Feel like eating trout – downstream from mining operations?

Photographs of variously mutated brown trout were relegated to an appendix of a scientific study commissioned by the J. R. Simplot Company, whose mining operations have polluted nearby creeks in southern Idaho. The trout were the offspring of local fish caught in the wild that had been spawned in the laboratory. Some had two heads; others had facial, fin and egg deformities.

Yet the company’s report concluded that it would be safe to allow selenium — a metal byproduct of mining that is toxic to fish and birds — to remain in area creeks at higher levels than are now permitted under regulatory guidelines. The company is seeking a judgment to that effect from the Environmental Protection Agency. After receiving a draft report that ran hundreds of pages, an E.P.A. review described the research as “comprehensive” and seemed open to its findings, which supported the selenium variance for Simplot’s Smoky Canyon mine.

But when other federal scientists and some environmentalists learned of the two-headed brown trout, they raised a ruckus, which resulted in further scientific review that found the company’s research wanting.

Now, several federal agencies, an array of environmental groups and one of the nation’s largest private companies are at odds over selenium contamination from the Idaho phosphate mine, the integrity of the company’s research, and what its effect will be on future regulatory policy.

Continue reading

Social networks becoming less social — or people getting smarter?

Users of online social network sites such as Facebook are editing their pages and tightening their privacy settings to protect their reputations in the age of digital sharing, according to a new survey.

About two-thirds, or 63 percent, of social networking site users questioned in the Pew Research Center poll said they had deleted people from their “friends” lists, up from 56 percent in 2009. Another 44 percent said they had deleted comments that others have made on their profiles, up from 36 percent two years before.

Users also have become more likely to remove their names from photos that were tagged to identify them. Thirty-seven percent of profile owners have done that, up from 30 percent in 2009, the survey showed.

“Over time, as social networking sites have become a mainstream communications channel in everyday life, profile owners have become more active managers of their profiles and the content that is posted by others in their networks,” the report said.

The Pew report also touches on the privacy settings people use for their profiles. The issue of online privacy has drawn increasing concerns from consumers, and the Obama administration has called for a “privacy bill of rights” that would give users more control over their data.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said their main profile was set to be private so only friends can see it.

Another 19 percent said they had set their profile to partially private so that friends of friends can see it. Only 20 percent have made their profile completely public.

The headlines in many articles on this topic describe folks was becoming “less social”. I’d say they’re just getting more sensible. Especially as reaction from members of the various networks react negatively to tales of broad swathes of info having been boosted by greedy marketers – positively as networks respond to criticism by offering more choices to limit distribution of personal demographics.

Heartless thieves steal lovers’ padlocks

Photo by Dandelion & Burdock

German police caught two thieves breaking open “lovers’ padlocks” attached to a bridge over the Rhine River in the city of Cologne.

The pair were cutting padlocks, left by amorous couples to symbolize their eternal love, off a railing on the Hohenzollern Bridge presumably to sell as scrap metal, police said.

“I spotted two men on the other side of the bridge tampering with the lovers’ padlocks, so I called for back-up straight away,” a police officer said. The men tried to escape with their loot after spotting police but were apprehended on the bridge.

Police discovered over 50 padlocks along with lock cutters in a trolley suitcase, wheeled along by the men…

Love-struck couples have been fastening padlocks to railings of bridges, engraving them with their initials or adding a few sentimental words and then tossing the keys into the rivers below to symbolize their eternal love.

My suggestion is, I fear, rather obvious. Padlock – or handcuff – these two scumbags together and throw them into the river.

Salvadoran mass murderer may be deported from the country which paid for his services – the United States

Mothers and families of El Salvador’s assassinated, disappeared 40,000 citizens
Mike Goldwater photo

An immigration judge in Florida has cleared the way for the deportation from the United States of Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former defense minister of El Salvador, finding that he assisted in acts of torture and murder committed by soldiers under his command during the civil war there, including several notorious killings of Americans.

The decision by Judge James Grim of immigration court in Orlando is the first time that federal immigration prosecutors have established that a top-ranking foreign military commander can be deported based on human rights violations under a law passed in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, intended to bar human rights violators from coming to or living in the United States.

