Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

Village chiefs in Sierra Leone have banned ritual genital cutting in girls under 18:

In Sierra Leone village chiefs, community members and women who perform female genital cutting have signed an agreement stating that girls in northern Kambia district will not undergo genital mutilation – or ‘cutting’ – before age 18.

The number of girls being cut during the December 2008-January 2009 initiation season in Kambia dropped drastically, according to Finda Fraser, advocacy coordinator at local non-profit Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet), which runs a ‘Say No to Child Bondo’ campaign in the district....

Putting off the initiation ritual could also reduce early marriage and pregnancy, said Thomas Karu, chairman of the school management committee in Makuma village, Bombali district, 130km from the capital Freetown. Once initiated, girls are considered fully grown women, so they often fall pregnant or marry and inevitably drop out of school.
The FDA will expand access to Plan B:
On March 23, 2009, a federal court issued an order directing the FDA, within 30 days, to permit the Plan B drug sponsor to make Plan B available to women 17 and older without a prescription. The government will not appeal this decision.
I rarely have occasion to report positively on Dianne Feinstein, so I may as well make the most of the opportunity:
A bill introduced on the house floor yesterday by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is keeping Jay Mercado, her partner Shirley Tan and their twin 12-year-olds together - at least for now.

Mercado, an American woman and Tan, her Filipino partner, live in Pacifica, California with their 12-year-old twin sons, both American citizens. Tan had been ordered to appear for deportation on May 10, but the emergency bill will keep the family together at least through 2010. Federal immigration law does not currently allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their partners.
California will limit emissions from vehicle fuels:
The regulation requires producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel by 10% over the next decade. And it launches the state on an ambitious path toward ratcheting down its overall heat-trapping emissions by 80% by mid-century -- a level that some scientists deem necessary to avoid drastic global climate disruption.
The EPA has reinstated strict Toxic Release Inventory standards:
"People have a right to information that might affect their health and the health of their children -- and EPA has a responsibility to provide it," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Restoring the TRI reporting requirements assures transparency and provides a crucial tool for safeguarding human health and the environment in our communities."

The final rule reinstates Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements that were replaced by the TRI Burden Reduction Rule in December 2006. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, signed by President Obama on March 11, 2009, mandated that prior TRI reporting requirements be reestablished.
The House has passed two important conservation bills:
The US House of Representatives passed today, the 39th Earth Day, two bills that would aid some of the world’s most embattled wildlife: the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act (H.R. 411) and the Crane Conservation Act (H.R. 388).

Approved by a vote of 290 to 118, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act protects twelve species of wild cats and dogs globally, including leopards, cheetahs, snow leopards, and African wild dogs. Building on the existing Multinational Species Conservation Funds, the bill aims to lessen poaching and smuggling, protect critical habitat, and support education related to these charismatic species in their home countries. If enacted, the bill will provide additional funding to private conservation organizations by as much as three to one. The Great Cats and Rare Canids Act was sponsored by Congressman Jay Inslee from Washington state.
There's slightly better news than we're used to from Afghanistan:
War-wearied Afghanis received uplifting news on Earth Day this year. Their government has announced the creation of the nation’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, protecting a one-of-a-kind landscape encompassing six sky-blue lakes separated by natural dams.

Announced by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) at a ceremony in the FAO Building at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Kabul this morning, key funding for the park was provided by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
You can see some nice pictures here.

Some of Australia's coral reefs have made an amazing comeback after a massive bleaching event:
Marine scientists say they are astonished at the spectacular recovery of certain coral reefs in Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from a devastating coral bleaching event in 2006.

That year high sea temperatures caused massive and severe coral bleaching in the Keppel Islands, in the southern part of the GBR. The damaged reefs were quickly smothered by a single species of seaweed — an event that can spell the total loss of the corals.

However, a lucky combination of rare circumstances meant the reefs were able to achieve a spectacular recovery, with abundant corals re-established in a single year, says Dr Guillermo Diaz-Pulido....
Ontario has enacted the strictest pesticide bill in Canada:
Ontario is joining Quebec in restricting the use of pesticides, but its rules go further by prohibiting the sale and cosmetic use of more than 80 ingredients and 250 products, with few exceptions, experts say.

Other provinces are considering similar restrictions to protect the environment and public health, including British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, said Lisa Gue of the David Suzuki Foundation.
An oil and gas consortium has agreed to stop seismic testing in an important feeding ground for Western Gray whales:
A major oil and gas consortium has agreed to suspend planned seismic testing off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East, a crucial feeding area for the critically endangered Western Gray whale.

The decision followed a recommendation today by a major international scientific panel to halt further oil and gas development in and around the feeding area of the Western Gray Whale.
Researchers have found an additional 180 miles of the Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall of China is even greater than once thought, after a two-year government mapping study uncovered new sections totalling about 180 miles, according to a report posted on the website of the country's national mapping agency.

Using infrared range finders and GPS devices, experts discovered portions of the wall concealed by hills, trenches and rivers that stretch from Hu Shan mountain in northern Liaoning province to Jiayu Pass in western Gansu province, the official China Daily reported on Monday.
Furthermore: The Blaska Glass Flower Collection (via things). Art by Arthur Rackham. The facts about stilt fishing. Early works on architecture and urbanism. Pages from school exercise books of the twenties and thirties. Decaying lantern slides. Incredible photos of Saturn and its moons.

Birdseye maps of Michigan. A survey of Retro Media. Photos by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. The University of Southern Mississippi's Items of the Month. Photographs by Eudora Welty. Vintage clothing labels (via Coudal). And The Nature of Utamuro.

Highlights of the 157th Acoustical Society Meeting. A photo-essay on the construction of the Stockwood Fill. Patagonia in Autumn: a short film. Iran in the 1970s (via Dark Roasted Blend). A collection of Egyptian lantern slides. And 15 images of the aurora australis.

In keeping with the astronomical quasi-theme, here's a lunar eclipse for you.

(Photo at top by Imre Kinszki, circa 1930.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Generating Evidence

Atrios links to a post by Matt Duss:

Shedding some well-needed light on why it could have possibly been necessary to waterboard someone 183 times, McClatchy reports that according to “a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue,” former Vice-President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration"....

I suppose it’s fitting, if disturbingly ironic, that techniques adopted wholesale from methods intended to extract false confessions were used in an attempt to generate evidence of a non-existent Al Qaeda-Saddam operational relationship.
Which reminds me of something I said here:
While listening to the radio this morning, I heard a caller arguing that torture doesn’t work, because by torturing people, you can get people to say anything.

I’ve objected to this argument before, because it implies that torture would be OK if only it were more reliable.

There’s another problem with this line of reasoning, though. Suppose you need someone to say something that isn’t true. Suppose that a single lie, professionally extracted from some anonymous victim, will help you to launch a war, or enact an unconstitutional law, or round up a horde of political enemies, or boost defense spending.

Eventually, you might end up in a situation reminiscent of the subprime mortgage crisis, in which vast fortunes are staked on little more than promises made under duress.

