Smoggiest town is neglected

Smog and asthma for Arvin, CATrapped in a bowl, the California town of Arvin is the Smoggiest Town in America

Even as air pollution continues to decline across the country, a fifth of the air pollution of the entire San Joaquin Valley hovers in Arvin. The dangerous ozone is formed after fumigation of agricultural pesticides but much more so from tailpipes, factories, power plants and even water heaters in far off California cities. [story]

Arvin has no freeways, no heavy industry, and not much traffic, but difficulty breathing is the number one trouble at the community health center where the doctors have asthma as well.

Perhaps 20 percent of children under the age of 18 suffer from asthma and allergies, but no agency seems to be adequately focused on the health burden nor are informing the residents of the challenges they are facing

A third of Arvin’s 15,000 residents live in poverty; a quarter are unemployed [data]. Ninety percent of its 3,000 households are families earning a farmworkers’ wage around $25,000 per year.

Following EPA policy, when the regional Air Resources Board voted to wait until after 2020 to take action – such as first cleaning all the air in California – Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fired the board’s chairman.

At least we should deliver building air cleaners to these people!

A rare account of native schooling

Like an unwelcome memory of youthful stupidity, the residential-schools scandal keeps coming back to haunt us.

But what do we really know about how the residential schools came to be? Only that First Nations kids were stuffed into them for generations and once inside were sexually, physically and culturally abused.

Emma Crosby and Margaret Butcher shared an unquestioned assumption that white Christians had the right and duty to tear native families apart, to deprive children of their own cultures, and to impose Victorian sexual values on them.

‘Protecting’ the girls was implicitly to protect them from their own sexuality, if necessary by strapping them, overworking them, and malnourishing them. Margaret Butcher routinely kept track of the girls’ periods, and woe betide the girl suspected of being pregnant. In hindsight, we can see the foundations being laid for decades of sexual abuse.

This arrogation of control over their converts’ lives seems to have blinded the missionaries to the harm they were doing, so they could shrug off the natives’ death and suffering as just the price to be paid for progress.

Mothers of a Native Hell
Methodist Mission on the Canadian northwest coast from the 1870s to the turn of the century.

Food safety indicator

E.coli outbreak mapWhile food contamination increases, there’s stunning news that more than 40 percent of Canada’s population will suffer from food-borne illnesses this year.

The nation historically has inspected all meat imports and is recently testing all leafy greens after e.coli was found in US imports. There is pressure from citizens to increase inspections because illness linked to foreign food is increasing.

“Produce safety is a relatively new concept and there are still many farms in North America — let alone less-developed countries — that haven’t adopted the systems needed to help prevent problems with food.”

Foreign-grown produce has brought new types of bacteria and food-based illness into Canada in recent years, such as industrial contamination in food from China, a parasite found on soft fruit grown in central South America and salmonella bacteria on bean sprouts and lettuce from the United States.

Under the current system, the primary burden is on food suppliers and retailers to conduct quality and safety tests while the government conducts random checks.

Concern is rising in the US that the food safety system is broken.

Weeks after an already delayed national recall of millions of cans of food, including canned chili sauce contaminated with botulism, the dangerous products have remained on store shelves to sicken a man in Indiana.

The FDA re-issued a press release stating that consumers should notify family members and friends!

The 21st Century food safety challenge is not only in collecting data, where government is excessively focused and unbalanced, but in processing data at speeds that allow people to make decisions and act in every corner of our world.

Modern-day lynching


In a small, still mostly segregated section of rural Louisiana, an all-white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students.

The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the “white tree” at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other.

The jury quickly convicted Bell of two felonies — aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy charges.

The Jim Crow edition of the U.S. Penal Code.

The Geek Rapture

William Gibson:

“We hit a point somewhere in the mid-18th century where we started doing what we think of technology today and it started changing things for us, changing society. Since World War II it’s going literally exponential and what we are experiencing now is the real vertigo of that – we have no idea at all now where we are going.

Will global warming catch up with us? Is that irreparable? Will technological civilisation collapse? There seems to be some possibility of that over the next 30 or 40 years or will we do some Verner Vinge singularity trick and suddenly become capable of everything and everything will be cool and the geek rapture will arrive? That’s a possibility too.”

[link to LunchOverIP]

Game Theory and the toilet seat

toilet seat Halloween costumeThe issue of whether the toilet seat should be left up or down after use seemingly generates a lot of passion among the parties concerned, however, scientific inquiries into the matter are almost non-existent.

Scientific analysis may not offer sufficient insight or support, or it might.

John Nash’s Game Theory [wiki] seems to be failing policy-centered Republican economics, and both urban and hill-country strategy at the Pentagon, and NHTSA’s gamble on hi-way infrastructure, but game theory can successfully help us ponder whether the toilet seat is either up or down.

