Pickering, Desmond Tutu, Muhammed Yunus, and Anthony Zinni. And that's just within the first hundred. Check out the others.
You can add your own name to the list by clicking here.

Make of this what you will:
A Japanese research team has revealed it had created a technology that could eventually display on a computer screen what people have on their minds, such as dreams.

Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories succeeded in processing and displaying images directly from the human brain, they said in a study unveiled ahead of publication in the US magazine Neuron.

While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people’s minds.
This is also interesting, if true:
or breast cancer survivors, the idea of taking estrogen pills is almost a taboo. In fact, their doctors give them drugs to get rid of the hormone because it can fuel the growth of breast cancer. So these women would probably be surprised by the approach taken by breast cancer physician Matthew Ellis, M.B., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — he has demonstrated that estrogen therapy can help control metastatic breast cancer.

In a study presented at the 31st annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, he showed that for about a third of the 66 participants — women with metastatic breast cancer that had developed resistance to standard estrogen-lowering therapy — a daily dose of estrogen could stop the growth of their tumors or even cause them to shrink.
You'll find more good news on breast cancer treatments here.

In other medical news, Revere has a fascinating post on a doctor who "wondered what would happen if he appended a photograph of the patient -- the real patient, not his x-ray shadow -- onto the x-ray itself so the radiologist could see the face before reading the film":
After interpreting the results of the exams, 15 radiologists were given questionnaires to gather data about their experience. All 15 radiologists admitted feeling more empathy towards the patients after viewing their photos. In addition, the photographs revealed medical information such as suffering or physical signs of disease.

More importantly, the results showed that radiologists provided a more meticulous reading of medical image results when a photo of the patient accompanied the file.
Now, then: Cavorting dolphins. The best photos of microscopic life, 2008. The Atlas of True Names. And The Ghosts of Antarctica.

The Southern Ontario Elephant. The perils of Orientalism. Lovely images of Aviation in Rio de Janeiro (via things).

Papercuts (the good kind). The return of the repressed. Photoessays galore at, "a new website that features documentary photography from around the world—images and words that explore the human condition." And paintings and graphics by Arthur Boyd:

Here's some pinboard animation to end with.

(Photo at top: "Interior of Le Géant Inflating" by Félix Nadar, 1863. Via wood s lot.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Sorry to have been off-duty recently...real life intervened with a vengeance. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will allow a class-action lawsuit to proceed against the Vatican:

A US appeals court has ruled that the Vatican can be sued for the sex abuse committed by US priests.

The Vatican had tried to block a class action lawsuit alleging that it orchestrated a cover-up of sexual abuse by clergy with the argument that it was protected by laws granting sovereign states immunity from most US civil proceedings.

Central to the case is a 1962 Vatican mandate unearthed in 2003 which outlined a policy of "strictest" secrecy regarding allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and threatened those who spoke out with excommunication.
That sounds like criminal conspiracy to me...but then, I've been told that I lack certain important traditional values.

Speaking of traditional values, the Taliban members who threw acid on a group of schoolgirls and their teachers have been arrested:
In announcing the arrests, officials in Kandahar said a high-ranking militant had paid the men to plan and carry out the attack. The payment, totaling about $2,000, was said to have taken the form of a bounty for each student or teacher they managed to burn.
Bank of America claims it will no longer fund mountaintop-removal mining:
Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.
(h/t: ErinPDX.)

In related news, HSBC claims it will stop funding deforestation, and consider cutting loans to producers of tar sands.
HSBC will also review lending to Canadian oil sands developers, on the grounds that tougher climate regulations may make such energy-intensive activities commercially unviable, it said on the day several banks signed up to a series of climate principles.

"The policy is under review," said Sullivan, referring to the bank's energy sector policy.

"We continue to review it. A carbon price can radically change the viability of oil sands projects. We look at carbon, water, biodiversity and social aspects."
The Bureau of Land Management has scaled back its plan to auction land-leases off to energy companies:
The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday backed off from plans to auction more than a dozen leases to explore for oil and gas on the doorstep of several national parks, deflecting accusations by environmental groups that it was handing a "parting gift" to the energy industry before the Obama administration takes over.
And the Navy has downsized its underwater detonations:
Faced with a lawsuit, the U.S. Navy has finally agreed to dramatically scale back its use of explosives in the ecologically sensitive waters of Puget Sound, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Wild Fish Conservancy. The two organizations sued the Navy earlier this year to stop needless damage to protected marine life from the Navy’s underwater demolitions training program....

