Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

Barack Obama has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:

[I]n signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.
See also this story in pictures.

Obama has directed the EPA to re-evaluate its decision on the right of states to strengthen clean air standards:
Continuing efforts to overturn more of the last administration's policies, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum today requesting the EPA consider approving a waiver that will allow 14 states to set their own stricter automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards.
(Incidentally, California regulated vehicle emissions before the federal government did.)

Furthermore, the EPA has agreed to analyze ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act:
In response to a petition and threatened litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to review how ocean acidification should be addressed under the federal Clean Water Act. Ocean acidification, the “other CO2 problem,” results from the ocean’s absorption of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, which increases the acidity of the ocean and changes the chemistry of seawater.....

The Center sought to compel EPA to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters from ocean acidification. The pH water-quality criterion is relevant to preventing ocean acidification because it is the measure of seawater acidity against which many states gauge the need to impose regulations on pollution.
A state panel has rejected a plan for offshore drilling in California:
The State Lands Commission voted against Plains Exploration & Production Co.'s request to expand drilling off Platform Irene in the Santa Barbara Channel.
A judge in California has ruled that contributors to the Prop. 8 campaign will not be allowed to hide their light under a bushel:
A federal judge denied a request Thursday to keep secret the names of donors to California’s anti-gay marriage initiative, saying the public had a right to know who gave money to state ballot measures.

Supporters of the Proposition 8 initiative, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage, had sought a preliminary injunction to remove the identities of those who contributed to their campaign from the secretary of state’s Web site.
And a Colombian court has upheld the rights of same-sex partners:
The ruling...said that to exclude same-sex partners would violate the principle of non-discrimination and human dignity as the expression of personal autonomy, protected by international law.

The Constitutional Court decision means same-sex couples will have pension, survivor and property rights.
Rod Blagojevich has been thrown out of office:
Once the State House impeached him earlier this month for abuse of power, the Senate did what was expected and voted to throw Blagojevich out of office. And on an identical 59-0 roll call, it barred the two-term Democrat from ever again holding public office in the state.
Perhaps he should consider moving to Indiana.

Russia is holding off on plans to aim missiles at Europe:
"The implementation of [Moscow's] plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy [missiles in Europe]," an official of the Russian military's general staff was quoted as saying.

The breakthrough follows signs from the Obama administration that it is edging away from George Bush's controversial proposal to site key bases for its anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In related news, central Asia is now a nuclear-weapon-free zone:
The parliaments of five central Asian nations have ratified the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. They are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

This is the newest of the nuclear weapon free zones. The Central Asian states have added some features to their agreement, most notably that all will adhere to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which specifies a greater degree of transparency and has only recently been accepted by the United States in one of George Bush’s last acts in office.
Non-hydroelectric renewable energy was the leading source of new generating capacity in 2007:
[F]or the first time ever, renewable energy sources, other than conventional hydroelectric capacity, accounted for the largest portion of capacity additions.
And in 2008, wind energy accounted for 42 percent of new capacity:
The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas....
American houses are getting smaller:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the average size of homes started in the third quarter of 2008 was 2,438 square feet, down from 2,629 square feet in the second quarter, while the median size declined from 2,291 square feet to 2,090 square feet during the period. The trend — fueled by new economic realities — is expected to continue while the downturn persists: a survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 88 percent of builders are "building or planning to build a larger share of smaller homes", while 89 percent are planning to build more lower-priced models.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, planned subdivisions are being converted to open space, without the slightest regard for what Joel Kotkin thinks.
The Buckingham Township deal is a win for open-space advocates in a fight that is being repeated across the country. As developers struggle to avoid bankruptcy, municipalities and land conservancies, often working together, are buying up land and easements in the real estate fire sale. Coming up with the cash isn’t easy for strapped municipalities in these tough economic times, but some had dedicated cash for these purposes when times were better, and some of the opportunities seem too good to pass up. The power struggle between developers and slow-growth proponents has shifted, in many cases giving environmentalists the upper hand, at least for now.
There's talk of using reclaimed water in Dallas/Ft. Worth. This, believe it or not, "is a money-saving venture because you are keeping water that is already in the area and using it again after it is processed." What'll they think of next?

