Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Week in Denialism

Ken Green has discovered shocking new proof that climate modeling is inaccurate:

Gore claims that “Recent evidence shows the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us...”

Isn’t this, in effect, an admission that scientists with computer models can’t predict the future?
Touché, I guess.

If you've been dying to know what Pat Boone thinks about climate change, your wait is over:
Some months ago, while driving back home from an engagement, I became fascinated with George Noory's late-night radio interview with a solar physicist, one of a number of very dedicated scientists who actually watch and analyze the sun itself, and its ongoing powerful effects on planet earth....

[W]hile the main topic of discussion on Noory's program that night was the remarkable list of prophecies recorded by ancient Aztecs from centuries ago -- gleaned somehow from their study and even worship of the sun -- the guest scientist brought up the concern solar physicists share about "new, unexplained activity and disturbances" on the surface of that giant fireball in space!
As far as I can tell, Boone is talking about John Jay Harper, a clinical hynotherapist who has written a book called 2012: Fact or Myth? At the risk of shocking you, a search of Noory's site doesn't turn up any guests who qualify as solar physicists. Perhaps a careful survey of Aztec calendar stones can explain this anomaly.

One of the things that impressed Boone about this so-called physicist was his habit of speaking "assertively," as thus:
"Men's actions can and do affect his local environment, but neither man nor machine is powerful enough to seriously disturb our global ecology or our weather patterns."
Evidently, there's some physical mechanism that prevents myriad, ongoing local effects from having global ones. Maybe Noory's guest can win this year's Nobel prize in physics by telling us what it is.

Boone's column is worth noting mainly because it allows us to contrast his genial idiocy with the black-hearted dishonesty of the Wall Street Journal:
No one disputes that higher temperatures in the bear's Arctic habitat have disrupted the sea ice that bears use to catch food and breed. The problem is that polar bear populations have been rising over the last four decades, and may now be at an historic high. This is the result of conservation management, including international agreements on trophy hunting and federal safeguards like the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Why is this a "problem"? Because as usual, the gimlet-eyed scourges of "junk science" find it inconceivable that polar bears could simultaneously be rebounding from overhunting, and be threatened by loss of habitat.

This editorial also introduces us to the pejorative term "warmists," which apparently refers to people who agree with the WSJ "that higher temperatures in the bear's Arctic habitat have disrupted the sea ice that bears use to catch food and breed."

The term probably doesn't apply to U.S. trade rep Susan Schwab, who complains that climate change is being used as a pretext for protectionism:
"We have been dismayed at a variety of suggestions where we have seen the climate and the environment being used as an excuse to close markets," Schwab said.....
If we lived in some science-fiction world where it was possible for human activities to have an effect on the climate and environment, I suppose there could be another explanation. But as we don't....

(Illustration from The World Turned Upside Down, or No News, and Strange News, circa 1820.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Music Blogging

I'm going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks, at least, and it's unlikely that I'll be able to do much blogging. Which is probably just as well, given how scatterbrained the last batch of posts has been.

I may manage some reposts, film clips, links to other (better) sites, and the like. Anyone who wants to take over Friday Hope Blogging, or post some nudibranch pics, is more than welcome!

Best wishes to you all, meanwhile. And thanks.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I study the lives on a leaf: the little
Sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions,
Beetles in caves, newts, stone-deaf fishes,
Lice tethered to long limp subterranean weeds,
Squirmers in bogs,
And Thuridilla picta
Wriggling through wounds
Like elvers in ponds,
Their wan mouths kissing the warm sutures,
Cleaning and caressing,
Creeping and healing.

(Photo by jlyle.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The Navy has abandoned plans to build a landing field near a wildlife refuge that "hosts more than 100,000 snow geese and tundra swans, and other waterfowl each winter":

“This is a tremendous victory for the local community and the wildlife refuge that would be devastated by the operation of a landing field at the proposed site. We salute the Navy’s ultimate recognition that this was not the place for an OLF,” said Derb Carter, director of the Carolinas office of the Southern Environmental Law Center which represented the environmental interests in the case.
In related news, a judge has ruled that the DoD's proposed airstrip in Okinawa violates the National Historic Preservation Act:
The lawsuit sought to compel the U.S. Department of Defense to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act by conducting a complete public assessment of the impacts of the proposed project on the dugong — a relative of the manatee sometimes known as “sea cows” — so that actions could be taken to avoid or mitigate any adverse affects. The National Historic Preservation Act requires agencies of the U.S. government to consider the impacts on cultural and historic resources in other nations when undertaking activities outside the United States.
Saudi Arabia claims it will allow women to drive:
Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state. Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
In partnership with several other corporations, IBM is creating an Eco-Patents Commons:
The Eco-Patent Commons will start with the donation into the public domain of 31 patents that cover everything from a manufacturing process that reduces volatile compounds to a natural coagulant used to purify industrial waste water.

On Monday, a Web site that hosts the patents is scheduled to launch. The patent commons will be administered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a Geneva-based organization devoted to promoting sustainability in business.
There's talk of using rain to generate electricity:
Jean-Jacques Chaillout and colleagues at the atomic energy commission (cea) in Grenoble, France, have shown that piezoelectric materials, which generate voltage in response to mechanical force, can be made to produce useful amounts of electrical power when hit by falling rain. “we thought of raindrops because they are one of the still-unexploited energy sources in nature,” Chaillout says.
Orion has a long article on anti-coal activism:
Can the environmental movement muster the necessary clout to overcome the combined forces of Big Oil and Big Coal? To Big Green advocates like Hawkins and Thompson, it’s a fantasy to think that America won’t continue using coal and oil. To grassroots activists like LaPlaca, Overland, and Muller, the fantasy lies in the opposite assumption: believing that the world can survive without a radical shift away from fossil fuels. “Big Green has the resources,” said Muller, “but the grassroots is where it’s happening in terms of leadership, in terms of work, and in terms of results. To anybody who’s following this, I’d say don’t bet too much money on coal right now.”
Just for the record, more than 50 proposed coal plants were canceled or delayed in 2007.

AIDG Blog explains its Rocket Box stove:
The Rocket Box uses 50-60% less firewood than traditional cookstoves and fires. This provides a huge costs savings for families that buy fuel wood. For instance, women we interviewed at San Alfonso, a cooperative in Guatemala, reported spending 28-56% of their monthly income on wood.

This stove design shows similar fuel efficiency to masonry stoves, but is up to 50% cheaper. Being portable, it is particularly useful in communities where residents are living in temporary housing and/or want more flexibility in where the stove is placed in their home. Like most good ‘improved’ stoves, it comes equipped with a chimney that vents smoke out of the home and thus cuts exposure to the ‘killer in the kitchen’.
Behold the economy-annihilating horror of renewable energy standards:
SCHOTT solar is opening a brand new solar energy technology production facility in the Mesa del Sol region of Albuquerque, NM....SCHOTT was attracted to New Mexico thanks in part to the State’s commitment to the consumption of renewable energy....The long-term economic impact of the site is expected to exceed $1 billion for the state of New Mexico.
Other frightening steps towards neotroglodytism: Whole Foods has vowed to stop using plastic bags by April, and Ontario is ending its ban on clotheslines.

