Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Show us the sun slowly
Lead us step by step from star to star
Gently let us learn how to live again.
Or else Ceratosoma amoena
Or the filling of a bucket at the well
Could break open our pain so lightly sealed
And wash us away.

(Photo by doug.deep.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The Supreme Court has reinstated a law that forbids people who were convicted of domestic violence to possess guns:

The opinion was a defeat for gun rights supporters, who had challenged groups fighting domestic violence over which ex-felons should be allowed to buy and keep firearms.
The conservative response was swift and incoherent:
"Why are men with clean histories except for one domestic dispute punished like hardened criminals who mug strangers on the street?" wrote Phyllis Schlafly for the conservative Eagle Forum, which filed a legal brief with the high court supporting Hayes. "The answer is that the feminist agenda calls for domestic-violence laws to punish husbands and fathers above and beyond what can be proven in court under due-process procedures."
As Owen Josephus Roberts said to Pierce Butler, "Boo fucking hoo."

A new study confirms what all sane people already knew:
By providing millions of young and low-income women access to voluntary contraceptive services, the national family planning program prevents 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, including almost 400,000 teen pregnancies, each year. These pregnancies would result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages, according to a new Guttmacher Institute report.

Absent publicly funded family planning services, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it currently is, and nearly twice as high among poor women.

Publicly funded family planning services are highly cost-effective. More than nine in 10 women receiving them would be eligible for Medicaid-funded prenatal, delivery and postpartum care services if they became pregnant.Avoiding the significant costs associated with these unintended births saves taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent on family planning.
It looks as though Obama will rescind BushCo's last-minute anti-contraception ruling:
The Obama administration is moving to rescind a federal rule that reinforced protections for medical providers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on moral grounds, an official said Friday.

A Health and Human Services official said the administration will publish notice of its intentions early next week, and open a 30-day comment period for advocates, medical groups and the public.
Spain is taking steps towards reforming its insane abortion laws:
The government proposes to change the law to make abortion unconditionally available, but only up to a fixed stage of the pregnancy, as is the case in most European countries, which generally settle on a 12-week limit.
The Supreme Court has squelched a plan to trade credits for mercury emissions:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday effectively snuffed an industry-backed effort to allow the buying and selling of mercury emission credits, a plan critics derided as a multimillion-dollar giveaway to polluters.

The high court decided not to hear a Bush-era appeal, letting stand a lower court's ruling against the mercury trading concept. Public health and conservation groups said the Supreme Court's decision is important to South Carolina and other states with significant mercury contamination problems.
Thanks to a reversal of policy under the Obama administration, the UN has reached an agreement on reducing mercury pollution:
"This is great news for reducing mercury pollution around the world, and shows a commitment from the Obama Administration to international environmental issues," said Susan Egan Keane, policy analyst for NRDC.
At Grist, Bruce Nilles makes the essential point:
For too long we've heard the regulation nay-sayers use the excuse that whatever restrictions and regulations we introduce will only hurt the U.S. economically because China and India will not do the same. This mercury treaty shows the reality: If the U.S. acts first, then China and India will follow.

This bodes well for carbon legislation. The U.S. must act first on carbon regulation. China and India will follow our lead.
Incidentally, a staggering amount of China's emissions are based on Western demand:
Thirteen-and-a-half percent of China's 45 percent rise in greenhouse gas emissions between 2002 and 2005 can be attributed to export production for Western countries, reports a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. In other words, outsourcing of manufacturing by American and European firms accounted for a larger share of carbon dioxide emission growth than rising domestic consumption in China (which made of 7 percent of the figure).
There's more news on the EPA's looming regulation of CO2:
President Barack Obama's climate czar said the Environmental Protection Agency will soon determine that carbon-dioxide emissions represent a danger to the public and propose new rules to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas from a range of industries.

Carol Browner, special adviser to the president on climate change and energy, said in an interview Sunday that the EPA is looking at a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that requires the agency to determine whether carbon dioxide endangers public health or welfare. And the agency "will make an endangerment finding," she said.
It sounds as though they'll be issuing some important "new" findings about soot, too:
Bush administration standards for pollutants like soot are “contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decisionmaking,” a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its standards for the pollutants, fine particulates, which are linked to premature death from lung cancer and heart disease and to other health problems including asthma.

When the agency embraced the standards in 2006, its own scientific staff rejected them as too lax. In Tuesday’s ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agency “did not adequately explain” why the standards were adequate.
Speaking of soot and CO2, the Obama administration has withdrawn Bush-era leases for oil-shale development in the desert West:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday reversed the Bush administration's move to open up tens of thousands of acres in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to oil-shale development, the latest in a series of energy policy overhauls out of his department.

Salazar -- who as a senator was the most vocal opponent of the Bush administration's drive to open the region to shale development -- announced that the DOI is withdrawing the leases on federal land that were made available on Jan. 14, at least for now.
Obama also plans to bring back the Superfund tax:
The EPA budget proposal would restore excise taxes on oil and chemical producers to replenish the Superfund Trust Fund for hazardous-waste cleanup. The Superfund tax, which expired in 1995, would be reinstated sometime after 2011 “after the economy recovers,” according to the budget request. It would raise an estimated $6.6 billion by 2014.
I'm all for it, but I think we should call it a "savings account." How could anyone object to that?

Meanwhile, a communist front group calling itself the Institution of Mechanical Engineers is calling for adaptive response to climate change:
A report by the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers will next month call for governments to accept that climate change is now inevitable. Strategies must be put in place now to protect our infrastructure from its worst effects, alongside existing efforts to reduce emissions, it will argue.
Obama has appointed a well-qualified gay man to direct national AIDS policy:
President Barrack [sic] Obama on Thursday named Jeffrey S. Crowley, Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, to be director of the Office of National AIDS Policy....Crowley has spent the last fourteen years working to improve access to health and social services for people living with HIV/AIDS, people with physical and mental disabilities, low-income individuals, and other vulnerable populations.
You can find more info on recent administration appointments here. Most of them strike me as excellent. I'm also impressed that Hillary Clinton has named Michael Posner as assistant Secretary of State:
Posner has a 30-year history involved in human rights work, with a focus on refugees' rights, the protection of and justice for torture victims as well as strengthening accountability for war crimes. He also helped found the Fair Labor Association, which promotes corporate accountability for working conditions in the apparel industry.
The Colorado state senate has approved a domestic partnership bill:
Despite a heated debate in which one Colorado state senator linked homosexuality to murder, the Senate has approved a domestic partner bill.

The legislation would make it easier for unmarried couples in Colorado, including gays and lesbians, to make medical decision for incapacitated partners and leave property to their partners.
The stimulus package will apparently improve COBRA health plans:
Since the bill was passed in 1985, the rule was, employers had to inform you of your right to extend your insurance after you leave. A right, mind you, that would cost you your entire premium, often to the tune of $400 a month or more. Now, thanks to the stimulus, employees’ premiums will go down by 65%.

Besides being a huge saving to those already enrolled, it will also likely increase the number of people who sign up in the first place....
Which reminds me...I didn't watch Bobby Jindal's response to Obama's stimulus speech, for the same reason that I wouldn't follow up a glass of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1904 by licking dried vomit off the sidewalk. But what I've heard of it, and heard from other Republicans since, brings a few thoughts to mind.

First, when you're reduced to sneering at volcano monitoring, it's a sign that you've been relying too heavily, and for too long, on public stupidity. Second, the positive reponse to Obama is not actually a function of his race, and it's therefore non-transferable to other men of color; genuflecting before gibbering oddballs like Jindal, and chanting "you be da man" at Michael Steele, will not bring your political apotheosis any nearer. Third, Obama may indeed turn out to be a pitiless Islamo-Hitler, but for now, people like him because he sounds like an adult and he gives them a certain amount of hope for the future. That being the case, prancing around screaming dingbat taunts like "porkulus!" is not an effective way to counter his proposals.

