December 2007 Archives

The EPA and the Automobile Manufacturers Lobby, Snuggly Under their "Patchwork Quilt"?

Smog, Particulate Matter, Asthma? The US Shrugged

A couple of days ago the New York Times ran a piece on the Bali climate treaty talks. It summed up the world's overall resignation over the White House's insistent derailment of climate change actions in its title: "Climate Plan Looks Beyond Bush's Tenure".

Bali came and went.Talk of ozone, smog, fine particulate matter rising seas, asthma, and economies hamstrung by dependence on oil. The US shrugged, and most of the press dared not jinx the "progress".

One thing is clear about these free wheeling free market politicians. At the end of their tenure, should they need a job, Bush and company would be a shoo-in at one of the giant auto makers who gleefully exult and gratefully exhale every time the administration obstructs action on global warming.

Patchwork Planet, Minus the US

The latest move is a new twist from an administration that struts around opposing federal solutions (but for Medicare), and handwaving at market solutions (which remain invisible). Yesterday the paradoxically named Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declined California's 2005 petition to develop its own emissions legislation. The EPA had never denied such a request from California.

Just last week the state won a district court ruling after auto industry sued the state over its plan to set emissions policy. But the state still needed the EPA's approval to proceed. Sixteen other states have similar legislative attempts in the making and were waiting on the EPA's decision.

David McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers derided California's attempt to write its own emissions law, claiming that:

"[a] patchwork quilt of inconsistent and competing fuel economy programs at the state level would only have created confusion, inefficiency and uncertainty for automakers and consumers."

Interestingly, as if they were together reading the same book, the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator Stephen L. Johnson defended the EPA's rebuff of California with the same bedcover term, saying, "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules". (OK, he didn't say "quilt").

The 17 states may well ban together in some sort of "patchwork (quilt)" alliance and sue the EPA.

Online Courses Gain Popularity

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The New York Times highlights the potential of online science courses in "At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star". At MIT's famous online course site, physics professor Walter H. G. Lewin explains concepts like momentum, the conservation of energy, and the refraction of light. His presentations apparently have wide appeal to both in-class and long-distance students -- physics teacher in India, a student in Iraq, and a florist in San Diego.

The professor says he enjoys teaching introductory classes because "what really counts is to make them love physics, to make them love science." He's apparently very successful. He's also thoughtful about presentation. The Times says Lewin spends "25 hours preparing each new lecture, choreographing every detail and stripping out every extra sentence".

Women Who Ran From the Wolves

Long ago, as our ancestors hopped up and started getting around on two feet, their musculoskeletal systems evolved to accommodate the new bipedal locomotion. The size of the vertebrae increased, the lumbar region of the spine elongated, and the number of vertebrae in the lumbar region of the lower back eventually decreased from six to five.

In the female, further adaptations helped her endure pregnancy and carry up to 30% more of her body weight. Scientists wrote in Nature1 last week about sexually dimorphic features in the lumbar spines of women, such as larger joints and greater curvature of the spine that appear to ease the biomechanical strain of pregnancy. The lumbar lordosis (curvature) in women's spines extends over three vertebrae rather than two, as it does in men.

The authors proposed an evolutionary benefit to this increased flexibility in women's spines. During pregnancy, they said, the greater lordosis probably reduces the pain and stress on the spine caused by spinal shearing forces which intensify with the increased load bearing. The scientists also compared modern human spines to chimpanzees and early hominins such as Australopithecus africanus. From their measurements of the different lumbar regions and fossil vertebrae the scientists concluded that these adaptations were present in some of the earliest hominins, but not in chimpanzees. Male and female spines both evolved to accommodate bipedal locomotion (fortunately), but then women's spines became distinguishable from men's, which helps them through childbearing.

Many evolutionary adaptations aid gestation and birthing. But some of these changes seem to simultaneously compromise other activities, like locomotion. The female pelvis is wider then males', to accommodate the birth of a baby, however scientists debate whether this adaptation increases the Q-(quadriceps) angle in women, which may in turn cause injury (mostly knee tracking issues) during running or walking. Hormones during pregnancy make the ligaments temporarily lax, which doesn't help overall stability. But the authors suggest that this newest finding about the sexual dimorphism in lumbar lordosis probably benefited women by decreasing pain during pregnancy. It therefore may have helped females "forage effectively or escape predators", as they put it.

