Blogs

Democrats Rush to Return Lawyer's Money After Guilty Plea

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 5:49 PM EDT

Now that famed securities lawyer Bill Lerach is officially going to prison, Democratic candidates are scrambling to get rid of all the money he's donated to their campaigns, the New York Sun Reports. Fellow trial lawyer John Edwards donated nearly $5,000 he'd taken from Lerach to charity, and Joe Biden's campaign said it had given $2,700 in Lerach funds to a prostate cancer group earlier this year. No word from Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign hasn't taken Lerach donations, but whose Senate campaign did...

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Men Without Women

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 4:44 PM EDT

Europe's population is in decline. By 2050, the continent is projected to be home to at least 50 million fewer people than it is today. But the Europeans do not plan to go down without a fight.

Three years ago, the governor of Russia's Ulyanovsk region declared an annual "sex day" to give locals the chance to stay home from work and make babies for the Motherland. Women who give birth on June 12 (Russia's national day) can win prizes, such as new cars and televisions. The joy of sex apparently wasn't enough to motivate young Russians to get busy. Prizes, though, seem to have done the trick: the region's birth rate has jumped 4.5 percent over the last year.

The Russians' procreative success may now have inspired the Germans. The former East Germany has been depopulating rapidly ever since the Berlin Wall came down. Women have been leaving in droves. According to a piece in the German magazine Der Spiegel, a local politician has decided to stem the flow. Earlier this year, Klaus Mättig, mayor of the town of Freital in eastern Germany, jokingly suggested the local government should offer $2,791 to any woman who would agree to sign a three-year lease in his town. But when his comments were reported in the local newspaper, the mayor received letters from over 50 women eager to take him up on his offer:

The response was especially unexpected because Mättig's offer was only half serious. Freital, after all, has not been overly hit by the mass movement westwards and, as the mayor says, "it's not like there aren't any women on the streets here or that there are only singles wandering around." It is also unclear whether the Freital electorate would even put up with such an offer. They aren't getting paid to stay, after all...
Even if Mättig's offer never actually comes to pass, he may nevertheless be on to something. Many of the letters he received were from former eastern Germans who were dissatisfied with their new lives in the West. "I want to come back as soon as possible," one wrote. "When one leaves their home, it doesn't automatically mean that everything will be better," penned another.
The letters, though, have also made Mättig take his own idea more seriously. He has responded to every one of the inquiries received, explaining that the initiative has yet to be passed.
"But," he says, "we are going to keep the idea in mind and will take a closer look at it here at city hall."

Mättig's approach, if ever it is implemented, would surely be more effective than another effort to woo women back to the East: Wolfgang Tiefensee, the government minister responsible for economic development in eastern Germany, has suggested that the best way to keep women from leaving would be to establish mobile libraries to drive around the countryside. Nothing says "stay in East Germany and have babies with East German men" quite like a good book.

Evangelical Influence on the Amish

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:51 PM EDT

Religion News Service has a great story about Steve Lapp, a former member of the Amish community who became an evangelical healer.

While Lapp himself is an interesting character, the story is bigger than just him: Some members of the Amish community, it seems, have begun to adopt evangelical styles of worship:

With his talk of supernatural healings and events, Lapp seems more at home—at least theologically—in Pentecostal churches than among the Amish. But he is just the most extreme example of an evangelical influence creeping into the Old Order Amish community, according to a number of observers. The trend may be most evident here in Lancaster County, which, with 25,000 members, is one of the world's largest Amish settlements.

The Amish "are realizing that the Great Commission is about going into the world and preaching the gospel and not just having your little community rules and regulations," Lapp said.

More and more Amish talk about "a personal relationship with Jesus," and the "assurance of salvation and forgiveness" while attending Bible studies, singalongs and revival meetings. Alarmed Amish leaders have banned large-group prayer meetings and Bible readings as dozens of Amish families consider joining other churches.

Increasingly, evangelical churches are non-denominational, since many church leaders feel that the differences between Christian sects are arcane and ultimately unimportant. The Amish, though, have long valued their separateness from the rest of society. If evangelical nondenominationalism is beginning to reach all the way into this insular community, its influence must be profound indeed.

Global Warming Bolsters Bone Trade

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

We keep hearing about the strange side effects of global warming. Certain species—from poison ivy to cats—seem to be thriving in the warmer weather.

The latest species to enjoy the short-term benefits of climate change? Bone collectors.

As the Arctic thaws, all kinds of prehistoric bones are becoming more accessible, and museums and private collectors are paying hefty sums to the people who know where to find them.

Luckily, at least one of the bone hunters has a sense of perspective:

Davydov acknowledges that rising temperatures in Siberia have been a boon for bone collectors. "As the permafrost thaws, we obtain yet more objects for study," he says.

But then he reflects: "From the point of view of humanity, it would have been better if this had never happened."

NFL Fines: Tax Deductible?