I offer this advice gratis and free of charge, in the sincere hope that it will not be taken. In other news, Al Gore, Sean Penn, and Susan Sarandon all agree that eating dogshit is stupid and dangerous. So don't do it, okay?

While we're on the topic of research that Republicans assume will sound like a waste of money to ignorant people, it seems that studying fruit flies actually has practical implications. Go figure!

Mayor Bloomberg intends to make part of midtown Manhattan car-free:
The city plans to close several blocks of Broadway to vehicle traffic through Times Square and Herald Square, an experiment that would turn swaths of the Great White Way into pedestrian malls and continue Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s effort to reduce traffic congestion in Midtown.
In related news, San Francisco is still considering restricting traffic on Market Street.

A new type of window glass could reduce the need for air conditioning:
The electrochromic windows and skylights sense the change in surrounding temperature, and respond accordingly to save energy. If it's warm, the windows darken to keep the building cool. When it's cool, the windows appear clear again. The technology aims to reduce the need for air conditioning, which is notoriously energy-inefficient and increasingly costly.
I don't normally cite individual green homes here, but this ranch in New Mexico is too gorgeous to ignore:
The home is constructed using traditional rammed earth construction and Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, both of which help the home naturally respond to environmental conditions. A storm and gray water collection system help the family conserve and efficiently use water both inside and outside for native landscaping. The home itself is very energy efficient, and is powered by a pole-mounted 4.5 kW photovoltaic system with battery storage as well as a solar hot water heating system.
On a somewhat larger scale, PG&E plans to generate 500MW of solar power in California.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Tuesday that it would spend $1.5 billion of ratepayers' money to add 500 megawatts of photovoltaic power in California, one of the largest such deals in the country.

Plans call for the San Francisco utility to invest at least half of that in solar panels placed on commercial rooftops and on ground-mounted modules that PG&E would own and operate. The other half is earmarked for long-term contracts with private-sector solar companies.
Tom Philpott recommends a daring new method of cooking pasta:
Turns out, you don't need "lots of water" for pasta -- two quarts will do.... can put the pasta in the water before it boils; while it's cold, in fact...The more water you use, the more energy it takes to reach and maintain a boil. So less water means less energy -- and, well, less water wasted.
A strange new fish has been discovered:
Like other frogfish — a subset of anglerfish — H. psychedelica has leglike fins on both sides of its body....Each time the fish strike the seabed, for instance, they push off with their fins and expel water from tiny gill openings to jet themselves forward. That and an off-centered tail cause them to bounce around in a bizarre, chaotic manner.

Mark Erdman, a senior adviser to the Conservation International's marine program, said, "I think people thought frogfishes were relatively well known, and to get a new one like this is really quiet spectacular....It's a stunning animal."
The world's rarest cheetah has been photographed for the first time:
“This is an incredibly rare and elusive subspecies of cheetah and current population estimates, which stand at less than 250 mature individuals, are based on guesswork,” says Farid Belbachir, who is implementing the field survey. “This study is helping us to turn a corner in our understanding, providing us with information about population numbers, movement and ecology.”
Photo by Farid Belbachir

And a new species of butterfly has been found in the UK's Natural History Museum:
The Magdalena Valley Ringlet, from the Madalena valleys in Colombia, was uncovered by curator Blanca Huertas after she compared its unusually hairy mouthparts with a recently-found wild specimen.

“The collections here are a treasure trove to be explored,” said Huertas, whose find had hidden in the collection for 90 years.
(h/t: peacay.)

A bull is saving Kenya's drylands by teaching other cows to eat invasive prickly pears:
During the drought of 1999 - 2000 grassy fields were reduced to bare earth and cows had nothing left to eat were dying of starvation leading to widespread famine. The story goes that one farmer persuaded his bull to eat the leaves after he had burned off the thorns. Opuntia are 80% water and if one can get past the thorns, the plant is quite nutritious . The other starving cows watched the bull and then followed suit thus saving the herd and the farmer who has never looked back. The thorns are burnt off using wood from another nasty invasive species, Prosopis juliflora - making this an eco-friendly project all round.

As part of RAE’s rehabilitation of Baringo’s drylands, and to make multiply the value of mwalimu bull to other farmers RAE bought the bull and during droughts, Mwalimu goes from one homestead to another teaching herds of cattle how to eat Opuntia, thereby saving hundreds of cattle and people from starvation.
Also from AfriGadget, a personal power generator:
“This is basically a dynamo which is being driven as a result of friction between the ground and the blocks. The small yellowish blocks (these are covered by rubber in the real commercial product) rotate as you pull it. They are designed to rotate even on bumpy run even roads. We have tested it on moist lawn and have worked. It is very smooth so much that you basically don’t feel any disturbance as you move along.

At normal walking speeds we have gotten more than 2 watts which is more than enough for running cell phones or radios. I envision that people will attach this to themselves and walk with it - or even attach it to an ox-cart, a skating board, bike, etc.”

The public will have open access to data from a new ecological monitoring system:
Since 1991 raw data from Hubble have been made publicly available for use by professional researchers, educators, and citizen scientists via an online catalog.

"The public can access [the data] and do their own research," said Hubble spokesperson Ray Villard. "They paid for it. They deserve it."

A similar open-access model is key to the National Ecological Network Observatory, or NEON, a new program set to be up and running by 2016. NEON will link together already existing field stations across the U.S. that are using planes and orbiters, ground-level sensors, and human-run labs to monitor activity in the wild.
Whole Foods has banned unsustainably harvested palm oil from its products:
America's largest organic grocer has announced its products will no longer use palm oil sourced from unsustainable producers, reports the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an activist group that has led a campaign against destructive palm oil production. The move adds pressure on the palm oil industry to develop an effective and credible certification system for palm oil.
Scientists researching muscular dystrophy have made an important discovery:
After genetically correcting the mice with the new dystrophin gene, Duan's team discovered that the missing nNOS was now restored in the dystrophic muscle. The mice that received the new gene did not experience muscle damage or fatigue following exercise.

"With this new discovery, we've solved a longstanding mystery of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy," Duan said. "This will change the way we approach gene therapy for DMD patients in the future. With this study, we have finally found the genetic material that can fully restore all the functions required for correcting a dystrophic muscle and turning it into a normal muscle."
Now, let us proceed. Lost Labor: Images of Vanished American Workers 1900-1980 (via wood s lot, although I have a nagging feeling that I've linked to this site before). Light pillars. The wide world of TV test cards. And a selection of the lesbian pulp novels that will soon be required reading in America's grade schools.

Sparkler art. Harry Bertoia's sound sculptures. Incredible images of abandoned substations and power plants. A newish issue of Polar Inertia. And a primer on La Géométrie.

A collection of the earliest recorded sounds, including an 1878 phonautogram of the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad from 40 feet away. Melbourne's Joost Greenhouse. Together at last: Lulin and Saturn. Pictures of Small Town, USA (via Plep). Also from Plep, Signs of Africa.

Last, a tour of Trindad, circa 1938.

(Image at top: "Sheep in the Warm Sun" by Mary Newcomb, 1970.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Electricity Plus Water

Although most of us are preoccupied with the agony of our country's self-inflicted wounds, the extent of which an amateur like Osama bin Laden can only envy, the threat posed by Islamic frogmen is still grave and gathering.

A few military experts hoped that this problem could be solved by training dolphins to attack enemy swimmers. But some people -- let's call 'em "traitors" -- argued that that was...well, not entirely ethical, but also pretty fucking stupid, when you come right down to it.

Noses were accordingly reapplied to the grindstone, and in due time, we arrived at Plan B:

[T]he sea service is bankrolling an alternative project: an "electrical swimmer barrier... that will take advantage of ocean oil-barrier deployment technology, the conductive properties of near-coast waters, and the physiological sensitivities of human swimmers to electrical shocks."

