Evidence that Greenland once was warmer…and greener

The ice sheet that covers the northernmost reaches of our planet has expanded and shrunk over the past 2 million years — but it was thought that Greenland’s bitter cold and miles-deep ice had been a more or less constant feature.

However, new evidence has suggested it was once a much warmer and greener place than we are used to today. What it took in the past to melt the ice and cover it with plants could be critical for predicting how the Arctic will respond to climate change in the present day.

A long-lost core of earth drilled up from beneath mile-thick ice in northwestern Greenland in the 1960s has shown that in the past 1 million years — and perhaps as recently as 400,000 years ago — it was once home to a vegetated landscape.

Scientists had expected to find sand and rock in the dirt but were instead surprised to see twigs and leaves.

Yup. “Lost” for 60 or 70 years. Pretty good illustration of how our nation’s perpetual concern over science, research, providing historic discoveries to institutions of education and knowledge…when we’re condemning other nations…in practice, is OK when it’s OUR MILITARY that’s aiding the research.

Even by accident.

Big Oil just realized Electric Car demand is rising

❝ The world’s biggest oil producers are starting to take electric vehicles seriously as a long-term threat.

OPEC quintupled its forecast for sales of plug-in EVs, and oil producers from Exxon Mobil Corp. to BP Plc also revised up their outlooks in the past year, according to a study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Friday. The London-based researcher expects those cars to reduce oil demand 8 million barrels by 2040, more than the current combined production of Iran and Iraq.

❝ Growing popularity of EVs increases the risk that oil demand will stagnate in the decades ahead, raising questions about the more than $700 billion a year that’s flowing into fossil-fuel industries. While the oil producers’ outlook isn’t nearly as aggressive as BNEF’s, the numbers indicate an acceleration in the number of EVs likely to be in the global fleet…

❝ BNEF expects electric cars to outsell gasoline and diesel models by 2040, reflecting a rapid decline in the cost of lithium-ion battery units that store power for the vehicles. It expects 530 million plug-in cars on the road by 2040, a third of worldwide total number of cars.

❝ Long-term growth depends on a wide range of factors, including policy decisions by governments seeking to tackle air pollution to the cost of the lithium-ion batteries that account for about a third of the cost of each one.

Yet even as oil majors lift their outlook, they remain much less optimistic than the automakers. The world’s top automakers have a combined plan to sell 6 million EVs a year by 2025, rising to 8 million in 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

2030 or 2040 might be doable for me. Looking forward to a greener more sensible world – and hopefully education and understanding keep up.

Tobacco users increase their own marginalization in society

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

“On one hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions,” says Karen Albright, PhD…Colorado School of Public Health…

The data comes from the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS), a questionnaire administered by Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Program, and the paper’s senior author.

Through random digit dialing, the study reached 11,626 people who completed a telephone survey querying a range of demographic, social, and behavioral factors. Questions included smoking behaviors and whether the respondent had voted in a recent election. Overall, 17 percent of respondents were smokers. Holding all other variables constant (included variables of socioeconomic status that were strongly associated with smoking), daily smokers were 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

The study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation, building on the work of a previous Swedish study that found an association between smoking and political mistrust. Voting is a direct behavioral measure of civic and political engagement that at least partly reflects trust in formal political institutions.

Albright points out that, like many studies that use statistics to describe the behaviors of a population, the current study creates as many questions as it answers, most notably why smokers are less likely to vote. One possibility is that smokers may view political institutions as oppressors, given widespread enactment of tobacco taxes and clean indoor air laws. Somewhat similarly, the stigma associated with smoking may create social withdrawal or feelings of depression or fatalism among smokers, which could decrease voting.

Or…given the key social question asked most often at this blog, “are they ignorant or stupid?” – the pretty generalized understanding of the dangers of smoking seems to indicate these people are stupid.

Mormon meeting which could have moved to include women – refuses to admit women to speak out

Hundreds of Mormon women who want ecclesiastical equality were denied admittance to a male-only session of their faith’s spring conference on Saturday, in their attempt promote the ordination of women into the lay priesthood.

Adorned in purple, members of Ordain Women marched through a hailstorm from a park to the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, the heart of a four-block campus that is the global home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were seeking unfilled seats at the evening priesthood meeting at the faith’s biannual conference…

In advance of Saturday’s event, church officials had asked Ordain Women to refrain from bringing their cause to Temple Square, saying it would detract from the “spirit of harmony” at the two-day conference, which includes four events open to both genders and the male-only priesthood meeting. In a statement late on Saturday, church officials expressed displeasure with what they called the women’s “refusal to accept ushers’ directions and refusing to leave when asked”.

