2008 - %3, April

Earth Day's Shame: Eco-Barbie

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 8:03 PM EDT

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When I first saw the press release about a "green" Mattel collection of accessories called Barbie BCause, I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Mattel's new Barbie line will be released "just in time to celebrate Earth Day in style." Which is pretty ironic, really, given that Barbie dolls themselves are made out of plastic and are packaged in even more plastic. And not the kind of plastic you can throw in the recycling bin, either.

Learn more about Mattel's attempt at greenwashing by reading the rest of this post in Mother Jones's environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

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Ahoy, Plastics!

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 7:50 PM EDT

IMG_0004.jpgAs Mother Jones reported last October, bisphenol A, a chemical used in the production of plastics, is under serious scrutiny for mimicking the role of estrogen. And last Monday, the government's National Toxicology Program released a damning draft brief on the potential endocrine disruptor. As a result, last week saw a number of new companies distance themselves from BPA; most notably the iconic water bottle manufacturer Nalgene will pull bottles made with the chemical. By the end of the week, Canada announced a "precautionary and prudent" ban on the sale of baby bottles with BPA.

One of the issues at hand is that the U.S. alone produces bisphenol A at a staggering rate of billions of pounds per year—2004 saw 2.3 billion pounds produced—for use in nonbiodegradable polycarbonate plastics and epoxy. So even if a few companies, or even a few countries, ban the substance, we still have to deal with an absurd amount of lingering, toxic particles. And since BPA doesn't biodegrade, where does it all go?

Eco-Barbie? Mattel Gives This 'Green' Thingamajig a Whirl

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

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When I first saw the press release about a "green" Mattel collection of accessories called Barbie BCause, I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Apparently not. Mattel's new "playful and on-trend" collection of hats and bags for young girls will be released "just in time to celebrate Earth Day in style." Which is pretty ironic, really, given that Barbie dolls themselves are made out of plastic and are packaged in even more plastic. And not the kind of plastic you can throw in the recycling bin, either.

Interview with Al Gore's Climate Ad Gurus

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 4:43 PM EDT

Early this month Vice President Al Gore and a nonprofit climate group launched what they say will be a three-year, $300 million advertising campaign to convince the American public of the need for legislation to address climate change. The campaign, a project of the Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, uses slick national TV ads to encourage people to sign up as online activists. So far, three ads have aired and more than one million people have joined. Mother Jones recently spoke with Alliance spokesman Brian Hardwick.

Mother Jones: How do you think the campaign can make a difference?
Brian Hardwick: This campaign is unprecedented in scale among issue advocacy efforts. In the past, this issue hasn't had the benefit of a commercial-scale campaign. The second thing is, we have available to us all the tools of mobilization that the online space also provides. So we can inspire people and connect with them emotionally though television advertisements but we also have a way to engage people in the movement that we previously didn't have. When we get people to sign up [online], then we turn them into climate activists.

MJ: Who do you hope to reach?
BH: It's really targeted at Americans from all walks of life. That's why we're doing the advertising in a mass way like this. We want to reach people who have been active already on the climate issue, and then those who maybe have changed a light bulb and are driving a hybrid car but don't know what the next step is, and then people who are just becoming aware of the issue. It really is saying to all Americans that doing those things in your personal life are important, but frankly to really solve this it is going to take enough of us coming together and demanding from leaders and business and government that they put the laws in place to ignite a new economy. We need a real shift in public opinion and activism so that we can say to our leaders: we're ready to solve it.

Boeing, Airbus Agree to Reduce Aviation's Environmental Impact

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 3:11 PM EDT

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Today, two of the world's largest aircraft manufacturers played nice for the camera at the third annual Aviation & Environment Summit in Geneva, Switzerland. Boeing president and CEO Scott Carson and Tom Enders, his Airbus counterpart, signed a document pledging their companies' to work together to enlist the help of the U.S. and various European governments to reduce air travel's carbon emissions. This would primarily be accomplished, say the executives, through modernization of air traffic management systems.

The move is not altogether surprising, given that the price of oil now hovers around $117 per barrel—higher for airlines, which rely on more costly jet fuel. The aviation business is scrambling to improve efficiency (translation: cut costs) by whatever means necessary. (Just consider that the fact that a mixed drink in flight now costs five bucks—exact change, please!—and that five leading airlines now plan to charge passengers twenty-five dollars for a second checked bag.)

The Boeing/Airbus agreement, if successful in modernizing air traffic management systems, could reduce carbon emissions by 10-12 percent in Europe alone, according to Agence France-Presse. "We set a good example and hopefully it will be exportable on how to organize air traffic management," says Enders.

Obama Gets Back to Basics

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

obama-casey.jpg Touring across Pennsylvania Monday, Barack Obama largely eschewed the daily back and forth of the campaign and refocused on the reasons he entered the presidential race over one year ago. Speaking to a small group of voters at a community college outside of Philadelphia, Obama said he decided to run because he thought the "country was ready for a different kind of politics." He talked about the obvious: the economy, the war, and the energy crisis. And he got even more detailed, discussing skyrocketing autism rates, working conditions for nurses, and net neutrality as an engine for innovation. The vagaries of the campaign season were left behind, perhaps because with one day before voters headed to the polls, the controversies and "manufactured issues" had been addressed and had taken whatever tool they would take. It was time to get back to basics.

