ECO-PORN: The-Edge Rolls Out its New Award, Biomimicry Mimicry Mockery, London’s Alternative Bookstores Hit with Rightwing Lawsuits, Rising Temps Could Doom Island Life, Have We Evolved as a Society?
August 2, 2002

Singer actress Brandy slips into something more comfortable. A computer accessorized SUV. Credit: USA Weekend
ECO-PORN: The-Edge Rolls Out its New Award
The-Edge hereby announces the first in a series of occasional “Eco Porn Awards” recognizing Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Pimping for Profit by Prostituting the Planet.

Our first award goes out to Ford, Sony, Maytag and pop diva Brandy for their joint efforts on behalf of the “Gadget Car.”

As described in the May 24 issue of USA Weekend, the Gadget Car not only provides a means of transportation, it also will be a computer-equipped “multi-tasking car” that can “book your theater seats, make your dinner reservations and confirm the baby sitter’s arrival.”

A gizmo-addict’s dream, the Gadget Car is an SUV with DVDs — not to mention speaking dashboards, displays featuring the latest stock prices, Web access, satellite-linked GPS mapping and route controlling systems, videogames for every teen and pre-teen passenger and, of course, hands-free cellular communication set-ups.

Ford Navigators already offer the option of a Sony PlayStation 2 implanted in the upholstery. Ford Windstars are being reconfigured to accommodate on-board Maytag washing machines (presumably for soccer supermoms who want to have the kids’ clothes clean by the time they get home from the soccer field).

As USA Weekend would have us see it, the Gadget Car “is really about regaining control of our lives.”

The Auto Lobby hopes to have 28 million “gadgetized” cars on US roads within three years. Do you sense trouble ahead?

Distracted drivers already pose an increasing risk to other drivers on the roads, but OnStar President Chet Huber argues that “hands-free” design will solve all problems. “If you press a button and get information read to you in a formatted way, it’s less distracting than fumbling around with a PDA on the highway,” Huber argues.

Brandy shares the EcoPorn Award for her role as Gadget Car eye candy and techno-toy gizmo-girl. Posing in an electro-souped-up SUV, Brandy praises her brother’s Cadillac Escalade (freighted down with three TV screens, DVD players and “an assortment of PlayStation outlets”) and rhapsodizes about the additional DVDs and mini-TV she may soon install in her own Mercedes.

As a mass-extinction of living creatures proceeds all around us, science is working creatively to fill the world with mechanical replicants. Credit: UC Berkeley
Biomimicry Mimicry Mockery
USA — There was a time when environmentalists believed that one solution to the ills of industrialization was the promotion of “biomimicry.” The idea was to base new technologies on the proven abilities of “nature’s technology” which, over the course of millennia, had produced such marvels as spider webs stronger than any human steel and a clam’s adhesive, which makes Crazy Glue™ look like Crisco™. And then there was Velco™, which was inspired by sock-sticking burrs.

Unfortunately, this bright hope failed to consider what might be called “the DARPA Syndrome” (see item above). A team of good-hearted, California-taxpayer-supported “pure scientists” at the University of California at Berkeley have hired themselves out to the Defense Department, which hopes to use biomimicry breakthroughs to advance its battlefield superiority.

One of the latest accomplishments of this military-industrial-academic complex was exhibited in June — dangling from the end of a pair of tweezers. The “Microfly” is one of the world’s tiniest robots. In development since 1998 at a cost of $2.5 million, this microbot has polymide wings a mere 10-mm long designed to beat 150 times a second. Equipped with tiny solar panels for power, mini-cameras and a transmitter accompanied by a microprocessor and Tiny OS operating system, the Microfly (which weighs about as much as a paperclip) can zip along at a gnat-fast ten feet-per-second.

Why a fly? As Promode Bandyopadhyay of the Office of Naval Research explained, “You could have a swarm of them in a battlefield. Eventually they can work as a group and detect the presence of hostile forces and materials.”

And, with the addition of mini-venom packs, you could have MicroMosquitos capable of stinging the enemy into itchy submission. (Anthrax, optional.)

It’s another example of “the Coming Singularity” — a troubling techno-trend that is slowly merging machines and biology. The Pentagon, which has been described as “among the biggest supporters of biomimicry,” has also invested $5 million to build a Robopike (thank you, MIT) and $3 million to create a “Robolobster” (thank you, Northwestern University). Robolobster’s supporters claim it could become a useful tool for both warfare and espionage.

It’s only a matter of time before some diner at a seafood chain complains, “Waiter, there’s a microprocessor in my entrée. And I think it just snapped my photo!”

London’s Alternative Bookstores Hit with Rightwing Lawsuits
When the good folks at Housman’s Bookshop, a 30-year-old socialist nonprofit bookstore in London, learned that they were being sued for libel, you could have knocked them over with a subpoena.