Ordain Women has objected to being characterized by the church as protesters. “We’re not activists. We’re not protesters,” said Kate Kelly, a Washington, DC-based human rights attorney and lifetime Mormon who last year co-founded the group with about 20 other women. “We’re people on the inside. We are investing in an institution … not critiquing it to tear it down,” she said…

Women are powerless in matters of church governance and can make no autonomous decisions, even at the highest levels, Kelly said.

Church officials declined an interview request in advance of Saturday’s event.

Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organisation for His Church,” said last month’s church letter to the group.

If it wasn’t already a painful experience to the women who still believe in a religion which excludes any serious role for them in the policies of that church – I would be tempted to look for something humorous, useless and foolish in the statements of the male insiders on behalf of the LDS Church.

Sadness, disdain for fools who believe they must continue doctrine centuries out-of-date as a bastion against a world that continues to change without their participation – is all I can feel.

China on the move – first steps

The debate is over. After six years of weighing the options, China is now firmly committed to implementing a new growth strategy. At least, that’s the verdict I gleaned from the just-completed annual China Development Forum, long China’s most important dialogue with the outside world.

There were no surprises in the basic thrust of the strategy – a structural shift in China’s investment- and export-led growth model toward a more balanced consumer-based and services-led economy. The transformation reflects both necessity and design.

It is necessary because persistently weak global growth is unlikely to provide the solid external demand for Chinese exports that it once did. But it is also essential, because China’s new leadership seems determined to come to grips with a vast array of internal imbalances that threaten the environment, promote destabilizing income inequality, and exacerbate regional disparities.

The strategic shift is also a deliberate effort by Chinese policymakers to avoid the dreaded “middle-income trap” – a mid-stage slowdown that has ensnared most emerging economies when per capita income nears the $17,000 threshold (in constant international prices). Developing economies that maintain their old growth models for too long fall into it, and China probably will hit the threshold in 3-5 years…

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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood applies for political party status

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood will apply to become a political party…

The Brotherhood “envisions the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, with central Islamic values serving all Egyptians regardless of colour, creed, political trend or religion,” it said in the statement.

Although officially illegal, the Muslim Brotherhood is regarded as one of the most organized groups in Egypt.
It has said it does not plan to run a candidate for president when elections are held to replace Hosni Mubarak, who resigned on Friday.

This drags out all the bogeymen feared by the range of Blue Dog Democowards to KoolAid Party Bigots and old-fashioned haters of democracy in power in the Republican Party.

Yeah, I know. Descriptive overload. Trouble is – they’re as real as xenophobic fears are unreal.

Americans have a special talent for embracing a sound political philosophy while doing everything they can to defeat it at home – and prevent it abroad. Right now, with a tentative schedule of transition from military to civilian government by August in Egypt – and elections in September – we may as well settle down for weeks and months of panicstricken pundits calling for our favorite Israeli dogs of war to bomb Egypt “back into the Stone Age”.

Term limits are like ‘political junk food’

Reminding you why the Republicans came up with the idea

Anti-establishment candidates are capitalizing on widespread anti-incumbent fervor and proposing term limits as a way to bring the power back to the people. As political hopefuls try to persuade voters to send them to Congress, they’re also promising they won’t be there long.

It’s a message that polls well and gets applause at campaign rallies, but David King, director of Harvard’s program for Newly Elected Members of the U.S. Congress, said term limits do more harm than good.

It’s political junk food. It tastes good but hurts the body politic in the long run,” he said.

Advocates and opponents of term limits are after the same thing: keeping the power out of the hands of lobbyists and special interests.

King says term limits do the opposite by taking the business of lawmaking away from elected representatives and giving it to professional staff and lobbyists.

Instead, the elections process needs better campaign finance laws and a more engaged electorate, he said.

“That leads to a situation in which we reward politicians or statesmen or stateswoman who have been around for a long time and are terrific, while at the same time being able to get rid of the low-quality legislators at all levels,” King said.

Term limits are the perfect solution for lazy-ass whiners. Someone in office you disagree with – will be gone sooner rather than later. It’s about as undemocratic a solution as you might have. The voting electorate loses a choice.

Long favored by populists, it favors political machines over independent elected officials. The machines will be around forever, staffed by willing adherents to 2-party narrowness. An independent activist in office won’t have time enough to build a following, an interactive group of peers willing to fight beyond “safe” limits.

Pride 2010: Tories come out in force

David Cameron and Nick Clegg addressing Gay Pride luncheon at #10
Dayife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

When the Conservatives last had their hands on the tiller of power, none of their MPs would admit to being homosexual, they voted against lowering the age of consent for gay sex, and invented a law which made it illegal for schools to mention homosexuality.

How things change: Saturday, eight years after Alan Duncan became the first Tory MP to come out of his own volition, Nick Herbert, the openly gay Conservative policing minister, gave a speech at Pride London about “how the Tories have come a helluva long way”.