These restrictions are in place only through December 31, 2009, however. Long-term safeguards for the naval explosives training program will likely be settled in the pending PEER/Wild Fish Conservancy suit.
This is fascinating:
Vivace is a new energy technology that gets its name from a phenomenon that engineers have been battling for 25 years. VIV (vortex induced vibrations) destroyed the Narrows Bridge in Washington State in 1940, and the Ferrybridge power station cooling towers in England in 1965. Ironically it is also the same phenomenon that allows schools of fish to swim as fast as they do. Now Dr. Michael M. Bernitsas and researchers at the University of Michigan are turning this ‘threat’ into a resource. Rather than suppressing VIV, Vivace actually creates and then harvests energy from VIV, and it does it all using slow water currents, a previously untapped source of sustainable energy.
Toshiba claims to have greatly improved the lithium-ion battery:
Toshiba has developed a new lithium-ion battery called SCiB (or Super Charge Ion Battery) which can charge to 90% capacity in 5 minutes. The life cycle of the new battery is more than 10 years even if it is rapidly charged and discharged many times. The battery is also mucher safer than other types of lithium ion batteries, which are potential fire hazards.
The article says they'll start manufacturing in March 2008, which I assume is a typo for March 2009. If so, it'll be a boon for Hawaii, which is planning to create an electric vehicle system, as befits a chain of tiny islands in the middle of the ocean:
The state is on board for a new plan that involves building an electric vehicle transportation system, complete with a slew of web-based battery recharging stations.

"The plan, the brainchild of the former Silicon Valley software executive Shai Agassi, is an effort to overcome the major hurdles to electric cars — slow battery recharging and limited availability."
Pruned reports on a plan for an outdoor theater that doubles as a rainwater harvesting system, or vice versa:
One can't imagine it functional during the wet season or even during the dry season if rain isn't particularly scarce.

Of course, there's a simple solution: build a floating stage.
Yet another organic crop has dramatically outperformed its conventional competitor:
In 2002 researchers from the Agricultural Research Service transitioned half of a conventional pecan orchard in Comanche County, in north-central Texas, into a certified-organic-managed system. Scientist Joe Bradford started by balancing the nutrients and biology of the soil in the hopes that improving soil health would in turn improve tree health, allowing the trees to become naturally resistant to disease and pests. Up to 15 soil treatments were applied, including poultry litter and compost, rock minerals, mycorrhizal fungi, and nutrients including iron, zinc, copper and manganese.

Pests were controlled by introducing Trichogramma wasps, which prevent pecan casebearer moth larvae from developing, and by spraying the trees with spinosad, an organic insecticide naturally derived from a bacterium found in soil.

The result? The yields of the organic half of the orchard have outperformed the conventional half over the past five years.

What's more, U.S. farmers produce 90 percent of the world's pecans, so this research could have a significant impact on the entire pecan industry, potentially leading to an industry-wide movement toward organic practices.
In California, restrictions on lead hunting ammunition have been extended:
After the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups filed suit, the state Legislature responded by providing substantial protections for the bird through the Ridley-Tree Condor Conservation Act, which limits the use of lead ammunition throughout much of the condors’ range. Today’s settlement with the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Fish and Game Commission extends these protections by eliminating lead ammunition for depredation hunting. The Commission has also agreed to consider prescribing a similar ban on lead ammunition for the hunting of small mammals that are part of the condors’ diet, such as jackrabbits and opossums. The settlement still requires court approval.
The endangered white sturgeon is rebounding, somewhat:
Once plentiful in the river, the sturgeon population had dropped below 40,000, and scientists were unable to explain the die-offs of mostly female fish.

That's when an alliance of government agencies, environmentalists, aboriginal groups, and commercial and recreational fishers came together to save the sturgeon, spurring a robust recovery of the lower Fraser River population.

Recent estimates show the population has increased to about 50,000 fish.
Several prominent Hong Kong chefs have agreed to abide by the Sustainable Seafood Initiative:
Three renowned Hong Kong chefs have been named WWF Ocean Friendly Chefs and will design menus featuring sustainable seafood species recommended by WWF's Seafood Guide. The chefs are Lau Chun from Yellow Door Kitchen, Margaret Xu from Yin Yang Fresh HK Cuisine and Jacky Yu from Xiyan.

Hong Kong residents are some of the largest consumers of seafood per capita in the world. According to the Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2008, the huge demand for seafood is contributing the depletion and overexploitation of fish stocks around the world.
A rare monkey colony has been discovered in Vietnam:
After showing archival TV footage of a critically endangered species of primate to local villagers, conservationists have discovered a previously unknown population of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in a remote forested area of northern Vietnam. The find the offers new hope for the species, which is down to 200 individuals in two of Vietnam's northern-most provinces — Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang.

