March 15, 2008

More Pics of the Fire




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Bryan Fire! 3.15.08

A fire broke out in the back of our neighbor's truck. Good thing we were outside today and the fire department came and took care of it. No word on what caused it yet.




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March 14, 2008

Barack Obama: On My Faith and My Church

From Barack's personal blog at the Huffington post, his response to the controversy surrounding Anthony Wright.

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Awareness Test

One of the coolest videos I've seen in a while.

Awareness Test - Watch more free videos

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A Few Upgrades

Introducing Snap Shots from

I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.

Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

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Why the Contempt of Congress Issue Matters

House Democrats recently filed a civil lawsuit against White House Chief of Staff Bolton and former Whitehouse Counsel Miers for their refusal to comply with Congressional subpoenas relating to the Fired US Attorneys Scandal. The details are complex, and wading through the swamp of legislative and legal rules and precedents for such a move is a daunting task at best. Yet the importance of this issue cannot be overstated. It is looking more and more likely that this issue may go to court, and if that is the case, one side will lose. I know that sounds very simple and obvious, but there are important implications to any definitive court ruling on this matter. Either way, such a ruling would set a precedent for all future Congressional/Executive clashes. Either the court will rule that the President can essentially grant Executive Privilege protections to nearly anything and anyone he wishes, or it will rule that Congress does posses meaningful oversight powers granted by the Constitution, and not even the President is exempt from the compulsions of that power. Obviously, the latter is the outcome Progressives (and human beings) believe would be best for the country, but a situation could easily arise wherein a Republican Congress could abuse such powers against a Democrat President. Both cases threaten to upset the delicate and already teetering balance of power in our government by overpowering one branch against the other. This will be an important issue to follow as it unfolds.

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Telecom Immunity Now Unlikely

Today the House approved a new FISA bill, by a vote of 213 - 197, which does not contain retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms! This is a major victory for the rule of law and progressive politics. The bill must now be sent back to the Senate to be voted upon, and if the House Dems can pass this thing, then I am hopeful that the Senate Dems can as well. There has been a huge push among progressive bloggers and activists against immunity, and it is extremely encouraging to see our elected officials respond. The other provisions of this bill, reaffirming Congressional oversight of intelligence gathering and the necessity of warrants for surveillance of US citizens, are obviously positive developments, but are ultimately superficial. Bush has long promised to veto any legislation which does not provide the legal immunity for those corporations he has been throwing hissy-fits over. The point is, due to some artful and confident maneuvering by Congressional leaders, the anti-immunity amendment will not be vulnerable to Republican attempts to strip it from the bill in the Senate. Translation: Immunity for the Telecoms (read: Bush's) illegal activities will not happen.

Been a while since we've had some good news on this front, and forever since we've had much praise to throw at the D's in Washington, but Democrats in Congress, YOU ROCK!! Well done folks, kinda makes me feel good to call myself a Democrat again. Thank you.

Feels kinda good to stand up to all that noise about the "Terra-ists" and Other Scary Things coming from the Right, doesn't it? Remember that feeling, and keep up the good work.

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Water Water Everywhere, And Not A Drop To Drink

Everyday I wade through hundreds of news articles about the harm we are causing through carbon emissions and unregulated pollution. Companies are racing to find a way to scrub power plants, create low emissions vehicles, and develop home-use green products. While these are all very necessary and progressive ideas, one area of conservation gets little attention, and it may be the one resource we need to protect the most; safe, clean drinking water. Of all the water on Earth only 0.7672% makes up the total pool from which we can take our drinking water. That's only 2,548,339 cubic miles of water (which sounds like a big number but it isn't)!

The small sphere on the left represents ALL water found on planet Earth. Now imagine taking less than 1% from that sphere and that is all the water that is available for drinking (and we can't create water so this is a fixed number).

So are we really in that much trouble? I know when I turn my faucet on water will continue to flow indefinitely until I turn it off. If there was such a shortage surely the government would restrict my water usage, right?

Unfortunately no, the government has done little to mitigate our dwindling water supplies and doesn't look to be doing anything about it in the future. Large factories are dumping megatonnes of pollution a year into our rivers and lakes and it is starting to take a toll. Just this week reports about hormone and drug levels in public drinking water have raised the alarm to our water quality. Fish, a great biomarker for effects of water pollution, are now being born hermaphrodites in our polluted rivers and lakes. We are all concerned about genetic manipulation in the lab, but look out in nature and we are doing much worse. All of the intersexed fish have been traced back to pollution from our industry byproducts.

And pollution isn't the only problem in our water, we just plain aren't conserving enough. Atlanta may run dry in the next 10 years and other nations around the world are beginning to struggle as well. Ghana is struggling with not only a water shortage, but also with pollution in the few safe drinking reservoirs the country has. The government has taken some blame but has also rightly put the responsibility to conserve back on the citizens.

