2008 - %3, June

If Cars Were Computers...

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 9:40 PM EDT

800px-SSEM_Replica.jpg If cars were computers then one liter of fuel would provide all the UK's needs for one year and oil reserves would last the expected lifetime of the solar system. That is, if efficiency in cars had improved at the rate computers have. This according to Steve Furber, a computer engineer at the University of Manchester, in a lecture marking the 60th anniversary of the 1948 computer known as The Baby (also known as the Small Scale Experimental Machine). Furber notes that computers are now 50 billion times more energy-efficient than The Baby, which weighed a ton, took up a whole room, and was the forerunner of all modern computers.

I'm not sure we can shrink cars & their carbon footprints fast enough. Howzabout we shrink ourselves instead? Genetic engineering trumps computer engineering and nine billion teensy weensy people 42 years from now doesn't look so bad. No worse than a swarm of locusts.

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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New Music: Italians Get Gritty

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 9:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-italy.jpgIt's funny; back in my day, kids, Italian dance music meant "Italo-House," anonymous producers splicing soul vocals onto piano-heavy tracks, like Black Box or the 49ers. You remember "Everybody, Everybody," right, complete with models lip-synching in the video? Well, perhaps reflecting what the New York Times called "a collective funk" in the land of tasty pasta, Italian electronic music has become surprisingly dark these days. XLR8R has a great roundup of some of the current crop of tough-sounding artists, describing the sound as a variety of musical styles "smashed together, chopped, rewound, sped up, and run through a washing machine." If you add that the washer is broken and buzzing and 800 feet tall, then I think you've got it.

After the jump: Bang, scronk, buzz, zoom!

Who Needs Condoms When You Have Midwest Pesticides?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 7:42 PM EDT

As if the Midwest weren't dealing with enough already, doctors now worry that the shockingly low sperm count of mid-Missouri men means there's something in the water, or worse.

Nothing's proven, yet, but all eyes were on pesticides after diazinon, an insecticide, and metolachlor, an herbicide, were found in a large number of the semen samples.

Local researchers have requested funding from the NIH to look further into the issue but have been turned down. The results of a CDC-conducted test will be released this summer.

Until then, if Missourians are looking to have kids, perhaps they should try on one of these. [H/T: Grist]

—Brittney Andres

London's Dance-Powered Nightclub for Eco-Hedonists

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 5:10 PM EDT

nightclub.jpgEver yearn to get organically plastered, then hit the power-generating dance floor that turns your fancy footwork into electricity? No, this isn't a scene from a Moby video, and yes, you really can indulge those green fantasies, thanks to climate change organization Club4Climate which is launching a sustainable eco-nightclub in Britain next month.

Patrons can knock back organic liquor, then visit the loo and flush symptoms of their overindulgence away with recycled water. Pounding dance moves absorbed by the tricked-out floor will supply 60% of the club's energy needs, and admission is free if you can prove you didn't roll up in a car—but not before you sign a pledge to fight climate change.

Sounds like a more palatable version of Rotterdam's urine- and sweat-powered nightclub, Watt, slated to open in September.


Industry Trends: Radio Down, iTunes Up

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 4:26 PM EDT

mojo-photo-itunesradio.jpgI know: Pope Catholic, sky blue. But it's the numbers that are pretty surprising. Radio & Records Magazine reports that radio revenue fell even more than everybody expected in May, and the normally staid publication called the numbers "a horror show." Local revenue was down 9% (aaaagh!), national revenue off 13% (eeeek!), people listening down a zillion % (noooo!) . Okay, I can't prove that last one, but I wouldn't bet against it.

On the other side of the industry, iTunes, in contrast, can't be stopped: the online music retailer just sold its five billionth song, also announcing that they're renting and selling over 50,000 movies a day, making iTunes the world's biggest online movie store too. Crimeny, if they start selling groceries I'll never have to leave the house.

