Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yesterday's Strategy

Please be advised that Michael Gerson -- scourge of tyrants, dreamer of dreams, and vicarious Emperor of Iraq -- takes a dim view of Joe Biden:

[Biden] voted against the first Gulf War, arguing "What vital interests of the United States justify sending young Americans to their deaths in the sands of Saudi Arabia?" And he displayed consistently poor judgment during the Cold War, opposing missile defenses and undermining resistance to communism in Central America. Biden must view himself as a combination of Kissinger and Clausewitz. But there is little basis for this self-regard.
Especially since that position's already been filled by an eminently qualified chap named Gerson.

Apparently, Gerson envies our nation's torturers so much that he's using the tools of his own gruesome trade to inflict similar anguish on evildoers like yours truly. God knows, neither stupidity nor delusion is a plausible explanation for his claim that opposing extralegal "anti-communist" bloodbaths during the Reagan years makes Biden a would-be Kissinger. The only motivation that makes sense is sheer malice: The pleasure of tormenting his political adversaries with statements that are the rhetorical equivalent of waterboarding clearly outweighs the embarrassment of sounding like a fucking idiot.

Like so many other conservative commentators, Gerson's memory of the last eight years has been decimated by a timely case of amnesia. It wasn't long ago that public debates over strategery were all the rage. But now it's Year 1 of the Obama Regime, and the former things are passed away: 1/20 changed everything!
[T]here are also risks when arguments about military strategy are too public for too long. An enemy can try to influence the outcome of a debate with attacks and propaganda. Al-Qaeda's most recent video warns Europeans that they are about to be abandoned: "It won't be long until the dust of war clears in Afghanistan, at which point you won't find a trace of any American, because they will have gone away far beyond the Atlantic."
Which just goes to show you that Obama is in over his head. A really clever president would be careful not to say anything that Al-Qaeda could spin as a victory for Islamofascism.

Remember all that outrageously demoralizing stuff John Kerry said about being "the last man to die for a mistake"? Well, it's somewhat less outrageous than it used to be.
No one wants to be the last to die for the sake of yesterday's strategy.
I see Gerson's point, of course. But the thing is, claiming that some trumped-up existential threat obliges us to invade a relatively poor and weak country is nothing if not "yesterday's strategy." Before striking up the latest disastrous variation on this theme, Gerson should probably have paid more attention to Clausewitz, who said that "no one starts a war -- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so -- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."

One nice thing about writing op-ed columns on war is that no matter what's going on, you can always announce portentously that "we" stand at a crossroads. Like a compulsive gambler standing in front of the slot machine that's just swallowed this month's mortgage payment, our nation faces a stark moment of decision: do we slink away in defeat and shame, or do we pawn our watch, cross our fingers, and win every penny back, plus a little extra for our trouble?
If McChrystal is to be believed, America is not merely failing to win in Afghanistan; it is losing. It may require a jolt of resources to revive the patient and convince a skeptical American public that progress is possible.
Medical analogies for warfare are always a classy touch, too, as long as you don't think too much about the Hippocratic Oath. (Aren't armed drones a bit like T cells, when you think about it?)

Anyway, all we have to do is kill as many people and spend as much money as it takes to "revive the patient," while giving the public an impression of progress. If that impression wears off, as narcotics will, it's easy enough to announce that we stand at another crossroads, and insist yet again that the only people who understand the right course of action are the shameless moral lepers who forced the wrong one on us.

Which raises an interesting question: Who wants to be the last to die for the sake of yesterday's strategy?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Susceptible Young People

As a concerned mom, a glibertarian polemicist, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute, Laura E. Huggins wishes to advise us that "eco-propaganda" is warping Our Children's Minds.

[C]lassroom textbooks are influenced "by an ideological view that presents human beings as evil," according to Dr. Michael Sanera, director of the Center for Environmental Education Research. Sanera compared science textbooks used in sixth through 10th grades in Wisconsin. Though he felt the textbooks all did a good job explaining the carbon cycle and greenhouse effect, nearly all focused only on the human causes of climate change and all predicted catastrophic impact.
In other words, climate change is real, but some part of it is natural, so there's no sense in worrying about the consequences.

Children who've been browbeaten into compliance with this bizarre worldview have "learned to think," according to Huggins. Those who haven't are being scared stupid by unscrupulous textbook publishers. It's fine to terrify kids by harping on the catastrophic results of healthcare reform, or sex-ed classes, or our collective failure to "cauldronize" the Middle East per Michael Ledeen. And it's not only fine, but essential, to frighten them with sin and hellfire. But calling climate change a serious problem...jeez, that's practically child abuse.

She fails to mention that Sanera's study was published way back in 1996. And that he's a bit unclear on what constitutes presenting human beings as "evil," as opposed to ignorant or shortsighted. And that, as ExxonSecrets notes, the Center for Environmental Education Research was a pet project of the CEI, and may not be entirely reliable.

It's not just eco-propaganda that's turning our kids into terminal mopes. The other problem -- and this is where things get really weird -- is that children are alienated from the natural world.
Top off the eco-propaganda with the fact that many schools have moved away from hands-on nature-study and field trips, and that parents are no longer sending their kids to camps or even outside to play, it is no wonder kids are increasingly disconnected and uninterested in the outdoors....

While researchers debate the root cause of people spending less time outside and its associated impacts on mental and physical health, there is little debate that this trend spells trouble for our commitment to conservation....

Rather than scaring susceptible young people about the environment, why not teach them the truth and get them outdoors?
Good idea! Especially on cold winter days, when the falsity of "global warming" will be obvious even to the dimmest child. It's one thing to sit in your living room watching Glenn Beck spout denialist catchphrases in front of a giant green swastika; it's quite another to go outside and catch snowflakes on your tongue, knowing that each of them is an unanswerable argument against Algore's Warming Theory.

Huggins' remarks about conservation are baffling. Maybe she noticed that it's now fashionable for anti-choice activists to complain that contraception helps men to exploit and dominate women, and figured she might as well try a similar faux-progressive detournement in her own field. Just as you can't call someone who weeps over degraded women a misogynist, you can't call someone who wants children to gambol like fauns through dew-kissed meadows an anti-environmentalist shill. It's just common sense.

It's fun and easy, too. Observe: Turning national parks over to timber companies is conservation! Ignoring evidence on principle is critical thought! Thoreau is the spiritual founder of the Wise Use movement, and would've been infuriated by federal protection of wilderness areas! You're limited only by your imagination and malice.