And that’s not all. His department, the Home Office, has chartered a float at this year’s event, which will wind its way down Oxford Street and Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square from 1pm.

Pride’s theme this year is “Paint the Town Ruby Red”, to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, which was formed after the Stonewall riots, when police clashed with gay demonstrators in New York…

Herbert said he wouldn’t be following the sartorial lead of Boris Johnson, who famously wore a pink stetson when leading Pride two years ago, and will march again on Saturday. “I’m not telling you what I’ll be wearing,” said Herbert, preferring to talk about how seriously the government was taking the reporting of homophobia as a hate crime…

Though David Cameron cannot attend himself, two weeks ago he held a reception for the organisers in the garden at Number 10. He has also charmed most of the LGBT groups with the coalition manifesto, which said the government will help schools deal with homophobic bullying, pressure other countries to support gay rights, push for international recognition of UK civil partnerships and stop deporting gay asylum seekers at risk of harm.

The coalition is so pro-gay that not only have they has set up a cross-government programme of work addressing LGBT policy, but they have promised “additional action for transgender equality” – exactly the sort of initiative the Tories used to mock Harriet Harman for daring to suggest when she held the equalities brief. To return to the Home Office float’s Shakespearean theme of yore: “The wheel is come full circle.”

Anyone out there think anything more than rank-and-file Republicans in the Log Cabin Club will lend support to parallel efforts in the GOUSA?

At least the Log Cabin Republicans have a sense of humor missing from the rest of the GOP. The Log Cabin’s L.A. chapter is celebrating with a Tea Bag Toss.

They’re the biggest chapter in the country and still not officially recognized by the state GOP.

Announcement: Mass participation experiment to cheer-up the UK

Today, British psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire) invites the public to take part in an ambitious five-day experiment that aims to boost the UK’s happiness. Participants will first rate their mood and then be randomly assigned to one of four groups. People in each group will watch a video describing one of four techniques commonly used to boost happiness, and use the technique during each day of the study. At the end of the experiment everyone will reassess their mood, allowing the research team to identify the most effective way of making people happy…

Given that people ‘catch’ the emotions of those around them, it is possible that a mass increase in happiness could prove infectious and help cheer up the nation. To test this idea, the researchers have commissioned YouGuv to carry out a representative poll of the UK’s happiness level this weekend and next, in order to measure any effects of the experiment. “We need as many people as possible to take part. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, male or female, or where in the world you live, please participate,” noted Wiseman.

[Some of the] Ten tips for happiness

1) Meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while…

4) Cut your television viewing by half…

7) Go for a 20 minute walk in the sun…

10) Stop watching and reading the news.

Much of these are things I do as a matter of course. Except for the meetups. My wife and I are reasonably functional hermits.

Though, today, we just returned from a brief train ride into town and back – just because our new RailRunner train added a station out in our neck of the prairie. First time either of us has been on a train in years and it was great fun.

Plus, we must have the only train in the world that goes “beep, beep” when the doors open and close.

O.A.S. lifts its suspension of Cuba – sort of

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

After two days of intense negotiations, the Organization of American States has agreed to lift a cold war provision that suspended Cuba from the group but also accepted a list of conditions, backed by Washington, that Havana would have to meet before being allowed to return.

The compromise was a stunning about-face for the 34-nation group, which had been in what appeared to be an intractable stalemate that threatened to polarize the hemisphere.

At the grassroots level, the hemisphere has been polarized all the way back to the OAS decision to function full-time as a Washington flunky.

On one side, Washington had opposed any measure that would have ended Cuba’s suspension — imposed in 1962 — without requiring that the island nation agree to abide by the organization’s democratic principles before being allowed to return. Venezuela and Nicaragua led the opposition to any provision that set conditions for Cuba’s return…

A Latin American diplomat said that the risk of losing United States support for the organization, which gets 60 percent of its funds from Washington, weighed heavily on the group’s thinking.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, according to diplomatic protocol.

He also didn’t want to lose his free parking spot at the U.S. Treasury.

In the end, each side claimed victory, hailing the compromise as historic, even though it was largely symbolic. The resolution, for example, says that Cuba cannot return unless it asks to, and Havana has said repeatedly it has no interest in rejoining the group, which President Raúl Castro has denounced as a tool of American domination.

Hillary’s speechwriters made the best of a mediocre piece of politics. I think it’s clear the Obama administration would like to resolve the decades of rubberstamp politics that reduced the OAS to less than a footnote to Latin American history.

Before Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, the OAS had a small measure of respect as an independent body. They deserved it.

Congress and the CIA budgeted subservience along with policies of assault and murder from Chile and Argentina to Guatemala and El Salvador. Like so many, the OAS was bought and paid for by the American taxpayer – who paid as little attention to the process as they did the march to war in VietNam.