Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

The first few days of Obama's presidency have been fairly satisfying, even to a intransigent mope like myself.

First, there were his steps towards greater transparency:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order and two presidential memoranda heralding what he called a "new era of openness." Announcing a Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act to reestablish a presumption of disclosure for information requested under FOIA, President Obama said that "every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known...."

President Obama also issued an executive order reversing changes made by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Records Act (PRA), stating he would hold himself and his own records "to a new standard of openness." The PRA order permits only the incumbent president (and not former presidents' heirs or designees or former vice presidents) to assert constitutional privileges to withhold information, and would provide for review by the Attorney General and the White House Counsel before a president could claim privilege over his or her records.
Then, there was his order to shut down Guantanamo, along with CIA detention centers worldwide:
US President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as well as all overseas CIA detention centres for terror suspects.

Signing the orders, Mr Obama said the US would continue to fight terror, but maintain "our values and our ideals".

He also ordered a review of military trials for terror suspects and a ban on harsh interrogation methods.
He also picked a critic of warrantless wiretaps for a prominent spot in the Justice Department:
In late 2005, following the public disclosure of the N.S.A. wiretapping program approved by President Bush, Mr. Kris wrote a 23-page legal analysis that described as "weak" and likely unsupportable some of the Bush administration’s key legal arguments in justifying the program.
Since all I really expected Obama to do was overturn the Global Gag Rule and pursue sane environmental policies, all of this is lagniappe, as the saying is.

Speaking of which, Obama has overturned the Global Gag Rule:
It will allow US aid, usually through the US agency for international development, to flow to HIV/Aids clinics, birth-control providers and other organisations that advocate or provide counselling about abortion across the world. It is known as the "global gag rule" because it denies US taxpayer dollars to clinics that even mention abortion to women with unplanned pregnancies.
And he's also blocked BushCo's loosening of air-quality regs, and its delisting of gray wolves from the ESA. And scientists seem happy with him too, for whatever that's worth.

This is kind of interesting, as well:
New research by Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management professor Ray Friedman finds that the presidential run of Barack Obama has had a strong positive impact on the test-taking achievement of African Americans.

Documenting what Friedman and his co-authors call the “Obama Effect,” the study found the performance gap between black and white Americans in a series of online tests was dramatically reduced during key moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama’s accomplishments garnered the most national attention.
Los Angeles is considering turning its alleys into parks:
Only 7.8 percent of the city is parkspace, making L.A. the most park-poor big city in America. Re-envisioning alleys as pocket park spaces is one way to address the shortage, according to Wolch, who envisions landscaped alleys providing connections between housing and schools, parks and shops.
WorldChanging has more.

In Italy, architects collaborated with children to design a housing cooperative, with interesting results:
The first phase began in 1995 with a research project involving 700 children from 12 local nursery and infant schools. 50 teachers and 2 child psychologists worked together with a group of 20 architects, engineers, surveyors, builders and carpenters: talking to the children, taking them on trips to learn about architecture, encouraging them to draw, building models with them.

Since there was no specific school curriculum for that age group, classes could devote the whole academic year to the project....

In Coriandoline, children are allowed to play in all the communal areas, including the garages - which double up as covered playground areas. With their entrances that look like the mouths of giant monsters, the garages are buried under hills that the children can play on. The hills have been planted with a specially selected combination of plants to give them different coloured leaves and flowers to see and scents to sniff all year round. Inside the apartment block there are slides alongside each flight of stairs and distorting funfair-style mirrors in the lift.
In Indonesia, schools destroyed by the 2004 tsunami have been replaced with better, safer facilities:
Yuliatic, a sixth-grade teacher who has taught at school 51 since 1987, said her students were now eager to attend classes in the new school, as evidenced by Rada: "I find I want to come to school more regularly than at the old one ... There I was lazy about coming to study and the old school leaked with the rain and was constantly wet."

