For the rich and powerful, views trump alternative energy

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

A few of the rationales about environment are perfectly reasonable. But, understand from the git-go, this is about not “spoiling” the view for those who pass by – then return home to the Bay Area or L.A..

Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely. The California agency charged with planning a renewable energy transmission grid has rerouted proposed power lines to avoid the monument.

Look at the photo above. There already are power lines crossing the area. Why not new ones?

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Illinois coppers seize cellphones over high school sexting

Plainfield police said they have seized nine cell phones after a 16-year-old high school honors student took a nude photograph of herself and sent it to a male student.

The picture quickly went viral on campus, and a Plainfield East High School official contacted authorities last week, prompting what police are calling their largest-ever sexting investigation. In one sign of how quickly the photo spread, some of the original senders told police they had received it from other people last week, according to court documents.

Viewing the photograph and forwarding it are technically violations of child pornography statutes, though police and the Will County state’s attorney’s office say they typically handle such cases through juvenile probation. No one has been charged…

It’s not clear how many of Plainfield East’s roughly 1,300 students received or forwarded the photo, but it could easily number in the hundreds, police said…

Nine cell phones — including two that were already found to contain the photo — have been turned over to computer forensic specialists at the Will County Sheriff’s Department.

A school district spokesman declined to comment Wednesday, citing student privacy concerns. School board Vice President Roger Bonuchi said only that parents should warn their children against “doing immoral acts.”

Lots of interesting questions about freedom for teenagers. Stupidity certainly is a component.

Have to wonder how many members of the Plainfield PD now have copies of the photo on their own cellphones, eh?

Britain outnumbers France and Italy with cheese

Britain has overtaken France and Italy in the number of cheeses it manufactures. According to Juliet Harbutt, a global authority on cheese who organises the British Cheese Awards, about 700 varieties now boast a “Made in Britain” label. This is 100 more varieties than France produces, and twice as many as Italy.

Britain’s cheese-making renaissance began 20 years ago when many of the nation’s 200 specialist cheese companies started operations. The big reduction, 15 years ago, in the powers of the Milk Marketing Board, which had bought up most milk from producers, and the introduction of European Union milk quotas in the 1980s, both proved the spur for dairy farmers to look for other ways of using their core product.

The most famous of British cheeses is perhaps Cheddar, and some specialist varieties can sell for as much as 15 pounds a kilo (24 U.S. dollars). There are 10 families of British cheese, amongst them Cheshire, Stilton and Double Gloucester. However, British manufacturers have shown a rare skill in devising new recipes. But like any bespoke product, they are mainly produced in small production runs of just a few tonnes a year…

France’s postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle once famously said, “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” Gordon Brown may be pondering the same question as he tucks into some Stilton during the festive break.

This won’t make any headway with folks whose only association with food in the UK is figuring out who ate all the pies at a football match in Wigan.

Understanding the Stone Age pantry

The consumption of wild cereals among prehistoric hunters and gatherers appears to be far more ancient than previously thought, according to a University of Calgary archaeologist who has found the oldest example of extensive reliance on cereal and root staples in the diet of early Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago.

Julio Mercader…recovered dozens of stone tools from a deep cave in Mozambique showing that wild sorghum, the ancestor of the chief cereal consumed today in sub-Saharan Africa for flours, breads, porridges and alcoholic beverages, was in Homo sapiens’ pantry along with the African wine palm, the false banana, pigeon peas, wild oranges and the African “potato.” This is the earliest direct evidence of humans using pre-domesticated cereals anywhere in the world…

This broadens the timeline for the use of grass seeds by our species, and is proof of an expanded and sophisticated diet much earlier than we believed,” Mercader said. “This happened during the Middle Stone Age, a time when the collecting of wild grains has conventionally been perceived as an irrelevant activity and not as important as that of roots, fruits and nuts.”

In 2007, Mercader and colleagues from Mozambique’s University of Eduardo Mondlane excavated a limestone cave near Lake Niassa that was used intermittently by ancient foragers over the course of more than 60,000 years. Deep in this cave, they uncovered dozens of stone tools, animal bones and plant remains indicative of prehistoric dietary practices. The discovery of several thousand starch grains on the excavated plant grinders and scrapers showed that wild sorghum was being brought to the cave and processed systematically.

“It has been hypothesized that starch use represents a critical step in human evolution by improving the quality of the diet in the African savannas and woodlands where the modern human line first evolved. This could be considered one of the earliest examples of this dietary transformation,” Mercader said. “The inclusion of cereals in our diet is considered an important step in human evolution because of the technical complexity and the culinary manipulation that are required to turn grains into staples.”

Mercader said the evidence is on par with grass seed use by hunter-gatherers in many parts of the world during the closing stages of the last Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago. In this case, the trend dates back to the beginnings of the Ice Age, some 90,000 years earlier.

Bravo! Another step forward in our understanding of the anthropology of evolution and nutrition.