It's not just the thrill of turning your enemies' rhetoric against them that makes this approach so satisfying. There's also a good chance that you'll be able to render useful terms effectively meaningless (cf. "fascist" and "socialist"), transmute them into their opposites, and treat any attempt to restore their basic definitions as elitist indoctrination.

Schools are an ideal place to wage this battle, since children can be snatched up and used as human shields when the purity of one's motives is questioned. With that in mind, here's Huggins' three-step solution to the eco-indoctrination of our "susceptible young people":
First, say no to the eco-propaganda that dribbles down on them all day. Second, teach them to think about environmental issues. And third, say yes next time your child asks to "go play outside."
Sounds absolutely foolproof. Granted, most of us don't actually know enough about climate science to edit our kids' textbooks. But that's OK...we can just cross out anything demoralizing, using the common sense God gave us. It's gotten us this far.

(Photo by Sarah Posner.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

The gods grant nothing more than life,
So let us reject whatever lifts us
To unbreathable heights,
Eternal but flowerless.
All that we need to accept is Chromodoris kunei,
And as long as the blood in our veins still pulses
And love does not shrivel,
Let us go on
Like panes of glass: transparent to light,
Pattered by the sad rain trickling down,
Warmed by the sun,
And reflecting a little.

(Photo by alfonsator.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Earlier this week, Pacific Gas & Electric pulled out of the US Chamber of Commerce.

We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.
Now, the New Mexican utility PNM Resources has followed suit.
At PNM Resources, we see climate change as the most pressing environmental and economic issue of our time. Given that view, and a natural limit on both company time and resources, we have decided that we can be most productive by working with organizations that share our view on the need for thoughtful, reasonable climate change legislation and want to push that agenda forward in Congress.

As a result, we have decided to let our membership in the U.S. Chamber lapse when it expires at the end of this year.
Jonathan Hiskes has more on corporate disenchantment with the USCOC, and asks a very good question:
So here’s a question for climate activists: Why not hound companies in the Chamber and ACCCE, demanding to know why they lend their money and their legitimacy to such groups? Companies may decide that membership is a weight around their necks they don’t need.
Meanwhile, the G20 has tentatively agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies:
The world's largest economies will agree to phase out subsidies on oil and other carbon dioxide-spewing fossils fuels over the "medium term" in an effort to fight global warming, a G20 document said.

The draft G20 statement showed countries such as Russia, India, and China will back a move to reduce and eliminate most financial support that keeps fuel prices artificially low, albeit without a timetable for the cuts.
An attempt by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to limit the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 has failed:
The Senate declined Thursday to take up Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s effort to limit for a year the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and other stationary sources of pollution.

Murkowski had sought to amend the Interior Department appropriations bill being considered Thursday by the U.S. Senate, but was blocked from bringing forward her proposal.
And California is imposing some fairly strong restrictions on VOCs:
California air regulators approved strict regulations Thursday for aerosol air fresheners, paint thinners and solvents as a way to lessen smog-forming emissions and reduce a health threat.

The state Air Resources Board voted 8-0 to ban the sale of products that emit high levels of so-called volatile organic compounds. The rules are the toughest state mandate in the nation and will take effect Dec. 31, 2013.
Yellowstone's grizzly bears will once again receive ESA protections:
A federal district court ruling in Montana today returned Endangered Species Act protections to the Yellowstone grizzly bear population. In the case, brought by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Judge Donald Molloy ruled that inadequate regulatory mechanisms were put in place to manage the bears after federal protections were dropped in early 2007, and that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to address the loss of an essential food source for the bears, whitebark pine seeds.
Plans to site a solar-thermal facility in a remote, sensitive desert area have been scrapped:
The proposed project site was located in a remote wildland area currently being planned for inclusion in a new national monument proposed by California senator Dianne Feinstein. The new monument would connect Joshua Tree National Park with the Mojave National Preserve and would protect some of the most pristine, ecologically important and beautiful desert lands in the world.

Peter Galvin, co-founder and conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “We are tremendously pleased that this poorly-sited project has been withdrawn.” Galvin added, “Broadwell Valley and similar lands should be recognized as the national treasures that they are and permanently protected as a national monument.”
Rare primates will be protected by new reserves in China and Vietnam:
There are 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys left in the world. The cao vit gibbon, however, is even worse off with only 110 individuals remaining, giving it the dubious honor of being the second most endangered primate in the world (the closely-related Hainan gibbon with only 17 individuals is likely number one).

Both of these species — the cao vit gibbon and Tonkin snub nosed monkey — have received good news recently as new reserves in China and Vietnam have been created in part to aid their survival.
Photo by Zhao Chao, FFI.

In related news, conservation efforts are helping the Central Asian saiga antelope:
In a decline on par with that suffered by the American bison in the Nineteenth Century, in the 1990s the saiga antelope of the Central Asian steppe plummeted from over one million individuals to 50,000, dropping a staggering 95 percent in a decade and a half. Since then new legislation and conservation measure have helped the species stabilize in some areas but in others the decline continues.
And the world's first shark sanctuary has been created in Palau:
BBC news reports that Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau, has announced that a sanctuary about 230,000 square miles in total will be established to protect sharks. All commercial shark hunting in their entire Exclusive Economic Zone - about the size of France - will be banned.

"These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them," said President Toribiong. "Their physical beauty and strength, in my opinion, reflects the health of the oceans; they stand out."
A plurality of Republican voters seem to favor a public healthcare option:
The poll asked this question: "Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?"

The top-line result is 65% in favor, 26% opposed. Among Democrats only, it's 81%-12%, and independents are at 61%-30%. And among Republican respondents, 47% are in favor, to 42% opposed.
For the first time, an AIDS vaccine has shown significant protective effects:
The combo cut the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 31 percent in the study of more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, researchers announced Thursday in Bangkok.

That benefit is modest, yet "it's the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine," said Col. Jerome Kim, an Army doctor who helped lead the study.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has won its lawsuit for the release of telecom lobbying records:
A judge ordered the government Thursday to release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications giants that participated in the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ordered the records be provided to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) by October 9, 2009.
Green roofs seem to be even more beneficial than was previously thought:
[R]esearchers have attempted to quantify the benefits of covering urban rooftops with plants. The scientists found that replacing traditional roofing materials with ‘green’ in an urban area the size of Detroit with a population of about one-million, would be equivalent to eliminating a year's worth of carbon dioxide emitted by 10,000 mid-sized SUVs and trucks.
Lynchburg, VA is imposing some sensible restrictions on big-box retailers:
Requirements include making provisions for mass transit access; building a connected system of external sidewalks and internal walkways; and employing a more environmentally friendly system of stormwater management that allows at least 25 percent of all water to return directly to the soil.
Despite the usual alarmist predictions from the usual conservatarian thinktanks, Phoenix's light rail system is a terrific success:
Even its proponents were surprised by its success and its transformative effect on downtown businesses, particularly during a recession.