Electricty plus water usually makes for a dangerous combination. But this system will be "non-lethal," promises Bedford, Massachusetts' Diversified Technologies, Inc., which recently won a Navy contract to start development on the thing.
Here's one of those tiresome semantic quibbles that've made me famous from Uelen to Shishmaref: the opposite of "dangerous" is not "non-lethal." The Taser, for instance, is a non-lethal weapon. All it really takes to earn that designation is the lack of an intent to kill on the part of the weapon's designers; without that intent, any deaths that occur are simply unfortunate accidents that happen to troublemakers who deserve whatever they get.

I don't want to be seen as a coddler of terrorists, who may be plotting to strap themselves with explosives, swim from Bullhead City to Laughlin, and launch a suicide attack on the Colorado Belle Casino, for all I know. But I can't help thinking that this barrier is more likely to be used to protect our language, borders, and culture from migrant lettuce-pickers.

The system is "deployable and retrievable by two persons working from a 24- to 28-foot boat," which begs the question of how we'll keep evildoers from tampering with it and its power source. Maybe its perimeter can be patrolled by attack dolphins.

What really interests me about this scheme is how well it'd work against people who are wearing some sort of electrically insulating suit. Which, in turn, brings up the question that always fascinates me about projects like these: what's the cost to evildoers of adapting to a barrier of this sort, versus the cost to us of re-engineering the system once it's been overcome?

(Image at top via Modern Mechanix.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's Reign of Error

Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn have prepared a helpful guide to Obama's speech, which subjects the President's many misstatements to the cold hard light of Fact.

Here's the intro:

President Barack Obama knows Americans are unhappy that their taxes will be used to rescue people who bought mansions beyond their means.

But his assurance Tuesday night that only the deserving will get help rang hollow.
That's an odd way to open a fact-checking article...but perhaps it's called for, given the shamelessness of Obama's lies.

Or perhaps not:
OBAMA: "We have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values."

THE FACTS: If the administration has come up with a way to ensure money only goes to those who got in honest trouble, it hasn't said so.
No sane person expects a program of this scale to winnow out every single case of fraud or speculation. Only the most anti-social cranks would consider the program a failure if it didn't, and those people would oppose the program even, or especially, if it were administered flawlessly.

That said, it doesn't seem like it'd be too hard to screen out speculators; you could look at their bank records and tax statements, for starters, and maybe take a gander at the number of other properties they've bought and sold in the last year or two. If I can come up with a couple of valid parameters in two seconds, I assume Obama's team can come up with others. More to the point, it seems kinda obvious that a modest refinancing plan will be of limited use to speculators and frauds.

Granting that Obama's using a bit of poetic license to explain that his program is not designed to bail out wildly irresponsible people, he's doing so advisedly, in response to a specific, longstanding political pathology that views all such programs as handouts to perverts, layabouts, and criminals. (It's basically the opposite of God's calculation in regards to Sodom and Gomorrah: if a city contains even ten unrighteous people, it must be destroyed.)

Obama also claimed that we import more oil than ever before. Au contraire, say Woodward and Kuhnhenn:
Oil imports peaked in 2005 at just over 5 billion barrels, and have been declining slightly since. The figure in 2007 was 4.9 billion barrels, or about 58 percent of total consumption. The nation is on pace this year to import 4.7 billion barrels, and government projections are for imports to hold steady or decrease a bit over the next two decades.

This next "correction" is wonderful, inasmuch as it corrects something Obama didn't actually say:
OBAMA: "Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day."

THE FACTS: This may be so, but it isn't only Republicans who pushed for deregulation of the financial industries.
But this correction is even better:
OBAMA: "In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas."

THE FACTS: First, his budget does not accomplish any of that. It only proposes those steps.
The importance of this point can't be overemphasized: Obama has not actually done the stuff he says he'll do once his budget is passed. He's simply describing the things he wants to do, in hopes of gaining political support for those policies, much as Hitler did in Mein Kampf.

That's not all. The fraud he's targeting might not add up to much money, when all is said and done. And besides, some people in Congress may fight him. That Obama failed to mention these crucial details is symbolic of the failure of communication that has plagued his moribund presidency.

Before moving on, let's pause over the claim that the savings realized by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse...seldom amount to significant sums," and contrast it to the white-hot outrage over the idea that some "people who bought mansions beyond their means" may get an undeserved helping hand. Fretting over the cost of no-bid contracts in Iraq is an act of sheer pettiness, it seems. But allowing unwise mansion owners to refinance is an affront to the deep moral seriousness of our nation.

The archfiend Obama continues: "Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years." As if!
While the president's stimulus package includes billions in aid for renewable energy and conservation, his goal is unlikely to be achieved through the recovery plan alone....If Obama is to achieve his much more ambitious goal, Congress would need to mandate it. That is the thrust of an energy bill that is expected to be introduced in coming weeks.
Touché, I guess.

Last but not least, zOMG Obama LIED about job creation!!
Job creation projections are uncertain even in stable times, and some of the economists relied on by Obama in making his forecast acknowledge a great deal of uncertainty in their numbers.
To be strictly accurate, Obama should've said that his plan might or might not create or save an unknown number of jobs over the next two years. At which point, Woodward and Kuhnhenn could point out that his proposal is laughably vague, and doesn't take into account the likelihood that al-Qaeda will exploit America's current deficit in Decisive Leadership by spraying our cities with smallpox, which could render all Obama's silly little schemes null and void.

Just by way of contrast, here's what actual fact-checking looks like.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some Kind of Link

Since everyone knows that teenagers have no desire for sex unless they've been corrupted by some Pied Piper of sleaze, research into pop-music lyrics is Serious Business.

There's still no firm proof that raunchy music makes kids have sex, but a new study provides another suggestion that there's at least some kind of link between "degrading" songs and teenage sexual activity.
Once you assume that there's some kind of link between hearing about sex and having sex, confirming the theory is relatively light work: Over here, Britney Spears is singing about being a slave 4 U. Over there, a couple of teenagers are having awkward, fumbling sex. Game, set, match!

There are degrading sexual messages in TV shows. And commercials. And magazine ads. And comic books. And those morning radio shows where faux-populist hosts get the workforce's adrenaline flowing by degrading women, laughing at tragedy, and generally acting like a bunch of loudmouthed fucking assholes. For that matter, some children may be exposed to degrading sexual behavior and attitudes in their own homes. But teens' so-called music is obviously much more significant, speaking from a purely objective sociological standpoint. That's just common sense.

Because this is Science, the first thing we need is a clear definition of "degrading."
The researchers...determined how many of the 279 most popular songs in 2005 were "degrading" because they referred to sex that's "based only on physical characteristics" and features a "power differential" instead of being mutually consensual.
First off, sex that's "based only on physical characteristics" is not degrading in and of itself; it's acceptable, in this day and age, for men and women to have recreational sex with people with whom they share no other interests, and have no intention of dating, let alone marrying (assuming, for the sake of argument, that they belong to that lucky group of citizens who are allowed to marry).

This kind of sex is often degrading because we live in a society that sees it as degrading, for reasons having to do with misogyny and homophobia and good old-fashioned ressentiment.

Second, the whole problem with a power differential is that it can create consent (cf. the groupie phenomenon). In some cases, consent can even be seen as an additional degradation (cf. the woman in the clothing ad above).

So right off the bat, the definition of degradation is mired in the same psychosexual fever swamp as the lyrics it's intended to critique. People who have casual sex for no more transcendent reason than ordinary human lust are "degraded" (especially if they're women). But where there's consent, one needn't look too closely for a power differential. (If only our horny teens could get this through their skulls, somehow!)

