Monday, October 25, 2010



It’s counterintuitive, but the idea that wind turbines without blades could generate as much energy per square meter as standard wind turbines is based on scientific observation.

The science behind New York design firm Atelier DNA’s “windstalks” is simple kinetic energy; the same energy found in a field of swaying prairie grass. Like many of the Land Art Generator exhibits, Atelier takes it cue directly from Nature to deliver resource-economical and highly effective but visually intriguing forms of energy and energy conservation.

The Land Art Generator initiative is a series of aesthetic yet fully functional energy generating and efficiency measures produced by collaborating artists, architects, scientists, landscape architects, and engineers.

Sponsored by Masdar City, an emerging, clean technology zone located outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, the competition awarded Atelier’s offering, simply named Windstalk, second prize.

Masdar City, which aims to be the world’s first carbon neutral and self-sufficient city via clean energy technologies like wind and solar, is being built by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company.

Inspired by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the city is the UAE’s answer to developing a clean technology hub. Ironic, that the very area which has so far offered us little but polluting fossil-fuel forms of energy is also showing us the way to a sustainable future.

Windstalk has also successfully evaded the more common complaints surrounding traditional wind turbines, namely, that they are noisy, emit annoying vibrations that affect humans, cows and other animals, and kill birds. In addition, designers have managed to incorporate energy storage that mimics hydropower.

Windstalk specifications call for 1,203 highly flexible carbon fiber poles 180 feet high and one foot in diameter at the base tapering to 2 inches at the top. The poles are filled with piezoelectric ceramic discs alternating with electrodes connected by cables along the length of each pole – one cable for positive-pole electrodes, another for negative-polarity electrodes. When the wind blows, the flexing of the poles compresses the discs, generating a charge which flows through the electrodes. Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, at the top of each pole glow brighter or dimmer depending on the amount of energy being generated, or go entirely dark when the wind isn’t blowing – a clever but ludicrously expensive barometer to calculate desert sandstorms.

"West African floods swamp Benin"

COTONOU (AFP) — Families sleep by the roadside under shelter made of scrap wood and metal, their homes destroyed by the rains in Benin -- the country seen as the hardest-hit by West African floods this rainy season.

"I had two children who died by drowning on October 2 after the rain that hit Cotonou," said Delphine Behanzin, 37, as she sat in the shade. "I'm lost. They were my reason to live."

Floods have hit a wide swathe of West and Central Africa in recent months, destroying entire villages and killing more than 100 people in Nigeria alone. Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger are among the other nations affected.

The United Nations says 377 people have died in the flooding, with nearly 1.5 million people affected since the start of the rainy season in June.

But UN officials say the small nation of Benin, a country of some 8.8 million people, has been dealt the hardest blow.

Some 43 people have died, while about 360,000 have been affected, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Nearly 100,000 people have been left homeless.

Almost two-thirds of the nation has been hit by flooding, according to a statement issued by the UN which said the humanitarian situation was "becoming increasingly worrying."

A recent survey of the city of Cotonou, the economic capital, and of the country's south by helicopter showed "that the crisis has been underestimated", according to the statement.

Aid officials have rushed to provide clean water and emergency shelter, while further outbreaks of cholera are also feared. There have already been some 800 cases, including seven deaths.

Heavy rains have hit Benin this season, and the Oueme river has overflowed its banks at a number of locations.

Cotonou is located at the river's mouth, and makeshift camps have sprouted along the city's edge in recent weeks, though the city centre has not been affected.

Aicha, 26, said the rains destroyed her small fruit-selling business and aid has been slow to arrive.

"Severe drought afflicts Brazilian Amazon"

From the BBC:

The money will fund water pumping and purification, as well as food deliveries to towns cut off by the drop in river levels.

The Brazilian air force has already flown 500 tonnes of supplies to areas that usually depend on water transport.

The River Amazon at Manaus has fallen to its lowest level since 1963.

Scientists say the region is facing its worst drought since that year.

In Amazonas state 27 municipalities have declared a state of emergency because of the dry spell.

Several tributaries of the Amazon have almost completely dried up, paralysing river transport and the fishing industry.

The rainy season in the region usually begins in November.

The Peruvian Amazon, 2,000km (1,240 miles) upstream has also been affected.

Environmental groups say severe droughts are likely to become more frequent in the Amazon as a result of global warming, putting further strain on the rainforest.

The Amazon is the world's second-longest river, after the Nile, but discharges far more water from its mouth and drains more territory.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Tea Party - Promotion of Ignorance

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, in a debate with her opponent Chris Coons at Widener Law school, exposed her ignorance of the constitution. The Right Wing blogs and pundits went on to defend her and call her "right".