New Guns N' Roses Tracks Leak Online

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:20 PM EDT

mojo-photo-chinese.jpgGuns and what now? Oh yeah, there used to be a band called Guns N' Roses, I guess, back in the 19th century or something. For some reason they stopped making music, and then the wait for their new album, Chinese Democracy, stretched into the ridiculous. Okay, it's actually been 14 years since the band's last new material, and now a set of what appear to be real G n' R tracks have leaked online, reports Billboard, prompting a quick cease-and-desist from the band's management. Yesterday, the music site Antiquiet.com briefly posted nine tracks, which have now spread about the intertubes like some sort of liberty-based political system in a large, crowded country. So, do they suck?

Well, if you believe the commenters on Antiquiet, not hardly. "To call this groundbreaking is like saying outer space is 'big,'" explains Johnny Firecloud, and Sam can't even muster up a complete sentence, gurgling, "the energy the musical diversity!!!!" Yes I said yes I will yes!

After the jump: Check 'em out yourself, if you dare...

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In Florida Legal Case, Blackwater Demands Taliban Treatment

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:02 PM EDT

There's no telling how the Iraqi legal system would have dealt with last September's shooting incident in a Baghdad traffic circle, during which Blackwater operators killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded 24 others. It never got the chance to weigh in because U.S. contractors—thanks to a last-minute order passed by the outgoing Coalition Provisional Authority—are immune from Iraqi law. That's how Blackwater prefers it... and perhaps with good reason; Iraq's legal system is not known for fair and principled jurisprudence. Just look at the footage of Saddam's execution.

It may seem strange then that Presidential Airways, a Blackwater sister company also owned by Erik Prince, is arguing in a Florida courtroom that its contractors in Afghanistan should be tried under Islamic Sharia law—you know, the legal code of the Taliban. The case deals with a 2004 incident, detailed in a memorandum (.pdf) released last October by Rep. Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in which contractor pilots took a low-altitude joy ride through an uncharted area of the Afghan mountains, colliding with one of them and killing everyone aboard, including U.S. soldiers. The families are now suing Presidential Airways for damages.

So, how does Prince reconcile subjecting Presidential Airways pilots to local law, while simultaneously arguing that his contractors in Iraq are above it? Here's his answer, according to the Raleigh News & Observer:

The Science of Gayness: Does it Really Matter?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:49 PM EDT

As California same-sex couples lined up to get married, so did the protesters. But more and more, the battle over homosexuality has moved from the social studies department to the biology classroom. A study published this week showed that gay men and straight women's brains are symmetrical, while straight men and lesbians' brains are asymmetrical. Also, gay men and straight women's amygdalas (the part ruling aggression and fear) have similar connective patterns.

So what does this mean? According to the lead researcher, Ivanka Savic, it's "robust" proof that there are biological differences between gays and heterosexuals. But even Savic admits that the study can't tell whether these differences are genetic or the result of the fetus getting too much or too little testosterone while developing in the womb.

Do Your Condoms Work?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

Read more about it here.

McCain Hypocrisy on Obama's Opt-Out Decision

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:10 PM EDT

The McCain campaign has sharply criticized Barack Obama's decision to become the first general election presidential candidate since the 1970s to opt out of the public financing system, a decision Obama can afford because of his stunning success with hundreds of thousands of low-dollar donors. As David notes at the link above, the McCain campaign said Obama's decision "undermines his call for a new type of politics."

But McCain, a longtime foe of Big Money in politics, once had a friendlier view of presidential fundraisers like Obama.

Here he is on the Fox News show "On the Record," in January 2004:

"I think it's wonderful that Howard Dean was able to use the Internet, $50, $75, $100 contributions. That's what we want it to be all about. We want average citizens to contribute small amounts of money, and that's a commitment to a campaign. So I'm for that. I think it's a great thing. I think the Internet is going to change American politics for the better."

And here he is on MSNBC's "Hardball," in June 2004:

"The Internet is generating more and more people involved in the political process with relatively small campaign contributions, $50, $75. That's wonderful. No longer can an office holder call up a CEO or a trial lawyer or a union leader and say, I need $1 million. And, by the way, your legislation is up before my committee again."