Dairy powers itself with cow poop — including 42 tractor-trailers

Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.

For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 3D movie theater.

All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.

But not anymore.

The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.

As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public…

The American Gas Association estimates there are about 1,200 natural gas fueling stations operating across the country, the vast majority of which are supplied by the same pipelines that heat houses.

But the growing market is also drawing interest from livestock farmers, landfill management companies and other industries handling methane-rich material that, if harnessed, could create a nearly endless supply of cleaner, safer, sustainable “biogas,” while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To be sure, no one is pretending that waste-to-energy projects will become a major part of the larger natural gas vehicle market. But supporters say it could provide additional incentive to make biogas systems, which have lagged behind other sustainable energy solutions, more commercially viable.

RTFA. Partnerships are growing between dairy farmers and NatGas industry providers. They say we’ll be surprised how much they will grow over the next five years.

I’m ready to be surprised. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

Palestine should take Israel to court in The Hague

Last week, the Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, declared that if Israel persisted in its plans to build settlements in the currently vacant area known as E-1, which lies between Palestinian East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, “we will be going to the I.C.C.,” referring to the International Criminal Court. “We have no choice,” he added…

Israeli leaders are unnerved for good reason. The I.C.C. could prosecute major international crimes committed on Palestinian soil anytime after the court’s founding on July 1, 2002.

Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the Israel Defense Forces, guided by its military lawyers, have attempted to remake the laws of war by consciously violating them and then creating new legal concepts to provide juridical cover for their misdeeds. For example, in 2002, an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in a densely populated Gaza neighborhood, killing a Hamas military leader, Salah Shehadeh, and 14 others, including his wife and seven children under the age of 15. In 2009, Israeli artillery killed more than 20 members of the Samouni family, who had sought shelter in a structure in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City at the bidding of Israeli soldiers. Last year, Israeli missiles killed two Palestinian cameramen working for Al Aksa television. Each of these acts, and many more, could lead to I.C.C. investigations.

The former head of the Israeli military’s international law division, Daniel Reisner, asserted in 2009: “International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”

Colonel Reisner is right that customary international law is formed by the actual practice of states that other states accept as lawful. But targeted assassinations are not widely accepted as legal. Nor are Israel’s other attempted legal innovations…

…It has treated civilian employees of Hamas — including police officers, judges, clerks, journalists and others — as combatants because they allegedly support a “terrorist infrastructure.” Never mind that contemporary international law deems civilians “combatants” only when they actually take up arms.

All of these practices could expose Israeli political and military officials to prosecutions for war crimes. To be clear, the prosecutions would be for particular acts, not for general practices, but statements by Israeli officials explaining their policies could well provide evidence that the acts were intentional and not mere accidents of war…

Indeed, Palestinians would be doing themselves, Israelis and the global community a favor by invoking I.C.C. jurisdiction. Ending Israel’s impunity for its clear violations of legal norms would both promote peace in the Middle East and help uphold the integrity of international law.

Who knows – such actions might even encourage the United States and President Obama to come down on the side of Human Rights. Congress might even acknowledge the standing of the International Court. In your dreams.

This would place thugs like Cheney and Bush in danger of prosecution for the fraud they committed to invade Iraq, Something neither wing of Congress has the integrity to face. And Obama – in his quest for support from rightwing supporters on Israel – is unwilling to face simple reduction of our billion$ to that state – much less support for historic justice.

Will Congress or Obama stop supporting Honduras’ death squads?

he Obama administration is coming under fire for its role in arming and funding murderous Honduran police, in violation of US law. Under the Leahy Law, named after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the US government is not allowed to fund foreign military units who have commit gross human rights violations with impunity. The director general of Honduras’ national police force, Juan Carlos Bonilla, has been investigated in connection with death squad killings; and members of the US Congress have been complaining about it since Bonilla was appointed last May. Thanks to some excellent investigative reporting by the Associated Press in the last couple of weeks – showing that all police units are, in fact, under Bonilla’s command – it has become clear that the US is illegally funding the Honduran police.

So, now we’ll see if “rule of law” or “separation of powers” means very much in a country that likes to lecture “less developed” nations about these principles…

The government of Honduran President Pepe Lobo was “elected” after a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mel Zelaya in June of 2009. Zelaya later told the press that Washington was involved in the coup; this is very believable, given the circumstantial evidence. But what we know for sure is that the Obama administration was heavily involved in helping the new regime survive and legitimize itself. Washington supported Lobo’s election in 2009, against the opposition of almost the entire hemisphere. The Organization of American States and the European Union refused to send observers to an election that most of the world viewed as obviously illegitimate.

The coup unleashed a wave of violence against political dissent that continues to this day. Even Honduras’ Truth and Reconciliation Commission – established by the coup government itself – found that it had “undertaken political persecution … and that it was responsible for a number of killings committed by state agents and those acting at their behest, in addition to the widespread and violent repression of rights to speech, assembly, association.”