If this ever happened, the problem with the existence of a videotaped torture session might not be its brutality, so much as the insight it’d provide into the process by which “intelligence” is manufactured and passed off as legitimate.

This isn’t an accusation, of course; I’m just thinking out loud. But in purely political terms, this does strike me as the most dangerous possible aspect of allowing torture: it can produce “useful” information when reality can’t.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Week in Denialism

Those of you who are worried about climate change clearly don't have Dan K. Thomasson's grasp of the imaginary past:

Not so terribly long ago most everything bad seemed to be blamed on one of three things -- the press, the atomic bomb or sunspots. But that changed when someone discovered global warming, aided of course, by computers that spewed out the dire consequences as toxic as the greenhouse gasses the true believers saw as the major culprit.
Yessir. I mind it was back in ought-six, folks 'round here was all het up 'bout sunspots. Said it was a judgment on us for havin' a pianny in the church. 'Course, all us old-timers knowed it was magnytism what had reduced convection in part o' the photosphere, but they turned a deef ear to us. Burned down half the churches in the county, 'fore we finally rounded 'em up and hung 'em to a tree.

These here computers is no differnt. Once they gits an idear, they take it for God's Own Truth. I tell you what, I wouldn't have one o' them things up my ass if I had room for a sawmill.

Just in case this homespun wisdom hasn't convinced you to be "cautious" about assessing AGW, here's another good stiff dose:
It seems to be accepted theory that unless the industrial nations of the world unite to plug the holes in the ozone, we are all going to end up toast.
Thomasson's thinking of CFCs, which the industrial nations of the world united to phase out some years ago, with heartening results. Things have come to a pretty pass when journalists can't even remember which environmental problem they're trying to downplay.

The Delco Daily Times notes that human beings exhale CO2. Why is this important? Read on, and find out.
Given that CO2 is the stuff that every human being on the planet exhales with every breath we take, mark us up as concerned about what the EPA might propose....

[I]t is no more reasonable to call carbon dioxide a “pollutant” than it is to refer to the human race as “a virus.”
Absolutely right. Anything that comes out of a human being is harmless in any amount, which is why we should be allowed to dump raw sewage in rivers and reservoirs. Anyone who says otherwise clearly hates humanity.

The DDT isn't actually stupid enough to believe that the EPA is going to regulate breathing, of course. But isn't it fun to imagine that sort of behavior, and then get angry about it? (This reminds me of my gay neighbors, who often rape children in their basement. Although I invented this accusation just now, and have no evidence for it, it does communicate the severity of the problem, don't you think?)

Congress will probably not impose any strict regulations any time soon. But what if "the mere threat of the regs will cause any economic recovery to be slower in coming"? Why, that'd practically be tyranny!
Such power, in the hands of one agency and one administration, is breath taking.

Maybe that’s the idea.
Fighting a conspiracy of this magnitude will require uncommon imagination, foresight, and self-sacrifice, so it's only natural that we should turn to the Detroit News for guidance:
Congress should take due notice of the EPA's finding about carbon dioxide and then write legislation that saves jobs and the economy.
I like this approach a lot. I believe I'll take "due notice" of my doctor's advice on reducing my alcohol intake, and then pour myself another glass of bourbon. In parlous times like these, sticking with robotic fixity to business as usual has become a revolutionary act. I know not what others may choose, but I prefer to die on my knees, drunk and retching and free, than on my feet, sober and thirsty and resentful.

Richard A. Epstein doesn't believe that more is always better when it comes to CO2. However, the conclusion he draws from this may surprise you.
[M]ost people find it a bit odd to take after poor CO2 as a pollutant when its presence in the atmosphere is a necessary element to sustain life on earth. The rub is that too much carbon dioxide might choke the environment--assuming we could find that tipping point, which looks more uncertain with each passing day.
Despite the difficulty of finding this tipping point through any other method than trial and error, the fact remains that "no sane libertarian favors death by asphyxiation." This is excellent news, because it means that we have a pretty good chance of reaching a bipartisan compromise.

The IPCC wants to avoid disastrous warming by stabilizing CO2 at roughly 450ppm, and "sane libertarians" want to avoid asphyxiation by keeping it below, say, 80,000ppm. Obviously, a politically acceptable number lies somewhere in between. All we have to do now is find it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

You, my angel!
We keep floating
On kindred clouds.

Am I alive or did I die
Some sweet death in your heart?
I do not know.

Every hour and minute we celebrate
Chromodoris willani and bright radiating light.

Golden icons
Your eyes.

Tell me – what am I that all these
Flowers blossom in my body and soul?

(Photo by Michael Sze.)

Friday Hope Blogging

I hope you're all prepared to live in a cave and subsist on roots and bracken, because the End of Civilization is nigh:

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded Friday that greenhouse gases linked to climate change "endanger public health and welfare," setting the stage for regulating them under federal clean air laws.
There's a 60-day comment period; it'd be a very good idea to express your support for this decision, because you can be sure that the denialists and inactivists will be out in force. Here's the contact info.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced steps to protect U.S. waters from the threat of ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. Today, EPA issued a notice of data availability to be published in the Federal Register that calls for information and data on ocean acidification that the agency will use to evaluate water-quality criteria under the Clean Water Act.

The notice responded to a formal petition and threatened litigation from the Center for Biological Diversity that sought to compel the agency to impose stricter pH criteria for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect American waters from ocean acidification. EPA’s notice marks the first time that the Clean Water Act will be invoked by the agency to address ocean acidification.
In related news, the US and Mexico have agreed to work together on reducing emissions:
President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, meeting in Mexico City, agreed to broaden political and technical cooperation on those issues by forming a "US-Mexico Bilateral Framework on Clean Energy and Climate Change," the statement released by the White House said.

"The Bilateral Framework will focus on: renewable energy, energy efficiency, adaptation, market mechanisms, forestry and land use, green jobs, low carbon energy technology development and capacity building," it said.
And a federal judge has refused to halt the clean truck program at Southern California ports:
A federal judge in Washington refused Wednesday to halt the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach's clean-truck program, which aims to phase out 17,000 polluting big rigs that shuttle freight to and from rail terminals and other transport hubs.

In denying a preliminary injunction sought by the Federal Maritime Commission, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the regulators had presented "weak" arguments that the program threatens to cause irreparable harm or to unreasonably increase shipping costs. The busiest ports in the nation, Los Angeles and Long Beach handle 40% of the United States' import and export container traffic.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has made an important decision on whistleblower protections:
On April 2, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit delivered an opinion that should be considered nothing less than a victory for openness and accountability in government and for the protection of free speech. At the core of the court's decision was the affirmation that government workers who speak up against injustice inside their agency are protected by the First Amendment. Thanks to this ruling, public employees seeking to point out abuse or incompetence inside government can feel a little more secure when they blow the whistle.
Saudi Arabia claims that it will place restrictions on child marriages:
Days after a Saudi judge upheld the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a man 39 years her senior and blocked a divorce, the kingdom's justice minister said he plans to enact a law that will protect young girls from such marriages, according to local media reports.