Valley Metro light rail opened last December. Opponents viewed the $1.4 billion, 20-mile line a boondoggle for the largely auto-dependent city. Now some of them admit to riding it.
Illinois "has a new law that starts building the infrastructure for a real regional food system":
The legislation establishes a council to develop a fresh farm and food system in the state, and it creates a system that allows buyers for state agencies to pay up to 10 percent above the lowest bid when purchasing locally grown foods. It also sets a goal for state-owned agencies to increase their purchase of locally grown foods each year so that 20 percent of their food purchase is spent on Illinois-grown foods by 2020.

Currently, an estimated 4 percent of the money Illinois residents spend on food each year is for products grown in the state, and just several hundred of the state’s 76,000 farmers are producing for the local market, according to a task force report.
Ontario has launched the feed-in tariff system mandated under its Green Energy Act:
The tariffs are precedent setting in North America not only for the number of different technologies listed, but also for the prices offered. Solar energy advocates will be particularly pleased. Ontario’s proposed tariffs, if implemented, will be the highest in North America. For rooftop solar they will be comparable to those offered in Germany and France.
The UK is taking a small but significant step towards disarmament:
Gordon Brown will add momentum to moves towards nuclear disarmament tomorrow by announcing that he intends Britain to build only three, and not the planned four, replacement Trident nuclear submarines.

The move, which could cut billions from the defence budget over the next decade, was welcomed by anti-nuclear campaigners today, who said it was a "step in the right direction" but did not go far enough.
Cheryl Rofer explains the implications:
This is actually pretty significant. If America and Russia move toward 1500 warheads, that is getting close to where the other nuclear powers - Great Britain, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan need to be included in negotiations. So Britain is moving ahead of the curve.
Onwards and upwards. Swedish Matchboxes and Edible Geography. Photos by Kobi Israel. The South Bronx in the 80s and 90s. International doorhangers. And vintage cheese labels.

Lawnmower cards (via Plep). Photos by Henry Busse. Images from the Byron Collection. Drawings from the Civil War. And photos by Esther Bubley.

Animal Architecture and Abandoned Farm House Rooms. Urban Life Through Two Lenses. Port Townsend Then and Now. Lots and lots of red dust. And via Moon River, a photo of White Sands, New Mexico from 1952.

And now, a word from our sponsors.

(Photo at top: "Ores of Copper" via EPOD.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In addition to being a socialist, a fascist, a eugenicist, a friend of terrorists, a foreign-born pretender, a liar, and woefully inexperienced, Barack Obama acts a lot like a college administrator. That's the expert opinion of Victor Davis Hanson, who's been a celebrity academic long enough to know that college administrators represent pretty much everything that's wrong with America.

In [Obama's] limited experience, those who went to Yale or Harvard are special people, and the Ivy League environment has been replicated in the culture of the White House.
It's a huge change from the last administration, which comprised former short-order cooks, lawn care specialists, and Wal-Mart greeters. And it signifies that Obama is -- wait for it, now -- an elitist.

We heard all about that before the election, interminably. But it's worth going over the facts once more, if only for the sake of using the magic word "arugula." Here's Obama's worldview in nuce:
Middle America is an exotic place inhabited by aborigines who bowl, don’t eat arugula, and need to be reminded to inflate their tires.
Not everyone in Middle America bowls, obviously, and not everyone who does bowl views it as a patriotic duty or a holy sacrament or a definitive proof of heterosexuality. And not everyone in Middle America refuses to eat arugula on principle. And Obama didn't actually restrict his advice on tire pressure to Middle Americans.

But once you ignore these little details, it's pretty clear that Middle America is an undifferentiated mass of dour hyperconformists whose sense of self is too fragile to withstand the idea that some people don't bowl.

This cartoon Heartland, with its population of hive-minded hayseeds who assent unanimously to any proposition Hanson dreams up, is the product of an elitist worldview if anything is. But hell, it's not like any of these hicks will notice Hanson's sleight of hand. And even if a couple of them did, he can revoke their membership in the Herrenvolk as easily as he imposed it on them.

Anyway, here's what's currently going on at our nation's colleges, and by analogy, in our government.
Faculties are swamped with memos from deans, provosts, and presidents, reiterating their own “commitment to diversity,” reminding how they would not “tolerate hate speech,” and in general blathering about the “campus community.” University administrators instruct faculty on everything from getting a flu shot, to covering up when coughing, to how to make a syllabus and avoid incorrect words.
It's outrageous, isn't it? They've actually convinced themselves that a college is some sort, the viability of which can somehow be diminished by turning a blind eye to expressions of racial and sexual hatred. Worse, they keep trying to force basic concepts of preventative medicine down everyone's throats, under the pretext that having lots of teachers and students out with the flu is disruptive and costly. The whole thing smacks of Nazism, but without the guns and the stylish uniforms and the belief in transcendent values.

Ivy League administrators are also to blame for Obama's alarming fixation on "czars." You can tell because just like Obama, these administrators have a habit of appointing people to various positions, and then making formal announcements about it.
Among the frequent topics of the daily university executive communiqués are the formulaic “My team now includes...,” “I have just appointed...,” “Under my direction”....
There's more, natch. Unlike its obsessive critics, the Obama administration is given to "whining or petulance." Which is no surprise, given that "feelings of being underappreciated by the public for all one’s self-sacrificial efforts are common university traits."

In related news, Obama has a "wounded-fawn sense of sacrifice," because he deigned to enter politics and submit to the dreary ritual of being elected president, instead of seeking tenure at UC-Berkeley. Surely it's no coincidence that "academic culture...promotes this idea that highly educated professionals deigned to give up their best years for arduous academic work and chose to be above the messy rat race."

Obama didn't actually do that, granted. But if he had, he would've. Which is typical of academics, and therefore of his administration. The conclusion is obvious:
[T]he United States is now a campus, we are the students, and Obama is our university president.
This metaphor may seem a bit quaint, given that so many of Hanson's fellow travelers have already decided, by means of equally rigorous logic, that they're prisoners of a new gulag, if not of the antichrist himself.

