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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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KKK skit shocks Wheaton College campus

An incident involving Wheaton College football players who dressed up in Ku Klux Klan robes as part of a parody of the Will Smith film "Bad Boys II" has rocked the college's campus, which already has been reeling from two other recent high-profile incidents.

The skit, which took place Feb. 28 in a campus gym during the football team's annual offseason team-building activity, involved groups of teammates performing skits. One group of 20 teammates, including some who are black, chose to parody several movies, including "Bad Boys II," a 2003 Martin Lawrence and Will Smith comedy and drama that pokes fun at the KKK. During the skit at Wheaton, the group wore Klan-style white hoods and robes and carried Confederate flags.

While those who organized the skit said it was intended to be satirical, it has outraged some on campus and provoked letters to the campus community from the evangelical Christian college's president, Philip Ryken, organizers of the skit and two assistant football coaches who were present. The controversy comes after two other high-profile incidents at Wheaton that have drawn headlines: the arrest of a student accused of video-recording a woman showering in a college-owned apartment and a student throwing fruit at another student who questioned Ryken at a campus event about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"Wheaton College is far from perfect," Ryken said in a statement to the Tribune. "I was shocked when I first heard that symbols with a history of racist violence had been used on our campus. Although I was somewhat relieved to learn — almost immediately — that the skit was intended to subvert racism, not promote it, I also knew that when students heard what had happened, it would understandably cause a lot of distress. Recent incidents have shown us how issues of prejudice and sexual misconduct damage trust and disturb the peace. Sadly, this is a campus where we have sins to confess and people to forgive every day."



The Libertarian Delusion

The free-market fantasy stands discredited by events. The challenge now: redeeming effective and democratic government

Robert Kuttner

The stubborn appeal of the libertarian idea persists, despite mountains of evidence that the free market is neither efficient, nor fair, nor free from periodic catastrophe. In an Adam Smith world, the interplay of supply and demand yields a price that signals producers what to make and investors where to put their capital. The more that government interferes with this sublime discipline, the more bureaucrats deflect the market from its true path.

But in the world where we actually live, markets do not produce the “right” price. There are many small examples of this failure, but also three immense ones that should have discredited the libertarian premise by now. Global climate change is the most momentous. The price of carbon-based energy is “correct”—it reflects what consumers will pay and what producers can supply—if you leave out the fact that carbon is destroying a livable planet. Markets are not competent to price this problem. Only governments can do that. In formal economics, this anomaly is described by the bloodless word “externality”—meaning costs (or benefits) external to the immediate transaction. Libertarian economists treat externalities as minor exceptions.

The other great catastrophe of our time is the financial collapse. Supposedly self-regulating markets could not discern that the securities created by financial engineers were toxic. Markets were not competent to adjust prices accordingly. The details of the bonds were opaque; they were designed to enrich middlemen; the securities were subject to investor herd-instincts; and their prices were prone to crash once a wave of panic-selling hit. Only government could provide regulations against fraudulent or deceptive financial products, as it did to good effect until the regulatory process became corrupted beginning in the 1970s. Deregulation arguably created small efficiencies by steering capital to suitable uses—but any such gains were obliterated many times over by the more than $10 trillion of GDP lost in the 2008 crash.

A third grotesque case of market failure is the income distribution. In the period between about 1935 and 1980, America became steadily more equal. This just happened to be the period of our most sustained economic growth. In that era, more than two-thirds of all the income gains were captured by the bottom 90 percent, and the bottom half actually gained income at a slightly higher rate than the top half. By contrast, in the period between 1997 and 2012, the top 10 percent captured more than 100 percent of all the income gains. The bottom 90 percent lost an average of nearly $3,000 per household. The reason for this drastic disjuncture is that in the earlier period, public policy anchored in a solid popular politics kept the market in check. Strong labor institutions made sure working families captured their share of productivity gains. Regulations limited monopolies. Government played a far more direct role in the economy via public investment, which in turn stimulated innovation. The financial part of the economy was well controlled. All of this meant more income for the middle and the bottom and less rapacity at the top.


This congressman doesn’t want a federal science board to be allowed to consider science

Last year, the House of Representatives passed two absurd anti-science bills, the Secret Science Reform Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act. It will come as no surprise that both bills, under the guise of “reform,” would have the practical effect of crippling the EPA’s efforts to assess science in a fair and timely way. I don’t have the heart to get into it — follow the links above for the details.

