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n2doc

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Home country: USA
Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
Number of posts: 33,206

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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Happy New Year, Afghanistan

Upon the occasion of the new year, Afghanistan and the United States have yet to nail down a U.S. troop presence beyond 2014, and the American people have concluded that the 12-year-long war in Afghanistan is not only the nation’s longest but also its least popular.

The two data points are linked. Soldiers who think about such things—and most don’t—will acknowledge that long wars and democracies don’t mix.

When the war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, most Pentagon officials said privately that it would be over in a year or two; some estimated six months. Double that duration for Iraq, launched 18 months later on Mar. 19, 2003. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein were ousted shortly after U.S. troops arrived. What did we do following their ouster that has been worth the added cost in U.S. blood and treasure?

Many families of fallen troops feel their loved one died for something, but they’re not sure precisely what. Many don’t think it was to keep their families safe back home, where, statistically speaking, your chance of dying from malaria is greater than being killed in an Islamic terrorist attack. (If you want to believe that it was those very wars that kept attacks so low, welcome to the military-industrial superiority complex.)

more
http://swampland.time.com/2013/12/31/happy-new-year-afghanistan/

Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales

DENVER (AP) — Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1. Officials at Denver International Airport installed new signs warning visitors their weed can't legally go home with them.

And at a handful of shops, owners were scrambling to plan celebrations, set up coffee stations, arrange food giveaways and hire extra security to prepare for potential crowds and overnight campers ready to buy up to an ounce of legal weed.

While smoking pot has been legal in Colorado for the past year, so-called Green Wednesday represents another historic milestone for the decades-old legalization movement: the unveiling of the nation's first legal pot industry.

"It could be crazy. Or it could be crickets out there. Who knows? No one's ever done this before," said Robin Hackett, manager of BotanaCare in Northglenn, a suburb of Denver, who planned to have a DJ to greet shoppers.

more

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/colorado-readies-green-wednesday-pot-sales

A North Dakota town narrowly escaped tragedy when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded

CASSELTON, N.D. (AP) — A southeastern North Dakota town narrowly escaped tragedy when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded nearby, the mayor said Tuesday, calling for changes in how the fuel is transported across the U.S.

No one was hurt in Monday's derailment of the mile-long train that sent a great fireball and plumes of black smoke skyward about a mile from the small town of Casselton. The fire had been so intense as darkness fell that investigators couldn't get close enough to count the number of burning cars.

Worries about the smoke plume prompted officials to ask Casselton's 2,400 residents to voluntarily evacuate Monday evening, and most did. The recommendation was lifted Tuesday afternoon, but officials were urging residents south of the derailment to remain vigilant about changing conditions, Cass County Commissioner Ken Pawluk said.

Residents said the blasts endured for hours after the derailment, shaking their homes and businesses. A BNSF spokeswoman said 18 tanker cars burned.

more

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/weather-shift-near-nd-derailment-worries-officials

Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food

CHENJIAWAN, China — The farm-to-table process in China starts in villages like this one in the agricultural heartland. Food from the fields of Ge Songqing and her neighbors ends up in their kitchens or in the local market, and from there goes to other provinces. The foods are Chinese staples: rice, cabbage, carrots, turnips and sweet potatoes.

But the fields are ringed by factories and irrigated with water tainted by industrial waste. Levels of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater here are among the highest in China, and residents fear the soil is similarly contaminated. Though they have no scientific proof, they suspect that a spate of cancer deaths is linked to the pollution, and worry about lead levels in the children’s blood.

“Of course I’m afraid,” said Ms. Ge, in her 60s, pointing to the smokestacks looming over her fields and the stagnant, algae-filled irrigation canals surrounding a home she shares with a granddaughter and her husband, a former soldier. “But we don’t do physical checkups. If we find out we have cancer, it’s only a burden on the children.”

With awareness of China’s severe environmental degradation rising, there has been a surge of anxiety in the last year among ordinary Chinese and some officials over soil pollution in the country’s agricultural centers and the potential effects on the food chain. In recent years, the government has conducted widespread testing of soil across China, but it has not released the results, adding to the fear and making it more difficult for most Chinese to judge what they eat and pinpoint the offending factories.

An alarming glimpse of official findings came on Monday, when a vice minister of land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said at a news conference in Beijing that eight million acres of China’s farmland, equal to the size of Maryland, had become so polluted that planting crops on it “should not be allowed.”

more

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/31/world/asia/good-earth-no-more-soil-pollution-plagues-chinese-countryside.html?hp&pagewanted=all&_r=0

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis calls for official's removal over payday lending views

Finance commission chairman also is Vice President of Cash America
By Marty Schladen / Austin Bureau

AUSTIN >> State Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic candidate for governor, on Monday called on Gov. Rick Perry to remove William J. White as chairman of the Texas Finance Commission.

Davis' call was in response to a story published in Sunday's El Paso Times concerning White's views about payday lending.

The finance commission, which White chairs, oversees the state agency that is supposed to protect Texans from predatory lenders, but White is also a vice president of Cash America, a payday lending company that was sanctioned by the federal government last month for violating the law and obstructing the investigation.

White claimed that Cash America voluntarily reported its violations and suggested ways to fix them.

He also said, in essence, that borrowers are to blame if they find themselves unable to repay Cash America payday loans that carry an annual interest rate of 533 percent.

more

http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_24816415/texas-governor-candidate-wendy-davis-calls-officials-removal

Rescue Efforts for Trapped Antarctic Voyage Disrupt Serious Science

By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Early this morning, I received an e-mail message from one of many polar scientists whose important and costly field research in Antarctica has been seriously disrupted by the diversion of icebreakers to try to evacuate the journalists, tourists, crew and scientists on an unessential “expedition” aboard a chartered Russian ship.