China recently doubled its drinking water shortage statistics from 2.43 million to 5.9 million people who do not have access to clean drinking water. From Feb 23 to 28 the number of livestock without sufficient drinking water jumped from 1.89 million to 5.67 million. These are unbelievably high numbers and only highlight the growing worldwide trend.

Pakistan's hydroelectric reservoirs are drying up and several are running at "dead level". Expanding nuclear power seems to be the only solution for Pakistan at this late stage.

On a brighter note, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley has started a three-pronged attack to alleviate water shortages and pollution problems in his state. He says "North Carolinians should understand that the days when water could be used without an eye on the meter and without repercussions for wasting it are over."

Maybe I just worry too much about the water supply (to Czechs water pollution is the biggest issue, go motherland!, but that fact is that we are running out of clean water and soon we may have to turn to the ocean to provide us with clean water. The Netherlands have already started to experiment with getting clean water from the ocean by using some innovative windmill technology. This is all fine, but pollution reduction and conservation must work hand in hand if we are to have clean, CHEAP drinking water for decades to come.

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Ask A Biologist

More people, especially public school teachers, ought to be aware of the Ask a Biologist website--it's an excellent and easy resource. Kids (and adults) can fire off a quick question that gets tucked into the database, and then someone on their team of volunteer professionals will try to answer it. There are some big names on that list!

AAB also turns one year old today, so let's celebrate by getting more schools to send in questions.

Also, check out the Mad Scientist Answering Forum. Their answers are not limited to biology.

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Bush Is a Moron, Again

This might have to be a weekly (daily?) segment, the Chump in Chief does offer a lot of fodder.

Not only is Bush a monument to intellectual, moral, and cultural depravity, he apparently is a callous asshole as well. Apparently, W is just so jealous of the "fantastic experience" the troops are having in Iraq and Afghanistan. Never mind the mounting casualties (3987 is the latest number), horrific numbers of wounded US soldiers and others, and stories of mental disorders running rampant among personnel. Bush says he thinks it all sounds just so "romantic." Can't you see George and Laura having a nice candle lit dinner in devastated downtown Baghdad, the sounds of IED explosions and small arms fire filling the evening, Blackhawks circling over head, displaced Iraqi's shuffling past the bombed out shells of their former lives. I wonder how I can get a reservation? Too bad Valentine's Day has already passed, eh W? That one would have scored you a ton of brownie points.


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Bushed Again, Just Say No To Your Health

Yesterday the health and science community was up in arms over the EPA's newer, more stringent (barely) regulations for ozone (blogged here). Well its come out today that the new pathetically low standards would have been higher had President Bush not intervened at the 11th hour to relax the regulations. Today White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said, "This is not a weakening of regs (regulations) or standards" and the new standards are the "most stringent smog standards in history." Tony obviously doesn't understand that when the administration contacts an independent panel (of scientists and community leaders) and demands that they lower regulation standards, weakening them is exactly what they're doing. I fully expect the media to lay low on this one and give the Bush administration another free pass to screw us. Viva the free market!

Ozone, a major contributor to smog is choking off major portions of inhabited air space due to pollution from factories and cars. A stringent law would have forced communities to hold their businesses responsible for released ozone. This is a much more efficient way to regulate pollution output. Place the honus on counties to reach a low level of ozone and fine them if they don't. The cities then have the incentive to regulate their businesses and demand they lower ozone output. If they don't then the city can pass on the fine to the business. This is an important form of regulation where citizens who live in and around the areas affected by large polluters will have the ownership to demand cleaner air. Federal regulators are very inefficient because they can't look in everyone's backyard all of the time, but local governments can be held responsible for the type of pollution they allow within their jurisdiction. This will cost less money for oversight as well as bring the ownership of regulation within the communities that are affected.

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House FISA Debate This Morning

House debate over the FISA travesty begins this morning. The Dems are advancing the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773, or in other words, they are revamping the Rockefeller/Cheney bill the Senate sent to the House to include more meaningful oversight of the Bush Administration's intelligence gathering activities, reaffirms the legal necessity of warrants in order to spy on American Citizens, and most importantly, it does not include retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies which participated in W's illegal domestic surveillance programs.

This is an important vote. The adoption of this amendment would be a major victory for the rule of law in this country (and yes, despite Chumpy Bush's best efforts, there are still laws in this country). It would also represent a much needed vehicle for Congressional restraint of this out of control emperor-president. Yet the most important aspect of this vote is not immediatly apparent. If this amendment is passed, it will be extremely difficult for the Rethugs in Washington to remove it. The procedural details are a bit convoluted, but Kagro X at Kos does an excellent job explaining them to all us regular folk.