The law will place restrictions on the practice to preserve the rights of children and prevent abuses, Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Issa told Al-Watan, a daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, where all newspapers require government permission to publish.
Washington state is moving towards equal rights for same-sex couples:
ame-sex domestic partners would have all the rights and benefits that Washington state offers married couples under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Legislature.

The Democratic-controlled House approved the Senate-passed measure on a mostly party-line 62-35 vote after nearly two hours of debate. It next goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said she will sign it into law.
This is a great idea:
Santa Monica officials say there are simply too many would-be gardeners and too little public garden space.

So gardeners and officials have come up with an idea they call the frontyard and backyard registry. The idea would connect gardeners with homeowners who are interested in hosting gardens but don't have the time to care for them.

They are now developing the registry and looking for homeowners willing to allow a stranger with garden tools and seeds to tend a section of their yard.
This idea isn't so bad either:
Today, humans perform visual inspections every two years of most of the nation's older bridges. But with a scarcity of inspectors and tens of thousands of bridges, that process can be long and laborious....

To address the issue, a team of University of Miami College of Engineering researchers are implementing a self-powered monitor system for bridges that can continuously check their condition using wireless sensors that "harvest" power from structural vibration and wind energy.
Florida will protect sea turtles from commercial harvest:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Wednesday published a proposed rule to ban the commercial harvest of wild freshwater turtles in both public and private waters. Agency staff advised the Commission at its April meeting to accept language of a proposed rule to close turtle harvest in both types of waters after receiving an emergency rulemaking request in March 2008 from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper. The conservation and public health groups asked the Commission to prohibit turtle harvest for two reasons: (1) in order to protect human health; and (2) for the conservation of native turtle species.

Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “We commend Florida for taking this historic action to protect freshwater turtles.”
A very rare bird has hatched in Bermuda:
A fuzzy fledgling of Bermuda's national bird, spotted on a secluded offshore sanctuary this week, may help bring the rare creature back from the brink of extinction.

The baby bird — found nestled in an artificial concrete burrow on protected Nonsuch Island by scientists — is the first recorded Bermuda petrel chick seen on the 16-acre (6-hectare) site for centuries, Bermuda's Department of Conservation said Thursday.

Just 300 of the endangered birds, commonly known as Cahows, exist in and around Bermuda. They breed nowhere else in the world.
Photo by Louis Mowbray.

There's talk of a cure for colony collapse disorder:
In a study published in the new journal from the Society for Applied Microbiology: Environmental Microbiology Reports, scientists from Spain analysed two apiaries and found evidence of honey bee colony depopulation syndrome (also known as colony collapse disorder in the USA). They found no evidence of any other cause of the disease (such as the Varroa destructor, IAPV or pesticides), other than infection with Nosema ceranae. The researchers then treated the infected surviving under-populated colonies with the antibiotic drug, flumagillin and demonstrated complete recovery of all infected colonies.
Researchers have found a huge forest of black coral:
A new survey of the Mediterranean sea bed discovered what is thought to be the world's largest black coral forest, a rare species. It's located in the strait of Messina, between Italy and Siciliy, in the Mediterranean sea.
And a colony of orangutans has been found in Borneo:
With roughly 50,000 orangutans thought to remain in the wild, the new find could add 5 percent to the world's known orangutan numbers, said Erik Meijaard, senior ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Indonesia.
This is fascinating:
Scientists have found life in an ecosystem trapped underneath a glacier in Antarctica for nearly 2 million years. The microbes, they suggest, are surviving the dark, oxygen-free waters by drawing energy from sulfur and iron. The findings provide insight into how life may have survived "Snowball Earth"--periods when some scientists speculate that the planet was entombed in ice--and hint at the possibility of life in other inhospitable environments, such as Mars and Jupiter's icy moon Europa.
Nokia is apparently making an effort to improve its sourcing of raw materials:
We hear a lot about companies like Apple, Dell or HP working to take toxic materials out of their devices, or use recycled materials in the products. We also talk a lot about supply chain emissions reporting. But we don't as often talk about - but should - is the sourcing of the raw materials. Bringing a little focus to this and expanding the spotlight out to other materials is a great way to remind consumers and companies that the whole product from cradle to cradle needs to be ethically and sustainably processed.
Germany has banned Monsanto's GM corn:
Under the new regulations, the cultivation of MON 810, a GM corn produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto, will be prohibited in Germany, as will the sale of its seed. Aigner told reporters Tuesday she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON 810 posed "a danger to the environment," a position which she said the Environment Ministry also supported. In taking the step, Aigner is taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual countries to impose such bans
Speaking of bans, Abunga Books, which used exciting new Web 2.0 capabilities to bring book-banning within reach of anyone with a computer and a grudge against diversity of opinion, has gone out of business. Which is as it should be.

In conclusion: Tweenbots. A frost flower. Digital books on early cinema, available online. French bridges and aqueducts. Photos by Nancy Rexroth. Paste-ups by Barbara Kruger.

Matchbox labels from eastern Europe. The Phillips Glass Plate Negatives Collection and the Clyde Engineering Collection. A close-up view of the white oak. And close-up views of sand by Gary Greenberg.

Random images from the Heartland. An infinite photograph and a History of Ballooning. Wolf Vostell's La Tortuga. Pictures by Xavi Heredia. Sounds of an Icelandic geyser. And a collection of Photochroms from the Library of Congress.

And, of course, a movie.

(Illustration at top: "Untitled (Tilly Losch)" by Joseph Cornell, 1935.)

Our Common Future

I'm pleased—if that's the right word—and more than a little surprised to see that Obama has released four of the Bush administration's torture memos. As far as the content of the memos goes, I don't know that I have much more to say than I said here.

I'm less pleased by Obama's stated rationale for not pursuing prosecutions:

[A]t a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past....

That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
I understand that Obama is in the middle of a personally and professionally dangerous balancing act. I understand that political language is not generally intended to inform people of the facts, let alone the truth. I've never expected Obama to rise very far above what is ultimately a cruel and brutal office, whether he wanted to or not. And I realize that the extent to which we're not being lied to about torture may possibly be more significant, in the long run, than Obama's typical palaver about the spiritual necessity of getting over what we've done to other people and other countries.

And yet. Is it really necessary for Obama to keep rejecting the concept of accountability? Is it really necessary to keep demoralizing people who believe that we have no right to move forward, and who don't see embracing the ethics of the hit-and-run driver as a path to national greatness? He's obliged to spout platitudes, granted...but does he have to spout platitudes that specifically undermine the rule of law, and the entire notion of justice as a means of reconciliation and redemption?

It seems obvious to me that if we'd laid the blame properly for the most lurid political crimes of the seventies and eighties — if we'd understood that "moving forward" required us to recognize the architects of these crimes as people who could never again be allowed to hold office — the Bush administration would've been a logical and legal impossibility.

Ideally, we would've done this in order to make amends to our victims, and to take a tentative step towards becoming the people we claim to be. Failing that, we could at least have barred proven war criminals and sadistic crackpots from the White House, simply as a matter of self-preservation. But instead, we moved on from the crimes of Rumsfeld and Negroponte and Abrams and the rest so highmindedly that they were at perfect liberty to take up right where they'd left off, less than a decade earlier. And since that turned out so well for everyone, why not do it again?

