2009 - %3, August

Is Using A Minotaur Torture?

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 7:09 AM EDT

The Onion is always funny. But this is genius:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 28, 2009

Fri Aug. 28, 2009 7:02 AM EDT

Sgt. Daniel Smith, an amphibious assault vehicle crewman, maintains security during a census patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 18. Delta Company, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion and civil affairs group Marines, deployed with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, are talking with the local populace in order to understand their conditions and concerns and identify possible reconstruction and development projects. US Marine corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, August 28

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Happy Friday. Here's a sampling of what's happening in the realms of environment, health, and science, here at motherjones.com and in the rest of the wide world:

No chains during birth: New York's Gov. David Paterson has signed a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor and recovery.

Remembering Cash for Clunkers: The program was wildly popular, provided a modest but noticeable amount of economic stimulus, and helps reduce US oil consumption. Not bad for $3 billion.

SODIS skeptics: There's a simple way to disinfect water in areas where lots of kids get sick and die from bad water. So why is it so hard to get people to do it?

Stimulus for stoves: The US government will spend $300 in stimulus money to reward consumers who choose energy-efficient appliances.

Africa, sans animals: Could poaching and encroaching kill of Africa's great herds for good?

Need To Read: August 28, 2009

Fri Aug. 28, 2009 6:59 AM EDT

White House photo.White House photo.Today's five must-reads know the dream never dies:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Secrecy and Executive Power

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 2:08 AM EDT

Today we get some bad news on the executive power front:

The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search — without suspicion of wrongdoing — the contents of a traveler's laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections.

...."It's a disappointing ratification of the suspicionless search policy put in place by the Bush administration," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It provides a lot of procedural safeguards, but it doesn't deal with the fundamental problem, which is that under the policy, government officials are free to search people's laptops and cellphones for any reason whatsoever."

And also a bit of good news, from a ruling in a lawsuit brought against the CIA by a DEA agent, Richard Horn, and his lawyer, Brian Leighton:

In a highly unusual legal step, a federal judge has ordered the government to grant an attorney a security clearance so he can represent a disgruntled former narcotics officer in a lawsuit against a former CIA officer...."The deference generally granted the executive branch in matters of classification and national security must yield when the executive attempts to exert control over the courtroom," U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in an order issued late Wednesday.

...."It is fabulous for many reasons, not the least of which is the judge doesn't believe anything the government is saying," Leighton said Thursday of the new ruling.

....In his July ruling, Lamberth denounced certain CIA and Justice Department officials for having "handcuffed the court" with delay tactics and inaccurate statements. His latest ruling similarly chastises Justice Department attorneys for "continued obstinance" and "diminished credibility."

The Horn/Leighton lawsuit has been going on since 1994.

Yet More Sports Blogging

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 10:12 PM EDT

As long as I'm writing about British sporting clubs today, how about some cricket blogging?  A few weeks ago I was emailing with Alex Massie about something or other, and along the way suggested that he should write more about cricket.  "I'm pretty much agog," I wrote "at the idea that you have a sport that frequently ends in a draw even though it takes five days to play."

That's not the only reason I find myself intermittently bewitched by cricket, of course.  All sports have their own weird jargon, but cricket writing is so deliciously, Britishly impenetrable that it's mesmerizing, sort of like those contests to write parody pomo paragraphs.  Like this: "Ian Bell, back at No3 and under the microscope, survived a torrid start to make 72 good runs, worth more than they appear, before dragging his first ball after the tea interval on to his off-stump, while Andrew Strauss batted superbly, hitting 11 fours in his 55, on the way protecting Bell from a Mitchell Johnson bombardment while he settled in."

And the rules!  Every year or two, when some big test series comes along, I read up on the rules again and then immediately forget them.  It's sort of like quantum mechanics: no matter how often I read about it, my brain refuses to accept that anything so eccentric can possibly be true, and promptly expels it.

So there's that.  But back to the five-day draws.  I wrote that email to Alex after England had, via some pact with the devil or something, managed to force a draw in the first test of the Ashes last month even though Australia was clearly the better team by several light years.  But Alex says it's the draw that makes the game what it is:

This is [] an aspect of cricket that mystifies many people, by no means all of them American. But of the three most common results — a win, a loss and a draw — it is not an overstatement to say that the draw is the most important. Because it is the draw, or more accurately the possibility of the draw, that gives the game its texture and much of its near-endless variety.

Then he starts quoting Clausewitz.  Someday, I suppose, I need to actually go watch some cricket in person with a knowledgable fan.  Only then, like Schrödinger's cat, will I truly understand what it's all about.

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Will Salazar Save Alaskan Watershed?

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 9:35 PM EDT

The battle over the fate of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska—one of the most abundant sources of salmon in the world, a boon to local native towns, and home to some of the largest untapped gold mines in the country—staggers on. In its waning days, the Bush administration submitted a plan to open up a million acres of the region to mining projects and oil and gas leasing. But in the latest development, a cadre of sportsmen and conservation groups are petitioning the Obama administration to ban those operations. They recently sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing fear that the projects could damage the local fishing industry and leech the harmful, toxic kind of waste generated by industrial mines into the surrounding ecosystems. "We look forward to working with the BLM as we move quickly to reverse the wrong-headed decisions that were made in the closing months of the last administration and implement a common sense plan for fish and wildlife in Bristol Bay," the letter says, the AP reported.

