Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Hope Blogging

We'll start out this week with a timely message from my pal Chicago Dyke:

While we all tear each other apart, millions are dying, millions more are going to die, for no good reason. As an American, like it or not, you have an incredible responsibility to do what you can to make sure your power isn’t used for evil, oppressive reasons. Turn off the TV, goddammit. Stop reading the Wanker of the Day’s latest bullshit. Reach out your hand to those who are on the side of Good. Learn to say, “I’m sorry. Let’s get down to business.”

Or, not. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you do the work of the Evil for them, you have no one but yourself to blame.
Apropos of evil, a federal judge has ordered the CIA to turn over BushCo's 2002 torture memo:
The ACLU described the memo as "one of the most important torture documents still being withheld by the Bush administration."
Migra Matters alerts me to a website that records the charming behavior of the Minutemen:
Minutemen Unvarnished tracks the activities of the San Diego Minutemen as they harass and threaten day laborers, employers, and Latinos in general, at various locations throughout the region. They video the minutemen in action and present them uncensored in all their racist glory.
Not pleasant viewing by any means, but an important resource.

The Pennsylvania House has blocked a state constitutional amendment that would've banned same-sex marriage. Here's what the buffoon who proposed it has to say for himself:
"I have a healthy respect for the homosexual community," the paper quoted him as saying. "I have a healthy respect for heterosexuals. I have a deep respect for the institution of marriage. I am standing for marriage. I am not standing against any individual sector of our society."
I always find it reassuring when bigotry has to go to such absurd lengths to deny itself, especially given that this pseudotolerant boilerplate is likely to offend the very people who see gay marriage as a threat.

Voters in Virginia have elected an openly gay black man:
Lawrence Webb was elected to the Falls Church City Council, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Webb won one of three available seats with 1,215 votes in a close race -- coming in third, Webb beat out the fourth candidate by 39 points....

"I also hope my election opens the door for others to get involved in public service," Webb said in a statement. "It doesn't matter if you're gay or black or both. What matters is your dedication to building a better community and your willingness to work hard at it."
And Nepal has elected its first openly gay politician:
Ganesh Shah, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal, said that Sunil Babu Pant was chosen to lead the party to "ensure the rights of gay and other minority groups. He will be the first person to represent Nepal's gay community."
Australia is changing laws that allow discrimination against gays:
Australia will change a raft of federal laws to remove discrimination against gay couples, but will stop short of allowing same-sex marriages, the government announced Wednesday.

Under the changes, gay couples in long-term relationships would be treated the same as married couples on issues such as taxation, pensions and welfare payments, Attorney General Robert McClelland said.
Meanwhile, yet another staunch defender of family values has been caught with his pants down. And the appalling Ward Connerly is fuming over yet another defeat:
A leader of a ballot initiative that would have ended state-based affirmative action programs lashed out at opponents on Monday and vowed to revive the issue in 2010, after failing to meet a weekend deadline to turn in signatures.

"So those who are gleeful right now about being able to bully us, you better enjoy your last laugh because it won't last very long," said Ward Connerly, a California businessman who helped spearhead the initiative in Missouri and four other states this year.
"Outdoor living rooms" are popping up in Los Angeles:
Armed with grant money, hammers and some technical help, residents around the city have gone about spiffing up bus stops, among a number of other outdoor spaces, into something known as community living rooms.

The idea began several years ago in Oakland, where community organizers and residents got together to improve places where neighbors tended to congregate — the corner store, outside the barbershop — amid a decidedly downtrodden environment.
In New York, meanwhile, urban gardens are on the rise:
Growing up in rural Jamaica, the Wilkses helped their families raise crops like sugar cane, coffee and yams, and take them to market. Now, in Brooklyn, they are farmers once again, catering to their neighbors’ tastes: for scallions, for bitter melons like those from the West Indies and East Asia and for cilantro for Latin-American dinner tables.
For more information on the myriad ways in which people are addressing the problem of urban food deserts, see People's Grocery.

