Reverend Wright's Wrong Timing


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post, Reuters

I do not presume to judge anyone else's method of worship. I do know bad timing when I see it and Reverend Jeremiah Wright's pre-primary media blitz seems designed, unintentionally or not, to benefit John McCain, while distracting from the real issues of the campaign (four-dollar gasoline, war, recession, health care, cronyism, the need to reduce in the influence of special interests...).

Barack Obama's response:
He does not speak for me; he does not speak for the campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when that I say that I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am and anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign's about, I think will understand that it [Wright's position] is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country. [snip] The fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate, is something that not only makes me angry, it also saddens me.
Senator Obama pointed out which of Wright's comments most angered him, including Wright's conspiracy theories on AIDS and other conspiracy issues, Wright's denigration of the U.S.'s fight against terror, his statement that Obama's denunciation of Wright's remarks was political posturing and Wright's claim that Farrakhan was an "important voice." To which Senator Obama responded that Wright's comments were: appalling, ridiculous, outrageous and offensive. David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, was asked by Chris Matthews about the Wright's 'speaking tour':
I must say it wouldn't be my first choice. I think Reverend Wright felt that he had been done a disservice in this process and he decided to go public and he did and, frankly, the news media was very eager to accommodate that. He had three hours on the cable stations last night and the coverage this morning and so he's gotten himself quite a platform.
Matthews replied that it was hard to understand why, after Obama had been so sensitive in the way he distanced himself "and yet in payment for that, the Reverend Wright goes on this book tour basically, to basically put it back in his face."

Axelrod replied that it is not about Senator Obama; that Reverend Wright was speaking for Reverend Wright.

Why is Wright doing it? Is it the Wright book that's coming out? Did he not like Barack Obama's thoughtful speech on race? Is he giving Senator Obama permission to completely disassociate from him? Or was it the way that the Senator disassociated himself from Wright's most outrageous remarks that prompted this response? Is there any doubt now that Reverend Wright, regardless of his positions, falls into that curious corner of American politics of what-to-do-about-those-who-are-in-your-world-but-do-not-speak-for-you.

This is unlike John McCain's unashamed courtship of Pastor John Hagee, despite Hagee's description of Catholicism as "a Godless theology of hate" and his statement that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment wrought upon New Orleans for a gay pride parade, because McCain actively sought Hagee's endorsement...


EPA Scientists confirm political interference


The Union of Concerned Scientists has released an online survey of thousands of EPA scientists in which over half the scientists cited political interference in their work and their findings.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded with the simple yet profound charge "to protect human health and the environment." Yet a new UCS survey of scientists at the agency reveals that challenges from industry lobbyists and some political leaders have led to the suppression and distortion of EPA scientific findings--to the detriment of both science and the health of our nation.
Henry Waxman, D-CA, has called the findings "disturbing." He plans to pursue the issue at an Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in which [EPA Administrator] Stephen Johnson is scheduled to testify.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists complain they have been victims of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their findings, according to a survey released Wednesday by an advocacy group. ~snip~ "The investigation shows researchers are generally continuing to do their work, but their scientific findings are tossed aside when it comes time to write regulations," Grifo said.
An EPA spokesman attempted to minimize the findings, attributing the discontent to the "passion" scientists have for their work.

This is not the first time in recent months that the EPA has come under scrutiny. In March, information came to light that President Bush had intervened on a smog standard and about an ongoing cat and mouse game on greenhouse emissions between the EPA and 18 states now suing the federal agency...

Gamers as Leaders


How does playing video games prepare you for the 21st century? What skills do you learn that you will need for your future? This article explains how multiplayer online games prepare the players for a world where they need specific attributes to be competitive.

The digital native is someone who has been part of the gaming world most of their lives. Games can prepare them for their future. Gamers learn leadership skills. From The Gamer Disposition by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, I realized that there are multiple characteristics that can also prepare gamers to be leaders in the business and education worlds. The multiplayer online games expect users to be quick, be able to adapt and evolve as games change, and know the rules, tips, and even make the rules as they progress through this new type of social system.

Brown and Thomas share five key attributes as character traits that players bring into their games:

* They are bottom-line oriented. Games have embedded assessments where gamers compare with one another where they rank, their title and points, and they share with each other how they can improve their ranking.