On the other hand, as Hanson's inevitable reference to a course on "Race, Class, and Gender in the Latina Cinema" shows, griping about higher education remains one of the best ways of indulging in racial polemics while pretending to be talking about something else. Like complaints about Obama's "socialism" -- behind which one can hear decades of white outrage over welfare Cadillacs, and the ever-looming threat of reparations -- complaints about his roots in academia reinforce his status as a Lord of Misrule who's turning the world upside-down in order to crush white aspirations and white culture.

If you ask me, the reason Hanson offers all these laborious analogies, even though they're marvelously stupid, and don't even begin to prove what he claims, is because they give his howl of racial anxiety the superficial form of a logical argument. As such, they serve pretty much the same function as statistics in the pages of American Renaissance: they reassure readers that what they're perusing is a product of sober intellectual inquiry, rather than crypto-racialist sour grapes. A civilized era calls for civilized debate, after all...and never more so than when one is explaining that teh darkies and their white enablers are out to destroy Western culture.

I know I'm not supposed to say any of this. I know that the only people who make truly racist arguments nowadays are Ku Klux Klan members, minorities, and leftists; everyone else is simply enjoying a bracing debate on values and civilization and heritage and genetics and stuff. I know that when you heap scorn on those "elitists" who dare to claim that the artistic productions of minorities are worthy of intelligent people's attention, you're standing up for academic standards rather than racial ones. I know that once you've asserted your elemental belief in fairness, no one can be offended by your assumption that behind every successful black woman, there are 25 honest, hard-working white men who were kicked to the curb and reduced to dressing in burlap potato sacks. And I know that sneering at a class on Latina film is not an expression of contempt for Latinas, but for the multiculturalism that elevates them above their station, and the Marxist orthodoxy that claims their station was assigned to them by something other than Divine Will.

Nonetheless, I'm going to be deliciously irreverent -- just like Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart -- and suggest that if conservative commentators don't want to be accused of racist demagogy, they should follow these simple steps:
  1. Stop obsessing over multiculturalism in higher education, which really isn't fooling anyone.

  2. Start worrying a lot less about anti-Americanism and reverse racism in academia, and a lot more about all those heavily armed would-be secessionists carrying pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose.

  3. Stop drafting everyone between Scranton and Fresno into your personal army of racially aggrieved Kulturkampfers.

  4. Quit having tantrums over things that didn't bother you at all two years ago, like czars and deficits and fake underclass pedigrees and an Ivy League president who whines that no one appreciates the wonderful things he's doing for the country.
Of course, the political rewards for doing these things would be negligible at best. Which is why you can't really blame people like Hanson for preferring to create a new pedagogy of the oppressed, and deploy their subaltern micronarratives against hegemonic discourses like evolution and climatology and Civil War studies and population genetics and feminism. To paraphrase Paolo Friere, this is the great humanistic and historical task of white conservatarian loudmouths: to liberate themselves by portraying their victims as their oppressors, no matter how ludicrous it sounds to sane people.

(Illustration: "Louis Budenz’s article, 'Do Colleges Have to Hire Red Professors?' was the first publication listing Sarah Lawrence College as hiring Communist professors. Soon after this article was published, the Americanism Committee of the American Legion began targeting Sarah Lawrence faculty members. November, 1951.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Very Satisfying Place to Be

Textron Defense Systems has built a better mousetrap:

The Sensor Fuzed Weapon is a marvel of military technology, says its maker, Textron Defense Systems. An advanced "cluster bomb," it is designed to spray 40 individual projectiles of molten copper, destroying enemy tanks across a 30-acre swath of battlefield.
The problem is, cluster bombs are unpopular. Worse, a major international treaty against them is pending. The USA didn't sign it, of course -- we're not idiots -- but potential client nations did. What to do?
Textron, with the support of the Pentagon and the State Department, is mounting a campaign to derail the cluster-bomb treaty and write a new set of rules under the United Nations that would make it easier to sell its weapon around the world.
And why not? Who, after all, is more qualified to define the laws of "civilized" warfare than a company that stands to benefit from selling an advanced cluster bomb?
Textron’s primary argument for scrapping the treaty is that 99 percent of the bomblets released by the Sensor Fuzed Weapon will explode in combat, leaving only a tiny amount of unexploded ordinance that could be picked up by a child or hit by a farmer’s plow. Textron calls this capability "clean battlefield operation."
Emphasis added, but probably unnecessary.

As we all know, tank combat takes place in vast wastelands littered with transparent Platonic solids, so neither the 30-acre kill zone nor the "tiny amount" of leftover UXO has any real significance to civilians. If you don't believe me, do the math: Assuming you drop, say, 100 Sensor Fuzed Weapons on the Hun, there'd only be 40 unexploded bomblets left over.

Since that's practically nothing, it's little wonder that the US Air Force has bought 4,600 of these weapons, which should produce well under 2,000 pieces of UXO (while boosting tourism, ideally). And it's no wonder at all that Textron's president of business development is glutinous with self-approbation:
“Knowing that we are in no way, shape or form contributing to [civilian suffering] is really a very satisfying place to be," he said.
This is a moral high ground that very few of us can hope to invade and occupy. You can't blame Textron for trying to secure its perimeter.

To that end, they've launched a PR Website that's pleadingly titled "" If you read it, you'll learn that it's not just the relatively small number of unexploded bomblets that makes this weapon the greatest shield against human suffering since the invention of ether. There's also the fact that it saves us from having to use "greater numbers of traditional bombs" on whatever mongrel nations are currently threatening the repose of Our Innocent Children.

Think how much less misery the unnecessary, illegal, incompetent, vicious, and apparently interminable war on Iraq would've caused if the Coalition of the Willing had restricted itself to using these well-nigh surgical munitions. Now, multiply that humanitarian benefit by every other grotesquely cynical war of choice we've launched over the last 40-odd years, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's at stake here. As humanitarians, lovers of peace, and children of God, we owe it to the memory of our innocent victims to insist on advanced cluster bombs with no fewer than 40 submunitions, whether we're defending brutal client states, fragile political egos, oil company profits, or the moral rights of US arms manufacturers.

Now, if Textron would restrict itself to environmentally preferable components, and manufacture the Sensor Fuzed Weapon with solar-thermal energy, I'd feel even better about our new era of sustainable power.

(Photo by Ken Jarecke.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

If you only knew.

Far from me, joyful as a flower dancing in the river at the tip of its aquatic stem, sad as seven pm in a mushroom bed.

Far from me yet silent in my presence and still joyful like a stork-shaped hour falling from on high.

Far from me at the moment when the stills are singing, at the moment when Hypselodoris bayeri curls up on its white pillows.