Gogo CongressCritters! Do your damn jobs for a change!

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The Quad Is On The Roof

Amazing Green Grass Roof on Art School in Singapore, with pictures. What a great design which incorporates a green roof to lower heating and cooling costs as well as collect rainwater for irrigation. To check out more pictures and some good descriptions click the "read more" link below.

read more | digg story

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March 13, 2008

Build Green Today for a Cheaper Tomorrow!

Building "green" is the fastest way to cut carbon emissions in North America, says the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The Commission issued a report today from its Vancouver meeting detailing how rapid market uptake of currently available and emerging advanced energy-saving technologies could result in over 1,700 fewer megatons of CO2 emissions in 2030, compared to projected emissions that year following a business-as-usual approach. A cut of that size would nearly equal the CO2 emitted by the entire US transportation sector in 2000.

The report, Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges, is the culmunation of a 2 year study by the CEC Secretariat. An international advisory panel of architects and developers, sustainability and energy experts, real estate appraisers and brokers, along with governmental officials oversaw the effort. John Westeinde, chairman of the advisory panel, believes the increased construction costs will begin to be paid back immediately.

"The investments made for climate change benefit in buildings have direct payback, generally from the point of view of reduced energy costs and water costs as well the indoor health environment and increased productivity of the inhabitants of those buildings," he said in an interview with Reuters

ScienceDaily has a very good breakdown of the report numbers here. I'll post the US numbers.

In the United States, buildings account for:

40 percent of total energy use;
12 percent of the total water consumption;
68 percent of total electricity consumption;
38 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions; and
60 percent of total non-industrial waste generation.

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Britain Commits to Carbon Capture

All new fossil fuel plants in Britain will be required to practice carbon capture to reduce pollution. Unfortunately the government has backed coal as a source to keep the lights on, but they are committing to a lower impact fossil fuel plant which is a step in the right direction. See the Reuters article.

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Broken Pipeline

Susan Jacoby of the Center for Inquiry may have summed it up best.

"Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing their hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations." - Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Ideas are being expressed in shorter and shorter time frames as the video generation moves into adulthood encouraging more simplistic thinking. And while this pushes information sharing and global communication forward where does Science stand in the buzzsaw of the information age? If following the major intellectuals and researchers gives us any clue we're not heading to a good place. The White House has fallen into this trap and has waged a silent war for 10 years against many funding agencies.

The best example would be the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists have even coined a term, "broken pipeline", to describe the situation with federal funds to the NIH. In the last 5 years the dollar amount of funding has remained flat, not even keeping up with inflation, when it should have been increased further, even further than inflation. And this complaint isn't just belly-aching by those wanting more funding, there are some important effects other than just having an inadequate supply of research dollars. After 15 years of pushing fresh, new researchers into the field the funding per researcher is achingly low and many people are being pushed out of the field all together.

In the Science community there is a fear circulating among the upper echelon of the major US research institutes that we are moving towards a day when there would be roughly ten major research universities nation wide, through various forces.

A consortium of Universities have begun initiatives and their stuff has some pretty scary predictions. Maybe the biggest voice to come out and speak up is Harvard President Drew Faust, who testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the problem with science funding.

"You can't throw a rock around Harvard without hitting a scientist who is having trouble getting funding," Anne Giersch, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor studying the genetics of hearing loss, told a Boston Globe reporter writing about the funding crisis.

So taking these fears of a ever-dwindling pool of research dollars and exodus of young and old minds alike from the field what will the Presidential candidates do? Well I can't answer for the Democrats (although hopefully they will participate in ScienceDebate2008, which I have blogged about here, here, and here) but I do know where John McCain stands on research dollars.

He has talked with horror about the government spending $3M to study grizzly bear DNA. "I don't know if it was a paternity issue or criminal," he says, "but it was a waste of money. Three million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Unbelievable." Katherine Kendall's work (which McCain is referencing) showed the great recovery of grizzly bears and confirmed that the conservation mechanisms put in place are working. It was a great accomplishment to survey an area that large for that little money, and there is no other way to do it than go in the field. And this is important stuff, we've spent far more than $3M on recovery efforts for the bears and this study confirms that our money has been well spent (something scientists can claim and very few politicians can).

But this isn't the first time McCain has bucked the scientific community. Earlier this month he publicly took up the cause of autism linked to vaccines (blogged here). Unfortunately for John there is tons of scientific evidence against his claim, but that matters little to him. As long as he can stand against he scientific community and for the reduction in scientific costs then he will say it.

And we know where McCain wants to spend money, but I'll leave him with this warning from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." (poor healthcare, cutting science funding, and we spend $2B a day in Iraq, I'd say we're approaching spiritual bankruptcy).

