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Support the Biofuels Moratorium

On the BBC, a report on what to do about the bad side of biofuels. Delay use until we can do it right. It’s such a novel concept, it makes headlines.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said …growth in the production of biofuels has helped to push the price of some crops to record levels. … [A]n ill-conceived dash to convert foodstuffs such as maize and sugar into fuel … created a recipe for disaster.

It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.

He called for a five-year ban on the practice. Within that time, according to Mr Ziegler, technological advances would enable the use of agricultural waste, such as corn cobs and banana leaves, rather than crops themselves to produce fuel.

He’s right on all counts.

It is a crime against humanity. That’s not even hyperbole. What else can you call it when food is burned in front of starving people, and whole countries are dropped into famine, forced migration, and war?

And he’s also right that microbial, non-polluting!, methods to use plant waste rather than food have already been demonstrated in labs. We need some more genetic engineering to improve the microbes and tailor them to work under industrial conditions before they’ll be practical. Given the relatively small scope of the remaining issues, five years will likely be plenty … IF the scientific resources needed are devoted to the problem. (A summary of biofuels in an earlier post of mine.)

I’d be the last person to say that global warming isn’t an emergency. But creating a disaster .. which is profitable for some … by going into a mad panic over another disaster is like the moronic rush to nukes. We could, for once try the breakthrough concept of thinking this thing through. It is not essential to try every bad choice before giving up and trying the actual solution.

Cross-posted to Shakesville

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Lessing is right: No more terrible

It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that killing thousands of people is terrible. On the scale of the thousands who die daily all over the world, the main difference in 9/11/2001 was the cost of the real estate destroyed.

The other main difference is that most US citizens never thought it could happen here. Now they have to think about it.

Lessing has done nothing but point out that others have been thinking about it all their lives. They’ve lived — or live — with the terror of bombs or kneecapping or lingering deaths down dark alleys every day of their lives.

Lessing has pointed out that the US is not special.

Technorati tags: Lessing, 9/11, terrorism, exceptionalism, politics, current affairs

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Ash Monday: Southern California Weather

It’s sunny here right now. It’s about 75F, 25C. Just like the stereotype.

Except there’s also a wind blowing off the Mojave Desert that is dry as an oven and gusts to 80 mph (approx 120 kph). (Sure, the sustained winds are half that, but it’s the gusts that rip the roof off. They came close to doing it to mine.)

The oven gale comes on top of months of almost no rain. Everything is dry as matchsticks. So it’s all going up in flames. Yesterday, the sky where I am was filled with ash and the sun was blood-red. After a brief run through the garden, trying to prop fallen plants back up, I look in the mirror and there’s ash in my eyebrows.

smoke-filled sky with the red sun barely shining through

But it is sunny. And 75F.

We’ve gotta be special around here. No normal bad weather for LA.

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In the event of an anaconda attack …

The following excerpt is from the US Government Peace Corps Manual for volunteers working in the Amazon Jungle (about 20 years ago, I think, when volunteers were a tough lot). It details what to do if an anaconda attacks you.

“Related to the boa constrictor, the anaconda is the largest snake species in the world. It grows to thirty-five feet in length and weighs 300 to 400 pounds.

  • 1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
  • 2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
  • 3. Tuck your chin in.
  • 4. The snake will begin to nudge and climb over your body.
  • 5. Do not panic.
  • 6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end – always from the feet end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic!
  • 7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
  • 8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg, then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake’s head.
  • 9. Be sure you have your knife.
  • 10. Be sure your knife is sharp.”
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More Cellphone Adventures: Moving to Voip

It seems like a good time to think about how to dump Verizon, T, Qwest, and Co. With friends like these

Verizon Communications, the nation’s second-largest telecom company, told congressional investigators that it has provided customers’ telephone records to federal authorities in emergency cases without court orders hundreds of times since 2005. [emphasis added]

… who needs enemies?

Read more »

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Double Standard: Alive and Well on the Left

Talking Points Memo is one of the best sources for US political news. I’m not aware of anything that even comes close (but then again there are rafts of things I’m unaware of).

They generally do a fine job of avoiding bias … and yet when it come to Hillary Clinton there’s an undertow, all the more noticeable for its absence otherwise.

Commenting on how the news media couldn’t stop criticizing her laugh, and then began criticizing the lack of it:

Yes, we’ve apparently reached a point in the media’s coverage of the campaign in which news outlets find it noteworthy when they don’t notice anything unusual about Sen. Clinton’s laugh.

As Greg Sargent put it, “We’ve come full circle: Damned if you do cackle; damned if you don’t.”

Indeed. That’s the normal operating procedure for discrimination: you’re never good enough, you’re too fat, too thin, too dumb, too smart, too soft, too bitchy, etc. etc. etc. It’s refreshing that they recognize it and expose it to daylight.

And then they make fun of how ridiculous the media focus is:

In related news, Rudy Giuliani delivered a speech yesterday in which he didn’t answer his cell phone; Mitt Romney answered questions without abandoning a position he held five minutes prior; John McCain hosted a town-hall forum in which he did not refer to anyone as a “little jerk”; and Fred Thompson went the whole day without responding to a reporter’s question with, “I don’t know anything about that.”