* They understand the power of diversity
. Teamwork is the only way a gamer can work in this social system. They need to talk to each other and determine what strengths each member has on their team so they can improve their score.

* They thrive on change
. Games are evolving during the game. Gamers have to think on their feet while they make quick decisions and actually have to be in charge of managing change.

* They see learning as fun
. The fun they experience is learning how to overcome obstacles, seeking out problems and then letting other gamers know the strategies they used to solve the problems.

* They marinate on the “edge.”
Gamers look for alternative strategies and innovative solutions for a better way to solve problems. They are making it up as it happens so they cannot only understand the game, they can reinvent the game.
Consider in the World of Warcraft, a Guild Master has all the fundamentals of a leader. They create a vision with a set of values that attract others; find and recruit players that fit with their vision; they form apprenticeships for new players; they coordinate and manage how the group is governed; and mediates any disputes.

In ongoing conversations about gamers, the question that keeps rising to the top is “are gamers born or made?” Thomas and Brown reframe that question in the context of the challenges emerging for the 21st century workplace. It really doesn’t matter what skills you have to play a particular game; it is how talented you are in attracting the right people to work with you on your quest.

If we take this a step beyond to education and what classrooms look like today, gamers or those with gamer characteristics are lost and their talents are not tapped. This is the same with teachers who think out of the box, who develop an open environment where there are no right or wrong answers and allow creation of questions that encourage more questions. This is happening in pockets within public and private schools with creative and innovative teachers and administrators who are willing to take some risks that demonstrates that this type of learning environment engages students in the learning process and motivates them to want to learn more...


Golf and the Environment


Golf courses can be breathtaking in their beauty, places where traditions have been passed on from parent to child, where business has long been conducted between peers and rivals, where some of the world's greatest athletes have provided decades of entertainment and, more recently, places of breakthroughs in race, gender and the awareness (not entirely solved) of the prior exclusion of both.

They have also been, historically, pesticide and chemically ridden in order to maintain the pristine environments.

That began to change after a 1995 meeting at Pebble Beach between the major golfing organizations and environmental groups. However, according to a survey conducted by Golf Digest Magazine for their May 2008 issue, there may still be some greens to reach in regulation
Today, 13 years later [post the 1995 conference], after five national conferences and dozens of smaller meetings and workshops, they're still talking. Improvements have been made, reports, guidelines and educational videos have been published, and the effort -- which has become known as the Golf & Environment Initiative -- has allowed the game to claim it's cleaning up its act.


Before the 1995 meeting, there were serious issues surrounding golf and its impact on the environment and, despite much self-congratulatory hyperbole from the gold industry about environmental sensitivity, sustainability and stewardship and the obligatory eco-claims of every new golf resort, there are still plenty of serious problems today.
The article goes on to cite current and upcoming problems and a general attitude that falls somewhere between genuine concern to doing just enough not to get criticized.

The problems? Where the courses are built and how they're maintained. The pending water crisis as climate change intensifies and the pesticides that blanket many of the courses in the need to keep the greens green...

NASA rolls out the 'Green Carpet' for Earth Day


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is commemorating Earth Day with a 'Green Carpet' campaign of press conferences, features on NASA TV, links and new photos of the earth taken from the latest shuttle missions.

NASA's mission has always been to explore, to discover and to understand the world in which we live from the unique vantage point of space, and to share our newly gained perspectives with the public.
Their programming includes some of the most stunning images seen to date, including this view of Earth taken from the International Space Station:

There may be only one place in the universe which can be the subject of 300,000 and counting photos and still never get old. It is the same place that astronauts spend hours upon hours of their free time watching, for months, yet still can't get enough. It's not a distant galaxy, or a spectacular nebula. It's simply home -- our planet Earth.

Of all the things astronauts speak of after their flights, the view of Earth remains their most consistent, indescribable, awe-inspiring constant.

The NASA programming will continue throughout the day and, as ever, their archives are worthy of frequent and continued exploration, as the view they give of the Earth does make every day Earth Day...