This tussle over the fate of Bristol Bay isn't new. Indeed, one of the most incisive and vivid accounts of a similar struggle over the Pebble Mine, near the BLM's proposed mining area, appeared here in 2006, in a piece titled "The Midas Touch" by Kenneth Miller. Miller traveled to isolated Igiugig, Alaska to see the forces and characters at play (like fisherman, lodge owner, and former pro hockey player Brian Kraft) in this saga. He described their problem like this:

Kraft’s attachment to this stretch of clear, swift water goes deeper than the bottom line. “This river is a powerful living thing,” he tells me, a note of awe softening his usually blunt delivery. “It’s alive, and it’s carrying life. It’s in my blood.” It is also, he says, under mortal threat. At the north end of Iliamna Lake, a company called Northern Dynasty Mines aims to unearth what may be the largest gold deposit—and the second-largest copper deposit—in North America. The proposed Pebble Mine complex would cover some 14 square miles. It would require the construction of a deepwater shipping port in Cook Inlet, 95 miles to the east, and an industrial road—skirting Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and traversing countless salmon-spawning streams—to reach the new harbor. At the site’s heart would be an open pit measuring two miles long, a mile and a half wide, and 1,700 feet deep. Over its 30- to 40-year lifetime, the Pebble pit is projected to produce more than 42.1 million ounces of gold, 24.7 billion pounds of copper, 1.3 billion pounds of molybdenum—and 3 billion tons of waste.

More than three years later, it remains to be seen whether the Pebble Mine or the larger mining area under review by the BLM will get the green light or not. The latter decision, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman told the Anchorage Daily News, rests in Salazar's hands now. As Miller points out, the consequences of allowing more industrial mining into Bristol Bay could be disastrous not just to the environment, but to life as those who live there know it. Here's hoping Salazar is bearing that in mind.

Photosynthesizing Buildings

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 8:42 PM EDT

Further to Andy Kroll's blog post on artificial trees... that report from the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IOME) argues that without geoengineering it will be impossible to avoid dangerous climate change. The report includes a 100-year roadmap to decarbonize the global economy and suggests implementing three geoengineering projects based on low-carbon technologies:

  • Algae-coated buildings: The engineers envision attaching transparent containers filled with strips of algae to the outside of buildings and since algae naturally absorb CO2 in the course of photosynthesis, the strips could be harvested periodically from the surfaces and used as biofuels.
  • Reflective buildings: The report suggests reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the earth’s climate and, hopefully, cooling the planet. This could be achieved simply and quickly by making building surfaces more reflective. Some of us have've written here about the potential for cooling in white roofs and better highways.

The IOME report forecasts 1 to 2 million new green jobs in the UK by 2050 based on these three initiatives alone. So many good ideas. So few implemented. Let's change that.

 

 

Cash 4 Clunkers Wrapup

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 6:09 PM EDT

Joe Romm says that although the Cash for Clunkers program was never meant to be a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions, in the end it turned out to be very effective indeed:

In the real world, the public has mostly turned in gas-guzzlers in exchange for fuel-efficient cars — which perhaps should not have been a total surprise since oil prices are rising, gas guzzlers remain a tough resell in the used car market, and most fuel-efficient cars are much cheaper than SUVs.  So as a stimulus that saves oil while cutting CO2 for free — it has turned out to be a slam dunk, far better than I had expected.

....Let’s assume the new cars are driven nearly 20% more over the next 5 years [compared to the old cars they replace], and that the average price of gasoline over the next five years is $3.50.  Then we’re “only” saving 140 million gallons a year or roughly $500 million a year.  The $3 billion program “pays for itself” in oil savings in 6 years.  And most of that oil savings is money that would have left the country, so it is a (small) secondary stimulus.

Using a rough estimate of 25 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas (full lifecycle emissions), then we’re saving over 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year — and all of the ancillary urban air pollutants from those clunkers — for free.

I wouldn't make a habit out of supporting targeted industry programs like C4C, but it was wildly popular, provided a modest but noticeable amount of economic stimulus, and helps reduce U.S. oil consumption.  Not bad for $3 billion.

CO2 Eating Trees to the Rescue!

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 5:52 PM EDT

Could a forest of fake, CO2-gobbling trees save the planet? 

On their own, no. But if successfully deployed, they might buy the planet some precious time as we try to end our addiction to fossil fuels and curb dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. At least that's what a new report released by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers says. The report's support for artificial trees (the scientists say about 100,000 would suffice) is the latest in the ongoing debate over geoengineering—the deliberate modification of the planet's atmosphere to slow global warming.

While earlier geoengineering schemes focused on blocking out solar radiation to reduce the heat trapped near the Earth's surface, current proposals like the one outlined in this new report are aimed at actually pulling existing CO2 out of the atmosphere. Which makes sense, because even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the CO2 already floating around could continue global warming for another 1,000 years. Those geoengineering trees, it seems, can't come soon enough.