The relevant part (From

"Let me just clarify," O'Donnell pressed. "You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

"The government shall make no establishment of religion," Coons said, summarizing the gist of the specific words in the First Amendment's establishment clause.

"That's in the First Amendment?" O'Donnell asked again, eliciting further laughter from the room.

O'Donnell's defenders (Limbaugh, blogs, etc.) are spinning it such that "She was right" that the constitution does not have the phrase "separation of Church and State" - when she clearly did not know that the constitution says that the government shall make no establishment of religion. She was arguing at the time that public schools should be free to teach creationism or "intelligent design" if that was what people in the local school districts believed. She did not get that teaching religion in public schools violates the constitution.

The Separation of Church and State comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote clarifying the intention of the first Amendment:
"...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

The phrase was quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1947. The phrase itself does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, although the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Perfect People (Eugenics and Socialism)

Earlier today I watched the 1998 Swedish Documentary about eugenics called Homo Sapiens 1900. It considered the eugenics movement in the US, Sweden, USSR and Germany.

While I have been well aware of the the eugenics movement and the idea of perfecting races and/or groups of people, one thing this brought out was the socialist connection. This documentary presented part of the idea of socialism as being all part of the idea of the perfect society. These ideas grew out of the growing understanding of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Some scientists became intent on the idea of deciding what the ultimate human characteristics are, categorizing them and devising ways to most efficiently have them reproduced in the population. Dr. Haiselden, from the US, wanted to liberate America from it's presumably defective heritage and promoted (and carried out) infanticide. Charles Davenport founded the Eugenics Record Office on Long Island with the idea of it going national. People targeted included the poor, those in prisons, mental institutions, blacks and new immigrants. The world's first compulsory sterilization law was passed in 1907. Tens of thousands were sterilized.

Scientists in Sweden wanted to have the perfect Swedish population, with the "stock" protected from outside influence and "inferiors" prevented from procreating by encouraging that they be sterilized. The Institute of Race Biology was estaablished. In 1934, their parliament passed a non-compulsory sterilization law. About 8000 were sterilized in Sweden before the law was eliminated.

Some ideas that some may have been altruistic about - such as providing education and health care for everyone, others may have had grandiose ideas of creating the "perfect" society (for enemy defeating purposes or simply convoluted idealism).

Eugenics was meant to be people-directed evolution. This was when IQ tests were developed and promoted. People were given medical exams, and winning families were expected to compete with their pedigrees - as if they were dogs. The Miss America pageant was evidently also inspired by this mentality - started in 1921, the rule was that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race."

Russia apparently had the idea of creating a more productive labor force for factories and whatnot and at the same time had the idea that everyone would be a genius. Those ideas do not necessarily mesh well. Also - people didn't like the idea of one "Superman" fathering 10,000 children (an idea that some promoted). Stalin decided he didn't like eugenics and had the scientists who worked on it expelled or killed.

In the 30s, Stalin's ideas of nationalism and the perfect society inspired his "Great Purge" where many were killed and millions of ethnic minorities were deported. Stalin relocated those from the following groups to Siberia and the Central Asian republics - Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Jews. He executed anyone he considered to be an "enemy of the people" - many were just regular folks such as workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, nuns, musicians, ballerinas, soldiers, pensioners, and beggars.

Meanwhile, of course, Germany was becoming increasingly committed to the idea of racial perfection within it's borders. There were these ideas that many countries wanted to make their countries "pure". There were 750,000 ethnic Germans in the USSR and the Germans wanted to relocate them to Poland after driving the Poles out - making an enlarged Germany with more room for more Germans. Stalin sent many of the Germans to Siberia - which ironically saved possibly 200,000 Jews from Hitler.

In 1937 - the "new German man" was glorified at the German exhibition of the World's Fair in Paris. As Germany went farther over the top, many countries, including the US, cooled it on the eugenics ideas when they heard what was going on - as they could see where the propaganda was leading. Germany's purge included Jews, Romani, people with disabilities, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and other political and religious opponents.

What is odd to me, in this day and age - 2010, is how the right wing, conservatives in the US are against Socialism ( I, as a liberal, would be against Socialistic ideas that mean that society is trying to be engineer evolution and create a super-race), and yet many (especially the leaders like Limbaugh) are very pro-white nationalistic males. They seem to hate the idea that other groups such as women, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics are becoming more equal, more vocal, more powerful. People who are white supremacists are able to feel at home with the right-wing.

The liberals, who are more likely to be for Socialist ideas such as health-care for all, a good public education, equal rights, unemployment, etc. include those ideas for everyone - women, men, equality for races. Conservative & Libertarians (and Tea Party advocates) are less likely to see that there IS a problem of inequality or of discrimination.

