Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Having written and deleted three ill-tempered preambles detailing my massive problems with the theory and practice of American liberalism, and suggesting that the trouble with our elected officials is not that they don't represent us, but that they represent too many of us too well -- particularly when they throw in the towel preemptively, after a meager effort, and pat themselves on the back for it -- I'll forego editorializing entirely and get straight to the good news.

Washington DC has decided that gay people have the same rights as everyone else.

The city council passed the measure Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the city. Congress has final say over D.C.'s laws, however, so the mayor's signature doesn't mean the bill immediately becomes law.
New York is coming to a similar realization about transgendered people:
New York Governor David A. Paterson issued an executive order extending anti-discrimination policies to gender identity for state employees Wednesday.

“Governor Paterson has taken significant action to advance equality for all New York state employees,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The ability to provide for our families is non-negotiable. We applaud Governor Paterson for his commitment to the LGBT community and look forward to working with fair-minded New York legislators to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which will protect private employees.”
The FY2010 Omnibus Spending Bill contains some good provisions:
The legislation eliminates traditional sources of funding for abstinence-only programs and instead provides funding for "a new evidence-based teenage pregnancy prevention initiative." The bill calls for $114.5 million to be appropriated for the new programs, which will include age appropriate and medically accurate information on both contraception and abstinence....

The District of Columbia also made major gains with the passage of the bill. A provision that would eliminate a long-time prohibition on using DC-raised monies for abortion assistance within the District is in the final legislation as well as a provision overturning a ban on medical marijuana in the District.
Blog of Rights has more. It's worth noting that the bill also eases restrictions on needle exchange programs.

Uganda has banned female genital mutilation:
Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Uganda under a bill passed unanimously by the Parliament, lawmakers said.

Ugandans convicted of the practice, also known as female circumcision, face up to 10 years in prison. If a girl dies from the surgery, which involves cutting off the clitoris to reduce sexual feeling, convicted offenders would be sentenced to life in prison.
The United States is speeding up the patent process for green technology:
Green technology patents will see a year shaved off the average forty month wait time to approve new patents in the US. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is implementing a one-year pilot program to push green technology patent applications through the process more quickly, so that the technologies can reach the market faster.
Honolulu will use seawater to cool its buildings:
Frigid seawater pumped in from the ocean’s depths will soon help cool more than half of the buildings in Honolulu’s downtown. Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning LLC, which is undertaking the $240 million project, expects its technology to cut the Hawaiian city’s air conditioning electricity usage by up to 75 percent while slashing carbon emissions and the use of ozone-depleting refrigerants.
A plan to open Vermont state land to off-road vehicles has been blocked:
The rejection of the rule was based solely on procedural grounds and did not tackle substantive issues such as the environmental impacts of ATVs or the impact on other users of public lands. Still, one of the fatal flaws in the rule, according to the committee, was that it failed to provide any scientific information or support for allowing ATVs on state lands. The provision of scientific background is a requirement of any new administrative rule.
The world's largest solar office building has opened in China:
he design of the new building is based on the sun dial and “underlines the urgency of seeking renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels.” Aside from the obvious sustainable nature of the solar panel – clad exterior, other green features include advanced roof and wall insulation practices resulting in an energy savings of 30% more than the national standard. In addition, the external structure of the building used a mere 1% of the amount of steel used to construct the Bird’s Nest.
A famous Nevada brothel has inadvertently aided efforts to restore the Truckee River floodplain:
The tax woes of the Mustang Ranch, the first licensed brothel in the United States, may prove an boon to the Nature Conservancy's efforts to restore the Truckee River in Nevada, the New York Times reported this week, saying that "like many acts of salvation, this one has its roots deep in sin."

The brothel's original high-desert location, a 420-acre site eight miles east of Reno and 300 yards from the riverbank, was confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service a few years ago. While the working women continue to ply their trade a few miles downriver, the old property is being restored to floodplain. The river had been straightened and widened by the Army Corps of Engineers half a century ago to reduce flood risks to Reno's growing population.
A new process extracts lithium from geothermal wastewater:
We need electric vehicles to curb our thirst for oil, but there’s a problem: EV’s generally use lots of lithium in their batteries, and that’s another limited resource. Now Simbol Mining thinks it has a partial solution in a new technique that extracts battery lithium from the wastewater of geothermal plants.

Currently, most lithium is sourced from soil or dried brine in a water-intensive process. But Simbol’s technique uses water that is already being extracted for geothermal energy. The technique, which Simbol hopes to use in the geothermal and lithium-rich waters in California’s underground Salton Sea, pulls lithium ions out of the water and into a lithium chloride compound that can be mixed with sodium carbonate for shipping. Heat from the water helps power the process.
A substitute for tropical wood could help to save the rainforests.
Kebony, a Norwegian company, has developed a process to make softwoods similar to tropical hardwoods without the use of chemicals. The product, also called Kebony, stops softwood from rotting by treating it with a chemical-free process that involves sugarcane waste, pressurizing, and heating. The process makes softwood that is actually harder than tropical hardwoods and resistant to fungi and insects. Since the wood only needs to be treated once, it is cheaper than soft woods over the long run that need to be treated throughout their lifetime, each treatment releasing toxic chemicals into the environment.
And there's good news about the ongoing arms talks between the US and Russia.
The new version of Start would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200, according to a senior American official. It would also force each side to reduce its strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to below 800, down from the old limit of 1,600.
Furthermore: Ten environmental wins. The return of the repressed. Old tickets. Saturn's hexagon. Microscope slides by W. White. Images of Eritrea (via Coudal). Vintage storefronts (likewise).

Ainu Komonjo. Alternative global mapping techniques. Acoustic listening devices. A close-up view of a hybrid foamflower. A fireball over the Mojave Desert. And ice storms.

Also, a short film for someone sweet.

Last, thanks for rising to the occasion last week! Marvelous stuff, and I really appreciated it. (Of course, you're more than welcome to post positive stories this week, too. Or any other.)

(Photo at top: "General view towards Merok, Geiranger Fjord, Norway" between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Via the Library of Congress.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

I'm taking a dreamy, romantic stroll through a minefield at the moment, so if there's to be any hope at all this week, you'll have to provide it.

If you've heard any heartening news, please post a summary and link in comments. (I'd do the same for you, if you were in my shoes!)

Thanks. I'll be back, eventually. 'Til then, do this in remembrance of me.

(Photo: "Dust Sculptures in the Rosette Nebula" by John Ebersole.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Music Blogging

I'll be very, very, very...distracted this week, and won't be writing anything here.

However, I'm going to schedule a Friday Hope Blogging post, so that anyone who feels the urge can post heartening stories in the comments field. The life you save may be your own, but it'll more likely be mine.