Judge Grim found that General Vides assisted in the killings of four American churchwomen on a rural road in El Salvador in 1980, a crime that caused shock there and in Washington and presaged the bloody violence that would engulf the Central American nation for the next decade. The immigration judge’s ruling is the first time General Vides has been held responsible for those deaths in a court of law.

Five soldiers from the Salvadoran National Guard were eventually convicted of the killings and served long prison sentences. General Vides was the commander of the National Guard at the time of the murders.

The effort by Department of Homeland Security officials to seek the deportation of General Vides, who was El Salvador’s defense minister from 1983 to 1989, is a turnabout in American foreign policy. He was a close ally of Washington throughout the war against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, and was embraced as a reformer despite rampant rights violations by the armed forces under his command.

Judge Grim also determined that General Vides had assisted in the torture of two Salvadorans, Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, who testified against him in hearings last spring in the immigration court in Orlando.

“This is the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has taken this relatively new law and applied it to the highest military commander of their country to seek their removal,” said Carolyn Patty Blum, senior legal adviser for the Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit legal group in San Francisco that represented several torture victims in the case. She called the decision “hugely significant” for future efforts to bring immigration cases for human rights abuses against the highest-level military commanders and government officials.

Republicans and Democrats alike have always justified the Murder, Incorporated style of American foreign policy as expedient during the Cold War. The ending of the Cold War has done nothing to change the style and substance of those policies. And, frankly, this case is surprising in its challenge to established strategy.

I have to wonder if the DOJ/DHS managed to offer a conscience separate from the White House or if Obama has cracked the door open to legitimate human rights concerns?

I presume you know that Congress as presently constituted will offer no such change. In fact, I imagine some of the most fascist-minded creeps will call for committee hearings on “America growing soft on terrorism” or something reflecting the corruption of what passes for conservatism in America.

They could recall Dick Cheney, secretary of War under Bush the Elder – who declared no involvement of the United States or Salvadoran political thugs in any of these murders.

In a hotter past – horses got down to the size of cats

More than 50 million years ago, the Earth was a hotter place than it is today and horses the size of pet cats roamed the forests of North America, US scientists said on Thursday. These earliest known horses, known as Sifrhippus, actually grew smaller over tens of thousands of years in order to adapt to the higher temperatures of a period when methane emissions spiked, possibly due to major volcanic eruptions.

The research could have implications for how the planet’s modern animals may adapt to a warming planet due to climate change and higher carbon emissions, scientists said.

Researchers made the discovery after analyzing horse tooth fossils uncovered in the western US state of Wyoming that showed the older ones were larger, and that the species had shrunk over time. Many animals became extinct during this 175,000-year period, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, some 56 million years ago. Others got smaller in order to survive with limited resources.

“Because it’s over a long enough time, you can argue very strongly that what you’re looking at is natural selection and evolution — that it’s actually corresponding to the shift in temperature and driving the evolution of these horses,” said co-author Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Average global temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit during that span due to massive increase in carbon that was unleashed into the air and oceans. Surface sea temperature in the Arctic was about 23 Celsius (73 Fahrenheit), much like the temperatures of contemporary subtropical waters today.

The research showed that Sifrhippus shrank by almost one third, reaching the size of a small house cat (about 8.5 pounds, four kilograms) in the first 130,000 years of the period. Then, the horses grew larger again, to about 15 pounds (seven kilograms) in the final 45,000 years of the period.

About a third of known mammals also minimized themselves during this time, some by as much as one half.

“This has implications, potentially, for what we might expect to see over the next century or two, at least with some of the climate models that are predicting that we will see warming of as much as four degrees Centigrade (seven degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 100 years,” said co-author Ross Secord of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Some predictable changes along this line of thought have already been observed, It is much too early to sort out all the potential changes, of course. I have the most fun wandering through regional climatology over questions of rainfall – but, that’s only natural living in high desert country.

Fortunately, scientists are not only open-minded by definition, their natural conservatism keeps wild swings in check – regardless of perceptions from the Chicken Little variety of climate-carbon coward. Legitimate analysis generally stays within range of my generalist comprehension.