Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12/12 and 12/13

If you think land grabs are nothing more than some foreign direct investment that benefits the people, you're full of shit:
The best land which is irrigable and close to infrastructure such as roads is often targeted for trade, making conflict with existing land users more likely, the study says.

And while large land deals can create employment and economic opportunities, poor locals often reap few of the benefits because of poor governance, including the weak protection of the resource and land rights, and corrupt and unaccountable decision-making.

“The competition for land is becoming increasingly global and increasingly unequal,” says Madiodio Niasse, secretariat director of the ILC.

Lorenzo Cotula, a sustainable development researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London and co-author of the study, says, “As governments own the land it is easy for them to lease large areas to investors, but the benefits for local communities or national treasuries are often minimal”.

“This highlights the need for poor communities to have stronger rights over the land they have lived on for generations,” adds Cotula.
Though it's not just Africa and Asia where this is happening; the growing hydraulic fracking industry is a creepy mix of land grabs and There Will Be Blood tactics:
Ohio residents like Tish O'Dell of the Cleveland suburb of Broadview Heights are skeptical. O'Dell said many of her neighbors were vulnerable to deals offered by lease buyers, known as landmen, because of the down economy. One woman, she said, had no idea such destruction would occur. 

"One day, they started clearing trees behind her house," O'Dell said. "She looks out her kitchen window and all she sees is these three wells. This was going to be her dream home." 


In Greene County in southwest Ohio, citizen activists turned over a mysterious notebook to Attorney General Mike DeWine this year that appeared to coach lease buyers to use deceptive tactics on unsuspecting landowners. DeWine is investigating. 

In Youngstown, near Gorcheff's home, the state has installed monitoring equipment to help determine whether a series of minor earthquakes in northeast Ohio are resulting from the deep injection into the earth of chemical- and sand-laced brine that's a byproduct of oil drilling and fracking. An average of 84,000 gallons of the brine is injected into a well near the epicenter of the activity daily, most shipped in through a contract with neighboring Pennsylvania. Ohio also recently agreed to take wastewater from Texas. 

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a suburban Cleveland Democrat, said she doesn't believe Ohio has adequately assessed the potential impacts on groundwater and the environment from such activity because the process is moving so quickly.
Yes, earthquakes:
Fracking is known to cause very slight tremors — far weaker than even the Youngstown quakes — when the fluid is injected into the shale under high pressure. Drilling companies often send sensitive instruments called geophones into the drill holes to analyze these tiny tremors because they indicate whether the rock is fracturing as expected.

But the larger earthquakes near Blackpool were thought to be caused the same way that quakes could be set off from disposal wells — by migration of the fluid into rock formations below the shale. Seismologists say that these deeper, older rocks, collectively referred to as the “basement,” are littered with faults that, although under stress, have reached equilibrium over hundreds of millions of years.

“There are plenty of faults,” said Leonardo Seeber, a seismologist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Conservatively, one should assume that no matter where you drill, the basement is going to have faults that could rupture.”

Drilling and disposal companies do not usually know that those faults exist, however. Seismic surveys are costly, and states do not require them for oil or gas wells (although larger companies routinely conduct seismic tests as part of exploration). Regulations for disposal wells are concerned about protecting aquifers, not about seismic risk. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates oil- and gas-related disposal wells unless its cedes its authority to the states, has no seismic requirements for its disposal wells, an agency spokeswoman said.

Let us confirm yet again that mountaintop mining is terrible for the environment and terrible for the people who live in these devastated areas:
Ty Lindberg, a stream ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues collected and analysed water samples from 23 locations along the Upper Mud River and its tributaries. Of these sites, 21 were situated downstream of active and reclaimed mountaintop mines in the area.

They found that the concentration of pollutants such as selenium, which is toxic to fish, and the electrical conductivity of stream water — a measure of its ionic concentration — increased at a rate directly proportional to the extent of mountaintop mining upstream.

“Dangerous” levels of selenium could be found over 14 kilometres downstream of the permitted mining boundary, encroaching on the habitat of a large population of sunfish and bass, the researchers say.

“Our study provides further evidence showing that surface coal mining is responsible for increased levels of stream solutes and conductivity in the waters impacted by current and inactive MTM operations,” Lindberg says.