Following up on 2007 surveys of communities near the Chinese border which suggested the presence of the distinctive primate following TV broadcast of nature programming showing the species, scientists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) observed 15-20 individuals in a small forest patch in Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province. The group including three infants, indicating that this is a breeding population. Local reports suggest there may also be another group in a nearby area.

Officials in El Paso are asking Obama to scuttle plans for a border fence:
Elected officials in El Paso want President-elect Barack Obama to drop plans to build hundreds of miles of fence along the U.S. border with Mexico. Details are in a three-page letter today to Obama.

Authorities from El Paso argue that the fence, a project approved by Congress in 2006, was ill-conceived and is an irresponsible expense.
Two years after Sao Paulo banned billboards, the city seems to be somewhat nicer.
Nowhere is that more evident than along Florêncio de Abreu Street. Since about 1900, this narrow road has been one of the main routes into the city center, and coffee merchants and other rich businessmen built homes and shops there in the Art Nouveau or Art Deco style of the time.

Today it seems every second building has been refurbished or spruced up, and the façades with dates etched into the stonework, the narrow verandas with their greenery and the unmistakable Art Deco porticoes and windows are visible again. Intricate stonework, engraved and stained-glass windows and wrought-iron balconies that were destroyed or became dilapidated through years of neglect are newly resplendent. "This building is 100 years old, and we did it up so it was as it was meant to be," Adeilson Souza, the owner of a store selling gardening equipment, says of the restored Art Nouveau fronting. "You can see the details that were once covered by signs and wires and all sorts of mess. We even left the color the same as the original. This street used to be so ugly, but it is much, much nicer now. There's no comparison with before."
London is recycling subway cars as artists' studios:
Located on top of an old brick warehouse in Shoreditch, London, Village Underground provides affordable studio space for young artists (around 15 pounds per week). The subway cars act as working spaces for the artists, while a lower-level restored warehouse is used to host events and exhibit the artists’ works.

The four subway vehicles that make up the village were purchased for a grand total of 200 pounds each. They were then moved on top of the warehouse, and retrofitted to create a working space. The seats inside the carriages were removed, but everything else remains as is (one can even go into the cabin to play around with all the buttons and levers).
A new study suggests that smallpox vaccination can remain effective for many decades:
"We found that vaccinated subjects maintain what appear to be protective levels of neutralizing antibodies to vaccinia indefinitely and do not require booster vaccinations even if they are many decades removed from primary vaccination. These data imply that limited supplies of vaccine can be more usefully applied to individuals who have never been vaccinated, primarily individuals born after 1972."
Revere is pleased by the coming change of leadership for an important NIH post:
While this is not a Presidential appointment, per se, like Obama's cabinet and staff appointments it is characterized by high competence and a pragmatic a straightforward character. I know her primarily through scientific relationships, where she is enormously productive of work of high importance in the field. Her specialty involves dioxins and the biology of the dioxin receptor and more recently flame retardants, a growing concern in environmental health.
Last but not least: Beautiful drawings of roots and trunks. Beautiful educational titles produced by the WPA (viva socialist tyranny!). And beautiful images of lamps in natural settings by Rune Guneriussen.

Also: A survey of terrifying viewing platforms. Flickr's Phillumeny pool. A Chaffinch Map of Scotland. "[A]n educational film which was produced in 1963 by the film department of Swiss pharmaceutical company order to demonstrate the hallucinogenic effects of mescaline and hashish," starring Henri Michaux. The BookScans Database. And a collection of cartoon particles.

The earliest known lolcat, from 1905. The Transparent City. And, via Coudal, Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi, a rather stark photoset that should appeal to fans of William Eggleston.

I'll leave you with this cheery little song.

(Photo at top by Johann Fournier, via wood s lot.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Grains of Sand Sing

    What is the holy secret this planet hides?
    That the race of man has forgotten, or dare not guess?
Queen of Cups Answers
    It is something to do with silence and loneliness,
    Something to do with Glossodoris cruenta.
    Something dying that lives only to bless!
    But I have forgotten, forgotten, or dare not guess.

(Photo by doug.deep. Dedicated to Catalexis.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The Sierra Club has won a huge victory against the coal industry:

In a move that signals the start of the our clean energy future, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled today EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit from new coal-fired power plants the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.

“Today’s decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy,” said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Senior Attorney who argued the case. “This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America.”

“The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century,” continued Spalding
Apparently, Congress has the ability to block BushCo's last-minute anti-regulation regulations:
When it returns for its short, post-election session later this month, the Democratic-controlled Congress could pull the plug on a raft of last minute regulations being prepared by the Bush administration, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). By acting now to prevent enactment of the rules, Congress would save itself and the incoming Obama administration substantial time and effort that will later be required to repeal these “midnight regulations” one-by-one.
It might be worthwhile to contact your representatives about this.

