Prospect Special Report: The Amazon

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My mail is still kinda funky (not forwarding correctly) so I’m a bit late in catching this, but The American Prospect has a great special report this month on the Amazon. A slew of articles, sidebars and graphs examine the commercial interests vying for access to the forest, the effect on the Amazon basin, and the struggle to save the ecosystem there:

There’s a brash, risky new Amazonia out there. Pioneer entrepreneurs are making fortunes from activities long considered not feasible in this vast and challenging place, gouging ever deeper into the rainforest in pursuit of wealth. The deeper they slash into the forest and burn it, the more greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere. The destruction of the Amazonian forest has become a leading cause of global warming, with profound climate implications and dangers within the region and far beyond it. Why all this matters so much, and what there is to be done about it, is the subject of this report.

Head on over and take a look.

Love on the brain

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Salon (I’m digging their daily e-mail newsletter) has a great piece today on the science of love:

[Ian Kerner]: One trend I’ve noticed lately online is people being much more interested in people’s educational backgrounds. [Helen Fisher]: Yeah, particularly men. Men didn’t care about women’s educational backgrounds in the past. Now they care.

Do they want women to have more or less education than they have?

IK: Equal or superior. It’s not the traditional: “Oh my God, she’s making more money than me, my ego has been shattered.” It’s more like, “This is a two-income world we live in, it’s going to take both of us to make it.”

HF: They also want women closer to their age, and want them to have the same earning power. But you know what? It’s not different from the way we always were. We’re moving forward toward the kind of people we were a million years ago. For millions of years women commuted to work to gather vegetables, they came home with 60 to 80 percent of the evening meal, the double-income family was the rule. In shedding what we regard as traditional family values, we’re actually going back to the real traditional configurations.

Fisher (an anthropologist) and Kerner (a sex therapist) work for Chemistry.com, the service with the clever ads targeting those who don’t fit into the eHarmony mold. They have some great insights on gender stereotypes, initial attraction vs. long-term love, etc. Give em a read.

Catch the Chemistry.com commercial after the jump: Continue reading…

It never felt so good

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The Washington Post reports today on a number of studies that show the brain takes pleasure in being altruistic:

The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Of course, not everybody feels good (ba dum dum) about the new information:

The research enterprise has been viewed with interest by philosophers and theologians, but already some worry that it raises troubling questions. Reducing morality and immorality to brain chemistry — rather than free will — might diminish the importance of personal responsibility. Even more important, some wonder whether the very idea of morality is somehow degraded if it turns out to be just another evolutionary tool that nature uses to help species survive and propagate.

An interesting article worth checking out in its entirety.

Politicizing U.S. Fish and Wildlife

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Yep, as I was saying yesterday, so much of what the Bush Administration does is for political gain. Sometimes, they also helps out their buddies in industry. Take, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

And at the center of it is one Julie A. MacDonald, appointed by Bush to be the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Interior Department. The very ugly details of her malfeasance have been exposed by an inspector general report. (Update: MacDonald, by the way, has a degree is in civil engineering and has no formal educational background in natural sciences.)

Ms. MacDonald, whose job is to oversee policy decisions on endangered species and other wildlife, sent internal agency documents to industry lobbyists (e.g. she twice sent “internal Environmental Protection Agency documents — one involving water quality management — to individuals whose e-mail addresses ended in ‘chevrontexaco.com,”) and generally ran roughshod over agency scientists.

Here’s how she works: MacDonald just made stuff up. If scientists recommended a certain action, MacDonald would alter the recommendation or simply ignore it if it threatened industry or landowners in any way.

MacDonald was apparently in a state of constant battle with career scientists and others at the agency, over issues that, at times, impact New Mexico:

MacDonald tangled with field personnel over designating habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, a bird whose range is from Arizona to New Mexico and Southern California. When scientists wrote that the bird had a “nesting range” of 2.1 miles, MacDonald told field personnel to change the number to 1.8 miles. Hall, a wildlife biologist who told the IG he had had a “running battle” with MacDonald, said she did not want the range to extend to California because her husband had a family ranch there.

No regard for sciencists or their work, or for policy experts and career employees. Simply put, look out for No. 1 whenever possible.

More on Richardson’s Gila Funding Veto

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Well, for some reason our Web site doesn’t have the Friday edition online yet, but I did want to get you a copy of my story on Richardson’s veto of $945,000 for studies of the Gila and San Francisco rivers.

Here’s a PDF of the story.

Richardson’s explanation of the veto (the “appropriation language was problematic”) is interesting. He’s the one who wrote it (PDF, head for page 56):

Gila Basin Water Development. Continue steps necessary for the development of 14,000 acre feet of water rights and access to up to $128 million in federal funds made available as a result of the 2004 Arizona
Water Settlements Act.
$500,000 GF Nonrecurring

As you can see, the money as originally recommended was just $500,000, far short of the $4.6 million that will be required to complete all the studies.

More as I hear it. Additional info here and here.

UPDATE: Here’s the link to my story on the Daily Press Web site.

UPDATE II: For more, here’s the Silver City Daily Press editorial (PDF) about Richardson’s veto.

Silver City Town Council approves climate change resolution

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The council reversed its early decision on the subject, with Councilors Gary Clauss, Thomas Nupp and Judy Ward casting “yea” votes, and Councilor Steve May dissenting. Last time, it was Clauss going it alone, in support of the resolution. Mayor James Marshall was spared from casting a tie-breaking vote when Ward – who had indicated earlier during tonight’s meeting she would not support the resolution – cast her ballot in the affirmative.

More in Wednesday’s Silver City Daily Press.