Cuba has banned the hunting of marine turtles:
The decision was applauded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as a lifeline to all turtle species hatching on beaches throughout the Caribbean, but above all the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

The ban took effect this weekend, said the Cuban Fisheries Ministry's director of regulations, Elisa Garcia. She said it would remain in effect "until it is scientifically proven that the species is recovering."

Revere has some modest good news about avian flu:
For some time the absence of mild or inapparent infections has been worrying. It means that the current case fatality ratio of over 60% is the real CFR, not one based on just the most serious cases coming to the attention of the surveillance system. Now scientists gathered in Bangkok at one of the many gatherings of those studying the disease have heard some new data involving 674 people in two Cambodian villages exposed to influenza H5N1 ("bird flu") by infected poultry in their households. Seven children were found to have been infected using a test of their blood for antibodies. Seven is 1% of these exposed people, so it is still consistent with low transmissibility to humans. But scant data from previous investigations of health care workers or villagers in infected areas had not turned up evidence of mild infection, so this is good news. Not all H5N1 cases are serious or fatal disease.
Also, the universal influenza vaccine has reportedly been tested successfully in humans:
The British-American biotech company Acambis reports the successful conclusion of Phase I trials of the universal flu vaccine in humans. The universal influenza vaccine has been pioneered by researchers from VIB and Ghent University. This vaccine is intended to provide protection against all ‘A’ strains of the virus that causes human influenza, including pandemic strains. Therefore, this vaccine will not need to be renewed annually.
This is fascinating:
A study of how female lark buntings choose their mates, published this week in Science, adds a surprising new twist to the evolutionary theory of sexual selection. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, discovered that female lark buntings show strong preferences for certain traits in the males, but those preferences change from year to year.
And this is funny.

I was impressed this week by Kevin Cooley's eerie photos of Southern California (via Coudal). And by Matt Callow's pinhole photographs.

But that's nothing compared to Kolmanskop, a ghost town buried in sand:

You'll also want to visit Doodles, Drafts and Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian (via Things).

Plep alerted me to an exhibition of Victorian Sheet Music at BibliOdyssey, which I'd somehow overlooked.

Last things last: Preliminary Flickr sets from the Library of Congress. Nu-real: a timeline of fantastic photomontage and its possible influences, 1857 - 2007. And a haunting survey of Japan's scarecrow mannequins.

(Photo at top via Good.)

The Politics of Possibility

As the price of oil skyrockets, and we discuss past and future "surgical strikes" on Syria and Iran, the U.S. Energy Secretary asks our Middle Eastern friends whether they've ever considered the advantages of nuclear power:

Gulf Arab oil exporters and countries around the world should look into nuclear power as an alternative to hydrocarbons, U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Monday.

"Nuclear power should be an alternative for Gulf countries and other countries around the world," Bodman said in the United Arab Emirates during a visit.
Meanwhile, in the American Southeast, the ongoing drought may force nuclear plants to shut down:
Nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.

Utility officials say such shutdowns probably wouldn't result in blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills for millions of Southerners, because the region's utilities may be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy companies.
And in the American Southwest, people are falling in love all over again with oil shale, the perennial fuel of the paleo-future. Estimates of how much water it'd take to develop this low-grade oil range from ghastly to staggering; one thing it's fairly safe to say is that a (subsidized, artificial) oil shale boom would result in a massive influx of thirsty new residents, much as the tar sands boom did in Alberta.

With these stories in mind, it's interesting to learn that farmers in California are thinking it might be more profitable to sell their (subsidized) water to cities, instead of using it to grow crops:
In a state where water has become an increasingly scarce commodity, a growing number of farmers are betting they can make more money selling their water supplies to thirsty cities and farms to the south than by growing crops....

"It just makes dollars and sense right now," said Bruce Rolen, a third-generation farmer in Northern California's lush Sacramento Valley. "There's more economic advantage to fallowing than raising a crop."
All of which can only mean one thing: it's time to transcend the politics of limits, and embrace the politics of possibility.

(Photo: Ship stranded in Aral Sea.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Lack of Judgment

In one of those sweeping gestures for which he's justly famous, William Saletan has formally approved the proposition that "the ideal amount of teen sex is zero."

We're still waiting to learn how much and what kind of teen masturbation is ideal, if any. Perhaps Saletan can prepare some diagrams for us with his free hand.

Putting aside the question of whether it's seemly for a grown man to spend so much time fretting officiously over the sex lives of other people's children, I think the belief that teenagers are "good" to the extent that they're nonsexual says a lot more about us than it does about who they are, or should be. The modern concept of childhood exists more for the benefit of adults than children; innocence is the shadow cast on them by our own guilt.

In too many American families, adolescence recapitulates Eve's temptation by the Serpent: will these little angels remain pure, or will they corrupt themselves by learning things they shouldn't know and thus, in a certain uncomfortable sense, becoming our equals? (Girls, of course, can also be accused of failing to manage a valuable resource properly...by preferring use value to exchange value, as it were.)

It's no wonder that as unease about sex increases, the ultimate symbol of "childhood innocence" becomes the fetus, or even the stem cell. According to this school of thought, children shouldn't be seen or heard; they should be imagined.

Real children, meanwhile, get punished for turning out to be human after all...despite all our good-natured attempts to treat their sexuality as something that can vaccinated against like measles, or cured like strep throat. They suffer when they try to live up to our fantasies, and they suffer when they fall short of them.

That's OK, though, because the underlying fear is not so much that children will suffer excessively because of sex, but that they won't (which, among other problematic things, would prove the Knights of Purity wrong on a fairly fundamental point).

Like the people who piously invoke the ideal of "colorblindness" in order to ignore everyday proof of racial inequality, Saletan hopes to lead us to Heaven by settling down comfortably in Hell:

It's absurd to have to say this, but judgment isn't a bad word. You can moralize without losing your soul.
It hadn't occurred to me that judgment is what's been missing from the national discussion about teen sex, but Saletan surely wouldn't say it if it weren't true. Evidently, things will change for the better only if we don't.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who Needs Facts?

Tom Sears, a "professor of accounting" in upstate New York who has unaccountably been given a column in the Oneonta Daily Star, knows something you don't:

[W]hat you are doing now has in no way a significant impact on global warming. Man is not to blame for global warming.
How does Sears know this? Well, first off, because S. Fred Singer told him so:
A great book to read is "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years" by S. Fred Singer. In it, he points out that the science in Gore's movie is shoddy at best, and then proceeds to back up his claims.
As Joseph Romm notes, one of the many problems with Singer's "every 1,500 years" theory is that as far as we know, there wasn't a comparable global warming trend 1,500 years ago.