A paper at The Science Creative Quarterly, in which, with respect to the name, I am as confused as both they and you, uses game theory to demonstrate that all hope is not lost.

This study will “show conclusively that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down after use decreases welfare and by doing that we hope to convince the reader that social norms are not always welfare enhancing.”

The Social Norm of Leaving the Toilet Seat Down:
A Game Theoretical Analysis

There is a case for scientifically examining social norms and educating the masses about the fallacy of following social norms blindly. [via blort]

Stated simply at Wiki, you and I are in Nash’s game theory equilibrium if I am making the best decision I can, taking into account your decision, and you are making the best decision you can, taking into account my decision.

But in the case of the toilet seat, there’s a variation in Game Theory called the “Trembling Hand Perfect Equilibrium” [wiki] which takes into account that the players, through a “slip of the hand” or tremble, may choose unintended strategies that in the case of the toilet seat can affect all of mankind and womankind.

You are your search filter

The Web is its own universe, and our minds would likely collapse if we tried to perceive its vastness.

Without a meaningful interface and a meaningful filter, we would be utterly lost in information overload. As any artist can tell you, the value of the work lies as much in what is left out as in what is kept in.

The word for what should be kept in and what should be left out is ‘relevance’, and there are nearly as many different approaches to relevance as there are websites. Some people use demographics. Some people use history. Some people use social tagging. Some use contextual recommendations.

VortexDNA’s approach is to use the humanity of the individual.

The greening of dying

Did you know that pondering death and burial might help create happy thoughts? The British Psychological Society shows us that thoughts of death turn to joy. It seems that we are so afraid of terror and of our own mortality that we’ve developed a natural tendency to quickly turn to comforting thoughts.

“Death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts,” the researchers said. “Moreover, this occurs immediately and outside of awareness”.

Moving along, happily or not, here are some of the issues and choices ahead that deal with our death and how we will manage our corpse. I hope it’s a lot of fun to read along.

Ash from resomation of the bodyBoil your body? Among other new entries, Resomation Ltd is a British company offering an eco-friendly alternative to cremation that boils bodies into dust. In the process, called resomation, the body is encased in a silk coffin and submerged in water mixed in an alkaline potassium hydroxide, heated to 302 degrees and rapidly reduced to white dust. [story]

A grave concern Around the world, there’s pressure on conventional burial methods from more than its $7,000-15,000 price compared to $600-800 for cremation or for the new process of ‘boiling’. Often unresponsive commercial or church monopolies, conventional cemeteries have severe problems such as the endless maintenance costs, increasing demand for land, and heavy pollution. A pollution-reducing niche is emerging in the $15 billion annual market providing caskets without plastics, foam, vinyl or metal. Regulations are increasing to help eliminate more than 1.5 million tons of reinforced concrete used yearly for unnecessary concrete vaults, to encourage chemical-free clothing, and to limit unnecessary and carcinogenic embalming fluid.

New standards seek to impose limits on the removal of tree cover, limit structures for memorials, visitors and parking, lower water pollution from degrading coffins and vaults, reducing the use of machinery, herbicides, fertilizer and the leaching of embalming fluid. To help free land, grave re-use after 50-100 years is being considered as well as designs that increase grave site congestion or the use of vertical coffins, [youtube:]

Heavy concrete vaults surrounding a casket were originally developed to thwart grave robbers in order to regulate a black market for cadavers. Embalming became necessary before refrigeration was common. Neither practice is necessary today and seldom required by law.

Cremation ovenCremation pollution In case you were wondering, there are over 100 pounds of emissions during cremation including particulates, carbon gases, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, cadmium, mercury, lead and dioxins. New emission and carbon-reducing equipment standards for cremation ovens may be completed by 2010. Plus the human body is about 95% water which must be evaporated into steam at 212 degrees before burning the remainder into ash at 1800 – 2000 degrees using about 400 cubic feet of natural gas over two hours or more. For the 25% of Americans that choose cremation, three to nine pounds of bone and ash fragments remain for disposal such as casting into a concrete marine reef. For $500, a ‘symbolic portion’ of ashes in a lipstick-size canister can be launched into space. At these ticket rates, an entire body might cost $50 million!