Whatever's left of me will resume blogging a week from tomorrow, unless I change my mind for some reason.

Until then...well, let's just say tautugniagmigikpiñ.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

The Senate has passed the Women's Health Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) proposed this amendment...which will require all health care plans to cover women's comprehensive preventative care and screenings (like gyno exams, mammograms, STD testing and treatment and family planning) with no cost to women (or with limited co-pays)....

[T]he most significant thing about the Women's Health Amendment is that it could potentially save the lives of millions of low-income women who often skip basic health care exams and screenings because of added costs, says the National Women's Law Center. And that's huge.
Baltimore has passed a bill requiring crypto-religious "pregnancy centers" to inform prospective clients that they do not offer abortion information.
Just three councilmembers voted "no" to the limited pregnancy center bill. It requires all pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion information to post signs in English and Spanish to that effect.

If the mayor signs the legislation, they'd be required to put up a sign in the waiting room making it clear they don't offer the service.
A library in Ames, IA will continue to carry Sex, Etc., a magazine comprising sex ed info written by and for teens.
Free copies of a sex-education magazine for teens will still be available at the Ames Public Library despite a petition to have them removed.

The library board voted 6-1 Thursday to continue offering Sex, Etc., which is published three times a year by Rutgers University.
In Australia, boys in Victoria state schools "face compulsory feminism programs," in addition to their compulsory literature and math and history and science programs.
[The classes] would combat common attitudes among boys such as young women are either "good girls or sluts", the report said.

It said feminist theories were best at explaining the link between gender power relations and violence against women, and must underpin the programs.
Apparently, this proposal is controversial because there is "considerable community hostility to feminism, even among teachers and students." As always, it's unseemly to fight for equality by questioning the ideological underpinnings of inequality. Regardless, a pilot program is supposed to begin next year.

The Salvation Army has dropped a policy requiring parents to show proof of citizenship before receiving holiday toys for their children:
The charities' policies had attracted criticism from immigrant advocates, who charged they were punishing children for the actions of their parents by requiring such documentation.

Cesar Espinosa, a Houston immigrant advocate, said that the Salvation Army's decision to no longer ask for Social Security numbers for the Angel Tree program was “the right thing to do.”
The USDA has decertified an "organic" livestock operation:
[O]ne of the largest organic cattle producers in the United States, Promiseland Livestock, LLC, was suspended from organic commerce, along with its owner and key employees, for four years. The penalty was part of an order issued by administrative law judge Peter Davenport in Washington, DC on November 25.

Promiseland, a multimillion dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, including over 13,000 acres of crop land, and managing 22,000 head of beef and dairy cattle, had been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and “laundering” conventional cattle as organic.
Incidentally, regulators were aware of these improprieties during the Bush administration, but "documents secured under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by The Cornucopia Institute indicate that the initial investigation was squashed for political reasons by Dr. Barbara Robinson, who until recently directed the USDA’s organic program."

Farmers' markets in NYC are increasingly accepting food stamps, and this is improving low-income residents' access to healthier food.
Food stamp sales from July to November, when the stamps are valid at the markets, doubled to $226,469 in 2009 from $100,772 in 2008, according to numbers released by the City Council on Sunday. While that is but a small fraction of the $200 million that New York’s surging food stamp population receives in benefits each month, it can represent a significant portion of business for farmers. In some low-income neighborhoods, food stamps can make up 70 percent to 80 percent of sales at the markets, according to the report.
All this time, I thought the urban poor ate potted meat and drank quarter water as a matter of personal preference. Go figure!

The EPA has withdrawn its pollution permit for the Black Mesa coal mine.
In response to an appeal brought by a diverse coalition of tribal and environmental groups, this week the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a controversial water permit for the massive Black Mesa Coal Complex, a coal-mine complex located on Navajo Nation and Hopi lands in northeastern Arizona....

Nicole Horseherder of TO' Nizhoni Ani (Navajo for Beautiful Water Speaks), who lives 20 miles south of the Black Mesa Complex, said: “I am very happy about the EPA’s decision to withdraw the permit. I am glad to see a federal regulatory agency finally doing its job. In the course of our struggle to protect the water and bring awareness to the impacts of this coal-mining operation, we have never had such a favorable decision by any agency charged with regulating the impacts of Black Mesa.”
The National Marine Fisheries Services has proposed habitat protections for the Cook Inlet beluga whale, and all it took was the threat of a lawsuit.
The federal National Marine Fisheries Service today took an important step toward protecting critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the Cook Inlet beluga whale in Alaska by proposing to designate more than 3,000 square miles of the imperiled whale’s habitat for protection. The overdue proposal comes on the heels of a formal notice of intent to sue by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rinderpest, a deadly cattle disease, is expected to be eradicated within 18 months.
When successful, the disease will become the second to be driven to practical extinction in the world. Smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, was the first.

The disease, caused by the morbillivirus, has killed countless cattle since it was first introduced to the Roman Empire around 376 AD. It has also been responsible for severe famines, particularly in Africa, after decimating herds used for food and plowing.
An ecologist has discovered the world's smallest orchid.
The bloom has, for now, no name. "It's just sitting here with lots of others that need to be described," Jost said. "These forests are just filled with new things."

Speaking of new things, Inhabitat discusses solar-powered camel clinics:
Kenya’s camels recently started sporting some unusual apparel: eco-friendly refrigerators! Some of the African country’s camels are carrying the solar-powered mini fridges on their backs as part of a test project that uses camels as mobile health clinics. Organizers hope the eco-friendly transport system will provide a cheap, reliable way of getting much-needed medicines and vaccines to rural communities in Kenya and Ethiopia.
And Helsinki plans to use waste heat from an underground data center to heat 500 homes.
The new server farm will be located in the bedrock beneath Uspenski Cathedral, which places it in close proximity to the district heating network, which consists of an underground system of pipes filled with heated water. Heat from the servers will be captured and transferred to this network, which will then send it out to 500 homes throughout the city.

According to Reuters, data centers account for up to 30% of many corporations energy bills and 55-60% of that energy goes towards cooling costs. Helsinki’s new server farm stands to greatly reduce this cost while keeping the servers cool, so by all accounts it’s a win-win situation. The new data center is set to open in January 2010.
Also: Accidental geography. Photos by Nicholas Hance McElroy. One hundred days in Glacier National Park. Photos by Karl Struss and Ikko Narahara (both via wood s lot). And French children's books of the thirties and forties.

I've got a nervous breakdown to attend to, so I'll have to stop early and leave you with this short animated film (via The Bioscope).

Please feel free -- or better yet, obliged -- to post any heartening stories I missed in comments.