Rada, who wants to be a doctor, added: "It seems like there are better students at this new school. We're getting improved grades and can concentrate better ... and the teachers pay more attention to us."
Voters in Nashville have rejected an "English First" initiative:
"The results of this special election reaffirms Nashville's identity as a welcoming and friendly city, and our ability to come together as a community," Mayor Karl Dean said in a news release.
A Louisiana appeals court has upheld New Orleans' granting of health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees:
The decision by the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District comes a year after the Civil District Court for Orleans Parish ruled that the State Constitution does indeed grant the city of New Orleans the authority to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees and maintain a registry of domestic partners for city residents.

The anti–gay Alliance Defense Fund appealed that ruling, saying that the registry violated state laws prohibiting marriage for same–sex couples and that local governments lack the authority to govern such arrangements.

The Court of Appeal rejected those arguments.
There was a similar ruling in New York:
A mid-level New York State appeals court has upheld a policy granting benefits to the same-sex married partners of state workers.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal practice, argued that then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer acted illegally when he directed the Department of Civil Service in 2007 to extended health benefits to those spouses.

The ADF, which fights LGBT issues across the country, is representing four upstate taxpayers. Attorney Brian Raum told the five justices of the Appellate Division that Spitzer had usurped the authority of the legislature....The appeals court rejected the ADF arguments, allowing the lower court ruling to stand.
Scotch distilleries claim to be going green:
Scottish authorities have given planning permission for a consortium of distillers to build a biomass-fueled combined heat and power plant near the heart of the whisky industry in Speyside.

Helius Energy Plc said on Wednesday it and the Combination of Rothes Distillers Ltd would build the plant, which would use distillery by-products and wood chips to generate 7.2 megawatts of electricity, enough for about 9,000 homes, and heat.
The EPA has blocked a coal-fired power plant in South Dakota:
This is a great day for clean energy and people’s health: Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overturned the State of South Dakota’s approval of the massive Big Stone II coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s decision comes after the state failed to require state-of-the-art pollution controls for the coal plant - controls that would address harmful soot, smog and global warming pollution.

Today’s decision is also a victory for the rule of law - with the EPA signaling that it is back to enforcing long-standing legal requirements fairly and consistently nationwide and that they’re concerned about pollution and global warming.
Oregon's new AG has come out against LNG terminals and pipelines:
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger on Tuesday made clear his opposition to proposed liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) terminals and pipelines.

Speaking at a state Capitol rally, the Democratic attorney general said the projects would harm the environment and make for bad public policy.

"For the last 50 years, this country has had no energy policy," Kroger told rally attendees. "Do you want LNG from Iran and Russia or do you want energy independence?"
(h/t: ErinPDX.)

All sorts of strange things have been discovered off the coast of Tasmania:
Bizarre carnivorous sea squirts, large spider-like creatures and an ancient fossilised coral reef have all been found in a voyage into ultra-deep Australian waters.

The scientific examination Chronology of the Tasman Fracture, a four kilometre-deep crack in the earth's crust off the coast of Tasmania's south-west, has led to the discovery of creatures never seen before.

Norwegian activists are working to ban oil exploration along that country's coast:
Norwegian communities and conservationists today launched a campaign to ban oil exploration and development from parts of their Arctic coast, linking up with WWF-supported campaigns already underway in Alaska and Russia to protect vulnerable fisheries and communities.

The campaigns are supported by studies showing oil returns would be less than those provided in the long term through the protection and sustainable exploitation of resources.

“It is complete madness to trade in a sustainable fishery that could continue to accommodate the interests of both people and nature for generations, for a few years of quick and dirty profits from oil,” said Rasmus Hanssen, Secretary General of WWF Norway.
Gabon has banned the harvesting of four hardwood species:
The ITTO notes that "although individually the volumes of each of the four species are not that significant, the ban will mean a noticeable reduction in the harvest volumes per hectare."
In Sumatra, there's evidence that law-enforcement efforts can prevent deforestation:
Using satellite imagery, ecological data, interviews, and GIS modeling to map tropical deforestation in and around Bukit Barisan Selatan over a 34 year period, David Gaveau and colleagues found that law enforcement effectively "reduced deforestation to nil" in areas where it was undertaken.
In related news, a new study very tentatively suggests that some second-growth rainforests may sustain more biodiversity than was previously expected:
Robin Chazdon, from the University of Connecticut, told the meeting that many species considered to be old-growth forest specialists are in fact doing well in secondary forests, at least in small proportions.