A town in Wisconsin is using brewery wastes to power a hospital:
The renewable energy project is expected to generate three million kilowatt-hours per year by using waste methane gas discharged from the City Brewery waste treatment process and turning it into electricity.

“Rather than flaring the gas or releasing it into the atmosphere, it’ll be piped into an engine to generate electricity,” states Corey Zarecki, efficiency improvement leader at Gundersen Lutheran. The project—located on the City Brewery property—is expected to generate 8 to 10 percent of the energy used on Gundersen Lutheran’s La Crosse and Onalaska campuses. That is equivalent to planting 951 acres of forest, removing 670 cars from the road or enough electricity to power 280 homes. Corey adds, “Our goal of this project is to save our patients money and preserve the valuable resources of our communities.”
Oslo's buses will soon run on biomethane:
Biomethane is a by-product of treated sewage. Microbes break down the raw material and release the gas, which can then be used in slightly modified engines. Previously at one of the sewage plants in the city half of the gas was flared off, emitting 17,00 tonnes of CO2. From September 2009, this gas will be trapped and converted into biomethane to run 200 of the city's public buses.
Speaking of sludge, "a sewage treatment facility in central Japan has recorded a higher gold yield from sludge than can be found at some of the world's best mines.

In other sludge-related news, the contract between Detroit, MI and Synagro has been canceled:
The City of Detroit and Synagro Technologies have agreed to cancel a $1.2-billion contract to have the company recycle sewage sludge in the wake of a former Synagro vice president’s guilty plea to bribing city officials to win approval of the deal.
A cheaper method of producing gallium nitride could slash the cost of LEDs:
GaN, grown in labs on expensive sapphire wafers since the 1990s, can now be grown on silicon wafers. This lower cost method could mean cheap mass produced LEDs become widely available for lighting homes and offices in the next five years.
TreeHugger has more.

An influx of Somali immigrants seems to be rejuvenating a small town in Maine:
Although University of Maine enrollment has dropped systemwide since 2002, the student population at its Lewiston campus jumped 16 percent between 2002 and 2007. And Andover College, which opened a campus in Lewiston in 2004, had to start expanding almost immediately to accommodate a boom in applications. Enrollment doubled in two years. The reason? "Young people didn't want to go to a place that's all white," says Morrison. Practically everyone in Lewiston credits the Somalis' discovery of their town with much of its newfound success. "It's been an absolute blessing in many ways," says Badeau. "Just to have an infusion of diversity, an infusion of culture and of youth. Cultural diversity was the missing piece."
Greece has offered to help Iraq restore its archaeological sites and collections:
Iraqi museums and sites suffered extensive damage and looting in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The National Museum of Baghdad, a treasure trove of artifacts from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrians and Islamic periods, fell victim to bands of armed thieves. Up to 7,000 pieces are still missing.

Zebari welcomed the Greek offer of cultural assistance, which he said followed an Iraqi request.
In the Congo, a population of endangered gorillas has increased dramatically:
The extremely rare mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park seem to have prospered during a warlord's reign over the refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to new census results.

The population—made famous by a series of murders in 2007—has grown by nearly 13 percent in the last 16 months, despite having no protection from civil war or poaching for 15 months, park rangers said Monday.
After being treated for cancer, a 111-year-old tuatara has fathered 11 babies:
Henry was at least 70 years old when he arrived at the museum, "a grumpy old man" who attacked other tuataras—including females—until a cancerous tumor was removed from his genitals in 2002, said Lindsay Hazley, tuatara curator for the Southland Museum and Art Gallery....

The new hatchlings, born at the gallery, will provide a badly needed boost to the tuatara's genetic diversity, Hazley added.