(Illustration at top: "Impression of Lightning" by Charles Burchfield, 1916.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Sum of All Fears

According to Jillian Bandes, there's a troubling downside to publicly funded healthcare, apart from that whole "death panels" thing: it may make it harder for mentally ill people to get the firearms they'll need in order to take their final, bloody stand against the Culture of Death.

Government health care reform "will most likely dump your gun-related health data into a government database...that can preclude you from owning firearms,” said Gun Owners of America, in an email notification to their members, shortly before the health care debate on Saturday.
Worse, the government might decide to treat mental illness as a preexisting condition, and charge more for coverage:
GOA said that diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorders or other mental illnesses could be a reason the government uses to charge you more for health insurance under the public plan, or as part of co-op regulations.
That being the case, it's much safer to stick with private insurance companies. Granted, they already treat diagnosed mental illness as a preexisting condition, and price their plans accordingly. But they do it in a patriotic, God-fearing way that preserves our fundamental American right to buy lots of guns while suffering from persecution mania and delusions of reference.
Calls to Sebelius’ office were not returned, though a member of her press office laughed out loud when questioned about the prospect of health care being tied to gun ownership, saying, “that’s crazy.”

But Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, said such regulations were quite possible.
Indeed. And once healthcare is tied to gun ownership, we all know what will (probably) come next: a mathematically perfect One State in which all radical nonconformists -- e.g., ordinary folks who are offended by Obama's outlandish thirst for orange juice -- will be sent to the Gas Bell Jar for asphyxiation.

Harry Reid would probably laugh out loud and say this is crazy, but these guys say it's quite possible. It's one thing to maintain a sunny disposish in regards to global warming, which is either not happening, or beneficial, or both...but when you're talking about gun rights, the slightest possibility of an imaginable scenario that could conceivably lead to the eventual threat of a theoretical outcome that might turn out to be a slippery slope to the hypothetical brink of a potential disaster is grounds for immediate, uncompromising action.

You can't be too careful.

(Photo by cometstarmoon.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Appointed Rounds

Smokewriting on risk:

It’s important to understand that risks are not free-floating objects with which we simply collide. They are created through social relationships, and are impossible to understand outside these relationships, which are themselves inflected by inequalities of power. For example, I am a “financial innovator”, and so get to run a risk, if I choose to; whereas, you, as a homeowner, get to have one imposed on you when my flush is busted. Risks which are imposed are typically viewed as less acceptable than ones which are chosen – and the consequences of imposing risks can be individually and socially serious harms: creating social conflicts further down the line (splitting communities, breaking implicit links of trust and so on), and entrenching exploitative and oppressive relationships (testified to by the history of environmental racism and environmental justice more widely, and nicely summed up by William Freudenberg’s remark regarding how often technical planning criteria tend to be satisfied "on the poor side of town").
Brian Holmes on global finance:
Writing in 1986, Susan Strange described the extreme volatility of the financial sphere as “casino capitalism.” While investment bankers made fortunes, risk and instability arose to dominate everyday experience: “The great difference,” Strange writes, “between an ordinary casino which you can go into or stay away from, and the global casino of high finance, is that in the latter we are all involuntarily engaged in the day’s play.” By the mid-1980s, the continually rolling dice had disrupted the entire international system for the production and exchange of goods and services. The United States retained the central role in economic governance that it had won with WWII, but its hegemony was now founded on the management of chaos.
Acephalous on the hacked CRU e-mails:
The problem with nonspecialists reading the private correspondence of experts is that their ignorance transforms all the technical points into nefarious inkblots....

They are convincing themselves that those black blobs represent what they insist they represent, and when experts inform them that those are not Rorschach blots to be subjectively interpreted — that they are, in fact, statements written in a language that skeptics simply do not understand — the nonspecialists look over them again and declare that it could be a butterfly, or maybe a bat.
See also Newtongate.

RMJ on Psalm 109:
While some passages in Scripture may be "difficult" (Psalm 109 is hardly the only one), that difficulty is changed by a confessional approach to those same passages. It's an approach only available to, and only understood by, the members of a community, and meant to be communicated only to those members by other members, be they ordained or lay. Even then, it is usually poorly understood, or even misunderstood. As time goes by, however, I become more and more convinced that, especially if the scriptures are "holy," heilige, set apart to remain pure, they must be handled as such, and not bandied about in secular discussions or political arguments as if they had only one meaning, one interpretation, one understanding, and we all, believer and non-believer alike, agreed on it.
Southern Beale on Psalm 109:
We live in a secular culture, and in the internet age, free and easy access to Scripture is coupled with Biblical illiteracy to create a whole mess of problems. The result is everything from a botched bumper sticker slogan to people claiming there’s a Biblical justification for bigotry, war, oppression, and even “free market ideas.”
Thers on everything else.
I don't believe in American democracy. I don't think our system works. I think we've achieved a point of perfectly pointless hubristic stasis, and we're all going to die.
(Photo by Lori Nix.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Final Frontier

Andrew Rice reports that Saudi Arabia is buying up African croplands. Amazingly, the headline asks whether there is "such a thing as agro-imperialism."

It's a strange question, given that most of the classic narratives of imperialism revolve around agriculture (e.g., tea, opium, rubber, bananas, palm oil). You wouldn't think it'd be necessary to invent a new, fashionably hyphenated name for the economic imperative that gave us the term "banana republic"...unless the goal is simply to treat established facts as controversial theories, so that business as usual can proceed while we quibble over terminology.

Maybe the confusion stems from the fact that in today's fully enlightened world, growing your country's food on a poorer country's land creates jobs and opportunities. This is a far cry from the imperialism of the bad old days, which was explicitly undertaken in the name of Radical Evil and had no use for humanitarian platitudes. In the 1800s, plantation owners paid their laborers starvation wages as an expression of racialist contempt. Nowadays, they do it out of love.

Or failing that, necessity.

A variety of factors — some transitory, like the spike in food prices, and others intractable, like global population growth and water scarcity — have created a market for farmland, as rich but resource-deprived nations in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere seek to outsource their food production to places where fields are cheap and abundant. Because much of the world’s arable land is already in use — almost 90 percent, according to one estimate, if you take out forests and fragile ecosystems — the search has led to the countries least touched by development, in Africa.
I'm not sure how you distinguish "fragile ecosystems" from the other kind. Maybe they don't withstand conversion to industrial monoculture? Or maybe the distinction has less to do with biology than with the power and visibility of a given ecosystem's human defenders. By that measure, California's remaining wetlands are probably a lot more "fragile" than most of Africa.

