Obama: Science in science classrooms, please

April 14, 2008

We haven’t persuaded the candidates to discuss science policy, though it directly affects health care policy, the war in Iraq, climate change, and housing.  That scrappy little newspaper in York, Pennsylvania got Barack Obama to go on the record against teaching intelligent design, though.

Obama gave about five minutes to a reporter from the York Daily Record, the paper that led the nation in reporting on the Kitzmiller case.  They scooped again:

Q: York County was recently in the news for a lawsuit involving the teaching of intelligent design. What’s your attitude regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools?

A: “I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state.

But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science.

It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.”

Has either Clinton or McCain gone on the record on the issue yet?

Tip of the old scrub brush to the blogs of the Dallas Morning News.

Desert Rock power plant controversy heats up

April 14, 2008

A dozen scholars from a half dozen universities presented papers at SMU Saturday, at a symposium titled “Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest.” Papers detailed the history, economics, cultural and social effects of the development of energy resources on Indian lands, concentrating on development of the massive Navajo Reservation that straddles four western states.

The seminar was cosponsored by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU, and the distinguished School for Advanced Research of the Human Experience, at Santa Fe.

Energy development does not paint a pretty picture. Since 1800, development of Indian resources generally means value is extracted from Indian lands, but the Indians themselves make no profit, and often bear the burdens of development, especially in health damage, pollution, and hammering of social structures.

One presenter, Colleen O’Neill of Utah State, had a photograph that hit me hard. It showed two Navajos aboard an ore car from a uranium mine on the Reservation, in 1952. Neither man had any breathing protection of any kind. I worked for a decade to get compensation for victims of atomic fallout and mine radiation, on the U.S. Senate staff. And I know that the death rate from lung cancer for the uranium miners was nearly 95% when I worked the issue, 30 years ago. Those smiling men had been given a death sentence, and no one told them.

Especially after the final presentation, specifically aimed at a new proposal for another massive coal-fired electrical generating plant in an area that hosts two already, concern about the effects of energy development was clear from the symposium participants and audience.

Stakes got a lot higher Sunday morning. The Arizona Republic published a story on Desert Rock about as glowing as the proponents could hope for, pitting high unemployment rates and a lack of electricity on the Navajo Reservation against environmentalists who oppose the plant.

This post is a marker. I hope I’ll get time to write more about the seminar and the extensive findings (the School for Advanced Research will publish the papers, but that will be several months in the future). But until then, let me urge you to read the newspaper’s story, “For Navajos, Coal means survival.”

When you read the story, remember this: The employment numbers cited in the story are considerably more optimistic than any touted before; past construction on the Reservation has been difficult for Navajos to break into the work force, and imported workers generally do much of the work; it’s taken more than 50 years for Navajos to get the number of jobs they now hold at the Four Corners Plant, a fight that continues; and the sad story of the woman who died during a cold snap will tug at your heart and conscience, but you need to remember that there is no way her cold hogan will get electricity from Desert Rock; her children will still be cold if the plant is built.

More, later, I hope.

Sherry Smith and Brian Frehner did a whale of a job organizing the thing, by the way. You shoulda been there.


Typewriter of the moment: Heart Mountain Japanese internment camp

April 14, 2008

A remarkable device, in sad, remarkable circumstances.

The photos below show a typewriter that produces Japanese characters, an invention of no small achievement.

The photos also show American citizens, arrested for being Japanese, in the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming, during World War II. They’re getting the machine in operation to produce a camp newspaper.

