2008 - %3, June

Condors Rescued From Wildfire

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 4:43 PM EDT

400px-Condor_in_flight.JPG Eight endangered California Condors were evacuated by helicopter from their holding pens after the Gallery Fire (now part of the Basin Fire Complex) cut off the road into their facility. Seven of the rescued birds are less than a year old, and the eighth condor is their mentor.

The Herald of Monterey County reports that a three-person crew from the Ventana Wildlife Society was flown in by the Coast Guard, walked a mile from the drop point to the condors, and brought the birds back in carriers. After their helo flight, the condors were driven to Pinnacles National Monument.

Meanwhile, the National Interagency Fire Center reported yesterday that 1,080 new fires ignited in California over the weekend. You can see from their site how enormous the problem is. Some fires are actually complexes of 150-plus fires. Most are still zero percent contained.

Cooler weather is helping along the coast but let's face it, some of these fires are going to be burning for a long time. Maybe until snow falls.

The smoke blanketing northern California is moving east.

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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What to Listen To Instead of Sigur Ros

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 4:36 PM EDT

mojo-photo-sigurrosmeo.jpgYour terribly-named DJ correspondent has made no secret of his distaste for Sigur Ros, the Icelandic combo known for dreamy, epic balladry sung in a mystical made-up language called "Hopelandic." The band releases their fifth studio album today, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, ("With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly"), and while it earned a respectable 7.5 from Pitchfork for tempering the falsetto silliness with a "tangle of acoustic guitars," unfortunately, to my ears, they just end up sounding like Dave Matthews: lead single "Gobbldigook" has a hippie-dippy strum-strum dopiness that's only confirmed by its nudey video (possibly NSFW), which you can watch after the jump.

US Retaliates for Martha Stewart Snub By Refusing Visa to Boy George

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 2:35 PM EDT

mojo-photo-marthaboy.jpgOkay, I have absolutely no evidence that there is any connection between these two events, but how awesome would it be if there were? Imagine: an escalating war of visa denials, forcing our two nations' greatest instructional homemakers and '80s pop stars to remain trapped within their borders. Sorry, Adam Ant; turn around, Rachel Ray; no thanks, Feargal Sharkey; some other time, uh, Robin Miller. The U.S., deprived of the sweetly androgynous British singers of yesteryear, makes Ryan Adams tie bows in his hair and put on an oversized "Frankie Say Relax" T-shirt, and in the U.K., dinner parties hang in the balance until Helen Mirren is dragged into the BBC and forced to instruct a hapless populace on proper construction-paper craft techniques. Finally, a peace deal is brokered at the so-called Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) Accords, but not before thousands are injured by rubber cement mishaps and Foreigner records.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah: Boy George has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. for a summer tour, scheduled to begin July 11, due to his current legal problems involving a Norwegian escort who accused the singer of false imprisonment and assault. And who hasn't been there. The case is still pending, with a trial date set for November. A spokesperson for George said the singer was "astounded" by the decision and that he was hoping to "repay his American fans' loyalty." Now, if he wants to come clean up our streets again, that would be okay.

Scientist on Warming: "We're Toast"

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been warning the US government about global warming for 20 years. Now the CO2 levels in the atmosphere have gotten so high that "we're toast if we don't get on a very different path," he told Congress yesterday.

When Hansen first testified to Congress about global warming, it was 1988 and a heat wave was sweeping across the East Coast. That year was the hottest year on record for DC, but fourteen of the 20 subsequent years have been even hotter. By his estimations, the Arctic will be completely ice-free by the summer of 2018. "The Arctic is the first tipping point and it's occuring exactly the way we said it would," he told senators. "This is the last chance."

GAO: U.S. Lacks Post-"Surge" Plan For Iraq

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 1:50 PM EDT

iraqisoldier.jpg

Violence in Iraq has fallen precipitously since January 2007, when the Bush Administration upped U.S. troop presence there. Combined with other fortuitous developments like the Mahdi Army's ceasefire and fragile alliances of convenience with Sunni tribesmen, the U.S. "surge" strategy has reduced the average number of enemy attacks by 70 percent, from 180 per day in June 2007 to 50 per day last February. But, says the GAO in a report released today (.pdf), improved security has not yielded significant progress toward other reconstruction goals. And now that U.S. forces are beginning to draw down, the Bush Administration has yet to formulate a comprehensive post-surge plan.