Either way, Ethiopia is one of the countries that may or may not be falling prey to agro-imperialism.
“We are associated with hunger, although we have enormous investment opportunities,” explained Abi Woldemeskel, director general of the Ethiopian Investment Agency.
As you can see, Abu Woldemeskel has a firm grasp of history. And that goes double for Robert Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute:
“The idea that one country would go to another country,” says Robert Zeigler, “and lease some land, and expect that the rice produced there would be made available to them if there’s a food crisis in that host country, is ludicrous.”
I'll say. I can't come up with a single example of a country that exported food crops while its people died of starvation, and I've been trying for several seconds. The scenario is even more ludicrous given that we're talking about Saudi Arabia, which has very little clout in international affairs and tends to buckle under the mildest criticism.

But if you want a really clear-eyed view of history, you must consult Susan Payne of Emergent Asset Management.
“Africa is the final frontier,” Payne told me after the conference. “It’s the one continent that remains relatively unexploited.”
Roll over King Leopold, and tell Cecil Rhodes the news! Perhaps it's time for a new Berlin Conference.

Joking aside, there's an awful lot of money at stake here, so it's just as well that global warming turned out to be a hoax.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I could less easily touch your forehead and lips than Hypselodoris bayeri.

I have so often dreamed of you, walked, spoken, slept with your phantom that perhaps I can be nothing any more but a phantom among phantoms, and a hundred times more shadow than the shadow that walks and will walk over the sundial of your life.

(Photo by jcnavarrog.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Blog of Rights has a touching post about a woman who successfully fought a court decision that denied the rights of her same-sex partner.

This week, Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit, issued a new opinion in this dispute, stating once again that Karen is entitled to receive health care coverage for her wife, just like any other lawfully married employee of the federal courts. But this time, he added “Et Uxor” to the caption of the case, so that it reads "IN THE MATTER OF KAREN GOLINSKI, ET UXOR", reflecting in yet another way the federal court’s recognition of the validity of Karen and Amy’s union. And throughout the decision, the Chief Judge refers to Amy as Karen’s wife.

The merits of the decision are important — guaranteeing employees of the federal court system equal pay for equal work — but the court’s linguistic respect for their relationship is also a milestone.
Speaking of milestones, an Argentine judge has upheld a gay couple's right to be married:
An Argentine judge paved the way for gay marriage when she granted a homosexual couple permission to marry in a first for Latin America, the world's biggest Catholic region....

Friday's ruling by Judge Gabriela Seijas ordered the civil registry to make official the marriage of Alejandro Freyre, 39, and Jose Maria Di Bello, 41, who had been denied their request because they were both men.
In New York, meanwhile, judges upheld the state's recognition of gay marriage.
New York State’s highest court unanimously fought off a challenge to the NYS policy signed by Gov. David Paterson that recognizes gay marriages performed in other states.

However, the judges ruled narrowly, and asked that the legislature resolved the question of marriage equality.
A law requiring immigrant women to be vaccinated against HPV has been rescinded:
The requirement was originally implemented in July 2008 and was mandated by the Federal Immigration Authorities. It applied to immigrant women ages 11 to 26 who were seeking permanent resident status. Women's and immigrant rights groups argued that the requirement, which is gender-specific and costly, is discriminatory.
Young Indian girls are speaking out against child marriage:
Fourteen-year-old Ahalya Kumar lives on a single daily meal of starched rice and has never been to the movies, but the girl from a dirt-poor Indian village packed enough power to reject her arranged marriage in June.

One of four children in a family that earns a pittance rolling bidis, or cheap handrolled Indian cigarettes, her elder sister was married off young and forced to bear children before she turned 18, the legal Indian marrying age.

But when it was Ahalya's turn, she said "no" after hearing about a 13-year-old girl from the same area who had shot to national fame by stopping her marriage.

"I want to be educated first and live healthy. Marriage can wait until I am 19," she said.
Also in India, women are reviving a traditional agricultural practice:
Commercial mono-crop cultivation in recent decades has usurped the traditional space women had in agriculture. Most farmers in this region, with an average landholding of two acres, did not want to divert plots for pata and lose income in cash, Kumre added.

Tulsiwar held meetings with women farmers in 31 villages in Jhari Jamni tehsil. The women pooled available seed stocks, which Tulsiwar’s non-profit bought and multiplied in 2006-2007 by planting them on the existing patas and on its five-acre nursery....Women from Lalguda and Mahadapur estimate the patas helped them save Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 last year. More than that, they offered a variety of nutritious food. “There is happiness only when there is plenty to eat,” commented Atram.
A number of prominent conservatives are arguing in favor of closing Guantanamo and trying terrorists in federal courts.
Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases. Civilian prisons are the safe, cost effective and appropriate venue to hold persons convicted in federal courts. Over the last two decades, federal courts constituted under Article III of the U.S. Constitution have proven capable trying a wide array of terrorism cases, without sacrificing either national security or fair trial standards.
A swim club that discriminated against minority children has filed for bankruptcy:
Yesterday, Valley president John Duesler announced that the club's board of directors had voted 5-1 to file this week for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

For months, it had been rumored that Valley would not survive the costs associated with legal proceedings and lawsuits filed on behalf of young campers from Creative Steps Day Camp, a city summer camp whose members are minorities.
A population of critically endangered crocodiles has been found in Cambodia.
Nhek Ratanapech, the director of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is home to the 35 purebred Siamese crocodiles, describes the population as "on the verge of extinction".

"This could provide a critical lifeline for the long-term preservation of this critically endangered species," he says of the DNA results.

Nhek Ratanapech, who also heads the country’s crocodile conservation programme, says six of the 35 purebred Siamese crocodiles are mature adults which are unrelated to each other—vital for ensuring genetic diversity.
Birds and marine mammals have helped to create an atlas of the Patagonian Sea.
The atlas contains the most accurate maps ever assembled for this ecosystem and shows key migratory corridors spanning from coastlines to deep-sea feeding areas off the continental shelf hundreds of miles away....

“This unprecedented atlas was essentially written by the wildlife that live in the Patagonian Sea,” said Dr. Campagna, who runs the WCS Sea and Sky initiative. “It helps fill in many gaps of knowledge and should serve as a blueprint for future conservation efforts in this region.”
In the UK, tidal power turbines are producing more energy than expected:
The twin generators typically produce an average of 5MWh of electricity during the 6.25 hours of each ebb and each flood tide, enough energy to meet the average electricity needs for 1500 UK homes. SeaGen has already delivered over 350MWh of power into the electricity grid of Northern Ireland.
A federal judge has ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to take necessary steps to protect New Orleans from flooding:
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers' failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive flooding in Hurricane Katrina, a decision that could make the federal government vulnerable to billions of dollars in claims....