They’re right that the media are making drooling fools of themselves. However, note the examples. Clinton’s laugh is being compared to evidence of manipulative boorishness, pandering, lack of impulse control, and stupidity. But a laugh is like a person’s gait or breathing. It can be consciously controlled, but it doesn’t say anything about one’s morals, maturity, or intelligence.

What’s going on with Clinton is even worse than what TPM realizes. The real parallels would be to say, “In other news, Rudy Giuliani delivered a speech yesterday during which he was still bald; Mitt Romney answered questions without wrinkling his forehead; John McCain hosted a town-hall forum in which he gestured sometimes; and Fred Thompson went the whole day with bags under his eyes.”

That’s so bad, it’s not funny. That’s what Clinton is putting up with.

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A truly vicious political movement

Some things are beneath contempt, which to me means they’re beneath discussion. The attempted character assassination of a handicapped child for having the gall to support a government medical care program is one such thing. What’s worse is that the attack wasn’t a few crazies at the fringes. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Minority Leader, helped get this ball of slime rolling.

But Paul Krugman has done one of his usual brilliant takedowns.

I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.

Go read.

Technorati tags: S-CHIP, Graeme Frost, politics, current events, health insurance

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Even the Taleban pulls ahead of US

Not by much, admittedly, and not by choice, but still, there it is.

From a BBC report on the Taleban-controlled northwest frontier of Pakistan, this image bowled me over.

“The Taleban take advantage of solar energy,” says the caption.

Used to be, we didn’t have to worry about being outclassed by the likes of them on anything.

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Our Government (Not) At Work

Although, really, I guess that would depend on how you define their work. Let me put it this way: the government is continuing not to protect and help the citizens who pay the government to help and protect them.

Via Shaker Nik E. Poo, another depressing bit of news.

Despite the protests of more than 50 scientists, including five Nobel laureates in chemistry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday approved use of a new, highly toxic fumigant, mainly for strawberry fields.

The new pesticide, methyl iodide, is designed for growers, mainly in California and Florida, who need to replace methyl bromide, which has been banned under an international treaty because it damages the Earth’s ozone layer.

I happen to live a few miles away from some of the strawberry fields in question. (Upwind, luckily.) The procedure when they’re fumigating the fields is to cover them in acres of plastic. Great rolls of white stuff, about six feet wide, are rolled out and taped at the seams. Then a couple of guys dressed in white moon suits show up. These are the full biohazard overalls, with their heads completely enclosed in a gas mask sort of thing. They pace around, doing something obscure with hoses and stuff. They have a pickup-sized truck with a metal tank. Once they start pumping the gas under the plastic it billows in a dreamy way. It continues billowing for a few days. Anything alive under there is killed. I drive by with my windows rolled up, wondering how well those seams are holding up.

Meanwhile, a couple fields away, dozens of farmworkers are bent over, picking celery, or cabbages, or carefully hand-weeding a sod farm. When they’ve finished picking a box load, they run to the collecting truck. Then they run back. It’s not easy work, they do it for at least eight hours, and there’s probably scarcely a minute when they’re not breathing hard.

I can hear people sputtering, “Why the HELL don’t the farms just go organic!”

They can’t. If they tried to, it would take about three years before the soil microbiology and organisms built up to the point where something besides pests could live in those fields. Three years of paying taxes on the land and no income to show the shareholders is not something any agribusiness wants any part of. It’s not that they’re against organic farming as such. (Really. Organic farms are often more profitable after the transition period.) It’s that they can’t stand not making money all the time.

So they have to keep killing everything that moves. But life is very adaptable, especially pestiferous life, and there aren’t many poisons that will do that. Methyl bromide was a fumigant that did. It’s a very light molecule that went floating straight up into the stratosphere where it destroyed ozone. Bad for the planet.

But the farms that need a fumigant couldn’t function without it, so even though the stuff was outlawed years ago, it continues to be used with “exemptions” in quantities of thousands of pounds. (When an exemption is a continual thing, is it still an exemption?)

Now, I guess, the EPA has decided it has to get serious about stopping the use of methyl bromide. If you look at that column of elements in the periodic table, you see fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine. All truly vicious toxins, which is why they work as disinfectants. Iodine is a bigger atom than bromine, so when it’s attached to a methyl group, you have a heavier compound. Methyl iodide does not go straight to the stratosphere. It hangs around where we are and gets into the groundwater. Bad for people.

So that’s the choice the “hydroponic” model of agriculture has given us. Kill the planet (and us, eventually), or kill (some of) us now.

There’s an interesting twist at the end of the LATimes article:

The manufacturer [of methyl iodide fumigant], Arysta, has spent eight years and more than $11 million collecting toxicological and environmental data to persuade the EPA to register methyl iodide as a pesticide.

Arysta’s former chief executive, Elin Miller, is now a top official at the EPA and was appointed administrator of its northwest region last year.

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