They also found persistently high conductivity and solute levels in streams draining from mines that have been inactive for nearly two decades. This suggests that current stream reclamation efforts may have limited success in reducing the mines’ effects on downstream organisms, the researchers say.

A new study clarifies just how climate change is destroying the beautiful aspen:
Like most of the casualties of climate change, the aspen are dying of multiple causes. Thirst weakens the trees, but as Forest Service entomologist Jim Worrall points out, insects and fungal infections play a big part too, often finishing the job. Some of these pests appear to be climate-change opportunists, encouraged by hot, dry conditions, vulnerable trees, or both: The aspen bark beetle, for instance, was almost unknown to entomologists before biologists studying SAD started finding them in nearly every diseased stand.
At the same time, warming ocean temperatures caused by global warming will likely be bad news for the stickleback:
It sounds almost like science fiction: A parasite manipulates a fish’s behavior to make it seek out warmer water, probably by altering its brain chemistry. In the warmer environment, the parasite’s growth — and its capacity to infect other hosts — kicks into overdrive.

Those are the findings of a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology.

You could say that the parasite takes to warmth like a fish to water. Over the eight weeks of the study, tapeworm larvae grew four times faster in three-spined stickleback fish raised at 68 degrees Fahrenheit than in sticklebacks raised at 59 degrees.

The infected sticklebacks were not so fortunate. Aside from having their bodies swollen with larval tapeworm, the host grew at a slower rate at the higher temperatures. But fish held at just 59 degrees harbored larvae weighing an average of only 9.3 ounces — about half the mass considered adequate for consistently infecting fish-eating birds.

That is a crucial step for the parasite, because it is in the intestines of birds where the hermaphroditic worm lays its eggs. Bigger larval parasites in the fish go on to become larger adult worms, which in turn produce more eggs, a co-author of the study, Iain Barber, said in a statement.

When it comes to education, class matters. It's about time we recognize this reality. (Of course, the Repubs will smear anyone who wants to change the system by calling them advocates for class warfare — when it's really those who advocate for a status quo that benefits the richest of the rich that are the true believers in class warfare.):
In Finland, with its famously high-performing schools, schools provide food and free health care for students. Developmental needs are addressed early. Counseling services are abundant

But in the United States over the past decade, it became fashionable among supporters of the “no excuses” approach to school improvement to accuse anyone raising the poverty issue of letting schools off the hook — or what Mr. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”


[L]et’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let’s agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question.
That Finnish model of education is covered in more detail in another piece from the Times:
Ever since Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million that does not start formal education until age 7 and scorns homework and testing until well into the teenage years, scored at the top of a well-respected international test in 2001 in math, science and reading, it has been an object of fascination among American educators and policy makers.

Finlandophilia only picked up when the nation placed close to the top again in 2009, while the United States ranked 15th in reading, 19th in math and 27th in science.


Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford, said Finland could be an excellent model for individual states, noting that it is about the size of Kentucky.

“The fact that we have more race, ethnicity and economic heterogeneity, and we have this huge problem of poverty, should not mean we don’t want qualified teachers — the strategies become even more important,” Dr. Darling-Hammond said. “Thirty years ago, Finland’s education system was a mess. It was quite mediocre, very inequitable. It had a lot of features our system has: very top-down testing, extensive tracking, highly variable teachers, and they managed to reboot the whole system.”

More bear than tiger, Finland scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7, Dr. Sahlberg said during his day at Dwight. He spoke to seniors taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class, then met with administrators and faculty members.

“The first six years of education are not about academic success,” he said. “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.” 

Dr. Sahlberg, 52, an Education Ministry official and a former math teacher, is the author of 15 books. He said he wrote the latest one, which sold out its first printing in a week, in response to the overwhelming interest in his country’s educational system. It was not meant to claim that Finland’s way was the best way, he said, and he was quick to caution against countries’ trying to import ideas à la carte and then expecting results.


Dr. Sahlberg said another reason the system had succeeded was that “only dead fish follow the stream” — a Finnish expression.

Finland is going against the tide of the “global education reform movement,” which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control.

“Education policies here are always written to be ‘the best’ or ‘the top this or that,’ ” he said. “We’re not like that. We want to be better than the Swedes. That’s enough for us.”
Instead of adopting those practices from Finland that could potentially work here in America, we instead corporatize education and make the metric for success whether or not stockholders make a profit:
By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing

Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.