Pruned bears strange tidings of bioremediating mushrooms:
Typically, contaminated soil is hauled off, buried or burned. Using the mushroom is put in plots, strewn with straw and left alone with mushroom spawn. The spawn release a fine, threadlike web called mycelium that secretes enzymes “like little Pac-Mans that break down molecular bonds,” Mr. Stamets said. And presto: toxins fall apart.
In related news, fungi may also be able to reduce the hazards of depleted uranium:
Although less radioactive than natural uranium, depleted uranium is just as toxic and poses a threat to people.

In the new study, the researchers found that free-living and plant symbiotic (mycorrhizal) fungi can colonize depleted-uranium surfaces and transform the metal into uranyl phosphate minerals.
And bread molds reportedly offer hope of directly targeting disease-causing genes:
A University of Missouri scientist, along with a collaborative research team, has examined a new mechanism in the reproductive cycle of a certain species of mold. This mechanism protects the organism from genetic abnormalities by "silencing" unmatched genes during meiosis (sexual reproduction). The finding could have implications for higher organisms and may lead to precise "targeting" of unwanted genes, such as those from the HIV virus.
Speaking of HIV, a quick test for it seems to be very helpful in preventing mother-to-child transmission:
Of the participants, about 82% had never taken an HIV test, according to the study. The tests found that 11 women were HIV-positive. These women were given antiretroviral drugs to prevent MTCT. According to the study, 10 of these infants survived and tested negative for HIV.
Several new species have been found in a rapidly shrinking area of Brazilian savanna.
The lizard — part of a separate evolutionary line from snakes — is one of 14 species believed new to science discovered on a four-week expedition to a 1.77-million-acre (716,000-hectare) protected area in the Cerrado. The team also found several threatened and rare species.

"We don't know exactly what we're losing," said expedition leader Christian Nogueira, a Conservation International biologist.

Eight rare Amur leopards have been photographed by a Russian camera trap:
"The confirmed stability of the leopard population … warm[s] our hearts and give[s] hope," Pavel Fomenko of WWF Russia said in a statement.

Furthermore, 14 tiger cubs have been spotted in an Indian national park:
Wildlife experts welcomed the news and said they also have information about sightings of tiger cubs in four other reserves.

"Ranthambore is back to its heyday of the 1980s, and the secret of success is in better management and a lot of protection, which was not there earlier," said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
A paper in PLoS Biology suggests that frog conservation efforts should concentrate on Madagascar:
[O]ne of the best places to focus these efforts is Madagascar, a global hotspot of amphibian diversity that shows no signs of amphibian declines — or traces of the chytrid fungus.

Protecting this amphibian treasure trove before it’s too late, the authors argue, makes Madagascar a top priority for amphibian conservation efforts. “In Madagascar,” the authors argue, “amphibian conservation efforts have the possibility of being pro-active, rather than reactive, or simply post-mortem.”
A new study shows how the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have consistently buried environmental news:
The report found that both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times essentially buried environmental stories, as environmental news for both papers made up only 1 percent of the total front page....

Both papers had more front page stories on sports/entertainment/lifestyles than on the environment. 3.7 percent of The Wall Street Journal's front page was made up by entertainment and sports. While at The New York Times sports and entertainment appeared on the front page nearly seven times that of environmental stories with 6.9 percent. Health/medicine-related stories at The New York Times was more than seven times the environment with 7.3 percent. In both papers the environment nearly tied science/technology which was 0.8 percent at The New York Times and 1.1 percent at The Wall Street Journal.
This, of course, is merely a ploy to make it look as though they're not on Algore's climate hysteria bandwagon.

