2007 - %3, April

Race For A Green Car, X Prize To Offer Millions

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 10:33 PM EDT

The X Prize Foundation has announced a competition to build an environmentally friendly car. Nature reports that the winning vehicle will have to achieve at least 100 miles per gallon, regardless of the type of fuel it uses. Its carbon emissions have to be no more than 210 grams of carbon per mile. And it has to be cheap enough to expect sales of 10,000 a year.

That'll be a huge improvement on today's US average of about 21 miles per gallon. The prize's challenge lies more in manufacturing and economics than in developing radical new technologies. To achieve 100 miles per gallon can be done with existing technology, but requiring a radical redesign.

The rules are currently in draft form, and are open to public comment for 60 days beginning 2 April. The prize's value has not yet been announced, but will likely be more than $10 million. The previous two X Prizes, for spaceflight and genomics, each had a value of $10 million. --Julia Whitty

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Move On To A Safe Place

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 8:10 PM EDT

I have never been a big fan of MoveOn.org because I was quite opposed to the concept of moving on after the tainted 2000 election took place. It seemed to me that glossing over that incident and moving on was not what was needed. Now MoveOn has confirmed my worst suspicions by its recent decision to omit Rep. Barbara Lee's Iraq war amendment from its members' push poll.

In opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan, Rep. Lee wanted to offer an amendment that would have funded withdrawal of troops, but she was not permitted to. But Lee has a lot of support, including: United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, U.S. Labor Against the War, After Downing Street, Democrats.com, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, True Majority, and many individuals.

MoveOn polled its members by giving them a choice of the Pelosi plan or nothing at all--no mention of Lee's plan. Eli Pariser of MoveOn says that the would-be Lee amendment was omitted from the poll because he knew a majority of MoveOn members would vote for it, and the amendment did not stand a chance in Congress.

Says David Swanson (AfterDowningStreet.org) of the poll: "It served to give cover to progressive Democrats in Congress who gave their support to Pelosi after having intended to vote no on Pelosi's bill unless it included Lee's amendment." Perhaps "progressive" is the wrong word.

Thanks to Avedon Carol at The Sideshow.

Scientists Turn Old Garbage Into New Homes

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 7:38 PM EDT

A British civil engineer has invented a building block made almost entirely of recycled glass, metal slag, sewage sludge and ash from power stations. John Forth of the University of Leeds said his "Bitublocks" might revolutionize the building industry by providing a sustainable, low-energy replacement for concrete blocks. This according to UPI via Science Daily.

The secret ingredient is asphalt, which binds the mixture of waste products together, before compacting them to form a solid block that is heat-cured until it hardens like concrete. Forth said it's possible to use a higher proportion of waste in the Bitublock than by using a cement or clay binder. He's now working on developing a "Vegeblock" using waste vegetable oil as the binder.

Another noble reincarnation for MacDonald's used french-fry grease?--Julia Whitty

Boo-Hoo Republicans

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 7:25 PM EDT

One Republican after another is denouncing the direction of the party. Today Vic Gold, former press secretary to Barry Goldwater and a friend of Bush 41 and Dick Cheney, joins the club. The trend conveniently began just after the 2006 election. Many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives—including Mr. Gold—claim that pandering to the religious right precipitated the Grand Old Party's downfall. Some claim that over-identifying with the Republican Party has tarnished Christian evangelicals.

But both groups entered into the marriage willingly—and have been happily married since 1980. Yes, it was Reagan, that poster boy of pre-lapsarian conservatism, who presided at the ceremony. Twenty-seven years later, it strikes me as disingenuous to claim that the party's essence lies somewhere else. It's almost like saying Republicans are really like Abraham Lincoln. Meanwhile, evangelicals have been hurt how? Their numbers continue to rise, and they have inserted the issue of "[biblical] morality" into a vast spectrum of legislative issues when, in a secular state, there is no shared morality—or at least not one that goes beyond the basics of "No killing" and "No stealing." "Do unto others" is most definitely not part of the Republican platform (nor was it under Goldwater). The only thing that's really changed in the last six months is that the Evangepublicans blew their cover by pushing to legislate way beyond what can plausibly pass for political problems (think attempts to make divorces harder to obtain, redundant laws and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 22 states, etc., etc.)