Here's an outcome of the election that hasn't received enough attention: most Congressional candidates who took a hard line on immigration were defeated. According to America's Voice, reformist candidates mopped the floor with xenophobic hardliners in 19 of 21 House and Senate races.
Swing voters chose Democrats overwhelmingly, including many candidates that stood up for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform than their hard-line opponents. Latino voters turned out in record numbers and fled the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican Party in droves. Their participation in the 2008 elections contributed to Senator Obama’s wins in key battleground states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida, and also helped Democrats win contested House and Senate races in these states and more. Meanwhile, the anti-immigrant forces that have all but hijacked the Republican Party proved to be inconsequential at best, except for their role in potentially driving the GOP into the political wilderness.

What a difference an election makes.
In related news, the Minutemen continue to disintegrate.

Mass transit also did amazingly well in this election.
Some 23 initiatives were approved nationwide last week that will inject $75 billion into transportation systems, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence....

Overall, more than 70% of the major transportation-funding measures on ballots this year were approved, about double the rate at which initiatives are usually passed, the CFTE said. This rate of success came as a surprise to many transportation advocates, who were expecting a less enthusiastic response to tax increases and public debt at a time of economic and fiscal turmoil.
Obama claims that he'll block political appointees "from working on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years." It'll be interesting to see whether he keeps this promise. It'll also be interesting to see whether he takes this advice from the Pentagon:
A senior Pentagon advisory group, in a series of bluntly worded briefings, is warning President-elect Barack Obama that the Defense Department's current budget is "not sustainable," and he must scale back or eliminate some of the military's most prized weapons programs ... Pentagon insiders and defense budget specialists say the Pentagon has been on a largely unchecked spending spree since 2001 that will prove politically difficult to curtail but nevertheless must be reined in.
German doctors may have cured an AIDS patient with a marrow transplant:
Dr. Gero Huettler said his 42-year-old patient, an American living in Berlin who was not identified, had been infected with the AIDS virus for more than a decade. But 20 months after undergoing a transplant of genetically selected bone marrow, he no longer shows signs of carrying the virus.
Connecticut has begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
“It’s a joyous day in Connecticut as hundreds of loving, committed couples prepare to receive the ultimate recognition of their relationships by receiving civil marriage licenses. And it’s a historic day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people all over the nation, who may have suffered a setback last Tuesday, but know that our fight for equality goes on,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s actions in Connecticut signal a new and hopeful day.”
Speaking of transgender people, I didn't realize that Silverton, OR had elected the country's first transgender mayor. I checked for reports of fire and brimstone raining down on the city...nothing so far.

Returning once more to the election, Good presents an eye-opening map of the youth vote, and adds that "if the youth vote was the only voice in the election, Obama would have won 455 electoral votes -– 91 more than he has in the official count."

Florida's St. Lucie County has announced that it will build the country's first plasma gasification plant:
The plant will use super-hot 10,000 degree fahrenheit plasma to effectively vaporize 1,500 tons of trash each day, which in turn spins turbines to generate 60MW of electricity - enough to power 50,000 homes! Cutting down on landfill waste while generating energy is a pretty win-win proposition, and the plant will also be able to melt down inorganic materials to be reused for other applications, such as in roadbed and heavy construction.
PacifiCorp has agreed to remove four dams from the Klamath River:
The deal is part of a broader effort to restore the river and revive its ailing salmon and steelhead runs and aid fishing, tribal and farming communities. When the dams come down it will be the biggest dam removal and river restoration effort the world has ever seen.

We have not popped the champagne cork yet, but we have put a bottle on ice. We believe this initial agreement is a huge step toward a healthy Klamath River Basin.
Ottawa has rejected a plan to spend $84 million on roads:
The new master plan for Ottawa calls for a radical rethink of priorities, postponing at least $84 million in road building to focus on creating a 'compact, transit city'.

"The plan also includes recommendations for the order in which the city's new light-rail plan should be built, and better cycling and pedestrian routes.
A rare snake has been hatched in a London zoo:
With its characteristic horn, the endangered rhino rat snake has been bred in a European zoo for the first time.

Eight snakes were born in the Zoological Society of London's Reptile House. Three have already been moved to other zoos in Europe in an effort to increase the captive population.

A conservationist has invented a device that turns invasive brush into a clean-burning log:
Dr. Laurie Marker, founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), has been awarded $50,000 by the Tech Museum of Innovation for her organization's Bushblok program which uses a high-pressure extrusion process to convert invasive, habitat-destroying bush into a clean-burning fuel log. Bushblok provides an alternative to products such as firewood, coal, lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes that are costly or result in environmental harm.
A talented new species of cyanobacteria has been discovered:
A remarkable species of cyanobacteria possessing a unique nitrogen fixation adaptation has recently been discovered in the open ocean, report researchers writing in the November 14th issue of Science.