Some people could bring up the eugenics and say that it was a Socialist enterprise and that that makes all Socialism bad. But the "badness" came from the ideas of racism (and nationalism) - creating the perfect white race - the more white, the better. Similarly, someone could bring up eugenics to demonize science - because there were scientists who were participating with and promoting these ideas. But again, the "badness" came from the negativity involved in the goals (the manipulating of nature while dominating and devaluing others), not in the fact that science was involved.

(In general, I have difficulty understanding how Republicans or Tea Parties can be so anti-intellectual, anti-science, but this would be one example they could use. I would add such uses as the creation and distribution of many toxic chemicals and products without proper regard to their effects on the environment. But in general - and with better values - science can be a positive thing.)

Somehow - the right-wing has embraced the idea that liberals are like Hitler - but Hitler was all about the Super-man- white-Christian-German and the "normal" German family - and if anything, it's the conservatives who are for the Super-man-white-Christian-American and the "normal" American family. The right-wing isn't sending people off to be killed, but their propaganda and actions against Muslims and Hispanics have a similar "We are the good guys, you are the bad guys" sense about them - and have resulted in deaths by zealots. Their actions against Mexicans in this country, their setting up and jailing Muslims as terrorists (and general negativity which leads some to violence against them), the anti-gay rhetoric which leads to bullying and suicides are more Hitleresque than anything liberals are doing.

The badness has to do with the acceptance and encouragement of domination by the already powerful against the minority and/or weakened group. Whether a group gives themselves that power by saying they speak for God, or the State, or Science, the result can be the same. Hitler used all three - God, State and Science. The right wing says they have God and they don't want the State or Science - but they still want domination (and use the State and Science when it suits them). Many liberals would still use the benefits of Science and the State to achieve a more equitable and peaceful society - but the goals of liberals now have little or nothing to do with the goals of the eugenicists. (Some liberals feel that they are trying to do the will of God, but don't generally try to influence others by claiming that their will and God's will are the same.) Liberals like promoting health and education to make the civilization better - but not to make some Super-society or Perfect People or race. And not that everyone is going to be a genius - or than anyone will be perfect.

But it is nice for people to have a chance - and for society to help those who need help - because we are not given the same abilities or opportunities, or wealth to start off with. Liberals tend to see that society is skewed to benefit those with money, which conservatives tend to not notice or embrace because they identify with being affluent (or both). Since white men have a history of dominance in the last few centuries, and since much money has been made on the backs of unpaid or badly paid women and minorities and other disenfranchised groups- a redistribution of money and assets does not seem like a bad idea. If anything, it flips what the eugenicists had in mind on it's head. Where the eugenicists were all about improving the situation of the dominant white race (already in power - but apparently threats were perceived), the liberals would like to do things to make society more equitable.


"Huge Parts of World Are Drying Up..."

From Science Daily:

The soils in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere, including major portions of Australia, Africa and South America, have been drying up in the past decade, a group of researchers conclude in the first major study to ever examine "evapotranspiration" on a global basis.

Most climate models have suggested that evapotranspiration, which is the movement of water from the land to the atmosphere, would increase with global warming. The new research, published online this week in the journal Nature, found that's exactly what was happening from 1982 to the late 1990s.

But in 1998, this significant increase in evapotranspiration -- which had been seven millimeters per year -- slowed dramatically or stopped. In large portions of the world, soils are now becoming drier than they used to be, releasing less water and offsetting some moisture increases elsewhere.

Due to the limited number of decades for which data are available, scientists say they can't be sure whether this is a natural variability or part of a longer-lasting global change. But one possibility is that on a global level, a limit to the acceleration of the hydrological cycle on land has already been reached.

If that's the case, the consequences could be serious.

They could include reduced terrestrial vegetation growth, less carbon absorption, a loss of the natural cooling mechanism provided by evapotranspiration, more heating of the land surface, more intense heat waves and a "feedback loop" that could intensify global warming.

"This is the first time we've ever been able to compile observations such as this for a global analysis," said Beverly Law, a professor of global change forest science at Oregon State University. Law is co-author of the study and science director of the AmeriFlux network of 100 research sites, which is one major part of the FLUXNET synthesis that incorporates data from around the world.

"We didn't expect to see this shift in evapotranspiration over such a large area of the Southern Hemisphere," Law said. "It is critical to continue such long-term observations, because until we monitor this for a longer period of time, we can't be sure why this is occurring."