Those are somewhat arcane objections, though. There are more basic problems here.
"Wait (The Whisper Song)" by the rap group known as Ying Yang Twins was deemed degrading, apparently because it included a reference to rough intercourse.
You can Google the lyrics, if you like, and decide for yourself whether it's the "reference to rough intercourse" that makes the song degrading. I see a larger problem, personally.
By contrast, the lyrics of the rap song "Baby I'm Back" by Baby Bash, including the lines "I wanna be stronger than we've ever been/I'm here to cater to you," was said to be not degrading.
Just for the record, this song is about a two-timin' man who wants to be allowed back into his jilted partner' graces, and it includes such tender blandishments as "please forgive me for being a rolling stone; please forgive me, let me polish it up like chrome," and "I was gone for a minute; now I'm back, let me hit it."

At this point, I think that we can all agree that this study has a couple of conceptual flaws. On the bright side, these problems are more than made up for by the high quality of the results:
[T]he findings don't prove that the music caused kids to have sex, acknowledged [Dr. Brian A.] Primack, who's an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"The opposite could be true -- that people who have more sex then go out and seek music with degrading sexual messages," he said.
Well, at least we know that it's one or the other. It's a start.

And we also know that teenagers shouldn't be having sex, period, responsibly or otherwise. Which means that something must be done!!1
What to do? Laura Lindberg, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute in New York City, said that teens need to learn how to interpret and analyze the messages they see in the world around them.
It seems to me that this is what they're doing already, and that adult culture isn't contradicting their interpretation in any serious way. A feminist (or at least anti-misogynist) overhaul of our society could help with that problem; unfortunately, that would require being a certain amount of acceptance of teenagers as autonomous sexual beings, among other concessions to reality that we find emotionally or politically or logically unacceptable. That leaves us with our longstanding two-pronged approach: spouting anti-sex pieties that are totally at odds with adult culture -- and which teenagers can see through like a gang sign thrown by Jay Leno -- and reinforcing the sexual stereotypes and double standards on which those pieties are based.

But even if we can't handle the issue in all its complexity, we can at least avoid oversimplifying it:
"[T]here's no silver bullet," [Lindberg] said. "If you get all teenagers to turn in their iPods, the teen pregnancy rate is not going to automatically decline."
I'm not so sure. If we take all their iPods away, and pregnancy rates drop, what other explanation could there possibly be?

And besides, how can we know until we try? That's the scientific method, after all.

(Illustration: Ad for Mr. Leggs Trousers, 1970. Via Found in Mom's Attic.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Greetings, comrades!

In this fourth glorious week of the Revolution, the People have made many important gains. First and foremost, Comrade Obama has boldly thrust the blade of Marxism-Leninism into the diseased vitals of late-capitalist oligarchy:

The new U.S. administration wants a legally binding international treaty to reduce mercury in the environment, a senior diplomat said Monday, announcing a reversal of previous policy.
Furthermore, he has proclaimed the world-historical truth of Anthropogenic Global Warming, and urged all remaining anarcho-capitalist reactionaries to revolutionize their outlook, identify themselves with the masses, and bring their thinking into compliance with the goals of a properly dialectical climatology:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
And that's not all, by any means. Inspired by the revolutionary efficacy of Kim-Jong Il's remarks on cunnilingus in North Korea, North Dakota has taken steps towards achieving the sexual equality that is inherent in Marxism:
Extending North Dakota law's anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians will not provide special rights - it means only someone cannot be fired or denied housing or credit because of sexual orientation, a supporter says.

"If someone is not doing their job, or habitually tardy, or doesn't get along with people, they can still be fired, whether gay, lesbian or straight," said Sen. Tom Fiebiger, D-Fargo. "What employers can't do under this law is fire someone because they are gay."
In Indiana, the rising tide of sexual liberation has compelled fascist hangers-on to surrender themselves to the will of the People:
Indiana’s Senate Republican Caucus voted this week not to consider a resolution that would have proposed amending the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
The gloomy cobwebs of petty-bourgeois morality are also being swept away in Mississippi, where a program to instruct the young on the duties of sexual freedom has been proposed in state schools:
A bill that passed the state House on Thursday would authorize "age appropriate" sex education courses in two school districts that would be selected by the state Department of Education.
In Israel, female genital mutilation among the Negev Bedouin has all but ceased, as these formerly oppressed people have cast aside the fatalist conception of history inculcated by centuries of authoritarian priestcraft:
A follow-up study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beer-Sheva has determined that the once prevalent custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) among Israel's Bedouin population in the Negev has virtually disappeared.
Our newly nationalized telephony collectives will soon introduce a universal charger that will do much to hasten capitalism's death agony and abolish the rule of capital:
The move — announced Tuesday by the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association), which represents more than 750 of the world's cell phone operators — is expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions that result from the manufacture and transport of chargers by more than 35 million metric tons per year. Chargers that accompanied the 1.2 billion cell phones sold last year accounted for 51,000 to 82,000 metric tons of materials.
Not to be outdone, staunchly anti-feudalist cadres in Kirklees, UK have created a garbage truck that runs on garbage, which will play an important part in building a revolutionary apparatus in other communities:
The van is a Smith Edison Transit truck that goes around collecting rubbish from 25 bins that are located around the city. This rubbish is then taken to the Energy from Waste power station that generates electricity that powers the truck that runs around the city collecting the trash - and so the circle is completed.
May it soon bear away the bones of the imperialist running dogs!

Dedicated researchers in the People's Laboratory have created a method of turning CO2 into energy, which can be used to increase crop yields throughout the agricultural communes of our fifty socialist states:
Powered only by natural sunlight, an array of nanotubes is able to convert a mixture of carbon dioxide and water vapour into natural gas at unprecedented rates.

Such devices offer a new way to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into fuel or other chemicals to cut the effect of fossil fuel emissions onglobal climate, says Craig Grimes, from Pennsylvania State University, whose team came up with the device.

Science is also putting an end to the predations of the cucumber beetle, while striking a blow against Monsanto and other death-dealing hypercapitalist counterrevolutionaries.

A communique from the People's Republic of Berkeley indicates that the costs of solar power are being driven ever downward by the selfless efforts of our noble workers, who understand that this technology is essential to the creation of a mathematically perfect One State:
The study examined 37,000 grid-connected PV systems installed between 1998 and 2007 in 12 states. It found that average installed costs, in terms of real 2007 dollars per installed watt, declined from $10.50 per watt in 1998 to $7.60 per watt in 2007, equivalent to an average annual reduction of 30 cents per watt or 3.5 percent per year in real dollars.
Future gains along these lines are assured by a new and inexhaustible source of neural cells, which will allow workers to serve the Revolution well into their golden years:
Scientists in Bonn have now succeeded in combining these two worlds: they have derived brain stem cells of almost unlimited self-renewal capacity and conservation potential from human embrionic stem cells. Using these stable cell lines, they were then able to obtain a continual in vitro supply of diverse types of human neural cell including, for example, those which fail with Parkinson´s disease.
In Cameroon, a well disciplined proletarian vanguard has used scientifically proven collectivist principles to establish a primate commune that will educate gorillas on the basic responsibilities of socialist culture:
“Deng Deng National Park is a major step toward conserving all of Cameroon’s gorilla populations and wildlife,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “We applaud the government of Cameroon for continuing to be a leader in conservation and for taking this important step to protect this species.”
The field of anthropology, which formerly served as a truncheon in the hands of blood-drenched imperialists, is being purged of petty-bourgeois racism and selfishness, and brought into line with the principles of scientific Marxism:
By an overwhelming margin of 87 to 13 percent, members of the American Anthropological Association have approved changes in its code of ethics that are designed to strengthen its protections of people who are studied, and to promote the values of free dissemination of scholarship.
OK...enough of that. I'm going to continue in plain English -- of a sort -- and you'll just have to take my commitment to anti-capitalist collectivism as a given.

A beaver has been sighted in the Detroit River:
Wildlife officials are celebrating the sighting of a beaver in the Detroit River for the first time in decades, signaling that efforts to clean up the waterway are paying off.