Every time we're caught brutalizing and mutilating and murdering people in ways that haven't gotten the seal of approval from Civilized Nations, it turns out that justice is a luxury we can't afford, because it might sidetrack us from our appointed path to glory. I can think of plenty of reasons for not pursuing prosecutions; I may not approve of them, but I understand them. I can even imagine strategic tradeoffs that could be beneficial in the long run. But I can see very few reasons for pretending that there's some moral or practical virtue in fleeing yet again from the scene of the crime, in order to console ourselves yet again with thoughts of our essential "greatness." And none of them reassures me at all.

Nor am I thrilled with this fretting over "disunity." I don't want to be unified with torturers or the people who defend them. It's like being forced into a shotgun marriage with a man who just raped you and burned down your house. The monstrous ideological imposition of "unity" is what made crimes like these possible, and now it's supposed to justify putting them beyond the reach of the law...presumably so that we can once again present a monolithic front against this dangerous world full of evildoers who hate our freedom. And if "our" unwillingness to uphold the law leads to some new atrocity, and we're "fortunate" enough to find out about it, Obama or someone else will undoubtedly urge us once more to "resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."

As always, like cures like. Just as terror is the antidote to terrorism, and free-market failures call out for free-market solutions, an extra dose of stupid, sentimental nationalism will solve the problems that arise when The Greatest Country On Earth gets a little too zealous in its pursuit of manifest destiny. What could possibly go wrong?

(Illustration: "The Water Torture: Facsimile of a woodcut in Damhoudere's
Praxis Rerum Criminalium," 1556.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Non-Lethal Protection

As everyone knows, pirates (!!!!) are the worst existential threat this nation has faced since sometime last week.

What to do? If you've browsed the comments sections on popular blogs and news sites, you're probably aware that "KILL 'EM ALL!" remains the acme of sophisticated strategic thinking in many circles. This plan is usually recommended as though it's the easiest thing in the world to do, and the hardest thing to imagine doing. Its advocates always seem very proud that they know something the experts don't...just as their forebears did when they leaned against the pickle barrel with their thumbs in their suspenders, and offered a one-step solution for the nigra problem.

You'd think that this resolute optimism would make equally short work of every other problem we face. But if you scream "INSURE 'EM ALL!" or "PAY 'EM ALL A LIVING WAGE!" you'll be astonished at how quickly these folks develop an appreciation of nuance. (I suppose it's possible that these positions are actually consistent, in that they're both informed primarily by bone-deep sadism...but honestly, what are the odds?)

Anyway, there's the "KILL 'EM ALL!" school of anti-piracy. And there's their great enemy, the "Offer the Pirates Aromatherapy and Jungian Analysis While Holding Hands and Singing 'Kumbaya'" school, which comprises everyone who doubts that screaming "KILL 'EM ALL!" really makes you the new Clausewitz.

And then there's the reasonable, centrist Third Way, which is spearheaded by defense contractors and theorists; its motto is "kill some of 'em; torture, burn, blind, poison, electrocute, detain, or starve others; threaten the rest of 'em; and eventually become rich and influential enough to drive US policy towards your preferred high-ticket weapon system." This approach has the support of conservatives and liberals, so you know it's much closer to correct than anything on the extremist sides of the argument.

Apropos of which, Rep. Joe Sestak wants us to deter pirates with the Active Denial System, or "pain ray." David Hambling begs to differ.

Theoretical studies for the maritime tests showed that reflections from the hull could produce "hotspots" with twice the normal energy density, while reflections off the water could be three to four times the baseline....

The whole point of the ADS is that it is not supposed to cause harm. If you zap a boatload of suspected pirates and some of them jump into the water while others keep coming, do you cease fire? Continue firing until you cause real damage ("Ha ha, let's fry 'em!") and legally you might as well have a machine gun. If you're forced to stop, then how useful is the weapon?
Good question. Since the whole point is to avoid making merchant crews feel like they're in a real-life game of Area 51 or House of the Dead, the pain ray does seem like a nonstarter. Fortunately, Sestak is not out of ideas:
According to Rep. Sestak, a barrier might be what's needed to protect merchant vessels. One maritime security company makes an electric fence called Secure Ship. It's linked to a sophisticated alarm system and provides 9,000 volts of non-lethal protection which completely blocks access to the ship. Plus, it has the added benefits of preventing stowaways or thieves from getting on to the ship when it is in port. However, for obvious reasons, Secure Ship only recommended for vessels with a non-flammable cargo. And determined pirates will probably eventually get through it – if they remembered to bring wirecutters and insulated gloves. Despite the shortcomings, the fence might buy the crew valuable time while they call for help.
If the fence had three layers, it'd buy the crew even more time. And as always, the perimeter should be patrolled by drones or militarized animals (unless the Minutemen are willing to trade their pickups for speedboats and redeploy to the Indian Ocean, which would give us the best of both worlds).

Still, these are all stopgap measures. I think it'd be best to enclose each ship in a huge metal sphere filled partially with water, and let it travel over the bounding main like a hamster in a ball, thanks to a rotary apparatus at the prow. It could even be spiked all over, like an enormous pollen spore (isn't biomimesis all the rage these days?).

I imagine David Hambling will have some petty objection to this scheme, too, so I'll just launch a pre-emptive first strike on his pet idea:
Instead of going after the pirates, why not disable their boats? Something like the Running Gear Entanglement System -- or "James Bond Harpoon"-- might do the job. It releases a high-tensile line which snags on the boat's propeller. This would allow the pirates' target to escape, leaving the stranded pirates to be dealt with by the nearest warship in due course.

An entangler has a number of advantages over other options. One is the low cost, which should be thousands of dollars, rather than tens of thousands for LRAD or millions for ADS. Given a suitable launching system, it should be possible to deploy an entangler at a good range. And its method of operation means nobody gets deafened, blistered or blinded by friendly fire if it all goes wrong. Of course there's a risk of entangling the wrong small boats, but that's not the same as the risk of leaving people injured for life.
The thing is, there's also a risk of entangling whatever birds, fish, and aquatic mammals have managed to survive years of toxic dumping and overfishing. I'm not convinced that choking and strangling and drowning what's left of Somalia's wildlife is the best way to deter regional piracy, in the long run. As I've argued elsewhere, we only have one planet, so it's essential that we find sustainable, eco-friendly ways to thwart, cripple and destroy the subhuman filth who threaten our way of life.

All of which makes me more certain than ever that my giant metal sphere is the only feasible solution to Somali piracy. If anyone from Raytheon or BAE wants to discuss this further, you'll find me lying in the gutter in front of the Alibi tiki bar on Interstate Avenue.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Plea for Snowballing

Tomorrow, approximately 250 million outraged American patriots will attend Teabagging parties in order to protest Communifascist Monarchialism, just as the Founding Fathers did when they did that thing with the tea, way back whenever, and "set in motion a chain of events that birthed the greatest nation on earth."

