Friday, May 18, 2012


The legacy of mining raises questions regarding how to deal with toxic landscapes — remediation or abandonment?:
The local Tar Creek is the color of orange juice, and it smells like vinegar. This is because when the mining companies left, they shut off the pumps that kept abandoned shafts from filling with groundwater. Once water flooded the tunnels, it picked up all the trace minerals underground — iron, lead and zinc — and flushed them into rivers and streams. Fish and fowl fled or went belly-up. “The only thing polluted in Treece,” says Rex Buchanan, interim director at the Kansas Geological Survey, “is the earth, air and water.”

A local couple, Dennis and Ella Johnston, agreed to give me the pollution tour. In Dennis’s blue Chevy truck, we drove through downtown — a church, trailers, a one-room City Hall with a pair of its windows boarded up — and then went down a dirt road to a pool formed by a caved-in mine. “Local kids used to skinny-dip here all the time,” Dennis said, grinning and pointing at the glassy water. “We’d see kids with sunburns all over their bodies.” But it turns out the kids hadn’t been burned by the sun, he said; they had been chemically burned by all the acids in the water.


There are 112 sites like Treece on the E.P.A.’s National Priorities List, an inventory of the most environmentally devastated places in the country. They’re in varying states of restoration, but all of them were ruined by mining or extracting operations. Near Jefferson, N.C., a dam holding mining waste from abandoned copper mines is in serious danger of eroding or collapsing, and nearby rivers have already been poisoned. And at the Midnite Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State, years of digging for uranium have left piles of toxic rock on the landscape. Locals are safe enough living there — as long as they don’t eat the radioactive wild berries or the deer that forage on them. What’s tricky about all these places is that they’re not like Three Mile Island, where lives are immediately threatened by a catastrophic accident. It’s not quite clear if they should be cleaned up or abandoned or if there’s some other kind of solution.


[W]hile it was definitely dangerous for children to live in Treece, and while a lead-toxicology specialist told me that Treece residents were “almost certainly” poisoned by their environment, and while nearly everyone I interviewed offered anecdotes about friends or family suffering from lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, cancer, eczema or emphysema, no scientific study has conclusively linked these diseases to pollution in Treece. Of course, no comprehensive scientific study has ever been conducted in Treece. The first and only official lead test in children wasn’t carried out by the K.D.H.E. and the E.P.A. until 2009.

This April, officials abandoned their plan to turn Treece into a wildlife preserve. It had been a quixotic hope all along, dependent upon the desire of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which had nothing to do with the buyout, to take over the land from the Department of Health and Environment. The Wildlife Department wouldn’t give an official statement, but one employee told me the agency wasn’t interested in the land. “It’s not because that couple stayed,” he said, referring to the Busbys. “Not only because of that, anyway. That land is inadequate for supporting wildlife, or from what I hear, any other kind of life.”

Just how hot has it been recently? This NOAA graphic tells the story pretty well:
Average national temperature records May 2011 to April 2012: NOAA/NCDC
More on these numbers and and the rest of the NOAA temperature report over at Mother Jones.

Stop pretending pot is evil, especially when it can be highly beneficial:
My survival has demanded an enormous price, including months of chemotherapy, radiation hell and brutal surgery. For about a year, my cancer disappeared, only to return. About a month ago, I started a new and even more debilitating course of treatment. Every other week, after receiving an IV booster of chemotherapy drugs that takes three hours, I wear a pump that slowly injects more of the drugs over the next 48 hours.

Nausea and pain are constant companions. One struggles to eat enough to stave off the dramatic weight loss that is part of this disease. Eating, one of the great pleasures of life, has now become a daily battle, with each forkful a small victory. Every drug prescribed to treat one problem leads to one or two more drugs to offset its side effects. Pain medication leads to loss of appetite and constipation. Anti-nausea medication raises glucose levels, a serious problem for me with my pancreas so compromised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the miseries of the day, becomes increasingly elusive.

Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.

This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.

Dahlia Lithwick identifies the common thread running through the GOP's War On Women:
[W]hat’s so striking about so many of the GOP initiatives that implicate women this year is that they betray not a deep suspicion of “politicians who say we should be dependent on government programs,” but rather a deep suspicion of other women. Underpinning virtually every changed rule and policy, every effort to defund and repeal, lies an argument about the ways in which women are trying to defraud the government and simply can’t be trusted.


I am always, deeply worried about the attempt to pit women against women for political gain. But I think we at least need to be honest about the fact that so many of the current GOP initiatives that seek to free women from the clutches of big government are rooted in the idea that women are systematically trying to cheat the system to get free stuff. You can argue all you want about whether it’s better for women to have access to health care, child care, maternity leave, equal pay, and preventive medicine. But when you base those arguments on rickety old Elizabethan stereotypes about deceitful women and their lying ways, it becomes harder to call yourself the party of women.