In Costa Rica she has found that 176 species (59 per cent) of old-growth tree species were present in second-growth forests. Of 123 species expected to survive only in mature forest, some 94 occur as small stems in second-growth forests.
A new company claims to have built a better lightbulb:
Seattle startup Vu1 Corporation plans to launch a new type of light bulb that functions like a TV tube. Contrary to what you'd think, the technology is amazingly environmentally friendly. Vu1(View One) has raised $13 million to develop a brand new technology by fusing three existing technologies. "It is not induction lighting. It is not plasma. It is not fluorescent. It is not halogen. It is not LED," said Ron Davis, the chief marketing officer in an interview with Greentech Media.

So what is it? It’s an ultra energy-efficient flood light which is reminiscent of the way old TV tubes worked with the only difference being that the light bulb lights a room much better. The light bulb is comprised of an integrated electron source which fires electrons attached to a phosphor-coated glass. The phosphor, upon contact, transforms the signals into bright light.
Trust, but verify!

That goes double for this:
Inspired by the aquatic wriggling of beetle larvae, a University of Pittsburgh research team has designed a propulsion system that strips away paddles, sails, and motors and harnesses the energy within the water's surface. The technique destabilizes the surface tension surrounding the object with an electric pulse and causes the craft to move via the surface's natural pull....

This method of propulsion would be an efficient and low-maintenance mechanism for small robots and boats that monitor water quality in oceans, reservoirs, and other bodies of water....
And this:
Planting crop varieties that better reflect sunlight back out to space could reduce summertime temperatures by more than one degree Celsius in some parts of the world, researchers announced yesterday.

The reduction, they say, would at certain latitudes be equivalent to a seasonal offset of about 20 per cent of the regional warming expected by the end of this century due to the build-up of carbon dioxide.

Researchers from the United Kingdom say that such a plan could be achieved without disrupting food production, either in terms of yield or the types of crops grown.
The Cornell Ornithology Lab has added non-bird sounds and videos to its library:
With the addition of marine and other, non-bird, animal sounds to the library, as well as the launch of a video collection to complement its audio, the library has expanded beyond a simple collection.

"We've adjusted our self-view," said professor of ornithology and library director Jack Bradbury. "We started as a collection of bird sounds. We're now a museum of animal behavior."
Perhaps they'll eventually expand into cryptozoology, and include the sounds of the world's imaginary animals, along with demons, ghosts, and so forth. In the meantime, we have recourse to the The Obakemono Project. Oddly enough, none of it's as frightening as these abandoned polar lighthouses, or the Abandoned Mines of NY/NJ.

Some thoughts on the Tarim Desert Highway, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Bonestell Panorama. A collection of biological specimens in blown glass.

Also: Rephotography of the Black Hills. Astonishing images from the First Australasian Antarctic Expedition, and the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.

And last, of course, a short film.

(Illustration: "Out of the Dark" by Kurt Schwitters, 1943.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn, I forgot what day this was or I would have sent this to you. From today's Champaign (IL) News-Gazette: The End of Apple Scab:

Apple scab is a fungal disease often found in apples grown in areas of high rainfall and high humidity...

Korban said apple scab has been a major concern at orchards across the country since the 1800s...

In the late 1940s the UI began a cooperative program with Purdue University and Rutgers to fight fungal disease in apples.

"Any time we can reduce the amount of chemicals used, it leads to better environmental impact and less residue on the apple," Korban said.

About 20 years ago Korban noticed that certain kinds of crabapples were resistant to apple scab and, with researchers at Purdue and Rutgers, used cross-breeding through five generations of trees to transfer the anti-apple scab traits from the crabapples to regular apples.

The result is a new variety called WineCrisp, currently grown on six trees at the UI orchard.


Tell me a company, concerned only about profit growth in the next quarter, that would spend this kind of time on basic R&D. Can't happen. And watch the fungicide industry gear up to oppose this, probably with a rule that you can't market an apple as "fungicide free!" since that would imply there was something wrong with an apple that wasn't.

Oh well, Maybe you can use it for next week. Great column as always... :)