The Sietch Blog reports that "global production of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells increased 51 percent in 2007." Apropos of which, Berkeley, CA will soon be testing a clever way of increasing installation of solar panels:
Installing solar panels on your roof is like paying for 20 years of juice up front. There's no guarantee you'll recoup that money when you sell, and American families move every seven years on average. While it may be exhilarating to watch the utility meter spin backward, these basic facts make solar impractical for the masses. "People are willing to pay a premium to not be tied down," notes Cisco DeVries of Berkeley, California, who until recently served as the mayor's chief of staff.

But last year, DeVries hit upon a brilliantly simple idea. What if, he asked, the city financed residents' solar rooftops, then levied a 20-year tax assessment on their properties to pay for it? The debt would follow the home, not the owner, and in one fell swoop, the two greatest impediments to home solar would be history.
An inflatable solar panel provides plenty of cheap hot water:
For consumers, the SolarStore could provide a cheap source of domestic hot water; with an initial cost of under Â100 per product, trial data has shown that the system will pay for itself in only 6 months. This compares extremely favourably to conventional domestic solar hot water systems, which cost in the region of Â2000-3000 and have payback times of around 10-20 years. It is anticipated that the product will also be extremely beneficial in developing countries, where a reliable electricity supply can be a problem.
Inhabitat reports that volunteers from Engineers Without Borders "have developed a small wind turbine design that has the capacity to bring much needed electrical power to remote villages in Guatemala and provide an alternative to hazardous kerosene lighting."

George Monbiot has won my heart by making an impassioned plea for dirigibles:
Airships fly much lower than planes, typically at about 4,000 feet, which means their emissions of water vapour have very little effect on temperature. If they were powered by hydrogen fuel cells, they would be almost silent, greatly reducing the effects for people on the ground. Though they are much slower than jets, the cabin can be built much wider, which means that travelling by airship would be rather like travelling by cruise ship, but at twice the speed and using a fraction of the fuel.

I tend to be wary of biofuel stories, but Four Legs Good has sent me a link that's really pretty interesting:
A newly created microbe produces cellulose that can be turned into ethanol and other biofuels, report scientists from The University of Texas at Austin who say the microbe could provide a significant portion of the nation's transportation fuel if production can be scaled up....

Brown and Nobles say their cyanobacteria can be grown in production facilities on non-agricultural lands using salty water unsuitable for human consumption or crops....Glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without harming or destroying the cyanobacteria (harvesting cellulose and sugars from true algae or crops, like corn and sugarcane, requires killing the organisms and using enzymes and mechanical methods to extract the sugars). Cyanobacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen can be grown without petroleum-based fertilizer input.
Arizona is the 14th state to have adopted a Clean Car rule:
Under the Clean Car Rule, each automobile manufacturer is required to demonstrate that its fleet of passenger cars and light-duty trucks delivered for sale in Arizona on or after January 1, 2011, meets an average emissions standard for greenhouse gases. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by about 32 million metric tons from 2012 to 2020 and will also reduce pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone formation, a major issue in Arizona. Implementation of the rule is expected to reduce 5,505 tons of carbon monoxide, 892 tons of hydrocarbons, and 1,436 tons of oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) in 2018.
The BLM has closed 30,000 acres of the Clear Creak Management Area to off-road vehicles:
“It’s about time that the agency steps in to protect public health,” said Chris Kassar, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA study confirms that asbestos levels and toxic dust kicked up by off-road vehicles is a much greater health hazard than previously thought, and the Bureau of Land Management is going to have to be very careful about how they manage this area in the future.”
New Jersey is backing away from its plan to close state parks:
Last month, Governor Corzine proposed to close several parks serving an estimated two million visitors each year and lay off 80 park workers in order to save the state roughly $4.5 million. Documents uncovered by PEER showed that DEP is forfeiting millions of dollars from not collecting owed rents and other payments from big corporations holding easements and concessions on park lands.