Kids mean money. Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.

The business taps into a formidable coalition of private groups and officials promoting nontraditional forms of public education. The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost. 
Ah yes, I forgot how the goal of education was to enrich investors by handing over buckets full of public funds. Students? What students? It's Wall Street that matters.

Race still matters, too (h/t Parady The Elder.):
A woman’s education level is a huge factor in whether she’ll have a small baby. The better educated she is, the more likely she is to understand the importance of good nutrition, to live in a safer, less polluted neighborhood, and to live a more affluent, less stressful life - all of which make it less likely that her baby will weigh under 5.5 pounds.

But race trumps education: A college-educated black woman is a fraction more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby than a white woman who didn’t finish high school. Incredibly, 7.6 percent of babies - about 1 in 13 - born to college-educated black women are underweight.

These sad tidings are brought to you by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning nonprofit, which is set to release a wide-ranging report Tuesday on inequality in Greater Boston. Their stunning finding, culled from five years of state statistics, mirrors a trend seen across the nation.

What gives? In piecing together an explanation, researchers provide a measure of how far we have to go, two generations after the civil rights movement began. Among their findings:

College-educated black women are bound by their histories, says Dr. David Williams, a professor of public health at Harvard. They’re more likely to have experienced poverty as children, and the deficits in health care and nutrition that come with it, and to have been born underweight themselves - all of which increase the chance that they will give birth to smaller babies.

While these women are better off financially than their less well-educated counterparts, they are still black, and they still report experiences of discrimination. Several researchers have found that those experiences send stress hormones coursing through women’s bodies, which can also contribute to low birth weight.

A third finding is the most fascinating, and distressing: Despite gains in civil rights, black and white people still generally live in stubbornly segregated communities, in this region and in most others. Affluent whites tend to move out of the city and into wealthy enclaves. But there’s no black Weston. College-educated black women tend to remain in largely black neighborhoods. And those neighborhoods tend to experience more of the social ills - from higher poverty levels to more pollution, crime, and daily stress - that contribute to lower birth weight.
These same  legacies of racism and segregation are still alive and well in Farmville, Virginia, where Fuqua Academy (a former “segregation academy”) recruits a black quarterback in the hope of convincing African-American students that their days of racism are behind them. Well, comments like those made by the school's president sure as hell don't seem very convincing in presenting a welcoming atmosphere:
It was still viewed, well into the 21st century, as a symbol of defiance to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. It was still seen as a place where black students were unwelcome.

To shed that image, Fuqua needed a black student ambassador.

So in 2008 the school’s president, Ruth Murphy, sat down with Charles Williams, a freshman from the local public high school. Football coaches had arranged the meeting. Williams happened to be a quarterback with a powerful throwing arm who could burst through tacklers. He was faster and stronger than boys years older.

The two met in Murphy’s office and considered each other.

“All I’d heard was that this was the ‘white school,’ ” Williams recalled. “I was from the ‘black school.’ I didn’t really know what to do or how to act.”

Murphy, a sparrow of a woman, also felt a bit unsure. “Here was this big strong guy. He was only 14, but he looked like a 25-year-old drug dealer,” she recalled in an interview. When asked later what she meant by that description, Murphy acknowledged that it was a poor choice of words but said that she meant to convey his “maturity and intensity.”
The Root's Robert Pierre deconstructs Murphy's statement as part of an effort to push back against those who see racism as something in the past:
Okay. Here’s a teaching moment. Murphy later explained to Sieff that she meant to convey how mature he was. But you can best believe that she wouldn’t have referred to an equally mature white student as a drug dealer. Is that what she thinks of all black people? And isn’t that perhaps why her school still has an image as a racist institution?

Many white people wrongly believe that when black people talk about racism they are harkening back to the days of slavery or Jim Crow or even the civil rights movement, which led to changes in the law that officially ended segregation.

But in reality, they are fighting against a racist present. Remember those who said with absolute certainty that the election of a black president was proof positive that America had turned a corner on racism. Turns out we were a tad premature, I guess. There is no magic pill for these things.
Ta-Nehisi Coates shares some thoughtful insights, as well:
We read a lot about healing the wounds of race. But in the case of academies like Fuqua -- which are all across the Deep South -- the wound is actually the institution. That institution was not simply the result of a private, if deplorable, initiative. It effectively took tax dollars out of the hands of black people to support white supremacy and then told them if they didn't like it, they had to move.