Earth Day 2008


The U.N. celebrates an Earth Day on the March equinox, as founded by peace activist John McConnell in 1969. A second Earth Day, founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, is celebrated on April 22.
In September 1969, at a conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on the environment. Senator Nelson first proposed the nationwide environmental protest to thrust the environment onto the national agenda.” "It was a gamble," he recalls, "but it worked."
The U.S. State Department's America.Gov site ("telling America's story") has an article entitled: "What is Earth Day?"
Washington -- Earth Day, April 22, is the annual U.S. celebration of the environment and a time for Americans to assess the work still needed to protect the natural gifts of our planet. Earth Day has no central organizing force behind it, though several nongovernmental organizations work to keep track of the thousands of local events in schools and parks that mark the day. It affirms that environmental awareness is part of the country's consciousness and that the idea of protecting the environment -- once the province of a few conservationists -- has moved from the extreme to the mainstream of American thought.
There are Earth Day activities world wide, including observances by:

U.S. Identifies Tainted Heparin in 11 Countries


Contamination in the blood thinner Heparin that was produced in China has been discovered in eleven countries, accounting for 81 deaths in the United States, so far.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug center, said that German regulators uncovered a cluster of illnesses among dialysis patients who took contaminated heparin. She said Chinese officials had conceded that heparin produced in their country contained a contaminant, though they say it was not connected to the illnesses.

“Heparin should not be contaminated, regardless of whether or not that contamination caused acute adverse events,” Dr. Woodcock said. “We are fairly confident based on the biological information that we have had that this contaminant is capable of triggering these adverse reactions.”

Heparin is one of the oldest drugs currently still in widespread clinical use. It was discovered in 1916 at Johns Hopkins and entered clinical trials in 1935. It was originally isolated from dog's liver cells (hepar is Greek for liver"), then moved to beef membranes as a source and can be attributed to the research of Jay McLean and William Henry Howell.

FDA officials said the man-made chemical compound known as over-sulfated chondroitin sulfate is cheap and abundant. It mimics heparin when tested, but is not naturally occurring and not something that would be part of the normal production chain for heparin.

Heparin in China is made from slaughtered pigs. The Chinese, while acknowledging the contaminate, an additive that mimics Heparin but is non-functional as a drug (much like Melamine mimicked ingredients in pet food with disastrous results), have denied it has caused the illnesses and deaths. This new report contradicts that claim...

Creating Drinking Water from Air


According to U.S. Government estimates, at least 36 states will face water shortages in the next five years, as available supplies decrease due to drought, rising temperatures, population and inefficient management.

Tensions created by mandatory conservation restrictions have turned neighbors against each other by reporting to the water police suspected illegal watering based on a lawn that was simply too green.

However, there is some good environmental news. Companies and individuals have developed technologies to capture water vapors in our air to create drinking water or to capture and collect dew.

These water makers may not end the severe water shortage, but they can
decrease the demand on our shrinking potable water supplies by providing useful conservation measures for drought-ridden communities. Water makers are providing drinking water to some of our troops in Iraq and have the capability to provide entire small villages with potable water when natural supplies are nonexistent or polluted.

Water makers are not a new technology. Fans of George Lucas's Star Wars may remember the home planet for the Skywalker family and Ben Kenobi was Tatooine, where the poor inhabitants were mostly moisture farmers who harvested water vapor from the atmosphere rather than growing crops by using a moisture vaporator. The harvested water was then used to recharge groundwater basins and reservoirs.

Back on planet Earth, it was theorized that the ancient Crimean city of Feodosiya [founded as Theodosia by Ionian Greek colonists from Miletus in the 6th Century BCE] used an air well constructed of stacks of stones as condensers and terra cotta pipes connected to wells and fountains to supply the city with water.

In the early 1900's,
rock air wells shaped similar to a bell with lots of "windows" were constructed to capture atmospheric humidity. The theory was that the air would be chilled by the rows of slates inside, deposit its moisture on the slates, and then the moisture would trickle from the slates to a collecting basin at the bottom of the well.

Many other water maker ventures were tried over the years with varying degrees of success. One interesting example is the use of
underground tunnels constructed to collect humidity in desert areas, such as Afghanistan, which are now used to evade US troops...