The Detroit Free Press reports that a beaver lodge has been discovered in an intake canal at a Detroit Edison riverfront plant. Officials believe the beaver spotted by the utility's motion-sensitive camera marks the animal's return to the river for the first time in at least 75 years.
A new rodent has been discovered in the Philippines:
The new find "strongly reinforces the evidence that the Philippines has one of the greatest concentrations of unique mammals of any country in the world," Heaney said.

"That makes it a great natural laboratory for studying evolution—but also points out the need for successful conservation."
Hundreds of new species have been found in Arctic and Antarctic waters. What's really surprising, though, is that identical species have been found at both poles:
Spinning a "mucus net" off its paddle-like foot-wings to trap algae and other foods, the swimming snail species Limacina helicinia is no bigger than a bean. But the discovery that it and at least 234 other species inhabit both Arctic and Antarctic waters is big news to biologists.

Finding so many species inhabiting both Poles "startled" scientists, according to a statement today from the Census of Marine Life, an international project to assess all marine life--past, present, and future--by 2010. Among the other dual-Pole species: whales, worms, and crustaceans.
Clearly, we need to take another look at hollow earth theory. Teach the controversy!

Conservation groups have bought a large chunk of Montana forest from a Washington-based logging firm:
Tuesday's purchase was the second phase of the Montana Legacy Project, which will eventually involve a total of 320,000 acres of Plum Creek lands being conveyed to state or federal agencies at a total cost of $510 million.

The first phase -- the sale of 130,000 acres of land northwest and east of Missoula -- was completed in December. The final phase, about 69,000 acres in the Swan and Clearwater drainages, is scheduled to be complete some time next year.
(h/t: Tlazlteotl.)

At Deltoid, John Mashey describes an interesting idea for carbon sequestration:
Sequester the CO2 (in CACo3, MgCO3) in cement and aggregates (sand and pebble equivalents) for concrete, which last a very long time, and which people actually pay for ... in some cases to help build wind turbines. Use carbonate chemistry rather than silicate chemistry.

Do this in away that is cost-competitive with existing supplies of these things, which are actually used in large enough quantities to long-term sequester the output of all coal plants, I think. Concrete is well-known to be a very complex material, and I have no particular knowledge of it, but it all sounded very convincing.

Cogen schemes yield both electricity and heat...this is like a cogen scheme that generates electricity and building materials, sequesters the CO2 from burning the coal/gas, and avoids the energy use of creating the equivalent cement & aggregates.
Make of that what you will.

A "solar-buying club" is starting up in Los Angeles:
Despite the allure of solar power, installing a residential photovoltaic system is still an expensive and confusing process for a lot of interested homeowners. But a community-based, solar-power buying club called 1 Block Off the Grid is hoping to change that. By bringing potential solar buyers together, the for-profit organization hopes to not only dispel the mystery of the installation process but increase participation by reducing costs.
The House Judiciary Committee has called for an investigation into the horrific regime of Joe Arpaio:
On February 4, 2009, Arpaio invited the media to view the transfer of immigrant detainees to a segregated area of his "tent city" jail, subjecting the detainees to public display and "ritual humiliation." Persistent actions such as these have resulted in numerous lawsuits; while Arpaio spends time and energy on publicity and his reality television show, "Smile… You’re Under Arrest!", Maricopa County has paid millions of dollars in settlements involving dead or injured inmates.
Apparently, the United States now supports the decriminalization of homosexuality:
In late December the United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The statement received 60 votes in support, mostly from Europe and South America. Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the time, the Bush administration couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities.

Well, that was then. This is now: At the so-called "Durban Review Conference" on racism and xenophonia underway in Geneva, Europe again put forward language condemning "all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation." According to UN Watch, "The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U., with the support of New Zealand, the United States, Colombia, Chile on behalf of the South American states, the Netherlands, Argentina and a few others, took the floor in support."
The US also seems to be easing its embargo on Syria:
Syria's ambassador to Washington said Sunday that the U.S. Treasury Department has authorized the transfer of $500,000 to a Syrian charity in a sign that it is easing its economic embargo on the country.

Imad Mustafa told reporters in Syria's capital that the money to the Children with Cancer Support Association was raised by Syrians living in the U.S. There was no immediate comment from the Treasury Department.
Belgium has built a "zero emissions" research base in Antarctica:
"The Princess Elisabeth station attests that there is growing public interest in projects carrying a message of sustainable development, especially in terms of energy management," the polar group said in a statement.

"The conception of a 'zero emission' building capable of standing up to the extreme conditions in the Antarctic goes to show that similar techniques can also be deployed in more temperate areas of the world," it added.
If you've been toying with any sort of scheme for building a bridge across the Bering Strait, now's your chance to make it pay off:
If you could design a bridge across the Bering Strait, connecting the U.S. to Russia, what would it look like? Come up with something good and you could win as much as $80,000....

Your only two requirements are to design "a peace park with a bridging structure using the two islands, Big Diomede and Little Diomede at the Bering Strait," and a "proposal of how to connect two continents."
Having taken care of business, we can proceed to pleasure. Mechanised is a lovely urban exploration blog graced with a tagline from Wire's "Map Ref 41°N 93°W"...what's not to like? (Via things). The Erie Railroad Glass Plate Collection (via Plep). An interactive atlas of world languages. Notes on Stereo Microscopes and Minerals.

Short but sweet: Spectres and Phantoms. An advertisement for The London Glacarium. The somewhat less glamorous phenomenon of sewer top sublimation. And a House of Ice.

Furthermore: Your hit parade of mysterious sounds, which should probably include the sounds of neurons. Projects spearheaded by an energy thinktank from Jimmy Carter's second term. And via Pruned, images of the Geomagnetic Terrain.

NY, NY: A Day in New York, a beautiful experimental film from 1957. Some remarks on jarheads. Photos by Robert Walch (via wood s lot). Typewriter art by Winifred T. Caldwell, and ASCII insects by Joan Stark. And a survey of Mycological Marvels.

I'll leave you with Part 1 of an incredible program of "biological cinema." Part 2 is here.

(Image at top: "Dazhai" by unknown artist. "An aerial view of Maoist China's most famous agricultural collective.")

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dirty Oil

Joseph Romm is upset because Obama has suggested that technological progress could make it possible to process Canada's tar sands safely.

I distrust Obama on this issue, too. It's nothing personal, though. I'd distrust any president's willingness to come down on the sensible side of a question like this. It's not really in the job description, as things currently stand, and there are enormous structural obstacles to doing the right thing even -- or especially -- if you decide to take a stab at it.

At the same time, I get a little tired of the liberal pretense that solving problems like the tar sands industry is a simple matter of "speaking truth to power."

If Obama would announce that tar sands are unhealthy for children and other living things, the theory goes, the companies exploiting them would withdraw in shame and be forced to seek honest work in the solar industry. The idea that diplomacy is a necessary and delicate affair remains an alien concept in some circles, and sometimes I wonder if a certain number of people on the left haven't internalized and adapted to the conservative axiom that when the USA talks, them furriners had better listen up, or else.

I'm not accusing Romm of that attitude, I hasten to add. But unlike him, I think that what's important in Obama's remarks is not what he said about some vague, dreamworld future in which tar sands are no longer an economic and environmental and moral disaster, but what he said about the present:

Obama declined to call the oil sands "dirty oil" in a White House interview yesterday with Peter Mansbridge of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., but acknowledged that the process "creates a big carbon footprint."

"So the dilemma that Canada faces, the United States faces, and China and the entire world faces is: How do we obtain the energy that we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change?"
Granting that Obama could secretly be planning to switch the entire country over to tar sands by 2010, a more reasonable interpretation is that he's trying diplomatically to acknowledge the theoretical economic value of tar sands, while pointing out that current extraction methods are unacceptable. It's hard to imagine what more he could say on his first official visit up north.