One interesting convergence between Gold's account and Matthew Dowd's complaint in Sunday's New York Times is that both were at one point Democrats (Gold for about half a minute, Dowd for substantially longer) who describe falling in love with the virile optimism of a particular Republican candidate. Funny how it's easy to be filled with confidence and optimism when you believe God exists to support your wealth and power. Maybe the cracks forming between evangelicals and Republicans will check that omnipotence a bit, but beyond that I don't foresee any major shift in how Republicans do things or how many keys to the stateroom rest on how many church altars.

World Oil Production Close To Peak, Good Riddance

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 7:21 PM EDT

In a worst-case scenario, global oil production may reach its peak next year, before starting to decline. In a best-case scenario, this peak will be reached in 2018. This according to the doctoral thesis of Fredrik Robelius of Uppsala University in Sweden. He estimates future oil production on the basis of the largest oil fields.

A giant oil field contains at least 500 million barrels of recoverable oil. Only 507, or 1% of the total number of fields, are giants. Their contribution is striking: over 60% of 2005 production. However, giant fields are impending dinosaurs since a majority are over 50 years old--and fewer are being found, with less volume available within them.

Robelius' model forecasts future production from giant fields, combined with forecasts on other oil sources, to predict future oil production. In all scenarios, peak oil occurs at about the same time as the giant fields peak. The worst-case scenario sees a peak in 2008 and the best-case scenario, following a 1.4 % demand growth, peaks in 2018.--Julia Whitty

Kerry: McCain Approached Me About Being on Dem Ticket in 2004

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 2:35 PM EDT

Building on the "McCain approached Tom Daschle to inquire about leaving the GOP" story, John Kerry now says that McCain's people approached his campaign about being the vice president on Kerry's 2004 ticket. If that's true, wow. We still don't have an explanation from McCain on all this, just a simple denial that none of it is true.

Update: Strong and detailed denial from the McCain people. It feels like both parties are playing loose with the truth here...

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When Brigham Young Doesn't Want You, You're Washed Up

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 12:47 PM EDT

There is currently a petition drive at Brigham Young University to withdraw Dick Cheney's invitation to speak at the school's commencement exercises later this month. 2,300 signatures were collected the first week. Here is an excerpt from the petition:

...Cheney has made misleading statements about the tragic war which continues in Iraq, levied outrageous partisan accusations against his Democratic opponents, and used vulgarity on the Senate floor. He has been linked to serious scandals involving botched intelligence reports, no-bid contracts awarded to friends and political donors, and perjury convictions handed down to his own staff. Mr. Cheney is simply not the type of role model to whom we wish to bestow the responsibility of addressing our best and brightest as they "go forth to serve".

It doesn't get much more conservative than Brigham Young, and it appears that a lot of BYU students have taken their Christian studies to heart and applied them to the behaviors of the current administration.

Thanks to Tennessee Guerilla Women.

Playing Chicken With Iran

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 12:21 PM EDT

This is precisely how wars get started, an act of aggression by one side followed by an act of retaliation by the other, tit for tat until someone gets nuked. Patrick Cockburn reports that Iran's capture of 15 British marines and sailors was a direct response to a botched U.S. operation in January, when the military snatched 5 Iranians in Arbil -- identified as members of a Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran, unit -- who were suspected of arming insurgents. (These men are still being held.) Cockburn reports that U.S. forces were actually after two senior Iranian security officials, Mohammed Jafari, the deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the Pasdaran's intel chief. At the time, both officials were in Iraq on official business, meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Cockburn writes:

The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighbouring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan. There is no doubt that Iran believes that Mr Jafari and Mr Frouzanda were targeted by the Americans.

...The abortive Arbil raid provoked a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and Marines - apparently considered a more vulnerable coalition target than their American comrades.

Cockburn also reports that the official rationale for grabbing the Iranians in January, hours after President Bush went public with the accusation that Iran is equipping insurgents, doesn't quite add up.