Regardless, this is Sears' cue to launch into that classic denialist mantra, everyone's stupid but me:
The global warming advocates and their sophisticated models can't explain the Medieval Warm Period from 900-1300 and then the Little Ice Age from 1500-1800, to say nothing of the countless number of cooling and warming cycles before these two examples.
Right. Because anthropogenic global warming is predicated on, and can only occur in, a world that has never warmed or cooled naturally. If you accept anthropogenic warming, you must reject natural warming, and vice versa.

Just for the record, here's the NOAA's take on the Medieval Warm Period:
In the early days of paleoclimatology, the sparsely distributed paleoenvironmental records were interpreted to indicate that there was a "Medieval Warm Period" where temperatures were warmer than today....The idea of a global or hemispheric "Medieval Warm Period" that was warmer than today however, has turned out to be incorrect.
But again, even if the NOAA were mistaken on this point, it wouldn't follow that the current (and far more rapid) warming trend must be natural.

Next, Sears puts the final nails in AGW's coffin by noting that it's depressing, and that it's a common topic of conversation among people he doesn't like:
Everything has been blamed on global warming -- wildfires, Darfur(!) and dying polar bears. Barbara Boxer said global warming was to blame for a poor 14-year-old boy who died from "an infection caused after swimming in Lake Havasu" (warmer water, you see). Who needs facts?
Sears' argument here is fascinating, in that he accepts that the climate is getting warmer, but is outraged by the idea that a warming climate could lead to more wildfires, or fewer polar bears, or regional instability, or warmer water that hosts a wider range of pathogens. Once you've conceded that the world is warming, it seems as though you'd have to accept these outcomes as at least possible. But apparently, Sears has been immunized against climatological reality by the sole concession he was willing to make to it.

Which makes his parting advice all the more poignant:
So listen, people. Use common sense.
(Illustration from "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 77, no 6, p 1121-1134 (1999). Via Denialism Blog.)

Stupid Smart Machines

In consumer technology, as in biology, mutations tend to be useless or maladaptive. The Taser isn't improved by being combined with an mp3 player, unless you believe that two capabilities are automatically better than one, no matter how incompatible they may be. I think it's fair to suggest that turning a dangerous weapon into yet another lifestyle accessory - one that distracts you from your surroundings, no less - makes users and innocent bystanders less safe.

Now, there's talk among Serious People of marketing a cellphone that doubles as a radiation detector:

"The likely targets of a potential terrorist attack would be big cities with concentrated populations, and a system like this would make it very difficult for someone to go undetected with a radiological dirty bomb in such an area," said Longman, who also is Purdue alumnus. "The more people are walking around with cell phones and PDAs, the easier it would be to detect and catch the perpetrator. We are asking the public to push for this."
Let's imagine for a moment that I'm an actual terrorist, rather than a member of that Islamopacifascist fifth column, the American Left. Let's suppose further that I have access to radioactive material, and that I don't want it to go undetected. What's to stop me from putting it in magnetic containers on the undercarriage of UPS trucks, or crosstown buses? Or taping it under subway or taxicab or bicycle seats? Or floating it down rivers and canals? Or mailing it?

It seems to me that anyone who took these steps could cost one or more cities a great deal of money, and citizens a huge amount of trouble and worry, while undermining whatever remained of public faith in our "protectors." This is a perfect example of how easily anti-terrorist technology can become a readymade weapon, or a force multiplier, making us more vulnerable to disruption and despair as well as to violence. Schemes like this one are the technocratic equivalent of an autoimmune disorder.

If these modern-day Tom Swifts have considered this argument, they're keeping quiet about it:
The system could be trained to ignore known radiation sources, such as hospitals, and radiation from certain common items, such as bananas, which contain a radioactive isotope of potassium.

"The radiological dirty bomb or a suitcase nuclear weapon is going to give off higher levels of radiation than those background sources," Fischbach said. "The system would be sensitive enough to detect these tiny levels of radiation, but it would be smart enough to discern which sources posed potential threats and which are harmless."
Which would be great, in theory, if human beings of average intelligence weren't more than smart enough to outwit it, and to turn it against us.

In other news, our infrastructure is crumbling. Which is why it's disheartening to learn that research into this miracle cellphone "has been funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation through the Joint Transportation Research Program and School of Civil Engineering at Purdue."

Monday, January 21, 2008

God Rode In the Windstorm

Someone named Tamar Yonah notes that a tornado struck Jerusalem, Arkansas while Bush was en route to the Middle East:

It seems like this is just too uncanny that these are all 'coincidences'. On January 8, 2008 the day that President Bush left the USA for Israel in order to lay the framework for the establishment of a Palestinian State and the division of Jerusalem for its capital , a freak 'January' tornado swept through a city in Bush's own country. The place hit was 'Jerusalem', Arkansas. Coincidence?

One church was totally destroyed in the tornado’s path. The name of it was “Mt. Zion” Community Church. Coincidence?
Cynics might wonder how a tornado could travel across Arkansas without knocking down a church. Others might argue that it's not unusual for a town, or a church, in the Bible Belt to bear the name of a site in the Holy Land.

But consider this: My own research reveals that exactly nine years ago, on January 21, 1999, Yassir Arafat went to Cairo to meet with Hosni Mubarak "on the current status of the Palestinian peace track in light of the Israeli government freezing of its implementation of the Wye River accord." On that very day, a tornado touched down in Egypt, Arkansas!

And on January 4, 1946, an F-4 tornado struck Palestine, Texas...just as the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, under the direction of "Texas Joe" Hutcheson, was assembling in Washington DC "to examine political, economic and social conditions in Palestine as they bear upon the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement therein and the well-being of the peoples now living therein."

QED, as the saying is.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Now we feel Hypselodoris bullocki to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.

(Photo by Richard Smith, whose other work is equally breathtaking.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Uzbekistan has abolished the death penalty:

The trend towards total abolition of the death penalty has continued with Uzbekistan becoming the latest country to put an end to executions.

From 1 January 2008, it becomes the 135th country in the world to abolish the death penalty in law or practice.
The Jordanian parliament is attempting to address domestic violence:
The draft law, which still needs to be approved by the Senate before taking effect, imposes stiff penalties on violators, ranging from hefty fines to imprisonment of up to six months.