The ruling should give more than 100,000 other individuals, businesses, and government entities a better shot at claiming billions of dollars in damages.
Back in 2003, the US government ruled that decades of bomb testing in Vieques, Puerto Rico posed no environmental or health hazards. Now, they appear to be changing their tune.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said Friday it intends to "modify" some of its earlier research on Vieques, where the U.S. and its allies trained for conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq....

Robert Rabin, who moved to Vieques from Boston in 1980 and helped lead the protests against the bombing range, said he and other islanders had an "attitude of cautious celebration" about the agency's announcement.

"We hope this will lead to the best possible cleanup and allow people here to receive the best health care," Rabin said Saturday from his Vieques home. "They are using hopeful language, and this island really needs help."
The US, Canada, and Mexico have agreed on a new plan to protect North American wilderness areas.
The cooperation agreement establishes an intergovernmental committee to exchange research and approaches that address challenges such as climate change, fire control, and invasive species in land, marine, and coastal protected areas throughout the continent.

"This agreement will allow for the exchange of successful experiences, monitoring, and training of human resources, as well as the financing of projects that will protect and recover wild areas," said Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the
opening ceremony of the Ninth World Wilderness Congress in Mérida, Mexico.
In related news, a Texas industrial plant will not be importing and incinerating Mexican PCBs.
Veolia Environmental Services' industrial incinerator in Port Arthur — which gained national attention in 2007 for importing and burning waste from a military nerve agent — was seeking an exemption to a federal rule prohibiting the import of the chemical waste. The company has been in the application process to burn imported polychlorinated byphenyls, or PCBs, since 2006.

The company cited the economy for its decision to abandon the plan, but environmental groups claimed victory in stopping the area from becoming a "dumping ground for the world."
The Obama administration claims it will toughen oversight of strip-mining operations:
The Obama administration on Wednesday announced plans to beef up federal strip-mining inspections and reviews of mining permits issued by state regulators like West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection.

Interior Department officials said these steps are among its "immediate actions" to improve oversight of state mining regulators and "better protect streams affected by surface coal mining operations."
Builders are increasingly downsizing American homes:
For the first time in four decades in the luxury-home business, executives at John Wieland builders are thinking the unthinkable: Maybe houses in the South don't really need a fireplace.

They're also wondering whether new homes require 4,700 square feet of living space. Or private theaters with 100-inch screens. Or super-size-me foyers....

Wieland believes the market downshift reflects "a fundamental change in the way people are going to want to live," and not just a reaction to scarce credit and insecure jobs, said F. David Durham, senior vice president. "We're not waiting for things to return to the way they were."
The EPA has proposed new regulations on sulfur dioxide:
EPA said the proposed rules would "better protect public health by reducing people's exposure to high short-term concentrations of S02."

Fossil fuel-based power plants and other industrial facilities are the main sources sulfur dioxide emissions.
London is trying to restore its water fountains:
London has restored a drinking fountain in famous Trafalgar Square, and hopes that it starts a trend of renovating fountains across the city, returning free clean water to citizens who are out and about enjoying their public spaces.
Software originally created for urban designers turns out to be a valuable tool for autistic children:
Science is rich with happy flukes. Remember the story of penicillin? Alexander Fleming discovered the bacteria-destroying mold by accident when he left a culture dish uncovered in his lab in 1928. Eight decades later, here's another one: a Googlesoftware program called SketchUp, which was intended largely for architects and design professionals, has found a very unexpected and welcome fan base—children with autism. SketchUp is not only entertaining kids with autism spectrum disorders, it's providing them with skills that might one day help them as they age out of school and into the workforce.
NASA invites you to help explore Mars.

A Nasa website called "Be A Martian" allows users to play games while at the same time sorting through hundreds of thousands of images of the Red Planet.

The number of pictures returned by spacecraft since the 1960s is now so big that scientists cannot hope to study them all by themselves.

The agency believes that by engaging the public in the analysis as well, many more discoveries will be made.

Click here to learn more.

Pictures of waves. The filming of Cenerentola (1913). Postales Inventadas and photos by Alan Aubry (both via things). Electrical Folklore. The World Atlas of Panoramic Aerial Images (via Plep). And some absolutely incredible photos from Russia's Antarctic station.

Everyday Miracles. A consideration of the Michigan Relics. Oddly soothing artwork by John Fischetti. Gorgeous images from mid-century ads (see also here). Computopia. More railroad posters. A history of ballooning. And some quaint scenes from our recent past.

Chinese anti-malaria posters. Photos by Toshio Shibata (via wood s lot). BioScapes and solar astrophotography. Nineteenth-century photos of the Russian Empire. Covers from Dutch mysteries. And for an exceedingly special someone who's much on my mind of late, Eating in Toronto.

And here's a movie.

(Photo at top by Alan Friedman.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Watermelons Grow Big

If you're a teabagger -- and who isn't, deep down? -- WorldNetDaily has an offer you can't refuse:

For just $29.95 you can send an individualized notice to every member of Congress in the form of a "pink slip" with their name on it and your name on it.
WND informs us that more than five million of these pink slips have already been sent. Of course, that doesn't mean five million pink slips went out to each member of Congress (though I doubt they'd be upset if their slow-witted readers came to that conclusion). Five million is the (alleged) grand total, meaning that each congressperson would've gotten roughly ten thousand copies.
"It's an amazing feat, to get that many slips to Congress," [Rep. Steve] King told WND.
Rep. King is the man who revealed that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans every single day, so you know you can trust his down-home, folksy brand o' figgerin'.

The slip itself is a little masterpiece of agitprop, comprising "four governmental plans that are unacceptable":
  • government health care
  • cap and trade
  • "hate crimes"
  • any more spending
No more spending! You have to admit, $29.95 is a small price to pay to baffle your representatives with an impossible, incoherent ultimatum that you'd soon come to regret if it were actually honored. It'd cost you well over a hundred dollars to troll each member of Congress yourself (to say nothing of the hours you'd have to spend in a Soviet-style line at the Post Office, wedged between an overweight welfare queen and an illegal immigrant with Morgellons disease).

The only thing that could possibly stop this populist juggernaut is a shortage of pink paper.
In the first week, suppliers of paper reported the campaign had completely tapped the nation's reserves of 8.5 x 11 inch pink paper. As the last full pallet of pink paper was delivered to the printer, new supplies had to be ordered and manufactured.
The funny thing is, WND has photos of the slips, and they're clearly much smaller than 8.5 x 11. I'd say you could probably get three on a single page, or maybe even five. But for the sake of argument, let's say you can only fit two. That'd require 2,500,000 sheets, which is 5,000 reams, or 500 bales. I'm not convinced that's going to make a huge dent in "the nation's reserves."