"Fixation" is the process by which bacteria convert ambient sources of otherwise unusable molecules into compounds necessary for life. Previous to the discovery, carbon was thought of as a necessary accompaniment during fixation because the conversion of carbon dioxide into sugars through photosynthesis provides the necessary energy source for cyanobacteria.
UPS is switching over to paper-free printer:
The device underscores that it pays to be green – according to UPS's estimates, it will save about 92,456 hours year through increased productivity, save about 1,338 tons of paper, and reduce carbon emissions by 3,807 tons each year.
Lasers may improve the efficiency of windmills:
A new fiber-optic laser system can measure wind speed and direction up to 1000 meters in front of a wind turbine, giving the massive machines enough precious seconds to proactively adapt to gusts and sudden changes in wind direction. The device…could improve the efficiency of wind turbines and keep them from breaking down.
Images of alien planets. Images from Russian avant-garde books. And via Plep, images of medieval Novgorod, drawn by a child.

Cinema's first dogs. Also from the Bioscope, Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé . A collection of magic lantern slides from Japan (also via Plep). Photographs by Adam Kuehl (via wood s lot). And Inanimate, a nicely compiled Flickr set comprising "pictures and drawings of buildings, vehicles, and other soulless [?] objects."

Also: A carnivorous lamp. Sonification of five mathematical constants. Sound drawings by Douglas Huebler. An abandoned red-light district in Mexico. City maps as a Rorschach test (apropos of which, weekly strips by Ben Katchor are now available online). The fauna of Turkish mud. Semiconscious seascapes by Asako Narahashi.

Last, a short film by Lucien Bull, from 1904.

(Photo at top shows auroral activity at Saturn's north pole, captured by the Cassini orbiter. More here.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Entirely Manageable

Today I will abandon, for a time, the tone of calm objectivity that has previously characterized my labors in the blogosphere, and indulge myself in mere opinion: Bjorn Lomberg is a flaming asshole, and deserves a swift kick in the slats.

Consider his latest column, in which he proposes to help that genial hayseed Obama understand politics:

He will be swamped with suggestions as to what to do first -- perhaps none more impassioned than those who advocate dealing with man-made climate change. He will be told that it is the biggest threat facing humanity and that its solution is the mission of our generation.
What Obama needs to realize is that all of this is lies. And here's why:
The United Nations science consensus expects temperature increases of 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, leading to (for example) sea-level increases of between one-half and two feet. Yet such a rise is entirely manageable and not dissimilar to the sea-level rise of about one foot we dealt with over the past 150 years.
Three points come to mind. First, a higher sea level is one of the problems that a 3-degree temperature increase would cause. There are others. This is also true of a 7-degree increase, obviously.

Second, the IPCC expects increases of 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but says that an increase of 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit is possible.

Third, it's true that a two-foot rise in sea level is "not dissimilar" to a rise of one foot, inasmuch as water is water and feet are feet. But it is dissimilar when you think about the actual amount of water involved (hint: it's roughly twice as much), and its effects.

This is a knotty point, so let's try a thought experiment. Bjorn Lomborg is up to his neck in a tank of reeking, frothy elephant piss. The last two buckets I poured into the tank raised the level by about a foot. That being the case, Science tells us that the four buckets I'm about to add are likely to raise it by about two feet.

The question is, will this rise be as "manageable" for Our Hero as the previous one? More important, can we rely on speculation and hearsay for an answer, or must we insist on having clear scientific evidence, in the form of Lomborg's sodden corpse?

For an economist, and a man who constantly sees fit to slap the wrists of climate scientists, Lomborg is amazingly casual about numbers. Elsewhere, he calls 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit "almost immeasurable." That's not the attitude I'd look for in a CFO or a scientist, personally.

Lomborg goes on to assert cheerfully that a hotter world means a reduction in cold-related deaths, even though he knows as well as anyone else that I've already addressed this argument here.

The rest of the article comprises the usual arguments against cutting CO2 emissions, in favor of reducing poverty, malnutrition, disease, and so forth. As always, the possible results of climate change never seem to complicate Lomborg's humanitarian schemes: neither drought nor flood nor the loss of ecosystem services will stay him from his appointed rounds. And to the extent that his point is valid, it's still not a valid argument against cutting emissions. Sensible people should support mitigation and adaptation, just as the experts have been saying for years.

Lomborg's unique brand of economic logic can best be appreciated by considering his views on investing in solar panels:
Investing in existing inefficient technology (like current-day solar panels) costs a lot for little benefit. Germany, the leading consumer of solar panels, will end up spending $156 billion by 2035, yet only delay global warming by one hour by the end of the century.