Granted, this insurrection eventually led to the election of an illegitimate, minority president who forced the nation under the yoke of Socialism as punishment for the slave trade. But what are the odds it'll happen again? The next time we take our country back, we'll know better than to cede any ground to the Diversity Cult.

There's only one cloud on the horizon, and that's the cadre of Somali pirates that ACORN has (probably) smuggled across our porous border with the help of the Mexican Army, in hopes that committing acts of violent pro-taxation extremism will distract the nation from "President" Obama's phony birth certificate.

This aggression will not stand. Teabaggers aren't violent — unless they're angry about something — but they do know how to take care of themselves and their country. These foreign agitators will not be permitted to interfere with the process of moving America forward by taking it back to a time when people could still imagine a future in which Freedom will once again thrive like it could've if things had gone just a little bit differently at certain decisive moments in history.

One such moment was when James Monroe boldly vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill, and transferred responsibility for infrastructure to the states. Suggest today that this country needs a Monroe Transfer, and people will laugh in your face. Make no mistake: We have a long way to go.

Part of the problem is that it's so hard to believe these things are actually happening in America. It was bad enough when the Radical Left was simply trying to close secret prisons, criminalize torture, and stand in the way of warrantless wiretapping. But now, they're trying to rewrite the order to allow a return to Clinton-era tax levels. It may not look like a new Holocaust, on the surface. But remember: Hitler hated the Jews because they had all the money. Sound familiar?

I think we need to make this comparison even more obvious, so I suggest that all of us who make $250,000 or more per year, or would like to someday, should sew a green dollar sign prominently onto our clothes, in memory of the yellow star the Jews were forced to wear under National Socialism. At a time when the wealthy are being demonized as arrogant, out-of-touch, self-obsessed crybabies, this gesture will put a human face on the plight of the financially secure, and remind the public of what can happen when a brutal dictator starts persecuting a minority whose only crime is being thrifty and industrious.

I've already made up some dollar-sign patches, and am making them available for $29.99 each, or two for $50. No self-respecting Teabagger should be without one!

It's not all about the money (although it'd be OK if it was, of course). What matters most is that I believe this tactic will help the Teabagging movement to snowball, and I hope it will inspire likeminded patriots to come up with their own strategies for snowballing. One thing is certain: Teabagging without snowballing is doomed to peter out. But if we're all willing to snowball, we can look forward to a golden shower of success that will transform our movement from bottom to top.

UPDATE: Satire is pointless.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Life Blossoms

Paul Sheehan has read a book by Professor Ian Plimer, and is now an expert on the (natural) causes and (beneficial) effects of global warming, not least because "the book's 500 pages and 230,000 words and 2311 footnotes are the product of 40 years' research and a depth and breadth of scholarship."

By contrast, Einstein's 1905 paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies comprises roughly 7,000 words, and has only nine footnotes. Pilmer's accomplishment clearly puts Einstein in the shade.

Of course, if we were to compile all the words, pages, and footnotes that suggest that Plimer is wrong, they'd dwarf his magnum opus like an elephant dwarfs a dust mite. Which just goes to show you that sheer bulk is not always the best way to gauge the accuracy of scientific papers. It just so happens that Plimer's book is voluminous and heavily footnoted because it's correct, while the myriad papers reflecting the consensus view are voluminous and heavily footnoted because they're the product of conformity. That's the kind of detail you're liable to miss unless you have a science-savvy guide like Sheehan.

Plimer is a mining geologist. This makes him uniquely qualified to assess the climate, because, as he notes, "an understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history," and Plimer is presumably pretty well versed in roughly half of these subjects. Unlike "atmospheric scientists, who have a different perspective on time," Plimer understands that the earth has been around for many years. And unlike "catastrophists," Plimer knows that "depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times...and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times." (Apparently, you can add paleo-economics to the list of disciplines at which the climate researcher must excel.)

Reading a book of 500 pages is thirsty work, especially if you have to master astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology, and history before you can form a valid opinion on it. Fortunately, Sheehan has boiled it down to the essentials:

  1. The world is getting warmer, but in a good way.

  2. Bitches don't know bout the sun.

  3. CO2 is life!

  4. The climate is incredibly complicated, so it's impossible to predict what it'll do in the future (unless thy name be Plimer, in which case it's fairly light work, and your prediction that global warming will "bring prosperity and longer life" is almost certainly correct).

  5. Not only is there no evidence that human activity can warm the climate, there's plenty of "validated knowledge" that it says it can't.

  6. Computer models are unreliable, so it's a good thing we have this book by Plimer that explains exactly what they'd say if they were accurate.
Interestingly, Sheehan claims that climate modeling can't begin to deal with the "complex dynamism of the Earth's climate." But if he really believes that AGW is an "extraordinary" hypothesis that's ruled out by "validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology," then any computer model that assumes that human beings can affect climate is wrong from the outset, and the complexity of the system is totally beside the point. Indeed, how can we know whether modeling works or not, unless we start out with models in which CO2 "does not create a temperature rise"? It's almost as though Sheehan doesn't believe his own rhetoric.

Just because Plimer is one brave man standing alone against the forces of conformity, don't go getting the idea that he's an "isolated gadfly." Lots of scientists agree with him, more or less. And not in that bad way that scientists who believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas agree with each other. Plimer's colleagues agree with each other in — how shall I put this? — in a subtle articulative way, partaking — or not partaking, rather — of...of...that essential weltschmerz, as it were, which views clothing and medicine and automobiles as so many cold obstetrical devices that've pulled humanity from the womb of the earth, and motivates so many soi-disant "scientists" to position themselves on the anti-prosperity and pro-extinction side of the debate. In short, they agree with each other because it's the correct thing to do.

The main thing, Sheehan notes, is not to fall prey to conformity and orthodoxy. Obviously, this doesn't mean that you should embrace the heavily footnoted work of Matthias Rath, or David Irving, or — God forbid — Ward Churchill. In some fields, conformity and orthodoxy remain comparatively respectable. But when it comes to climate science, the scientific and moral high ground will always belong to a tiny minority of militant crackpot optimists, just as surely as life blossoms when carbon dioxide rises.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

My artificial flowers
I send them to you.
Ceratosoma brevicaudatum
I set up at your door.
I myself sit down on the steps --
a lost oriental pearl
in the big city’s noisy sea.

(Photo by Taso Viglas. Click to enlarge.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Vermont has stopped denying marriage rights to same-sex couples:

The House and Senate on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto of a marriage bill.

The Republican governor, as expected, nixed the bill Monday night when it arrived on his desk and sent it back to the legislature. The Senate voted 23-5 to override the veto. It then moved to the House which voted 100-49- the exact number needed to override the veto.
Washington DC's city council has voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere:
The District's preliminary vote was Tuesday, the same day Vermont became the fourth state to recognize same-sex marriages and a week after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized such unions, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Colorado's governor has signed a law that protects the rights of same-sex couples:
The new law — formerly known as House Bill 1260 — allows two people to enter into "designated beneficiary agreements" for estate planning, property purchases, medical decisions and certain benefits such as life-insurance and retirement-plan disbursements.
The North Dakota state senate has ruled that a fertilized egg is not a person:
North Dakota's Senate has rejected legislation to bestow human rights on fertilized human eggs, whether they be in the womb or in a laboratory.

