Supporting our first responders?

According to NPR, Dr. John Howard, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will be dismissed. He oversaw the healthcare for 9/11 first responders, many of whom have respiratory problems, but he was ousted because he cares too much about the workers.

Congress had approved a budget to provide healthcare for the first responders, and Dr. Howard faithfully followed their dictates in providing healthcare. However, the Bush administration wanted him to use a smaller budget, so they will not be reappointing him as director. So much about them supporting the people fighting terrorism; they don't even want to provide proper healthcare to the first responders of the largest terrorist attack in the history of the United States.

This whole affair is ridiculous, but it's sadly what we've come to expect from the Bush administration. For a group of people who claim to support the troops and accuse others of not supporting them, they have a tendency to cut off support such as veteran's health care and education. And yet when support is approved by the opposition in Congress, they have the gall to try and take credit for it.

Water from Mercury

Surface of Mercury as seen from MESSENGER during its January 2008 flyby

While a direct and close-up observation of water on Mars is exciting, we already knew about the existence of water on Mars for quite awhile. But the solar system can still throw us big surprises. One might think that the planet Mercury would not have any water, being so close to the Sun so that any water would have been blasted away by the solar wind. But when the MESSENGER spacecraft made its initial flyby of Mercury this January, water was exactly what it detected in its atmosphere.

MESSENGER is to orbit Mercury starting from 2011, but to save fuel it approaches Mercury numerous times to reduce its speed using Mercury's gravitational pull. During its flyby in January, it flew through Mercury's thin atmosphere and collected particles from the atmosphere. While it found the expected amount of elements such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, it also found significant amounts of water among the particles, which was a complete surprise.

The MESSENGER spacecraft has already made several big discoveries in just a single flyby this January, the others being the fact that volcanism is responsible for the smooth plains of Mercury and that many of the planet's features are due to its shrinking iron core. With just one flyby resulting in significant scientific results, including the unexpected detection of water in Mercury's atmosphere, I think we can look forward to when MESSENGER really starts its mission in 2011 when it goes into orbit around the planet. Even bigger surprises are sure to come.

The image of the surface of Mercury as MESSENGER receded from the planet in its January 2008 flyby is courtesy of NASA.

Better solar news

Via DeSmogBlog, I heard news that the Bureau of Land Management has cancelled its plans to impose a moratorium on new solar plant proposals. Apparently public pressure does work on occasion. Now if only Congress were to renew the tax credits for solar energy, we could see a surge of clean and renewable energy much faster than anticipated.

Hopefully we'll be able to see lower prices for oil and electric cars that are charged by renewable energy sources within several years.

American torture emulates Chinese

In a display of both unbelievable stupidity and malice, it has been revealed that some of the interrogation classes at Guantánamo Bay based their material on techniques used by the Chinese during the Korean War. Not only were these techniques basically torture, they were often used to extract false confessions from American soldiers. While it is well known that torture does not work, it's laughable that the military trainers taught techniques that were expressly designed to extract false confessions. Although it's more like torture of any kind is more likely to result in false information than not.

So much for the Bush administration's claim that they needed "enhanced interrogation techniques" to obtain reliable intelligence on terrorist networks. Their ignorance of where certain interrogation techniques came from and whether they even work, in addition to the malice of those in power who didn't even think that the techniques were cruel and unusual punishment, resulted in another blow to the United States' respect for human decency. And it's quite probable that the torture of terror suspects didn't help much, either, and it just tarnished the country's reputation on the global stage.

A chance to legalize marijuana

I don't like drinking alcohol. It just makes me feel queasy and sleepy. So I find it odd that alcohol is legal, despite it being responsible for innumerable cases of violence and death, and yet marijuana, despite being much less harmful, if it causes any harm at all, is illegal and yet has not been responsible for even a single death due to an overdose. I'm not sure about deaths caused indirectly by marijuana, but while I hear a lot of drunken driving deaths, I've never heard of a marijuana-induced death. And as for violence, the way I heard one person say it was "marijuana makes you too lazy to commit violence".

That's why I hope an initiative to legalize marijuana gets on the ballot and manages to be passed. It should sharply reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests. It might even reduce crime rates, since getting a criminal record for non-violent offenses really puts a damper into getting a legitimate income. It should also significantly reduce the amount of money that has to be spent on law enforcement and imprisonment, which do not really help curtail rates of marijuana use.

Unlike some people, I do not think that politicians have a negative position on drugs because they're in the pocket of law enforcement or the prison industry. While a large amount of money is being poured in these operations for drug control, I think the problem has more to do with the general perception of marijuana and narcotic drugs in general. Most people probably have a negative view of drugs simply because that's what they've been told and they don't really think things through or examine the data. Most politicians probably have the same problem, and even if they don't, they might think that it could be political suicide to be lax on drugs.

I hope that the initiative to legalize marijuana in California gets on the ballot and is able to pass. Not only would it legalize a drug that is much less harmful than legal substances such as alcohol or nicotine, it would signal that the general public is no longer so anti-drug, or at least anti-marijuana, so that it would no longer be political suicide to even mention a lax attitude towards drugs.

The only real worry I have with marijuana legalization is that it might eventually become expected to smoke marijuana in a social setting, just like one is expected to consume alcohol. I always hated drinking just because of social expectations, and I would not like having to smoke marijuana. At least with alcohol I have a medical reason to refuse. I'll probably have to stand strong in my refusals if smoking marijuana ever becomes socially expected.