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There’s an interesting article in today’s New York Times about a movement towards mixing concrete to be environmentally friendly (though not “green,” which means freshly poured).

Concrete is one of the oldest manufactured building materials, having been used in ancient Rome, and that kind of provenance tends to discourage significant expeimentation. So it’s good to see people working to take a process that is probably not severely polluting, as industrial processes go, and actively make it cleaner. It’s particularly encouraging that a technique is being developed with a negative carbon footprint—a rare example of industry having a net positive effect on the environment without necessarily going for the hippie dollar.


One of the most important issues of the first quarter of the 21st century will be clean, sustainable energy. I believe the key will be a panoply of sources: instead of using one process, one form of fuel (e.g., fossil fuels) to meet substantially alll of our energy needs, we will combine solar, geothermal, wind, waste biomass, and other sources as yet undiscovered so that no one thing has too big a burden.

One thing slowing progress is that, in part for reasons of infrastructure, petroleum is significantly cheaper than most other fuels. No one has any motivation to switch other than ecological altruism because it requires such a massive investment of time, money, and effort (to find a source for solar panels, or whatever it is).

In particular, using biodiesel in your car requires making it at home: there are no filling stations because so few people have appropriate vehicles, and no one wants a car that requires biodiesel because it’s so inconvenient to refuel.

One solution is to run your car on straight vegetable oil. This, however, makes it impossible to run the car on regular diesel fuel, which is available at filling stations, and it uses food crops (the U.S. grows so much corn that we feed it to cattle, whose bodies metabolize it far less efficiently and completely than grain, and make it into sweetener, which the government creates a market for by levying a tariff on sugarcane).

Another possibility is to use algae. Algae are easy to grow and not used for food, so there’s no chance of the fuel exacerbating food shortages. While the current method of extracting fuel from algae requires toxic solvents heavily regulated in this country, a company in Horseheads, N.Y., has developed a new solid catalyst that may alllow algae-based fuels to be produced at filling stations.

Have you heard the latest outrage by Barack Obama? He’s spending a whole $200 of taxpayer money—enough to buy David Paterson a toaster—to put a vegetable garden on the White House grounds (or, rather, Michelle is, being the woman, because according to the media Y chromosomes apparently interfere with plant growth).

This just demonstrates how little respect Obama has for the institution of the presidency. He’s selfishly using the space for his own personal projects, unlike the putting green built for notorious golf-hater Dwight Eisenhower. From the liberal side, supporters of this have been compared to the Khmer Rouge.

According to the plan of the garden, there will be space for a greater variety of crops than is feasible for the average American (not to mention beehives). However, “green living” isn’t an all-or-nothing propsition; even doing what you can is better than nothing.

From Rachel at Feministe, the public comment period on the repeal of the HHS regulations preventing women from having access to reproductive care ends April 9th.

That means you have three more weeks to make yor voice heard in support of requiring healthcare workers to treat patients or refer them to someone who will, regardless of the patient’s sex, income level, or religious beliefs.

Much sex education in the U.S. is based on the abstinence-only model, the idea being that teenagers will not have sex if and only if someone introduces them to the concept.

That having been shown to work as well as you might expect (“fuck, even Bristol Palin says abstinence-only education isn’t realistic.“), Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has introduced a bill providing for Federal funding for comprehensive sex education.

This means that states can finally get Federal money for realistic sex education, of the kind that has been shown to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce unwanted pregnancies among unmarried teenagers.

Assuming, of course, that you want to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce unwanted pregnancies among unmarried teenagers.


A hydrogen leak scrubbed today’s scheduled shuttle launch; the new plan is to launch the 100th mission since Challenger on Sunday (or the Ides of March), a schedule the oft-cited Phil Plait calls optimistic.

The Discovery crew members are set to fly the S6 truss segment and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.

As in war, NASA personnel are always fighting the last battle: we (think we) know what brought down Challenger and what destroyed Columbia, so we make sure to avoid those issues. It’s good to see that the hydrogen issue, which has not yet been a problem on a space flight (though as illustrated, hydrogen has doomed aeronautic activity), proactively taken care of.

Yesterday, Barack Obama lifted the Federal ban on research in new stem cell lines. That means research labs using Federal money are no longer restricted to the 20 or so so-called “Presidential lines” of embryonic stem cells that existed before August 9, 2001, when the ban was instituted.

A commenter at Feministe explains some of the absurdity this led to:

[I]f you were working on non-Presidential lines (with non-federal money, of course), you couldn’t buy a pen with federal money and use it to write in your notebook. The janitor who changed the lightbulbs in your lab couldn’t be paid with federal money.

Embryonic stem cell research could be the key to treating neurological injuries or diseases or even diabetes.

The president notes that “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown,” but that’s a reason to do stem cell research, not an excuse to prohibit it. We’ll never know if we don’t try.

Following in the footsteps of popular New York Governor David Paterson and his tax on non-diet soda, a group of Scottish doctors are calling for a tax on chocolate.

This is different from the soda tax for the very important reason that I don’t drink soda and I do eat chocolate. I also need chocolate; six months ago I was underweght by anyone’s standards and my adult weight has varied over a range of 135 pounds. So when the British Medical Association and David Paterson and all such are trying to modify my behavior through tax policy, they are actually acting against my interests.

That’s because there are no panaceas, no nutritional or medical approach that is always and only good for everyone. Is chocolate bad for you? Proabably not, but I know someone who’s allergic to it. On the other hand, there’s some evidence chocolate is actually good for you. That’s not even a contradiction—chocolate, like anything else, contains multitudes. As does the populace

Everything is said to be bigger in Texas, and that includes schools’ share of Federal abstinence-only education budget.

It also, according to RH Reality Check, includes teen pregnancies: one of the highest rates in the country, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.

That’s because abstinence is the least effective form of birth control. While perfect use leads to a 0% failure rate, the mechanism—pure willpower—doesn’t lend itself to perfect use; many reports compound the problem by comparing perfect use of abstinence with typical use for all other forms of birth control.

Ab-only education seems to be predicated on the notion that sex is like any other engineering feat: if you don’t know about it, you can’t do it. You need to be taught at least some rudiments of architecture before you can build a skyscraper, and the same purportedly applies to sex. This is why neolithic humans didn’t have skyscrapers, or sex.

What kids are taught instead is arrant nonsense:

Sexually active teens are more likely to commit suicide; women who lubricate during sex are more likely to get pregnant; people who have sex before marriage are less able to be “intimate” later; “the divorce rate for two virgins who get married is less than 3%.”

Sex ed doesn’t need to be about the mechanics, but it is irresponsible not to teach students how to stay safe when they are drawn to doing it. Moral education is the responsibility of families; while the schools have a responsibility not to undermine that, they needn’t refrain from teaching students necessary information in the name of supporting it.

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March 2009
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