Archive for March, 2007

CCTV shows officer punching woman

Friday, March 9th, 2007

– This item was posted as a follow on to the previous article


Police are facing calls for an independent inquiry after CCTV footage showed a police officer repeatedly punching a woman during an arrest.

Toni Comer, 20, was being arrested last July for damaging a car in Sheffield – an offence she has since admitted.

Her lawyer called for an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry.

Police said they would investigate a complaint by Ms Comer but they were “happy” with the officer’s conduct. He said he had been trying to subdue her.

The footage, obtained by the Guardian newspaper and shown on BBC Two’s Newsnight, shows Ms Comer and a police officer falling down a flight of stairs outside Sheffield’s Niche nightclub.

At the bottom, she is restrained by a group of officers, with the officer she fell with punching her five times – although it is not clear on what part of her body.


Biofuels: An Advisable Strategy?

Friday, March 9th, 2007

– I’ve been reading about Biofuels for some time now and I’ve seen that they are creating a lot of hope and optimism that they may ‘save’ us from, or at least help alleviate some of, our coming energy problems.

– I’ve had my doubts. Back behind the glowing articles have been a few darker ones which don’t seem to be getting the same degree of ‘play’ as the optimistic ones.

– These ‘other’ points of view have been pointing out that most of the world’s arable land is already in use and that to grow biofuels to cut our dependence on Oil and Gas, we cannot help but begin to cut into the land we’re using now to grow the food we eat. So, in the end, if we grow significant quantities of biofuel, we will grow less food – and this will drive food prices up strongly.

– It is true that to grow food or to grow biofuels is to use renewable resources but the renewability concept has its limits. You cannot use trees from the forests or fish from the seas faster than they can replenish themselves and you cannot grow more than a certain amount of crops on the earth – given that the total amount of arable land is limited (and will continue to diminish as global warming and desertification continue).

– The European Union has, up until now, been sanguine about integrating biofuels into their crop mix. But, now they’ve done a careful full-cost analysis of how effective biofuels really are and they are beginning to have their doubts.

– The summary from the end of this article is especially interesting:

Summing up, biodiesel cannot contribute to the solution of the problems related to the high dependency of our economy on fossil fuels. The idea that biodiesel could be a solution for the energy crisis is not only false, but also dangerous. In fact, it might favour an attitude of technological optimism and faith in a technological fix of the energy problem. We should never forget that if we want to reduce the use of fossil fuels there is no magic wand: the only possible solution is to modify consumption patterns.

– Read on, dear reader.


Science Daily Biofuels have been an increasingly hot topic on the discussion table in the last few years. The main argument behind the policies in favour of biofuels is based on the idea that biofuels would not increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, a more careful analysis of the life cycle of biodiesel reveals that the energy (and CO2) savings is not so high as expected. It might even be negative.

In 2003 the European Union introduced a Directive suggesting that Member states should increase the share of biofuels in the energy used for transport to 2% by 2005 and 5.75% by 2010.

In 2005 the target was not reached and it will probably not be reached in 2010 either (we are in 2006 at approximately 0.8%), but in any case, the Directive showed the great interest that the European Commission places on biofuels as a way to solve many problems at once. The new European energy strategy, presented on 10th January 2007, establishes that biofuels should represent at least 10% of the energy used for transport .

Biofuels are not competitive with fossil fuel-derived products if left to the market. In order to make their price similar to those of petrol and diesel, they need to be subsidized. In Europe, biofuels are subsidized in three ways:

1) agricultural subsidies, mainly granted within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy

2) total or partial de-taxation, which is indispensable, because energy taxes account for approximately half of the final price of petrol and diesel

3) biofuels obligations, which establish that the fuels sold at the pump must contain a given percentage of biofuels

These three political measures need financial means, which are paid for by the European Commission (agricultural subsidies), by the governments (reduced energy revenues), and by car drivers (increase in the final fuel price). For this reason, an integrated analysis is needed in order to discuss whether investing public resources in biofuels and employing a large extension of agricultural land is the most advisable strategy to solve the problems associated with fossil fuels.


The Big Green Fuel Lie

Friday, March 9th, 2007

 – And here’s another story in the same vein.   This one is focused in Brazil where they’ve been growing crops for ethanol now for sometime and they have experience as to what is gained and what is lost.  Some quotes, if you don’t want to plow through the entire article:

The ethanol industry has been linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, along with deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the wholesale destruction of Brazil’s unique savannah land.