If Mr. Obama invested instead in low-carbon research and development, the dollars would go far (researchers are relatively cheap), and the result -- maybe by 2040 -- will be better solar panels that are cheaper than fossil fuels.
Putting aside the fact that there are other benefits to solar power than climate mitigation -- and that these benefits include reducing malnutrition, poverty, disease, and economic hardship in the very countries over which Lomborg routinely weeps -- he's assuming that Germany will invest until 2035 in current-day solar panels, and that investing in low-carbon technology will bring about improved solar panels by 2040. The argument seems incoherent. If we're going to assume that Germany will spend the (comparatively small) sum of $156 billion over the next 27 years, and that solar panels can improve in efficiency over that time, why would we assume that Germany's panels will remain at 2008 efficiency levels for the duration?

Weirder still, Lomborg wants Obama to "invest in creating new technologies, rather than simply subsidizing existing ones." And yet he uses solar panels as an example of inefficient "existing technologies"...the very same solar panels that he says could be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2040, if only we have the wisdom to invest in "new technologies."

Anyway, you'll be happy to know that bold ideas like this "could realistically and cost-effectively fix global warming in the medium term" (thereby condemning 1.8 million souls to an icy death per annum, according to one of Lomborg's favorite statistics).

In other news, the Maldives intends to use tourist money to buy a new homeland. Opportunity never stops knocking!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Once and For All

You wouldn't think that discovering the blueprints for Auschwitz would fill anyone with optimism. But that seems to be precisely the effect it had on the German newspaper Bild:

"The documents refute once and for all claims by those who deny the Holocaust even took place," it added.
About time, too!

The problem with Bild's argument -- one of them, anyway -- is that it implies that until now, Holocaust denial was comparatively respectable. It's only pathological now that we've found blueprints.

In reality, or what passes for it, Holocaust deniers have always been and will always be insane. If that sad event were conclusively disproved tomorrow, they'd still be crazy...just as Fred Phelps would be crazy even if God actually hated fags, and Joe McCarthy would be crazy even if the US State Department had actually been an outpost of the Kremlin.

That's a minor point, though. The more serious issue is that the blueprints do not, in fact, prove that the Holocaust happened. And once you've taken the radical step of denying the Holocaust, casting doubt on the authenticity of "genuine" blueprints that were "found" in an "apartment" is child's play: it's a simple matter of throwing a few scare quotes around. If anything, the fact that the Jews felt a need to foist these documents off on the public demonstrates that they're getting more desperate as more people catch on to the Myth of the Six Million. As such, it actually strengthens the denialists' case, as does pretty much everything else on God's green earth.

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to be exacerbated by the fact that the documents are old news:
Historian Robert Jan van Pelt, an expert on Auschwitz, said he had checked the "so-called 'new' material" on the Web site of Bild, a high-circulation daily, and found that "the drawings that are on their site are all old material, perfectly known" and published by himself and others in the 1990s....

Van Pelt expressed dismay that the Bild's claim of a new discovery had been picked up by newspapers around the world.

"Everyone is repeating the same nonsense, and the deniers are having great fun because it shows how people are gullible," he told JTA.
All of which just goes to show that those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Some amazing footage here...but as always, I recommend turning the music off.

I might actually write some posts next week, assuming I meet a deadline this weekend. If you believe in me, clap your hands!

Friday Hope Blogging

After it became obvious that the United States had elected a left-leaning black man with a foreign name to the highest office in the land, I figured I needed a few lurid memories of the event for my declining years, and that gaping at my laptop screen was insufficiently carnivalesque.

So I decided I'd head over to the bar, and down a few shots in honor of our looming gay radical Christofascist Islamosocialist atheocratic terrorist worker's paradise. It turned out to be a slow drive, what with the groups of cheering pedestrians, and the horns honking on all sides, and the fireworks arcing over the street.

As soon as I got inside, a complete stranger demanded a high five. Someone else waved an Obama sign, and the room cheered. At the bar, a black man, probably in his late forties, told me he felt like slavery had ended all over again. I bought him a beer; he gave me a long hug.

Dazed but happy people kept drifting in, and each new arrival was greeted with cheers and hugs and overexuberant toasts that sent liquor splashing in all directions. Things get hazy after that. I do remember the walk home, though: The sidewalk was spinning under my feet like the reel of a slot machine; I felt like I'd entered a log-rolling contest.

Having sobered up somewhat since then, I suppose I should try to explain that the things I liked and didn't like about Obama -- as I considered him in my bloodless, self-protectively analytical way -- were very far from my mind when he won; what mattered was that something had happened that I'd sincerely thought was impossible.