If you only knew.

Far from me, o my ever-present torment, far from me in the magnificent noise of oyster shells crushed by a night owl passing a restaurant at first light.

If you only knew.

(Photo by Wayne Atkinson, via Sea Slug Forum.)

Friday Hope Blogging

A gay rights bill has passed in the Ohio House:

For the first time, a bill prohibiting employment or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation passed the Ohio House.

The bill, which has been introduced four times but has always stalled in committee, passed 56-38 and now goes to the state senate.
Meanwhile, the divorce rate in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, seems to have dropped pretty dramatically:
Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. What does that mean? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940. You read that correctly. The Massachusetts divorce rate is now at about where the US divorce rate was the year before the United States entered World War Two.
I'm sure Maggie Gallagher will come up with a compelling explanation.

The Obama Administration has announced details of its plan to regulate GHG emissions from cars:
“The proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles under the Clean Air Act is a historic step in the fight to curb global warming,” said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Clean Air Act is our strongest and most successful tool for reducing air pollution and will now be put to work, together with our fuel-economy law, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the air we breathe, and save consumers money.”

The proposal is the first time greenhouse gas emissions will be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and it will have a significant impact in slowing the rise of American emissions. But the proposed standards will still leave the United States far behind the vehicle standards already achieved by other countries – standards that are needed to avert dangerous, runaway global warming.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down an utterly deranged mine expansion plan:
The court ruled that the federal Bureau of Land Management had violated various federal laws in agreeing to trade public land with Asarco, which Asarco wanted as part of its expansion of its massive Ray Copper Mine in Arizona. The court held that the agency’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” and that the agency had not taken the required “hard look” at the exchange’s environmental impacts, including comparing impacts to the land and resources with, vs. without, the exchange....

The lands subject to the exchange provide important habitat for rare plants and animals including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and many species of birds. If this proposed land exchange had been allowed to proceed, it would have essentially gutted the White Canyon Resource Conservation Area by allowing mining in a largely pristine place.
In related news, the Justice Department is investigating Gale Norton:
The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General began the investigation during the waning months of the George W. Bush administration and more recently made a formal criminal referral to the Justice Department. Norton is the first Bush official at the Cabinet secretary level to be the subject of a formal political corruption investigation.
The Interior Department is finally phasing out the disastrous "royalty in kind" program:
The scandal-ridden program that allows industry to provide oil and natural gas directly to the Interior Department in lieu of cash royalty payments will be killed, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today.

"The royalty-in-kind program has been a blemish, in my view, on this department," Salazar said at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing. "There were allegations of sex and drugs and a whole host of other inappropriate conduct. ... My decision is that it's time for us to end the royalty-in-kind program."
The Administration is also scrapping BushCo's smog regulations:
In a notice filed Wednesday in a federal appeals court, the Justice Department says there are concerns that the revision made by the Bush administration does not adhere to federal air pollution law. The Environmental Protection Agency will propose revised smog standards to protect health and the environment in late December.

'This is one of the most important protection measures we can take to safeguard our health and our environment,' said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement. 'Reconsidering these standards and ensuring acceptable levels of ground-level ozone could cut health care costs and make our cities healthier, safer places to live, work and play.'
Furthermore, over 100 of the world's largest investors are calling for a strong international agreement on climate change:
“We must chart a new course toward long-term, sustainable business practices,” said DiNapoli, head of the $116.5 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. “We cannot drag our feet on the issue of global climate change. I am deeply concerned about the investor risks climate change presents, and the human cost of inaction is unthinkable. As investors in the global economy, we can lead the way toward a future of lasting prosperity.”
Cheryl Rofer has written at length (and brilliantly, of course) on Obama's decision against placing new missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Her observations are spread across several posts (with more to come, I'm sure), but here's one part that struck me:
Obama and Gates are playing a careful game. They are talking about missile defense without making the distinction between theater missile defense, which works, and national missile defense, which doesn’t. Let’s see if that shields them from the neoconservative incoming.
Also via Cheryl, Operation Rescue seems to be running out of money.
"We're now so broke (as the saying goes), we can't even pay attention," Newman wrote.

Newman told The Associated Press in an interview after the mailing that the group has only four paid employees left, compared to nine a year ago. The group typically has an annual budget of $600,000, but donations this year have been down 30 to 40 percent. Newman, who earns $60,000 annually, said he hasn't been paid in two months.
Croatia and Hungary are planning to create a huge biodiversity reserve:
Croatia and Hungary signed today a declaration to establish a Trans-Boundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that will protect their shared biodiversity hotspot along the Mura, Drava and Danube Rivers. This paves the way to create Europe’s largest river protection area.
Brazil claims that it will ban sugarcane plantations from the Amazon and other sensitive locations:
Brazil will restrict sugarcane plantations for ethanol production from the Amazon, the Pantanal, and other ecologically-sensitive areas under a plan announced Thursday by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's administration, reports the Associated Press.

Environment Minister Carlos Minc said the proposal, which will be voted on by Congress next year, would limit sugar growing to an area of 66 million hectares (163 million acres), or 7.5 percent of Brazil.
The Japanese town of Taiji, which is infamous for its annual dolphin slaughter, has suspended this year's "festivities":
While Japan officially declares that the move had nothing to do with the protests, an official at the Taiji fisheries association, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Thursday that the decision was made partly in response to the international outcry created by "The Cove."
The Fiji petrel has been observed and photographed at sea for the first time:
First recorded in 1855 from one specimen found on Gau Island, Fiji, the rare seabird disappeared from scientific view for 130 years. Beginning in 1984 a handful of 'grounded' Fiji petrels Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi were found after landing on village roofs in Gau, but this is the first observation of the bird in its element: at sea.

Photograph: H Shirihai/The Tubenoses Project/BirdLife International

A black coral forest has been found in Italy:
Italian researchers said they've found one of the largest forests of rare black coral in the world, but for fear of tipping off plunderers, they're keeping the location a secret. Not only is it home to black coral, but also another coral species never before studied in the wild.
Intel has launched a new application called Progress Through Processors, which allows you to "donate" unused computer processing power to climate modeling and AIDS and malaria research.
The application will activate only when your PC's performance is not being fully utilized. When your computer usage demands more processor power, the Progress Thru Processors application defers and sits idle until spare processing capabilities become available again.
The fine science blogger, exemplary human being, and semi-occasional Bouphonia commenter GrrlScientist (Devorah Bennu) is angling to become the official blogger for an upcoming Antarctic expedition. I think she's the perfect choice, and I insist that you all join me in voting for her here. (You have to register first, but it's pretty quick and painless...and I say this as an expert procrastinator and all-around lollygagger.) Once you've registered, you can go directly to her voting page by clicking here. Be advised that I'm not asking with this; I'm telling. So hop to it.

