Archive for 2005 October

When Science Was Fun

From the Cornell University Library collection of "The Fantastic in Art and Fiction," the Weird Science division, and no, I’m not making that up.

Is it just my imagination, or is it possible that a hundred years ago, science was a lot more fun?


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Good Question. Bad ANWR.

From MoJo Blog, a question on the House floor asked during the debate over the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by Rep. Edward Markey:

So the choice comes down to this – do we raise $2.4 billion by prying open and forever destroying a national wildlife refuge, overturning forty years of established environmental policy, threatening the way of life of the Gwich’in peoples, and allowing the oil and gas industry to select any of our other 544 national wildlife refuges as their next target, or do we give the Secretary the discretion to raise by a tiny fraction the royalty rate paid by the wealthiest corporations in the world for producing oil on the public’s land? This is simply a question of whether we would rather protect public land or big oil companies.

From the LATimes today:

Oil Giant Does Well: Exxon Sales Top $1 Billion a Day

$100.7 billion in revenue is a record as profit hits $9.9 billion. Results draw outrage.

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Quote of the Week

"Students are ill-served by any effort in science classrooms to blur the distinction between science and other ways of knowing, including those concerned with the supernatural."

American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a new release backing the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association’s refusal to force biology teachers in the State of Kansas to teach "intelligent design."

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The Weather Where We Are: Holland

(from Granta this fall, by Maarten ‘t Hart)

    Here, in Holland, there is only one plant from which one can make reasonable deductions about climate change: the broad bean. The broad bean likes the cold and you have to plant it early. But not too early, because then it will rot in the damp, chilly soil. Years ago I used to plant it in the clay soil in my garden around the middle of March and harvest it in the middle of May. If I planted it a bit later to make sure it wouldn’t be defeated by cold and damp weather, it would grow well but then there was a risk that black bean-aphids would destroy it at the beginning of June. The black bean-aphid is a cruel organism. It appears suddenly in the tops of the beanstalks. Only ten or so on the first day, but an aphid becomes a grandmother overnight, so there are another hundred aphids the next day and ten thousand the day after that. Soon, large, jet-black squirming aphids completely cover the plants and transform them into cheerless phantoms.
    Planting the broad beans early prevents the aphids from striking. The beans are mature before the aphids show themselves. And if an aphid does appear, I can eliminate it by ruthlessly pinching the tops of the plants.
    What have I learned in the past seven years? That planting my broad beans in March is too late. Black bean-aphids will reliably appear at the end of May when the beans are still growing. What has also become apparent to me is that broad beans can be planted earlier, at the end of February–something that was impossible in the past. And even then I have to watch out for aphids because, since the weather in May is warmer and drier than it was, say, fifteen years ago, they show themselves much earlier and in greater numbers.
    Due to my experience with broad beans, I believe it is possible to speak of a subtle and irreversible change in the climate. By the end of February the soil has warmed up to the point that broad beans can be planted, and by the end of May it has been so much warmer in the intervening period than in the past that black bean-aphids are appearing earlier than before. Yet we must keep an open mind. The aphids may have mutated to the point that they begin to reproduce earlier. Perhaps we are planting better quality broad beans which can stand the cold and damp bettter than the kind we used to plant? Nevertheless I cling to the view that climate change is responsible for this revised strategy for the successful raising of broad beans. I’m going to buy a houseboat.

(translated by Michiel Horn)

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Saving the American Soul — Or Trying To

Terry Tempest Williams is an adventurer in prose. Although she writes thoughtfully, she has an fierceness that gives her books great power. She’s revered by many readers I know for "Refuge," which explored the connection between the cancer that struck her family and the environment in which she grew up in Utah. As worthy as that book is, however, and as controversial as she is among the Mormons, in recent years she’s gone far beyond her personal story, delving into a painting in the Prado, oil industry devastation in the Rocky Mountains, and now, in an on-line column in Orion, the connection between the fallen in Iraq and the dying-out of the American Elm.