“Some of the cane plantations are the size of European states, these vast monocultures have replaced important eco-systems,” he said. “If you see the size of the plantations in the state of Sao Paolo they are oceans of sugar cane. In order to harvest you must burn the plantations which creates a serious air pollution problem in the city.”

While Brazil’s tropical climate allows it to source alcohol from its sugar crop, the US has turned to its industrialised corn belt for the raw material to substitute oil. The American economist Lester R Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, is leading the warning voices: “The competition for grain between the world’s 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its two billion poorest people who are simply trying to stay alive is emerging as an epic issue.”

– There’s a lot to be thought through here before we decide that biofuels are mankind’s energy panacea.   But. I’m afraid that thinking things like this through has never been our species’ strong point.


George Bush says that ethanol will save the world. But there is evidence that biofuels may bring new problems for the planet.

The ethanol boom is coming. The twin threats of climate change and energy security are creating an unprecedented thirst for alternative energy with ethanol leading the way.

That process is set to reach a landmark on Thursday when the US President, George Bush, arrives in Brazil to kick-start the creation of an international market for ethanol that could one day rival oil as a global commodity. The expected creation of an “Opec for ethanol” replicating the cartel of major oil producers has spurred frenzied investment in biofuels across the Americas.

But a growing number of economists, scientists and environmentalists are calling for a “time out” and warning that the headlong rush into massive ethanol production is creating more problems than it is solving.


Going native: diverse grassland plants edge out crops as biofuel

Friday, March 9th, 2007

– Now, this article discusses an approach to biofuels that makes better sense to me. It talks about using natural grassland plants grown in what would otherwise be wastelands. And, by mixing different species of these grassland plants, better efficiency is delivered.

– This makes a lot more sense that the previous two articles here and here .


Mixtures of plants native to prairies can give a better energy return as biofuel than corn and soybeans do, a new study finds. Biofuel production from grassland plants would also result in lower emissions of carbon dioxide and reduced pollution from agricultural chemicals.

Corn-grain ethanol and soybean bio-diesel are starting to replace some gasoline and petrodiesel (SN: 7/15/06, p. 36). However, corn and soy crops need large amounts of pesticides, water, and fertilizers.

Ecologist David Tilman of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and his colleagues determined the resources required for and energy gained from biofuels made from perennial grassland plants. These species wouldn’t require regular herbicide treatments, irrigation, or fertilization and could be grown on agriculturally abandoned land. Grassland plants aren’t yet used in biofuels.

In 1994, the researchers planted 152 plots of agriculturally degraded land with different numbers of perennial grassland species, such as legumes, grasses, and herbs. They monitored and sampled the plots from 1996 to 2005.

The researchers found that the most diverse plots–those with 16 different species–were also the most productive, with the potential to generate more than three times as much energy as plots that bore only one species.

The prairie-grass mixtures would give a net energy return that’s more than 17 times that of corn-grain ethanol, Tilman says.


International Women’s Day 2007

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

– The following is the text of an E-mail I received from the Population Connection folks today. Women’s rights are an important issue and this speaks volumes about women’s rights vs. fundamentalist religion.


On this International Women’s Day, the Global Gag Rule is exacerbating one of the gravest threats to women’s health around the world.

This harmful policy, imposed by George Bush on his first full day in the White House, is denying family planning aid to women’s health care providers in the poorest countries in the world. It demands that health care providers refuse to use their own money – and money from other governments, including their own – to: provide safe, legal abortions; offer counseling and referral services for safe, legal abortion, and; support safe, legal abortion as a matter of public policy in their own countries.

The impact of the Global Gag Rule has been dramatic. Clinics have closed. Health care staff have been let go. Outreach to rural women has been cut back. Contraceptive supplies have dried up. The Global Gag Rule would be unconstitutional if imposed on American organizations, it’s unconscionable to impose it on organizations serving the most vulnerable women in the world.

It’s time for Congress to overturn this damaging policy. Please take just a moment today, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, to call your representative in the U.S. House and ask them to support the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.R. 619), a bill to repeal the Global Gag Rule.