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You Are Neither Safe Nor Free

The Republican argument is, by now, familiar. The “terraists” have evolved to such a level of sophistication that our current laws governing intelligence gathering and the very rules of warfare (not to mention basic understandings of human dignity), have been rendered obsolete. They claim the only possible solution is to immediately, and without question, give the Bush Administration everything is demands. Everything. Without exception, condition, or accountability. The Constitution is cute and all, but such a quaint antique needs to be evaluated in proportion to the THREAT OF SCARY BROWN PEOPLE KILLING US ALL!!!!

The line from the Right has been fairly consistent. The government can be trusted. They wouldn’t lie to you, or spy on you, or leave you to rot in a devastated American city, or needlessly waste your sons or daughters’ lives in some desert so their corporate buddies can make a nickel. The American People ought to simply trust to these truths, no matter what the liberal media tells you. We all know that the media (and apparently, reality) has that “lefty” bias. You should trust that all the warrantless, extra-legal surveillance being conducted is focused on non-Americans. On suspected terrorists. And those suspicions are based on something more concrete than a person’s Arabic name, or their tan. You should trust that the government does not universally vacuum up the personal information of its citizens in vast, KGB-like cloak and dagger operations. You should trust that the government is only targeting known, dangerous individuals here.

But wait, its all bullshit.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Security Agency (NSA) maybe wasn’t so specific when it targets individuals for surveillance. Like maybe not narrowing their efforts to one specific person, but maybe, for example, the entire city of Detroit. Maybe some of the people were actually Americans, and the legally required warrants may or may not have been issued. Perhaps they might have compiled extensive databases on an unknown number of innocent American citizens, containing everything from phone numbers, email addresses and subject lines, to travel information. Not to mention a myriad of financial information such as wire transfers and credit card records. A recent document posted by an anonymous whistle blower on indicates that the FBI, under the grossly mis-named Patriot Act, has been harvesting information from American citizens, and not the foreign terrorists we were assured would be the targets. Hmmmm.

You are probably saying, “Wait a minute, don’t we have the 4th Amendment to protect us from these types of intrusions? How can they get around that?”

Very clever, you law-abiding, civil liberty-enjoying hippy. And come on, when has “the law,” or whatever you peasants keep talking about, ever stopped His Royal Foolishness, King George W. Bush II, from doing whatever the hell he pleased? But no, the NSA has a clever legal argument up their sleeve to justify this surveillance monster. They claim that because neither the audio of the conversations nor the bodies of emails are actually recorded (again, it must be pointed out, this is on their say-so), they are legally able to spy ‘til their hearts are content. On the other hand, the argument is difficult to refute that if you combine such a call and email list with a persons’ travel, financial, and web browsing records, you get exactly the type of personal picture the founding fathers attempted to hide from the government without a warrant. These are extremely private aspects of a person's private life, and while some content is not recorded, they collectively create a very real "unreasonable search" when this intel is collected without a warrant.

Apparently, The NSA is using pieces of a program, originally called the Total Information Awareness program, to collect this data. TIA was designed to vacuum up huge volumes of these types of "transactional" intel, as it is called, and organize and analyze it for certain trends. The program was defunded in 2003 by Congress due to concerns about, surprise!, civil rights and 4th Amendment violations. The TIA wasn't destroyed, however, merely dismantled, and the funding transfered to the Pentagon's "black budget" to avoid scrutiny.

I know, your "shady business" alarm is going nuts right now. But don't worry, Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security (in charge of the intelligence community), is here to assure us that no rights are being violated, everything is legal, and all this domestic spying is justified by more than his "gut." Think again.

In a March 7, 2008 interview with's Jeff Stein, Chertoff made it abundantly clear that he doesn't have a fucking clue. Apparently, his DHS has been using intel, for Gawd knows how long, without any knowledge of, or even interest in, how it was obtained.

Me : So you don’t know if it was done with a warrant or not?

Chertoff : Right. I would have no visibility into what the legal requirement was, whether a warrant was obtained, whether a warrant was necessary. None of that is visible to me, or revealed to me.
Warrants? Huh? Never heard of em.