Yes. Humans cannot live on peanut butter alone. They must have bread.

Pace of climate change varies from mountain to marsh

Reports of maples on the march northward and butterflies flitting far afield are already flooding in, and climate scientists predict that with escalating temperature changes more species will need to either get out of Dodge, or hope for emissions reductions that will help the planet dodge the climate bullet.

Much of Earth’s life forms are fine-tuned for specific ecosystems and their associated climates. Plunk a tree frog down in a harsh habitat it is not well adapted for, and it will fail to thrive—or even survive. Now, with regional climates shifting as a result of global warming, it is unclear just how far—and how fast—organisms will need to travel to keep up with moving climates. A new study, published online in Nature, aims to paint a clearer picture by uncovering the variable velocity of climate shifts across the globe…

On average, given annual average temperature change models, local climates will move about 0.42 kilometers (or a quarter of a mile) each year, the study found. And 28.8 percent of the world’s biomes (or ecosystems, areas with similar climatic conditions) are facing rates of change more than 1 kilometer per year. “What we’re bringing attention to is the speed with which these things happen,” Loarie says about the study, which analyzed these climate change velocities across the globe at the resolution of a single kilometer.

Although these shifts might sound like small beans for mobile animals like birds, which can pick their environment with relative precision, for the very small, the very large and the very rooted, such a pace might be impossible. “Plants might be particularly vulnerable” in the case of rapid local climate changes, says Dov Sax, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University in Providence, R.I. And even species that can travel more easily, like butterflies, can be dependent on specific plants or other biome system members that are slower to follow temperature changes. If a species can move to more comfortable climes, “the right ecosystem needs to be there” for them to thrive, Sax explains.

Calculating climactic changes is a tricky business, and temperature is by no means the whole story. Loarie and his team chose temperature as a key marker, he says, because organisms are “bathed in temperature.” His team also ran the models with predicted precipitation changes and arrived at similar conclusions, even though moisture levels can prompt more nuanced responses across species. Sax, who wasn’t involved in the study, notes that predicting how species will respond to these changes can be even more difficult. “We’re in a very early stage of figuring these things out,” he says.

RTFA. It will help your own understanding. Presuming you are one of those rational human beings who orders their life and politics through expanding knowledge – rather than talking points, trite and ideological.

Even in the narrow context of La Cieneguilla we have witnessed the arrival of lizard species from the fringes of Sonoran desert advancing north. At first we feared destruction of the native Blue-tailed skinks; but, they appear to have fought back successfully and maintained their portion of the local biosphere.

Migrating birds that used to pass through on their way to Mexico in the Fall – now form a skirmish line wavering forth and back through our latitude and altitude. Red-wing blackbirds and some lovely bluebirds.

All short-term phenomena; but, differing qualitatively from the recorded history of the region.

CitiGroup, Wells Fargo repay $45 billion TARP funds

Wells Fargo & Co and Citigroup Inc repaid a total of $45 billion to the United States, as major banks look to reduce government influence over their affairs.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo repaid in full the $25 billion it received in October 2008 under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Citi repaid $20 billion, but taxpayers still own common stock in the bank that is now worth about $25.2 billion.

The banks were the last two major banks left in TARP. Most of their competitors repaid the United States in June.

Exiting TARP gives banks more say over areas including employee compensation and dividends.

Last week, Wells Fargo sold $12.25 billion in stock and New York-based Citigroup sold $17 billion in common shares and $3.5 billion in convertible notes to help repay the TARP money.

In almost every case, taxpayers/Treasury made a direct profit on the repayment. Citibank shares will have to rebound – and then the US government will sell taxpayer shares – to realize that profit.

Seinfeld is over, but Festivus keeps giving

To hear it from Frank Costanza, the character played by Jerry Stiller, the December 23 observance calls for little more than the erection of an aluminum pole, the airing of grievances and the demonstration of feats of strength — which preferably culminate in wrestling down to the ground and pinning the head of the household.

“People want something that’s nothing,” said Salkin, author of “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us,” a book that chronicles the birth and flourishing of this oddly sacred day. “All the traditional holidays exclude somebody,” but with this one, “everyone’s in on the joke.”

The Festivus faithful have gathered across the globe and have come together in places as various as seedy bars, campus squares and corporate boardrooms. Citizens, with varied degrees of success, have petitioned to raise Festivus poles beside public nativity scenes. Social networking sites and holiday-specific venues — like and — are go-to places for those who want to share the cheer, or jeers.

People exchange gifts they’ve received and don’t want. Dickies, random hair extensions and shoe-shining kits from the ’70s are always appropriate, she said. And feats of strength generally involve thumb-wrestling (costumes for thumbs included) and timed competitions to see who can submerge their face in ice water the longest or hold 3-pound weights to the side for the greatest stretch of time.

Makes as much sense as all the religious mysticism associated with the winter solstice. And more.