She tells of an arborist named Rufus Wanning, well-known in Maine for his devotion to the American Elm. He put his knowledge to work, checking every elm in the town of Blue Hill every week for the slightest sign of the dreaded Dutch Elm disease, and nipping it in the bud when he found it. There is no cure for the disease, and most American Elms now die before they mature, but Wanning’s vigilance has saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of magnificent trees.

Now Wanning has given permission to a local peace group to allow his land to be used as a memorial to the fallen soldiers in Iraq. At a service, Williams writes:

Ann Ferrara spoke of three kinds of death: the one where breathing stops; the one where we are laid to rest; and the spiritual death that occurs when those we love are forgotten. She said, the first two cannot be stopped, the last one can. "We must not forget."

My eyes turned to the field of white flags and the magnificent elms that shaded them. I saw Rufus Wanning with his head bowed and his large hands clasped behind his back. In his humble stance, I thought about how his impulse to save trees is the same impulse to offer his land as a place of peace. And how the third death, the spiritual death that accompanies the act of forgetting must be extended to the remembrance of beloved lands as well as loved ones.

For me, the white flags of the fallen became the white tufts of cotton grass blowing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. My eyes blurred. Boundaries blurred. What are we being asked to sacrifice in the name of greed, in the name of lies? What are we allowing to be buried if we fail to act out of our love and our outrage? There is no separation or compartmentalization when it comes to the sacred nature of life. The war in Iraq and the war on our environment are fueled by the same oil relationships.

Terry Tempest Williams will be the writer featured this year by Cal State Channel Islands in an annual reading put on for the students, the professors, and the public. She will discuss her new book, The Open Space of Democracy, on Tuesday, November 8th, at 6:30 pm at Conference Hall. Call 805-437-8994 for more details…and take it from one who usually prefers books to readings: Williams is that rare talent who can mesmerize large crowds simply by reading out loud. 

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Whatever You Say, Dear Coal Industry

A week ago Tom Toles of the Washington Post published a sketch of a cartoon he never quite finished–quite possibly because the story it meant to illustrate never made the papers. But it’s yet another jaw-dropping example of an administration pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to do whatever its bedmate, in this case the coal industry, wants.

Just three years ago, you might recall, the Environmental Protection Agency considered dropping the requirement that coal-fired power plants upgrade their pollution control equipment when they upgrade their producing capacity. This is a long-standing requirement known as New Source Review (NSR). After an outcry, the EPA reinstated the requirement. But after the re-election of the Bush Administration, all that has gone by the boards.

Here’s the sketch by Toles:


A memo from the Natural Resources Defense Council to the press reveals:

The Bush administration itself formally rejected adoption of this industry-promoted approach as recently as 2002, on grounds that it "could lead to unreviewed increases in emissions that would be detrimental to air quality and could make it difficult to implement the statutory requirements for state-of-the-art [pollution] controls."

Just two months ago, the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., supported that contention in a decision that found the industry position would violate the Clean Air Act. The draft proposal obtained by NRDC reveals that the agency is planning to reverse course, adopting the approach that this binding court decision rejected. The resulting legal inconsistency is so extreme that the leaked draft obtained by NRDC contains a placeholder for EPA to figure out how to explain its rejection of the court’s reasoning.

There’s lots more, including a leaked memo from the chief of the Air Enforcement Division of the agency, Adam Kushner, explaining in detail why the new policy will render enforcement impossible.

What can you say? Amazing. Shameless. Disgusting. Sickening. Literally…


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Wilma: “Only” a Category Two

From Dr. Jeff Masters’ Wunder Blog, posted by a hurricane watcher widely admired in the meterological community…"Including the damage done to Mexico, Wilma will probably be the second most costly hurricane of all time, next to Katrina."

After producing more hurricanes than any other year on record, the 2005 season has run through the alphabet and moved on to Greek letters…but still has five weeks to go.