Bush Speech Shakes Up Paris Climate Talks


At the U.S. sponsored climate meeting in Paris this week (third in a series), everyone was abuzz with the news that President Bush had chosen to offer his approach to greenhouse gases as the Paris talks opened:

The Bush speech was aimed largely at a domestic audience. Bush's aides said it was aimed at heading off a "train wreck" of varying legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Timed for Paris but not about Paris, a meeting that is the result of the U.S. inability to sort climate change at the
Bali meeting in December, which led to the follow-up meetings taking place parallel to the UN meetings on the replacement for the Kyoto Accord.

Confused yet?

Confusing and frustrating because not enough is being done and now President Bush, in his Rose Garden declaration, insists he has a better idea of how to lower greenhouse gases before it's too late, when the consensus is that the policies he's proposed are too little too late:
The meetings are part of a U.S.-sponsored series of negotiations on global warming. They involve representatives from the countries that produce 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for heating the planet — including the United States, the 27-nation European Union, China and India.

Schalkwyk said Bush's speech "takes us backward," because it did not call for mandatory emissions cuts. Such cuts are central to U.N. negotiations on a follow-up plan to the Kyoto Protocol. Delegates from the European Commission and the EU presidency found Bush's strategy "disappointing," said the chief U.N. climate change official, Yvo de Boer.
Two weeks ago, I flew to London and then on to Scotland to find it covered in snow -- all of the UK. Which, of course, has been fodder for deniers who don't understand that climate change means climate instability and the cooler La Nina year we're experiencing will not necessarily be kind enough to repeat itself in 2009...

A Life Well Lived


Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

My mom passed away last week. I would deal with the difficulty of this loss without writing about it if it weren't for the fact that she was too extraordinary for silence. Not because she was my mother, but in deference to a remarkable person who lived through iconic times and left her mark upon them.

You see, Rosalie Ritz was a reporter and courtroom artist who covered trials for Associated Press and CBS ranging from the McCarthy hearings to Sirhan, from the Pentagon Papers to Patty Hearst to the OJ civil trial. My mother was also a painter and a sculptor who placed in juried shows at the Corcoran, the Smithsonian and Flower Galleries, with many of her courtroom sketches finding a home at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Rosalie Ritz , a premier courtroom artist who for four decades chronicled dozens of high-drama trials, including those of Charles Manson, Patty Hearst and O.J. Simpson, has died...An accomplished artist while still in her teens, Ritz began sketching live events when she was living in Washington, D.C., and got into a closed session of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. A CBS-TV producer offered to buy her sketches, and they were shown on the Edward R. Murrow news show.

An artist's work lives beyond them. I know this. I also know another side to the terrific woman who was my mother and who was such a large part of our lives. I know this through my experience as the youngest of her four daughters and through her photographs and her memories: The worried child, the seventh of ten children, whose father died when she was nine, leaving her mother to face the Depression with her large brood alone; the fresh-faced seventeen year-old who drew portraits with fellow artists during the Second World War; the brief foray as a sought-after starlet who bore a striking resemblance to a young Ann Bancroft; the queen of the dance who'd charmed the young athlete just home from the war, a handsome hero who courted her by walking on his hands down the steps of a Washington D.C. monument and swam across a lake to prove himself to her.

My father asked two things of my mother when he proposed to her: Learn to play golf, learn to play bridge. She loved him enough to marry him despite the un-artist-like requests. But he must have seen her potential, because she became a scratch golfer, the best any of us have seen, a swing was that pure its accuracy. She also regularly beat my father at bridge, hoist on his own petard, as it were, as she struggled to raise the first two of her four dynamic and rambunctious daughters while her patriotic husband fought the rising paranoia of the McCarthy years.

Her entry to that world came when she brought her sketchpad and drew the scenes as his patriotism was challenged and then emphatically reaffirmed; a series of sketches that went on to become a career.

This came through a promise my father (whose story is just as remarkable) made to himself during the Korean War; a stopover in San Francisco that became a yearning to move there. A wish fulfilled fifteen years later when a career opportunity presented itself; not an easy proposition for his wife, an artist growing in popularity in our nation's capital, to pack up and follow her husband across the country to his new job in public service with her young children in tow.

But she did it.

I can remember, as a little girl, stopping at the door of the plane (no loading bridges then), blinking up at the deep blue of the California sky. Our family getting lost on the drive from the airport to the East Bay, a side trip through Berkeley that was fascinating to me and worrisome to my mother. A new world without friends or family or career.