Speaking of Antarctica, the photo at the top is by David Burdeny. You can, and must, see more of his work here; it's absolutely breathtaking. If you scroll past the text that follows the photos, you can see his equally evocative "Shoreline Series."

And that's not all! Penguin Science Fiction (via things). Neon Theatres of the Midwest (via Plep). Bioluminescent insects. Furniture based on acoustic patterns from the streets of Cairo. And a fascinating archive detailing right-wing attacks on Sarah Lawrence College during the McCarthy era.

Temperature maps of the moon. Photos of Mongolia. A close-up view of the balloon flower. A geological map of Ganymede. The center of Globular Cluster Omega Centauri. Géométrie (1923). And via Neatorama, photographs of electricity by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Termites on Liebig cards. More Liebig cards. Vintage bookmarks. Some sentiment cards. And some puzzle cards.

Last, thousands of Vaux swifts entering a chimney...a spectacle I was pleased to view in person a few nights ago.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Enchanted By Conspiracies

David von Drehle has written a lengthy profile of Glenn Beck, for the benefit of those thoughtful people who take an essentially entomological interest in American political disputes.

It's a little gem of centrist thinking. Glenn Beck makes a fortune claiming that Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people," sure...but Al Franken made a fortune selling books that "taunt conservatives" in some unspecified way. Conservatives invoke images of "brainwashed children goose-stepping to school," granted...but lefties are prone to equally outré fantasies about "brownshirts" at town hall meetings, just because a bunch of armed louts have made an organized effort to silence speakers by bellowing hard-right slogans at them.

To the really judicious observer, spouting outrageous lies, and attempting to counter those lies, are equal acts of fanaticism. Media Matters, for instance, routinely "cherry-picks" Glenn Beck's inflammatory statements, in order to portray him as someone who makes a career of saying inflammatory things.

I don't mean to imply that Von Drehle is an apologist for Beck. On the contrary, he makes it clear that Beck is simply the latest in a long line of charlatans and demagogues who have set Americans at one another's throats: witness "William Jennings Bryan whipping up populist Democrats over moneyed interests or the John Birch Society brooding over fluoride."

Here, once again, progressive fact is roughly equivalent to conservative fantasy: Bryan railed against the power of moneyed interests in the Gilded Age, while the Birchers insisted that fluoridation was intended to soften us up for a communist takeover. What can this mean, but that the "Cross of Gold" speech and the 1961 Blue Book of the John Birch Society are mirror-image examples of the American penchant for Manichean delusion?

Von Drehle uses the downfall of Van Jones to emphasize that there are grievous sins on both sides of our political divide.

Jones, whose task was to oversee a green-jobs initiative, turned out to be as enchanted by conspiracies as Beck - he once theorized that "white polluters and the white environmentalists" are "steering poison into the people-of-color's communities...."
Even if you want to assume that there's absolutely no truth to this theory -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- it's still interesting that Jones' fascination with conspiracy theories cost him his job, while Beck's has made him very, very rich. (Also, James Inhofe and Michelle Bachmann have pet theories that are at least as lurid as Jones'. But for some reason, progressive attempts to call attention to them haven't gotten much traction. It's almost as though there's some kind of weird double standard in place.)

Von Drehle notes that there's lots of money to be made by stirring up outrage. Michael Moore, for instance, has feathered his nest handsomely with all his "capitalism-bashing," instead of taking a formal vow of poverty like Karl Marx.

Fair enough. On the other hand, Michael Moore is not on TV and radio for several hours every goddamn day. Glenn Beck is, along with hordes of his ideological doppelgängers...despite the fact that their audience is "relatively small," and their views on, say, social programs are a good deal more radical than those of the average American.

William Jennings Bryan is a long-dead object of ridicule, thank God, so there's no point in discussing the role of moneyed interests in this outcome. Still, maybe there's a bit more to Beck's popularity than the lucky confluence of his "genuine talent" with a certain undercurrent of political discontent.

Or maybe there isn't. Lord knows these are angry, bleak times. Ordinary Americans are rightly concerned about our record deficit, which materialized like some continent-sized sinkhole on January 21, 2008. And they're fretting over the fact that government power is expanding again, after contracting for eight blessed years under George W. Bush. Perhaps Beck's popularity simply reflects the...the...anomie and deracinement of a troubled era, just as the movie Network did back in the mid-seventies.
It's hard to find a film that better captures the rotten vibe of the early 1970s, when America found itself suffering through one downer after another: failing companies, tense foreign relations, high unemployment, rampant incivility, spiraling deficits, corruption in high places, a seemingly endless war. Sound familiar?
Yeah, it does. It sounds almost exactly like the America of two or three years ago, during which time our current Prophets of Doom seemed inordinately pleased with the economy and the corruption and the wars and the international tensions, and referred to people who disagreed with their cheery outlook as whiners and pessimists.

But that was then. Things have changed -- in some subtle, almost indefinable way -- and the former tokens of our prosperity are suddenly being recognized as buboes on the body politic.

What's really worrisome is what will happen to audiences who have grown so accustomed to the irresponsible, white-knuckled rage of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann that they no longer listen to cooler heads, and thus fail to understand that Olbermann's lockjawed, dyspeptic objections to torture, and Beck's shrieking and blubbering about a "civilian national security force" that will KILL US ALL, are symptoms of the same deadly extremism.
Do they stay mad forever? Does their screaming ever lead to something better? Does the rage merely migrate, sending new audiences with new enemies to scream from more windows? And if the time comes when every audience is screaming, who, in the end, is left to listen?
Good question! Maybe it's time we all step back from the abyss, and try to find some common ground. Maybe we can all agree to reject the conspiratorial view of history, whether it manifests itself as cold-warrior paranoia about fluoridation, or sensible skepticism about the basic goodwill of "moneyed interests." Maybe Glenn Beck can stop worrying people about the "communist and fascist symbols in the public artwork of Rockefeller Center," and the left can stop worrying them about the autocratic role of insurance companies in the healthcare debate.

At which point, we'll finally be able to move our country forward, and affirm those timeless values on which the far right and the center can agree.

