Friday, January 26, 2007

Jesus Doesn't Buy "Inconvenient Truth"

An evangelical Christian in Seattle, Washington is spearheading a local campaign against "propagandist" Al Gore.

Setting aside the rich irony . . . here's the opener of the article:

Gore film sparks anger in Wash. school district
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Frosty Hardiman is neither impressed nor surprised that "An Inconvenient Truth," the globalwarming movie narrated by former vice president Al Gore, received an Oscar nomination this week for best documentary.

"Liberal left is all over Hollywood," he grumbled a few hours after the nomination was announced.

Hardiman, a parent of seven in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has roiled the global-warming waters.

It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching "An Inconvenient Truth" in her seventh-grade science class.

"No, you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet -- for global warming," Hardiman wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board.

The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who said he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.

OK, so, there it is: Let's not even talk about global warming because (1) the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth and (2) Jesus is coming. Hopefully the logical and doctrinal shortcomings of that argument are readily apparent.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of global warming, you can hardly argue that Gore's film should be banned in public schools. The film was screened widely and is - - for better or worse - - now part of the public debate. If Hardiman is that fretful that his child is going to be brainwashed by one showing of a film, he can simply borrow a copy from the Seattle Public Library and spend some time talking with his kid(s) about why he disagrees with the film-makers. Then - - gasp - - let his kid make up her own mind about where she stands.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Glaciers going with the Arctic Ice

Back in December there were articles about Arctic ice disappearing by 2040. Here's an more recent bit that suggests that our glaciers won't last much longer than the ice:

Experts: Alps glaciers will melt by 2050
VIENNA — Glaciers will all but disappear from the Alps by 2050, scientists warned Monday, basing their bleak outlook on mounting evidence of slow but steady melting of the continental ice sheets.

In western Austria's Alpine province of Tyrol, glaciers have been shrinking by about 3% a year, said Roland Psenner of the University of Innsbruck's Institute for Ecology.

And 2050 is a conservative estimate, he said: If they keep melting at that rate, most glaciers could vanish by 2037.

"The future looks rather liquid," he said.

. . .

In 2005, glacier thickness decreased by an average of 23 1/2 inches, and in 2004 by an average of 27 1/2 inches, the Swiss agency said, citing preliminary measurements. Since 1980, it said, Europe's glaciers have lost about 31 1/2 feet of ice. About 7 feet melted away in a single summer — 2003 — when a heat wave zapped much of Europe, said Michael Zemp, a glacier expert at the University of Zurich.

Later on the article points out that glaciers are one of our largest sources of fresh water. The disappearance of the glaciers isn't just cosmetic. It will affect stream and river levels worldwide and shift our reliance more towards groundwater pumping. Those who balk at changing proactively as a result of global warming need to reqlize that the change is coming, will-he nill-he.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Mystery" Chimp - My Best Guess

Surprise chimp born at La. sanctuary

In a mysterious bit of monkey business, a female at a chimpanzee sanctuary has given birth, despite the fact that the facility's entire male chimp population has had vasectomies.

Now managers at Chimp Haven are planning a paternity test for the seven males who lived in a group with Teresa, a wild-born chimpanzee in her late 40s who had the baby girl last week.

Workers have started collecting hair samples from the chimps for testing. Once they identify the father, it's back to the operating room for him.

Not to point out the obvious here, but, is anyone testing the caretakers too? Heh.


More Smoke and Mirrors For AMTRAK?

The answer to an inefficient, poorly managed service appears to be to throw more money at it:

Senators renew push for Amtrak authorization bill
WASHINGTON -- Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Trent Lott initiated a second attempt Tuesday to pass legislation that would set ambitious funding targets for Amtrak while also requiring the passenger railroad to become more efficient.

The bill, similar to one that passed 93-6 in the Senate last year but was never voted on in the House, would authorize $3.2 billion a year for Amtrak for the next six years. That amount includes direct funding of $1.9 billion and $1.3 billion in bond authority.

Amtrak received $1.3 billion from Congress for the 2006 fiscal year.

The bill would also establish a program of matching grants to states that invest in Amtrak service and calls on Amtrak to reduce operating expenses by 40 percent.

. . .

[Amtrak President Alex] Kummant declined to name specific areas where cuts could be made, but he noted that the program of matching funds for states would help reduce operating costs because it would require states to foot the bill for running trains in exchange for federally subsidized capital improvements.

. . .

The funding amounts set out in the legislation would serve as targets, but would not be guaranteed even if the bill passes. Separate appropriations would still be required.

The bill would also require a new accounting system for Amtrak, aimed at improving transparency, and would mandate security improvements throughout the U.S. rail system.

So the "efficiencies" and "cuts" seem to come principally from shifting costs to states, and the promised money isn't really promised. Well. Aren't we glad things will be different now?

I've long been of the opinion that AMTRAK is woefully underfunded. But it seems to me that if "cuts" and "efficiencies" can be achieved, it should be possible to do that even in the absence of additional funding. Promising umteen billion dollars to an organization that has proven somewhat inept at managing the expenses it currently has seems imprudent, to say the least.

So at the end of the day this looks like more of the same. What really needs to happen is that the policymakers need to decide whether a national rail service is something that we should have. If so, let's figure out how to do it properly, instead of paying lipservice to the idea in principle and then relegating it in deed to the status of ugly stepchild. If we really don't want national rail service, let's get rid of it and quit throwing good money after bad.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Coast to Coast Produce Train Saves 110,000 Gallons of Fuel

Earlier I posted on a new coast-to-coast produce train terminating in Rotterdam, New York, just west of Schenectady.