She found schools for her daughters, fixed up the house that took three months to be ready, introduced us to California artichokes dipped in butter, painted a remarkable golden tree on an interior wall to give the new house character and then found herself as she sat on a bench and sketched the colorful characters that inhabited the Haight-Ashbury district of the late sixties.

The sketches were picked up by a city magazine and then in the city newspaper. Talent that could not be ignored. From there, a local news station contracted her to sketch a trial and then another and another (there were so many big trials in California those days). Then the wire services took notice, a career reborn that included facing some of the best and worst of history, sketching entire scenes in minutes, emotions and action, rushing to the station to turn her work in, then rushing home to feed us.

During which she was presented the AP Award of Excellence.

My job as her youngest was two-fold: one assigned by my mother and another I took upon myself. The former, to sharpen her colored pencils in the morning (manually -- I look upon the automatic sharpener as one of the great inventions in history), the latter to quietly break my mother's cigarettes in two and place them back in each new carton and then to run like the devil that I was to the pasture where I kept the horse she had gotten for me. I would lay upon my equine friend's back while he ate and I read my latest book -- I lived for books then -- and look up to find her leaning on the fence with a look on her face that said: how are we going to work this out?

We fought about it for a while, that period of time every mother and daughter faces when they're trying to figure each other out. Then, finally, we talked about it. She'd been given the cigarettes during the Second World War, like so many of her generation, tricked into an addiction that was not in her personality, a chemical dependency, the anger at which was the nascent beginnings of my environmentalism. Then she did what she always did. Took the trouble to think about my concerns.

And in the middle of her stress and her work and her responsibility to take care of her children, she threw out the cigarettes and never smoked again.

More trials and triumphs followed in my parents' work and in their lives. A famous boxer (before he was famous) that both my parents believed in and supported; my father's decision to begin his own business; the drug addiction recovery foundation they helped to become established; the many friends that covered trials with my mother, reporters and lawyers who would fill our house with literate and erudite conversation. Her fascination with politics, the careful reading of newspapers, the discussions of the latest 60 Minutes episodes, a ritual in our household; the patience my mother showed as I began to show abilities with music and writing, the way she would shush others and listen with an understanding at the deep place I was exploring, a muse with which she was exceedingly familiar.

I can remember, as a three year old, one of my earliest memories (the other was climbing up to my father's chair while he was reading and identifying the word "the" on the page), standing at the door of my mother's studio to let her know I had to go and her expression, torn between helping me and the desire to sculpt my pleading face with the clay in her hands.

She did both.

My mother once gave me a book, Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev, the story of an artist torn between the obligation of his cultural tradition and his talent. I knew, as I read it, this was her story and it would have been mine, had she not warned me to face my art and my life and to realize that I would be required to balance the two.

"My girls can do anything they put their mind to." That's what she would tell us. My sisters, each of them accomplished and amazing women, lived up to that prediction better than I have, but she gave me the courage to believe that I could.

It was the cigarettes that got her in the end, though she'd quit decades earlier, after a life well lived and the loss of the beloved husband she'd shared her life with for sixty-one years of marriage. I told one of my sisters, as we faced the numbing truth that this elegant pillar of strength would no longer be with us, our lives would be boring without her. Her art will live on. Our love of this country, our fascination with its politics, her unique way of looking at the world, all that will live on through her children, her grandchildren and a new great-granddaughter she faced her illness to meet. It was her courage that sustained her in the end and it was impressive. Life will be more boring without her.

Rest in peace, Mom.


History Lessons


Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

In her recent speech at the Conference on World Affairs, Rachel Maddow cited James Madison's warning about the unitary executive, the propensity of an unchecked executive branch to lean toward war, whereas the legislature would be more likely to debate the issue before moving toward conflict.

Maddow's supposition, that the Bush administration's seeming incompetence, its torture memos, its rush to war, was by design -- Bush and Cheney's direct effort to shift power to the executive and, thereby, to shift the entire country to a more warlike stance -- does have historical precedence.

I'm not referring to Madison, though he did warn of this, or Jefferson, who raised prescient concern about undue influence, but earlier in history to the systems that Madison and Jefferson used as the inspiration for their grand experiment: The Roman Republic of Caesar's time and the Greek democracy of Solon.