The bill also gives the authorities the power to detain perpetrators of domestic violence for 24 hours "in order to protect the victim" and the court has the right to bar perpetrators from approaching "safe houses" where victims are sheltered in order to guarantee their safety.
Meanwhile, in the Land of the Free, an attempt by fundamentalist groups to overturn the Student Civil Rights Act, which protects LGBT teens from discrimination, has failed:
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said...."Despite their vicious attack, Californians stood with us and said 'no' to turning back the clock on civil rights and protecting all youth from discrimination in our schools."
Pam Spaulding reports that "NJ Congressman Rush Holt has introduced a bill to help voting districts that want to either go with paper ballots or auditable machines for the 2008 election to fund the switchover in time."
The bill, dubbed the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, seeks to fix what many critics fear is a potential problem with paperless electronic voting machines — a lack of voter-verified paper records.
Thanks largely to pressure from ten veterans' groups, the VA will get $3.7 billion in emergency funding:
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the emergency funds were needed because the veterans budget proposed by the president would have underfunded the Veterans Affairs Department at a time when there was a need to expand mental health care, improve treatment for traumatic brain injuries and reverse a claims backlog.

"This could not be allowed to happen," said Akaka, who wrote to the president urging him to release the extra money. "I am relieved that he has seen fit to do so."
Billboards are getting increasingly unpopular. Oklahoma City and Wyoming, MI are considering restricting them dramatically, and in Arizona, astronomers are doing their best to fight light pollution from digital billboards.
"The state is magical in terms of its clear night skies but we're concerned this kind of outdoor lighting will make it harder for the state's observatories to do their work," said Richard Green, director of the Large Binocular Telescope observatory in Tucson.
Last year, California gave taxpayers the chance to donate automatically to a sea otter preservation fund, by checking a box on their state income tax form; this program has raised $255,000, so far:
“Last year, Californians showed just how committed they are to the conservation of sea otters,” said Jim Curland marine program associate for Defenders of Wildlife. “The tax check-off gives people a great way to play a direct role in the recovery efforts for sea otters.”

The Sietch Blog reports on a bicycle that doubles as a water pump, purifier, and storage tank:
A peristaltic pump attached to the pedal crank draws water from a large tank, through a carbon filter, to a smaller clean tank. The clean tank is removable and closed for contamination-free home storage and use. A clutch engages and disengages the drive belt from the pedal crank, enabling the rider to filter the water while traveling or while stationary.
Sierra Leone has halted timber exports:
Sierra Leone's government has banned the exportation of timber after "indiscriminate destruction" by Chinese and other foreign businessmen, a senior official said on Monday.
David Roberts notes that Xcel Energy will spend $100 million to build a smart-grid city:
A smart grid would allow Xcel to charge higher rates during peak usage hours and lower rates during off-peak hours. Consumers could lower their monthly bills by performing power-consuming tasks, such as running the dishwasher, during off-peak hours.

"That's a pretty good way to take care of capacity issues," said Jon Caldara, president of Golden-based think tank Independence Institute. "I'm not a big fan of Xcel, but on this one, I think they're taking a step in the right direction."

Xcel plans to install in-home control devices in the smart-grid city to automate home energy use. The city would be outfitted with infrastructure to support renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The city would also feature plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles that charge and discharge to the grid.
In related news, Google is investing $10 million in a solar-thermal company:
To serve the renewable electricity needs of utility-scale energy providers, eSolar has developed a market disrupting solar thermal power plant technology. Generation can be scaled from 25 MW to over 500 MW at energy prices competitive with traditional fossil fuels.
It often happens that air conditioners are used on very sunny days, so it makes sense to have them run off the grid on solar power. A Spanish company seems to have invented a small air conditioner that does just that:
From an operation point of view it is very simple: you put hot water in, you get cold water out, which you can run to a conventional fancoil. The hot water in can come from any source, but evacuated tube collectors, which used to be very expensive, are pretty affordable now.
Illinois farmers are taking a stand against a nightmare plan to build a pipeline from Albertan oil sand fields to Texas:
Several farmers are standing in Enbridge's way, however, refusing to let the company build the pipeline through their land. At a public meeting, Bob Kelly, 81, called Enbridge "highway robbers." He said there is no way he will allow the company to tear up farmland that has been in his family for 125 years. "It's not for sale at any price," he said.
Not all farmers agree, of course:
"It should be seen as progress to bring some crude oil down here to central Illinois," said John Gramm, 76, of Gridley. "It's good for business and labor, and it makes us less dependent on foreign oil."
The GOP needs to run this man for president, if you ask me.

Onwards and upwards. First off, ten minutes or so of ambient audio from Antigua, via AIDG Blog.

Next, condom envelopes from the 1930s and 1940s, via Coudal.

And some close-up views of sweets, sweet wrappers and candy.

From there, we'll proceed in an orderly fashion to James A. Scott Collection, which comprises before and after photographs of San Francisco, and the Willard E. Worden Glass Plate Negative Collection (both via Plep).

BibliOdyssey has a typically dazzling post on The Fugitive Beauties of Hexandria. National Geographic investigates The Emptied Prairie and finds "a sense of things ebbing" (recommended soundtrack: Extreme close up recording of a stem cell harvesting machine).

You'll find a couple of entertaining Laulupidu videos at WhirledView. (Also, check out the letter CKR sent to the presidential candidates on the bloggers' nuclear strategy consensus statement. Not sure what will come of this, but it strikes me as a shrewd and potentially very powerful use of the blogosphere as a sort of decentralized thinktank.)

Last, "Danse Macabre," a short film from 1922.

(Photo at top: "Dissin's Guest House, Washington, D.C. 1942" by Esther Bubley, via wood s lot).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Past Long Gone

I'm sorry to report that Georgie Anne Geyer's faith in our country's "maturity" about race has been shaken:

It had furthermore become hard to imagine that any American candidates would dare to raise race in a negative manner. Those were the days of a past long gone, and thank God for it!

But just as I was reveling in joy at our maturing over race, we were struck by an unexpected challenge.
It's hard to imagine how this racially negative past could be described as "long gone," given that Tom Tancredo - whom Geyer previously praised as "truly eloquent" - only dropped out of the race in late December, and Ron Paul - whose wisdom Geyer says "is something we might attend to at our own gain" - is still in it.

Although public squabbling over race pains Geyer deeply this week, it wasn't very long ago that she was lamenting the chilling effect of "political correctness" on sober discussions of black and Hispanic inadequacy, as modeled by the racialist windbag Richard Lamm:
Lamm politely but firmly suggests that black and Hispanic cultures fall short of Asian and Jewish cultures in fostering ambition and success not because blacks and Hispanics are not as capable or smart, but because "different cultures give different signals, and some cultures are giving out stronger performance signals than others....”
In that column, Geyer went on to say that "the brilliant African-American scholar Shelby Steele" - a man who has explicitly mourned "the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority" - thinks Lamm is right on the money, so you card-carrying members of the Grievance Industry can keep your talk of effort optimism to yourselves.

At any rate, we now know that it's "mature" for politicians to wax obsessive over the perils of multiculturalism while waving a copy of Victor Davis Hanson's Mexifornia, and "cynical" for them to engage in "a tedious argument" over which candidate is "the greater advocate of civil rights." If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to win Geyer's honest heart, they'll take care to observe this distinction in future.

