Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Mother of All News Updates

This is a clearing of the decks, which have been piling up with unannounced news from around the world for a while now, but it's also a way to move the global warming ball forward a little. Bearing in mind that I drew attention to the fact in the first place (and don't think anyone occupies the moral high ground here) the implications of traveling by airplane are getting impossible to ignore in good conscience.

Demand For Travel Rising; Airplane CO2 Impact Sort of Explained

And the ball moves forward.

-- Surging use of cars and planes will push up greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades, making the transport sector a black spot in a fight against global warming, according to a draft U.N. report.


About 2 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions from human activities come from aviation. Emissions from this sector are likely to rise by 3-4 percent a year given projected annual traffic growth of 5 percent outpacing annual improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency of 1-2 percent, it says.

Planes also damage the climate in other ways, partly by emitting heat-trapping nitrous oxides at high altitude. "These effects are estimated to be about 2 to 4 times greater than those of aviation's CO2 alone," it says.

Extra charges for fuel or the inclusion of the aviation sector into a greenhouse gas trading system "would have the potential to reduce emissions considerably," it says.

Republican Florida Legislators Mandate Statues of Jeb Bush

No, this is not a joke.

-- Two weeks ago, the University of Florida voted to deny Jeb Bush an honorary degree. By a 38-28 vote, the faculty Senate rejected the former governor's nomination, citing concerns about some of Bush's education initiatives, including his dismantling of affirmative action programs in the state.


Upset by this lack of Jeb Bush adoration, the conservative-controlled House Schools & Learning Council voted yesterday to force the university to rename its education school the "Jeb Bush College of Education."

Over the faculty's opposition, the school will now have "to erect 'suitable markers' noting the college's new name and include the revised name in all university documents, including catalogues and brochures." The lawmakers acknowledge they "came up with the idea as an answer" to the faculty's denial of Bush's honorary degree.

EPA Nominees Withdraw Their Nominations

Suffice to say I know who these two are.

Russia Beats up Demonstrators, Arrests Kasparov

Remember when I pointed to an article about a month ago saying reigning world chess potentate Garry Kasparov had taken the reins of the Russian opposition to Vladimir Putin? Well, they're not going easy on him, whatever he might be doing for the tourism industry. (I don't have any hard numbers on that.)

-- ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Riot police beat and detained dozens of anti-Kremlin demonstrators Sunday on a second day of protests that tested the weak opposition's ability to challenge widely popular President Vladimir Putin.

As in Moscow a day earlier, only a few thousand people turned out in St. Petersburg to criticize the government. Opposition leaders called that a heartening response in the face of the huge police forces massed against both rallies.

Putin's foes said the harsh handling of demonstrators, who included many elderly people, would fuel a growing sense that the leader is strangling democracy ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote next spring.

But the opposition is in severe straits. Opinion polls rate Putin as Russia's most popular political figure by far, thanks to newfound political stability and rapid economic growth fueled by high world oil prices. That popularity has cowed mainstream politicians in parliament and allowed Putin to strengthen the Kremlin's powers.


Opposition leaders said they were determined to push ahead. Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion who has become the most prominent figure in opposition factions loosely allied in the Other Russia coalition, called it "truly amazing" that 2,000 protesters would turn out in Moscow to face 9,000 police and interior ministry troops.

"It shows that the apathy in Russian society is gradually being replaced by very active, vocal protest," he told The Associated Press.

Oil Operations Expanding Without More Safety Measures; Workers Keep Dying

This expose from High Country News is a perfect example of how the media should do its job. It reminds me of the series the Chicago Tribune ran on the Middle East traffic in moveable employees that often ends in poor but relatively well-educated Yemenis or Africans (or whatever) dying in Iraq working for contractors that don't look out for them.

-- Joe Laster’s death received almost no news coverage. The Associated Press published a few basics, a total of 101 words. Two investigators from Wyoming’s workplace overseer, the Department of Employment’s Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division, completed an investigation months later. The agency found that Tyvo LLC had violated safety regulations, citing the company for failing to have a guard on the driveshaft that grabbed Laster’s glove, for inadequate training, and for having no first-aid supplies at the site. The agency slapped Tyvo with a fine: $3,375.

That doesn’t begin to satisfy Peggy Laster. She is tormented by thoughts that her son’s death has been swept into the brush. She wants a lot more investigation. She talks of the Flight for Life helicopter landing in the wrong place and then doubling back, which a map in a sheriff’s report indicates. Joe had years of experience on drill rigs, she says; he knew this one was a disaster waiting to happen. “It was a Mickey Mouse operation,” says Ken Laster. “He called us (a few days before the accident) and said he wasn’t happy working there.”


Across town, bosses still swing by the corrections center and pick up inmates and then head out to all sorts of jobs, some of them in the oil and gas fields.


There is a federal agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, assigned to look out for worker safety. It either handles each state’s workplaces directly, or hands off the duty to state agencies. But the federal and state safety cops don’t seem particularly tough. They can’t do many workplace inspections, because typically there are no more of them now than 20 years ago, straining to cover an explosion in the numbers of workplaces of all types that comes with the West’s population growth. And when workers die in the oil and gas fields, the safety cops levy fines that are so low, compared to the profits being reaped, that families often view the penalties as insulting and outrageous.