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Biology: Enough to Scare Anybody

Another insta-classic from The Onion


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The Weather Where We Are: Spain

Javier Reverte, a Spanish writer, notes how the weather has changed in Madrid in his lifetime (excerpted from  Granta, translated by Amanda Hopkinson):

Throughout my childhood, adults would repeat ancient verses–all about the seasons–which, with remarkable frequency, would coincide with the actual forecasts made. "In January, a dog seeks out the shade" (frequent sunny spells even in midwinter); "February the crazy" (the unpredictable nature of the February climate); "When March may, May marches" (if the weather is fine at the end of winter, spring will be cold); "In April, waters mill" (a reference to the Spring rains); "Water in May makes your hair and the grass grow" (Spring rains were particularly good for new growth); "In August, with cold in your face" (the North wind got colder at the end of Summer); "The air of Madrid never snuffed out either a candle or a man" (a reference, dating from the sixteeth century, to the iciness of the air in the sierra surrounding Madrid).

In Madrid today, the four seasons exist only on a calendar. It hardly ever snows, the lakes and the river never freeze over and we eat fruit that tastes of nothing all year round. If March may, May calls up siroccos from the deserts of Africa. In April, it scarcely ever rains, and the ground cracks open. The birds have fled the asphalt, no caterpillars tumble from their cocoons in the trees, the crickets no longer thrum, the flowers barely smell and storms grow rare. The cold, happily, remains nestling only in the corners of my childhood memories. But a hard heat rolls in on weary, sticky waves, right into our brains where it lodges for months on end. It is a new kind of heat, wearisome and defeating, which still seems somehow unbelievable to those of us who happened to be born sixty years ago.

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No Wonder They’re Angry

Leftists such as Robert Scheer have been wondering out loud why the Republican Right is so upset with the Harriet Miers nomination. Miers may not be ""the brightest of buttons" (as Paul McCartney recently remarked about Yoko Ono–guess the reconciliation is off). But she adores the President, and has but taken a secret oath to overturn Roe vs. Wade…so what’s the problem?

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic has a good idea. Social conservatives have been taken for a long ride by the business interests that fund the dominant party these days, and there’s no sign that they will ever get back to the issues that seem to matter most to the Religious Right: abortion, flag burning, gay rights, and small government. Instead they’ve been Shanghaied into supporting tax breaks for the rich and for big business, along with numerous anti-enviro measures that do no good for ordinary churchgoers:

Bush is far from the first Republican president to enjoy unrequited support from the Christian right. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed moderate Supreme Court justices and declined to press hard for constitutional amendments on issues like abortion and school prayer. Instead, those presidents, like the current one, give social conservatives symbolism and imagery but little in the way of actual policy change. Affluent conservative investors, on the other hand, get massive policy changes that they like.

Why do social conservatives keep accepting this rotten deal? It’s not because there are fewer of them than there are economic conservatives. A detailed Pew survey last spring found that "enterprisers," who favor smaller government, comprise slightly less than a third of the GOP voting base. The other two groups, "pro-government conservatives" and "social conservatives," tilt right on cultural values but have moderate or even liberal economic views and outnumber the enterprisers by more than two to one.

Surely the answer has something to do with the fact that the religious right’s political vanguard is complicit in its own subordination. For years, economic conservatives have learned that they can enlist social conservative groups to back their agenda on the flimsiest of pretexts. When business groups were fighting fuel economy standards, GOP activist Grover Norquist convinced Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum to oppose them as well, according to a 1995 Washington Post story, "because the mileage goals could be portrayed as threatening such mainstays of the family as the station wagon and the mini-van." According to its website, the top two legislative items on the Christian Coalition’s legislative agenda are "Passing President Bush’s Social Security reform" and "Making permanent President Bush’s 2001 federal tax cuts."

Where does it say in the Bible that Christians should accept being duped?


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