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Cheap Books, Random Thoughts [Greg Laden's Blog]



The following random thought will eventually become a more carefully written blog post, but I want to get this out there sooner than later.

Mention electric cars, or solar panels, or any other kind of thing a person might buy and deploy to reduce their Carbon footprint.

Mention that to enough people and some wise ass will eventually come along and tell you how wrong you are. About how electric cars are worse for the environment than gas cars because bla bla bla, or how solar panels are worse for the environment than burning natural gas because of yada yada yada.

I guarantee you that in almost every case, said wise ass is either using bogus arguments they learned form the right wing propoganda machine and that they accepted uncritically, or they are working with two year old information or older.

The electric car, or electric bus, or what have you, is very often, most of the time, and in the near future, always, the better option. If you are reading this sentence and don’t believe me, let me tell you now that your argument from incredulity does not impress me.

I’m particularly annoyed about the anti-electric bus argument. Electric busses already usually pay for themselves well before their lifespan is up using today’s calculations, but a machine designed to run for decades is going to be in operation years after we have almost totally converted our power system over. If you are a state or school board or something an you are currently working out the next five years of planning, there is a chance you may be thinking now about buying a bus that will be in operation in the 2050s. Are you seriously thinking about buying an internal combustion vehicle for that? Are you nuts?

Anyway, that was that thought. Now, for your trouble, a book suggestion. Have you read “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le Carré? In some ways this is Le Carré’s best novel, but it is also totally different than all his other novels, in that it is short, a page turner, quick, not detailed. It is like he wrote one of his regular novels then cut out 70% of it. If you’ve never read Le Carré and you read this, don’t expect his other novels to be the same. They are all great, but they are also denser, longer, more complex, demand more of the reader.

I mention this because right now you can get the Kindle edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for $1.99. I’ve not read this novel in years, but I think I’m going to get this and add it to my growing collection of classics on Kindle, which I may or may not eventually read.

By the way, there was a movie.

Two other books, both sciency, both cheap in Kindle form, I’ve not read either one, but maybe you know of the book and are interested.

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Saint Phocas, Darwin, and Virgil parade through this thought-provoking work, taking their place next to the dung beetle, the compost heap, dowsing, historical farming, and the microscopic biota that till the soil. Whether William Bryant Logan is traversing the far reaches of the cosmos or plowing through our planet’s crust, his delightful, elegant, and surprisingly soulful meditations greatly enrich our concept of “dirt,” that substance from which we all arise and to which we all must return.

Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization

Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today. Spencer Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill-suited. Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.

The politics edition, post-election special [Stoat]


lube In the pre-election special I said1:

The most likely result is a Tory victory with a (perhaps marginally) increased majority. But that would be dull, so why not speculate? A possible result is a hung parliament with – if my fellow electorate are not too foolish – the possibility of a Tory-LibDem coalition having a majority.

Part A of my speculation was fine; part B was Utopian. Well, in my defence I was trying to find a bright side to look at. But instead we get the DUP4.

The initial reaction to all this is that Theresa May looks like the idiot that she is; and that it is a disaster for the Tories2. Which is kinda fine; I’m all for TM looking like the idiot that she is; but after the ROTFL comes the question of where this leaves the country or, possibly more generally, the world.

Whither May?

TM is, I hope, doomed. She was a rubbish PM. As The Economist puts it Mrs May has led the Tories in a more statist, illiberal direction, with heavier regulations on firms and strict limits on immigration. Thatcherites, who stifled their criticism out of a sense of duty or ambition, will be sharpening their knives. It isn’t obvious who would replace her, though.

Whither the country?

I don’t know. It is hard to see a path forwards from here that makes sense. Arguably, without the election, or with the increased majority they were hoping for, the Tories under TM would have pushed forward with hard-Brexit. It is pretty hard to argue a mandate for that any more5. I find myself nervous of soft-Brexit because I find it easy to believe that the bozos in charge on both sides are capable of negotiating a deal that is worse than no deal, but it is also possible that the chances of compromise and muddling through have improved.

Or, to be more pessimistic, there’s the Economist’s the economy is heading for the rocks in a way that few have yet registered. Whereas in 2016 the economy defied the Brexit referendum to grow at the fastest pace in the G7, in the first quarter of this year it was the slowest. Unemployment is at its lowest in decades, but with inflation at a three-year high and rising, real wages are falling… the most important negotiation Britain has attempted in peacetime. Brexit involves dismantling an economic and political arrangement that has been put together over half a century, linking Britain to the bloc to which it sends half its goods exports, from which come half its migrants, and which has helped to keep the peace in Europe and beyond. Brexit’s complexity is on a scale that Britain’s political class has wilfully ignored. And so on.