Other aspects of state laws also appear to be rigged against accident victims and their families, making it all but impossible for them to sue even in the face of apparently extraordinary management negligence. At times, the industry and the whole government system treat tenaciously loyal workers as if they were as disposable as a broken drill bit. The victims’ own character traits — from stoicism to lack of formal education to a tendency to use alcohol or drugs or both — often set them up to take the hit.


Kaylee explains why she agreed to go through Colton’s story with me: “I just hope it does some good for other families.” She advises those who consider sending a loved one into the oil and gas fields: “Keep ’em out of it.” She sums up some companies’ philosophy, with no audible commas: “A big fat wallet.”

[By the way, the comment section following the article is notable for apparently being infiltrated by oil industry robots.]

Carbon Emissions: The Merits of Cap-And-Trade Vs. Taxing It

Never mind where carbon dioxide comes from -- what do we do about it?

-- "The prognosis isn't exactly terminal - Europe's still working to iron out the wrinkles, and U.S. policymakers are trying to learn from their mistakes - but it's clear that most carbon-trading programs will inevitably allow for a certain amount of monkey business.


I think, agree that if we want to reduce carbon emissions, a simple carbon tax would be easier to administer - and harder to cheat - than a cap-and-trade system (although lord knows companies are perfectly capable of lobbying for tax loopholes, too). The catch, though, is that most politicians see a carbon tax as a total non-starter, especially after the BTU-tax debacle in 1993. And legislators like the opacity of cap-and-trade, because it shields them from voter anger over price increases. That's why all the major climate-change bills in the Senate right now involve carbon trading."

[The post ends with the prospect of "some bizarre alliance between greens, right-wing economists, and libertarians on the issue," which actually doesn't sound impossible if you look at it from all sides.]

American Voters: A Zombie for President Before an Atheist?

We're told Christianity is under attack in this country. Is that true?

-- "American voters’ level of support for a hypothetical atheist president has doubled since 1959 but actually declined between 1999 and 2007, from 49 to 45 percent.


I know very well that some atheists can get downright annoying in their insistence that they have have objectively demonstrated the nonexistence of God using simple algebra and a household magnifying glass. Fine. I grant these things. But I see no evidence whatsoever that 'persons of faith' are discouraged in any way from testifying to their faith in American political life, which is why complaints about Democrats’ indifference or hostility to religion strike me as so very disingenuous. These complaints can’t possibly be about hostility to religion in American politics, I think. And when they come from the left side of the spectrum, they can’t possibly be about trying to win over voters on the religious right. Nor do they seem to be centrally concerned about issues of war and peace -- or even the minimum wage. Nor do I see religious progressives arguing for greater discrimination against gays and lesbians. So I’m left to wonder: is this conversation-stopping conversation all about abortion, in the end?"

On The Paranormal Front... Reincarnation Doesn't Happen

Whatever other crazy things I may think, I haven't bought reincarnation for a long time. In fact, if you look at Buddhism -- which is supposed to be reincarnation central -- it seems like Siddhartha Buddha never really talked about reincarnation as it's understood in the past life regression sense but of rebirth in a metaphorical sense (I'm sure anyone who wanted to throw the book at me could do so, and I'd have some homework to do to catch up). He said, for one thing, that even a soul was an illusion and never taught that it literally transferred to another living thing after death. You can take or leave it as you like, but the point is that a convincing new study on past life memories shows that, like many alien abductee reports, they're based on brain chemistry and suggestibility.

-- People who believe they have lived past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study.

The propensity to make these mistakes could, in part, explain why people cling to implausible reincarnation claims in the first place.

Subjects were asked to read aloud a list of 40 non-famous names, and then, after a two-hour wait, told that they were going to see a list consisting of three types of names: non-famous names they had already seen (from the earlier list), famous names, and names of non-famous people that they had not previously seen. Their task was to identify which names were famous.

The researchers found that, compared to control subjects who dismissed the idea of reincarnation, past-life believers were almost twice as likely to misidentify names. In particular, their tendency was to wrongly identify as famous the non-famous names they had seen in the first task. This kind of error, called a source-monitoring error, indicates that a person has difficulty recognizing where a memory came from.

John McCain's Trip to Baghdad: He Had an Army Behind Him

I sort of missed the details of the whole "McCain to Baghdad" flap when it first happened, so if you did too, here's the deal.

So, what's going on in your neck of the woods? Keep up the cat-blogging.


Blogger charvakan said...

The next time we meet, remind me to give you a short tutorial on dependent origination. Although the Buddha did not believe in a soul per se, the whole point of his doctrine was to get off the merry-go-round of rebirth. He had an amazingly subtle view about how karma and the rest of the psychic baggage get re-embodied, but he did explicitly endorse remembrances of past lives, if the scriptures are to be believed. Indeed, the entire Jatakas is about the Buddha's former lives (although I seriously doubt that the Buddha ever told these stories himself). Remembering past lives was thought to be a sign of progress in the doctrine.

But thanks for the reference to the study on the Shirley MacLaine types. I wonder if there's a similar one on UFO witnesses...

1:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home