You can read the note — from Joe McConnell, an American ice-sheet researcher I met in 2004 in Greenland — after a summary of the situation.

Of course the evacuation of the trapped ship, which will require helicopters given the impassible nature of the thick sea ice in the area, is vital. But when you consider the cost and risk attending the operation, and the impact on other science, this raises questions about the advisability of this voyage in the first place.

If you follow the discussion around #SpiritOfMawson — the Twitter hashtag for the project — you’ll also note how this misadventure has energized climate change contrarians, offering a distraction from serious research on the impact of climate change on Antarctica.

more
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/31/rescue-effort-for-trapped-antarctic-voyage-disrupts-serious-science/?_r=0

More proof Republicans getting dumber


US acceptance of evolution holds steady overall, drops among Republicans
One-third of US doesn't accept one of the unifying principles of biology.

by John Timmer - Dec 31 2013, 11:47am ESTYesterday, Pew Research Center released the results of a poll of US residents that asked about their acceptance of the theory of evolution. In keeping with past surveys, this one found that a completely uncontroversial idea within the scientific community—modern organisms are the result of evolution—is rejected by a third of the US public. While that fraction has held steady over time, the survey found that the political divide over evolution has grown over the past four years, with Republicans now even more likely to reject the idea than they were before.

In the poll, people were asked whether they thought that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, or if we and other creatures had evolved over time. To make sure that mentioning humans didn't make things overly personal, Pew also asked a subset of questions just about other animals; this didn't make any difference in responses.

Acceptance of evolution was higher in younger people and those who had graduated college, as had been found in previous polling. Among the 60 percent of Americans who do accept the theory, a bit over half ascribed it solely to natural causes—32 percent of the total. 25 percent of all adults believed in some form of theistic evolution, where a deity or deities guided the process, possibly in a way that's indistinguishable from the random mutations that have been observed. That figure's a bit higher in most religious groups, and a bit lower among the unaffiliated.

Evangelicals were the most likely to reject evolution (nearly two-thirds of them did), yet most of the 27 percent who did accept it thought it happened due to natural causes. This might be explained by the idea that rejection of evolution is a way for people to reinforce their cultural affinity with groups they feel will also reject evolution. If someone is already willing to forgo those cultural ties, then they may be more open to other ideas that are atypical of their cultural group.

more

http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/12/us-acceptance-of-evolution-holds-steady-overall-drops-among-republicans/

How next-gen geothermal could boost the future of energy

By juicing geothermal with CO2, a team of scientists hope to overcome limitations to this potentially powerful form of renewable electricity
By Garrett Hering

Harnessing naturally occurring heat trapped between layers of rock below the earth's surface, geothermal power plants are capable of supplying clean, renewable electricity around the clock. This valuable trait should position geothermal power as an important asset within emerging sustainable energy systems that rely heavily on intermittent renewables such as wind and solar.

But despite more than 50 years of commercial activity, geothermal power's path has been more rocky than disruptive.

That's largely because the medium- to high-temperature sites required by conventional geothermal power plants - known as hydrothermal sites - are limited. In the United States, which leads the world in geothermal power with an installed operating generating capacity of about 3,790 megawatts as of the end of 2013, development is highly concentrated in the West, primarily California and Nevada. This adds up to just 0.33 per cent of the country's electric generating fleet, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) most recent infrastructure update. Among electric fuel sources tracked by FERC, only waste heat and "other" account for less.

But there may be a solution to geothermal power's geographic limitation, which could open up the way for this subterranean resource to play a much greater role in energy systems of the future.

more

http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2320604/how-next-gen-geothermal-could-boost-the-future-of-energy

Dolphin megapod filmed underwater for the first time – in pictures

A gathering of 3000-5000 spinner dolphins, known as a megapod, is filmed underwater for the first time for a BBC series, Dolphins – Spy in the Pod. Two robotic 'spy creatures' with cameras in their mouths and eyes view the dolphins gathering to socialise in the nutrient-rich waters off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica
Dolphins – Spy in the Pod, BBC One, from Thursday 2 January, 8pm


theguardian.com, Tuesday 31 December 2013 06.25 EST



more
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2013/dec/31/dolphin-megapod-spinner-filmed-first-time-in-pictures

Your USB cable, the spy: Inside the NSA’s catalog of surveillance magic


by Sean Gallagher


A diagram of an NSA BIOS-based attack, brought to you by sneakernet.


The National Security Agency’s sophisticated hacking operations go way beyond using software vulnerabilities to gain access to targeted systems. The agency has a catalog of tools available that would make James Bond’s Q jealous, providing NSA analysts access to just about every potential source of data about a target.

In some cases, the NSA has modified the firmware of computers and network hardware—including systems shipped by Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, and Juniper Networks—to give its operators both eyes and ears inside the offices the agency has targeted. In others, the NSA has crafted custom BIOS exploits that can survive even the reinstallation of operating systems. And in still others, the NSA has built and deployed its own USB cables at target locations—complete with spy hardware and radio transceiver packed inside.

Documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to Der Spiegel reveal a fantastical collection of surveillance tools dating back to 2007 and 2008 that gave the NSA the power to collect all sorts of data over long periods of time without detection. The tools, ranging from back doors installed in computer network firmware and software to passively powered bugs installed within equipment, give the NSA a persistent ability to monitor some targets with little risk of detection. While the systems targeted by some of the “products” listed in the documents are over five years old and are likely to have been replaced in some cases, the methods and technologies used by all the exploit products could easily still be in use in some form in ongoing NSA surveillance operations.


more

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/12/inside-the-nsas-leaked-catalog-of-surveillance-magic/
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