Mother Jones is maintaining an interactive map of "Occupy" protests around the US, and beyond. That little lonely red dot in the Pacific is a demonstration in Hilo, Hawaii! If you know of others, tell them: "Send a link to a news article or blog posts to traja [at] motherjones [dot] com or @tasneemraja."
You can find more information about demonstration gatherings at the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together websites, the "official" sites for this movement. The latter shows more than 300 Occupy meetups in cities around the world.
(thanks, Michael Mechanic)
Think Progress: "During this morning’s Senate DOMA hearings, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) destroyed Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery’s argument that children are better off with opposite-sex parents by demonstrating how Minnery misrepresented an HHS study. The study — which Minnery cited to oppose marriage equality — actually found that children do best in two-parent households, regardless of the parents’ gender."
In many of the world's poor neighborhoods, homes are built out of whatever materials people can get their hands on, often without windows or electricity. That means the buildings are awfully dark during the day, reducing quality of life, safety, and productivity.
But the situation can be improved with only a used soda bottle, some water, and some bleach. Check out this clever solution, developed by MIT and distributed by the Liter of Light project.
[Video Link] Tony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance says: "Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to the recent decree by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that marijuana has no accepted medical use. The decision by the DEA comes almost nine years after medical marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify cannabis to take into account a growing body of research that shows its effectiveness in treating certain diseases. For more on this subject please go the July 14 LA Times piece titled 'Medical marijuana: A science-free zone at the White House' by DPA's Bill Piper and Stephen Gutwillig.
"The search is on for the next class of TED Fellows. The Fellows program is looking for 20 outstanding multidisciplinary innovators from around the world – techies, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, bloggers, filmmakers, musicians, activists, and more. "
I've met a lot of TED fellows from around the world, and they are always doing incredibly interesting work.
As you may have noticed, I'm not against nuclear power. I'm not aggressively pro-nuclear power, either. It's just that I recognize that energy is complicated and I think that the very real risks of nuclear power have to be considered in tandem with the risks of other energy sources, and the risks of not having enough energy. From that perspective, we can't just immediately shut down all the nuclear power we currently have, and nuclear power still does some things that no other energy source can currently do—namely, provide a reliable, low-carbon, high-capacity factor source of electricity that can be located anywhere and doesn't vary its output with the seasons, the time of day, or the weather. That doesn't mean we must use nuclear. And it definitely doesn't mean we should go all nuclear. But it does mean that we have to make our choices about nuclear as part of a bigger picture.
Of course, all of this comes with a big caveat. From my perspective, the benefits of nuclear power can outweigh the risks, as long as there's competent safety regulation in place that's being monitored by somebody independent of the people who are being regulated. There's two things you should have learned from the ongoing flood watch at Nebraska's Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. First, regulation protects us. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hadn't done its job here, the Fort Calhoun plant would not have been prepared for floods of the level that it has experienced this summer. Second, the nuclear industry can't be relied upon to make the necessary safety upgrades on its own, without outside prodding. It's not that they're evil. Nobody sits around cackling about the prospect of a radiation leak. It's just that businesses, like people, don't always behave in a logical way. Sure, logic says that it's worth it to upgrade your flood protection system because, if it fails, the outcome would be a lot worse for you and cost you a lot more money. But there are other pressures the owners of Fort Calhoun were dealing with, and they chose not to make those upgrades until the NRC essentially forced them to do it.
That's why I think you absolutely need to read the 4-part Associated Press series on nuclear industry regulation, written by AP reporter Jeff Donn. It will make you angry. It made me angry. Donn presents an effective case showing that the NRC does not always act as independently as it needs to, and that it has frequently made choices that favor the needs of industry over the needs of the public. That's bad. So far, nothing that's happened has been particularly dangerous for the public. But the more you let small problems slide, the faster you find yourself facing a larger problem.
At the heart of Donn's series is a serious set of issues that every American needs to consider: Our electric demand is too high to simply shut off nuclear power plants and not replace them. Public opinion won't allow for old nuclear plants to be replaced by new, safer ones. Other replacement options (namely, coal, our other widely available source of base load electricity) aren't particularly popular, either, for good reasons. And so social and economic pressures have given the nuclear industry an incentive to keep aging power plants online decades longer than their original licenses envisioned. There is not an easy ultimate answer to this problem. At least, not one that can be implemented quickly. But while we work to add more renewables and (most importantly) more storage to the electric grid, we need to know that regulators are watching our backs. From what Donn has written, that doesn't seem to be the case.