Once you put aside these minor quibbles, though, it's hard to argue with campaign organizer Janet Border's statement that "this is already the most successful grass-roots effort in history."

In other news, I'm happy to announce that Bouphonia had its one-billionth visitor today. According to my calculations, this makes it the most popular blog ever. Tonight, my 80 wives and I will be celebrating this milestone with several thousand drinks at more than a hundred of our favorite nightspots. If you happen to run into us, feel free to regard me from afar in an attitude of hushed reverence. Since I'm well over ten feet tall, with fists the size of Christmas hams, I tend to stand out in a crowd.

(Photo via the Wisconsin Historical Society.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Rest of Us

When you're assessing existential threats to Western civilization, the last thing you want is a bunch of well-informed people muddying the waters. Anne Jolis understands this very well, and so she thanks her lucky stars for "climate laymen," who are a lot like climatologists, except that they know a lot less and tell you only what you want to hear.

[C]ampaigners against climate change could do worse than take a look at the work of Stephen McIntyre, who has emerged as one of the climate change gang's Most Dangerous Apostates. The reason for this distinction? He checked the facts.
In laymen's terms, this means he pointed out that much of the case for AGW rested on data from 12 Siberian trees, which Keith Briffa painstakingly chose from all other trees in the world in order to present the illusion of a warming planet. McIntyre, by contrast, looked at 34 trees, which makes him roughly three times more reliable than Briffa.

Briffa disagrees, of course. But given that McIntyre has demolished his credibility once and for all, why would anyone take his rebuttal seriously?
Mr. Briffa denounces Mr. McIntyre's work as "demonstrably biased" because it uses "a narrower area and range of sample sites." He says he and his colleagues have now built a new chronology using still more data. Here, as in similar graphs by other researchers, the spike soars once again. Mr. McIntyre's "work has little implication for our published work or any other work that uses it," Mr. Briffa concludes.

He and his colleagues may well ignore Mr. McIntyre, but the rest of us shouldn't.
Well, sure. That's just common sense. Especially since McIntyre's blog contains "more than 7,000 posts," which clearly demonstrates his dedication and love of Truth.

Jolis says that she "asked 10 climatologists what they thought was the most reliable method of predicting climate, and got nearly as many answers."

The problem is, it's impossible to draw reliable conclusions from the responses of 10 climatologists; she should've asked 34. (Besides, which methods experts prefer is probably less important than how many of those methods are currently predicting warming.)

In the course of Jolis' research, Rob Wilson of the University of St. Andrews's School of Geography and Geosciences asks her an impertinent question: "[C]an the nuances of methodological developments be communicated to the laymen — and would they want to know?"

Jolis responds:
Maybe not, but letting people feel duped by hyperbole is proving even more harmful to the warmers' cause.
Translation: Laymen may not understand climatology, or want to, and they may be unwilling to defer to people who do...but the real problem is the alarmism of climatologists, as defined by the world's foremost practitioners of blog science. If the warmers would knock off the hyperbole and focus on the benefits of sunnier weather to Greenland's agricultural sector, there'd be much less need for all this fussin' and fightin'.

Be sure to tune in next week, when Ms. Jolis defies the Dental-Industrial Complex by getting her teeth steam-cleaned at Jiffy Lube. Dentists may well find this unwise, but the rest of us shouldn't.

(Photo via Twilight Earth.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I see Hypselodoris festiva
in all manner of words and shapes.

Go. Come.
Love blots out its name: to
you it ascribes itself.

(Photo by Nemo's Great Uncle.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Forty-one Democratic representatives have vowed to vote against the healthcare reform bill if it contains the Stupak-Pitts amendment:

As Members of Congress we believe that women should have access to a full range of reproductive health care. Health care reform must not be misused as an opportunity to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women’s ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.
While we're on the subject, you might considering donating some money to Lois Herr, who's running against Joe Pitts in PA-16.

Since I've been fretting that solidarity seems to be somewhat unfashionable on the left these days, I was pleased to learn from AndyG that a ten-year-old boy in Arkansas refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance because America denies LGBT citizens equal rights:
“I've always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.”
Apparently, some of the other kids call him a "gaywad," but it doesn't seem to faze him. Maybe the Democrats can hire him as a strategist.

Meanwhile, the Mormon Church has come out in favor of a gay rights ordinance.
The Mormon Church has been a target of vituperation by some gay rights groups because of its active opposition to same-sex marriage. But on Wednesday, the church was being praised by gay rights activists in Salt Lake City, citadel of the Mormon world, for its open support of a local ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing and employment.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously Tuesday night, made Salt Lake the first city in Utah to offer such protections. While the measure probably had majority backing on the seven-member City Council anyway, the church’s support was seen by gay activists as a thunderclap that would resonate across the state and in the overwhelmingly Mormon legislature, where even subtle shifts in church positions on social issues can swing votes and sentiments.
The American Medical Association has announced that it opposes the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, on the grounds that it contributes to health disparities:
The health disparities policy is based on evidence showing that married couples are more likely to have health insurance, and that the uninsured have a high risk for "living sicker and dying younger," said Dr. Peter Carmel, an AMA board member.

Same-sex families lack other benefits afforded married couples, including tax breaks, spouse benefits under retirement plans and Social Security survivor benefits – all of which can put their health at risk, according to an AMA council report presented at the meeting.
Clorox has announced that it will stop using chlorine gas in the manufacture of bleach.
The company will convert its Fairfield, Calif., plant within the next six months and switch its six other U.S. plants over the coming years.

Clorox’ announcement came three days before the House of Representatives was set to take up plant security legislation (H.R. 2868) that would require high-risk chemical plants and water-treatment facilities to use safer processes or chemicals.
This is significant not just from the safety standpoint, but also because it represents the failure of a massive PR effort to paint a chlorine phaseout as a one-way ticket to some sort of gay Stone Age gulag.

In related news, the White House has refused to rescind its decision to ban lobbyists from serving on government advisory boards, despite recent pressure from an industry trade group. White House special counsel Norm Eisen explains:
[W]e decided that while lobbyists have a right to petition the government, it would best serve the interests of a fairer and more representative democracy if we limited their ability to do so from special positions of privileged access within the government....We informed them that while we will always seek ways to improve good policies, we do not intend to rescind this decision.
The US and Japan are discussing "the possibility of forming a special bilateral address environmental damage at U.S. military bases in Japan."
The proposed special environmental pact is aimed at allowing Japanese authorities to conduct effective on-site inspections at U.S. bases and to establish procedures for preventing and eliminating pollution. More information will be disclosed to ease the anxiety of local residents.
US scientists are visiting Cuba to discuss environmental issues.
EDF scientists and policy experts and Cuban scientists and environmental officials will have a series of meetings about how the United States and Cuba can work together to protect ocean waters and marine resources shared by the two countries. The meetings come on the heels of a September visit to the United States by Cuban environmental officials.
If further evidence is needed that elections have consequences, the new head of the National Park Service actually seems to believe in science.
[Jonathan] Jarvis says parks could sequester carbon, serve as sanctuaries for species facing extinction, and bring to public attention the ways global warming is transforming the environment....