On second thought, it's not hard at all, because he actually did go quite a bit beyond the call of duty:
"I think, to the extent that Canada and the United States can collaborate on ways that we can sequester carbon, capture greenhouse gases before they're emitted into the atmosphere, that's going to be good for everybody," Obama added. "Because if we don't, then we're going to have a ceiling at some point in terms of our ability to expand our economies...."
Perhaps I'm crazy, but it sounds as though Obama is saying that if we can't figure out how to extract this fuel safely, we're going to have to do without it.

It's quite possible that he doesn't mean it. But regardless, when you consider the dictates of diplomatic language and the strong gravitational pull of business as usual, that's a pretty staggering thing even to suggest. And it encourages me to believe that whether Obama is willing or able or allowed to tackle this problem, he does at least understand it. That may not be enough, but it's more than we've had in a long, long while.

In other news, tar sands really are horrific, just in case you didn't know.

UPDATE: I probably should've made it clear that I'm basing this argument on the assumption that there will be no technological fix for tar sands in my lifetime, and we'll be left with the choice of using them anyway, or leaving them in the ground. I tend to doubt that we'll make the right choice. But I'm also not absolutely positive we won't, which kind of surprises me.

(Photo by Peter Esseck.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Useless Jobs

I have to confess that until today, I didn't really grasp the breadth and depth of the abyss that Obama has opened at our feet.

Of course I understood, in my fuzzyheaded, genial way, that he was shepherding us into a new Gulag. And I had no reason to doubt the experts who claim that spending isn't actually stimulus and jobs aren't actually work.

But it's only after reading a new column by Ben Shapiro -- who looks as though he's about 12, but would be wise beyond his years even if he were as old as Steve Simels -- that I've come to realize how desperate things have gotten:

The public relations backbone of this bill -- government spending on our nations crumbling infrastructure -- is misguided. While the countrys infrastructure may need revamping, this sort of spending will not stimulate the economy. It will not create the kind of jobs Americans need.
The thing is, see, these jobs do nothing more than build infrastructure, while paying wages that can be exchanged for good and services. Real jobs are entirely different:
The goal of a thriving economy isnt full employment -- its raising the standard of living. Employment rate means nothing if the jobs it measures do not create wealth for the economy.
You're not getting this, are you? Let's see if we can dumb it down a little:
Heres the magic of private sector jobs. Imagine Bill owns a fruit stand. He sells his fruit for $2 per pound. Herman sees that Bill is doing well, and decides to open a fruit stand of his own. He figures he can undercut Bill and live on less of a profit margin, so he sells his fruit at $1 per pound. Pretty soon, Herman runs Bill out of business. Its tough for Bill. But meanwhile, customers are spending $1 less for their fruit than they were. Theyre spending that extra money at Bobs clothing store, keeping Bob employed -- and Bob can now hire Bill.
This is simple, rational, and just, precisely as God intended it to be. By contrast, here's what happens when the government "hires" people to "build" "necessary" "infrastructure," as Stalin did when he squandered the lives of thousands of laborers to complete the Belomorkanal:
Imagine Cool Hand Luke works for the government as a menial laborer. He builds roads in New York. People dont choose to pay Cool Hand Luke -- the government forces them to pay his salary. Now, certain people in New York may benefit from the new road. But they would rather have spent their cash on a new car, or a new computer, or a new business. And the people who live in California, who are also paying Cool Hand Luke, get nothing for their money. Their quality of life is not improved one iota.
To be fair, it's not obvious that New Yorkers would rather pay for cars than roads, or that Californians don't benefit from well maintained roads when they visit New York for business or pleasure, or when their friends and family and business associates travel on them in relative safety. Nor is it obvious that no one in California ever benefits from the spending decisions of Cool Hand Luke, Cotton-Eyed Joe, 'Flicted Arm Pete, Whistling Rufus, Poke Salad Annie, and the rest of the "menials" who get paid to loiter beside the Empire State's highways.

But apart from these minor details, Shapiro's anecdote gets at the throbbing black heart of the problem, and makes us realize how much better things would be if we sold the roads in New York to the government of Saudi Arabia, which could hire Bill and Bob as independent contractors once Bob's clothing store is driven out of business by Walmart, whose low prices are subsidized with their tax dollars.

And besides, the best and the brightest Americans don't even want government jobs:
[O]ur politicians think they can appease us by offering us useless jobs. They think investment bankers will be happy to staff the bureaucracy at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Think for a moment of the sheer wastefulness of forcing our unemployed investment bankers to tend to the squalid affairs of these drunken aboriginal ingrates, instead of letting them blaze new trails in the science of mortgage securitization. And then thank your lucky stars that unlike Barack Hussein Obama, you understand the difference between having a job, and having a life:
Obama might prevent rising unemployment. After all, so did President Jimmy Carter. But hell do so at the cost of private sector employment. Americans will pay the price in standard of living -- but at least they can say they have a job, no matter how useless.
It's even more chilling when you realize that some of them may actually delude themselves into thinking that it beats the alternative.

Meanwhile, those of you who are looking for the kind of work that actually advances civilization may want to get in on the ground floor of PJTV.

(Photo: Prisoner labor at construction of Belomorkanal, 1932.)

The Week in Denialism

We live in an age of miracles. Not only does the sun come up each day like clockwork, but George Will has been caught lying about the current state of climate science.

TPM thinks Will should issue a retraction. He probably won't, and it wouldn't really matter if he did. Will's column has always been a bit like the Canal Street storefronts that serve as a conduit for bootleg electronics and jewelry. It's where conservatarian lies go to get a pedigree and a page number. Whether Will corrects himself or not, his claim will live on forever, as surely as hundreds of wingnut bloggers will link to Henry Payne's post on Debra J. Saunders' summary of Fred Barnes' column on the argument Gregg Easterbrook based on it.

Which is fine. Tse-tse flies and filarial worms have their trade, and George Will has his. What bothers me is not that he's a professional liar in a job that calls for one; it's that his lies -- like Will himself -- lack a certain verve and panache. If Martin Durkin is Lemmy, Will is Ed Ames.

In the end, though, they're both relics. Inactivism is where it's at, naoadays. For instance, a new column by the geoscientist Thomas Crowley explains that "tales of our environmental demise are greatly exaggerated" because "coal reserves are dwindling, and lower emissions will follow."

It'll be interesting to see how this argument flies with right-leaning inactivists. Normally, the theory that it's possible to exhaust a natural resource is almost as controversial in conservatarian circles as AGW itself. But we've reached a point where virtually any theory is preferable to AGW; if we found out tomorrow that the earth is warming from the effects of a Ganymedean death ray, Iain Murray would present the news as a rebuke to the "alarmists" who claimed that human industry was to blame, and there'd be cigars, cognac and bwahahas all around.

Anyway, Crowley gets his figures from a paper by Prof. David Rutledge at CalTech (who is not an inactivist by any means).

He concluded that reserves (resources that can be economically produced) – widely assumed to be sufficient for energy use for centuries – are far smaller than usually assumed....

Since coal is almost entirely responsible for the projected rise in CO2 beyond mid-century, the implication is that neither CO2 nor the climate consequences from its use may be nearly as severe as usually assumed by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.
Crowley acknowledges that Rutledge's findings have not yet been confirmed. But that doesn't stop him from hinting that they're being suppressed:
Have the implications of Rutledge's work just not sunk in, or are some scientists having difficulty disengaging from a fundamental assumption that has been in the community mindset for a quarter of a century?
The latter, most likely. After all, Rutledge's theory changes everything:
Even if his calculations are further substantiated and widely accepted, the planet will continue to warm in the interim and concerns about, for example, drought and rising sea level will still be legitimate. And the need for alternate energy sources would become even more urgent in the near-term than it would be if coal were available in the vast amounts previously assumed.
I feel better already!