Some of the areas with the most severe drying include southeast Africa, much of Australia, central India, large parts of South America, and some of Indonesia. Most of these regions are historically dry, but some are actually tropical rain forests.

Greater evapotranspiration was expected with global warming, because of increased evaporation of water from the ocean and more precipitation overall. And data indeed show that some areas are wetter than they used to be.

However, other huge areas are now drying out, the study showed. This could lead to increased drought stress on vegetation and less overall productivity, Law said, and as a result less carbon absorbed, less cooling through evapotranspiration, and more frequent or extreme heat waves.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Hungary Battles Flood of Toxic Sludge

From the BBC:

Emergency services in Hungary are trying to stop a torrent of toxic red sludge flowing into major waterways, including the River Danube.

A state of emergency has been declared in three western counties after the chemical waste burst from a reservoir at an alumina plant.

Four people are known to have died, with 120 injured. Six more are missing.

At least seven villages and towns are affected including Devecser, where the torrent was 2m (6.5ft) deep.

The flood swept cars from roads and damaged bridges and houses, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

The sludge - a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals - is considered hazardous, according to Hungary's National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM).

While the cause of the deaths has not been established officially, it is believed the victims probably drowned.

Some 600,000-700,000 cubic metres (21m-24m cubic feet) of sludge escaped from the plant, 160km (100 miles) from the capital, Budapest.

With 7,000 people affected directly by the disaster, a state of emergency was declared in the county of Veszprem where the spill occurred, and Gyor-Moson-Sopron and Vas, where the sludge appeared to be heading.

At least 390 residents have been relocated and 110 rescued from flooded areas, the NDGDM said...

"White House to go solar"

From yahoo:

WASHINGTON – Solar power is coming to President Barack Obama's house.

The most famous residence in America, which has already boosted its green credentials by planting a garden, plans to install solar panels atop the White House's living quarters. The solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011, and will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the plans Tuesday in Washington at a conference of local, state, academic and nonprofit leaders aimed at identifying how the federal government can improve its environmental performance.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both tapped the sun during their days in the White House. Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices. Bush's solar systems powered a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

Obama, who has championed renewable energy, has been under increasing pressure by the solar industry and environmental activists to lead by example by installing solar at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, something White House officials said has been under consideration since he first took office.

The decision perhaps has more import now after legislation to reduce global warming pollution died in the Senate, despite the White House's support. Obama has vowed to try again on a smaller scale.

U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels

While I would like to see the size and scope of the military reduced - this is a step in the right direction as far as renewables are concerned. With the military being such a huge consumer of fuels, this is significant.
Oil tankers that were set on fire in Pakistan. The convoys that haul fuel to bases have been sitting ducks for enemy fighters.

From the New York Times:
With insurgents increasingly attacking the American fuel supply convoys that lumber across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels.

Last week, a Marine company from California arrived in the rugged outback of Helmand Province bearing novel equipment: portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.

The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, will be the first to take renewable technology into a battle zone, where the new equipment will replace diesel and kerosene-based fuels that would ordinarily generate power to run their encampment.

Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies — which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years — as providing a potential answer. These new types of renewable energy now account for only a small percentage of the power used by the armed forces, but military leaders plan to rapidly expand their use over the next decade.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the huge truck convoys that haul fuel to bases have been sitting ducks for enemy fighters — in the latest attack, oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan were set on fire in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, early Monday. In Iraq and Afghanistan, one Army study found, for every 24 fuel convoys that set out, one soldier or civilian engaged in fuel transport was killed. In the past three months, six Marines have been wounded guarding fuel runs in Afghanistan.

“There are a lot of profound reasons for doing this, but for us at the core it’s practical,” said Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has said he wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That figure includes energy for bases as well as fuel for cars and ships.

“Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan,” Mr. Mabus said, “and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.”

He and other experts also said that greater reliance on renewable energy improved national security, because fossil fuels often came from unstable regions and scarce supplies were a potential source of international conflict.

Fossil fuel accounts for 30 to 80 percent of the load in convoys into Afghanistan, bringing costs as well as risk. While the military buys gas for just over $1 a gallon, getting that gallon to some forward operating bases costs $400.

“We had a couple of tenuous supply lines across Pakistan that are costing us a heck of a lot, and they’re very dangerous,” said Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Col. Robert Charette Jr., director of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Company I’s equipment would prove reliable and durable enough for military use, and that other Marine companies would be adopting renewable technology in the coming months, although there would probably always be a need to import fuel for some purposes.

While setting national energy policy requires Congressional debates, military leaders can simply order the adoption of renewable energy. And the military has the buying power to create products and markets. That, in turn, may make renewable energy more practical and affordable for everyday uses, experts say....