The bills are back; the House considered them both again yesterday. Emily Atkin has the gory details if you’re interested. They might get a little further this time — the Democratic Senate didn’t take them up last year, obviously, but the GOP-controlled Senate might this year — though it won’t matter in the end, as Obama has threatened to veto both. So it’s mainly yet another act of reactionary symbolism from the right.

All that is by way of background so I can draw your attention to a hilarious amendment attached to the Science Advisory Board bill. It comes by way of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), a far-right, coal-country, climate-denying conservative of the old school.

Here’s the amendment. Its sole purpose is to prohibit the EPA’s Science Advisory Board from taking into consideration, for any purpose, the following reports:

the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment
the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order No. 12866 (which I wrote about here)
the July 2014 Pathways to Deep Decarbonization Report, from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (which I wrote about here)


Next they will propose that federal agencies not use the terms 'climate change' and 'global warming', just like they have done in Florida...

Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar

By Joby Warrick

Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.

If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,” according to a presentation prepared for the group. “Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” it said.

The warning, delivered to a private meeting of the utility industry’s main trade association, became a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation. Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies.

The campaign’s first phase—an industry push for state laws raising prices for solar customers—failed spectacularly in legislatures around the country, due in part to surprisingly strong support for solar energy from conservatives and evangelicals in traditionally “red states.” But more recently, the battle has shifted to public utility commissions, where industry backers have mounted a more successful push for fee hikes that could put solar panels out of reach for many potential customers.



Skyfall: Sunrise Fallstreak Cloud

By Phil Plait
Here at BA HQ we’re all about weird clouds. Well, maybe not all about them, but certainly a lot about them. You’d think that clouds wouldn’t be terribly surprising (unless you’re trying to just get some Sun on a beach in Brazil) since, after all, they’re clouds. But you’d be wrong.

For example, get an eyeful of this.

Whoa. What is that?

It’s called a fallstreak or hole punch cloud. That’s not really an official name, since this isn’t actually a separate type of cloud; it’s actually something that happens to a cloud.



Hunters Find a Frozen 10,000-Year-Old Baby Woolly Rhino

IN THE EPOCH before striped dresses, the Internet was ruled by baby animals. Likewise, our Pleistocene ancestors were no doubt enthralled by the menagerie of little woolly mammals that once roamed the Earth—at least until climate change drove them to extinction. Now, as their icy tombs melt away, researchers are rediscovering those baby behemoths, and the latest little charmer that’s thawed is Sasha, the baby woolly rhino.

Admit it, the little fella is pretty cute for spending ten centuries frozen in the ice, getting chewed on by scavengers. In September, two hunters boating down a stream in Siberia noticed some wavy, auburn locks poking out of the permafrost—a dead reindeer, they thought. After realizing their mistake, they liberated the rhino’s body from the thawing soil and stored it through the worst of the winter. Last week, they delivered the body to the Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences.

Sasha is one of the few woolly rhinos yet discovered, and the only calf. Experts estimate she was just 18 months old when she died. Her discovery should help researchers better understand woolly rhinos’ living conditions, how they developed as they grew, and how they’re related to living rhino species.

Even though some Siberian predator has chewed off Sasha’s backside, the half that was buried in permafrost is largely intact. In addition to the skeletal leg, torso, and head, the calf has an ear, an eye, teeth, two horns, and a big flap of wool-covered skin. Perhaps most important, it might also still contain DNA. If scientists can recover an intact sample, they’ll be able to determine which species of (for-the-moment) living rhino is most closely related to the extinct woollies.



Weekend Toon roundup









Toon: 5 decades

Friday Toon Roundup










Sorry no split today, hafta go

'Extinct' Bird Rediscovered in Myanmar, Surprising Scientists

When scientists heard the call of a Myanmar Jerdon's babbler (above), they quickly recorded it and played the recording back, prompting one of the birds to come investigate.


Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic

A bird thought to have gone the way of the dodo decades ago has been rediscovered in Myanmar (Burma), scientists reported Thursday.

A team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon the bird, a Myanmar Jerdon's babbler, last May while studying other birds in a small grassland area near an abandoned agricultural research station. (See "Pictures: Extinct Species That Could Be Brought Back.")

Once they heard its distinctive call, the scientists quickly recorded it and played the recording back, prompting an adult Myanmar Jerdon's babbler to come investigate. The team caught the the first known glimpse of the animal since 1941, according to a Thursday press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Over the next two days, the team found several more individuals of the "extinct" bird and took blood samples and high-resolution photographs.



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