Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

Before getting into this week's news, I have to say that I agree with Helmut about healthcare reform:

Look, it may not be adequate at all as health care policy, but this is an old battle that is on the brink of a giant win for the American people and human decency. We need that.

As with most things, once the social norms are developed from even watered down legislation, where a health care system is widely accepted as a public good, it becomes possible to modify and improve it. That's how legislation works - it has to be tested out in practice. Although I have misgivings too about the central involvement of the insurance industry, criticism from the left that the bill must be all or nothing elides the realities of legislation....

Please call your representatives now and ask them to vote for the health care bill, especially if they're undecided or voting "no." Demand that they give coherent reasons why they're either voting against it or are still undecided.
If you need additional motivation, try this.

Meanwhile, the Senate has voted to reduce penalties for crack cocaine:

Late on Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate passed, by unanimous consent no less, a long-overdue bill that will help to reform one of the most egregious aspects of our nation's criminal justice system — the staggering 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. That we have arrived at this moment, less than a week after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-0 in support of the legislation, is a minor miracle that has taken years of advocacy to accomplish....

The Senate legislation, without question, takes important steps towards reforming one of the single worst aspects of the criminal justice system; however, it does not go as far as it should have. While the legislation will result in a reduction of the disparity, not to mention the first time since the Nixon administration that the Senate has voted to repeal a mandatory minimum, it leaves in place a sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine of 18 to 1.

The US Census Bureau may take a more equitable approach to counting America's prison population.

An agreement just reached between the U.S. Census Bureau and Rep. William Clay Jr. (Mo.), the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees census issues, may signal an historic shift in how the bureau reports prisoners to state and local governments. The accord creates at least a chance for prisoners’ overwhelmingly urban home areas to get a better break on legislative representation....

How the issue plays out over the long run won’t just influence state politics but big decisions in federal grants policies too. The Census Bureau itself last year identified some $436 billion worth of federal grant and direct assistance money that’s “allocated based on Census Bureau data,” with the largest items being Medicaid ($203 billion), unemployment insurance ($36 billion), highway funding ($34 billion). Nutrition, school and college aid, school lunches and Head Start are also impacted.

Mississippi will stop segregating HIV+ prisoners:
The Mississippi Department of Corrections agreed to end the segregation of prisoners with HIV, a longstanding discriminatory policy that has prevented prisoners from accessing key resources that facilitate their successful transition back into the community.

The decision by Mississippi’s corrections commissioner Christopher Epps, prompted by recent advocacy by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, leaves Alabama and South Carolina as the only states in the nation that segregate prisoners based on their HIV status.During the course of the debate, by the way, one Republican argued that pregnancies resulting from rape and incest are a "precious gift":

Los Angeles has reopened the Angel's Flight funicular railway:
At 6:45am this morning one of L.A’s many moribund rail lines reopened for passenger service , just in time for the daily commute. Admittedly, Angel’s Flight, the line in question, is only one-block long, but what it lacks in distance it makes up in spirit. Opened in 1901 and closed since 2001, when one of the cars struck another in a deadly collision, the story of Angel’s Flight is the story of rail and public transport in Los Angeles, a city that once upon a time, boasted the largest public rail transportation system in the world.

It's no longer illegal to keep bees in NYC:

Urban beekeepers in New York City no longer have to keep the honey of their labors a secret. The city's health board voted Tuesday to overturn a longtime ban on beekeeping within city limits....

People interested in starting a bee colony will need to register their hives with the city, but no license will be required. Health officials said the register will mostly be used to help resolve any complaints that may arise.

Automakers are urging Congress to uphold the EPA's right to regulate auto emissions:

Detroit's Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., and six other automakers urged Congress Wednesday not to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first-ever limits on tailpipe emissions.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- which includes General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Daimler AG, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG -- sent a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders urging them to reject efforts led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to overturn the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health.

The Christian Coalition seems to be backing Lindsey Graham on climate legislation:
Could the Christian Coalition give fledgling climate legislation the leg up it needs? The organization boasts 2.5 million supporters, largely conservative Republicans; if they embraced the cause, they could give a big boost to efforts to build a bipartisan coalition for a clean-energy and climate bill.
Although I don't quite trust Graham or the CC, I thought the story was interesting enough to include here. Caveat lector, as per usual.