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 2:45 PM EDT

Ok, sports fans. Here's a question: Should New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick get to write off his $500,000 fine as a business expense? (In case you hadn't heard, Belichick was recently assessed the biggest fine in NFL history for secretly videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals.)

After much debate over the deductibility issue, a dozen tax law professors say yes...

Kanye West Pummels 50 Cent (and Slaughters Kenny Chesney) in Sales Race

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 2:36 PM EDT

50 vs. KanyeIt's official: Billboard is reporting Kanye West's Graduation sold 957,000 copies in its first week of sales, over 250,000 more than 50 Cent's still-impressive 691,000. West's total is the biggest one-week sales total for any album in over two years—and what, pray tell, was the album that did better, two years ago? That would be 50 Cent's The Massacre, which sold 1.1 million copies in March of '05. Ouch! Poor 50! I suppose a consolation prize is the fact that this is only the second time since SoundScan began its, er, scanning of sound in 1991, that the top two albums both sold more than 600,000 copies.

Graduation also set a digital sales record, with legal downloads of 133,000 copies, crushing Maroon 5's record of 102,000 set earlier this year. Lost in the hip-hop battle was Kenny Chesney, whose Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates (what? what does that mean?!) sold 387,000 copies, making it the biggest country debut since the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way.

New York magazine's Vulture blog says West's sales figures were probably inflated by fans who were inspired by 50 Cent's promises to retire from the music business if West sold more copies; i.e., buyers didn't really care about Graduation, they just wanted to get rid of Fiddy. Vulture proposes that labels create more of these scenarios to pump up record sales: say, if Britney's new album goes platinum, Avril Lavigne will retire. They may just have something there.

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How Many Grams of Fat? And What's the Carbon Footprint?

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 2:36 PM EDT

The British snack food company Walkers Crisps has started printing the carbon footprint of each of its products on the packaging. Walkers hired an outside emissions calculating service called Carbon Trust to evaluate the environmental impact—meaning farming, manufacture, packaging, distribution, and disposal—of its products.

Word has it that nine more companies will follow suit soon, among them the mighty Coca-Cola.

Yet another good reason to shun the junk food: It's not just bad for you—it's bad for the earth, too!

California Won't Be Suing its Way to Cleaner Air

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 1:42 PM EDT

Last year, the California attorney general made headlines by suing most of the nation's leading automakers for contributing to global warming. The AG's office used a novel interpretation of the state's "public nuisance" laws to bring the suit and had corporate America in fits. Well, they can rest easier now. A federal judge tossed the suit yesterday, saying that it would be inappropriate for the court to wade into this sort of foreign policy and interstate commerce issue, and that global warming would be better addressed in the political system.

Worm Poop Threatens Corporate Profits

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

Some of the nation's biggest corporations have found that baseless lawsuits are often a useful tool for squashing upstart competition. The latest example of this kind of noxious behavior comes from Scotts Miracle-Gro, a $2 billion company that claims 60 percent of the nation's garden-care market. Earlier this year, Scotts sued the tiny New Jersey start-up TerraCycle, which sells fertilizer made from all-natural worm poop, packaged in recycled soda bottles. Scotts alleges that TerraCycle has copied its packaging design and engaged in false advertising.

TerraCycle was started by college students and has never made a profit, but has made in-roads into some of the bigger retail outlets. Apparently Scotts sees the worm poop as a threat. TerraCycle has fought back mainly with PR. They've put up a cheeky website that notes that the Scotts CEO gets a half-million dollars worth of "personal aircraft use" each year, while TerraCycle's CEO's biggest perk is unlimited free worm poop. The website also has some funny photos comparing the two companies' headquarters.

The PR has helped boost sales, but it's not likely to pay TerraCycle's legal bills. Scotts has demanded every last piece of paper from the company in discovery--everything from plans for future product development to the worm's dinner menu--as a way of driving up the costs of litigation. In the meantime, TerraCycle is asking its customers to write letters to the Scotts board asking the company to drop the lawsuit--and also is taking donations.

(H/T Law and More)

One Language Disappears Every 14 Days

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 11:33 AM EDT

This is astounding news.

One of the world's 7,000 distinct languages disappears every 14 days, an extinction rate exceeding that of birds, mammals or plants, researchers said Tuesday.
At least 20% of the world's languages are in imminent danger of becoming extinct as their last speakers die off, compared with about 18% of mammals, 8% of plants and 5% of birds....
Half of the world's languages have disappeared in the last 500 years, and half of the remainder are likely to vanish during this century...

Fantastic quote from K. David Harrison, the expert on languages that is cited in the article: "When we lose a language, we lose centuries of thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday." Harrison works at something called the "Institute for Endangered Languages." Check that out here.

The folks there have identified the areas in the world where the most languages are going extinct, and it turns out one such hotspot is in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Click the link for more.

Update: Should have linked this earlier. Here's Mother Jones' recent cover story on animal extinction.