Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thinking Outside the Van Allen Belts

Tuesday's Times Science section had the good judgement to publish an article about one of my favorite engineering proposals of all time: regulating the Earth's climate by building a giant diverging Fresnel lens at the Earth-Sol system's L1 Lagrange point. By rotating the lens you can control what percent (up to a maximum of maybe .01%, depending on just how big and how divergent this lens is) of incident sunlight gets bent away from the Earth's surface. This of course would obviate the need to worry about things like carbon dioxide emissions, since any increase in the greenhouse effect could be compensated for by limiting the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth. I've never seen a particularly detailed engineering proposal for this, but I can't imagine it would be that hard to build once the first space elevator goes up and reduces lift costs to transatlantic flight levels. There's some other stuff in there about seeding cloud decks with sulfur to increase reflectivity, but clearly massive orbiting lenses are the most politically viable of our options at this stage.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Just plain pathetic

I tend not to post about the corruption in the GOP because 1) I have nothing new to add and 2) Nick can usually give better insights based on his, well, close connections. But I just had to take quick note of this gem.

The Abramoff corruption scandal is growing larger and larger, with former White House aide David Safavian found guilty yesterday of obstruction of justice and lying. He's just the most recent one to fall, and the only one so far tied directly to the administration. Right now, everyone has their eye on Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) who was implicated numerous times for taking bribes in Abramoff's indictment as 'Official A'. Everyone knew Official A was Ney, but he denied any illegal activity and publicly announced that he would run for reelection.

Ok, enough back story. Today, the McCain Report on the exploitation of the Tigua tribe came out. But in the case of Rep. Ney, it practically flat-out accuses him of lying. Talking Points Memo has the story:
The committee has numerous witnesses testifying that Ney sat down with representatives from the Texas Tigua tribe, a de facto Abramoff client, for a lengthy meeting -- an hour and a half to two hours... But Ney, in a meeting with Senate investigators, claimed not to be familiar with the Tigua. Never heard of them. He couldn't remember meeting with them. Did he meet with Tigua reps for two hours? No, he "wouldn’t even meet with the President for two hours.”
It gets fun when he explains why there's a discrepancy:
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Ney, said yesterday that the congressman's meeting with the committee "was a voluntary meeting -- it was not conducted under oath."

The committee report said that those witnesses who were not placed under oath were reminded of "the applicability of the false statements act" and of statutes dealing with obstruction of a congressional investigation. (Washington Post)
So it's ok to lie because he wasn't under oath. Good one.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Renewing the Literacy Test

Normally I'd be happy when legislation backed by the president was blocked in Congress. Normally I'd be extra pleased to find out that the delay in voting was due to a disagreement within the GOP representitives, a sign that the DeLay days of ironclad party discipline are over. But normally Bush isn't pushing legislation in agreement with almost unanimous Democratic support.

Working at the Library of Congress, I've helped run a number of events discussing the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Last summer I was surprised to hear that the act was due to expire in 2007. Not surprisingly, I forgot about the content of the event and was more excited at getting Kerry and Obama's pictures. It was brought to my attention again last week in a speech by Congressman Charles Gonzoles (D-TX) reminding everyone that the act had not yet been renewed. The act was hailed as a landmark for the civil rights movement. So why would a number of Republicans want to block it from passing?
House leaders abruptly canceled a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act yesterday after rank-and-file Republicans revolted over provisions that require bilingual ballots in many places and continued federal oversight of voting practices in Southern states. (Washington Post)
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) requested an amendment getting rid of the requirement to have all voting information in other languages -- and was denied.
That was "a gigantic mistake," said Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.), a leading critic of the act's renewal. "What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots," he said. "The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation."
Let's ignore the content of that comment for a moment and reflect on the nature of the literacy tests during Jim Crow. After the 15th amendment passed allowing all men over 21 the right to vote regardless of race, the new strategy to deny poor blacks the right to vote was to ask them to pass a literacy test. The test was administered unfairly, often targeting blacks with harder questions or combining with the Grandfather clause to keep whites from being affected. Even had it been administered fairly, however, the act focused on making it harder for one demographic to vote. If we strip the provision from the Voting Rights Act requiring multi-lingual ballots and information forms, how would it be any different from targeting recent immigrants?

There is, of course, a literacy test on the citizenship test. But it focuses more on history and how our government works than on testing whether immigrants are fluent in English. Check out a sample test and think about how much English you would have to know to get by it. I do think that the United States should push everyone to be able to speak and read English, but to use voting rights as a method to do so is wrong.