Follow this link if you want to take action:

Here are some points to consider:

The global gag rule interferes with the doctor/patient relationship. The policy imposed by President Bush bars overseas family planning providers from using their own money to even provide information to patients about the availability of safe, legal abortion in their own countries. Those agencies that don’t offer abortions are prohibited from counseling women about the procedure as an option and from referring women to a place that does provide it. Far from making the incidence of abortion more rare, it will make unsafe abortion even more widespread.

The global gag rule undermines reproductive health care worldwide. Family planning providers are facing a cruel choice: give up desperately needed funding or sacrifice their responsibilities to their patients and their rights to participate in the democratic process. Either choice will hurt the poorest women in the world. On the one hand, sacrificing the funding will deny women the access to services they have come to rely upon. On the other, giving up the ability to provide full and accurate information and the right to participate in policy debates means that unsafe abortion will go unaddressed – even in countries in which abortion is legal – and women will be denied possible lifesaving information.

Doing Something About ‘Brain Drain’

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

What, me worry?

– Alfred E. Newman – Mad Magazine

– and some people have the audacity to wonder how it is that the United States is in danger of reverting to a third-world pre-scientific  state based on fundamentalist religion.   

Garsh, Mickey, I don’t know!

– Goofy 


“Brain drain.” It’s cute and catchy and it rhymes. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. According to some studies, in fact, fewer than 6 percent of high-school seniors in the U.S. are planning on engineering degrees. A decade ago it was 36 percent. In 2000, 56 percent of the undergraduate degrees in China were in the hard sciences. In the U.S., 1 percent.

Part of the problem, according to many experts, is how science and math education are taught in U.S. schools, ranging from everything to how the material is presented to the teacher’s qualifications. According to the October 2005 National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, about two-thirds of the students studying chemistry and physics in U.S. high schools are taught by teachers without major or certificates in the subject. With math taught in Grades 5-12, its about one-half. And many students are taught math by graduates in physical education.


070306 – Tuesday – An Inconvenient Truth

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Well, given how much I write about the Global Climate Crises, it might seem odd that I’ve only just seen An Inconvenient Truth tonight – but, it’s true.

It left me feeling sad. If Gore can say these things with such clarity and from such a great pulpit and over and over and over again, and still not have shifted the balance – it is an amazing, disturbing and profoundly sad thing.

Today, I was glancing at the blog of a woman that works, I think, at the national weather service and she’d been so brash as to suggest that weather men and women who are promoting climate skepticism should be banned. There were dozens and dozens of comments, after she’d posted a clarification of what she’d meant. It’s hard to believe that any of those folks had seen Gore’s presentation. They trotted out every lame idea and rationalization and paraded them as if everyone just know that they were true and anyone with common sense could se it.

One fact Gore brought forward, that was really telling, was that they’d taken a sample of 938 peer reviewed scientific articles on the climate from the overall literature on the subject and, of the 938, not one had cast doubt on the basic POV that mankind is primarily responsible for Global Climate Change. But, when they took a large sample of articles from the popular press about the climate, 53% of them expressed doubt that we know what the real reason is.

He said one other thing that I found particularly telling. And that was that many people deny the truth of the Global Climate Crises because if they’d really look at it and fully admit to themselves the size of the threat, the moral imperative to jump the issue to the top of their priorities and act would be unavoidable – and thus they are just unwilling to face that truth head-on.

UN chief warns on climate change

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

This is a theme I’ve seen before and that I subscribe to. I’d take it a step further than the Secretary General, however. He fears war, chaos and instability as the result of Global Climate Change. I fear that many of the problems enumerated under the Perfect Storm Hypothesis could, if they manifest, lead to war and instability. Things are too deeply interconnected and too deeply interdependent for a major change to not trigger other changes.

– To see what he’s talking about, however, consider that in our unbridled drive for short term corporate profits, we will continue to emit greenhouse gases which will alter the climate. As the climate becomes warmer and more unstable, the oceans will rise and in the poorer low-lying third world countries millions and millions of environmental refugees will be displaced. They in turn will overwhelm the abilities of the receiving areas and nations to deal with them causing food, water and general resource problems for their people in turn. As the weather becomes warmer, the glaciers will continue to melt and disappear and the winter mountain snow packs will lessen year by year and these, in turn, will lead to severe water shortages. Water shortages will lead to food shortages because irrigation will be curtailed and as food becomes more expensive, the poorer nations and peoples will be priced out of the market and starvation will result. Starvation will result in political instability and chaos and war will arise because people will not starve quietly. And these wars, in turn, will lessen the ability of existing infrastructures to deliver critical resources to hard hit areas and the vicious circles will tighten.