A new bird species has been discovered in China:
Chinese ornithologists say the find raises hope of further discoveries in China, which could boost the country's nascent interest in bird-watching and conservation....

After decades of nearly institutionalized persecution at the hands of Chinese authorities and citizenry, interest in bird life in growing in China.
It seems that honeybees can count:
Dr. Zhang believes this experiment helps to set insects next to mammals and birds in terms of intelligence. "There has been a lot of evidence that vertebrates, such as pigeons, dolphins or monkeys, have some numerical competence – but we never expected to find such abilities in insects. Our feeling now is that – so far as these very basic skills go – there is probably no boundary between insects, animals and us."
A new company offers students an alternative to buying high-priced textbooks:
BookSwim, a Netflix-style book rental program, has added a textbook program through a partnership with Books are rented for a full semester (125 days) and the return process, a la Netflix, is simple.
Increasing numbers of Chinese citizens are risking arrest by signing a pro-democracy petition:
When the document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter -- putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

Then something unusual happened. Ordinary people...with no history of challenging the government began to circulate the document and declare themselves supporters. The list now includes scholars, journalists, computer technicians, businessmen, teachers and students whose names had not been associated with such movements before, as well as some on the lower rungs of China's social hierarchy -- factory and construction workers and farmers.
Photo-irradiation can reportedly destroy methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus:
The authors report that the higher the dose of 470-nm blue light, the more bacteria were killed. High-dose photo-irradiation was able to destroy 90.4% of the US-300 colonies and the IS-853 colonies. The effectiveness of blue light in vitro suggests that it should also be effective in human cases of MRSA infection, and particularly in cutaneous and subcutaneous infections.

"It is inspiring that an inexpensive naturally visible wavelength of light can eradicate two common strains of MRSA. Developing strategies that are capable of destroying MRSA, using mechanisms that would not lead to further antibiotic resistance, is timely and important for us and our patients," says Chukuka S. Enwemeka, PhD, FACSM, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal and first author of the study.
Stem-cell treatment seems to have reversed cases of multiple scleriosis:
Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine appear to have reversed the neurological dysfunction of early-stage multiple sclerosis patients by transplanting their own immune stem cells into their bodies and thereby "resetting" their immune systems.

"This is the first time we have turned the tide on this disease," said principal investigator Richard Burt, M.D. chief of immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases at the Feinberg School. The clinical trial was performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where Burt holds the same title.
Researchers have discovered the mechanism of anaphylactic shock, which is -- obviously -- an important step in preventing it:
In the genetic mouse model, we showed that surprisingly, selective suppression of the genes coding for the G proteins Gq and G11 in vessel walls protected the animals from the most severe anaphylactic reactions", stated Professor Offermanns. Now the road is open for developing and testing substances that could be used directly to inhibit the triggering mechanism.
The photo at top comes from an absolutely incredible Flickr set by illryion, entitled The Great Salt Lake. Don't miss it! Also: Math problems of 1806, complete with bird doodle. Echinodermata. And screenprints by Mark Weaver.

Graphoscopes. Photos by Franck Juery. A collection of dead casino graphics (via Coudal). And a survey of American tea rooms, compiled by the author of Restaurant-ing Through History.

The Vincent Voice Library. A collection of caving photos and videos. Unreleased 1965 tracks by Fela Ransome-Kuti and Koola Lobitos, from the VOA's African music library. And the voluptuous horrors of of Socotra Island.

Last, a short survey of "Water Sound Images."

1 comment:

peacay said...

Thanks per usual for the continuing great collecting and disseminating job you do squire.

That blue light thing is interesting. I used to call it heliotherapy (no, of course I don't claim to have coined the term). Sunshine is an often underrated modality of wound treatment. Pity it's just the abstract; I was wondering if they tested other bugs as well. I would have predicted a reduction in pathogen numbers for most species. But of course the research $$ is for the MRSA.