Blogs

Q&A: Meet the Teen Science Whiz with the Plastic Bag Breakthrough

| Fri May 30, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

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It may surprise you to learn that Daniel Burd does not consider himself an environmentalist. The Canadian teenager has become bit of an environmental hero over the past few days, as word of his potentially revolutionary science fair project has spread. In case you missed it, Burd managed to isolate the naturally occurring microbes that degrade plastic bags in landfills, cutting degradation time from lifetimes to mere months.

Maybe anyone could have done it, but no one else has. And that, says Burd, is part of what inspired him to pursue the project, which he started researching at the end of 2006. "As I began to research more and more, I found out we're not doing too much," he told me in a phone call from his home in Ontario. He is, in his words, "just a scientist trying to solve a huge problem."

"In the end, all problems come back to us," he says. "The plastic bags in the water, they don't dissolve, and they attract hydrophobic chemicals. Fish or other organisms may eat polluted plastic bags, and then we have millions of marine animals dying. If they don't die, then we may eat these fish, and then we have a statistical increase in healthcare problems directly attributable to that pollution. That's why everybody should be concerned."

"I would hope that through my project I'm able to, first of all, show a viable solution, economical and doable, and then get people more aware of it," he says. "Then we can fix it."

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Tracing an Iran Oil Blockade Meme

| Fri May 30, 2008 10:44 AM EDT

On Wednesday, Wall Street Journal opinion editors proposed a plan for a naval blockade on Iran of refined gasoline imports. But they don't say where they got the idea.

The Journal:

The Administration would do better to withdraw from this international charade and consider means by which the mullahs might be persuaded that their regime's survival is better assured by not having nuclear weapons. A month-long naval blockade of Iran's imports of refined gasoline – which accounts for nearly half of its domestic consumption – could clarify for the Iranians just how unacceptable their nuclear program is to the civilized world.

Here was Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in January explaining the idea of thirty year Israeli intelligence veteran Shmuel Bar:

Tom Friedman Is an Insufferable Blowhard

| Fri May 30, 2008 4:09 AM EDT

Sorry, I know that headline degrades the national conversation and is emblematic of why bloggers get a bad rap and yada yada yada. But sometimes you just gotta say what's in your soul. And my soul just watched this video clip from five years ago today, and my soul is pissed.

I know Tom Friedman writes some decent columns and some influential books. But watch this video clip all the way through and try not to hate the man.

I can't imagine what an Iraqi citizens feels like being told to "suck on this" by Tom Friedman, and that we went to war with Iraq "because we could."

TV: "Lost" Finale Way Better on Prescription Drugs

| Fri May 30, 2008 3:50 AM EDT

mojo-photo-lostfinale.jpgPerhaps it's only appropriate that my first post after a blindingly painful slipped disk injury laid me flat for a few days (hopped up on Vicodin and muscle relaxants) would be about Lost. I wouldn't recommend messing up your back, but it turns out that a good dose of Lorazepam isn't such a bad idea for watching this often-infuriating show, as its dangling plotlines and red herrings blur out into an easily-ignorable fog, while its queasy rhythms and quasi-spiritual sci-fi don't make you quite as nauseous. Do take it with food, though.

In advance of tonight's season finale, today's New York Times gave a whirl at a serious critical appraisal of the show, or should I say, gave a whirl at pointing out how you can't give a serious critical appraisal of the show:

"Lost," which concludes its fourth season on ABC on Thursday night, refuses our passive interest while it denies us the satisfaction of ever feeling that we might confidently explain, to the person sitting next to us at dinner, that we have a true grasp of what is going on — of who among the characters is merely bad and who is verifiably satanic. To watch "Lost" is to feel like a high school grind, studying and analyzing and never making it to Yale. Good dramas confound our expectations, but "Lost," about a factionalized group of plane crash survivors on a cartographically indeterminate island not anything like Aruba, pushes further, destabilizing the ground on which those expectations might be built. It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium.

Mmm, opiates. Do you think those might help with a slipped disk?

After the jump: what sprawling, frustrating novel is Lost like? Hint: Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.

McClellan and Me: Why this White House Stonewaller Has No Right To Complain About the Press

| Fri May 30, 2008 3:08 AM EDT

Excuse me if I'm resentful of the attention Scott McClellan, George W. Bush's onetime presidential press secretary, is receiving for finally telling the obvious truth that the Bush White House deceived the public about the Iraq war. Though McClellan's account has punch coming from an insider, he's late to the party. Some of us made the case when it counted--back in 2002 and 2003, before the war was launched, and in the following years--and we also maintained that the deceptive measures of the Bush administration extended beyond its PR campaign for war in Iraq. Yet back then McClellan was doing what he could to thwart such efforts. Now he says the media failed to confront the Bush administration forcefully enough. Which is true. But when reporters did try, McClellan put up a stonewall. So his complaint is like that of a thief who, after pulling off a caper, gripes that the incompetent police did not nab him. This is absurd. After all, before each press briefing, did McClellan go to the men's room and use a bar of soap to write on the mirror, "Stop me before I spin again"?

Let's turn to one example of McClellan's complicity--one that I know well, for it was an instance when McClellan spoke falsely to me.