His first to ensure that peer-reviewed science plays a foundational role in management decisions, especially in confronting climate change.
That sounds good to me. And so does this:
During his career, Jarvis has backed removal of dams blocking salmon streams near Olympic National Park in Washington. He reduced development around Crater Lake National Park in Oregon to improve water quality. And he got into hot water recently with US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California for fighting a commercial oyster operation in a bay at Point Reyes National Seashore because he believed it would harm the marine ecosystem.
The DoI says that the brown pelican has recovered from the effects of DDT:
The brown pelican was first declared endangered in 1970. Since then, thanks to a ban on DDT and efforts by states, conservation organizations, private citizens and many other partners, the bird has recovered. There are now more than 650,000 brown pelicans found across Florida and the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America.

As part of her plan to impose envirofascist Islamo-Marxism on the United States, Michelle Obama has installed beehives on the White House lawn (h/t: Xan).
Numbering more than 65,000 at one point, the bees produced a bumper crop of honey this year, the first time honey has ever been made on White House grounds. The hive, located on the South Lawn, is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic kitchen garden project.

The total haul was 134 pounds of honey, or roughly 11 gallons.
If she were a real American, she would've chosen a ruggedly individualistic insect like the leaf-cutter bee. Jonah Goldberg is probably working out the allegorical implications as we speak.

A slum in Peru is getting the water it needs by harvesting fog:
When the netting traps the fog, water droplets run down it into a small aluminum gutter on the panel’s edge. Water keeps collecting until it runs—aided by gravity and drain canals—down to cement storage tanks that lie halfway down the local hill.

The benefits are huge and multifaceted. Part of the water is channeled to a vegetable garden where vegetables and spices are grown. Most, though, is kept in ground-level storage tanks for residents to use at home for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.
In Kenya, bio-gas systems are improving sanitation and lowering cooking costs:
Running water and sanitation facilities are virtually non-existent in slums like Kibera, where most people earn less than $1 a day. Human waste in plastic bags is often dumped on roads, alleys and gutters.

But locals say there has been a dramatic reduction in these so-called "flying toilets" since the bio-gas center was constructed two years ago.
And a program in India is teaching people in rural villages to build and install solar panels and lanterns:
The initiative makes a lot of sense – rather than dropping down solar technology from above, teach those who will use it how it works and they’ll be able to repair it, will pass the information on to others in need, and will benefit from the green jobs that are created. The Orissa Tribal Empowerment & Livelihoods Programme (funded by the UK’s Department for International Development) also stands to increase the availability of renewable energy, reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuels, and cut down on the use of dangerous kerosene lamps.
The Electric Power Research Institute points out that a smart grid could reduce energy loss:
U.S. transmission and distribution grids lose about 300 billion kilowatt hours of power to inefficiencies every year, EPRI says. That adds up to about 7 percent to 10 percent of the country's electricity generation capacity – and it's been growing over the decades, said Karen Forsten, EPRI program manager.

Forsten is leading a newly launched EPRI research program with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and utilities and grid operators to find ways to fix those losses for transmission systems.
A 24-hour solar power system designed in the 1980s is getting a second chance:
Here’s how it works: An array of mirrors called heliostats focuses sunlight on a receiver filled with molten salt; the stored heat can produce steam to run a solar power plant 24/7—the elusive Holy Grail of solar energy. The technology, cast off as a non-commercial curiosity in the age of $18-a-barrel oil, is now being revived and could make Rocketdyne and its parent company, United Technologies, a big player in green tech.

A Santa Monica startup called SolarReserve — founded by, yes, rocket scientists from Rocketdyne — has licensed the solar power tower technology....The company was in the news last week when it filed an application with California regulators to build a 150-megawatt solar power plant in the Sonoran Desert east of Palm Springs. The Rice Solar Energy Project will be able to store seven hours of the sun’s heat so it can be released when it’s cloudy or at night to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. Future versions of the solar farm will be able to store up to 16 hours of solar energy.
Furthermore and notwithstanding: curves and grids. Bird photos by Andrew Zuckerman. A new life for bumper cars. Art of the New Deal. Postcards from the Archives of American Gardens. Illustrations by Robert Samuel Hanson. The Geneva Carbarn and Powerhouse. And some evocative photos from the NYC subway system at Express Train.

Home movie reconstructions (via things). Hawaiian beaches. Books that influenced, or were influenced by, Hooke's Micrographia. The Long Duration Exposure Facility (via but does it float). Advice on How to Make Friends by Telephone. Photos by the Goodridge Brothers. And via Plep, Japanese postcards celebrating the Year of the Monkey.

Folly, Fraud, Fakery (for those who didn't get their fill this week). Les Champignons. Posters for the films of Robert Bresson. Audio and video from The John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection. A collection of transit posters from 1920s Chicago. The Literature of Prescription. And various attempts at Capturing Canada on paper and canvas.

Last, the Voyager Golden Record.

(Photo at top by Sol LeWitt, 1977. Via Luminous Lint.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Dangerous Balancing Act

Every cloud has a silver lining, so it's only natural that Georgie Anne Geyer would find an agreeable "cautionary lesson" in the massacre at Ft. Hood. The lesson -- which, like most middlebrow peddlers of conventional wisdom, she portrays as a daring heresy -- is that the Muselmen tend to be violent fanatics.

Geyer's not a fanatic of any sort, so she's careful to point out that even though she always knew a Muslim would do something like this, it doesn't mean that all Muslims are inherently bad.

TV rightly brought out some of the most handsome, polished and well-spoken military Muslims one could imagine to illustrate how valiantly many serve the American nation. I know and cherish many of them.
In my experience, every bigot who praises some well-mannered member of a minority group will start his or her next sentence with the word "but." And Geyer's no exception:
But there was also something troublesome about the introduction to the man they are holding in Fort Hood, as though we were trying NOT to face the fact that Muslims could easily -- some would argue, should easily -- have problems fighting other Muslims for America or responding [sic] to al-Qaida's siren call.
As hard as it is to face this fact, it seems to be even harder to acknowledge that white and Christian Americans have gone on far more shooting sprees than American Muslims (and even outgunned them in Killeen, TX). It's much easier to be wary of all Muslims who aren't fortunate enough to be known and cherished by Georgie Anne Geyer, and to ignore or relativize every act of lunatic savagery -- from domestic violence to war -- that doesn't confirm her pet biases.