I don't quite know what to make of this, either.
Darfur has long been plagued by significant droughts, however in 2007 scientists at Boston University discovered the region has one of the biggest underwater lakes in the world. Putting these two facts together, Polish firm H3AR designed an incredible water-harvesting skyscraper that would draw h2o from underground and create an artificial lake!

Darfur’s underground lake covers a distance of 19,110 square miles....H3AR’s Watertower aims to tap this resource through good design and effective water management. The skyscraper would work as a hospital, a school, a food storage center, and most importantly, a water storage center.

Conservationists have blocked an auction of publicly owned oil and gas leases in West Virginia:
Conservationists prevailed today in an effort to stop the sale of publicly owned oil and gas on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The groups asserted that oil and gas development on the two proposed lease parcels would threaten endangered bats, a native brook trout fishery, clean drinking water, and other ecological and scenic resources of the forest.
And a federal judge has ordered the BLM to suspend oil and gas leases in Montana:
A federal judge has approved a first-of-its-kind settlement requiring the government to suspend 38,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Montana so it can gauge how oil field activities contribute to climate change.

At issue are the greenhouse gases emitted by drilling machinery and industry practices such as venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere.

The California red-legged frog has won important ESA protections:
In response to litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated more than 1.6 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog in 28 California counties. The designation is three-and-a-half times as large as the Service’s 2006 designation, which the agency acknowledged was flawed because of political interference by the Bush administration. “With protection of its habitat, the California red-legged frog has a chance at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Mexican and American NGOs are collaborating to restore the Colorado River delta:

“Economically, the local people can work in eco-tourism and bird-watching. It will make a healthier area with more birds, trees and fish,” Arroyo said. Environmental groups have also gotten involved in turning the Las Arenitas primary wastewater treatment plant pond — located about 45 minutes’ drive from Mexicali — into a giant wetland. The reeds along its banks filter leftover contaminants before the water is returned to the Colorado River.

The site is attracting scores of waterfowl, luring in birdwatchers from all over the region and even grabbing the attention of the state government, which has promised Arroyo’s team funding for a visitor center and a parking area.

Janet Napolitano has halted construction of a "virtual fence" along the Mexican border:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday that she has cut off funding for a costly surveillance system billed as a "virtual fence" to protect the Southwest border....

"Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost effective way possible," Napolitano said in a written statement. "The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines."

Chilean slum dwellings will be equipped with solar hot water systems:

For Chile - a country with stark economic inequality and few fossil fuels - it's a way to help the poor while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions....

For a family of four, using 10.5 gallons of water per day at a temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit, consumption of gas for heating water should drop by 62 percent. The new insulation standards should reduce energy demands for heat in winter by 45 percent and cooling demands in summer by 35 percent, said Minister of Energy Marcelo Tokman....

China intends to have a smart grid in place by 2015:
With the smart grid, electricity can be sent across longer distances with higher efficiency, which can boost the development of large hydropower, nuclear power and renewable energy bases. Electricity generated by wind farms and solar power plants can be more easily connected with the grid, said industry insiders.

State Grid Corp said earlier it planned to invest 100 billion yuan ($14.6 billion) into building ultra-high voltage power transmission lines over the next three to four years.
Mexico City's efforts to clean up its air seem to be paying off:
"In recent years we have beat the records for most days with passable ozone readings. In 2009 there were 185 in the acceptable range and we have started out 2010 with the greatest number of clean days, 50 out of the first 60," Martha Delgado of the Mexico City environment office told AFP.
Frito-Lay is offering the first 100%-biodegradable chip bag:
The corn-based polymer chip bags are set to hit store shelves soon and can be expected to biodegrade in a backyard compost pile within 14 weeks. Right now, Frito-Lay is only rolling out the new bags under their Sun Chip brand, so don’t try throwing your Doritos bag into your compost bin — you’ll only have to fish it out later.
AT&T has designed a phone charger that -- believe it or not -- doesn't use power when it's not charging phones:

Unlike traditional cell phone chargers, which continue to draw power even after a phone is unplugged, the ZERO automatically senses when users disconnect their phones. The charger then immediately cuts the power supply from the wall socket, so even if a charger is left plugged in for days, it’s not using any electricity.

