Friday, September 08, 2006

Good News

It's hard for a leftie to be cheerful these days. Sure, one can get excited about the prospect of the Dems taking back some part of Congress (or at least the possibility of moderate Republicans starting to fight Bush on his crazier ideas now that he isn't very popular anymore). One can be grateful that Bush is finally having to retreat on torture, detention without trial, pretending that Saddam and al-Qaida had anything to do with one another before the invasion. That's nice. But most days that doesn't feel like progress. It feels like we're starting to shovel in the back-hoe holes that this administration's been digging in our backyard. ("Hey, honey, now if Fido falls in, he'll only break his leg! He'll be so happy to see this when his vertebrae heal!")

As appropriate and necessary as outrage and worry have been for the past six years, it's exhausting being outraged and worried all the time. I don't know how the all those guys from the Christian right do it. Heavy drinking? Clandestine sex orgies? Power naps? Yoga?

Probably not yoga.

So I'm taking a break today and doing a round-up of stories that make me feel a little more cheerful.

First: the ozone hole over Antarctica seems to have stabilized and may even be shrinking. Scientists are hoping that it could heal in about 60 years. This is good news in its own right and sort of encouraging about global warming: at a certain point, people took a hard look at the facts, said, "This is unacceptable," and wrote some laws. They worked. Cool.

Second, the (second-ever) Millennium Prize for technology was just given to Japanese inventor Shuji Nakamura. Nakamura has been doing work on low-energy LEDs and (separate) blue lasers that, among other things, could replace conventional lightbulbs and help sterilize drinking water. The LED lightbulbs take so little energy that they could be powered by small solar panels. This would make it possible for a lot of poor and rural people in (for example) Africa to either get electric light and other people to go off the grid. Nakamura is even giving some of the prize money to help that happen. Again, this is just cool in itself. And it's cool for those of us looking to cut down on foreign oil and on greenhouse gas emissions.

Third, some of the stuff we put in space is still working--well beyond expectation or even hope. The space shuttle doesn't seem to do more than get delayed, and the international space station occasionally seems doomed to become the largest unrecycled metal in orbit, but Voyagers 1 & 2, launched about 30 years ago, are still traveling away from Earth at something like 42,000 miles an hour
(a million miles a day!), beaming back information. Voyager 1 is over 9 billion miles from Earth, and, if it holds up, might make it into truly interstellar space within a decade. Meanwhile, NASA's Opportunity rover is crawling across Mars's southern hemisphere and is within spitting distance of Victoria Crater, which scientists are calling a likely "treasure trove." Neither the Voyagers nor Opportunity were ever expected to work anywhere near this long. But there they are. This is heady stuff (especially for those of us who still vaguely expect Voyager 1 to be rescued by a planet of intelligent machines and to meet up again with Kirk and the gang.)

Fourth, and perhaps the most heartening in a small, dumb way, Danish newspaper Information has published reproductions of six cartoons from the new exhibit in Tehran mocking the Holocaust, but there haven't been riots in the streets of Copenhagen or Tel Aviv or Palm Beach. Admittedly, the Israelis have shown their capacity to overreact in recent months, but it's still kind of nice to know that in some parts of the Western world, people have a vague respect for free speech rights and an awareness that retarded opinions alone aren't sufficient reason for violence and calls for holy war. As the editor of Information said, the cartoons are "are tasteless but predictable" and, by themselves, "they're pretty harmless." (Contrast this with the response to the cartoons of Muhammad in Jyllands-Posten several months ago that gave a bunch of cynical bastards and thuggish hotheads the opportunity to turn predictable and acceptable boycotts and resentment into riots. Your intrepid bloggers commented on that here, here, and here.)

That's what I got today. Anybody else heard anything good?


At 6:49 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

Oh, one other cool thing: the Chilean government just stripped Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution for human rights violations carried out while he was dictator of Chile. He's 90, but better late than never.


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