Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

Having written and deleted three ill-tempered preambles detailing my massive problems with the theory and practice of American liberalism, and suggesting that the trouble with our elected officials is not that they don't represent us, but that they represent too many of us too well -- particularly when they throw in the towel preemptively, after a meager effort, and pat themselves on the back for it -- I'll forego editorializing entirely and get straight to the good news.

Washington DC has decided that gay people have the same rights as everyone else.

The city council passed the measure Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the city. Congress has final say over D.C.'s laws, however, so the mayor's signature doesn't mean the bill immediately becomes law.
New York is coming to a similar realization about transgendered people:
New York Governor David A. Paterson issued an executive order extending anti-discrimination policies to gender identity for state employees Wednesday.

“Governor Paterson has taken significant action to advance equality for all New York state employees,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The ability to provide for our families is non-negotiable. We applaud Governor Paterson for his commitment to the LGBT community and look forward to working with fair-minded New York legislators to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which will protect private employees.”
The FY2010 Omnibus Spending Bill contains some good provisions:
The legislation eliminates traditional sources of funding for abstinence-only programs and instead provides funding for "a new evidence-based teenage pregnancy prevention initiative." The bill calls for $114.5 million to be appropriated for the new programs, which will include age appropriate and medically accurate information on both contraception and abstinence....

The District of Columbia also made major gains with the passage of the bill. A provision that would eliminate a long-time prohibition on using DC-raised monies for abortion assistance within the District is in the final legislation as well as a provision overturning a ban on medical marijuana in the District.
Blog of Rights has more. It's worth noting that the bill also eases restrictions on needle exchange programs.

Uganda has banned female genital mutilation:
Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Uganda under a bill passed unanimously by the Parliament, lawmakers said.

Ugandans convicted of the practice, also known as female circumcision, face up to 10 years in prison. If a girl dies from the surgery, which involves cutting off the clitoris to reduce sexual feeling, convicted offenders would be sentenced to life in prison.
The United States is speeding up the patent process for green technology:
Green technology patents will see a year shaved off the average forty month wait time to approve new patents in the US. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is implementing a one-year pilot program to push green technology patent applications through the process more quickly, so that the technologies can reach the market faster.
Honolulu will use seawater to cool its buildings:
Frigid seawater pumped in from the ocean’s depths will soon help cool more than half of the buildings in Honolulu’s downtown. Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning LLC, which is undertaking the $240 million project, expects its technology to cut the Hawaiian city’s air conditioning electricity usage by up to 75 percent while slashing carbon emissions and the use of ozone-depleting refrigerants.
A plan to open Vermont state land to off-road vehicles has been blocked:
The rejection of the rule was based solely on procedural grounds and did not tackle substantive issues such as the environmental impacts of ATVs or the impact on other users of public lands. Still, one of the fatal flaws in the rule, according to the committee, was that it failed to provide any scientific information or support for allowing ATVs on state lands. The provision of scientific background is a requirement of any new administrative rule.
The world's largest solar office building has opened in China:
he design of the new building is based on the sun dial and “underlines the urgency of seeking renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels.” Aside from the obvious sustainable nature of the solar panel – clad exterior, other green features include advanced roof and wall insulation practices resulting in an energy savings of 30% more than the national standard. In addition, the external structure of the building used a mere 1% of the amount of steel used to construct the Bird’s Nest.
A famous Nevada brothel has inadvertently aided efforts to restore the Truckee River floodplain:
The tax woes of the Mustang Ranch, the first licensed brothel in the United States, may prove an boon to the Nature Conservancy's efforts to restore the Truckee River in Nevada, the New York Times reported this week, saying that "like many acts of salvation, this one has its roots deep in sin."

The brothel's original high-desert location, a 420-acre site eight miles east of Reno and 300 yards from the riverbank, was confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service a few years ago. While the working women continue to ply their trade a few miles downriver, the old property is being restored to floodplain. The river had been straightened and widened by the Army Corps of Engineers half a century ago to reduce flood risks to Reno's growing population.
A new process extracts lithium from geothermal wastewater:
We need electric vehicles to curb our thirst for oil, but there’s a problem: EV’s generally use lots of lithium in their batteries, and that’s another limited resource. Now Simbol Mining thinks it has a partial solution in a new technique that extracts battery lithium from the wastewater of geothermal plants.

