Archive for Science


Fracked and Mutated

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As if you didn’t have enough to worry about already, “The Poison Beneath Us” from Pro Publica, a detailed report on groundwater contamination from injection wells, and some unrelated cattle deaths in Texas:

Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation’s geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.

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Random Bits of Newsy Goodness

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There is, as always, good news and bad news. Here are a few links to some of each, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which. Read More→

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NC Bill Would Limit Sea-Level Rise

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And just in the nick of time, too! A substitute bill circulating in the NC General Assembly regulates sea-level rise (or at least how it is measured) on North Carolina’s coast.
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Seafood Business as Unusual

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Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along. By way of David Atkins at Hullabaloo:

New Orleans, LA – “The fishermen have never seen anything like this,” Dr Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. “And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I’ve never seen anything like this either.”


Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp – and interviewees’ fingers point towards BP’s oil pollution disaster as being the cause.

Bon appétit.

Categories : Environment, Science
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Party Green

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(Click the pic to embiggen)

If you want to rub elbows with the people in this community who are working their green hind-ends off to create a more sustainable future, then you’ll want to bring your green self down to Pack Place on Wednesday night for this event.

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Caterpillar Locks Out Canadian Union Workers, Aims to Cut Wages In Half. But more on that after the jump…

In the wake of a doubling of unemployment caused by austerity policies put in place in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher to slash government spending and bring down inflation, one of Thatcher’s economic advisors, Sir Alan Budd, has second thoughts.

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The clip above is from Adam Scott’s six-part 1992 BBC documentary television series, Pandora’s Box. The series examines overoptimistic efforts to apply the techniques of mechanistic science to predict and manage human behavior. Episode three examines attempts by “the dismal science” to steer the economy. The clip is from the epilogue to Episode 3: The League of Gentlemen.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Fallout

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Ain’t it a shame, about the radium rain?

Recording artist Bruce Cockburn tells of his experience visiting Germany only three days after the Chernobyl accident:

“Radium Rain, for instance, came out of, uh, my own experience of the aftermath of Chernobyl, in Germany. I’d gotten, I arrived in Germany three days after Chernobyl happened. I had wrestled with myself to some degree before I left, thinking “Oh, I don’t know. I wonder about going to Europe at this moment.” But it seemed like it wouldn’t matter where you were anyway, that stuff’s gonna come down on you sooner or later so I might as well go and see what it looked like. And I did and it was very interesting experience, and, uh, quite frightening in some respects and funny in others. The extremes that people went to. The extremes that governments went to to try to sort of suppress peoples anxiety about the whole thing and it became ridiculous at a certain point, you know. At first they’re saying, and I’m sure it was true of all the governments involved, they were saying Oh, there’s no problem, you know, those stupid Russians just made a mistake, but we’ve got it together, don’t worry about it”. And, you know, the next day they’d be saying “Well there’s a little bit of a problem, don’t let your kids play in the dirt”, you know. And the next, the next day, or week later they’d be saying “Well, you know, if you’re a mechanic, you should avoid changing the air filters of cars, unless you’re wearing protective clothing, and, you know, if you’re a pedestrian, hold your breath when cars go by, cuz of the dust”, you know. And I mean it’s absurd. How can you possibly not breath when the cars are going by on the street? And it just went from the horrific to the ridiculous.” – from “Interview and Segments” a CD released in 1990 by True North/Epic. Anonymous submission.

So I’m living here in California, it’s Friday and it’s going to rain. The climate models indicate we could hear from our geiger counters today for the first time since the nuclear disaster in Japan started. I know it will seem like a trivial amount of exposure and folks will say “don’t worry!” But what I’m worried about is that the Fukushima situation is currently completely out of control. Our leaders have as little clue as to what happens next as they did in the early days of the BP disaster. When the time comes, they’ll just shift the goalposts like Cockburn recounts in his Chernobyl story.

I’ve thought for a long time that nuclear energy just does not add up. The risks are too great to justify the rewards. There are better choices emerging in the alternative energy sector. If you’re a proponent of the technology, please take a moment to reconsider. Because that stuff’s gonna come down on you sooner or later.

Ain’t it a shame, about the radium rain?
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The Things that Happened

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President Obama just left DC for an eleven-day vacation to Hawaii in the wake of the most productive Congressional burst we’ve seen in ages. What happened during this lame duck session?

START – Obama gets a victory and keeps beating the non-proliferation drum. This is a major step in the right direction for nuclear security worldwide.

Food Safety Modernization Act. – This bill passed after being fixed to protect small farmers. It became the biggest public health accomplishment of Obama’s presidency.

DADT repeal. – Another step towards equality. Overdue.

Judicial Appointments – GOP has been holding up tons of judges, clogging our court system. That changed with the confirmation of a raft of appointments.

Net Neutrality… sorta. – This compromise ruling will probably see a lot of tweaking for a long time to come. Keep your eye on this ball, but know that your open/free internet is intact due to this ruling.

Tax Cut, Unemployment Benefit – “Compromise” - Did this effort allow for the other five things on this list to succeed? It’s often looked like Obama’s been playing checkers instead of chess, but the lame duck session suggests otherwise. If Obama ballooned the deficit and protected the rich in order to accomplish these other things, does that make the Tax Cut Compromise easier to stomach?

Anyway – I’m back offline. Merry Holidaymas!


Things to Read

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The Science edition

Who says NASA can’t do anything right?

The rover was designed to work on Mars for three months, but was mobile for more than five years.

I so want one of these.

Another reason Google Earth is fun.

It is good to know that BP has multiple ways to kill us all: link

We all need a cool hobby.

Have yourselves a happy Monday. If you need me I’ll be by the pool.

Categories : Science
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Sweeter Carrots and Sharper Sticks

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Image: Rocky Grimes, "Carrot and Stick", screen print and mixed media, 2009

It’s been fascinating to watch political leaders (on the right and on the left) cut off unemployment insurance to millions of unemployed Americans they will ask to vote for them this November. “Nearly five” job seekers for every job opening doesn’t dissuade them from their “common sense” notion that continuing unemployment insurance payments is a disincentive for the unemployed to go back to work. In January, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer gave a twisted primer on using hunger as an incentive for driving the unemployed back into jobs that aren’t there:

“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

Speaking of not knowing any better, the blind faith such conservatives have in the power of incentives to control others’ behavior is misplaced. Yet it is fundamental to the way many Americans think about the world and about capitalism. Incentives, the rhetoric suggests, are as mechanistic (and as magical) as the Market. The problem is, commonsense folk wisdom — like the Earth being flat — is sometimes wrong even if you learned it at your grandmother’s knee. “Sweeter carrots and sharper sticks” don’t always work the way common sense suggests. Sometimes they work just the opposite, studies have shown. But folk wisdom dies hard, especially if it reinforces your underlying ideology, and if facts that don’t support your ideology are dismissed as not “true facts.”

Daniel Pink summarizes the current research on incentives. For the kind of work more Americans will be doing in the 21st century, for tasks requiring “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” the traditional extrinsic incentive model doesn’t work:

“Those if-then rewards, the things around which we’ve built so many of our businesses, don’t work … This is not a feeling, okay? I’m a lawyer. I don’t believe in feelings. This is not a philosophy. I’m an American. I don’t believe in philosophy. This is a fact. Or as they say in my hometown of Washington, D.C., a true fact.

Categories : Economy, Republicans, Science
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