Still, just to prove that "we" aren't bad people, let's concede that most Muslims probably aren't any more dangerous than you or me or the man in the next street:
[T]here is no question in my mind that the vast majority of American Muslims are fine citizens, who have never answered the radical calls from the Middle East and Central Asia....
But let's also remember that a small subset of this "vast majority" comprises violent criminals.
We have a dangerous balancing act here. We do not want prejudice or (God forbid!) violent acts committed against American Muslims, any more than we want them against Jews or African-Americans or Germans or Chinese...But at the same time, like it or not [!], we are involved in a conflict against an international radical Islam, an ideology that has and will naturally have an attraction to many men and women, especially those who are lonely or deracinated.
We mustn't indulge ourselves in crude prejudice and stereotyping; we must simply keep an eternally watchful eye on the enemy within...especially if they happen to look lonely or deracinated. (Or are dressed funny.)
[W]hat we want and need is a realistic analysis of the situation and of the players. As last week's events so tragically illustrated, our lives depend upon it.
I'm sure we need realism; whether we want it is another question entirely. Going strictly by statistics, I'm more likely to be gunned down in a mass shooting by a stereotypical angry white guy than a stereotypical angry Muslim (and I'm more likely to be struck by lightning than to suffer either fate). But mass shootings committed by "normal" Americans always come as a terrible surprise, no matter how many times they happen, while massacres committed by Muslims are more or less what we've always expected.

Like a lot of people in her line of work, Geyer fails to realize that pathological fantasies aren't any less pathological just because they occasionally come true. Geyer's tunnel-vision focus on Muslim violence isn't validated by Nidal Malik Hasan's killing spree, any more than Henry Ford's opinion of Jews would be validated if he met one who conformed to his idea of "the Jewish character," or Rush Limbaugh's opinion of blacks would be validated if he happened, God forbid, to be mugged by a black man.

Apropos of the 1991 massacre in Killeen, one noteworthy thing about the perpetrator was his hatred of women. It's noteworthy not least because it's so common. Almost all shooting sprees are committed by men, and misogyny has been the stated or implicit motivation for a fair number of them. But for all Geyer's fretting about the media's "political correctness" (even as she uses her longstanding bully pulpit to encourage paranoia about American Muslims), the media have been far more reticent about the role of misogyny in mass shootings. Maybe that "balancing act" is a bit too dangerous to attempt.

(Photo by Dorothea Lange, Oakland, CA 1942.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clarifying Priorities

During the months when my mother was dying of a brain tumor, and unable to speak or think coherently, I found myself somewhat distracted. In addition to the emotional issues, there were serious legal and financial and logistical problems to sort out. It was all very...engrossing, I guess you'd say, and I didn't have much attention left over for current events. If a fleet of swastika-covered UFOs had streamed forth from New Swabia to form a one-world government with the Greys and the Bilderbergers, I'm not sure I would've noticed.

Many of the decisions I made turned out to be good...or at least, not as bad as they could've been. But a lot of that was sheer dumb luck. God knows I wasn't thinking ahead, or following any kind of plan; I simply lashed out at immediate problems as they popped up, and put everything else on the back burner, for better or worse.

I wouldn't wish that mindset on anyone else, which is one of the many reasons I'm unlikely to be hired by the Wall Street Journal. A recent editorial gloats over evidence that public concern about global warming has declined, as economic traumas like losing a job or home, or declaring bankruptcy due to medical bills, make more pressing demands on their attention.

Tough economic times have a way of clarifying political priorities and forcing people to distinguish among needs, wishes —- and fantasies....Electorates all over the world are starting to question the climate-change received wisdom.
The WSJ supports this rather ghoulish argument with a survey by Australia's Lowy Institute, which "showed climate-change had fallen to the seventh 'most important' foreign-policy goal for the public."

The Australian public, that is. And while it did rank 7th as a foreign-policy goal, it still rated as "the 4th most critical threat facing Australia." (I believe this is known as "cherrypicking.") Also, the fact that economic issues are foremost on people's minds doesn't mean they're all free-market fanatics; for all I know, some of them may be strongly in favor of sending oil industry CEOs, glibertarian investment bankers, and WSJ editorialists to the guillotine, on the assumption that it'd solve many of our problems at one blow.

All things considered, invoking one disastrous side effect of anti-regulatory, cornucopian dogma as an argument against addressing another is kind of problematic. What's even more problematic, though, is the notion that tough economic times "clarify" our priorities, and cause us to make wiser or better decisions for ourselves and for society.

One of the things we're supposed to do, as proudly self-interested individuals whose private vice leads to public virtue, is eliminate the social safety net and replace it with uncoerced charity. Putting aside the fact that this is nightmarishly illogical, what happens to charitable giving in the times when it's needed most?

As Helmut at Phronesisaical notes, it declines as our priorities are clarified by our imminent ruin. In 2008, charitable contributions fell by two percent in current dollars, which is the largest decrease in four or five decades. The situation is actually far worse when you look at specific types of charity: for instance, donations to the human services sector comprised only nine percent of total giving, but "declined an estimated 12.7 percent in current dollars." And this happened in a year when "54 percent of human services charities saw an increase in need for their services."

The Giving Institute, which compiled these figures, makes the essential point:
Charities in this subsector are among the first to report increasing needs for their services and slower growth in contributions when the national economy slows its rate of growth.
Given that little detail, and these ones, it begins to look as though you can't necessarily rely on individuals to make socially beneficial decisions during tough economic times. That seems like a pretty good argument for strengthening the social safety net, and a pretty good argument against letting public opinion drive climate policy.

But of course, that's not how we roll.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is joining 6 other Senators to demand that Speaker Nancy Pelosi approve a commission to recommend cuts to Medicare and Social Security - or else they'll refuse to vote to increase the US government's debt ceiling....

Cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits would be a truly insane, reckless, and radical act. At a time when the US economy is entering a period of long-term high unemployment, the very last thing you want to be doing is further undermining the ability of Americans, particularly the aged, to make ends meet.

Cuts in Social Security and Medicare will not only ripple through the economy in the form of reduced spending, they'll also ripple through younger generations, who will fill the gap lost by the cutting of government benefits with money out of their own pockets to help their elderly relatives make ends meet and get the treatment they need.
At which point, their priorities will be so wonderfully clear that they may ignore the climate altogether, and we can declare that Doomsday has been canceled due to lack of interest.