This is not to say that George W. Bush is Julius Caesar or that any of his lawgivers (like the ones who approved that torture memo) are Solon. But there are interesting parallels to the way that Caesar and his contemporaries used war to further their wealth and political ambitions, as well as to the actions that Solon's contemporaries took to undermine codified law.

Need a better seat in the Roman Senate? Get yourself posted to Hispania (Spain). Need funds to run a campaign for consul (president) or junior consol (vice-president)? Go to war with Gaul (France).

Need to prove yourself in an ill-timed, ill-thought out adventure in Parthia (Syria, Iraq, Iran)? Be like Crassus and attack preemptively and get your army decimated in the process.

For Solon, the author of democracy? Have a law that your opponents don't like? Make it good for ten years after you leave office. Solon did that with laws we'd likely support (limiting unfair financial practices toward the poor...). Bush? Tax cuts for the rich. Which would have been fine with the corporate interests in Greece (known as oligarchs - that's where the word comes from), who made sure Solon's attempts at fairness wouldn't last by overthrowing his protégé, Pisistratus, leading to periods of instability broken only by the need for the people came together to fight a common enemy (interchangeable between Persia, the Peloponnesians, Philip of Macedonia...).

Alexander and his successors put a stop to that (for a while), after which, Rome reduced Greece to a province in their march to rule the world. But the struggles between the wide ideals of democracy and the narrow interests of oligarchy have never gone away. Indeed, it should be familiar to those who look askance at the hundreds of millions of dollars required to run a presidential campaign and are now (finally) questioning how the common interests of the people could have any meaning in such an environment...

Remembering a Virginia Tech Hero: Liviu Librescu


Reprinted from April 18, 2007 in remembrance on the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.

By now, you may have heard of Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Tech professor who was killed as he barricaded the door to give his students time to jump out the second story window of his classroom:

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Librescu's son, Joe Librescu, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home outside Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

A courageous end for this Holocaust survivor who died on Holocaust Remembrance day.

But there's more to Liviu Librescu's story, one that shows his brave act to save his students' lives on Monday was as in character for the professor as the suit and tie he wore everyday to school.

From the NYT article:

When Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, the young Librescu was interned in a labor camp, and then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a central ghetto in the city of Focsani, his son said. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed by the collaborationist regime during the war.

Librescu, who was 76 when he died, later found work at a government aerospace company. But his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist regime, his son said, and he was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel.

Librescu obtained his degree in mechanical engineering and aviation construction in 1953 from Polytechnic University in Bucharest. He went on to earn his doctorate from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and an honorary degree from the Bucharest Polytechnic University in 2000.

His wife, Marlena, at his NY memorial today:

"He was a very human person who wanted to help everybody. He was a hard man also, he wanted everybody to be 100% and he asked from himself this also. He worked very hard, from morning to midnight, he was very anxious to make new discoveries. He was not a young person, but he was so very young."

Marlena Librescu.

Librescu immigrated to Israel where he taught at Tel Aviv University and worked on aeronautical engineering innovations. He first arrived at Virginia Tech on sabbatical in 1985 and stayed on as a teacher and researcher, which included work with NASA, hundreds of published papers and numerous awards...


Salmon fishing canceled off Oregon and California Coasts


Cross-posted on Reuters

As reported in this article from March 12th, 2008, the chinook salmon run in the Sacramento River has collapsed.

This has led to drastic action by the Pacific Fishery Management Council which has canceled all 2008 commercial salmon fishing on the California and Oregon coasts.
Scientists and government officials are expecting this year's West Coast salmon season to be one of the worst in history, because of the collapse of Sacramento River chinook, one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs.

Although commercial salmon fishing off the Washington coast is scheduled to begin May 1, fisheries managers do not predict a good season off either the north or south Pacific coasts.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said before several close votes led to the fisheries plan for 2008.
The decision still must be validated by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, but no one expects it to be overturned. Even the fishermen who had resisted this action in 2006 are not resisting the decision, as they are on the front lines of the missing runs.

The states of Washington, California and Oregon are expected to declare the fishing waters and rivers a disaster area, paving the way for federal assistance.