Part of it's generational, I think. My wife, who's over a decade younger than me, was equally gratified, but not nearly as astounded. Regardless, the important thing is that I was wrong. This wasn't impossible, and any opinion I'd had to the contrary was the product of feigned knowledge and learned despair. Which is why, in the end, all I can do is repeat what I said at Eschaton, when that odd feeling of being a bit more vibrantly and purposefully alive first took hold of me: "If this is possible, anything is."

I've always loved America for what it was: the birthplace of various arts and sciences and ideas, of George Herriman and Bix Beiderbecke and Skip James and Charles S. Peirce and Lucy Stone. And I've loved it for what it could be and ought to be. But this is the first time in my adult life I've been able to love it here and now, as it is.

And now, having paused for a moment to admire it, let's improve it, for God's sake. Because as much as we've accomplished, it isn't anywhere close to enough.

With that in mind, here's Ali Davis on California's Proposition 8:

The Mormon Church alone poured $20 million into the Yes on 8 campaign. Twenty million dollars that could have been used to feed the hungry, train people for jobs, or build a hospital a cancer wing instead got used to make misleading ads to stop people who just wanted to marry each other in peace.

And the people of California, the great bastion of liberal tolerance, have just decided to set aside a group of people and take away a fundamental right.

All of that is sickening and sad.

But what I saw volunteering for the No on 8 campaign was amazing....I’m still touched by the number of straight people I volunteered with who didn’t have a gay sibling, cousin, or uncle. Technically, Prop 8 didn’t affect them personally, but they took the stance that any discriminatory law affects them personally. That is progress....

Prop 8 didn’t happen because of hatred, it happened because of ignorance. And ignorance is something that chips away. As we make it easier for people in all communities to understand that, yes, they do have gay neighbors and bi siblings and transgendered aunts and they’re actually pretty nice people and the world hasn’t fallen apart, Prop 8 will seem sadder and sillier. And it will go away.

Ignorance is something we can handle. It just takes time.

Please don’t despair.
Good advice, especially given that Marilyn Musgrave has been defeated. And Kate Brown became Oregon's secretary of state. And Jared Polis was elected to the US House of Representatives.

Ten women were elected to the House, of whom eight are pro-choice. And three horrifically anti-choice bills failed. South Dakota's abortion ban lost for the second time. California's parental notification bill lost for the third time. And Colorado's "fetal personhood" bill suffered a spectacular defeat, receiving only 27% of the vote. In Michigan, meanwhile, a bill to expand embryonic stem cell research passed. (Amanda has more.)

California's Proposition 2 requires that "calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." The fact that the passage of this modest bill is being treated as the End of the World by factory farmer demonstrates how necessary it was.

It's always a nice surprise when a political opponent turns out to possess some sort of rudimentary conscience, so I'm pleased to report that Laura Bush is apparently battling Dick Cheney over the future of the Pacific Ocean:
On one side is first lady Laura Bush, who according to the Washington Post has asked for two briefings on the issue from the White House staff, and has asked her aides to confer with scientists on how to preserve diverse ecosystems.

On the other side is Vice President Dick Cheney, who along with some officials in the Northern Mariana Islands argues that banning fishing and mineral exploration will hurt the region's economy.
Two new species of gecko have been discovered in Australia; no word yet on whose livelihood protecting them will threaten.
The Cape Range Gecko (Diplodactylus capensis) is found only on the Northwest Cape near Exmouth, while the Southern Sandplain Gecko (Lucasium bungabinna), occurs in the southern deserts in Western Australia and South Australia, north of the Nullarbor Plain.
Twenty poachers are going to jail:
Twenty people have been convicted for poaching Asiatic lions last year in India's Gir National Park. The twenty individuals will spend three years in prison and be fined 10,000 Rs each.
A rare baby pygmy hippo is doing well after being born in a zoo.
Born during the early hours of October 15, Monifa initially had to be patiently coerced into even trying to feed from a teated syringe. Ms Zammit and Ms Roberts spent alternate days working around the clock to keep her alive.

She has now doubled in weight and is drinking from a bowl, content to suckle the thumb of her keepers.

Here's an interesting article on bioleaching:
Bacteria can leach small amounts of valuable metals from otherwise useless ore, researchers have found.

These mineral-crunching microorganisms are a type of bacteria that use minerals as their source of energy. When the life-forms break down the matter through metabolism, they squeeze out metal ores or concentrates combined with sulfur in a process called bioleaching.

The method is emerging as an increasingly important way to extract valuable minerals when conventional methods such as smelting can't do the job cheaply enough, experts say.
A Patagonian fungus produces components of diesel fuel:
The harmless, microscopic fungus, known as Gliocladium roseum (NRRL 50073), lives quietly within ulmo trees in the Patagonian rainforest.