A pony3 for everyone

I despair of my fellow electors. The election result is a victory for avoidance of hard choices and favouring fairy tales. Broadly, I think many who votes Remain have kinda given up on that, and have settled for Labour’s soft-n-fluffy Brexit as opposed to the Tories hard-Brexit, in the hope that actually means something; instead of voting LibDem, who actually opposed Brexit and continue to. And far too many seem happy with the absurd economic programme promised by Labour.


* Theresa May’s ‘abusive’ top advisers quit as Tory recriminations grow.
* JA: the verdict. Nice cartoon. Later, on Twitter: I reckon we’ve got at least another two or three elections before brexit is officially abandoned.


1. I should mention that VV did rather better than me.

2. Timmy for example: It would be both reasonable and fair to say that Theresa May has just run the worst British election campaign of modern times… achieved something that no one in modern times has managed, to start a general election campaign 20 percentage points up and then arrive without even a parliamentary majority for her party. There simply isn’t anything to compare with this in the annals. Other Prime Ministers have made ghastly electoral mistakes, undoubtedly, but not in the course of the campaign itself. Or, more succinctly.

3. The SW lead of the first chip I worked on – Jemima – had a plastic pony on his desk with “not yours” written on it. It was there to show all the people who came up asking for extra features to be added, each of which was a really excellent idea and guaranteed to do good, but which collectively would have sunk the project. Can you see the motto I’m trying to draw?

4. I know little about the DUP. Previously, I’ve been able to say that and not worry; it hasn’t mattered. I’d like that to continue if at all possible. LJ provides this helpful link as a guide.

5. The Economist, again, in rather stark terms: Let us be clear: after this vote there is no mandate for such an approach. Only an enemy of the people would now try to ignore the election and press ahead regardless with the masochistic version of Brexit that Mrs May put to voters. There are not grounds to reverse the referendum result—though Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, warns that a new referendum may be coming. But the hard Brexit that Mrs May put at the centre of her campaign has been rejected. It must be rethought.

Truffles [Stoat]


And now for something completely different: a man with a stoat through his head. Nonono, not that. Instead, a thing from the garden:


It is, or so I understand, a truffle. Or rather two. I found them while mowing the front lawn on Sunday. This was somewhat unexpected. And indeed, I might not even have found them had I set the lawnmower to “high” instead of “low”. Here’s the ground they came from:


That’s one; the other is equally uninteresting. The ground doesn’t obviously satisfy the truffle-bearing criteria. There are tree roots around, true, including hazel (no oak in the front) but there is more plum than anything else. The soil is fairly dry right now but was very wet a week or two back.

Anyway, it makes a pleasant change from the pols. I’ve given fragments to two friends who have French connections and therefore know what to do with such things.

Health advocates threaten lawsuit against firm importing asbestos to U.S. [The Pump Handle]


[This post is dedicated to Doug Larkin. Doug was the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. He suffered in recent years with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and passed away yesterday.] 

Dallas-based OxyChem imports about 300,000 pounds of asbestos each year. Yes, asbestos. The deadly mineral that most Americans think is banned (it’s not) and responsible for about 15,000 U.S. cancer deaths annually.

OxyChem is likely the largest asbestos importer in the U.S. The company is required under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to report its asbestos imports to the EPA. A group of health advocates assert that the firm failed to do so. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO); Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF); and Environmental Health Strategy Center are using TSCA’s “citizen enforcement” provision (15 USC 53 §2619) to alert OxyChem of their “notice of intent to file suit” because of company’s failure to report their asbestos imports.

OxyChem uses asbestos in its outdated chloralkali technology to produce chlorine. Plants in Europe, however, have moved to more advanced and safer technology which doesn’t rely on the deadly carcinogen. Of the 31 countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, only one chloralkali plant out of 75 is still using asbestos in their chlorine production process.