(Illustration: "A flier issued in the 1950s–60s to promote hygiene as a communist goal," published in 1953 by the Keep America Committee.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Family Values

Conservative astroturfers who are looking for more strident and garish forms of political protest would do well to consider this:

Revelations the Italian mafia has been disposing of toxic waste by putting it onboard ships and then sinking the vessels has sparked health fears along the nearby coastline.

A Mafia informant confessed to sinking three such ships and it is estimated the mob may have sunk 32 more in the last two decades, as European regulations covering waste disposal grew tougher and it became more expensive to comply with them.
Surely this is a cause that all good conservatarians can support, once they've been told to. Modern Republicanism has rallied behind far worse environmental crimes than this, and hailed them as downright Jeffersonian.

The Mafia has some other good things going for it, from a conservative standpoint. Hypermasculine posturing? Check. Achieving social dominance through bootlicking submission to authority? Check. Enforced privatization of public services? Check. Racism and misogyny? Check. Loyalty to the group first, and the country second (if at all)? Check. Unctuous sentimentality about family and children? Check. Gun fetishism? Check. Arms trafficking? Check. A rigid social code based on the bottomless demands of male egotism? Check. Loan sharking? Check. An uneasy marriage of homoeroticism and homophobia? Check.

But all of that is small potatoes, compared to the Mafia's decisive stand against the European Nanny State. The enemy of the friend of my enemy is my friend, and just as it was formerly necessary to arm Iraq against Iran (and vice versa), it is now necessary to stand with organized crime against enviro-socialist tyranny.

Teabagging and going Galt is all well and good, but here's a chance to make an even grander statement, simply by doing what comes naturally. Why shouldn't real Americans dump their garbage in rivers and lakes, in order to assert the inalienable right of legitimate businesses to do the same? It makes at least as much sense as agitating against public health on behalf of the insurance industry, God knows.

And unlike racial and sexual taunts, which linger only in the mind, it'd provide a stark visual reminder of bedrock conservative principles, among which taking unapologetic pride in one's own personal ugliness currently seems to be foremost.

Plus, think of how much fun it'd be to contrast the normal garbage of the workin' man with the effete biodegradable detritus of the Coastal Elite! This is the sort of extra-fancy-grade cultural theorizing that could keep Jonah Goldberg busy for months. (Dig it, man: it's not the garbage that freaks out the Establishment. It's, like, the Truth that the garbage represents.)

It might seem like a bad idea, at first glance, to side publicly with the Italian Mafia. (They're foreigners, after all.) But for a movement that takes an almost erotic pleasure in transgressing social norms, and turning logic on its head, the main danger of declaring that it'd be better to be ruled by the Cosa Nostra than Obama is that it might not be heard above the general din. Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin say stranger things, and defend worse people, almost every day.

Which is why Massey Energy had better get busy, and base a spontaneous grassroots movement on this idea before it's too late. If the general tone deteriorates much further, the moment will be lost, and it'll be like trying to palm off Spooks Run Wild on an audience that's expecting Cannibal Holocaust. The sad truth is, even an über-patriotic orgy of illegal dumping may eventually seem unremarkable, or even quaint.

Hell, if people can get used to this, they can get used to just about anything.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Let Eliud rejoice with Cinaedus, who is a fish yellow all over.
Let Eleazar rejoice with the Grampus, who is a pompous spouter.
Let Matthan rejoice with the Shark, who is supported by multitudes of small value.
Let Jacob rejoice with Dendrodoris denisoni, who is an eye-trap.

(Photo by Nemo's great uncle.)

Friday Hope Blogging

I don't know whether this study is accurate, but it's certainly interesting:

A new report coming from Optimum Population Trust and carried out by the prestigious London School of Economics says that expanding access to family planning and contraception is about five times less expensive than low-carbon technology in combatting climate change....

Between 2010 and 2050 each $7 spent on basic family planning can reduce emissions more than a ton; to achieve that same level of reduction using low-carbon tech would on average cost $32 per ton....In total, expanding access to basic family planning throughout the globe would save 34 gigatons of carbon emissions over the next 40 years,
The British government has formally apologized for its treatment of Alan Turing:
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later....

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.
An Afghan student who was sentenced to death for having downloaded an article that criticized Islam's treatment of women has been freed:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai secretly pardoned Kambaksh, who was moved from a Kabul prison two weeks ago before being flown out of the country to an undisclosed location, reported the Independent UK. According to Reporters Without Borders, Kambaksh left the country due to fear of reprisals.
China is embarking on a massive solar-power project that could power 3 million homes:
The deal could open a potentially vast solar market in China and follows the Chinese government’s recent moves to accelerate development of renewable energy.

First Solar, the globe’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, will also likely build a factory in China to manufacture thin-film solar panels, according to Mike Ahearn, the company’s chief executive. “It is significant that a non-Chinese company can land something like this in China,” said Mr. Ahearn in an interview.

“This is nuclear power-size scale,” said Mr. Ahearn added.
Treehugger describes a new electric motor:
[I]ts characteristics - 50% of the volume giving 2x the torque for the same power output - mean it could be used in other things than electric cars, including renewable energy generation and aerospace (lighter airplanes use less fuel...)
Treehugger also has a good discussion of a system for turning industrial waste heat (and geothermal heat) into electricity:
Surplus heat captured by the evaporator is used to "boil" the working fluid into a vapor. Under pressure, the vapor is forced through the screw expander, turning it to spin an electric generator. The vapor is cooled and condensed back into a liquid in the condenser. The working fluid liquid refrigerant is pumped to higher pressure and returned to the evaporator to repeat the process.
The Nature Conservancy is creating maps to aid in appropriate wind farm siting:
Rob Manes, TNC’s Director of Conservation for Kansas, sits on the Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee that is developing wind farm siting guidelines, where he has proposed that key habitat be identified in advance, so that wind companies can plan around it. Such landscape-scale analysis is already being done by some wind companies, and Manes urged the committee to recommend that the practice become standard procedure. Manes imagines an ever-expanding regional database that would not only would provide maps of important environmental data, such as critical habitat for endangered species, but also would designate wind-friendly areas where turbines and wildlife are less likely to be in conflict.
Since cellphones have rendered phone booths largely obsolete, the city of Madrid plans to turn them into charging stations for electric cars:
Some 30 telephone boxes have been earmarked to form part of a test network of 546 state-subsidised recharging points in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.

Phone boxes are often ideally placed close to the curbs of pavements and already have their own electricity supply, making them relatively easy to adapt.
Many previously unknown species have been found in an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea:
A five week expedition into a remote extinct volcano has uncovered a treasure trove of new species in Papua New Guinea, including what may be the world's largest rat, a fanged frog, and a grunting fish. In all the expedition estimates it may have found around forty species unknown to science....

