Blogs

Study: Great Barrier Reef Sees Worst Growth Rate in 400 Years

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:11 PM EST

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Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science report that the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system (visible from space), is facing historic peril. Not that this is news. Mother Jones has reported extensively on the subject. But new research published in the journal Science includes the largest study to date about environmental damage to Australia's reefs.

The reef is experiencing is slowest growth rate in nearly 400 years, and gone unchecked, could lead to zero growth by 2050, says Glenn De'ath, the study's co-author. "When you disturb an ecosystem in this way, you get a cascading effect. You then get a chain reaction -- the fish habitat is lost."

What's to blame? The usual suspect: global warming. Rising sea temperatures are causing coral bleaching, in which corals release the algae which nourish them. The effect is grimly obvious underwater, where previously vibrantly colored reefs come appear like piles of bones. Without algae, corals eventually die. Says De'ath, "We may have seriously underestimated the rate of climate change and this should compel us to drastic steps to decarbonise Australian and global economic systems."


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Leonard Low.

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Make 'Em Sweat

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:13 AM EST

MAKE 'EM SWEAT....The Washington Post reports that Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration has struck terror into the hearts of corporate wrongdoers:

The Justice Department has reached more than a dozen business-related settlements since the presidential election, with more in the pipeline for January, prompting lawyers and interest groups to assert that companies are seeking more favorable terms before the new administration arrives.

....A review of 15 agreements involving corporations since early November suggests that much of the alleged misconduct dates back five years or more, provoking questions about why the cases took so long to mature and why resolutions are coming with only weeks left in President Bush's term.

"What they obviously are trying to do is take advantage of an administration that's deemed to be more friendly to business," said Cono R. Namorato, a Washington defense lawyer who ran the Internal Revenue Service's office of professional responsibility earlier in the Bush administration. "I know of no tax reason for doing it now."

This is good news. It means that real corporations, with real money at stake, think that Obama's unity talk isn't worth banking on. When push comes to shove, they really do think he's going to drive a harder bargain than the Bush administration when it comes to dealing with charges of corruption, pollution, and overcharging.

Good.

Fight On

| Thu Jan. 1, 2009 2:34 PM EST

FIGHT ON....Today is for football, not blogging, so how about some football blogging to combine the two? Consider this an open thread.

I'll be cheering for USC in the Rose Bowl, of course, and for those of you who wonder why I'm a Trojan fan even though I never attended school there, the answer is on the right. A couple of months ago my mother dropped off a few baby pages from one of her scrapbooks, and my USC junior alumni card was right there. So as you can see, I've been a fan literally my entire life. As for the game today, Penn State has a decent team but I'll take Pete Carroll's crew by three touchdowns, wrapping up a 5-0 bowl record for the Pac-10. Not a bad finish for a conference that otherwise had such a dismal season.

UPDATE: Well, it would have been three touchdowns if USC hadn't played like a bunch of guys afraid to beat the point spread in the second half. But I'll take it anyway. Congratulations, Trojans!

*Nanny State Update

| Thu Jan. 1, 2009 12:28 PM EST

NANNY STATE UPDATE....Attention California readers: just in case Will Smith's recent 2-hour PSA on the subject didn't convince you to stop, it is now illegal to text while driving here in the Golden State. Oddly enough, however, it's still legal to text while bicycling. Also, it's legal to send a text message to a company or other non-human entity while driving. It's only illegal to text a person. This sounds like a traffic court nightmare in the making to me, but there you have it. Details here.

In other legal news, cyber-bullying is now illegal; it's a crime to counterfeit carpool stickers; penalties have been increased for nitwits who call 911 for nonemergencies; the Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Homeland Security have been merged, probably because this worked so great on the federal level; it's now illegal to use radio waves to read another person's identifying information, so no scanning of other people's RFID-equipped passports; and safety rules have been stepped up for operators of wave pools at amusement parks. More details here.

Remember: ignorance of the law is no excuse. Unless you're Scooter Libby.

Happy New Year!

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 9:00 PM EST

HAPPY NEW YEAR!....As you can see, Inkblot is gazing confidently in the direction of 2009. Or something. You sort of have to use your imagination here.

(I gotta tell you, it's hell getting these cats to do something visually interesting on holiday occasions. If it's not dinner, they're not interested. Maybe I need a parakeet or something.)