Today's Albany Times Union has more. Here are the highlights:

Facility offers taste of future
Onions and apples, always in ideal environment, arrive at state-of-art distribution center
. . .

Railex is in the 12th week of an experiment to change the way produce is moved long distances. In some ways, it's a step back to the 1940s and 1950s, when refrigerated box cars moved perishables long distances.

But this is also what's called a unit train, with box cars that are never uncoupled and never pass through railyards to be switched among different trains. And unlike the trains of 50 years ago, each rail car is tracked constantly by satellite, its temperature and humidity closely monitored and adjusted to ensure conditions are ideal for each product being carried.

. . .

[Paul] Esposito, Railex's vice president for sales and logistics, said the train hasn't really increased the amount of produce flowing from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast. Railex has just shifted it from truck to rail.

. . .

Railex's strategy is to use rail to move the produce long distances, cutting fuel costs by nearly 75 percent and giving the company an edge. The 55-car train consumes 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel on each one-way trip. Moving the same amount of produce by truck would consume about 150,000 gallons of fuel.

Recent trains have carried as much as 3,500 tons of produce each.

. . .

The coast-to-coast rail express, meanwhile, has been sold to wholesalers and growers as a cost-effective way to move their products. The trip is scheduled to take five days, about the same time as it would by truck.

But the trains have actually been making the trip in three or four days, not five. Only during the Great Plains blizzards two weeks ago did the train face delays, and even then it arrived a few hours early, Esposito said.

This answers the earlier questions I had about time of travel relative to trucking. The next question is, can Railex really undercut trucking-based distributors? And if so, by how much?

Stay tuned.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

"Butch" Otter is an Asshole

I suppose if you regularly go by "Butch" you can be excused for this sort of ridiculousness.

Idaho Governor Calls for Gray Wolf Kill
Idaho governor wants to kill all but 100 gray wolves when animals are stripped of protection

(AP) Idaho's governor said Thursday he will support public hunts to kill all but 100 of the state's gray wolves after the federal government strips them of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told The Associated Press that he wants hunters to kill about 550 gray wolves. That would leave about 100 wolves, or 10 packs, according to a population estimate by state wildlife officials.

The 100 surviving wolves would be the minimum before the animals could again be considered endangered.

"I'm prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself," Otter said earlier Thursday during a rally of about 300 hunters.

Otter complained that wolves are rapidly killing elk and other animals essential to Idaho's multimillion-dollar hunting industry. The hunters, many wearing camouflage clothing and blaze-orange caps, applauded wildly during his comments.

Suzanne Stone, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife in Boise, said Otter's proposal would return wolves to the verge of eradication.

"Essentially he has confirmed our worst fears for the state of Idaho: That this would be a political rather than a biological management of the wolf population," Stone said. "There's no economic or ecological reason for maintaining such low numbers. It's simple persecution."

Or maybe the "worst fears" for the state of Idaho is that it turns out their Governor is a backwoods halfwit who likes to shoot things for fun.

Here's a photo of Butch himself from the Congressional directory. (No claim to copyright.)

It's too bad. Otter apparently has quite a libertarian streak, and under other circumstances I might have actually liked him. It would be a long road back from redemption from this, though.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Peoples Picks Pirates

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" wins Best Movie and Best Movie Drama in the 2007 People's Choice Awards.

My guess is that this result is carried on Depp and Knightley's face appeal, and the residual strength of the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Dead Man's Chest itself was a stinker.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tigger Bitch-slaps Punkass Teen

Tigger has claws:

A Walt Disney World employee dressed as the character "Tigger" was accused of hitting a child while posing for a photo, a spokeswoman for the theme park said Saturday.

Park officials temporarily suspended Michael J. Fedelem while they investigate the accusations, Disney spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez said.

"Naturally, physical altercations between cast members and guests are not tolerated," Suarez said.

Jerry Monaco of New Hampshire videotaped his son, Jerry Jr., posing with the costumed character at Disney-MGM Studios on Friday and recorded the confrontation, according to a statement from the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

The video is worth a look. A few things are notable. For one, Fedelm looks like he has had some martial arts training, or was at least a wrestler in high school or college. For two, it looks totally provoked. Fedelem's reaction is reflexive. For three, the kid does not look surprised at all by Fedelm's reaction, which kind of confirms the provocation.

The father said Fedelem intentionally hit his son "on or about the head," said sheriff's spokesman Carlos M. Padilla. "The tape only shows a fraction of what happened. Now it's up to us to find out what led up to that."

Read that to mean that the sheriff has the same take on the video. Still, it's hard to imagine what the kid could have been doing to warrant a left hook. If he was doing something inappropriate like pinching or niggling, just shoving him off should have sufficed.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Non-News: Global Warming Denialists are Industry Shills

This is non-news (everyone knows global warming denialists are industry shills), but interesting nontheless:

Exxon linked to doubters of warming

Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's biggest gasoline maker, spent $15.8 million since 1998 funding groups that reject scientific evidence of a human contribution to global warming, according to a report yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Exxon gave to 43 organizations promoting "uncertainties" about global warming to delay U.S. action to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, the report said. Exxon also successfully recommended climate advisers for the Bush administration, which rejected a global treaty to cut greenhouse gases in 2001 and instead called for voluntary reductions.

Among the biggest recipients of funding from Exxon were the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which advocates limited government regulation of business, and the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a group started by Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris in 1993 to sow confusion over the dangers of second-hand smoke, the report said.

. . .

Irving, Texas-based Exxon pumps more oil than every member of OPEC except Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"Sound science" indeed. Thanks so much, Mr. Raymond, and my children thank you too. I think there is a special room in hell just for you.

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