Senators voted 29-16 Friday to reject legislation that sought to define as a human being "any organism with the genome of homo sapiens." The "personhood" status would include a developing embryo from the moment of conception, whether inside or outside the womb....

Sen. Curtis Olafson, a Republican, spoke out frequently against the bill, saying it would make it difficult for doctors to treat problem pregnancies that could threaten the woman's life because both she and her unborn child would have equal status under the law.
Afghanistan has shelved a law that condoned marital rape, among other things:
“The Justice Ministry is reviewing the law to make sure it is in line with the Afghan Government’s commitment to human rights and women rights conventions,” Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry in Kabul, said.
Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to 25 more years in prison:
With this ruling, and its exemplary performance during the trial, the Peruvian court has shown the world that even former heads of state cannot expect to get away with serious crimes.
Not unless they're American, anyway.

The CIA will no longer use contract interrogators:
The CIA has stopped using contractors to interrogate prisoners and fired private security guards at the CIA's now-shuttered secret overseas prisons, agency Director Leon Panetta said Thursday....

Terminating the private security guards who watched over the secret sites would save the agency $4 million, Panetta said. The CIA refused to provide details about the contract, including its total value and the company or companies that were fired.
Oregon now has 200,000 more acres of protected wilderness.
When President Barack Obama's signing pen lifted off a public lands bill last Monday, great pieces of Oregon were immediately surrounded by invisible lines.

Everything inside those lines is now wilderness, the most protected class of federal land. In simple terms, that means no logging or non-human-powered recreation.
Also in Oregon, workers have begun demolishing the Savage Rapids Dam:
By December, the northern half of the dam will be gone, and with it two decades of bitter battles over trying to keep what had become a crumbling symbol of a bygone era when rugged pioneers bent nature to their needs.

Construction of a cofferdam will keep fish from swimming over the dam for three weeks, but after that salmon and steelhead will be able to freely swim past the site, as they did before the dam was built in 1921.
(h/t: ErinPDX.)

The EPA has objected to three more mountaintop-removal operations:
The operations in question are one Virginia (the permit for which the EPA wants revoked) and two in West Virginia, one of which is owned by Massey Energy. In all three cases, the EPA says that they likely are in violation of the Clean Water Act.

In similar comments to when the first objection letters were issued, the National Mining Association said that the letters underscore fears of a de factor moratorium on the process of mountaintop removal coal mining.
I'm pleased to see that Hillary Clinton is calling for restrictions on Antarctic tourism:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged tighter controls on cruise ships and tourists in Antarctica to prevent further environmental damage to the fragile region.

Addressing an international meeting on both the Antarctic and the Arctic, Clinton said as tourism increases to Antarctica there must be more regulations governing that travel.
An inexpensive and versatile solar cooker has won a climate design award:
A $6 cardboard box that uses solar power to cook food, sterilize water and could help 3 billion poor people cut greenhouse gases, has won a $75,000 prize for ideas to fight global warming.

The "Kyoto Box," named after the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol that seeks to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, is aimed at billions of people who use firewood to cook.
Speaking of which, here's an oven made from a Blockbuster drop box, and a DIY solar heater made from beer cans.

Diatoms are the model for a new type of solar cell:
Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy, in systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells.

The secret: diatoms. These tiny, single-celled marine life forms have existed for at least 100 million years and are the basis for much of the life in the oceans, but they also have rigid shells that can be used to create order in a natural way at the extraordinarily small level of nanotechnology.

By using biology instead of conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches, researchers at OSU and Portland State University have created a new way to make "dye-sensitized" solar cells, in which photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity. This technology may be slightly more expensive than some existing approaches to make dye-sensitized solar cells, but can potentially triple the electrical output.
New research suggests that public schools may not necessarily be inferior to private ones. Go figure!
Public middle-grades schools placed under private management in 2002 as part of a state-run overhaul of the Philadelphia School District did not keep pace with the rest of the city's public schools, according to a study published in the American Journal of Education.

The study, which tracked schools through 2006, found that test scores had improved in the privatized schools, but scores in the rest of the city's public schools improved at a much faster rate, leaving the privatized schools in the dust.
A judge has blocked a Texas policy that prevents legal immigrants from getting driver's licenses and ID cards:
State District Judge Orlinda L. Naranjo in Austin issued a temporary injunction and found that DPS acted outside its scope of authority when it adopted the policy last year.

"This case is not about illegal immigrants obtaining driver licenses, it is about legal residents who have been denied or have been threatened a denial of a driver license," Naranjo wrote.
This is a nice story:
A five-year-old green sea turtle named Alison that was attacked by a shark and left with only one flipper faced a lifetime of going around in circles. Given that sea turtles can live up to 150 years, this was a dizzying prospect for the young female.

But Allison was set on the straight and narrow yesterday, after biologists in Texas, USA, fitted her with a black neoprene suit complete with a carbon-fiber dorsal fin that allows her to glide gracefully with other turtles.
(h/t: Tlazolteotl.)

Jordan Barab of the great Confined Space blog has been named Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA and Acting Assistant Secretary. Revere explains why this is good news:
If you go back through the archives of Confined Space you'll find post after post taking the Bush administration OSHA to task for falling down on the job of protecting workers' health. Now the hand that typed those posts will be running the agency.

The bottom line here is that workers who would have died under the old regime will now live. Mirabile dictu!
The FDA has approved a quick test for bird flu:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday it had approved a fast test for H5N1 bird flu that can show in less than an hour if people are infected.

The test, made by Sunnyvale, California-based Arbor Vita Corporation, should greatly speed up diagnosis and treatment of people infected with avian influenza, the FDA said. Most current tests take hours.
I'm a bit low on entertaining links this week. That said, here's Superior, the Heart of the Man of Commerce. Also, Living in Stereo (via wood s lot). And live volcano sounds (see also this). And images from Hans Christian Andersen's scrapbooks.

Alright, just a few more. Photos by Shigeichi Nagano. Photos by White Stains Darkroom. Photos by Li Wei. Scenes from The Fruit Computer Laboratory. Scenes from the Duke Farms Eagle Cam. Travels in 19th Century Iceland. And five Picturesque Infernos.

Last, a short film from the Library of Congress's new YouTube channel (h/t: The Bioscope.

(Illustration at top: "Särestön kylä" by Reidar Särestöniemi, 1973.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Ruling Ideas

As Karl Marx observed, "The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas."

Speaking of which:

He peered out through his glasses sat snugly above his mustache to the small classroom at Strafford Junior High School. In a serious tone, Mr. Bill Jeffries asked, “People, do you know why Papa Smurf wears a red hat?” Some of the class smiled, some rolled their eyes, and some remained asleep. In seventh grade, the smurfs are a little above you, but he was about to make a brilliant comparison that most seventh graders would understand.

