Friday, December 12, 2008

Louisville plays Austin Peay tomorrow

The ninth-ranked Cardinals play the OVC champion Austin Peay Governors tomorrow. In case you're not familiar, Peay is pronounced like the letter. Or the vegetable. Or...

Now they're weakening the Endangered Species Act

Yet another "midnight regulation" from the lame duck Bush administration removes "a provision that requires Fish and Wildlife Service scientists to make sure that endangered species won't be harmed by federally approved logging, mining and road-building projects," according to public-interest journalism site ProPublica.

"Now those reviews will be conducted by other federal agencies, like the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Highway Administration."

ProPublica also explains why it will be difficult for Obama to reverse the rule changes. They also have a page that tracks a great many more Bush League midnight regulations. It is truly amazing how many things these criminals are putting in place to gut environmental protections and civil rights. It's as if they were intent on destroying as much as they can on their way out - contaminating our drinking water, mining uranium on the brink of the Grand Canyon, loosening endangered species protections, stripping protections from wilderness areas, lowering air quality standards... allowing federally-funded institutions to deny abortion requests for religious reasons, expanding police surveillance authority, limiting employee access to medical and family leave time... the list goes on and on.

Fortunately, the site also shows which rule changes are still open for public comment and which are closed, finalized, or already in effect. If you can find a few minutes, take a look. Send in your comments on the ones that are still open, and write your representatives about the ones that are under OMB or Congressional review. Once these things go into effect, it can take years to reverse them.

UPDATE: I've also added ProPublica to the blogroll. For some reason, the blogroll is working intermittently on the main page; however, it still works consistently on individual post pages. So if you don't see the blog list, just click on the title of any post and they should appear.

County Fair: NYT's lame effort to hype the Blagobama meme

The MediaMatters County Fair blog summarizes how the media seem to be trying to promote the idea that Rod Blagojevich's "pay for play" scandal has somehow tainted Barack Obama: order for the Beltway press to gin up the Blago story this week, basic journalism guidelines had to be set aside and in some cases brazenly ignored. That's the only way this story worked because simply reporting the facts as presented by the prosecutors would have made it painfully clear that, in terms of Obama's involvement, there was none. In fact, Obama had thwarted Blago's money-making scheme.

But that wasn't the story the press wanted to tell. (i.e. Obama the reformer rebukes corrupt local pol.) So lots of reporters and pundits consciously, and often systematically, took it upon themselves to make the story more appealing.

Of course the sources used in all the stories implying Obama's career is tarnished because he happens to be from Illinois are... drum roll please... Republican leaders. But that fact is always buried several paragraphs deep in stories that breathlessly report that "questions are being raised by some" about what Blago's problems mean about the president-elect.

Your liberal press in action.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Breakthroughs in solar power

From Science Daily, here is an impressive new development in photovoltaic power.
Anna Dyson, an architectural scientist from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, is leading the way to make solar energy a real alternative to pollution-emitting fossil fuels. Her system contains rows of thin lenses that track the sun's movement. Sunlight floods each lens and is focused onto a postage-stamp sized, high-tech solar cell. Dyson says, "Really, what we want to do is be capturing and transferring that energy for usable means."
Conventional solar systems are about 14 percent efficient. This system has a combined heat and power efficiency of nearly 80 percent. "What they're doing is very efficiently capturing and transferring that light into electricity and the solar heat into hot water," Dyson explains.

Watching the video, I get the impression these are best suited to large-scale use - office buildings, malls, and such. They have a lot of moving parts, and they can't be cheap to make.

But there's been another breakthrough more likely to show up in your home: researchers are reporting record efficiencies for dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). And although an efficiency of 10% doesn't sound very exciting compared to the 80% Dyson is claiming, or even the 14% achieved by conventional cells, it's a record for DSSCs, which have lots of other advantages. They're cheap to make, can be fashioned into flexible sheeting, and are tough enough to take on the elements without being encased in glass. They also work better in low-light environments. Until recently, these cells topped out at about 7% efficiency; they also degraded quickly with exposure to heat and UV light. The new cells are more stable at high temperatures and retain high output after long hours in direct sunlight.

AutoBlogGreen added to the blogroll

I've been reading AutoBlogGreen for months; I dunno why it hadn't occurred to me until now to add it to the Random Blogroll. The blog covers all things automotive that relate to the ecology - hybrids, PHEVs, biodiesel, hypermiling techniques, you name it. They cover all the major auto shows, and report on a lot of sponsored competitions (like the Automotive X-Prize); they feature many photo galleries of concept cars and new releases. And on Fridays they usually post something amusingly quirky. If you like cars and you care about the environment, enjoy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is the Right Wing really dead?