Currently, most lithium is sourced from soil or dried brine in a water-intensive process. But Simbol’s technique uses water that is already being extracted for geothermal energy. The technique, which Simbol hopes to use in the geothermal and lithium-rich waters in California’s underground Salton Sea, pulls lithium ions out of the water and into a lithium chloride compound that can be mixed with sodium carbonate for shipping. Heat from the water helps power the process.
A substitute for tropical wood could help to save the rainforests.
Kebony, a Norwegian company, has developed a process to make softwoods similar to tropical hardwoods without the use of chemicals. The product, also called Kebony, stops softwood from rotting by treating it with a chemical-free process that involves sugarcane waste, pressurizing, and heating. The process makes softwood that is actually harder than tropical hardwoods and resistant to fungi and insects. Since the wood only needs to be treated once, it is cheaper than soft woods over the long run that need to be treated throughout their lifetime, each treatment releasing toxic chemicals into the environment.
And there's good news about the ongoing arms talks between the US and Russia.
The new version of Start would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200, according to a senior American official. It would also force each side to reduce its strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to below 800, down from the old limit of 1,600.
Furthermore: Ten environmental wins. The return of the repressed. Old tickets. Saturn's hexagon. Microscope slides by W. White. Images of Eritrea (via Coudal). Vintage storefronts (likewise).

Ainu Komonjo. Alternative global mapping techniques. Acoustic listening devices. A close-up view of a hybrid foamflower. A fireball over the Mojave Desert. And ice storms.

Also, a short film for someone sweet.

Last, thanks for rising to the occasion last week! Marvelous stuff, and I really appreciated it. (Of course, you're more than welcome to post positive stories this week, too. Or any other.)

(Photo at top: "General view towards Merok, Geiranger Fjord, Norway" between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Via the Library of Congress.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

I'm taking a dreamy, romantic stroll through a minefield at the moment, so if there's to be any hope at all this week, you'll have to provide it.

If you've heard any heartening news, please post a summary and link in comments. (I'd do the same for you, if you were in my shoes!)

Thanks. I'll be back, eventually. 'Til then, do this in remembrance of me.

(Photo: "Dust Sculptures in the Rosette Nebula" by John Ebersole.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Music Blogging

I'll be very, very, very...distracted this week, and won't be writing anything here.

However, I'm going to schedule a Friday Hope Blogging post, so that anyone who feels the urge can post heartening stories in the comments field. The life you save may be your own, but it'll more likely be mine.

Whatever's left of me will resume blogging a week from tomorrow, unless I change my mind for some reason.

Until then...well, let's just say tautugniagmigikpiƱ.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

The Senate has passed the Women's Health Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) proposed this amendment...which will require all health care plans to cover women's comprehensive preventative care and screenings (like gyno exams, mammograms, STD testing and treatment and family planning) with no cost to women (or with limited co-pays)....

[T]he most significant thing about the Women's Health Amendment is that it could potentially save the lives of millions of low-income women who often skip basic health care exams and screenings because of added costs, says the National Women's Law Center. And that's huge.
Baltimore has passed a bill requiring crypto-religious "pregnancy centers" to inform prospective clients that they do not offer abortion information.
Just three councilmembers voted "no" to the limited pregnancy center bill. It requires all pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion information to post signs in English and Spanish to that effect.

If the mayor signs the legislation, they'd be required to put up a sign in the waiting room making it clear they don't offer the service.
A library in Ames, IA will continue to carry Sex, Etc., a magazine comprising sex ed info written by and for teens.
Free copies of a sex-education magazine for teens will still be available at the Ames Public Library despite a petition to have them removed.

The library board voted 6-1 Thursday to continue offering Sex, Etc., which is published three times a year by Rutgers University.
In Australia, boys in Victoria state schools "face compulsory feminism programs," in addition to their compulsory literature and math and history and science programs.
[The classes] would combat common attitudes among boys such as young women are either "good girls or sluts", the report said.

It said feminist theories were best at explaining the link between gender power relations and violence against women, and must underpin the programs.
Apparently, this proposal is controversial because there is "considerable community hostility to feminism, even among teachers and students." As always, it's unseemly to fight for equality by questioning the ideological underpinnings of inequality. Regardless, a pilot program is supposed to begin next year.

The Salvation Army has dropped a policy requiring parents to show proof of citizenship before receiving holiday toys for their children:
The charities' policies had attracted criticism from immigrant advocates, who charged they were punishing children for the actions of their parents by requiring such documentation.