Clint Maples had a sarcastic wit about him. “Because he’s a communist!” I know he said it jokingly or may be not, but Mr. Jeffries exclaimed at an even more exciting tone, “That’s exactly right Mr. Maples. He’s a communist.” Mr. Jeffries went on to explain how the little smurf village resembled the vision that Karl Marx laid out. As an adult, I don’t think I had a better teacher for the rest of my years at Strafford. Mr. Jeffries landed a job at Parkview High School the next year, which was a loss for Strafford.
No doubt. But maybe Parkview was an unrelenting snake pit of Marxism-Smurfism, and stood in greater need of Mr. Jeffries' services. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need!

Assuming that Mr. Bill Jeffries hasn't put the dull care of this world behind him, in order to tend to his own inviolable acre of Heaven, I'm sure he'd be glad to know that he's made a convert of my fellow Atriot Jay C.
Yes! The red hat!

And the communal society of shirtless dwarves with only one female!

It might as well be called "The Dialectic Hour With Generalissimo Smurf."

It's the Humidity, Stupid!

As someone who has frequently applauded Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's anti-government, pro-freedom rhetoric, it pains me to learn that he's just another scaremongering nanny stater:

Gov. Bobby Jindal has asked two federal agencies to help Louisiana perform indoor air-quality tests in homes filled with drywall imported from China suspected of emitting noxious sulfur compounds that corrode copper wires and household appliances.
Can this really be the same man who used the federal response to Hurricane Katrina as Exhibit A in the case against Big Government, and fought so bravely against the neo-Marxist pseudoscience of volcano monitoring?

Apparently so.
The governor said in a letter that Louisiana did not have the resources to handle the testing alone, and that the federal government should step in because reports of defective drywall had surfaced in at least four states -- Louisiana, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.
Before we get hysterical and start trying to blame chemicals for everything that goes wrong, why not look for a more rational explanation? After all, sound science does not depend on consensus, but on a careful analysis of the evidence found in nature.

Primo, everyone knows that Louisiana has a humid, tropical climate. Secundo, everyone knows that moisture causes corrosion. Ergo, everyone knows that Louisiana's climate is causing whatever corrosion is frightening Gov. Jindal. Clearly, this "corrosion" is part of a natural cycle, and anyone who claims to believe otherwise must have a hidden agenda.

Maybe "hidden" is the wrong word. When you're willing to send the EPA to kick down people's doors in the middle of the night, just because their toaster doesn't work, it's pretty clear where you stand on the question of individual liberty.

Even if Jindal's Sulfur Theory were correct, taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for the bad personal choices of homeowners who failed to perform due diligence. But as I've shown above, it isn't correct — not by a mile. In fact, if sulfur is present, these families should be grateful. Because far from being "noxious," sulfur is a necessary component of all living cells. It's no exaggeration to say that if Jindal and the EPA were allowed to ban sulfur, everyone would die.

Or is that the plan? If so, our very survival is at stake. Which is why it's time for citizens who believe in freedom, prosperity, and private property to understand that the only thing that can stop the EPA is the RKBA.


(Photo by John Pozadzides.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Sovereign Arbiters of Reality

Bill Murchison takes a swig of Dr. Kilmer's Swamp-Root Tonic, squints, spits, hitches his thumbs behind his suspenders, and reacts to Iowa's embrace of Homofascism:

You really can't have "gay marriage," you know, irrespective of what a court or a legislature may say.

You can have something some people call gay marriage because to them the idea sounds worthy and necessary, but to say a thing is other than it is, is to stand reality on its head, hoping to shake out its pockets.

Such is the supposed effect of the Iowa Supreme Court's declaration last week that gays and heterosexuals enjoy equal rights to marital bliss. Nope. They don't and won't, even if liberal Vermont follows Iowa's lead.
As anti-gay agitprop goes, this is fairly tepid stuff. You fags may be winning the right to life and liberty...but you will pursue happiness in vain, bwahaha!

Basically, Murchison's theory hails from that ghoul-haunted hinterland where wingnut theology meets Evolutionary Psychology:
The human race -- sorry ladies, sorry gents -- understands marriage as a compact reinforcing social survival and projection [sic]. It has always been so. It will always be so, even if every state Supreme Court pretended to declare that what isn't suddenly is. Life does not work in this manner.
What he's getting at here is that teh queers can't have offspring. Unless they decide to get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant. Or they adopt, or have kids from a previous marriage, or something like that.

Since it's the alleged lack of children that allegedly damns gay marriage to be a demonic imitation of the allegedly real thing, where does that leave childless straight couples?

At a cheap motel on the outskirts of Hell, wallowing in a viscid mélange of spermatocidal foam, saliva, and Pina Colada-flavored lube:
Marriage, as historically defined, across all religious and non-religious demarcations, is about children -- which is why a marriage in which the couple deliberately repudiates childbearing is so odd a thing, to put the matter as generously as possible.
I think it'd be a good deal more generous to say that whether or not people have kids is their own fucking business, regardless of what some self-appointed Womb Sheriff who looks like Father Jack Hackett has to say about it. But that's because I suffer from "disjointed individualism," which you can distinguish from the good kind of individualism — the kind that "goes Galt" because poor people aren't being turned away at the emergency room, for instance — by the fact that it's soft on nonprocreative sex between consenting adults.

Murchison's entire argument, here, hinges on the idea that gay marriage is "definitionally sterile." Mary Cheney, for one, might not agree. But in any case, you don't have to be a member of the Iowa Supreme Court to see that restricting marriage rights to people who can and are willing to have children would inconvenience an awful lot of heterosexual couples.

As theo-juridical overreaching goes, though, it's not that much worse than the conditions that actually obtain.
Current legal prohibitions pertaining to something called "gay marriage" don't address the condition called homosexuality or lesbianism. A lesbian or homosexual couple is free to do pretty much as they like, so long as it doesn't "like" too much the notion of remaking other, older ideas about institutions made, conspicuously, for others. Marriage, for instance.
Alright, then. A gay couple is free to do as they like, as long as they don't expect to enjoy the legal rights afforded to couples who aren't gay. But this doesn't mean that the law discriminates against gays; it's just that the law was written specifically for normal people, which is an entirely different matter, as anyone who knows How Life Works can see.

Murchison goes on to acknowledge that gay people actually can have children, sort of. But because they can't marry, the result is an illegitimate child. And illegitimacy has a "widely recognized potential for enhancing child abuse and psychological disorientation." Therefore, it's much better for parents to be married, even though marriage is admittedly vulnerable to "all those imperfections that flow from the participation of imperfect humans."

Which is why gay marriage must remain illegal, even though it doesn't actually exist whether it's legal or not.

That's clear enough, isn't it?

In summation, what the Iowa decision shows is that "judges should generally step back from making social policy," because no law is truly binding "unless it corresponds with the way things are at the deepest level, human as well as divine."

And besides:
[P]eople who set themselves up as the sovereign arbiters of reality are -- would "nutty" be the word?
It works for me.

Bloody Consequences

Apparently, Michelle Malkin is furious that people are accusing right-wing pundits of mainstreaming the conspiracy theories that incited Richard Poplawski to kill three police officers in Pennsylvania.