There's been a lot of talk since the historic events of November 4 to the effect that the right wing has suffered a fatal blow, that the crazies have been repudiated and the Republican Party is going to be on the outside looking in until it finds its way back to the center.

The hoo-hah over Illinois Gov. Blagojevich and his "pay for play" scandal is revealing. The media - including a lot of mainstream outlets - are giving it a lot more coverage than they ever devote to Republicans in trouble, and painting it as problematic (or worse) for Illinois Democrats from Jesse Jackson, Jr., to Barack Obama. And they're using it as an excuse to revive all manner of guilt-by-association innuendo against the president-elect in particular. (Did you know, they ask with a wink and a nudge, that Blagojevich once held the very House seat later occupied by Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel? Surely some corruption cooties rubbed off.)

The mainstream media, one can hope, will tire of this silly game soon. Obama, after all, not only refused to play ball, but seems to have set in motion the events that brought Blagojevich down. But they've already planted the seed. Meanwhile, the Billos and Hannitys of the far right never let a little thing like reality get in the way of a good smear campaign. They'll harp on this forever.

Truth be told, the GOP lost the 2008 elections because the economy is in the shitter, and as the party in power, they got the blame. Prosperity and economic security are the change the voters want. There are hard times coming, and when people realize Obama can't wave a magic wand and undo the damage of the last 28 years, there will be a backlash. The right-wing hatemongers need seduce only so many minds back to the Dark Side in order to get back into a position of influence; and they will never stop trying. I'd like to think America has wised up to their cynical game, but I'm not convinced. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More doomsday forecasts

This is scary. It seems like just about everyone who foresaw the current economic crisis now says it's just the tip of the iceberg.
"...the U.S. will enter a long period which could be worse than the Great Depression... might lead to martial law..."
"...severe stagnation and deflation... food riots..."
"...the U.S. will go bankrupt sooner or later..."
"...'capitalism I' is over, and things will get very bad before we get to a new form of 'capitalism II'..."
"...our entire modern society will crash and break down..."

How to prepare for the coming depression? A quick, unscientific survey of web sites seems to reveal three prevalent threads:
  1. Stock up on dry beans and canned goods, and learn to garden and can your own veggies;
  2. Buy gold and other precious metals, which will hold their value through collapse of the currency system; and
  3. Be prepared to live off the land and to ward off aggressors - this means getting weapons and learning to use them for hunting and self-defense.

NOTE: This is not an endorsement of any of the above predictions or advice. But they sure do provide food for thought.

Dactyl fractal

This is cool.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bush's mad rush to destroy American waterways

A flurry of activity by the lame-duck Bush administration provides fresh examples of the truth of my favorite Jim Hightower quote.
Yesterday, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a new guidance document to clarify how many of the nation's waterways will not, for Clean Water Act purposes, be protected....
The day before, the Administration approved new rules that would legalize the practice of dumping mining waste from coal mining into streams....
Factory feedlots will also benefit from a last-minute Bush rule -- 15,000 of them would be issued a get-out-jail-free pass saying they don't have to comply with the Clean Water Act as long as they promise they won't pollute.

How much more can this imbecile wreck in the 46 days remaining to him?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Self-charging cell phones?

I guess this would be the 21st century equivalent of the self-winding watch: a charging circuit that uses tiny piezoelectrics to power electronic devices such as cell phones and mp3 players by grabbing the energy from sound waves in the air.
"When materials are brought down to the nanoscale dimension, their properties for some performance characteristics dramatically change," said [Texas A&M ChemEng prof. Tahir] Cagin who is a past recipient of the prestigious Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology. "One such example is with piezoelectric materials. We have demonstrated that when you go to a particular length scale – between 20 and 23 nanometers – you actually improve the energy-harvesting capacity by 100 percent."

How much energy would be saved if we could unplug all the wall warts that we use to power our electronics? One estimate says they use more than 58 billion kilowatt-hours, wasting $3.5 billion annually in standby losses alone (because they typically draw 3-4 watts of power even when they're not being used) and consuming the output of 10 large power plants - and that's just in the United States.

Of course we can avoid the standby losses by unplugging the damn things when we aren't using them, or by using the more modern "switching mode" power supplies, which only draw current when they're actually being used; but it would be even better if our electronic devices could just convert ambient noise to the juice they need to power themselves.