Cesar Espinosa, a Houston immigrant advocate, said that the Salvation Army's decision to no longer ask for Social Security numbers for the Angel Tree program was “the right thing to do.”
The USDA has decertified an "organic" livestock operation:
[O]ne of the largest organic cattle producers in the United States, Promiseland Livestock, LLC, was suspended from organic commerce, along with its owner and key employees, for four years. The penalty was part of an order issued by administrative law judge Peter Davenport in Washington, DC on November 25.

Promiseland, a multimillion dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, including over 13,000 acres of crop land, and managing 22,000 head of beef and dairy cattle, had been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and “laundering” conventional cattle as organic.
Incidentally, regulators were aware of these improprieties during the Bush administration, but "documents secured under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by The Cornucopia Institute indicate that the initial investigation was squashed for political reasons by Dr. Barbara Robinson, who until recently directed the USDA’s organic program."

Farmers' markets in NYC are increasingly accepting food stamps, and this is improving low-income residents' access to healthier food.
Food stamp sales from July to November, when the stamps are valid at the markets, doubled to $226,469 in 2009 from $100,772 in 2008, according to numbers released by the City Council on Sunday. While that is but a small fraction of the $200 million that New York’s surging food stamp population receives in benefits each month, it can represent a significant portion of business for farmers. In some low-income neighborhoods, food stamps can make up 70 percent to 80 percent of sales at the markets, according to the report.
All this time, I thought the urban poor ate potted meat and drank quarter water as a matter of personal preference. Go figure!

The EPA has withdrawn its pollution permit for the Black Mesa coal mine.
In response to an appeal brought by a diverse coalition of tribal and environmental groups, this week the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a controversial water permit for the massive Black Mesa Coal Complex, a coal-mine complex located on Navajo Nation and Hopi lands in northeastern Arizona....

Nicole Horseherder of TO' Nizhoni Ani (Navajo for Beautiful Water Speaks), who lives 20 miles south of the Black Mesa Complex, said: “I am very happy about the EPA’s decision to withdraw the permit. I am glad to see a federal regulatory agency finally doing its job. In the course of our struggle to protect the water and bring awareness to the impacts of this coal-mining operation, we have never had such a favorable decision by any agency charged with regulating the impacts of Black Mesa.”
The National Marine Fisheries Services has proposed habitat protections for the Cook Inlet beluga whale, and all it took was the threat of a lawsuit.
The federal National Marine Fisheries Service today took an important step toward protecting critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the Cook Inlet beluga whale in Alaska by proposing to designate more than 3,000 square miles of the imperiled whale’s habitat for protection. The overdue proposal comes on the heels of a formal notice of intent to sue by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rinderpest, a deadly cattle disease, is expected to be eradicated within 18 months.
When successful, the disease will become the second to be driven to practical extinction in the world. Smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, was the first.

The disease, caused by the morbillivirus, has killed countless cattle since it was first introduced to the Roman Empire around 376 AD. It has also been responsible for severe famines, particularly in Africa, after decimating herds used for food and plowing.
An ecologist has discovered the world's smallest orchid.
The bloom has, for now, no name. "It's just sitting here with lots of others that need to be described," Jost said. "These forests are just filled with new things."

Speaking of new things, Inhabitat discusses solar-powered camel clinics:
Kenya’s camels recently started sporting some unusual apparel: eco-friendly refrigerators! Some of the African country’s camels are carrying the solar-powered mini fridges on their backs as part of a test project that uses camels as mobile health clinics. Organizers hope the eco-friendly transport system will provide a cheap, reliable way of getting much-needed medicines and vaccines to rural communities in Kenya and Ethiopia.
And Helsinki plans to use waste heat from an underground data center to heat 500 homes.
The new server farm will be located in the bedrock beneath Uspenski Cathedral, which places it in close proximity to the district heating network, which consists of an underground system of pipes filled with heated water. Heat from the servers will be captured and transferred to this network, which will then send it out to 500 homes throughout the city.

According to Reuters, data centers account for up to 30% of many corporations energy bills and 55-60% of that energy goes towards cooling costs. Helsinki’s new server farm stands to greatly reduce this cost while keeping the servers cool, so by all accounts it’s a win-win situation. The new data center is set to open in January 2010.
Also: Accidental geography. Photos by Nicholas Hance McElroy. One hundred days in Glacier National Park. Photos by Karl Struss and Ikko Narahara (both via wood s lot). And French children's books of the thirties and forties.

I've got a nervous breakdown to attend to, so I'll have to stop early and leave you with this short animated film (via The Bioscope).

Please feel free -- or better yet, obliged -- to post any heartening stories I missed in comments.

(Illustration at top: "Impression of Lightning" by Charles Burchfield, 1916.)