Foraging, ok. But I was trying to visualize how the new and improved physique would help our ancestors escape predators as I flipped through the meretricious "Fine Times" section of the Financial Times last weekend. I kept coming back to the science while reading "The Game Generations". The author described how her safari group tracked a female cheetah as she unsuccessfully hunted with her cubs. After days of failed forays, the hungry female cheetah chose to attack two rutting impala. The female interrupted the two fighting males, brought one down, left it to her cubs to the kill, but they bungled it -- so she stepped in and finished the job.

Granted our ancestors were a heartier bunch, not yet reduced to reading about "wild Africa" in the glossy pages of an insert subtitled "How to Spend It". Still, I have trouble visualizing the flexible but ponderously gravid Australopithecus effectively escaping a cheetah or tiger or leopard. An impala is about 75kg, with horns, and can make 30 feet long jumps as high as 8 feet off the ground -- but is still prey to every other beast. Women may leap tall buildings but they're no match for the impala, never mind a wildcat in the bush.

The "Fine Times" author may indeed have experienced an "awesome lesson in the savage ways of nature", but her tour removed her from the action to a distance sufficiently safe for hominins. Which made me realize that despite the superb-ness of this newly discovered evolutionary feature, our pregnant female ancestors might not have chosen to run with the wolves at all. Instead, while four or five months pregnant, perhaps they recognized their inferior speed, smaller teeth and duller claws, and chose to forage around for some berries, sticks and stones, before retiring to a cave to fashion some proper weapons?

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1Whitcome et al., "Fetal load and the evolution of lumbar lordosis in bipedal hominins" Nature 450, 1075-1078 (13 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06342.

2The Q angle is an acute angle found at the knee. It's formed by at the the intersection of one line drawn from the patellar midpoint to a point on the anterior lateral (outside front) of the pelvis called superialic spine (ASIS), and another line drawn through the tibial tuberosity (on the front part of the top of the leg bone called the tibia) (See Fig. 2 here)

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Acronym Required has written previous articles on biomechanics, such as "The Stalwartness of Nepalese Porters", and hominins, such as "The Hobbit Species of Indonesia"

Sports Retailers Stop Selling Polycarbonate Bottles

There seems to be a new trend among sports retailers. Many large chains are discontinuing the sale of polycarbonate bottles. These popular drink bottles contain bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor. Nalgene bottles, made by Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., are ubiquitous among athletes, and the company has successfully cultivated a new market for its colored plastic bottles to augment its labware market. However as awareness about the health risks of bisphenol A containing polycarbonate spreads, it makes sense that the bottles would lose favor among sports enthusiasts who comprise some of the most health conscious and environmentally aware consumers.

Last week, Canada's Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC), announced that it would discontinue the sale of polycarbonate bottles including Nalgene bottles. MEC is sports co-op started in Vancouver, similar in theory to Seatle's REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.). The company has followed the bisphenol A research for three years, a MEC spokesperson said, and will continue to follow the research. For now, however, they won't be selling the bottles.

Today, Lululemon, another Canadian retailer specializing in workout gear, announced that it plans to stop selling the polycarbonate bottles in January. Lululemon is an international retail chain with stores in the US, Australia, and Japan. The company last gained attention when it denied a New York Times investigation which found that the company's seaweed fiber yoga clothes didn't have seaweed in them.

Patagonia, the North American sports retailer, also does not sell polycarbonate bottles, but instead sells metal drink containers.

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Acronym Required has been following various aspects of the bisphenol A story for a few years.

Nevada Flush?

A New York Times editorial Sunday remarked on a Nevada boondoggle - the state's sale of federal lands to finance local and state recreation projects. An earlier Times article, December 3, 2007, reported that a law shepherded through Congress ten years ago by some Nevada legislators allowed the state to sell federal "environmentally sensitive land", and pour the money earned, $3 billion so far, into various other projects.

The law intended that the money be used for "conservation projects". However, the Times noted that quite a few of the projects were more "something-for-everyone"; ie: land for developers, parks and recreation facilities for citizens, road construction, fire stations, and parking lots.

The benefits to Nevada include increased property values, and new areas for expansion that benefit individual towns. But some critics don't understand why American taxpayers are funding Nevada's local projects like housing and community oriented public works, which should be funded with either with state and local taxes. The New York Times editor asked why "federal lands should be tapped like some desert A.T.M., forcing taxpayers in the 49 other states to subsidize the booming regional growth around Las Vegas".