The old strategy—dubbed "The New Way Forward" by the White House—outlined a series of political and economic reconstruction goals for Iraq, all scheduled to be achieved by the end of 2007. But, so the thinking was, security first had to be improved, starting with turning the Iraqi Army into a self-sustaining force that could eventually take over for U.S. troops. The results have been mixed: the number of Iraqi units "in the lead" during combat operations has risen to 70 percent, says the Pentagon. But it likewise admits that just 10 percent are capable of mounting operations without U.S. assistance, primarily for lack of logistical capability and proper training and leadership. As of last month, just 9 of 18 Iraqi provinces had taken "lead responsibility" for their own security, according to the GAO report.

Energy and Health Care Industries Lobby Hard in Advance of Next Administration

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

The two areas where we can expect the next administration to usher in massive shifts in domestic policy are health care and climate change. This would definitely be true under an Obama Administration, and could well be true under a McCain one as well. The health care and energy industries aren't stupid; anticipating upcoming movement on their respective issues, they've put their lobbying efforts in hyperdrive to try and direct that movement.

CQ Politics charts the number of lobbying registrations filed in the first quarter of 2008 for each sector, and they come up with this:

Energy: 278 registered lobbyists
Transportation: 85
Manufacturing: 79
Non-profits: 67
State or local gov't: 43
Agriculture: 28
Business and retail: 27
Real estate and construction: 25
Finance: 20
Organized labor: 16

Energy's new dominance knocks health care out of the top dog position. The pharmaceutical industry had a banner 2007, writes the Center for Public Integrity, putting together a record $168 million lobbying effort, according to a CPI analysis of federal lobbying data. Adds CPI, "the effort raised the amount spent by drug interests on federal lobbying in the past decade to more than $1 billion."

Top spenders within the sector in 2007:

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Are You a Blog Troll? Collect Your Points at JohnMcCain.com

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 12:15 PM EDT

On McCain's "Blog Interact" page, where the candidate's supporters can find recommended blogs of all ideological stripes, the campaign is actually awarding points for trolling.

Help spread the word about John McCain on news and blog sites. Your efforts to help get the message out about John McCain's policies and plan for the future is one of the most valuable things you can do for this campaign. You know why John McCain should be the next President of the United States and we need you to tell others why.
Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known. Once you've commented on a post, video or news story, report the details of your comment by clicking the button below. After your comments are verified, you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action Center.

The site even has "Today's Talking Points" that McCain supporters can cut and paste into the comments sections of liberal blogs.

The lack of online savvy on display here is just stunning. But at least "John McCain is aware of the internet." (Via Andrew Sullivan)

Google to Set a Porn King Free, In Court?

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

A novel defense in an obscenity case, down in Florida:

Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?
That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community's tastes and values.
The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.
In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like "orgy" than for "apple pie" or "watermelon." The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

The defense attorney isn't just freeing a porn king; he's holding up a mirror to our lives: "Time and time again you'll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private," he told the press. The Google data will expose "how people really think and feel and act in their own homes."

Recycled Biofuel

| Mon Jun. 23, 2008 11:06 PM EDT

57031182_68ca6da51a.jpg A better way to grow biofuel crops is to re-use abandoned agricultural lands. Or farmlands that are less productive. Both are better than current practises: clearing wilderness and converting food farms to energy farms.

There are 1.5 million square miles of abandoned cropland and pastureland available around the world. Energy crops raised on these could yield up to 27 exajoules of energy a year—equal to 172 million barrels of oil. Yet even this would still satisfy only about 5% of global primary energy consumption—483 exajoules in 2005, and rising.

Better than nothing, you say. But only if it doesn't further aggravate climate change. The study by Carnegie Institution and Stanford University scientists used historical data, satellite imagery, and productivity models to estimate how to maximize the benefits from biofuels while also mitigating global warming. Recycling old farms yields the best atmospheric returns.

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

Pedal On, Brita Climate Ride

| Mon Jun. 23, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

ClimateRide-002.jpg

Talking about global warming is pretty depressing. If the fear of apocalyptic natural disasters doesn't get you, the big-eyed, fuzzy animals probably will—to say nothing of Al Gore's boiling frog. Given the gloomy subject matter, it's a nice shift to see a group highlight the positive possibilities for lifestyle change.

This fall, 100 cyclists will try to do just that by riding from New York City to Washington, DC via rural New Jersey and Amish country, with an entourage of scientists and green entrepreneurs in tow.

According to organizers, the ride is meant to be a "climate conference on wheels"—intentionally a bit more fun than your run-of-the-mill scientific gathering. Will the riders inspire others to cycle with their own joyful pedal-pushing? Climate-wise, bikes are awesome, so here's hoping.

Photo courtesy Climate Ride.