Just to make clear where I stand on the "inevitable" candidates themselves, I may as well post this immature but heartfelt comment from Eschaton:
I don't like their positions. Whether or not I like their personalities strikes me as totally irrelevant.

That said, there's no way either one of them is going to do as much damage to the US, or the rest of the world, as this country's kneejerk, dipshit misogyny and racism causes every fucking day of every goddamn year.

Can Your Heart Stand It?

Terrorist-coddling techno-hippie Bruce Schneier is trying to promote the pre-9/11 notion that constant abject fear is unhealthy:

[W]orrying about terrorism could be taking a toll on the hearts of millions of Americans. The evidence, published last week in the Archives of General Psychiatry, comes from researchers who began tracking the health of a representative sample of more than 2,700 Americans before September 2001. After the attacks of Sept. 11, the scientists monitored people’s fears of terrorism over the next several years and found that the most fearful people were three to five times more likely than the rest to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments.
Sounds bad, alright. But I know of some things that are even more unhealthy. Being decapitated by Islamic terrorists who then use your head, and the heads of your golden-haired children, as hand-puppets in an anti-Israel kids' show on Al-Jazeera, for instance. Or bleeding to death through your urethra, thanks to some new disease that's being cooked up right now in a filthy Iranian yogurt vat. Or turning the country over to Barack Hussein-Osama, a Black Muslim fanatic who took his oath of office on the Holy Bible so that he wouldn't be obliged to tell Americans the truth about anything, from his bone-deep hatred of Jesus Christ to his role in the transshipment of Saddam Hussein's WMD to Syria.

If there were only a .005 percent chance that one of these disasters could be imagined, we'd need to treat them all as 200-percent certain. However, I've just demonstrated that they're all imaginable, which means that the time for action may already have come and gone.

If I'm right, or even if I'm not, the one thing I can tell you for certain is that as the floodtide of Christian blood begins to rise around your ankles, you and your screaming, sobbing children will wish you could've lived long enough to die of cardiovascular disease. Verily, the living will envy the dead, and after they're dead, anyone still alive will envy them. That's how bad it is, and will be, until every Muslim on earth has either been killed, or forced to convert and then killed.

If you want to pretend that life is worth savoring, even when it's lived in the shadow of the Shamshir, good for you; you'll pay in suffering a thousandfold for every minute of fear-free existence you "enjoy." Speaking for myself, though, I hope fear weakens my heart; with any luck, it'll give out just as President Hussein-Osama opens the first mass-beheading facilities. I can guarantee that on that day, you people will wish you'd had my foresight.

(Photo via The Onion.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Parallels, Correspondents, and Relations

I'd intended to avoid discussing Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Josef Mengele to Joseph Biden. I can't quite maintain my resolve, though. I find myself fixating not on the illogic of his argument, but on its logic, which is, as Brit Hume would say, "undoubtedly illustrative of something."

His methodology, for all its care and thoroughness, seems to boil down to weak analogical inference. If he can show that fascists and liberals share properties A, B, and C, then he can "reasonably" infer that they share property D.

There are certain pitfalls here. Sir Thomas Browne, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, attacks the belief "that all Animals of the Land, are in their kind in the Sea," which proceeded from the assumption that "from a similitude in some, it be reasonable to infer a correspondence in all," and ended in "conjoyning as it were the species of things which stood at distance in the intellect of God."

Superficially, this complaint is similar to Bacon's observation that "while there are many things in Nature unique, and quite irregular, still [the human intellect] feigns parallels, correspondents, and relations that have no existence." Ultimately, though, Browne's theological objection to correspondence, as a blurring of distinctions between created kinds, points towards the creationist pseudoscience of baraminology, while Bacon's more logical objection points, tentatively, towards the scientific method.

Still, both men are reacting to the analogical excesses of an age in which, as Foucault said, "it was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of representing them." It's this age, I'd argue, in which Goldberg and his ilk still live, partly due to temperament, and partly to laziness, but mainly because it gives them the tools and the latitude they need in order to earn a dishonest living.

I hasten to add that I'm not being entirely serious here; I have far too much respect for Renaissance mystics and logicians to hold them responsible for Goldberg, even if Goldberg's own methodology grants me permission to do so. Like liberalism and fascism, they're entirely and irrevocably different.

All the same, there's something to be said for recognizing that while Goldberg's logic may be different from ours, it "works"...at least within that shadow world from which he launches incursions against our own. Indeed - and this is the main point - it works much better in that world than our logic would. If you free yourself, for a moment, from your bias towards accuracy and honesty, and focus strictly on what gets personal and professional results, you can see that asking Goldberg to use commonly accepted standards of evidence and proof is like asking a tailor to use a railroad spike as a needle. You'd place him at a disadvantage, to say the least.

This, I think, is why it's almost pointless to criticize him for inaccuracy, and why we can take him somewhat seriously when he insists that he made his argument as carefully and thoroughly as he could; given the tools he couldn't allow himself to use, and the facts he was obliged to ignore in order to begin his project, let alone to complete it, it's probably true.

Like the baraminologists, he's forced to look for evidence of lineage where it must be, rather than where it is; to view fascism as a right-wing ideology would be to conjoin things that stand "at distance in the intellect of God." And like the baraminologists, he's caught between envying the power of a respected academic discipline, and being unable to meet its standards. Therefore, like so many other cranks, his tactic is to gather up an assortment of pleasing facts like some ideological bowerbird, arrange them in a pattern for which a "logical" explanation can be offered (as though the pattern were a natural phenomenon, instead of an invention), and peddle that explanation to people who want to enjoy the authority of Science without any of the responsibilities it imposes. (Bonus points are awarded for pretending that this charade intimidates the "academic trade unions," and that peer review is just a fancy name for groupthink. Or if you prefer, fascism.)

Apropos of common sense, it's worth mentioning that the Doctrine of Signatures is a commonsense theory: If a plant looks like a scorpion, it's logical to assume that it has some relation to scorpions. The beauty of theories based on resemblance is that they tend to make perfect sense within the social context that gives rise to them; the fact that they're very often wrong is a mere detail. They deserve to be right, and that's what counts.

Goldberg's approach is exemplary of right-wing history and science, in that its self-styled radicalism comes from its everyday simplicity, its reliance on what'll seem "obvious" to an idealized man in the street: If we'd really evolved from monkeys, there wouldn't be any monkeys left. If global warming were real, it wouldn't have snowed so much last week. If blacks get lower grades than whites, whites must be smarter than blacks. If Hillary Clinton worries, like Hitler, about the health of children, she must be a fascist. It's just common sense, and anyone who can't see it must not want to see it.