And the wound festers. I'm sure Murphy is a good person, looking to make the world a better place by purging some of the shame out of Fuqua. But one has a hard time imagining her describing a white freshman student as looking like a "25-year old drug dealer." That is the sort of comment that makes people, with some knowledge of the South's neurosis around black males, shiver. It also is the sort of comment that -- as if I would need more justification -- would make me hesitant to send my child there.

Murphy's comment is unfortunate. But more unfortunate is the fact that she's in this business to begin with. White supremacy has always been a coward's game.


I feel bad that Fuqua has to labor under history -- but then how can it not? The school was literally founded to advance the cause of white supremacy, something it's headmaster, as late as 1981 -- "Most blacks simply do not have the ability to do quality school-work," -- was still arguing for.

These schools should never have existed. But they do and I understand why people work on their behalf. Institutions have a way of transcending their initially stated motives. Still it's going to take some incredible labor to remove that stain. This isn't like slavery. This is something recent.

End of life care is often pointed to as being wasteful, while attempts to restrict spending get labeled as “death panels.” But it's possibly to approach the topic with far more nuance:
The more nuanced reality is that some aggressive treatment delivers value and is appropriate, even though some patients who receive such care die; other treatment is too aggressive and should be curtailed no matter what the short-term outcome. No one knows how many patients are more like my patient, who could have died but whose life was saved, and how many undergo treatments and tests even though there is no meaningful chance they will benefit from them. The important thing is that it’s not all of one and it’s not all of the other.


"For now, the most important step is to question the notion that all spending on patients who died was futile because the outcome was a bad one. That idea stands in the way of a more rational discussion over what best serves patients who are ill."
Lucky for me, I've been able to receive the most aggressive treatments possible, for which I am very grateful.

Mitt Romney channels the KKK and their nativists friends. And he's using the Klan's phrase in his campaign commercials.

I actually disagree with the premise that the GOP doesn't want the public to know just how anti-environmental they are. But it's most definitely true that complete GOP control of the House, Senate and White House would lead to some absolutely frightening new (anti-)environmental policies.

Kaid Benfield discusses an issue that The Wifey and I were having a conversation about on the drive back from Tucson today: is there anything the push for sustainable communities (which focuses primarily on smart growth and urban areas) offers to rural communities?

The Sierra Club follows the lead of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and offers a sustainable sushi app.

The ProPublica investigation published last week made clear just how much race and connections matter when it comes to presidential pardons. This week, they follow up on how the process can be improved.

As best I can tell, the newly proposed NSF guidelines pertaining to broader impacts are no different than the old ones.

Terry Gross does an excellent interview with funnyman Louis C.K. Funny, introspective, sad, and more funny. His new live video is here, and it's just $5.

Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson brings a 2011 release to my attention that I hadn't heard before: Christopher O' Riley and Matt Haimovitz' Shuffle. Play. Listen:
Both Matt and Chris play the standard rep as well as it can be done.  They both also challenge the notion that classical music is only for the landed gentry.  In the future they will be hailed as trailblazers.
Both Haimovitz and O'Riley's excursions into the jazz and rock world have been generally enjoyable, and I'm much looking forward to getting into this combination of 20th century classical and alternative rock. Streaming on Spotify.

A lovely tribute to Mississippi-born, Arkansas-bred, Chicago blues legend Hubert Sumlin.

The Onion nails it, with respect to the current state of popular music. (Though as I said on The FaceBook, no matter how hard ONN tried, they simply couldn't come up with a fake artist worse than the real-life singer Ke$ha.)

Yo-Yo Ma + a bathroom floor + a wombat = the best picture you'll see today. (h/t Augustus Millie.)

Friends, I've been telling you for weeks that you need to visit Saké Puppets’ Etsy store for your holiday D.I.Y. present needs. Well, DO IT NOW. You've only got one more day.

And here's Heather's Happy Link of the Day™. I'm not quite sure this one is happy, though. At least not for the cats who are being stripped of any semblance of dignity.

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