Science Programming: Penguins and the Lethal Cannon

PBS Nature, Animal Fare Light

I don't too often plunk down in front of the television and watch nature shows. The last time I watched a television show on animals was in a small restaurant in SE Asia which had the sort of overwhelming television presence that precludes conversation. Animal shows were popular fare in SE Asia. I occasionally watch PBS's Nature series. The last episode I remember watching, sometime last year, was called "Can Animals Predict Disaster?"

The show was a vehicle for elephants, hippopotamuses, tigers and fish to gambol about in zoos, deserts, forests, rivers, and oceans on various continents. "Can Animals Predict Disaster?" pondered whether animals could someday warn us of disasters, like the Sumatra tsunami of 2004. Behavior researchers investigated various related questions, like whether infrasound or geological cues warn animals of upcoming earthquakes or tsunamis.

One scientist set up large speakers on the safari and blasted classical music to giraffes and hippopotamuses over an impressive wilderness stereo system, then observed the animals' reactions. That was the control part of the experiment. I shouldn't anthropomorphize the giraffes by saying they looked bewildered. The scientist then blasted some pre-recorded hippopotamus calls. This prompted chorusing1 from nearby hippopotamuses. The show explored at length what it meant for the hippopotamuses to chorus (in instances when a scientist regales them with his own recordings of their calls), and whether the animals could communicate impending disaster to each other.

As it turns out, animals have senses that humans don't, and unsurprisingly, communications systems we don't understand. Owls see better than humans, dogs' have more acute hearing than humans, elephants can sense vibrations hundreds of miles away through their trunks, and hippopotamuses chorus. But as one scientist pointed out, it's highly unlikely that animals evolved to run from tsunamis, since tsunamis are so rare. More likely, he said, animals would run from anything that sounded as threatening as a tsunami.

The episode crept towards its tentative conclusion: At the end of the day animals probably can't warn us of impending disaster. I say "probably" because "Can Animals Predict Disaster?" left some doubt about its answer. Perhaps PBS Nature's mission statement precludes it from completely trouncing people's fantasies about animals. On that note PBS Nature concluded ambiguously with a "what-if". "What-if" someday, humans could rely on animals to warn us before "the earth turns angry"?

These programs often feature predictable, anthropomorphic, action oriented fun. Suspense builds, large animals thunder across the plains, and the predator voraciously gets the prey. It's formulaic, family-friendly TV, with lots of death but very little copulation -- and certainly no embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions.

The extent to which these shows aim to please audiences is almost always inversely proportional to the production's potential as Acronym Required blog fodder. And we do, occasionally, mock media's science offerings, for instance our posts about Meerkat Manor, and the movie March Of The Penguins, commented on anthropomorphic edutainment. But always, even as we poke fun at these productions, we're acutely aware that the alarming pablum spooned out by the media in the name of nature or science today, can be bested with a thinner and less substantive gruel tomorrow.

TV, radio, newspapers -- they're all under the same pressure: money, money, money. The Wall Street Journal used to feature long, investigative health and technology articles, with corporate friendly front and editorial pages. But the paper's entire content is being Murdochized. CNN's home page used to highlight flimsy science coverage. Now we often find a CNN front page slathered with lurid crime tales. The network even managed to get itself panned as "corrupt" for its debate hosting tactics, on the front page of last Sunday's LA Times.

TV producers seem to forever probe the depths of available content, seeking the lowest common denominator, raking up muck from ever deeper ponds, flinging it out, wrapped with delicious advertising, to the apparently hungry masses. Since I watch TV infrequently, I don't get pulled imperceptibly into watching stupider and stupider shows until one day I find myself enthusing about some reality show contestant's outfit to a stranger on the bus -- no offense. Every six months I watch TV again and it hits me -- wow, is this it?

"Inspiring People to Care About the Planet": National Geographic, Aircraft Carriers, and Automobile Factories

In some blip of high expectations and naivete the other night, without considering any schedule, I turned on the TV and flipped to the National Geographic channel. I grew up reading National Geographic, along with Scientific American. Somewhere along the line, Scientific American changed. It used to carry long science articles with great graphics and lucid explanations of physiology and geology and other interesting topics. I still like it, but my impression of the current format is that it falls somewhere on the spectrum between USA Today and Highlights magazine -- albeit SA's website is better than Highlights'.

National Geographic used to feature anthropological articles on people and places around the world. Of course I wouldn't expect the same stories today, about some never-before-discovered jungle tribe that fashions strong vines for transportation,and brews therapeutic teas from the roots of exotic plant species, for example. But that evening I thought I'd learn something at least vaguely interesting, about a place, an animal, an ocean, some fish, a spider, an expedition. So I was surprised to tune in to the National Geographic channel and find myself watching a feature about the world's largest aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.