– Humanity is near the edge now of the planet’s ability to supply sufficient fresh water and food for humanity. As global climate change begins to interfere with our delicate and peace dependent distribution systems, they will begin to come down like a house of cards and as they fall, secondary effects will ripple into tertiary effects and before it is done much of the third-world will be in chaos and the first-world’s borders will be bristling with barbed wire. The systems we have in place now have a certain amount of ability to deal with stress and chaos – such as when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. But this ‘flexibility’ has limits and beyond these limits, things will come apart faster than we can paste them together again and a cascade will result. And, as we’ve edged closer to the planet’s ability to provide us water and to feed us, we’ve also been trimming away the saftey margins of our systems. The closer to the edge of chaos we move, the easier the push it takes to send us over.

– As the third-world goes ‘off-line’, globalization will lose its relevance and many of the first-world nations will have to regress back to producing their own consumer products and food and that will not be an easy transition to make quickly as so many of the required infrastructures have been dismantled by our dependence on the fruits of globalization and easy international transportation and distribution.

– Changes of this magnitude will not leave the economies of the first-world nations unscathed. Severe recessions will result and chaos will reverberate through the markets. This will lead to economic disasters which, in turn, will lead to foreclosures, unemployment, homelessness and hunger much as we experienced in the Great Depression – and perhaps much worse.

– But he’s pointing this out to a world that’s never seen it happen quite like this before and thus disbelieves that it will. I’m afraid he may be shouting into the wind.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that climate change poses as much of a danger to the world as war.

In his first address on the issue, Mr Ban said changes in the environment were likely to become a major driver of future war and conflicts.

He urged the US – the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases – to take the lead in fighting global warming.

Mr Ban said he would focus on the issue in talks with leaders of the G8 group of industrialised nations in June.

The UN is also due to hold a conference on climate change in Bali in December.

UN environment officials have been urging Mr Ban to take up the issue, says the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan in New York, arguing that global leadership is needed and that he could make an impact.

Speaking to schoolchildren at a UN conference in New York, Mr Ban said his generation had been “somewhat careless” with the planet but that he was hopeful that that was changing.

“The majority of the United Nations’ work still focuses on preventing and ending conflict,” he said.

“But the danger posed by war to all of humanity and to our planet is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.”

Last month, a panel of scientists organised by the UN published a report showing that human activity was “very likely” to be causing climate change, and predicted rises in temperatures and sea levels.


Earth’s Crust Missing In Mid-Atlantic

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

Science Daily Cardiff University scientists will shortly set sail (March 5) to investigate a startling discovery in the depths of the Atlantic.

Scientists have discovered a large area thousands of square kilometres in extent in the middle of the Atlantic where the Earth’s crust appears to be missing. Instead, the mantle – the deep interior of the Earth, normally covered by crust many kilometres thick – is exposed on the seafloor, 3000m below the surface.

Marine geologist Dr Chris MacLeod, School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences said: “This discovery is like an open wound on the surface of the Earth. Was the crust never there? Was it once there but then torn away on huge geological faults? If so, then how and why?”

To answer some of these questions Dr MacLeod with a team of scientists, led by marine geophysicist Professor Roger Searle, Durham University, will travel to the area which lies mid-way between the Cape Verde Islands and the Caribbean.


Progress of the cruise can be monitored via a live web link to the ship:

U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The Bush administration estimates that emissions by the United States of gases that contribute to global warming will grow nearly as fast through the next decade as they did the previous decade, according to a long-delayed ( & ) report being completed for the United Nations.

The document, the United States Climate Action Report, emphasizes that the projections show progress toward a goal Mr. Bush laid out in a 2002 speech: that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases grow at a slower rate than the economy. Since that speech, he has repeated his commitment to lessening “greenhouse gas intensity” without imposing formal limits on the gases.

Kristen A. Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House on environmental matters, said on Friday, “The Climate Action Report will show that the president’s portfolio of actions addressing climate change and his unparalleled financial commitments are working.”

But when shown the report, an assortment of experts on climate trends and policy described the projected emissions as unacceptable given the rising evidence of risks from unabated global warming.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.