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Finding The Leaders Among Us

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 2:42 AM EDT

Think we're short on leaders? Then become one. Bill McKibben's put out the call through StepItUp.org for an event on Saturday November 3rd. Here's his letter:

If we're going to deal with global warming, then we need to go beyond politicians who say the right words and find champions who will actually do the tough work to transform our energy economy. This is an invitation to take one Saturday this fall and use it to build a movement, a movement strong enough to finally put this issue on the table where it can no longer be ignored. If everyone can do this work in their neck of the woods, it will create the momentum that we desperately need.

Here's the idea. On Saturday November 3, a year before the next election, we're asking people to organize rallies large and small in their communities. Each one should take place in some spot that commemorates great leaders of the past. Some of these will be nationally famous--people have already committed to climbing New Hampshire's Mt. Washington, gathering at the site of the Lincoln Douglas debates, even rallying outside the Rhode Island church where John F. Kennedy was married. Others will be locally celebrated leaders--there'll be a rally, for instance, honoring Navajo elder and activist Roberta Blackgoat, who inspired the fight against coal development on tribal land. But we need hundreds more, gatherings in places that bear the names of people who did the right thing in a moment of great need. You'll know the person that makes sense in your city or town—they don't need to be saints, just true leaders, the kind who, faced with the great issues of their day, didn't punt or compromise.

Once you've got your rally registered on www.Stepitup07.org we'll help you gather a crowd, and invite the politicians from your neck of the woods. We want to ask every Senator and Representative, and every candidate for those offices, to come to these rallies, along with state and local officials. Once they're there, we'll present politicians with the four "1 Sky" priorities prepared in the last few months by climate campaigners across the country. They are: an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and a Green Jobs Corps to help fix homes and businesses so those targets can be met. Basically, we want to find out who is simply a politician, and who's ready to be a leader.

We know these gatherings will be effective. In April, with the help of thousands of people (most of them brand new to organizing) from across the country, we organized 1,400 rallies in places that showed how climate change would affect our lives. Those events were key in putting the demand for real action--80% cuts in carbon emissions by 2050--square in the middle of the Washington debate. But a movement needs to keep moving, and calling for real leadership is the next step.

Don't worry if you've never organized anything before--you're not putting together a March on Washington, just a gathering of scores or hundreds in your town or neighborhood. It needn't be slick; homemade is just fine. Put your imagination to work: what would Lincoln do? How would Dr. King take on this challenge? This is a celebration of leadership, and a celebration should be joyful—as focused on the new economies and communities we can create as on the threats we must avoid.

These rallies will be local, but they'll also have national impact. The website will help draw people to your action, and then on Nov. 3, we'll be gathering pictures and video from around the country so that by nightfall we'll have a good online slideshow of how America feels. We'll do our best to make sure that every candidate is firmly on the record about their plans. By the time the day is done, you'll have helped change the political landscape.

The best science tells us we have barely a decade to start the fundamental transformation of our economy and to lead the world in the same direction or else, in the words of NASA's Jim Hansen, we will face a "totally different planet." (He went on to say that the "1 Sky" priorities "describe just the kind of trajectory we need" to start solving the problem). A decade's not very long—we've got to get going.

I know you've already done the obvious things, like changing some of the lightbulbs in your house. Screwing in a lightbulb is important; screwing in a new federal policy to deal with climate change is crucial, especially if we're ever going to regain enough credibility to help lead the world toward a stable climate. November 3 will be a powerful day, and you can play a vital role. Please sign up on the website to start an action—and thank you so much for caring enough to be a leader yourself.

McKibben also asks us to forward this email as far and wide as possible, to anyone who might possibly be interested. "We're not really an organization, and we don't have lists of names—we depend on people like you to take the initiative." Hope you can help. JULIA WHITTY

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Daft Punk: Behind the Pyramid

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

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Opening DJ Busy P has been keeping a blog at The Fader as he accompanies Daft Punk on tour, giving us the inside scoop on what it's like for hipster Frenchmen to roam across America. Today he posted this revealing behind-the-scenes shot of the light-up pyramid in which the dynamic duo perform, something that I sure haven't seen anywhere before. First of all, jeez, it looks so solid from the front! Secondly, I see monitors and a couple machines of some sort, so at least we know they're not totally faking it.