“I am glad someone finally listened to reason,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “Collecting rent is a basic step that should have been considered before announcing that parks will be closed to the public.”
A federal judge has once again ordered the EPA to obey the law:
The Bush administration has violated legal deadlines for updating the nation's clean-air standards on carbon monoxide, a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White told the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to follow a schedule that would allow a full scientific review, public comment and any proposed changes in the standard to take place by May 2011. The EPA had proposed a timetable that would extend through October 2012.
Estonians are using Google maps and GPS to locate trash as part of a national clean-up program:
"It has to be done, it can't stay here," said Mats Eek, 17, cleaning up a site in the middle of a forest near the central town of Turi, 100 km (62 miles) from capital city Tallinn.

He and the rest of his team worked to remove old metal, plastic, glass, bottles, and remains of farm medicals and household garbage hundred of meters from deep in a forest.
Iraq's National Museum has recovered 700 stolen artifacts:
Syrian authorities seized the items from traffickers over the years and handed custody last week to an Iraqi delegation in Damascus.

Mohammad Abbas al-Oreibi, Iraq's acting state minister of tourism and archaeology who led the negotiations with Syria, said he plans to visit Jordan soon to persuade its authorities to turn over more than 150 items.
A Brazilian judge has suspended construction of a massive dam on the Xingu River:
At 11,181 megawatts, the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River would be the world's third largest dam in terms of generating capacity. But the project has faced opposition from a coalition of indigenous groups, scientists, and environmentalists who say the dam will cause environmental harm by flooding large tracts of rainforest and blocking key migration routes for fish. To voice their concern over Belo Monte and other hydroelectric projects in the Amazon, more than 1,000 indigenous representatives are expected to gather in the city of Altamira from May 19-23.
And Unilever has selflessly called for a moratorium on destroying rainforests for palm oil:
Unilever's announcement comes shortly after a report from Greenpeace showed that the company's suppliers were destroying orangutan habitat and carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia for oil palm plantations.
The USGS will make 36 years of Landsat imagery available on the Intertubes for free. Which is nice, but not nearly as interesting as the effort to reconstruct shredded Stasi documents:
Stasi employees started to destroy their secret files as the Berlin Wall fell. Initially they shredded them. But as the machines broke down under the strain, they were forced to tear documents by hand.

The waste was to be pulped or burnt, but "citizen committees" stormed Stasi offices across East Germany, seizing millions of files, along with 15,500 bags of torn-up documents.

"One of the main reasons why the citizen committees occupied Stasi offices was to prevent the destruction of these archives," said Andreas Petter, a chief archivist at the office now responsible for their preservation.

Since 1995, experts working near Nuremberg in Bavaria have been sifting through the bags, extracting the torn shreds, strata by strata, and taping them back together to reconstruct the documents.
I hope you saved room for dessert. First up, we have Touchless Automatic Wonder, which is fairly self-explanatory. From there, you'll want to proceed directly to Japanese Crepe Paper Fairy Tales at BibliOdyssey.

Lots of photos this week, and why not? Panoramic photos from the National Archive is worth a look, and the photos from The Endurance Expedition are worth a good deal more.

Before visiting these sites, I suggest that you download and build your very own pinhole camera so you can take pictures of the screen. Better yet, you can use it to take photographs of the photographs of photographic negatives at Luminous Lint.

Also: Otherworldly photos of Chile's Chaiten volcano at BLDGBLOG, and this-worldly photos of NYC subway art by Grrlscientist.

Analysis of Sidewalk Fractures makes me realize that I've missed my true calling (via Plep). And The Journal of Cartoon Over-Analyzations makes me realize that opportunity never stops knocking (via Coudal.

Last but not least, the Acrobatic Fly.

(Illustration: "Leonid Meteor Strom, as seen over North America in the night of November 12./13., 1833" from Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt, 1888.)


Anonymous said...

This grumpy-ass pessimist is always grateful for this. Thanks.

four legs good said...

Okay, I would SO love to travel by dirigible, wouldn't you?

How FABULOUS!!! and relaxing!!

I can imagine all kinds of "themed" trips, where the journey could be as big a part of the trip as the destination.

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