Michelle Malkin...whined to her cultlike audience that liberals were being mean to them: "You killed these police officers. It’s all your fault."
Because as everyone who matters knows, you absolutely cannot blame cultural commentators for corrupting public morals, unless you're talking about Hollywood movies or rap music.

Speaking of which, here's Malkin on popular young musical artists The Coup:
Sept. 11 brought home the lesson that vile ideas have bloody consequences -- no matter how "daggone funky" they may sound to mush-headed music critics.
So why can't we say that Richard Poplawski's rampage brought home the lesson that trigger-happy paranoiac gibberish has bloody consequences, no matter how "daggone patriotic" it may sound to freedom-lovin' Internet tough guys and the women who love them?

Because "to think that revolution can be carried out peacefully, within the framework of bourgeois democracy, which is adapted to the rule of the bourgeoisie, means that one has either gone out of one's mind and lost normal human understanding, or has grossly and openly repudiated the proletarian revolution," duh.

Or to put it another, less highminded way, IOKIYAR.

In other news, WorldNetDaily has an exciting deal for you:
President Ronald Reagan’s top advisers are raving about a new book that exposes America’s internal enemies as never before – and today only, WND readers can get Jamie Glazov’s “United in Hate” for only $4.95 – a $21 discount off the retail price, but only from WorldNetDaily.

In this critically acclaimed book published by WND Books, Glazov describes the unholy alliance between murderous jihadists and people like Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Ted Turner and Noam Chomsky. He uses the Leftists' own words to reveal their agenda of death, and now a flood of praise is pouring in....

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sunday Music Blogging

To: A Famous Ape

With the usual Xs and Os.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and Bonisa nakaza.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men.

(Photo by Geoff Spiby.)

Friday Hope Blogging

It's a strange and busy week for me, so this'll be a very short edition. (You can thank the sharp-tongued unequal_monica_nyc at Eschaton that I'm doing it at all!)

Sweden has legalized same-sex marriage:

Sweden on Wednesday became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Following a five-hour debate in Parliament, the legislation was overwhelmingly passed on a 261 to 22 vote, with 16 abstentions. The new law will go into effect May 1, replacing a 1995 law that allowed civil partnerships.
Meanwhile, in the Land of the Free, the Iowa Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that laws against gay marriage are — wait for it, now — unconstitutional:
“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in the 69 page ruling.
The court also discounted civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” the ruling said.

The decision means that gay and lesbian couples may immediately obtain marriage licenses and be allowed to marry under Iowa law in 21 days.
And the Vermont house has tentatively approved same-sex marriage, and given us a fleeting glimpse of that rarest of endangered species, a principled Republican:
Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry, said he favored limited government and maximizing the ability for people to choose their own lifestyles. He said he had voted against Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil union law in 2000 but had changed his thinking.

"This to me is not about religion, civil rights or the institution of marriage," Hube said. "This to me is about being true to a set of principles. People should have the opportunity to make choices and have control over their own lives."
There are only a few days left for public comment on the rescinding of the HHS "conscience" rule; click here to add yours. My own views are pretty well summed up here:
What American fundamentalism lacks in living, active morality, it makes up for with gratuitous acts of ugly, pietistic snobbery that are calculated to disgust and alienate people of good will. The same transgressive thrill that the secular Right gets from arguing in favor of scientific racism, the Religious Right gets from insisting on the right of "ethical" doctors to cast stones instead of healing wounds. It's soulless, dead-hearted busywork for the terminally childish and vain.
West Virginia's Blair Mountain has been saved from the coal industry:
After 500 mountains in Appalachia have been blown to bits by mountaintop removal, one peak was most likely saved today: Blair Mountain in West Virginia, the site of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War, was officially approved by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to be placed on the National Register.

This is a huge victory, as the tide continues to turn in the movement to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Some consider it the Bunker Hill of the labor movement. But the great battle in 1921, when thousands of union coal miners and World War I veterans donned their uniforms and took up arms to liberate and unionize the last coal camps in southwestern West Virginia held hostage to ruthless outside coal companies, has emerged as one of the great symbols of Appalachia's fate today.
A federal court has upheld the legal rights of three US detainees in Afghanistan to challenge their detention:
A US federal court ruling that three detainees in US custody at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan who were arrested abroad be given the same legal protections as Guantanamo detainees expands the role of federal courts in protecting detainee rights outside the US, Human Rights Watch said today.
Significant progress was made on abolishing the death penalty in 2008:
Last year, countries around the world abolished the death penalty, including Uzbekistan and Argentina. The report states that “Europe and Central Asia is now virtually a death penalty free zone…” The only shameful example left is Belarus, which still has the death penalty and still executes people.

In addition, countries that have the death penalty used it less in 2008. Amnesty International found that out of 59 countries that still use capital punishment, only 25 executed anyone. Not all countries, however, demonstrated such restraint. According to the report, China executed about 1,718 people, Iran executed about 346 and Saudi Arabia killed about 102 people.
A large population of endangered dolphins has been found in the waters off Bangladesh:
“This discovery gives us great hope that there is a future for Irrawaddy dolphins,” said Dr. Brian Smith, the study’s lead author. “Bangladesh clearly serves as an important sanctuary for Irrawaddy dolphins, and conservation in this region should be a top priority.”
Quebec will protect 4.5 million acres of land:
The Montreal Gazette wrote: "The latest protected swaths comprise half of Quebec's Boreal Forest in the northern part of the province, including more land around George River and eight sites in Nunavik."
I'm not sure what to make of this:
For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries, described in the April 2 online edition of Science, could be manufactured with a cheap and environmentally benign process: The synthesis takes place at and below room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents, and the materials that go into the battery are non-toxic.
This is also interesting:
"Jackdaws seem to recognize the eye's role in visual perception, or at the very least they are extremely sensitive to the way that human eyes are oriented," said Auguste von Bayern, formerly of the University of Cambridge and now at the University of Oxford....

{T]he birds were able to interpret human communicative gestures, such as gaze alternation and pointing, to help them find hidden food, they found. The birds were unsuccessful in using static cues, including eye gaze or head orientation, in that context....

The findings are particularly notable given that most other species investigated so far, including our closest relatives the chimpanzee and "man's best friend," the dog, are not particularly sensitive to eye orientation and eye gaze, von Bayern said. Rather, she continued, chimps and dogs seem to rely on other cues such as head or body orientation in determining the looking direction of others and do not appear to appreciate the eyes as the visual organs. The results suggest that birds may deserve more respect for their mental abilities.
That's about as much as I can manage today, but here are a few links to keep you occupied 'til I get back:

Proyecto Agua (via dataisnature). America's vanishing grave houses. A 24-hour astronomical webcast. Slides mounted by Cornelius Poulton. A history of the Lost Airfields of Greater Los Angeles (speaking of which, some remarks on flight and film). A bestiary of calligraphic animals. Useful information on your water footprint. And a gallery of photos by Helen Leavitt, who died this week at the age of 95.

Last, some vitally important information for the modern housewife:

(Illustration at top: "The Brooding Rook's Heaven" by Mary Newcomb, 2001.)