The bottom line here, Trusting American Rubes, is that the world is actually a scary place. There are people out there who would love to see our country come to a violent and disgraceful end, but this is not a new development. There have been anti-American factions working against our interests for as long as we have had interests. Now we need to take a deep breath and make some decisions about the type of nation we are. Early Americans, in drafting the founding documents of their infant country, decided that it was better to be free than safe. Civilian Liberties trump governmental powers in every instance. Now I know the Fundies are screaming something about how hard it is to enjoy those "leftie civil liberty-thingies" when you've been killed by a terrorit's bomb, but I would argue that is not the type of people Americans are. We don't bow, we shouldn't be afraid. Terrorism is called what it is for a reason, Terror. That is their weapon, the crippling, irrational fear that cries, "Take whatever you want, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but make me feel safe!" It empowers not only the fringe terrorists who use such tactics, but the selfish and power-hungry politicians who would turn that weapon upon their own people. We are being frightened into submission. For every day that passes in which citizens do not express outrage at the wrongs being committed against them, it is another day of victory for the Fearmongers, both those attacking the nation the Whitehouse symbolizes, and those occupying the Whitehouse and its Pulpit of Terror.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

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EPA Tightens Ozone Pollution, kinda

Its the same old story over and over. Industry says the new Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ozone standards are too aggressive and call for too much of a reduction. On the other hand you have the scientists who are appalled that the EPA didn't enact tighter restrictions and feel that these levels will do little to improve the health of millions of Americans. Bernadette Toomey, president of the American Lung Association said, "Today's decision means millions of Americans will not get the protection that the law requires." So who's right?

Well it depends on how much you value your health and how responsible you think industry should be when adding potentially harmful substances to the air and water we use. Yes it is true that we all benefit from industry and the massive infrastructure we rely on daily does take a large amount of chemical processing (be it burning coal or producing plastics). But at some point the producers of harmful substances have to be held responsible. I like to think of it this way. If I buy some food that is contaminated with harmful substances there is a good chance that the media will be all over it because nobody wants to put stuff like that in their body.

But wait, don't we all put the air around us in our bodies too? Well yes, and just like food, I believe air and water should be considered consumables. Companies that want to tarnish these public stores of consumables should be held responsible. The best way to go about this is to place a very strict regulation on the amount of ozone you produce and then levy heavy fines for those who exceed the limit. Time has shown that monetary incentive is the strongest motivator for individuals and companies, and threatened with large financial loss I don't see many companies stepping outside of compliance.

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Obama's Terrible, Awful, Campaign-Crippling Streak Continues

So Obama's "slump" continues, with wins in Wyoming and Mississippi. Thats 26 additional pledged delegates to Clinton's 19 from those contests. Solid victories as well, he picked up 61% of the votes in both states to Clinton's 38% and 37%. Obama has increased his delegate lead over Clinton to 131, and with the remaining states expected to split more or less evenly, the math is becoming more and more difficult for Clinton. Pennsylvania might trend a little more towards Hillary, but it doesn't appear that a victory for her there would numerically make a significant dent in Obama's lead.

And with Clinton's campaign becoming more and more like an offshoot of the "McBush for Preznit" movement, Obama doesn't have anywhere to go but up.

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March 12, 2008

Nobel Scientist: Make Solar, not War

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of a Nobel peace prize-winning U.N. panel of climate scientists says that a billion people could recieve light by solar power for the cost of one month of the Iraq War. Pachauri is supporting a campaign "lighting a billion lives," led by India's Energy and Resources Institute, to furnish people without access to the grid with electric lanterns powered by solar photovoltaic panels.

"Millions and millions of people do not see light after the sun goes down," he told a carbon market conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Some 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity.

Pachauri compared the $15 billion cost of providing solar-powered lights to a billion people with a reported cost of the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq of $12 billion a month.

He described that perceived mis-match in resources as "one of the biggest tragedies that the world can be guilty of."

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All the Water and Air on Earth Gathered Into Spheres and Compared to Earth

Pretty cool image and what I'm being told is that its pretty accurate as well.

Left: All the water in the world (1.4087 billion cubic kilometres of it) including sea water, ice, lakes, rivers, ground water, clouds, etc.
Right: All the air in the atmosphere (5140 trillion tonnes of it) gathered into a ball at sea-level density. Shown on the same scale as the Earth.

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March 11, 2008

McCain's Healthcare Nightm...excuse me, Plan

Lets take a look at the state of our Healthcare system really quick. Yale Professor Jacob Hacker sums it up pretty well:

"Among insured Americans, 51 million spend more than 10 percent of their income on medical care. One out of six working-age adults—27 million Americans—are carrying medical debt, and 70 percent had insurance when they incurred it. Of those with private insurance and medical debt, fully half have incomes greater than $40,000, and of this group a third are college graduates or have had postgraduate education." - Professor Jacob Hacker, Testimony Before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate, Washington, D.C., 01/16/07

Or maybe we can turn to Harvard Medical School Professor David Himmelstein who says:

"'I think the message that we take away is, really, nobody is safe in our country. Short of (Microsoft Chairman) Bill Gates, if you're sick enough long enough, you're likely to be financially ruined,' cautioned study author Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 'We're all one serious illness away from bankruptcy,' he added." - Karen Pallarito, "Health Medical Problems Cause Half of Personal Bankruptcies,", 02/02/05
That is absolutely crazy, one is six INSURED American have substantial problems paying their medical bills. So what's McCain' plan?