Newspaper volunteers reassemble a Japanese typewriter, for the Heart Mountain Sentinel

The official caption:

Members of the staff and volunteer helpers reassemble a privately owned Japanese typewriter to be used for the Japanese language edition of the Heart Mountain Sentinel, Center newspaper. The paper is wrapped around the rubber cylinder, the typist pushes the roller riding platen over the bed of type. After picking the next character, a lever is operated which picks up the type, presses it against the paper and replaces it in its niche. Complicated in appearance and operation, due to the shorthand characteristics of Japanese writing, the advance of thought is nearly equal in speed to a standard English typewriter. — Photographer: Parker, Tom — Heart Mountain, Wyoming. 1/13/43

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, workers assemble Japanese character typewriter for the newspaper, 1943

Official caption:

This complicated looking gadget is a standard Japanese typewriter, the private property of a resident of Japanese ancestry at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center. The machine, loaned to the center newspaper for its Japanese section which is printed for for the purpose of informing those residents unable to read English, is here being assembled by Sentinel staff members. The paper is wound on the round drum, which operates on rollers over the type bed, spotted over the required character, an arm picks the metal slug from the bed, presses it against the paper and returns it to its niche. Due to the shorthand character of Japanese printing, the typewriter is nearly equal in speed in conveying thoughts as a standard English typewriter. — Photographer: Parker, Tom — Heart Mountain, Wyoming. 1/13/43

These photos are available from several sites. The best quality is probably from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library’s contribution to the California Digital Library. Office Museum.com also carries the photos, with attribution to the Department of Interior, War Relocation Authority, National Archives, Still Picture Branch, NWDNS-210-G-E691 and E728.

From the Office Museum:

The first typewriter with Chinese characters was produced about 1911-14. Nippon Typewriter Co. began producing typewriters with Chinese and Japanese characters in 1917. “The Nippon has a flat bed of 3,000 Japanese characters. This is considered a shorthand version since the Japanese language contains in excess of 30,000 characters.” (Thomas A. Russo, Office Collectibles: 100 Years of Business Technology, Schiffer, 2000, p. 161.) A successor company, Nippon Remington Rand Kaisha, was producing similar machines in the 1970s.

To use the typewriter, paper is wrapped around the cylindrical rubber platen, which moves on rollers over the bed of type. The operator uses a level to control an arm that picks up a piece of metal type from the bed, presses it against the paper, and returns it to its niche. While the machine is complicated, because of the shorthand character of Japanese writing, the Japanese language typewriter is nearly equal to an English language typewriter in speed for recording thoughts.

Other posts on typewriters, here. Other posts on Japanese internment, here.

Jeffrey Sachs: Pricing can’t cure all environmental ills

April 14, 2008

Natural resources people — foresters, river masters, biologists, botanists, agronomists, farmers, rock climbers and miners — understand almost instinctively that wise management of natural resources takes a blend of wisdom in commercial sectors and by government. Still, every once in a while some newly-minted Ph.D. in economics, or some economist who recently learned that governments own 86% of the land in Nevada, put forth a “bold proposal” to let the markets resolve environmental issues. Let pricing do it, they say.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, gives a short interview to the Wall Street Journal’s economics bloggers, in which he details why pricing cannot do the entire job, with examples:

Sachs: Pricing plays a role. Certainly with carbon emissions we need a price. But it’s almost never enough when we’re talking about really big technological changes. When you think of the computer industry and its roots in defense, when you think of the Internet with its root in defense and the National Science Foundation, when you think about drug development and the crucial role of the National Institutes of Health – one major industry after another has always relied, and needed to rely, on a mix of public and private actions.

When we’re talking about something as basic as a sustainable technology this is going to be inevitable. Think about how we’re going to climb out of the mess on nuclear power for example. We need a nuclear power industry in this country but it’s tied up in knots. Pricing by itself isn’t going to do it. There has to be public acceptability, there has to be sense of security that a regulatory framework, safe storage and nonproliferation protection is in place. These are just too complicated to be solved by a price.

For many other things, such as watershed management, there isn’t even a price that turns them into a market. The issues of watershed management involve different rights of upstream and downstream users, and different types of users. [like agriculture, households and industry.] The right price is going to be different. Pricing plays a role, but so does basic science, eminent domain, right of passage and liability.

Sachs is widely experienced in international economics, and in alternative economics. As an advocate of free markets generally, he’s pretty deep into development ideas. You won’t always agree with his opinions, but you’d do well to pay attention to what he says and the data upon which he bases his opinions.

Teachers, this is a short answer that covers a wealth of issues in your economics courses.

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