Gary Strobel of Montana State University has found that the fungus produces many energy-rich hydrocarbons, and that the particular diesel components produced can be varied by changing the growing medium and environment of the fungus. The fungus even performs under low-oxygen conditions like those found deep underground.
Almost makes you wonder what else is living quietly in rainforests.

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have come up with a promising antireflective coating for solar cells:
Untreated solar cells only absorb 66% of the light that hits them. When treated with this new coating, made from silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide nanorods, absorption was boosted to a nearly perfect 96%. The coating also lets solar cells absorb light from any angle. No more mechanized solar panels on articulated arms that have to follow the sun’s path. The researchers are calling it a “game-changer.”
WorldChanging describes the eerie properties of "ultra-clean water":
Ultra-clean water is produced using an advanced filtering system that removes salt, minerals, lime, heavy metals, and other byproducts. After filtration, high surface tension at the molecular level gives the water the ability to powerfully dissolve dirt. After being used to clean greasy parts, the water can be refiltered and then used to clean again, in a closed cycle. Manufacturers could also choose to filter the water and emit it into the sewage system without the usual discharge of hazardous chemicals. The process uses cold rather than hot water, increasing its energy efficiency.
A scientist in Taiwan claims to have invented a chlorophyll battery:
While the strength of the battery is about half that of an ordinary battery, its storage capacity is more than that of Japan's water-powered fuel cells, he said.

The production cost of the chlorophyll organic battery is very cheap -- about NT$1 to NT$2 (US$.03 to US$.06) , Liao said, adding that the battery contains no toxic substances and will not pose an environmental hazard, even if discarded at will.
Make of that what you will.

As part of its quest to build a mathematically perfect One State, the EU has formed a renewable energy agency that is even now plotting to micromanage your life:
The agency, known as IRENA, will serve as a global cheerleader for clean energy. It plans to offer technical, financial, and policy advice for governments worldwide, according to a joint announcement from Germany, Spain, and Denmark - the project's leaders.
The last nerve gas landmine remaining at the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility has been destroyed:
Officials at the Umatilla Depot began destroying VX nerve agent munitions in September 2004, and began their effort to destroy the landmines in September 2008. In all, 122,000 pounds of VX nerve agent in 11,685 landmines were destroyed.
(h/t: ErinPDX.)

A physical basis seems to have been found for fibromylagia:
"Fibromyalgia may be related to a global dysfunction of cerebral pain-processing," Guedj added. "This study demonstrates that these patients exhibit modifications of brain perfusion not found in healthy subjects and reinforces the idea that fibromyalgia is a 'real disease/disorder.'"
Apart from the obvious fact that finding a cause is an essential step towards finding a cure, it's worth noting that the vast majority of fibromyalgia sufferers are women; it's probably just a coincidence that it's long been viewed as a symptom of hysteria or depression.

Probiotics are being used to prevent respiratory infections:
The authors found that the probiotic treatment was as effective as the antiseptic. Use of the bacteria has other advantages; there are common side effects associated with CHX use in oral care, including tooth discoloration, irritation and, very occasionally, serious allergic reactions. Moreover, CHX diluted by saliva and represents an additional risk for the creation of resistant strains. The authors claim that the L. plantarum 299 solves these problems, "It is not likely to incorporate resistance genes or plasmids or to transfer genetic material. Consequently it does not contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains. As the bacteria adhere to the oral mucosa, they are able to counteract potentially pathogenic bacteria around the clock, which is superior to the fairly short-term effect of orally applied chemical agents."
An odd study in the Lancet claims that green spaces help to reduce health inequalities:
In an accompanying article in The Lancet, Dr Terry Hartig, from the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, wrote: "This study offers valuable evidence that green space does more than 'pretty up' the neighbourhood - it appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously."
Oldest. Proto-Canaanite script. Ever. Paintings by A.A. Deineka, some of which are very striking. Virtual Shaker archiecture. Tilt-shift videos of a Lilliputian world. A giant Lego man, cast up by the sea.

Masons for Obama. The Serpent Race backs him too, I hear, and is probably also the source of the unknown structures "tugging at the universe." What does this mean for extra-dimensional workers? And could this explain the "shifting" significance of red and blue in American politics? Think about it.

Nearly done. But first, panorama handbills. Images from the Wellcome Collection. The manuscript for Jonathan Edwards' Efficacious Grace. A gallery of hidden faces. And some astonishing close-up views of a "Blanket Flower".

Also, here's a movie for you, if you've got nothing better to do.

(Illustration at top by Patrick Moberg.)