McCain's main healthcare ideas are increased corporate competition to supposedly limit rising costs and tax credits to encourage the uninsured to buy insurance. Neither will do any more than perpetuate the dismal status quo.

Once-a-year tax credits benefit the same people who benefit from Bush's tax cuts, the moderately wealthy. Those who need coverage most will still be unable to afford premiums that now average over $12,000 per family, not including skyrocketing deductibles, co-pays, drug and hospital charges, and other fees.

The idea that corporate competition will curb spending is pretty ludacris. Under the stewardship of a market friendly administration the past decade, premiums have jumped 87 percent, far outpacing inflation and wage increases. Insurance companies don't compete by delivering more care or lowering prices. They compete by harvesting more customers and slashing their costs.

Employers continue to slash coverage as their two largest spending items are wages and health benefits. As their cost increases the employer responds by either passing the higher costs to the employee or discontinuing coverage options.

This is another incident of our politicians laying in bed with big corporations. John McCain will do nothing to ease the burden of medical costs for the poor, middle class and working Americans. This plan is ignorantly short-sighted. While other countries around the world are finding ways to protect and cover all of their citizens McCain's plan has no mention of providing coverage for those who live below the poverty line. Hell, his plan won't even benefit the normal American, so why the fuck is it a good plan? Its not, its a fucking disaster is what it is. Take a look at the big oil companies because the pharmaceutical and insurance companies are about to join them in the news with record breaking profits and exhorbinant CEO salaries. I wish I could stick my foot as far up McCain's ass as he's about to do to us.

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BudBurst: Citizen Science to Study Climate Change

Are you a global warming doomsdayer or skeptical that climate change even exists? If so then join BudBurst and help scientists continue to study our Earth and how its changing. Participants volunteer to look out for first bud bursts, first leafing, first flower, and seed or fruit dispersal in their area. Those are all phenological events, meaning biological phenomena that are sensitive to climate variations.

From Project BudBurst:

Phenology is the study of the timing of life cycle events in plants and animals. In other words, studying the environment to figure out how animals know when it is time to hibernate, and what ‘calendar’ or ‘clock’ plants use to begin flowering, leafing or reproducing.

Phenology is literally “the science of appearance.” Scientists who study phenology – phenologists -- are interested in the timing of specific biological events (such as flowering, migration, and reproduction) in relation to changes in season and climate. Seasonal and climatic changes are some of the non-living or abiotic components of the environment that impact the living or biotic components. Seasonal changes can include variations in day length, temperature, and rain or snowfall. In short, phenologists attempt to learn more about the abiotic factors that plants and animals respond to...

Phenological observations have been used for centuries by farmers to maximize crop production, nature-lovers to anticipate optimal wildflower viewing conditions, and by almost all of us to prepare for seasonal allergies. Today, this well established science is also used by scientists to track the effect of global warming and climate change on organisms and to make predictions about the future health of the environment. By tracking changes in the timing of these phenological events, scientists are able to better understand how our environment is changing.

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CO2 Saver: Easy Way to Green Your PC

Paul from Snap just sent me this link and its a great way to save energy on your home computer without doing anything! CO2 Saver is a lightweight program that manages your computer's power usage when it's idle, saving energy and decreasing the demand on your power utility.

The less electricity produced, the fewer harmful emissions and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) are released into the atmosphere.

Extra cool feature is that is shows you how much you save every month versus if your PC had been running with CO2 Saver.

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Obama 2002: I'm Opposed to Dumb Wars

Clinton ridicules it and everyone talks about it, but have you read it? Here's Obama's speech about the Iraq War given in 2002. Highlights added by me.

"Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

"The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don't oppose all wars.

"My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.

"I don't oppose all wars.

"After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration's pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

"I don't oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

"What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

"That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

"Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

"He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

"I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

"I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

"So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

"You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.

"You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

"You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn't simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.

"Those are the battles that we need to fight.

"Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.

"The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not - we will not - travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain."

All I want to say about this speech is that there is a deep understanding of world affairs and military consequences of going to war, a cool ability to make the right commander in chief decision in times of great pressure and a flawless, item by item, forecast of what would go wrong if the war was initiated.

Lying underneath the speech sits a man who can cooly look through an issue and foresee outcomes and unintended consequences. One who can balance the needs of the nation versus the needs of the world, and a man who takes a vast quantity of information and parses important ideas and concepts from the different political agendas. This is what I'm looking for in a President. Not the smartest or most experienced, just someone who can look at a situation and say something needs to be done and here are the various outcomes, this one will suit us the best. Kinda eerie how correct the young Senator Obama was 6 years ago.