The scientists suspect that in all that they have found sixteen new species of frog, three new fish, twenty insects and arachnids, a new bat species, and of course the giant rat. One of the insects was a walking stick as long as person's forearm.
The giant woolly rat of Bosavi. Photo by Kristofer Helgen.

The World Bank has suspended palm oil projects:
In a letter sent to several NGOs, World Bank president Robert Zoelick said he shared their concerns "about the detrimental effects of palm oil development when sound environmental and social practices are not followed" and that the internal audit "highlighted important deficiencies" in IFC's approach.

Therefore, until a new strategy is implemented to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated, the IFC will not approve any new investments in palm oil. Additionally, the social and environmental impact of all existing loans to the sector will be reviewed.
Meanwhile, the EPA has ruled that all pending mountaintop-removal permits would violate the Clean Water Act.
Very big news out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning: The agency has determined that all 79 mountaintop-removal mining permits submitted to it for review by the Army Corps of Engineers would violate the Clean Water Act. After eight long years of rubber-stamp permits being issued during the Bush administration, this is one of the most dramatic and encouraging actions yet by the Obama administration, and marks a welcome return of the rule of law to the coalfields of Appalachia....

During the Bush administration, EPA never opposed or challenged a permit, despite the fact that they clearly violated laws on the books to protect clean water and public health. Apparently, those days are over. This dramatic announcement by EPA that every single one of the 79 pending permits violates the Clean Water Act is a condemnation of the quality of permits being churned out during the Bush administration and is a testament to the Obama administration’s sincere commitment to science, transparency, and enforcing environmental safeguards.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the permits will never be granted, unfortunately. You can click here to urge the Administration to follow through on this issue.

Speaking of a lot of people who are "left of the left," I have a tendency to dwell gloomily on my pet disappointments, and the glacial pace of "reform." Joseph Romm offers a bit of perspective:
Obama’s record so far on clean energy and the most important environmental issue — global warming — may not be politically radical, but it is unparalleled in U.S. history.

[T]he vast majority of Obama’s initiatives will be recognized by future generations and future historians as the point at which the U.S. government embraced the inevitable and started down the sustainable path that presidents either chose to embrace voluntarily in time to avoid the worst impacts or were forced to embrace by the collapse of the global Ponzi scheme.
In Michigan, regulators are taking a dim view of two proposed coal-fired plants:
Michigan regulators dealt a setback Tuesday to proposals for new coal-fired power plants near Rogers City and Bay City, questioning the need for both projects at a time of growing emphasis on cleaner fuels.

Public Service Commission staff members presented their negative reviews in separate reports to the Department of Environmental Quality, which is considering whether to grant air emissions permits that are required before either plant could be built.
In related news, another utility has pulled out of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE):
Alstom Power, a French company that makes parts for power plants and is working on carbon sequestration, said it is leaving ACCCE immediately. “We have resigned from ACCCE because of questions that have been raised about ACCCE’s support for climate legislation,” said Tim Brown, an Alstom spokesman. The French company, which is partnering with U.S. utilities on power-plant projects, said that it wants to “remove any doubt about our full support” for a climate bill.
An abundant American weed apparently contains an important anti-cancer compound:
A common weed called American mayapple may soon offer an alternative to an Asian cousin that's been harvested almost to extinction because of its anti-cancer properties. The near-extinct Asian plant, Podophyllyum emodi, produces podophyllotoxin, a compound used in manufacturing etoposide, the active ingredient in a drug used for treating lung and testicular cancer. Podophyllyum emodi is a cousin of the common mayapple weed found in the United States.
A new antibiotic shows promise in fighting malaria:
A new study suggests that tigecycline, the first member of a new class of antibiotics, shows significant antimalarial activity on its own and may also be effective against multi drug-resistant malaria when administered in combination with traditional antimalarial drugs.
Certain strains of bacteria may be able to neutralize algal toxins in drinking water:
Blooms of blue green algae (cyanobacteria) are found in both fresh and salt water throughout the world. They produce toxins called microcystins which are released into the water and are easily ingested by animals and humans by drinking, swimming or bathing in contaminated water. Once in the body the toxins attack liver cells causing acute and chronic poisoning. Conventional methods for water treatment such as sedimentation, sand filtration, flocculation and chlorination do not remove microcystins.

The researchers at Robert Gordon's University have identified more than ten bacterial strains capable of metabolizing microcystins, breaking them down into harmless non-toxic materials.
Several Texas newspapers, having noticed that the state's commitment to abstinence has resulted in the country's highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies, are calling for reality-based sex education and increased access to contraception:
Insisting on abstinence for teen mothers having their second or third babies, without fact-based knowledge about condoms and other contraceptives, is public policy with blinders on.
Fascinating new research discusses the possibility of species-specific music:
We performed tests at the University of Wisconsin on the same species of tamarins. As with all previous studies, the tamarins showed a lack of interest in the human music. By contrast, the effect on them of the species-specific music composed by David Teie was remarkably clear and convincing. They displayed a marked increase of activity in response to the music that was designed to excite them, while the “tamarin ballad” music induced a significant calming. This calming effect was measured against the baseline of silence; they moved and vocalized less and orientated more toward the audio speakers during and immediately following the playing of the tamarin ballad.
You can listen to a sample of the composer's katzenmusik here. (I give it a 9 because you can lick your stomach fur to it, but I wouldn't buy it.)

Fonts galore at Jules Vernacular (via Coudal). Slovak book covers. Art inspired by extreme environments. Amateur travelogues at Tout Terrain. And via wood s lot, artwork by Victor Hugo, circa 1850:

Miscellaneous items, ca. 1909. Images from Grandville's Les Fleurs Animées (including "Rose," an original lithograph of which hangs near my front door, to ensure that I look at it often). Furthermore, films by Hilary Harris and photos by Richard Barnes.

Forced perspective and paper architects. The Hubble telescope is fit and working again. An online, two-player version of Hanafuda? Surely this is an age of miracles. This chart details the relationships between languages that are invoked to signify incomprehensibility (e.g., "it's all Greek to me"). Why do most of these linguistic roads lead to China? The answer may lie in these typologies by Mark Luthringer, or these show windows from Western Australia. Either way, at least one pigeon is faster than at least one ISP. Which comes as no surprise, given these production photos from early cinema.

Here's a short film in Pathé color, to sooth your jangled nerves.

(Photo at top by Karen Glaser. You can see more of her work here.)