Which brings us the elections scheduled for later this year. Once again, a social-democratic party is in the race, including people who courageously defended democracy against 2009’s military coup. Its presidential candidate is Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the president whom Washington worked so hard to get rid of. This party is among the victims of the government’s political repression: in November, LIBRE mayoral candidate Edgardo Adalid Motiño was gunned down after attending a rally for Xiomara Zelaya.

So there you have it. A death squad government may not be the Obama administration’s first choice, but it prefers it to a leftist government that Hondurans might elect if they were to have a free election. The current government belongs to Washington, just like the US military base that the Pentagon would like to keep in Honduras indefinitely.

If all that sounds disgusting, and reminiscent of President Reagan’s death squad governments in Central America, it’s because it is both. The question right now, as in the 1980s, is what will members of Congress in Washington do about it?

Gee, what do you think President Obama will say and do? What do you think Congress will do?

Biogen Idec has a wonderful new pill to treat Multiple Sclerosis

Biogen Idec said…it will price Tecfidera, its newly approved pill to treat multiple sclerosis, at $54,900 a year per patient in the United States.

Officials at the Weston-based biotechnology company said the figure represents a “solid value” for MS patients, who will take the capsule twice a day. Most MS treatments now on the market have to be injected or taken through intravenous infustion…

Biogen Idec…won Food and Drug Administration approval Wednesday to sell the oral therapy. Company officials said Tecfidera will distributed, stocked, and available topatients “on or around” Monday.

MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous systems of about 400,000 people in the US and about 2.5 million worldwide, disrupting communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Over time, patients can suffer from muscle weakness, loss of balance, and a progressive decline in function.

Most current treatments for MS are priced between $45,000 and $60,000 annually.

The operative phrase in economics is – Take what the market can bear!

The cost of Tecfidera represents a slight premium over the the $51,000 projected by investment fund managers polled by New York research firm ISI Group. But it is less expensive than the first MS pill, Gilenya, sold by Swiss drug maker Novartis AG, which costs $60,000…

Health insurance covers most of the cost of the drug for the majority of patients. But Biogen Idec, like other drug makers, sponsors patient assistance programs to help pay for the drugs in cases where all or part of the cost is not covered by private or public payers.

What that means to ordinary human beings who need the treatment is that there is more than enough room in the profit structure to lower the price. When Big Pharma feel the need to to maintain sales targets.

Executive VP, Tony Kingsley said Biogen officials will be talking to commercial and government insurers over the next six to nine months about the clinical benefits of Tecfidera and its potential to lower overall medical expenses by keeping MS patients out of the hospital.

We’re days away from getting the product to patients, which we’re very excited about,” he said.

Like pretty much any medication for serious illness, Biogen will tailor the price to match national market demographics. That swing can be as much as 400% or more. Our government will back them up by working hard at preventing Americans from buying the pill in other countries.

You, too, can be arrested for trying to stay alive – and reducing pharmaceutical industry profits.

Weeds can shed some light on climate-coping

In the race to adapt to climate change, weeds may be the winners. Understanding their well-honed coping mechanisms could inform strategies for ecological management, says a Cornell crop and soil researcher.

While other species are expected to suffer from environmental fluctuations, changes in temperature may help invasive weeds expand their ranges. Many weeds are capable of relatively rapid genetic change as well, further enhancing their ability to colonize new areas.

The findings stem from the study, “Predicting Weed Invasion in Canada Under Climate Change: Evaluating Evolutionary Potential,” published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science…by weed ecologist Antonio DiTommaso, Richard C. Call, Director of Agricultural Sciences, and biologist David Clements of Trinity Western University…

For many years, scientists thought weeds would not develop herbicide resistance on a comparable scale to the insecticide resistance that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s; now, herbicide resistance is widespread, showing weeds have a strong potential to evolve in the presence of intense selection pressure, DiTommaso said.

In the study, the researchers looked at four different weed species — Himalayan balsam, velvetleaf, Japanese knotweed and johnsongrass — that were expanding their ranges northward within North America. They observed evidence for potential evolutionary responses to climate change in each species, despite population genetic differences.

DiTommaso said that the study’s findings will help address the spread of weeds and the economic and ecological damage it could cause. He’s also intrigued by what weeds can teach us about inhabiting and restoring degraded areas.

“Most people define weeds simply as plants out of place, but from an ecological point of view they’re just especially good at colonizing disturbed sites and staying abundant under repeated disturbance,” he said. “Ecologically, they’re just survivors…”

Weeds are the workingclass heroes of the plant world. They just haven’t been tailored into something that produces profit for the owners of the means of production – usually agribusiness – yet.

Smoking may be a sign of psychiatric illness — WTF?