This militant appeal to common sense (i.e., to ignorance, misperception, prejudice, and wishful thinking) as an antidote to a decadent, liberal "offical" history is what makes Goldberg's outlook essentially pre- or even anti-modern, and it's typical of...well, we'll just leave it at "typical," for now.

(Illustration from Phytognomonica by Giambattista Della Porta, 1591.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vacuuming Up Data

Michael Tanji explains the problem with what he calls "attempting to gill-net bad guys" through mass surveillance:

It's bad enough that the Director of National Intelligence is trotting out a bogus threat so the government can snoop on all Internet traffic. What's worse is that this kind of mass surveillance is a pretty lame way to catch the honest-to-God bad guys....

This is not a needle in a haystack problem; it’s a needle somewhere in an unidentified field in the western portion of Nebraska. The problem with vacuuming up data wholesale is that even with a lot of machine-based filtering, an intelligence analyst is left with a massive pile of rock in which may lay a speck of gold. Intelligence does not want, need, look at or even retain the VAST majority of what passes through the ‘Net, which is something privacy mavens conveniently leave out of their angrily worded press releases.
Although I agree with Tanji's basic point - how could you not? - I'm always troubled when people reject textbook authoritarian measures on the basis of their inefficiency, rather than their unconstitutionality.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument (and in spite of evidence to the contrary) that raw data on law-abiding citizens have no political or economic value, questions remain about what constitutes a red flag, and about the construction of what Bruce Schneier calls "an infrastructure of surveillance," and about what Dan Lockton calls "the creeping erosion of norms" regarding privacy rights. What intelligence wants ought to be less important, legally speaking, than what they're allowed to have and how they're allowed to get it.

With this in mind, it's interesting to consider this low-tech version of mass surveillance currently underway in Phoeniz, AZ:
"The protesters, several visibly armed with guns, have been verbally engaging anyone walking by that seems to look illegal or don't seem supportive of them," Strand said. "These are residents, students, business people, neighborhood and spiritual leaders."
In theory, this group's aim is to detect illegal immigrants, which they do by challenging people who "look illegal." In pursuit of their larger political goals, however, and as an expression of the basic animus that drives them, they also end up targeting people who "don't seem supportive" of their brave efforts to defend the Homeland:
Lynne Stevens smiled and pulled open her jacket, revealing her Smith & Wesson....She scoffed at the idea that her fellow protesters are causing harm to the neighborhood. "We just want to get the illegals out of here....It's a black-and-white issue," she said. "I'm here to run them off. You turn the light on them and they scatter like roaches."
I suspect that American citizens of all colors have scattered "like roaches" in order to avoid tangling with these overwrought, abusive, visibly armed loudmouths...not least because businesses around the protest site are reporting a 15-percent drop in customers. If I were heading to a business in this area, would I wear a t-shirt that might offend someone like Lynne Stevens? I suppose it'd depend on whether I felt like getting into a potentially dangerous shouting match with an armed fanatic.

The point being that this demonstrates one of the effects of "screening" on public behavior: it can cause people to feel more vulnerable, and to change their behavior accordingly. They may not take the route they'd planned, or shop where they'd intended to, or say what's on their minds, or what have you. They may do their best not to "look illegal," and to seem "supportive" (or at least neutral); this can then conveniently be portrayed as informed consent.

Ultimately, the threat isn't that ordinary citizens will get caught doing something we're not supposed to do; it's that we'll feel insecure doing things we have every right to do.

(Illustration via Susan E. Gallagher.)

The Gambols of Ghosts

If you're a frequent visitor to Planet Gore, you've probably noticed that posting has become semi-occasional, and that it's relied very heavily on Detroit News cartoonist Henry Payne. Could the site be fixin' to die, less than a year after a hundred thousand celebratory arcs of wingnut semen fell upon it like so much Cheeto-tinted tickertape?

If so, today's post by Roy Spencer should be considered the rhetorical equivalent of Cheyne-Stokes breathing:

Everyone has heard of "global warming deniers," which is what Al Gore (in his usual half-truth fashion) likes to call those of us who believe that current global warmth might not be man-made. Well, in my view the truly dangerous group of people out there are the "Reality Deniers" — those who not only believe that global warming is man-made, but also think that we can do something significant about it in the next 20 years or so.
Or as Dutch Schultz would say, "Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword!"

I'm prejudiced, of course, but I suspect that PG's woes are at least partially attributable to Jim Manzi's debate with Steven Milloy, which I discussed here. Although Manzi did his best to hew to the conservatarian party line, the fact remains that he pissed in one of the denialists' best-beloved wells, right in front of God and everybody.

A quick stroll through PG's archives shows that prior to June of 2007, the site averaged more than 100 posts per month. Manzi's dust-up with Milloy took place in the last few days of June; between July and September, posting declined dramatically. In November and December, it was down to about 17 posts per month (Algore, you'll recall, won his Nobel in October).

I should add that Manzi probably didn't convince anyone that Milloy is a liar, let alone that AGW is real. I remember reading an article about a warehouse owner who frightened away rats by playing a tape-loop of a rat being killed by a weasel; Manzi's posts - and Gore's prize - may've dampened PG's spirits in much the same way.

This is idle speculation, of course, and it's offered for entertainment purposes only. There are other possible explanations for PG's lack of activity, and not all of 'em involve the site going belly up. That said, my guess is that PG is indeed on its way out.

(Illustration: The gambols of ghosts according with their affections previous to the Final Judgement by William Blake, 1806.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

A White Army of Terror

Fox News offers shocking new proof that al-Qaeda doesn't fight fair:

Al Qaeda is building a white army of terror in the United Kingdom, according to the U.K.'s Scotland on Sunday.
This will make things much harder for the UK's white army of anti-terror:
Security experts say the growing number of white terrorists poses a serious threat because they are less likely to be detected than members of the Asian [?] community.
Want to build your own white army of terror? Here's how:
One reported strategy the terrorists use is to look for converts in prisons, where those in custody tend to be lonely and particularly susceptible. Recruiters comfort and support the inmate, with little mention — if any — to religion, according to the paper. Over time, conversations turn more radical.
This is altogether terrible news. I don't want to sound like an alarmist...but we're all gonna die! (Eventually.)

On the bright side, Western civilization does have an ace up its sleeve:
One of leading Muslim leaders [sic] disputed the claims of radicalization, saying Islam's strict moral code made it unattractive to many Westerners, the paper reported.
Mass murder is one thing, but giving up booze and porn is quite another. Thank heavens for Western decadence!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Friday Hope Blogging

Congress seems to have thwarted BushCo's attempt to privatize thousands of environmental protection jobs:

Buried in the new budget bill is a complete ban on further activities directed toward outsourcing any Forest Service jobs. That legislation also severely limits any outsourcing-related activities within the Interior Department to $3.5 million to complete ongoing studies....