I can't excerpt anything from Donn's stories here, because the Associated Press is notoriously ridiculous about preventing people from sharing the fine work it does do. (Even finding a full set of links to all the parts of Donn's feature was frustratingly complicated. AP: When you publish a series as important as this, it needs to be easily accessible on your website.) Frankly, if your local newspaper didn't run this series (or didn't run it in its entirety) or if you don't read the paper, there's a good chance you missed this entire report when it first came out around the end of June and first week of July. But you do need to read this report. And you can, at the links below:
In the course of trying to prove that it was actually Osama Bin Laden living in that compound outside Abbottabad, the CIA apparently set up a fake Hepatitis B vaccination campaign, which was actually aimed at collecting DNA samples from Bin Laden's children. Working with a Pakistani doctor, they started giving out the first dose of the three-dose vaccine in poor neighborhoods, as a cover, and then, instead of going back to administer the necessary follow-up doses (without which, children are still susceptible to the disease) they moved on to the area where Bin Laden lived and tried to get the doctor inside his compound.
This is bad. Very bad, from a public health perspective. The New York Times story linked above doesn't really get into the implications the CIA's (failed) venture will have for real vaccination campaigns, but Maryn McKenna does a great job of explaining the issues at her Wired blog:
It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.
That is not speculation. The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions -- not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the fall of 2003, a group of imams in the northern Nigerian state of Kano -- the area that happened to have the highest rate of ongoing polio transmission -- began preaching against polio vaccination, contending that what purported to be a protective act was actually a covert campaign by Western powers to sterilize and kill Muslim children. The president of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Sharia Law said to the BBC: "There were strong reasons to believe that the polio immunisation vaccine was contaminated with anti-fertility drugs, contaminated with certain virus that cause HIV/AIDS, contaminated with Simian virus that are likely to cause cancers."
The rumors caught like wildfire, and they were spread further by political operatives who saw an opportunity to disrupt a recent post-election power-sharing agreement between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Three majority Muslim states -- Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara -- suspended polio vaccination entirely. Vaccination acceptance in the rest of the country fell off so sharply that the national government was forced to act. It ordered tests of the vaccine by Nigeria's health ministry and empaneled a special commission to visit the Indonesian labs where the vaccine administered in Nigeria was made. The WHO convened emergency meetings.
And polio began to spread. At the end of 2003, when the boycott began, there had been only 784 known polio cases in the entire world. By the end of 2004, there had been 793 new cases just in Nigeria. Polio leaking across Nigeria's borders reinfected Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Sudan and Togo. Nigerian strains appeared in Yemen, site of the largest port on the Red Sea, and in Saudi Arabia, imperiling the millions of pilgrims coming to the country on hajj.
Here's a story to stimulate the "rules are rules" crowd -- "A Michigan woman is looking at the prospect of 93 days in jail because she planted vegetables in planters in her front yard and refused to abide by the town elders' interpretation of the planning code."
Radley Balko says: "I have a longish piece up at Huffington Post today telling the story behind last week's plea bargain in the Cory Maye case. Maye was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2004 for killing a police officer during a botched drug raid on his home.
"It's a story I've been reporting on for about five years. After doing time on death row, then in a notoriously violent wing of Parchman Penitentiary, Maye will soon be going home to his family."
Cory Maye, now 30, was convicted in 2004 of shooting and killing Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr. during a botched drug raid on Maye's home on the day after Christmas in 2001. Maye says he was asleep as the raid began at 12:30 a.m. and had no idea the men breaking into his home were police. The police say they announced themselves. Maye had no prior criminal record, and police found all of a marijuana roach in his apartment, which under other circumstances would garner a $100 fine.The story behind Cory Maye's release
In fact, the man who lived next door to Maye in that bright yellow duplex, Jamie Smith, already had drug charges pending against him and appears to have been the actual target of the police action that night. The police found a significant supply of drugs in Smith's apartment, though Smith has never been tried.
I'm normally all for humor in science communication, but this has me a little bothered.
Mother Jones has a story up about a neurological disorder that affected several line workers at a Hormel factory in Minnesota. That story's focus is on the connection between the waning power of unions, increasingly bad conditions for workers, and the way the people who developed this disorder have been treated by Hormel. And the disorder itself is pretty depressing, even without all of that.
Known as PIN, Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy, the disorder has been linked to slaughterhouse workers inhaling particles of pig brain material. When their bodies launch an immune system attack against that material, they end up attacking their own nerve cells as well as the pigs'. Victims end up experiencing everything from numbness and pain to temporary paralysis. PIN doesn't kill people. And in most cases, the symptoms improve over time, after the person stops being exposed to atomized pig brains. But, as the Mother Jones piece makes clear, this disorder has had a large, negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people who contracted it.
Which is why I have a hard time understanding the logic behind the image above, which is the last slide from a Minnesota Department of Health presentation on PIN. Given the context, this odd attempt at levity looks pretty damned insensitive, at best.
[Video link] Large anti-nuclear protests marking 3 months since the Fukushima nuclear disaster are under way in Japan today, with solidarity demonstrations in other countries around the world. Background in this previous post. Live-tweeted videos and images are coming in via the #611nonukes hashtag on Twitter, and #share611.