Scalia and his sadistic torture-loving friends will soon have the opportunity to further legalize police brutality:
The case involves Malaika Brooks, who was seven months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle when she was pulled over for speeding. The police say she was going 32 miles per hour in a school zone; the speed limit was 20.

Ms. Brooks said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time. Ms. Brooks thought, wrongly, that signing was an acknowledgment of guilt.

Refusing to sign was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest Ms. Brooks. She would not get out of her car.

The situation plainly called for bold action, and Officer Juan M. Ornelas met the challenge by brandishing a Taser and asking Ms. Brooks if she knew what it was.

She did not, but she told Officer Ornelas what she did know. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. “I am pregnant. I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”

The three men assessed the situation and conferred. “Well, don’t do it in her stomach,” one said. “Do it in her thigh.”

Officer Ornelas twisted Ms. Brooks’s arm behind her back. A colleague, Officer Donald M. Jones, applied the Taser to Ms. Brooks’s left thigh, causing her to cry out and honk the car’s horn. A half-minute later, Officer Jones applied the Taser again, now to Ms. Brooks’s left arm. He waited six seconds before pressing it into her neck.

Ms. Brooks fell over, and the officers dragged her into the street, laying her face down and cuffing her hands behind her back.

In the months that followed, Ms. Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby girl; was convicted of refusing to sign the ticket, a misdemeanor, but not of resisting arrest; and sued the officers who three times caused her intense pain and left her with permanent scars.

The officers won a split decision in October from a 10-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. The majority said the officers had used excessive force but nonetheless could not be sued because the law on the question was not clear in 2004, when the incident took place. While the ruling left the three officers in the clear, it did put them and their colleagues on notice that some future uses of Tasers would cross a constitutional line and amount to excessive force.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented on the first point, saying Ms. Brooks had been “defiant” and “deaf to reason” and so had brought the incident upon herself.

As for the officers, he said: “They deserve our praise, not the opprobrium of being declared constitutional violators. The City of Seattle should award them commendations for grace under fire.”

Another dissenter, Judge Barry G. Silverman, said “tasing was a humane way to force Brooks out of her car.”

“There are only so many ways a person can be extracted from a vehicle against her will, and none of them is pretty,” he explained. “Fists, batons, chokeholds, tear gas and chemical spray all carry their own risks to suspects and officers alike.”


Michael F. Williams, a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, which represents Ms. Brooks, said the criminal justice system would endure even if the police were barred from delivering thousands of volts of electricity into the body of a pregnant woman who refused to sign a piece of paper.

“The officers are trying to defend inexcusable conduct,” he said. “They inflicted enormous pain on a woman who was especially vulnerable over what was essentially a traffic violation.”

How polluting is fracking? Well, we don't really know.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials are accused of ignoring fracking-related health concerns.

Pollution is expanding the tropics.

A great series on China's freshwater crisis and confronting the water-energy nexus at Circle of Blue.

Carl Zimmer explores the linkages between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Wine versus fish.

A big decision on the future of Brazil's forests.

Buy one give one may not be an effective poverty alleviation model.

It wouldn't be the first development model to fail, though — and now we can start learning from those failures.

Disease as driven by rare, not common, mutations.

The problem of replication in psychology.

A “pro-lifer” accidentally lets it slip that women dying is just collateral damage.

Michelle Goldberg on why the House's version of VAWA is so atrocious.

[T]he GOP’s  War on Women has morphed into a War on Some Women, but We Love White, Married to Men, and with US Citizenship Women, Really, We Do!

Barbara Ehrenreich on the criminalization of poverty.

An interview with former FBI interrogator Alu Soufan.

A good reminder as to why it's important to quality check any data set before analyzing it.

Sloppy initial police work could be the undoing of the case against George Zimmerman.

Mittens: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”

On beanballs. (It perpetually disappoints me that televised baseball broadcasts don't add the beanball sound from RBI Baseball to accompany whenever a batter gets hit.)

Thom Steinbeck discusses the letter he received from his father that recently went viral.

Ben Zimmer on backronyms.

Feynman on science.

Important grooming tips for those of us who are moustachioed.

Terry Gross plus Mike Birbiglia leads to funny times (h/t Angela):

Gratuitous self-promotion item of the day: it's Stax/Volt week over at the music Tumblr.

Speaking of Here Is Your Song Of The Day, on Augustus' request I put together a Spotify playlist of those tunes.

I've been trying to put together a playlist of covers of Beatles tunes that potentially exceed the originals (e.g., yesterday's post to the HIYSOTD Tumblr, David Porter's version of “Help!”) and this piece of complete and utter brilliance immediately came to mind:

Oh right, there's this piece of awesomeness, too:

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Bravery with bees and garlic, and a whole lot of delicious greens.

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