In McKeesport, a town near Pittsburgh with a declining population and a disappearing manufacturing base, Obama reintroduced himself. "I have been running for 15 months now," he said. "When I first announced, people asked me, 'Why are you running so soon? You're a young man. You can afford to wait.' And I said, 'I'm not running because of some long-held ambition or because I think it's my turn. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the 'fierce urgency of now.'" He slammed lobbyists and special interests, saying they had a "headlock" on the nation's politics. He said he wanted to "change the culture in Washington." But for a few missing chants ("Fired up and ready to go!" has been left behind), it was the same speech he had delivered in the snowy cornfields of Iowa, home of the first primary.

Obama briefly addressed the new Hillary Clinton ad that features Osama bin Laden, dismissing it as politics as usual. But he did not bother to refer to the so-called "Bitter-gate." But at his rallies, there were voters who identified themselves as bitter. A local man named Roy Kelley who worked in a local hospital for 38 years said that he agreed with the comments that got Obama into trouble. "It is bitter," he said. "I feel bitter. I come from McKeesport here. You drive through this area, you start at Braddock, you come through McKeesport, Duquesne, Glassport, all these cities here. Presidents and Congress come through this area and make promises and nothing ever changes." Kelley felt Obama could deliver where other presidents had failed. "I drive through this town everyday, it makes me cry—what it was and what it looks like now. It pains me every day. My daughter, I mean, I want her to move out of this area. There's nothing here for her."

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Growing Up Nuclear: Author Kelly McMasters Tells Her Story

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 1:17 PM EDT

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The following is a guest blog post by Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town. The book, which hits stores this week, recounts McMasters' childhood in the beautiful town of Shirley, bucolic home to nuclear power plants and, later, to cancer clusters and polluted waterways.

I grew up in a blue-collar town on the east end of Long Island. Just north of the town, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal nuclear facility, sits deep within a thick forest of towering pine trees. As a child, I imagined the lab's buildings were made of an igloo-like substance, and the rooms inside were full of metallic file cabinets, clinking glass test tubes, and notebooks full of secret codes. Men and women in crisp white lab coats and plastic goggles coaxed new species of frogs and lizards out of mottled purple eggs. Others hovered over milky glass globes of light whose kinked antennas sparked blue shots of electricity into the dim, silent air. My neighbor worked as a maintenance man at the lab, and he often teased that he glowed in the dark. After he died of brain and lung cancer, my imaginary lab became a much darker place—a small, sinister pocket hiding in the pines.

Harry Potter and His Copyrighted Magic

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 12:48 PM EDT

It's the epic struggle of our time: Scrappy internet fair-use exploiters vs. authors and their corporate overlords. But this time, the battle has, you know, wizards and muggles or whatever. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling appeared in a New York courtroom last week to defend copyright infringement charges against Vander Ark, the creator of the unauthorized Harry Potter Lexicon web site, after plans were revealed for a book version. While some commenters attacked the site as "something parasitic on years of hard work by Rowling," the potential publisher of the Lexicon pointed out that giving authors too much control over "books about them" is dangerous:

We would have to get approval before we could write or publish on people's work. They would control critical commentary on their work, at any time, whether it is our kind of book or an Associated Press article. It would create total chaos in the area of critical commentary. Frankly, I don't think that would be good for anyone, even the authors themselves.

Rowling herself has appeared somewhat self-contradictory on the matter, first complimenting Ark's work and insisting she "never ever once wanted to stop Mr. Vander Ark from doing his own guide," but during the trial she came close to tears, describing the book version of the Lexicon as "wholesale theft."

Chinese Weapons Ship To Head Home?

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

A series of updates to my earlier post about the plight of the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese cargo vessel currently searching for a suitable African port to offload a shipment of bullets, rockets, and mortars bound for Zimbabwe:


  • Der Spiegel reports that the ship's captain made haste to leave the port of Durban in South Africa last week, in part, because a court order had been issued that would have allowed Germany's state development bank, KfW, to seize the shipment in recovery of unpaid debts owed by Robert Mugabe's government.
  • The Associated Press says that U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking the ship and that American diplomats have requested the governments of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola to turn the ship away. A senior State Department diplomat has been dispatched to Africa to underscore U.S. concern.
  • Agence France-Presse quotes a shipping agent as saying that the An Yue Jiang is now heading for Luanda, Angola. But the BBC and the Associated Press report that the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the cargo ship's owners are considering recalling the vessel and canceling the delivery.
  • Meanwhile, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is calling for U.N. intervention to stem the gathering post-election violence in his country, where Mugabe's military is "terrorizing the people."
  • UPDATE (1:00pm, EST): McClatchy says the ship is headed back to China.


    New Study Says Women To Start Dropping Like Flies

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 10:38 AM EDT

    For most of recent human history, one of the few places where women have dominated is on the actuarial charts. But the big news today: Life expectancy for women has plummeted in 1,000 counties across the country, in one area by nearly five years. The drop is unprecedented, and marks the first time since the 1800s that women have seen a major dip in longevity. The reasons for the drop aren't too surprising, largely because they track pretty closely to the Virginia Slims revolution, or the time when women embraced smoking in rates closer to men's. While men have reaped huge health benefits from kicking the habit, women are still dying in high numbers from smoking-related lung cancer. Obesity is also playing a huge role, with its complications from type-2 diabetes and other heart-related illnesses. The feminist movement, it seems, has not just brought women opportunities to live more like men, but also to die like them.