The USS Ronald Reagan is in the Seventh Carrier Strike Group led by Rear Admiral Wisecup. I sat through a segment on loading supplies from the supply ship, everything slung onto the carrier via a pulley system set up between the two ships. What was I watching? Could this be right? I met the supply chief, Commander Pimpo. National Geographic? I checked the channel to make sure I hadn't landed on the wrong channel. The USS Ronald Reagan is big. Its run like a small city, with its own fire department, hospital, and police force. Maybe the remote is broken? No, all of this and more was the subject of National Geographic's "Supercarrier: USS Ronald Reagan." I guess it had been a while since I watched National Geographic. I suddenly yearned for a goofy show with the snake gulping down the bird.

The supercarrier has won several best in class awards, such as the "Ship's Store Retail and Services Excellence Award", for the U.S. Pacific Fleet for fiscal year 2006 in the CV/CVN class"; the excellence in food service award for its class; and the "Battle "E"" award, for its condition and wartime readiness. All of this is interesting if nuclear powered aircraft carriers interest you. You'd find this story fascinating if aircraft carrier logistics stories excite you as much as stories about animals, history, science or space. You'd be intrigued if patriotism to you means appreciating the fine tuning necessary for "prompt and sustained combat" by 6,000 people manning a ship longer than the Empire State building, that costs taxpayers $2.5 million dollars a day to run.

National Geographic claims its mission is: "Inspiring People to Care About the Planet". I'm sure some people would argue that a show about the Navy's USS Ronald Reagan fulfills the mission. Anyway National Geographic can feature any type of show it wants. And it does. Take for instance "Ultimate Factories". There's "Ultimate Factories: Ferrari", "Ultimate Factories: BMW", and "Ultimate Factories: Corvette". Sure, ok, car factories are fun. But does a Ferrari factory inspire you to "care about the planet?" Yes, these are slick cars, but am I total stick in the mud, given NG's mission statement, to point out that Ferraris get 7-10 mpg in the city and 12-16 mpg on the highway?

On National Geographic's "Advertise with us", website page they advise hopeful advertisers: "Now we are placing more emphasis on preservation, seeking a sustainable relationship with our planet, and promoting greater public understanding that will lead the way to global balance." When does it start? Or is the sentiment reserved for the "Global Warming" section of the website, where they dare not mention that cars contribute to global warming? Oh well. I'm sure that National Geographic's hat tip to the US military and car manufacturers is rewarded.

Discovery: Future Weapons

Where else would one turn for a good nature show these days? The Discovery Channel? In 1985 the fledgling cable network was launched to be "Scientific American of the air", as a spokesperson told AdWeek. When asked how Discovery Channel planned to compete with other networks (at a time when cable TV hadn't taken off), he said "If we are a 'dark-horse' to be a fourth network, we're almost invisible because we're so dark". He added, "To be a fourth major network, we'd have to add a lot of stuff, which we are not going to do. The true beauty of The Discovery Channel is that it's differentiated and focused." In 1988 about one-third of the network's programming was nature documentaries, one-third was documentaries about "other lands and their cultures", and the rest was devoted to shows on science, technology, history, and human adventures such as trekking and mountaineering,according to a Christian Science Monitor article at the time.

But things change. Today the vast Discovery Communications, produces multiple channels; Discovery, Health, Science, Animal Planet, Travel, HD theatre, and TLC ("an affirmative and connective experience"). They launched the "Military Channel" in 2005. The channel was a rework of an aviation show that producers expanded because of "viewer demand" for land and sea --not just air-- military content. Last February, when Discovery added home-grown content to "Military Channel", Vice President Bill Smee enthused to USA Today about the US soldiers' videos they planned to air. The films wouldn't always be "feel-good", he assured, because they were filming on the job: "...I don't want to overpromise firefights, but you may see the aftermath of an improvised explosive device."

So why not I guess? Shouldn't gore be part of the "The Military Channel"? Granted, no one in their right mind would go there looking for basic science or nature shows. But fight fervor is not confined to the "Military Channel". If you happened to naively click over to Discovery Channel at 11:00 on a Thursday evening, you wouldn't find "Planet Earth", or "Shark Week", or "Man vs. Wild", or "Storm Chasers". You'd be watching "Future Weapons".