The Man Behind the Utah Mine Collapse

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

The six miners now trapped in a coal mine in Utah were working for Murray Energy, whose owner has become one of the most outspoken—and unhinged—spokespeople for coal power in the last year, as the dirty energy source has come under increasing scrutiny. Coal is the largest single contributor to greenhouse-gas pollution—but Mr. Murray denies that fossil fuels cause global warming.

Murray has used his platform as spokesman in the tragedy to continue his defense of the industry. On Tuesday, he delivered what the Washington Post called "a general paean to coal," threatening that, "Without coal to manufacture our electricity, our products will not compete in the global marketplace…and people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay for their electric bills."

Murray also adamantly denied that the "retreat" method of mining which was used in the section that collapsed had anything to do with the accident. Retreat mining involves taking the last bits of coal from pillars that hold up the roof, and result in—ideally controlled—collapses. Murray has blamed the collapse on an earthquake, though seismologists say vibrations were caused by the collapse, not vice-versa.

Murray's unconventional approach has drawn criticism from the Democratic chairs of two House committees that oversee labor issues. Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey pressed the Labor Department to assume the spokesman role because Murray's statements do "not meet [the] standard" for such emergencies.

But it should be said that the Democrats and Mr. Murray have no love lost. Murray has given heavily to Republicans, including, according to the Post, $100,000 last year alone from his political action committee to GOP congressional candidates.He has used his ties with important Republicans—particularly Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, oversees mine safety—to avoid facing the music for safety violations. The Utah mine's safety record was fairly average, despite fines for safety violations in the hundreds of thousands, but nationally, Murray's mines have a shoddy safety record. When confronted in 2002 with safety violations, Murray threatened to have the inspectors fired, referring to his close friendship with McConnell. "The last time I checked," he said, "he [McConnell] was sleeping with your boss."

Great guy, huh? Would you trust him with your life?

New Music: Birds & Batteries

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 6:26 PM EDT

mojo-cover-birdsandbatteries.JPGWho knows where the name came from, but Birds & Batteries is an oddly appropriate moniker for a band whose synthy soundscapes seem to float effortlessly in the air. Okay, the world is full of breathy electro these days, but San Francisco's B&B approach their keyboards from an unexpected, epic country-rock direction, something they lay out right away by opening their new album, I'll Never Sleep Again, with an elegiac cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

The band seem to have started out as a one-man project, as band leader Mike Sempert apparently recorded demos for the first album on his own, then brought in musicians to fill out a live band. While the idea of experimental electronica enhanced by heart-rending pedal steel guitar may seem incongruous, the sound is wholly unified. The band definitely owe a debt to Minnesotans Low, whose recent Drums and Guns brought loops and drum machines into the mix, but Birds & Batteries eschew the traumatized depths the Duluth trio aim for, instead aiming for uptempo grooves like the horn-led, Stereolab-reminiscent "Turnstyles."

Birds & Batteries have multiple shows scheduled over the next month on the West Coast. Grab three mp3s of tracks from I'll Never Sleep Again via their website:
- Birds & Batteries – "Ocarina"
- Birds & Batteries – "Star Clusters"
- Birds & Batteries – "Turnstyles"

Google Reveals Everything Important About America

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:45 PM EDT

For the first time since February, Google has updated its Google Trends database, allowing me to give you an up-to-date look at our nation's most important issues--or at least its most important internet searches, which we all know is the same thing.