More After the Fold...


Oklahoma Follows Texas' Stupid Lead: Religion Over Science

The Oklahoma House of Representatives just approved House Bill 2211.

The bill states:

A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.

The "otherwise permissible subject" part of the bill makes it really sticky. That can easily be interpreted as meaning tests, besides just normal classroom discussion. The intent is that a student can say the Earth is 6000 years old and still get a passing grade. The bill itself says that a student cannot be graded down if they say that what they are being taught interferes with their religious beliefs.

I am patently against anything of this sort and can't believe that people give ridiculous ideas as much standing as reality. One problem with this is when you open the door to fantasy you have to let any and all flavors walk on through. But it also elevates fantasy to reality, and that is wrong.

If I was teaching and someone answered that the Earth is 6,000 years old they would be wrong, regardless if they wanted to have me meet their parents, lawyers, supreme court, whoever. I don't care what your religious beliefs are, there are some things that are simple facts. An object with mass has gravity. A lump of lithium dropped into water will create heat and hydrogen gas. An accelerating charged particle will emit radiation. These are facts. It doesn’t matter what you believe: reality is that which, when you go to sleep, doesn’t go away.

What's really bad is that a bunch of conservatives who care little for relativism and political correctness are the ones who pushed this through. They want all religious rights to be accepted but the author of the bill, Sally Kern, has clearly spoken about being against the "gay lifestyle" and that being gay compares to cancer.

o look at what a disaster this kind of bill will be you don't have to look very far, right here in the lone star state we're in a heap of trouble for passing the same bill.

After this bill passes the Oklahoma Senate all those folks north of the Red River can join us down here in Texas in the Dark Ages, huzzah conservatism!

More After the Fold...


Beat of the Nation: Environment

Here is a link to the full results of all questions polled. After checking over the numbers one thing jumped out to me. People are ready to start accommodating cleaner technology but they want a cash incentive. When asked about buying a hybrid most respondents said they would get one to save money on gas rather than protect the environment; and when asked how to best save water, homeowners said cash for conservation would be the best motivating factor.

Another point to discuss is that people expect the next generation to care more and do more for the environmental mess. Respondents thought the average American was not very eco-conscious and that the next generation would be more so, results also say Universities should put a large emphasis environmentalism. I think that this is a pretty sad statement as our generation may be trying to wash their hands of the environmental problems and pass them onto the next generation. Unfortunately that has been the modus operandi for the last 50 years or so and is why we keep seeing a perpetuating problem as one generation is not willing to take responsibility for the problems their production technology has with the environment.

A very large majority of respondents believed we were doing far too little to protect the environment and the most overwhelming response of any question was that there is too little research being done on renewable energy. The problem is that nobody is willing to stand up and argue for a change from the government and from their neighbors, everyone is willing to have a problem with the way we're operating but unwilling to make a sacrifice for the better. This does not bode well for future conservation efforts. Instead of relying on the next generation to solve problems we leave for them why not lead by example now and carve a path towards a more sustainable future? Voices will have to be raised and people gathered together in order for a difference to be made. Will your voice be heard?

More After the Fold...


Beat of the Nation: Environment (full results)

Here I go with the 4th installment of Beat of the Nation. My polling abilities slowed down with my committment to the Obama campaign for the Texas primary/caucus, but I finally have the data here.

I'll post all of the data here and later have a review of it all.

Q: How environmentally conscious do you think the average American is?
A: 53% 'Not Very'; 36% 'Somewhat'; 6% 'Not at all'; 4% 'A good amount'; 1% 'Very'

Q: How concerned are you about the air quality where you live?
A: 38% 'Very concerned'; 31% 'Somewhat concerned'; 31% 'Not concerned'

Q: Are we doing enough to protect the environment?
A: 70% 'No, its not enough'; 16% 'Yes, its the right amount'; 13% 'No, its too much'

Q: Will the next generation be more "eco-friendly" than this one?
A: 52% 'To some degree'; 35% 'Yes, alot'; 9% 'No, not really'; 4% 'No, they'll be less'

Q: Which gobal issue would you want solved first?
A: 43% 'War'; 20% 'World Hunger'; 19% 'Destruction of the Environment'; 10% 'Global Warming'; 8% 'Other'

Q: Do you think the consequences of global warming have been overstated?
A: 61% 'I do not'; 39% 'I do'

Q: Which of these issues most touches your life personally?
A: 33% 'The ecnonomy'; 27% 'Healthcare'; 16% 'The environment'; 16% 'Education'; 8% 'Women's Rights'

Q: Which of these is the best way to get homeowners to conserve water?
A: 66% 'Cash for conservation efforts'; 25% 'Higher fees for water use'; 9% 'Strict limits on water usage'

Q: I would buy a hybrid more to?
A: 66% 'Save on gas'; 34% 'Protect the environment'

Q: How much emphasis should schools put on environmentalism?
A: 63% 'A lot'; 23% 'Some', 14% 'None'

Q: The amount of research into renewable energy is?
A: 87% 'Too little'; 9% 'About right'; 4% 'Too much'

More After the Fold...