Obviously, Crowley is correct that Rutledge's work is pertinent to the debate over AGW. But he ignores three points: First, the economic shock of peak coal, coupled with a temperature rise that will result in "drought and rising sea level," is a fairly troubling scenario; if Rutledge is correct, then "urgent" is a very polite way of describing our need for alternative energy. (That this scenario actually does constitute grounds for "optimism," of a sort, says all one needs to say about modern planetary management. Still, calling it "mild" is a bit much.)

Second, Rutledge estimates that the coal shortage will cause CO2 to peak at 460ppm in 2070, which is roughly what the IPCC has been shooting for, in terms of a stabilization target, for better or worse. If there's more coal than he projects (or even if there isn't), the assumption that we can safely burn what we have could turn out to be a very bad one. (And again, that is not Rutledge's assumption; he'd prefer to phase out fossil-fuel production on federal lands, among other things.)

Third, Rutledge's calculations don't seem to include emissions relating to tar sands and oil shale, which I'd assume will magically seem more "economical" as coal and oil get scarcer.

As a geoscientist, Crowley presumably knows all of this and much more besides. But for some reason, his column is rather short on arguments for caution and against complacency (though I guess it's possible they were edited out due to lack of space). In any event, he's performed a welcome service for the more flexible denialists, who can now argue that climate change has been canceled due to lack of coal, and that there's more than enough coal for the next thousand years, and that we'll need to burn every grain of it in order to stave off a Super Ice Age.

Bjorn Lomberg has a new column. The gist of it is that "swift growth" in China and India is lifting people out of poverty, which will enable them to buy more goods and services, which will lead to even swifter growth, which will continue until everyone everywhere is happy and healthy, world without end, amen. Also, global warming will make China's weather nicer: "Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health." (How could they not?)

Lest you think Lomborg's out of ideas, he does recommend "developing low-carbon energy." Wish I'd thought of that!

Frank Tipler -- esteemed author of the silliest book I've ever read in my life -- asks "What counter-intuitive predictions have the Global Warmers ever made?" Depends what you mean by "counter-intuitive," I guess. Most denialists still seem to think AGW is disproved whenever there's a snowstorm (see illustration, above).

Tipler's message, as far as I can tell, is that we must look at what people in the sciences have actually accomplished, instead of being dazzled by their fancy schools and their degrees, and their woefully noncounterintuitive papers that simply rehash what everyone else has already said about CO2 and heat and ice and stuff. Once we do this, we'll understand that the IPCC consensus is meaningless, because one of these days, it's going to be blown out of the water by some barefoot amateur who will check fashionable theories about "warming" against the stark physical fact of the snow that's falling on his driveway.

On that note, you'll have to excuse dentist told me I need a root canal, so I'm going to walk over to the gas station and get a second opinion from the guy who repairs tires.

UPDATE: The Washington Post argues that there's no need for Will to issue a retraction, because there are sources that agree with his claim, even if the specific source to which the claim was attributed denies it vehemently. As Tim Lambert says:
[U]nder this policy Will, can attribute any statement at all to any organization he wants and no correction would be necessary, no matter how much the organization denies the statement. For example, next week Will could write that the Smithsonian had concluded that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and he would not have to correct this no matter how fiercely the Smithsonian denied it, as long as he could find a Creationist web site that said that was the Smithsonian's conclusion.
Behold the abject capitulation of the MSM to the irrational dogma of the Warming Cult.

(Illustration: zOMG we can haz snow!!1 ttly sux 2 b algore lol)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
Pectenodoris trilineata
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

(Photo by doug.deep.

Friday Hope Blogging

Wyoming has rejected a bill that would've defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual right:

After an hour of impassioned debate Friday, the House defeated an attempt to define marriage in the state Constitution as a union between a man and a woman.

House Joint Resolution 17, also known as the "Defense of Marriage" resolution, failed by a vote of 35-25.
Members of Congress are calling on Obama to freeze construction of the border fence:
"We, along with our constituents, understand the importance of protecting our borders," the letter reads. "Though there are places where a fence is the most feasible option, we strongly believe the Bush Administration's approach of constructing a fence along much of the Southwest border was ill-conceived as it was void of any meaningful input from the local communities or the Border Patrol Sector Chiefs who are most familiar with the challenges of securing our border."
The Migration Policy Institute agrees:
Members of an influential Washington think tank today recommended major changes in the nation's immigration policy, including freezing construction of a security fence along the U.S.- Mexican border and suspending "zero-tolerance" prosecution programs against all people caught crossing segments of the border.

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan group whose presenters included former U.S. immigration chiefs under both parties, recommended 36 steps the Obama administration can take without congressional approval to alter policies developed during the Bush administration.
Also, local opposition to the construction of immigrant detention centers is increasing:
The immigration crackdown of recent years has been possible, in part, because the Bush administration has greatly expanded its detention space. This is set to continue in next year's budget, with new centers planned in several states. But some are meeting local resistance.
I don't know what I expect to come of it, if anything, but this is a remarkable thing for a US president to say:
The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that’s not a smart way to build communities.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has shelved BushCo's plans to drill off the US coast...for now:
The Department of Interior will now conduct a 180-day review of the country's offshore oil and gas resources, leaving the door open for possible offshore oil exploration. The agency will hold four public meetings over the next few months - in Alaska and on the West, East, and Gulf Coasts - to hear from state and local officials, industry, and environmental groups on the proposal.
And Nevada has shelved plans to build a coal-fired plant near Ely:
[I]t is welcome that Nevada will be spared this source of smog, haze and unhealthy air and water for the next decade — and probably longer. That is because Congress, likely this year, will pass regulations that have been inevitable for some time.

The regulations will require that coal plants vastly reduce the noxious emissions that have been allowed to pollute our cities, countrysides and waterways, contributing to global warming and causing serious health problems. The cost of bringing about such reductions will almost certainly steer power companies away from building coal plants.
South Carolina's governor is opposing the construction of a new coal plant, too. Better yet, funding for nuclear power and "clean coal" have been stripped from the stimulus package:
"This is a big victory for common sense and the American taxpayer," said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear who helped lead the campaign on Capitol Hill to cut the $50 billion from the bill.
A new study suggests that improving energy efficiency could cut US electricity consumption by 30 percent:
An assessment of the "electric productivity" of the 50 states indicates that shoring up performance gaps through energy efficiency could not only cut consumption by 30 percent, but also eliminate the need for more than 60 percent of coal-fired generation, according to a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute.
In many areas, reducing water consumption is an excellent way to reduce energy use:
"It takes a lot of energy to move, treat, clean, and use water. A remarkable amount of water, it turns out," Gleick said. "So whatever we can do to reduce the energy required to meet our water needs reduces greenhouse gases."
The UK vows that it will make every home in the country more energy efficient by 2030:
All UK households will have a green makeover by 2030 under government plans to reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills.

Cavity wall and loft insulation will be available for all suitable homes, with plans to retrofit 400,000 homes a year by 2015. Financial incentives for householders will also be available for low-carbon technologies such as solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps, paid for by a levy on utility companies.
Eleven islands in the North Sea will attempt to become waste-free:
The islands from six countries will follow a "cradle-to-cradle" philosophy, which calls for using renewable energy and products made from materials that can be endlessly reused or organically decomposed.

Innovations will include electric vehicles, a desalination system for drinking water that removes salt in a usable form, and purification of household water – including human waste.