“Congress just put a bullet into the heart of the Bush administration’s strategy to commercialize resource management,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whoseorganization has campaigned against the Competitive Sourcing Initiative since 2002.
In related news, the administration has decided not to appeal a court decision that overturned new forest management rules, which, believe it or not, would've made logging easier and public input harder:
The Justice Department notified the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week that it was withdrawing its appeal, saying that the other parties, including the timber industry, would do likewise.

"We are glad the Bush administration has thrown in the towel," said Trent Orr, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental advocacy groups that had challenged the new forest management rules in court.
China has announced that it will ban plastic bags:
This new law could have a considerably positive environmental impact, given that Chinese citizens "use as many as 3 billion plastic bags a day." The law is part of a larger campaign to fight "white pollution" in China, which includes other forms of rampant plastic and styrofoam use as well. This bold and surprising move demonstrates that the Chinese government is starting to take pollution concerns seriously.
Australia is following suit. Also in China, activists have compelled the government to relocate a chemical plant:
The decision, hailed as a milestone for China's environmental and democratic movements, follows the release of an environmental-impact assessment of the project at a public hearing in December. The relocation is even more surprising given that sources close to central government reveal the plant had been given the go-ahead because of the special relationship between Chen Youhao — the plant's Taiwanese investor and a fugitive of Taiwan — and some of China's top party leaders.

“This is the first time public opinion was properly expressed through official channels and had an impact on government policies,” says Liu Jianqiang, a Beijing-based environment writer who is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. Some commentators regard the orchestrated incident as the most significant public event in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square student demonstration that was so brutally suppressed.
Andrew Dessler makes a point so obvious that it's easy to overlook: If the consensus on anthropogenic climate change is driven by the lust for research grants, as denialists claim, then why is the consensus that the science is pretty much settled?
[I]t should be obvious that the scientific community would be better off saying we're not sure that climate change is caused by humans: "It might be human-induced, but it might not be. What we really need is more money for models, satellites, and analysis."
After reading this, all the pieces fell into place; I suddenly realized that the denialists are part of the conspiracy they've been attacking. Sure, a couple of 'em may've started out as honest skeptics, but like everyone else who dabbles in atmospheric science, they were eventually pulled into a maelstrom of corruption from which no deliverance is conceivable. Battle ye not with Algore, lest ye become Algore!

Speaking of self-defeat, the wife of the founder of the Ozarks Minutemen is in a bit of trouble:
The wife of an Ozarks Minutemen founder has been charged with filing a false report after investigators determined her story about being raped and shot by three Hispanic men was untrue.
And Oral Roberts U. continues to implode:
Benny Hinn and I.V. Hilliard resigned as regents, where they were involved in making major school decisions, university spokesman Jeremy Burton said Thursday....Hinn and Dollar are among six televangelists being investigated by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to determine if the high-profile preachers violated their organizations’ tax-exempt status by living lavishly on the backs of small donors.
South Carolina's State Board of Education has rejected a creationist challenge to a standard biology textbook:
Today, in a stunning reversal of votes, the State Board of Education approved the Miller/Levine Biology Textbook that was under scrutiny. The vote went from 9-7 (vote in December) in favor of dropping the Miller/Levine textbook to 10-6 in favor of keeping the textbook on the list. This is a major victory for science education in the palmetto state.
A Swedish office will allegedly be warmed by the body heat of commuters:
Real estate firm Jernhusen AB believes the system can provide about 15 percent of the heating needed for a 13-storey building being built next to the Central Station in the Swedish capital.
There's also talk of using body heat to power cellphones.

A British hotel chain is building a recyclable hotel:
Budget hotel operator Travelodge said on Tuesday the steel modules could be dismantled if necessary at the end of the 120-room hotel's life and moved elsewhere -- and that the model could ultimately be used to build temporary hotels for sporting events or festivals.
Scientific American "proposes a massive, far-reaching plan to get solar power generating 69 percent of America’s electricity 35 percent of our total energy by 2050, thus replacing all of our foreign oil needs and slashing global warming emissions." It's worth a read.

New York City claims it will stop sourcing hardwoods from the Amazon:
In a meeting with representatives of environmental groups Rainforest Relief and New York Climate Action Group, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe unveiled a plan to phase out the use of hardwoods logged from the rainforests of the Amazon, which the agency uses for benches, boardwalks and the decking of bridges in the thousands of parks and areas overseen by the department.
Also in NYC, deaths from HIV have dropped dramatically:
Between 2005 and 2006, death from HIV fell almost 15 percent, from 1,419 to 1,209, reflecting the lowest numbers since 1984 when 952 deaths from AIDS were recorded citywide.
Revere discusses a promising new test for influenza-like illnesses:
nstead of using tissue culture to isolate a virus, the new test uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify any viral genetic material present and then employs identifiable beads coated with material specific to particular viral sequences to identify which viral genetic sequence was amplified. This eliminates both tissue culture and separate tests for each of the viruses, cutting total time down to about 6 hours instead of days....

This particular test could conceivably be part of a screen for an emerging pandemic not involving H1 or H3 subtypes. In addition, it is just the leading edge of more routine use of multiplex viral diagnostic tests. Once they are more widely employed we can expect to learn a great deal about the epidemiology of ILIs during the typical "flu season."
There's also word of a breakthrough in avian flu research:
This new paradigm should help researchers develop a better way to track the evolution of avian flu leading to human adaptation, Sasisekharan said. Now, they know to look for avian viruses that have evolved the ability to bind to umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 receptors.

That knowledge could help them create vaccines tailored to combat a potential pandemic. Similarly, these findings will help in the development of more effective strategies for seasonal flu, which still is a leading cause of death.
In other medical news, researchers may have found a viable replacement for the problematic Dryvax smallpox vaccine.

Strictly No Photography is a site compiling "pictures taken where you are not allowed to take them." And Paleo-Future provides "a look into the future that never was," as thus:
Doubtless some day the operators will have to meet the problem of increased fuel costs, for consumption of gasoline cannot go on forever at the present rate. But the day seems far distant when curtailment will be necessary - so far distant that no one save a few scientists and government conservation people are giving it any thought.
(Both links via things).

You don't know all you should about Crossbill vocabulary. Or orgasm schematics.

Rosemarie fiore creates what she calls firework drawings from the residue of exploded fireworks. Here's a sample.

Furthermore: Shanghai cigarette cards. And a fine collection of photos, maps, and ephemera from Pantufla, organized by decade.

Last, some incredible time-lapse animations of heavenly bodies. And The Peleliu Project, a haunting photo series by James Fee.

(Photo at top: "A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is almost hidden from view behind the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Similar in size to other large, bright spiral galaxies IC 342 is a mere 7 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation of the Giraffe (Camelopardalis). Even though IC 342's light is dimmed by intervening cosmic clouds, this remarkably sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy's own obscuring dust, blue star clusters, and glowing pink star forming regions along spiral arms that wind far from the galaxy's core." Via NASA.)