Bio-degradable coffinOwls and Orchids Princess Diana promoted the idea of woodland burial, an emerging alternative to conventional lawn graves and cremation. Woodland or wildflower cemeteries use biodegradable coffins in graves that will forever mingle with birds, bats, insects, lichens and trees. Requiring much less maintenance, pushing up daisies in woodland cemeteries can be in “vastly more interesting places than many parks, with a wildlife value that possibly exceeds that of many nature preserves.” [eco-cementary wiki]

Biodegradable coffins are arriving in the market. SeatllePI offers a story about the trend featuring a recycled paper coffin, the Ecopod, sold in the US by the Natural Burial Co. [please notice their new URL at] The Green Burial Council is a nonprofit that is pioneering new ethical and environmentally sustainable practices, and seeking”to use the burial process as a means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and stewardship of natural areas” to create a permanent Conservation Burial Ground. There’s a list on their website of “approved providers” expanding to 25 states, plus assistance for home funerals and burial on private land.

NPR has posted a podast by Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial. Green Burial Portal The Natural Burial Co-operative, Center for Natural Burial is vigorously retrieving data and posting trends about natural burial. A map hack points to operating and proposed natural sites in both the USA and Canada. Their report on conventional burial reveals an important consideration: “The whole operation will take less than a week and cost your heirs and family more than the price of a new car.”

A ten-acre swatch of cemetery ground will contain enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, nearly a thousand tons of casket steel and another twenty thousand tons of concrete for vaults. Across North America enough metal is diverted into coffin and vault production each year to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and enough concrete is used to build a two-lane highway from Toronto to Montreal… and back again.

Redwoods and Ravens The SF Chronicle has an article about progress in Marin County, California, where there’s a new back-to-nature movement for the dead. One of the pioneers of green burial sites in the US, Tyler Cassity of Forever Fernwood sees gre en graves located wherever appropriate space can be found – under greenbelts, wilderness and parklands – using GPS and the Web to locate graves, check on maintenance and provide a memorial in a digital age.

Update: Promessa in Sweden is offering new options in Corpseware and ecological dying.

The corpse is frozen in liquid nitrogen. The very brittle body is vibrated into powder and buried in a corn-starch casket to safely decompose within 6-12 months.

 MindHacks posted to a social history of death and dying with links to the BBC’s Thinking Allowed.

Not interested in any of these choices?
If legal in your region, you can sell your body to science.
Use the Cadaver Calculator to learn what your carcass is worth.

Oh, it’s worse than that

via longnow:

BusinessWeek: Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?
Condoleezza Rice: I don’t know what I’ll do long-term. I’m a terrible long-term planner.

A Resolute Condoleezza Rice, BusinessWeek, 23 July 2007

General Wesley Clark: So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.”

We, poor prisoners of our mind

The very idea of the infinite is intolerable to us. It doesn’t fit the model.

Nothing can go faster than the speed of light. There is a fundamental particle that cannot be subdivided. Space is finite. There is no such thing as the square root of negative one — it’s an ‘irrational’ number. We are the crown of creation, the pinnacle of evolution over time, moving inexorably forward, because we are only creature that can understand that time is real, and linear!

Meanwhile, the rest of all-life-on-Earth, including those pesky indigenous tribes that have no words for time, understand that time is a chimera, a construct, a falsity, meaningless outside of the artificial context of other elaborate, fragile civilized human hoaxes.

The ‘moments’ when my life has had most meaning, when I have been most alive, in the real world, connected with all-life-on-Earth, have been those moments when I escaped from time, lived outside of it, became utterly unaware of its absurdity and its constraints. At those moments I was infinite, aware beyond any semantic definition of awareness, so full of love that I became love, and free from everything that has constrained, limited, subdued, deluded, indoctrinated me, made me everybody else. I became naturally myself, and naturally a part.

From Dave Pollard’s how to save the world

‘The Moment is Infinity’ is a book I created, bound in gilded leather and showed a few people before I lost it. Youth has little regard for itself. Has anyone found it?

USA pollutes China

Coca-Cola uses pulltab in ChinaDuring a trip to China, Mike Lin was shocked to find a Coke can with a ring pull-tab.

The ring pull, also known as a rimple, haven’t been used for decades due to sharp edges and litter. A 1975 patented “stay-tab” offered a safe and more environmentally responsible solution now on virtually every aluminum beverage can. “The design is delightfully simple and keeps the tab attached to the can…”

But Coca-Cola is using the pull-tab in China, an “arguably less responsible packaging solution… an obsolete, dangerous and environmentally irresponsible packaging solution… a fraction of a cent cheaper solution….”

Why? What was this for?

Journalism not until now.

Interviews with 50 US war veterans back from Iraq reveal the terrible daily brutality they inflicted on innocent civilians.

Part One: Terrifying house raids; random checkpoint shootings; speeding convoys that wipe out anyone in their path.

Part Two: “It was very graphic,” he said. “A head split open. One of them was of two soldiers in the back of the truck. They open the body bags of these prisoners that were shot in the head and [one soldier has] got an MRE spoon. He’s reaching in to scoop out some of his brain, looking at the camera and he’s smiling.”