The health groups relied on commercially-available U.S. Customs and Border Protection records to identify OxyChem’s asbestos imports. The records revealed imports totally nearly 900,000 pounds during 2013 through the end of 2015. Most of the shipments—more than 20 in total—come from the one remaining asbestos mine in Brazil. The import data, however, does not match up with records required by EPA. The health groups found this out by filing a FOIA request with EPA to determine whether OxyChem complied with EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting (40 CFR, Part 711.) It requires firms to report every four years their use of certain “significant” chemicals. Asbestos is one of those “significant” chemicals and users are required to report quantities that exceed 2,500 pounds per facility per year. OxyChem’s use of asbestos over the last four years should have been reported to EPA by October 31, 2016.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) recently submitted comments to EPA on documents the agency is preparing pursuant to the 2016 amends to TSCA. In their comments, ACC insists that asbestos can be used safely. That EPA should believe ACC’s assertions that chloralkali plants, such as OxyChem’s, are pristine, error-free operations in which asbestos never touches human hands or enters the air or surrounding environment. ACC also conveniently ignores the life cycle of the toxic, from the asbestos exposure that occurs in the Brazilian mining town of Minacu, the processing and shipping, to the handling, use and disposal of asbestos somewhere in the U.S.

I tip my hat to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), and Environmental Health Strategy Center for using TSCA’s “citizen enforcement” provision. OxyChem and EPA have until the end of July to respond to the health groups’ notice of intent to sue. If EPA fails to take action to compel OxyChem to comply with the TSCA reporting provision, the health groups could file a lawsuit in a U.S. district court.



A Letter To The Logging Company That Is Suing Greenpeace [Greg Laden's Blog]


This is interesting.

It is a letter from Hachette Livre, a major international publisher, to Resolute Forest Products, the group that is trying to sue a number of environmental groups into submission. (See these posts: Taking The Axe To The Environmental Movement: Resolute v. Greenpeace and Freedom of Speech, Resolute Forestry, Stand.Earth, Greenpeace: New Developments) Hachette Livre uses Resolute, and seems to be a significant customer of the tree cutting pulp giant. And, they are giving Resolute a little what for:


Richard Garneau Produits forestiers Résolu

Vanves, June 8h, 2017

Dear Mr Garneau,

My company, Hachette Livre, is a customer of Resolute, and has been for many years. Our US subsidiary, Hachette Book Group, buys substantial quantities of FSC-certified ground wood paper from your Canadian mills.

We enjoy a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. As you probably know, Hachette Book Group, as its parent company Hachette Livre, has very high environmental standards that both companies advertise in their corporate brochures and web sites. We have a history of working productively with various environmental NGOs such as Rainforest Action Network, for instance.

Greenpeace has recently attracted our attention to the conflict between it and Resolute that has erupted into a significant legal battle.

I have no intention of getting involved in the dispute, for as publishers, we have neither the expertise nor the resources to forge an educated opinion as to who is right and who is wrong in what seems to be a complex set of highly technical issues.

I would simply like to respectfully make two points.

The first is that our commitment to FSC is the cornerstone of our Social and Environmental Responsibility policy.

As such, it cannot suffer exceptions to suit a particular situation or a specific vendor. I therefore urge you to do everything in your power to retain the FSC certifications you have in Canada and more specifically, those that are necessary to meet our environmental requirements. It is of vital importance to us.

The other point I would like to make, not as a customer but as a publisher and a citizen, is that the vigor of your legal response to Greenpeace under RICO statutes strikes me as excessive. It is a very disturbing turn of events for publishers like us, who cherish public debate as an essential dimension of our activity and include many conservationists and environmentalists in our list of authors. Indeed, an escalation of the legal dispute could cause some authors to decline having their books printed on Resolute’s paper, further complicating the situation.

Needless to say, we cherish just as much the rule of law and respect the right to seek legal remedy, but I wonder whether there might not be other ways to respond to Greenpeace’s claims.

Let me put it this way: At a time when the United States has decided to turn its back on climate change by reneging on its commitment to the Paris Accord, we believe we need more than ever independent NGOs such as Greenpeace. Without them, who will speak up for the environment in the future?

I hope these suggestions will give you pause, if not meet with your approval.

This letter will be posted on our company web site after you have received it.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope you are able to resolve this dispute soon.


Arnaud Nourry

I do want to go back to this sentence:

I have no intention of getting involved in the dispute, for as publishers, we have neither the expertise nor the resources to forge an educated opinion as to who is right and who is wrong in what seems to be a complex set of highly technical issues.

That is utter bullshit, embarrassingly stupid, and I have no idea why they would say this. I want to know how much this guy pays for his milk. But otherwise, it is a good letter.