War

Iraq: blue / Star Wars: yellow / Halo: red / World of Warcraft: green

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When it comes to war, this easily generated chart shows fantasy war has been a more popular Google search this year than real war, except in late April and early May when the "Iraq" search term (blue) claimed fleeting victory over "Star Wars," "Halo" and "World of Warcraft." My guess is that kids were kicking the video game habit for a moment while researching end-of-semester term papers on foreign affairs disasters. If you run the search yourself and look at the localized stats, you'll see that the only cities where "Iraq" won were Washington, DC (of course) and Columbus, Ohio. Will somebody from Columbus explain? On the other end of the scale, Salt Lake City dominated each fictional war category. But then, I'm not sure Salt Lakers consider Star Wars to be fiction. (Mormons believe Native Americans descended from the 12 tribes of Israel, and before that, Jedi Masters). Anyway, combining all three fantasy wars leaves Iraq totally dominated. As for other real wars, the "Global War on Terror" doesn't even rank, but I'm not sure that bothers me seeing how GWOT is only slightly less fictional than World of Warcraft.

Climate Change

Global Warming: blue / Hummer: red / Air Conditioning: yellow / Al Gore: green

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As of late July, after dominating the field for months, "global warming" has fought "Hummer" to a bitter draw. Meanwhile, "air conditioning" was lying in wait during the cool spring months, only to crank up in May and blow past "global warming" in June in a cloud of CO2 emissions from dirty coal plants in the sweltering South. "Al Gore" came to the rescue when he announced a surprise Live Earth concert on July 7th, but within a week he had dropped to the bottom of the pack. (Al: We need more concerts. Can you play tambourine on a tour with Willie?)

The Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton: light blue / Barack Obama: red / Rudy Giuliani: green / Fred Thompson: yellow / Ron Paul: dark blue

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The internet has spoken: Ron Paul will be the next president. Everyone else might as well pack up and go home, because this 71-year-old libertarian from Lake Jackson, Texas is on fire with the power of bored IT workers Googling him on lunchbreak. And Digging him, and searching for him on Technorati, and demanding him on Eventful and befriending him on MySpace and pumping him on Meetup and submitting more questions to him than any other candidate during his rockstar appearance in Silicon Valley at Google Talks. Pretty much anywhere you look in cyberspace, he's kicking ass. Nevermind that he wants to abolish the IRS, the Department of Ed and the EPA. They're already irrelevant. . .

The Role of Government

Government: blue / Google: red

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This is why Silicon Valley rules America.

People Picks up on Hypermiling Guru

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

The just-released August 13, 2007, edition of People magazine features stories on Star Jones' weight loss, Britney Spears' custody battle, and ... hypermiling?

To learn more on how People covers fuel efficiency, continue reading this post on MoJoBlog.

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Chart Beat: Billboard Top Ten Albums

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:11 PM EDT

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Do you ever glance at the Top Ten and go, "what the hell is all that crap?" Not my Top Ten, that's the reaction you're supposed to have to that one. The actual Top Ten. Well, me too. Together we can figure it out.

1. Common - Finding Forever
Hey, good for Common: his first #1. The rapper's last album, the slightly superior Be, sold more its first week (185,000 to Forever's 150,000), but only hit #2. One side benefit of the music sales slowdown: it's easier to climb the charts!

2. Korn - Untitled
Who's even in Korn any more? One guy found Jesus and left, the drummer's "taking a break." Are they still spelling their name with a backwards "R"? Because that's awesome.

3. Various Artists - Now 25
This comp features "Buy U a Drank," "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs," and "U + Ur Hand." Whs byng ths sht?

4. Soundtrack - Hairspray
People say it's good (it's still #3 at the box office), but whatever. If nobody stands in a playpen filled with fish and shouts "Who wants to die for art," I'm not interested.

5. Miley Cyrus - Hannah Montana 2
I had to look this up: it's a Disney Channel show about a teenage girl who has a "secret life" as a famous pop star. You know, when I was 13, I was listening to Laurie Anderson. Kids these days…

6. Sean Kingston - S/T
Here's something. Kingston's 17 years old, his single "Beautiful Girls" is the syrupy, quasi-reggae one that samples "Stand By Me," and it's currently our #1 song, possibly helped out by Billboard's recent addition of streaming statistics to the chart methodology.

7. Kidz Bop Kids - Kidz Bop 12
This edition of the sing-along series includes screamy versions of "Umbrella" and "The Sweet Escape," but nothing as awesome as their version of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" from #8.