The lawsuit was brought by one Alexander Baron, who claimed that he had been libeled in an issue of the anti-fascist publication The Searchlight. One sentence in the 136-page issue referred to Baron as a plagiarist. Baron didn’t try suing the magazine or the author, however. Instead, he explained, he was suing the bookstore because it had placed the magazine on its shelves.

“Astoundingly, British law allows anyone who claims they have been libeled to sue a shop, distributor or library handling the allegedly libelous publication,” said Housmans’ Albert Beale.

Housman’s shares its space with the anti-corporate McLibel Support Campaign, which came to the defense of two unemployed activists who were sued by the McDonald’s corporation. (McD claimed that an informational leaflet the two distributed outside McDonald’s outlets in the UK had “libeled” the company. The “McLibel Two” were ultimately vindicated in a court ruling. The leaflet since has been translated into several languages and distributed widely out around the world. To read the leaflet (and lots of other things that McDonald’s would rather you wouldn’t see), click on

According to the Bookshop Libel Fund, Baron chose to sue “only the shop, not the author or publisher concerned, because of his distaste for the sort of material made available in radical bookshops.”

The bookstore tried to use the defense of “innocent dissemination” contained in the 1996 Defamation Act, which holds bookstores blameless for information contained in the publications that it sells. As Housmans pointed out, “it is impossible for bookshops, particularly small bookshops, to check — and take responsibility for — the content of the thousands of publications in stock at any one time.”

Unfortunately a High Court ruled in Baron’s favor. The ruling sent a mixed message, however. Although Baron had demanded £50,000, the jury awarded him a mere £14 and ordered him to reimburse all of Housman’s legal expenses. (A meaningless gesture, since Baron apparently lacks the funds to make restitution.)

The ruling puts alternative bookstores (indeed, even mainstream outlets, as well) under a very dark cloud. As Housmans’ defenders observed: “It seems that, if anyone suggests to a shop or library that an item on their shelves is defamatory and they fail to remove it immediately, then they cannot use this defense in any proceedings later brought against them, irrespective of whether it was reasonable to take the suggestion seriously.”

The Housmans’ suit is one of several similar suits in which rightwing plaintiffs have targeted alternative booksellers. Bookshop, another progressive London bookseller, is due in court this fall on similar charges.

Both shops would appreciate donations to defray their legal costs: Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9OX; Bookshop Libel Fund, 1 Bloomsbury St., London WC1B 3QE.

Rising Temps, Not Rising Tides, Could Doom Island Life
SOUTH PACIFIC — Many low-lying island nations stand to be swallowed by oceans rising as a result of climate change. As if that weren’t enough of a problem, the third edition of The World's Water warns that an even more immediate threat to the survival of these island populations will be increasing temperatures on land and changes in rainfall patterns.

Author William Burns predicts that “climate change will substantially exacerbate water shortages in many nations over the next 50 years and perhaps doom some of them.” The Marshall Islands and Micronesia have been hit by severe droughts in recent years. Climate change is expected to bring less rain to these regions in the decades ahead.

As many as half of Samoa’s residents now lack access to drinkable freshwater while, in Papua New Guinea, only one in ten rural families enjoys safe and abundant drinking water.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change anticipates that average Pacific temperatures will rise by 2 C (3.6 F) in the next 50 years and, by 2080, could top 3 C (5.4 F) while sea levels will rise as much as five millimeters per year (two inches per decade) well through the 22nd century.

There is a tragic injustice at work here, Burns observers, since “Many of these nations represent cultures that were established thousands of years before settlement began in Europe, yet their future is now imperiled by forces totally outside their control.” The industrialized nations, which are largely responsible for the problem, have failed to substantially curtail their pollution of the planet’s common atmosphere.

The World’s Water suggests steps that the island nations can take to improve water storage though better water catchment and distribution systems. Unfortunately, Burns concludes, “while these measures may help to extend the life of these islands, ultimately the resolve of nations such as the US and European nations to make the transition to clean energy sources is critical for the future of the world’s most vulnerable peoples.” The full report is available online at

Some Marginal Evidence that We Have Evolved as a Society
In 1901, one Henry T. Finch penned an essay in that contained the following warning against the danger of feminist inclinations:

    “Women’s participation in political life would involve the domestic calamity of a deserted home and the loss of the womanly qualities for which refined men adore women and marry them…. Doctors tell us, too, that thousands of children would be harmed or killed before birth by the injurious effect of untimely political excitement on their mothers.”
Imagine the ramifications of Finch’s Theorem in the hands of today’s far-right extremists. Political activism would become linked to abortion, thereby rendering feminism the handmaiden to murder. [The-Edge thanks Molly Ivins for disinterring this quote.]

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