Smoking may be a sign of psychiatric illness, experts say. Doctors should routinely consider referring people who smoke to mental health services, in case they need treatment, they add.

The controversial recommendation from the British Lung Foundation, a charity, comes in response to a major report, Smoking and Mental Health, published this week by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists with the Faculty of Public Health. It says that almost one in three cigarettes smoked in Britain today is smoked by someone with a mental disorder. When people with drug and alcohol problems are included the proportion is even higher.

The reason is that smoking rates have more than halved over the past 50 years, but the decline has not happened equally in all parts of society.

Smoking is increasingly becoming the domain of the most disadvantaged: the poor, homeless, imprisoned and those with mental disorder. This is a damning indictment of UK public health policy and clinical service provision,” the report says…

Professor Stephen Spiro, deputy chair of the British Lung Foundation, said persuading people with mental disorders to give up smoking was a major challenge. But so was identifying smokers who might need psychiatric treatment…

Smoking increases with the severity of mental disorder, and amongst those with a psychotic illness almost all smoke. Nicotine appears to provide some relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which may explain why people with these conditions become smokers.

If the results in this report are reproducible, verifiable – then, the next question is “does this phenomenon owe its foundation uniquely to British society and culture?”

Activision shows animated human. Really — that ain’t a person.

Activision showed off the state of the art of real-time graphics on Wednesday, releasing this mind-boggling character demo. The character’s skin, facial expressions and eyes look so real, it’s uncanny…

This newest character edges ever-so-closely to our own side of the uncanny valley, where art is indistinguishable from reality. That’s thanks to what game developer Activision calls “next-generation character rendering.” This character is part of a presentation Activision’s real-time graphics R&D expert Jorge Jimenez gave on Wednesday at GDC 2013, the annual Game Development Conference.

According to Jimenez, this face and others like it represent “the culmination of many years of work in photorealistic characters.” At the presentation, Jimenez showed “how each detail is the secret for achieving reality.”

The trick for these gaming developers is not only to create photorealistic animated characters, but to ensure that such animations can play in real time on video cards and computers that ordinary people actually own. And that’s what Activision has done, using standard bone animation, facial scanning, performance capture and lots of intricate artwork to make skin look real.

Check it out. Pretty spooky.

A family with two moms

Ava and Jaidon have two moms. Theresa Volpe is “mommy” and her partner Mercedes Santos is “mama”.

They have been together for over 20 years. They met each other while working for the same publishing company in Chicago in 1992. Theresa says that Mercedes is the person she was meant to spend her life with, she just happens to be another woman.

In 2002, they decided to find an anonymous donor so they could have their own biological children. First came Ava, now a quiet and insightful 8-year-old talented musician, and then her brother Jaidon, an energetic and playful four year old.

Theresa and Mercedes are part of a lawsuit to get same-sex marriage legalized in Illinois. There are nine U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriage, and Illinois currently has legislation waiting to be voted on in the House after the Illinois State Senate approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Valentine’s Day this year.

Read the article. Enjoy the wonderful family photography by Jim Young.

FBI busts portfolio manager at SAC Capital hedge fund

Steven Cohen
Steven Cohen

U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged Michael Steinberg, a veteran portfolio manager with Steven A. Cohen’s $15 billion hedge fund, with engaging in insider trading in two technology stocks, the most senior SAC Capital Advisors employee to be charged in the government’s long-running probe.

The five-count indictment was announced a few hours after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived at Steinberg’s home in New York City at around 6 a.m. ET and arrested him.

Federal prosecutors are charging Steinberg, 40, with using inside information to make trades in shares of Dell and chipmaker Nvidia that generated about $1.4 million in illegal profits for Cohen’s hedge fund…

SAC Capital spokesman Jonathan Gasthalter said: “Mike has conducted himself professionally and ethically during his long tenure at the firm. We believe him to be a man of integrity…”

In a related civil complaint against Steinberg, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said the information allowed Steinberg to generate $6.4 million in profits and avoided losses for Cohen’s hedge fund.

Steinberg is one of nine current or former employees of SAC Capital who have been charged or implicated with insider trading while working at Cohen’s 2-decade-old hedge fund…

The arrest comes two weeks after SAC agreed to pay a record $616 million to the SEC to settle civil charges of insider trading. SAC neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing at that time.

But the government made clear that that settlement did not preclude further charges.

The DOJ’s policy on Wall Street – in general – is to bust the little fish, negotiate a deal on jail time to get them to testify against the heavy hitters at the top of the pyramid. Then, they settle for a chunk of money from the firm’s coffers. Unfortunately, in an era of untouchable Wall Street bosses, that’s not sufficient to make any changes in behavior.

The name of the game is Never Steal Anything Small. When you have the top man at SAC spending over $100 million for a Picasso for his new $60 million beach cottage – he may whine over the fine; but, staying outside of the slammer is what really counts. He can always hustle more money.