"Future Weapons" is now in its second season. The show created a stir last year with its special website dedicated to building audience enthusiasm for weapons. BAE Systems helped sponsored the site. The defense contractor told AdWeek in June, 2007, that their media goals for working with Discovery were "to keep the Non-Line-of-Site (NLOS) Cannon front and center in terms of the Army and people who are interested in the military'". BAE found Discovery's content so useful that it used the Discovery Channel's NLOS site as "real third-party validation that we could show to our prospective customers".

To be fair, defense contractor advertising has always been a part of Discovery Communications, even when the network wanted to be "Scientific American of the air", back in 1985. Shiny spiffy weapons just haven't been quite so "front and center". Also to be fair, Discovery Communications' mission is more in line with its commitment to military content than National Geographic's. On their "About" page, the corporation proclaims: "Discovery, it's not just our name, it's our very calling". A little dull, but universally inclusive, which gives the corporation an opening for all programming, even military recruiting.

Discovery Communications offers no pretense about saving the planet. Nevertheless, if "discovery is [y]our calling", forgive your audience for thinking along the lines of exploring the Amazon, or investigating bone marrow cell transplants, or climbing Everest, or observing some animals on the Kalahari -- without the NLOS Cannon and its "unprecedented responsiveness and lethality". Sure military technology is based on science -- but building enthusiasm for weapons is used for the purpose of exciting people about war, not science. From "discovery is our calling", its only a hop, skip and a jump to historical slogans like "it's not a job, it's an adventure", or the current Navy slogan of dubious meaning: "accelerate your life". 2

More, New Science on Cable

I do sometimes lament what passes for science programming these days, and I'm not alone. In 2003 there was a flurry of announcements and excitement around a proposed C-Span like science station called Cable Science Network - CSN. Science, and Scientific American, and Wired announced the program. The founders wrote in Scientific American: "Wouldn't it be great to watch congressional hearings on cloning, bioterrorism, global warming and aging? Wouldn't it be fabulous to attend--via cable--cutting-edge lectures given by scientists at various annual scientific conferences?" I'm not sure how the public answered, but CSN apparently never got off the ground.

There are other efforts starting however, and while programming can get worse, it can surely always get better. The National Science Foundation (NSF), has teamed up with the Research Channel to produce programs for national and international cable, TV, and internet audiences. There's also a PBS/Wired program called Wired Science. I'm sure there are others, I'll just have to channel surf a little more. Then there's always Second Life.

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1Documented in various insects and amphibians. William Barklow has done (and popularized) the research with hippopotamuses, (ie, J. of Animal Behavior March 28, 2002, "Amphibious communication with sound in hippos, Hippopotamus amphibius").

2 Granted, "discovery is our calling" doesn't fit too well with the new army slogan, "Army Strong" -- too many words in the former, whereas-latter-distorted-English --grunt. See more about "Army Strong" at goarmy.com.

Acronym Required writes frequently about science and media and has also written about global warming and cognitive dissonance, for instance in Cars: Buying Cognitive Dissonance", Sea Change or Littoral Disaster, Science Communication, Communicating Climate Change, and Climate Change, Fueling the "Debate", and others. Links to other Acronym Required articles are included in the text.

Endangered Species Act, More Change

(Edited 12/04/07 -- Added info on extension of public comment period for the endangered species recovery credit system.)

Panthers at Large

As a journalist for the St. Petersburg Times, Jeff Kinkerberg tagged along with eight Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission scientists and veterinarians, and a couple of dogs on a panther catching expedition in March, 1993. The dogs treed a panther, chasing it 30 feet off the ground and out on a tree limb. The biologists sedated the cat, which then laid down in a stupor on the limb, instead of falling onto the inflated crash bag and net below. So a biologist climbed up the 30 feet, inched out to the panther and tied a rope around it. The scientists were then able to push the cat off the limb. But the endangered Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), dubbed "#50", surprised everyone by landing on its feet. As Kinkerberg wrote:

The fall has invigorated the drugged panther. Flexing his claws, he scrambles out of the net and leaps to the ground...Dave Maehr...grabs the panther's tail and is dragged across the ground...[Pauline Nol] hugs the panther around the neck. She is dragged with Maehr. The rest of us try to block the panther's escape. He stops, turns and runs toward me. I extend my notebook and camera - paltry weaponry under the circumstances - and retreat behind a tree.

The mayhem continued....

Turning, the panther sprints between the legs of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee, Mark Lotz, knocking him over. With Maehr still clinging to the tail, Jayde Roof slides down the tree and tackles the panther across the hips. The panther claws his leg, tearing open his pants, puncturing his knee and drawing blood. The panther, a watermelon seed with fur, slips from their grasp without even a growl. Roof and Maehr and Nol dive on the panther again and try to entangle him in the net...