In a stunning victory for the revolutionary vanguard of the international proletariat, Toshiba has stopped manufacturing incandescent lightbulbs:
Yesterday, Toshiba ended its manufacture of mass-market incandescent light bulbs–bulbs that use a ton of energy, burn out quickly and pale in comparison in terms of energy efficiency to CFLs and LEDs. The move ends the company’s 120-year history of incandescent bulb production. The decision signals that the lighting industry is poised to become significantly greener.
In related news, a new type of CFL will not release mercury if broken:

Clear-Lite Holding’s CFL bulb isn’t mercury-free, but it does feature an outer “skin” to prevent users from releasing mercury if the glass breaks. In a lab test performed by Cambridge Materials Testing, ArmorLite bulbs dropped from a height of five feet and crushed on a counter didn’t let loose any mercury – a good sign for accident-prone bulb users.

The country's first commercial plasma gasification system will be built in Oregon:

"Our goal is to extract as much value as possible from waste and this project will help us recover valuable resources to generate clean fuels, renewable energy and other beneficial products," said Dean Kattler, area vice president for Waste Management Pacific Northwest. "This project strengthens our focus on renewable energy and new technologies that use waste as a resource."

Boston is making a massive effort to improve the energy efficiency of its public housing:

The $63 million project will renovate 4,300 apartments in 13 Boston Housing Authority developments to save electricity, water and millions of dollars. Toilets will be replaced with low-flow models, lights will be replaced with LEDs and compact fluorescents, and boilers will be upgraded to cut down on heating costs, among other improvements....

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will continue to pay the same amount for utility costs for the Boston housing units. The local housing authority is borrowing funds for the retrofits against the future payments. Ameresco, which is being contracted for the renovations, says the improvements will save taxpayers $7 million a year over the next 20 years.

In Minnesota, Hennepin County is experimenting with "a results-only work environment, or ROWE, which gives everyone in a company the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done."
[T]here is some initial evidence that ROWE has made things much more efficient. They used to have a two-week backlog of public support cases to process. Now that's down to five days.
The EPA will provide free online access to the TSCA Inventory:
This inventory contains a consolidated list of thousands of industrial chemicals maintained by the agency. EPA is also making this information available on Data.Gov, a website launched to provide public access to important government information....

Until now, the consolidated public portion of the TSCA Inventory has only been available by purchase from the National Technical Reports Library or other databases. By adding the consolidated TSCA Inventory to the Agency’s website and to Data.Gov, EPA is making this information readily available to the public at no cost.

And C-SPAN is putting its complete video archive online:
C-SPAN may not be the most riveting television, but it does provide a way of experiencing American politics without some O'Reilly or Olbermann telling you what to think. It's the primary source, unmediated. So it's great news that the network is making its entire archive—160,000 hours of video, dating back to 1987—available online in a searchable, user-friendly C-SPAN Video Library.
Gardasil seems to prevent post-surgical recurrence of cervical cancer:
A new study shows that the Gardasil vaccine reduces the likelihood of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related disease recurring after teen and adult women already have had surgery to remove cancer or certain pre-cancerous changes, said Warner Huh, M.D., an associate professor in the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology and lead presenter on the study.
A fascinating new device can allegedly "print" buildings:

The printing process starts with a thin layer of sand. The printer then sprays the sand with magnesium-based glue from hundreds of nozzles, which binds the sand into rock. That rock is then built up layer by layer, eventually taking shape of whatever object it is destined to become, be it a curvy sculpture or an entire cathedral....

An Economist article on climate science makes an interesting point:

In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

Anyway: Nomadic dunes of Mars. Landscapes of Chuchotka. Five photos (so far) taken through coin-operated telescopes. A huge collection of cigarette cards. Cinemas of Newcastle. Photographs from geological expeditions to Argentina in the 1920s. And the postcards of Louis Marquez.

Blue. Pinhole solargraphy. Photographs by Sasha Koja. Historical topographic maps of California. Transportation Futuristics. Sketches by Ernest Blumenschein. Orca calls galore, courtesy of this Orchive. And arcus clouds galore, courtesy of this Arcive.

Photographs by Edmund Teske. Matchbook designs by Saul Bass. Drawings by Simon Evans. The gamma-ray sky. Stereo views of Ireland (h/t: Peacay). Wildlife incursions into modern cover design. And vintage cover graphics from Naturwissenschaft und Medizin.


(Photo at top: "Harmony" by Iain Stewart. Via Luminous Lint.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks Phila for doing this. I read every Friday (or Saturday). And Nudibranches are what brings me here. But you know that.


Phila said...

You're welcome, mer!