McClellan's daily press briefing on September 29, 2003, was a rough one for him. The news had broken that the CIA had requested that the Justice Department investigate the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity. This meant that presidential aides could end up facing criminal charges. The reporters in the White House press room were in a justified frenzy. The CIA leak episode was now a full-force scandal. (Two months earlier, I had been the first reporter to note that the Plame leak was possibly a White House crime, but in the intervening period most of the media had ignored or neglected the story.)

Much of the press briefing that day was devoted to the CIA leak investigation. Answering questions about the Plame leak, McClellan declared, "that is not the way this White House operates." (Actually, it was.) He insisted that Bush knew that Rove was not involved in the leak. (Actually, Rove told at least two reporters about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection, which was classified information.) And McClellan said that Rove told him that he had played no role in the leak mess. (Actually, as just noted, Rove had.)

I was at the briefing, but by the time McClellan called on me, all of the leak-related queries had been asked. Even though I was keen on covering that story, I turned to another matter: the missing WMDs in Iraq and the prewar intelligence. A few days earlier, the House intelligence committee had sent then-CIA director George Tenet a letter saying that there had been "too many uncertainties" in the prewar intelligence on WMDs in Iraq. I asked,

The Vacant Green Votes of John McCain

| Thu May 29, 2008 7:23 PM EDT

Tin_woodman_cover.jpg John McCain supports the Climate Security Act. He just isn't going to vote on it. Grist calls him the Cowardly Lion for missing the vote for the act he professes to fervently desire. "I hope it will pass, and I hope the entire Congress will join in supporting it and the President of the United States would sign it." The entire Congress except him, that is. He's not going to vote because that would blemish his spotlessly voteless record—you know, the one the League of Conservation Voters gave him a resounding, deafening 0% score on for his total absence of votes on environmental issues. Grist reports his confession and justification: "I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000. The people of Arizona understand I'm running for president."

Okay, let's get this straight. In order to practise for being president, apparently you must also learn to hone your skills at hiding out inside your plane on the runway while important legislation about the future of life on Earth is decided without you… Is McCain Cowardly Lion or Tin Man? Has anyone checked his empty chest for a heartbeat lately?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Albatrosses Create Two-Mommy Families

| Thu May 29, 2008 6:27 PM EDT

laal.jpg Males in short supply? Or unreliable? Well, two mommies will do just fine. Laysan albatrosses in Hawaii employ a strategy called reciprocity, whereby unrelated females pair together and take turns raising offspring. On the island of Oahu, where 59% of the albatross population is female, fully 31% of the nests are female-female pairs. And though they raise fewer chicks than male-female pairs, given the shortage of males, fewer chicks are better than none. Plus, because albatross can raise only one chick a year, the females stay together in monogamous couples for years, allowing both females the opportunity to reproduce.

The findings, by University of Hawaii at Manoa zoology doctoral candidate Lindsay Young and coauthors BJ Zaun and EA VanderWerf, are published today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, in the paper "Successful same-sex pairing in Laysan albatross."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

More War Profiteering, KBR-style

| Thu May 29, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

Believe it or not, 12 soldiers have died in Iraq by electrocution from their own faulty equipment. Like showers and power washers for vehicles. Twelve. Unless they all died on one day, something's rotten in Denmark, that is, if that's where our old pals Kellogg, Brown and Root are headquartered.

Border Harassment

| Thu May 29, 2008 3:54 PM EDT

On May 11, the Rio Grande Guardian reported that customs agents in the Rio Grande Valley have devised a plan to check the documents of evacuees who attempt to board evacuation buses in the event of a hurricane.

The article [no link] reads:

Anyone who is not a citizen or is not a legal resident will be held in specially designed areas in the Valley that are 'made to withstand hurricanes' said Dan Doty, a Border Patrol spokesperson for the Valley sector.

When the weather clears, of course, they'll be deported.

This incident--and with several other examples of the threat the national security state poses to civil liberties--have come to the attention of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who chairs the House Judiciary committee. On Friday, he brought the issue up before the Congress: "[T]he Border Patrol [has] said that they have reassessed the policy in light of last week's exercise. They told us that [their] 'primary role in such events will be the safeguarding of life. No enforcement role will be undertaken that will in any way impede the safe and orderly evacuation of any member of the south Texas population.'"

That's a slightly different tune. And unfortunately, we may only learn the Border Patrol's true intentions when a real disaster strikes.

Sen. Feinstein Kills Off False Iran Report

| Thu May 29, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

The office of Senator Dianne Feinstein has weighed in to kill off once and for all a false report that appeared in Asia Times earlier this week that claimed she had been briefed about planned air strikes on Iran. The report is "plain wrong," Feinstein's spokesman said.

"Sen. Feinstein has not received any briefing classified or unclassified from the administration about any plans to strike Iran," Scott Gerber, a spokesman for the California Democrat, told me today. "And we're seeking a correction to the Asia Times report."

As I reported yesterday, Asia Times ran an article Tuesday saying "Bush plans air strikes" on Iran by August: "After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike," the outlet reported, "Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece 'within days', the source said last week, to express their opposition."

Yesterday, I reported that Senator Lugar's spokesman had called the report flat out untrue. Lugar "wasn't briefed, there's no oped," Lugar spokesman Andy Fischer told Mother Jones.