The panther is protected under the US Endangered Species Act. The escapade to tag the panther and chart its health was an iota of the effort expended in the multi-decade project(s) to repopulate the endangered panther in Florida. Scientists and politicians have engaged in an epic struggle to reinvigorate the dwindling population, and along the way, wrestled not only with animals, but with many legitimate questions about the pros and cons of such an effort.

Ironically, the panther may be one of the luckier endangered species. Even in its most beleaguered days, as a mangy population of 50 sickish specimens, the panther was fortunate to be the recipient of sustained public attention. Other endangered or rare species don't have such poster appeal, get little public attention, and therefore aren't recipients of preservation efforts and funding.

Small Toads Haplessly Trampled

In the case of the California's red-legged frog and the arroyo toad (John Roberts famously called it "hapless"), Investor's Business Daily asked recently (Nov. 28, 2007), how it's possible that such tiny species can sooo gum up the works:

"Both are almost a couple of inches, small enough to be trampled underfoot without the trampler's knowledge. Yet they've been favored over human activity on several occasions as developers have been sidelined by regulators."

Actually, the smaller the species, it seems, the less likely it will show up in the New York Times -- and all the easier to "trample it underfoot". Grim are the futures of spiders and flies?

Even apart from spurts of wanton disregard from disparate quarters, endangered species policy is -- when all parties are agreeable -- thorny business. The panther netting episode could be a metaphor for the larger, longer political struggle over endangered species -- albeit one that's less satisfying in its physical, acrobatic aspects and perhaps its outcomes.

Seven Species Saved....?

Last week, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service reversed the decisions on seven species whose listing status was politically influenced by former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, who decided that certain species didn't need the protection scientists had determined was necessary for species survival. A review of eight decisions last summer found that MacDonald had bullied scientists, edited their reports, passed confidential information to private parties outside the agency, and manipulated the final decisions. The species whose fates she temporarily influenced were the Canada lynx, the White-Tailed prairie dog, the California red-legged frog, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the Arroyo toad, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, and 12 species of Hawaiian picture-wing flies.

Although people express relief over the change in these decisions, MacDonald was involved with more than 200 endangered species decisions. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says that in more than 30 cases over the last 7 years they identified political interference. To the UCS, the problem is less with one individual, than with the agency's process that's not-transparent. MacDonald is not the only official within the federal agency who has been accused of influence peddling. As a 2005 poll showed, most employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service admit to knowing several instances of official finagling.

It's an unfortunate time, with global warming and increasing numbers of species likely to be in danger, for the Endangered Species Act to be further bogged down in politics. The Audubon Society's recent 2007 Watchlist identifies 178 species of birds in the continental U.S. and 39 in Hawaii that are declining or are already rare. But the Bush administration continues its march of obstruction. The administration has now refused to move to protect penguins -- ten of twelve species of penguins that the Fish and Wildlife Service found to be endangered because of global warming. If the popular penguin can't get favor from Bush...who can??

Recovery Credit System -- Like Offsets? Privatizing Endangered Species?

There's a growing trend afoot, to engage private landowners in species habitat protection. The Bush administration is pushing this from several directions. For instance in October Bush announced a recovery credit system, which would allow federal agencies to damage species habitat if nearby private land could be rented from private landowners as replacement habitat for the endangered species. The idea of habitat credit has defenders and critics (naturally). A small program of this type was run at a U.S. Army base at Fort Hood in Texas. The Environmental Defense Fund wrote positively about the Fort Hood program in which they participated, along with a cattle association, in their article last October "Cows, Tanks and Conservation: The Right Mix for Songbird Recovery". EDF predicted that the bird targeted by the Fort Hood program, the black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla), would recover in the next decade. The Fish and Wildlife Service has more information on their proposed program. We verified that the public comment period for this proposal, which originally expired November 3rd, has now been extended 60 days.

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Acronym Required wrote more about the Florida panther recovery program in Panthers Saved?

We wrote about the Environmental Defense Fund's participation with KKR in the TXU buyout last year in TXU - Greenmail?.

20th World AIDS Day 2007

The good news on World AIDS Day is that the UN changed the 2006 estimate of the number of people living with HIV from 34.1 - 47.1 million people, to 30 - 35.3 million people. The more precise number comes largely from revised numbers for India, as well as Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Two-thirds of the people living with AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of infected women is now 61%.

The theme for this 20th observance of World AIDS Day is leadership.

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