Farmed raised and Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon will still be available, but chinook salmon is, for now, out of the food chain.
Scientists are studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.
It will not be known until at least next season, maybe longer, whether the salmon will be able to reassert themselves...


Interior Secretary no-show at Senate Polar Bear Hearing


The Bush Administration's Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, was a no-show at last Wednesday's Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee hearing, chaired by Barbara Boxer, on the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species.
"This listing is months overdue, in violation of the Endangered Species Act," the California Democrat said at the hearing of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.

The deadline for a decision was Jan. 9. Conservation groups petitioned to list polar bears as threatened more than three years ago because their habitat, sea ice, is shrinking from global warming.

In a letter to Boxer, Kempthorne said he "respectfully" declined her invitation to appear at the hearing, since he is a named defendant in a lawsuit over the polar bear listing filed by an environmental group.
The hearing did receive testimony from witnesses on climate change projections, emissions, and the potential for oil spills to further impact the polar bear's ability to survive amidst declining sea ice due to warming.

Critics to listing the polar bear as an endangered species include the Interior Department, after its subsidiary, the Fish and Wildlife Service, requested it be added on January 7, 2008. The Interior Department raised the concern that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have the resources to handle the duties that would arise with the change in designation. Other critics, according to this
MSNBC article, have raised a more direct concern that listing the polar bear would limit oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
"It's a professional wildlife agency, not an air-regulating agency," said William Horn, an attorney and former assistant Interior secretary for Fish and Wildlife in the Reagan administration.
To which, Senator Boxer replied: "...sadly, despite the peer-reviewed scientific evidence; despite the opinions of scientists in our own government; despite the fact that we have a strong, successful law to protect imperiled species — the Endangered Species Act — the Bush Administration continues to break the law by failing to make a final decision to list the polar bear."


Harvard Study: Germs in soil thrive on antibiotics


A study just completed by Harvard geneticist, George Church, has discovered hundreds of germs that live in soil are thriving on antibiotics as their only source of nutrition, raising concern that, if dangerous pathogens were to develop this ability, they could render antibiotics useless.
These bacteria outwit antibiotics in a disturbingly novel way, and now the race is on to figure out just how they do it — in case more dangerous germs that sicken people could develop the same ability.

On the other hand, the work explains why the soil doesn't harbor big antibiotic buildups despite use of the drugs in livestock plus human disposal and, well, excretion, too.

The study, as reported last Friday in the journal, Science, was conducted by Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church as part of his Department of Energy grant to research the development of biofuels from agriculture waste; one of many research projects underway to determine if microbes have uses that range from alternative fuels to oil spill remediation.

The surprise was how many bacteria didn't just survive but flourished when fed 18 different antibiotics, natural and manmade ones — including such staples as gentamicin, vancomycin and Cipro — that represent the major classes used in treating people and animals.

The team used soil from parks, forests and antibiotic laden barnyards in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, where they found the bacteria was able to absorb antibiotic levels up to 100 times more than would be prescribed to a human.

"They were not only resistant, they were super-resistant," Church said, "they are capable of living on this stuff for a long, long time."


EPA sued (again) by 18 states over greenhouse gas emission standards


by Janet Ritz,
Martin Muse

Cross-posted on Reuters

Eighteen states, two cities and ten environmental groups filed suit Wednesday against the EPA's refusal to issue a decision on emissions regulation. The filing asks the federal court to compel the EPA to act within 60 days, at which time, further action may be taken.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eighteen states sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for failing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks, one year after the Supreme Court ruled that the agency had the power to do so.

The suit seeks EPA's response to the high court's April 2, 2007, ruling, a landmark decision seen as a sharp defeat for the Bush administration's policy on climate change.

This is another in a string of lawsuits that have been filed by various states to attempt to compel the EPA to take a position on greenhouse gas emissions, after the EPA's refusal to do so prevented California (and the other states that would use California's regulation as a standard) from lowering their own limit in a state regulation.

The plaintiffs include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, the city of New York, the city of Baltimore, the Sierra Club and nine other environmental groups.

The EPA has also received a subpoena from Congress to turn over their correspondence and other paperwork after reports came to light that
President Bush had personally intervened on the decision to lower a key greenhouse gas regulation. The head of the EPA, Stephen Johnson, has also been accused of foot dragging by members of Congress...