Part Three: Sergeant Mejía recalled an incident in Ramadi in July 2003 when he watched an unarmed man drive with his young son too close to a checkpoint. The father was decapitated in front of the small, terrified boy by a member of Sergeant Mejía’s unit firing a heavy .50-caliber machine gun. By then, Sergeant Mejía noted, “this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment.” The next month, Sergeant Mejía returned stateside for a two-week rest and refused to go back, launching a public protest over the treatment of Iraqis. (He was charged with desertion, sentenced to one year in prison and given a bad-conduct discharge.)

A unique investigation by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, with responses from several of the veterans.

New chemical oversight rules

REACH is the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals law in Europe.

WorldChanging says it will fundamentally change the game for materials and chemicals.

REACH requires all chemicals sold or used in Europe to be registered. Manufacturers or distributors must supply a chemical’s properties, materials safety data sheets, risk management guidelines, and safety measures for downstream users.

More than 1,500 hazardous chemicals will require permission from the European Commission to use; some chemicals will not be allowed at all.

The government is not burdened with proving a chemical is harmful. It falls to industry to evaluate toxicity.

REACH covers all chemicals, both substances and mixtures, existing and new. It includes not only the chemicals a company makes, but all the chemicals contained in a product the company sells or used used in manufacturing.

REACH governs intentionally released chemicals such as printer ink and non-intentionally released chemicals such as dye in jeans; any amount more than one metric ton per year produced or imported into Europe.

Consumers or groups may request safety and environmental impact data from manufacturers. While there are many loopholes, a landmark database will be open to anyone, but proprietary chemical data may be available only to regulators.

Fingerprints carry whereabouts

chemicals in fingerprintsA new lab method can see chemicals in an individual fingerprint — everything from dirt, paint, ink, spilled caffeine to incriminating particles of explosives.

Using infrared spectroscopy, the technique is a ‘chemical photograph’ of traces on a person’s hands. The print is examined at different depths to distinguish between chemicals in a print and those already on a surface

Investigators already gather DNA from prints and identify drugs in sweat.

Now fingerprints reveal where you’ve been and what you’ve eaten.

Endless inherent contempt

The first time law enforcement raided Congress was under the Bush Administration.

And they were abusing power.

The court found that the raid violated the Constitution.

Congress operates as a co-equal branch of government without being intimidated by the law enforcement powers of the executive branch.

The unanimous three-judge panel ordered the FBI to give Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson back all privileged legislative files, including copies, taken from his office during the unprecedented raid. [reuters]

Petty pet tyranny

Portrait painting of pets63% of U.S. households own a pet; 40% a dog.

73.9 million dogs are owned in the U.S.

Pet spending in 2005 was over $35 billion!

$2.4 billion was spent on grooming.

Towns, cities, counties, and States are making many new laws, often forcing dogs into chain-link compounds, er, dog parks. Convenient control. Dastardly efficient, and wrong.

In Germany, protests have swelled with as many as 12,000 marching against repressive dog laws.

Were owners more able to understand their pets, to select appropriate pets, and to access adequate guidance, governments would be less able to justify repressive rules.

Animal ‘protection’ laws often exceed their goal of protecting animal welfare and extend into managing human behavior as well. These laws belong neither to the ideological “right” nor to the “left,” and rules made to protect animals fall sometimes within a progressive agenda, sometimes within a repressive one.

“We tend to think that the history of animal protection is simply about the relationship of humans to other animals, or that it is coupled to liberalism and other movements of liberation from feudalism to modernity.

But Kathleen Kete at Cabinet Magazine states that what is at stake in the history of animal protection is power… A Beastly Agenda.

“Puritans in England in 1654 issued the Protectorate Ordinance, the first legislation in Europe against cruelty to animals.

The law was passed during the radical stage of the English Civil War as part of the Puritan program to reform “mankind” and establish a godly republic on earth. It was part of a widespread attack on popular recreations – such as dancing round the maypole – which were believed to distract the lower classes from their main duties to be sober and Godfearing.

Reading the Bible led Puritans to the conclusion that humans have a duty to, if not be kind to animals, at least not cause them any unnecessary pain.

“Animals, too, were expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. We are responsible for their state of suffering and therefore have a duty to mitigate their suffering as much as possible.”

Our place within the natural world is often reflected in our relationship with our pets and tainted by unnecessary and repressive rules that stand between animals and humans.

Rain of trash

More than 25,000 accidents a year are caused by litter that falls out of vehicles.

Where “deliberate” litter used to reign — fast-food wrappers and the like — “unintentional” or “negligent” litter from poorly secured loads is making its presence felt. link