8. T.I. - T.I. vs. T.I.P.
The fair-to-middling "concept album" (it's a battle between two parts of himself, see) from the Southern rapper slips from #5 this week. I put "You Know What It Is" in a Riff Top Ten in July, and I stand by that, but the rest of the album's kind of dull.

9. Fergie - The Duchess
While I'll admit to kind of enjoying the retro-freestyle beats of "Fergalicious," nothing else about this deserves any attention whatsoever.

10. Linkin Park - Minutes to Midnight
Did anybody else find "What I've Done" a really incongruous track to accompany the "Transformers" commercials? Like, the only way the lyrics make sense conceptually is if you think of Megatron singing it, filled with regret about the destruction he has wrought. And I don't think that's what they had in mind.

People Picks up on Hypermiling Guru

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

hypermilers100x120.jpgThe just-released August 13, 2007, edition of People magazine features stories on Star Jones' weight loss, Britney Spears' custody battle, and ... hypermiling? That's right, People has exactly 1 page covering the slightly wacky, fuel-effecient style of driving of Wayne Gerdes, the obsessive hybrid owner we featured in the magazine earlier this year.

Gerdes, the "king" of hypermiling, who glides his way toward 100 mpg in an ordinary Honda Accord, shares tips on how to use big rigs to reduce air resistance, and how to slow down without braking, in our article, but with People, readers learn about fuel-efficiency obsession on one page and the summer's hottest strapless dresses on the next. What would we do without People?

British to U.S. Forces in Afghanistan: Get Out

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:01 PM EDT

Guess who British forces in southern Afghanistan see as creating an intolerably high number of civilian casualties? If you guessed the Taliban, you're wrong. If you guessed the Americans, you've been paying attention for the last four years. Are we really making things worse, not better, in both halves of our Middle Eastern misadventure?

From the New York Times:

A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

The Times tells the story of an Afghani man whose village lost 20 people in an American airstrike launched after Taliban fighters passed through. Six of the dead were family members; the living did not fare much better.

His son, Bashir Ahmed, 2, listless and stick thin, seemed close to death. The boy and his sister Muzlifa, 7, bore terrible shrapnel scars. NATO doctors had removed shrapnel from the boy's abdomen at the time of the raid and had warned his father that he might not survive, but two months later he was still hanging on.... His wife lost an arm, and the children's grandmother was killed, he said.
...He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents.

So American airstrikes are driving civilians into the arms of the Taliban. And what can the British forces on the ground use to make survivors forget their grief and not turn against the westerners? A few measly bucks.

Maj. Dominic Biddick, commander of a company of British soldiers in Sangin, is making a big effort to ease the anger and pain as his men patrol the villages. He has a $5,000 good-will fund and hands out cash to victims he comes across, like the farmer whose two sons were shot in the fields during a recent operation.

The magnitude of that insult is unimaginable. The dishonor and the disgust a father must feel when offered cash (in some amount under $5,000, no less) to compensate for the loss of two sons — that's truly brutal.

The total number of civilians dead in the region of Helmand this year has been estimated at 300, "the vast majority of them caused by foreign and Afghan forces, rather than the Taliban," according to the Times.

El Paso Opens Largest Inland Desalination Plant

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

Yesterday El Paso marked the opening of what will be the world's largest inland desalination plant, a project 15 years in the making that will aim to provide water for the nearly million residents of the area for the next 50 years.

Most desalination outfits are in coastal areas, for obvious reasons. This one will pull water from an aquifer of brackish water yet untapped hundreds of feet underground. The project costs a cool $87 million and will require multiple wells and several dozen miles of pipeline to connect the aquifer to the plant. Backers hope the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant will serve as a model for inland cities and water supply.

The driving force behind this project—and the reason Texas was able to secure $27 million in federal funding—is the expansion of Fort Bliss, the city's Army base, which is set to grow by more than 20,000 troops by 2011. Fort Bliss is already the second largest military installation in the country (next to neighboring White Sands Missile Range), covering an area roughly the size of Rhode Island.