"The islands will be a catalyst for innovation for the whole region," German chemist Michael Braungart said at the unveiling of the project late Wednesday.
Grenada, Spain is using electric hearses:
“We are not only the first cemetery in Spain to use CO2-free, electric hearses to carry coffins, but we are the first in Europe. In one city in Romania, the dead are brought into the cemetery on the back of an electric golf cart while in Tarrasa, Catalunya, they use a trailer pulled by a low CO2 emitting car.
In future, they may be partially powered by bumps in the road:
A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks.
In the Philippines, the Catholic Church is taking a stand against mining:
Over the past few years, Bishop Arturo Bastes has spearheaded the church's campaign to shut down a gold and copper mine in Rapu-Rapu island, in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine's Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and now is working on shutting down the new owners -- a consortium led by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp....

"It's written in the Bible," Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: "Do not defile the land where you live and I dwell."
Researchers claim that biodiverse crops seem to result -- somehow -- in less nitrate damage to rivers:
Modern farms tend to produce fewer crop varieties; this lower crop biodiversity can negatively impact surrounding watersheds. According to the study, within a given area, a higher biodiversity of crops led to less dissolved nitrogen in surrounding water bodies.
Speaking of biodiversity, the Center for Biological Diversity, whose effectiveness in raising legal challenges to anti-environmental policies I've praised many times, "has created the Climate Law Institute to extend the reach of current environmental and human health laws to encompass global warming, pass new climate legislation, and reinvent America’s approach to protecting endangered species and public lands."
The path-breaking institute will be directed by Kassie Siegel, the current director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy program. That program will be replaced by the multidisciplinary institute, which will expand and direct climate change work across the Center’s biodiversity, oceans, public lands, urban wildlands, and international programs.
There seems to be some truth to the broken windows theory:
Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded. In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "bro ken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime.
Inhabitat reports on a rooftop garden prototype in Los Angeles:
SYNTHe is a self-sufficient ecosystem that could offer a myriad of environmental benefits. Besides helping to filter pollutants, increasing thermal insulation of the roof, and reducing storm water runoff, the roof top garden sets forth a complete productive cycle. Food will be grown, consumed, and ultimately returned to the cycle in the form of compost on the premises.

A Spanish quarry has been turned into a "post-industrial" tourist site:
In actuality, not only has the quarry been turned into an outdoor history museum decorated with artifacts, it's been landscaped as an arboretum showcasing native Minorcan flora. In keeping with the stonecutters' tradition of cultivating orchards and vegetable gardens in disused quarries, each excavated spaces plays host to a different plant community. So there is a quarry room for fruit trees, another for bushes and shrubs, and another containing cultivated olive trees and aromatic plants. In one quarry, there is a pond containing freshwater Minorcan plants.

Click through to see more pictures; you won't be sorry!

Apropos of which, Plep mentions the abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which could benefit from a similar approach to rehabilitation. You can find many fascinating pictures here.

California is reducing the population of its overcrowded prisons:
Tens of thousands of California inmates will have to be released over the next two to three years to relieve overcrowding that has ravaged prison medical and mental health care, a panel of federal judges said Monday.
Pfizer claims that it will reveal the payments it makes to doctors:
The disclosures will begin early next year and are planned to include all payments to a doctor or other prescriber exceeding $500 in a year, the New York firm said.

The move comes after introduction last month of legislation to require such disclosures, and revelations of astronomical payments to some doctors that were not revealed to universities and hospitals that employed them.
In related news, the American Psychiatric Association may cut some of their ties with drug companies:
[Dr. Daniel] Carlat and other psychiatrists have been studying the issue and have proposed that the American Psychiatric Association cut back on medical education seminars funded by drug companies.

Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the group that represents 38,000 doctors, said the proposal is one of several the association's board will take up next month to address concerns that psychiatrists have become too cozy with drugmakers.

The APA and some prominent psychiatrists have been targeted in a probe by Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley. He has faulted several noted child psychiatrists, including Dr. Joseph Biederman of Harvard University in Boston, for failing to disclose hefty payments from drug companies.
Yoplait will no longer be made with milk containing rBGH:
Saying consumers want the change, General Mills on Monday announced it would suspend by August the use of milk produced from cows injected with a synthetic hormone in all Yoplait yogurt.
The work of a researcher who suggested that the MMR vaccine causes autism has been found to be inadequate, to put it very politely indeed:
[A]n investigative report by The Times in London...seemed to show fairly conclusively Wakefield had doctored the data to have in come out the way he wanted....This explains why no one has been able to replicate his findings: in fact there was no demonstrable relationship between the autism seen in his 12 child case series and the vaccination itself.
The linked post discusses the role of science journals in this debate, and is well worth reading.

Clinical trials of an anti-HIV vaginal gel seem to be promising:
An investigational vaginal gel intended to prevent HIV infection in women has demonstrated encouraging signs of success in a clinical trial conducted in Africa and the United States. Findings of the recently concluded study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, were presented today at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Montreal.
A new approach to antibiotic design could slow the development of drug resistance by targeting bacterial communication:
Individual bacteria monitor the concentration of signalling molecules, and when it reaches a certain level, change their behaviour. That concentration provides a rough indication of when the number of cells in a particular population has reached a certain critical mass - known as a quorum. When a quorum is reached, pathogenic bacteria shift from a benign state and begin attacking the host by secreting toxins.

But hacking the bacterial communication system could make it possible to prevent this transformation, and leave the cells waiting in a safe form for an attack signal that never comes. That would give the immune system extra time to naturally clear the bacteria from the body, says David Spring at the University of Cambridge, UK.

His research group has now developed an artificial molecule that could lead to a treatment to destroy the quorum signals sent out by many bacteria, including Pseudomonas - a bacterium that can lead to life-threatening conditions such as meningitis, and that is the primary cause of mortality in individuals with cystic fibrosis.
Scientists seem to have gained some insight into photosynthesis:
Analysing energy transport is an important way of understanding the inner workings of a wide range of systems, from biological processes to car engines. However, in very small-scale systems such as photosynthetic molecules, quantum effects come into play making it difficult for scientists to explain how photosynthetic molecules are able to transport energy with remarkably high efficiency.

Until now, one of the major obstacles has been the lack of a direct way of probing some of the fundamental mechanisms involved in the flow of energy between electrons in molecules.

"These new pictures are instantaneous snap-shots of energy being transported between electrons across a protein. Remarkably, the pictures go further in unravelling the complex way the electrons interact. This gives us something akin to a fingerprint for electronic couplings," says Dr Ian Mercer from the School of Physics at University College Dublin, the lead author of the new study, who is a visiting researcher at Imperial College London.
This is...interesting:
The extinction of species is a consequence of their inability to adapt to new environmental conditions, and also of their competition with other species. Besides selection and the appearance of new species, the possibility of adaptation is also one of the driving forces behind evolution. According to the interpretation that has been familiar since Darwin, these processes increase the “fitness” of the species overall, since, of two competing species, only the fittest would survive. LMU researchers have now simulated the progression of a cyclic competition of three species. It means that each participant is superior to one other species, but will be beaten by a third interaction partner. “In this kind of cyclical concurrence, the weakest species proves the winner almost without exception,” reports Professor Erwin Frey, who headed the study. “The two stronger species, on the other hand, die out, as experiments with bacteria have already shown. Our results are not only a big surprise, they are important to our understanding of evolution of ecosystems and the development of new strategies for the protection of species.”
Now, then. Photos of Kenyan women, visible from space. Imaging the Thyacline (someone's gotta do it). A history of wine. The rephotographic journeys of John Hannavy. And some postcards from South Dakota.

Furthermore: Photos by Inge Morath (I recommend The Road to Reno). Botanical illustrations by Olive Pink. And entomological illustrations from the Franclemont Collection.

Neanderthal music (I'd give it a nine 'cause I can dance to it, but I wouldn't buy it). Codex Gigas. Beautiful and horrible stalactites of melted brick. An Australian dust storm in the shape of Ayers Rock (via Coudal). Histories and photos of unknown New Orleanians.

And, in conclusion, Colour on the Thames.

UPDATE: If you've got room after all that, RMJ has dessert.

(Photo at top via Stuck in Customs.)