March 10, 2008

NBC11 Hits a Homerun With Wind Power

In San Jose, California a big thing happened on Friday. NBC11 became the first TV station to be fully powered by wind. To be factually correct the TV station has begun to buy as many wing power energy credits as they produce so that all of their power consumption is set off by wind energy production. The energy tax credits and public-friendly appeal were too much for the station to pass up and when the pitch came they took a swing.

This is part of an effort by the station called "EcoLogic" that aims to "educate NBC11 employees, viewers and local businesses about ways they can reduce their carbon footprint at work and at home." The campaign kicked off in January when the station educated and informed employees to turn off lights and computer stations when not necessary. After two months of saved energy costs the company bought enough Renewable energy certificates to offset the energy costs of their San Jose studio and invest in wind energy research.

In all honesty I'm not a huge fan of the buying clean energy credits. I applaud the effort to fund renewable energy and have it contribute to the energy grid but I feel it removes a crucial element to true investment in renewable energy. The company really has no incentive to reduce their energy usage as they can just buy off however much energy they use. True, a company will have to spend more if they decide to be wasteful and that extra money will go towards research but companies have no real investment in the programs.

At anytime a company could decide to stop with the credit buying and fund something else. But if the company truly relied on its energy from a solar or wind plant you better believe that they would make sure the thing is running and reliable. That is a true investment in technology, one where your operation simultaneously uses and nurtures a process in the hopes of future gains. As it stands these companies have little incentive to baby their partners as there are multiple vendors of energy credits and if your vendor shuts down a quick shop will solve the problem.

This shouldn't take away from what NBC11 is doing because at their heart the company is truly making an effort to reduce their impact and influence those around them to do the same. Hopefully more of corporate America will step up to the plate and at least take a swing, we've watched the pitch go by us for too long.

More After the Fold...


Solar Collecting Roadways in The Netherlands

Solar Energy is a super efficient way to heat water. Combine it with underground storage and you have a system that can cover heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV, a Dutch company, is doing just that and moving it way forward with its Road Energy System (RES). Pipes in the roadway expose water to the sun's energy (think of that hot asphault on a July day) and the hot water is transferred to a storage area. During cold weather an on-demand reservoir of hot water is ready to heat buildings and keep roads above freezing.

After cooling, the water is stored in cold water storage and used to cool buildings during hot weather. A year round solar/geothermal heating/cooling system for both the road and buildings. The renewable combo greatly reduces electricity demands and the cooling/heating of the road reduces maintenance requirements (and lowers/eliminates de-icing and plowing).

And its already in use in the Netherlands. The small population of 3,000 in Avenhorn are the first to use this technology with a 200 yard stretch of road and small parking lot providing heat to a 70-unit, four story apartment building. An industrial park of some 160,000 square feet in the nearby city of Hoorn is kept warm in winter with the help of heat stored during the summer from 36,000 square feet of pavement. The runways of a Dutch air force base in the south supply heat for its hangar.

This is a great invention and a large swath of the US is in the operating lattitudes for the technology. It would be great to see Texas move on a technology like this with the amount of road construction constantly going on around the state. I am emailing this to both our federal and state senators to see if I can't at least plant the idea. I encourage you to do the same!

More After the Fold...


Another Green Energy Record

Last week Arizona announced it would have the largest solar farm in the world (hinging on the fact Congress passes the clean energy tax credit set to expire at the end of 2008). This solar installation could power 80,000 homes if the Spanish construction company gets the go ahead to build.

This week California announced that they would build the world's largest wind farm in the SoCal Desert. The farm will power 3 million homes by 2013, holy crap that's a lot of homes running on clean energy!

More After the Fold...


Goodbye "Anonymous"

Will the Republicans ever actually focus on an issue that matters? Some baseball player's steroid use, a Florida family's private medical decisions, and now this. Apparently some yahoo from Kentucky, Tim Couch R-KY, wants to make it illegal to post anonymously online. Not only is this an unnecessary restriction of free speech, how in the hell does Tim think this is going to be enforced? Every website which allows posting would have to be restructured to disallow unnamed posts, which is a monumental task by any standards, or they could move overseas, which would make our silly little law irrelevant, I believe.

Sounds like someone is a little grumpy. Maybe upset because of the progressive dominance of the blog movement. Too many people saying mean things about Republicans? Or maybe he just needs a nap.

More After the Fold...