US officials in Washington subsequently claimed that the five Iranian officials they did seize, who have not been seen since, were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces". This explanation never made much sense. No member of the US-led coalition has been killed in Arbil and there were no Sunni-Arab insurgents or Shia militiamen there.

Iraqi Bazaar Merchants Hate on McCain, Version Two

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 9:33 AM EDT

I just don't understand how they didn't see this coming. Shortly after the New York Times sent reporters to the market John McCain, some other American lawmakers, and 100+ heavily armed friends strolled through, and got livid responses from the merchants who work there, the AP has done the same thing. With the same results.

"They were just making fun of us and paid this visit just for their own interests," said [Jaafar Moussa Thamir, a 42-year-old who sells electrical appliances]. "Do they think that when they come and speak few Arabic words in a very bad manner it will make us love them? This country and its society have been destroyed because of them and I hope that they realized that during this visit."

Surely someone on McCain's staff thought to themselves, "Wait a second. One, the Iraqis hate us, and two, this business John is spewing about Iraq being safe is complete nonsense. If any news outlet sends a reporter to talk to these people after we leave, we're going to look like a bunch of horses asses." But, uh, nope. Nobody thought that one through. Or maybe they did, but McCain's zeal for the mission kept them from voicing their concerns.

Regardless, we get depressingly hilarious quotes like this:

"I didn't care about him, I even turned my eyes away," Thamir said. "We are being killed by the dozens everyday because of them. What were they trying to tell us? They are just pretenders."
"They were laughing and talking to people as if there was nothing going on in this country or at least they were pretending that they were tourists and were visiting the city's old market and buying souvenirs," said [Karim Abdullah, a 37-year-old textile merchant]. "To achieve this, they sealed off the area, put themselves in flak jackets and walked in the middle of tens of armed American soldiers."

Yup, sounds like we winning some more hearts and minds. Thanks for all the hard work, Mr. McCain. Ideas for your next photo op: Darfur, a black site prison, hell. Surely things are just peachy there, too? Until we get post-visit interviews from a mutilated child, a tortured Pakistani held without charges, and Satan, of course.

Iraqi Bazaar Merchants Pile on Credibility-Free McCain

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 12:11 AM EDT

I wrote earlier about how folks were piling on Sen. John McCain for his ridiculous photo op/stunt that was intended to deliver the message: "Look! I'm walking through a market in Baghdad with 100 armed guards and multiple helicopters! This place is safe and my credibility is intact!" No, senator, it isn't, and this might be the moment when everyone realizes that your support for the war isn't grounded in reality and your deep personal convictions, but instead in denial, desperation, and a near-complete disconnect from the truth on the ground. (That's not the sort of statement you want bloggers making just as it's revealed that your presidential campaign is struggling to raise cash. Bad week for Senator Straight Talk.) (Second parenthetical: For an example of how rough McCain's treatment in the media has been recently, see this post.)

Well, things are getting worse for McCain. The New York Times went to the merchants who keep shop in the market McCain visited and told them about what the senator was telling the world about his visit. They were, to put it mildly, a bit taken aback.

"What are they talking about?" Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market... "This was only for the media... This will not change anything."
During their visit on Sunday, the Americans were buttonholed by merchants and customers who wanted to talk about how unsafe they felt and the urgent need for more security in the markets and throughout the city, witnesses said.
"They asked about our conditions, and we told them the situation was bad," said Aboud Sharif Kadhoury, 63, who peddles prayer rugs at a sidewalk stand.... Mr. Kadhoury said he lost more than $2,000 worth of merchandise in the triple bombing in February. "I was hit in the head and back with shrapnel," he recalled.

The Times also added some details about the security entourage McCain had with him during his visit (damned liberal media!):

[McCain's] delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

In recent weeks, the market has seen suicide bombings, car bombings, and sniper attacks. Most of the victims have been women and children. A merchant who goes by Abu Samer said of McCain, "He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They'll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America and we will have nothing." Don't worry, Abu. That's looking less and less likely these days.

Read the whole article, and more quotes from flabbergasted Iraqis, here.