Carnegie Study: Climate Requires Near-zero Emissions


Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have just completed a study that has concluded the only way to stabilize the climate is to reduce carbon emissions to a near-zero level:
In the study, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews used an Earth system model at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology to simulate the response of the Earth’s climate to different levels of carbon dioxide emission over the next 500 years. ~snip~

The scientists investigated how much climate changes as a result of each individual emission of carbon dioxide, and found that each increment of emission leads to another increment of warming.

With emissions set to zero in the simulations, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere slowly fell as carbon “sinks” such as the oceans and land vegetation absorbed the gas. Surprisingly, however, the model predicted that global temperatures would remain high for at least 500 years after carbon dioxide emissions ceased.

In our earlier article, Everything but the Oceans' Sink, we explored the connection between global warming and the inability of the Southern Ocean to absorb C02. Caldeira and Matthews' study further points to the connection between carbon sinks and the impact on climate stability.
Matthews and Caldeira found that to prevent the Earth from heating further, carbon dioxide emissions would, effectively, need to be eliminated...

Congress grills Big Oil on prices


Cross-posted on Reuters, IBS, USAToday, FoxNews

The top five oil companies, testifying before Representative Edward Markey's (D-MA) Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, insisted that their 125 billion dollar profit last was "in line with other industries."

Representative Markey's take on the profits:
“On April Fool’s Day, the biggest joke of all is being played on American families by Big Oil, while using every trick in the book to keep billions in federal tax subsidies even as they rake in record profits,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. [video]

As reported in this article, Congress to drill for answers on oil prices, both the House and the Senate are holding hearings this week regarding the record profits by oil companies. The House hearings are focusing on the actual profits by the big five oil companies; Exxon Mobile, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

The Senate investigation will be on the impact of investors on rising prices.

Lawmakers were looking for answers to the soaring fuel costs a day after the Energy Department said the national average price of gasoline reached a record $3.29 cents a gallon and global oil prices remained above $100 a barrel although supplies of both gasoline and oil seemed to be adequate.

In November, 2005, Hofmeister and the top executives of the same companies represented Tuesday, sat in a Senate hearing room to explain high prices and their h&uge profits. The prices are of concern, Hofmeister said at the time, adding a note of optimism: "Our industry is extremely cyclical and what goes up almost always comes down," he told the skeptical senators on a day when oil cost $60 a barrel.
Oil recently reached a high of $111 a barrel.

The increase in the price of gasoline is hitting all sectors of the American economy. Truckers, dependent upon high diesel prices, have been particularly hard hit, leading to an increase in the inflation index for the products they carry. This ranges from milk to hardware to the price increase announced by Delta Airlines today due to high fuel costs...

April's protectors of children


April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to show support for abused children (every month should be that) and to raise awareness about the groups working to save their lives.

In support of children, the government has put together a new website, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, to provide coordinated resources and education:

Formerly the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information and the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, Child Welfare Information Gateway provides access to information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families. A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The American Humane Society is another very important resource, long associated with the protection of animals, the society has a history of rescuing children from abusive situations:
American Humane has a long and established history [1877] of protecting children from abuse and neglect. We support the development and implementation of effective community, state, tribal, and national systems to protect children and strengthen families. Through consultation, training, research and evaluation, advocacy, and information dissemination, American Humane continues its legacy of child protection.
American Humane's work in child abuse prevention and support is vital, not only because of the work they do, but because of their efforts to steer the government to provide more consistency in their own practices. As was reported in this 2002 article from the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, entitled Child abuse and neglect:
Over the past 30 years, the political response to child maltreatment and its prevention in the US has experienced periods of frantic activity, often followed by long periods of benign neglect. In reflecting on this history, Dick Krugman has referred to this uneven level of attention as a series of "waves" in which apparent progress is often minimized by an inability to sustain political commitment to a given reform or course of action.

To an extent, this pattern reflects deep differences among child welfare advocates, researchers, and practitioners on how best to proceed. While most everyone agrees that "it shouldn't hurt to be a child," how to prevent this hurt and at what cost is less clear. To address this dilemma, prevention advocates, researchers, and practitioners have struggled with a variety of conceptual frameworks and programmatic reforms...