Life-Enhancing Progress

Jay Ambrose describes a bloodcurdling scheme that'll destroy American life as we know it:

I know this sounds far-fetched, but in their deep concern about saving energy, some congressional leaders meeting in secret have come up with an idea that goes by the code name "TCM." The acronym stands for "The Candle Mandate."

The idea, they think, is marvelous in its simplicity. To make Americans consume less electricity, they are going to outlaw electric-powered light inside and outside homes and workplaces....

[T]his step is perfectly in line with a provision in the nation's recently enacted, new energy law, a measure Congress approved and President Bush signed. It does not go quite so far as TCM, but in its potential sabotage of life-enhancing progress, is headed in exactly the same direction.
Ambrose eventually acknowledges that "The Candle Mandate" is just something he made up, though it'd be very easy to miss this little detail, especially if you're ignorant or crazed enough to see his argument as coherent.

What I find funny about this - besides...well, everything - is that for Ambrose, Progress is represented by a technology that we've "been using since Thomas Alva Edison and his co-inventors came up with a carbonized filament that could last for 1,000 hours and more 125 years ago."
Within the next 12 years you will have to start using bulbs consuming 30 percent less electricity, meaning the bulbs you've learned to love will have to go.
Are we so callous, so unfeeling, so spiritually inert, that we would turn our backs, after all these years, on light bulbs with a carbonized filament? Is that the human thing to do?

Ambrose concedes that even if u no can haz teh awesum Edison bulbz, it doesn't mean that you're stuck for life with CFLs; other options are available, and will continue to be invented or improved. But that's just the preamble to a litany of complaints about CFLs: they cost more (in a sense); some of them may be the wrong size for your fixtures (what will you do?); you'll probably need two or three of them if you want to read a newspaper (huh?); and - steady now - they're full of deadly poison:
I did a Google search and found a news account about a kid who took a quarter of a cup of mercury to his school several years ago, resulting in intensive care for one 17-year-old who may suffer from the exposure for the rest of his life....

So, if you break one of these CFLs, run for the woods while calling your congressman on your cell phone to come open your windows for you. Be prepared to spend an interesting amount of money in cleaning things up.
I guess it's possible that some of Ambrose's readers have never gone to school, or ridden on a subway, or worked in an office, or visited a hospital, or gone to the supermarket, or spent time in any other building or vehicle that was lit by the fluorescent bulbs we've learned to love over the 150 years that've passed since Heinrich Geissler first produced illumination in a glass tube evacuated with a mercury vacuum pump. If so, you can't blame them for being frightened by this nightmare scenario.

Normal people, however, are likely to perceive Ambrose as a mongrel idiot (to borrow a phrase from my pal Steve Simels). Here's how we handle broken fluorescent bulbs in the treehugging nanny state of Californistan:
[W]ear latex gloves and carefully clean up the fragments. Wipe the area with a damp disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments and associated mercury....

After clean up is complete, place all fragments along with cleaning materials into a sealable plastic bag. Wash your hands. Recycle along with intact lamps.
This complex operation could easily cost the unlucky consumer tens of cents, which is not what I'd call "an interesting amount of money." (Just for the record, the expensive clean-up myth seems to have been invented, with malice aforethought, by none other than Steven Milloy.)

This is not to say that the mercury in CFLs isn't an issue when considered en masse, or that I'm a fan of CFLs as opposed to, say, LEDs. But trying to pass fluorescent bulbs off as some apocalyptic threat is pretty fucking ludicrous, especially considering that the new bulbs contain less mercury than the ones that most of us have been exposed to virtually every day for the last six decades.

(Photo: Geissler tubes circa 1860, from the apparatus collection of Dartmouth College.)

Sophisticated Sensors

An article in the Washington Post describes the controversy in NYC over the deployment of sensors that are supposed to provide early warning of a biological attack. It seems that the initial sampling equipment, which has cost about $400 million so far, leaves a lot to be desired:

The older samplers catch airborne particles in filters that are manually collected once a day and taken to a laboratory, requiring up to 30 hours to detect a pathogen. They may not preserve live organisms that scientists use to select treatment options. And the process is cost- and labor-intensive, leading to false alarms, quality-control problems and limits on the system's size, despite an $85 million-a-year national budget.
The new sensors aren't exactly ideal, either:
Runge said technical challenges remain in ensuring new sensors' accuracy and reducing their size and operating costs. He said DHS plans to begin pilot tests this year of alternative sensors -- which it hopes will be better than those made by Lawrence Livermore -- and to oversee a competition between two private bidders, IQuum and Microfluidic Systems, beginning in 2009. As a result, Runge said, decisions on what and how big a system to deploy will be left to the next administration.
That's probably just as well. It sounds as though the BioWatch system isn't in much better shape than it was back in 2005, when the EPA's inspector general announced that the EPA hadn't "ensured the reliability, timeliness and efficiency of air sampling that Bush directed be part of a $129 million early warning system."
EPA sometimes placed sensors too far apart, failed to make sure they were all in secure locations and didn't always factor in topography and seasonal wind pattern changes in some cities.
As I argued a couple of years ago, "agent detection is an interesting but comparatively minor field; it doesn't work well, but even if it did, mere data aren't all that useful unless you have a staffed and funded and organized public health system." Thanks to BushCo's technofetishist belief that every problem can be solved by paying private contractors to build some high-priced gizmo, this is precisely what we don't have:
How fast do public health departments nationwide respond to a medical practitioner's alert that a patient has a serious infectious disease like smallpox or meningitis? Or respond to a doctor who thinks he's seeing the first symptoms of anthrax from bioterrorism?....The new study found an average response time of 63 minutes, and some agencies took nearly 17 hours to call back. The report ranked one-third of the health departments as “poor” because one or more of their reply calls came more than four hours after the alert.
In her recent testimony before Congress, biosecurity expert Tara O'Toole raised a fascinating question:
Environmental sensor technologies are now being marketed to individual companies for installation in privately owned buildings. Will DHS develop commercial standards or regulations to ensure that such systems are reliable and maintained properly? Should public health agencies be required to assess every warning signal (“hit”) registered by privately owned sensors? Should public health agencies be reimbursed for such assessments?
With that in mind, read this:
The NYPD is moving to license private biological, chemical and radiological detectors because of "concerns" raised by the feds, a police official testified yesterday....

Falkenrath said the private deployment of sophisticated sensors has increased since 9/11. Information about where the sophisticated sensors are and how reliable they are is sketchy.
Opponents of licensing claim that "the measure could stifle the independent collection of environmental data," which is a valid point, especially given the official suppression of air-quality data after 9/11. But again, there's a definite limit to what data collection can do for us, given that Ayn Rand has expressly forbidden us to have a fully funded, equipped, integrated, and accessible public healthcare system.