In any case, Happy New Year from both humans and felines here at Chez Drum. It's just about 6 pm here on the west coast, guests are starting to arrive, dinner will be on the table in a little bit, and it's time for me to write my final blog post of 2008. So here's hoping that 2009 turns out to be better than any of us expect. Huzzah!

Alberto Gonzales Is Going to Write an Awfully Short Tell-All

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 1:40 PM EST

AlbertoGonzalesClap.jpg Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, head clown for some of the Bush Administration's wackiest episodes, will write a tell-all book about his experiences at the Department of Justice. I find this curious. After all, Gonzales is the guy who went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the U.S. Attorneys scandal and managed to utter the words "I don't recall" 64 times in five hours. (Relevant Daily Show clip here.) Considering his all-encompassing amnesia about his work, what's he going to put in the memoir?

My guess? The book will be three pages.

Page one: Table of Contents.
Page two: "Everything was awesome. I did nothing wrong, certainly nothing I should go to jail for, haha!"
Page three: About the Author.

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Something Bush Got Right on Healthcare?

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 1:23 PM EST

Looks like my list of the things Bush got right left something out. From the New York Times:

Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas.
For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases....
With the health centers now serving more than 16 million patients at 7,354 sites, the expansion has been the largest since the program's origins in President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty, federal officials said.... The centers now serve one of every three people who live in poverty and one of every eight without insurance.

But there's more work to be done. An August study found that 43 percent of the country's medically underserved areas lack a health center site and the National Association of Community Health Centers and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimated last year that 56 million people are "medically disenfranchised" because they cannot reach adequate primary care. There's hope that Obama will expand the centers' reach when in office. His healthcare point man, Tom Daschle, referred to them as a "godsend" in a recent book, and Michelle Obama worked with community health centers when vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Just another factor in the amazingly complex quest to get every American healthcare, one that President Bush deserves a degree of credit for.

My Blogosphere Whines For 2009

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:59 PM EST

MY BLOGOSPHERE WHINES FOR 2009....Today is New Year's Eve, so here are my top ten whiny, blog-related pet peeves. They are in no particular order:

  1. Blogs without comment sections. Or, blogs with comment sections that require you to go through some kind of painful registration process just to leave a one-sentence note.
  2. Bloggers who don't put their email addresses somewhere on the blog. I don't mind looking around for it a bit (keeps the mind sharp, you know), but put it somewhere, OK?
  3. Blogs that provide only partial RSS feeds. See also point #5, which actually bugs me a lot more.
  4. Bloggers who are too damn lazy to check their links after they post something. Come on, people.
  5. "Teaser" blogs that put only the first paragraph or two on the main page and force you to click "continue" if you want to read the whole thing. This is both annoying and pointless. It only takes a second or two to scroll past a blog post you don't want to read, after all. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Felix Salmon.)
  6. People who say "blog" when they really mean "blog post."
  7. Blogs with lousy (or nonexistent) search capability. Mine, for example.
  8. Top ten lists that are plainly larded with filler because the listmaker couldn't actually think of ten things to write about.
  9. Bloggers who can't count.

I fully expect these problems to be completely resolved starting tomorrow — or, at the very least, on January 20th. If they aren't, a blue ribbon commission will be appointed to deal with them. You have been warned.

Stop Getting Your News from TV!

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:51 PM EST

I want to add a thought about Kevin's chart of the day, which shows that more people now get their news from the internet than from newspapers, an unsurprisingly but still foreboding development.

The chart also shows that people still get most of their news from TV. Internet and newspapers lag far behind. This is at the root of so many of the complaints Americans have about the news media. The worst and most common sins of the media are committed by TV news: substituting confrontational debates for substantive discussions; treating serious subjects too briefly or not at all; spending too much time on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and missing blond women in Aruba or wherever. I recognized that newspapers and especially blogs and internet outlets have serious problems. But if you want long-form journalism that takes a single subject and works it over for 10,000 words (something that will take 45 minutes to read and really teach you something in the process), you've got to turn to magazines and their websites. (Try here, here, or here to begin.) And if you want breaking news that brings horrible things like warrantless wiretapping or black sites into the open, you've got to turn to newspapers and their websites. So next time someone tells you they're fed up with the media, take away his or her TV remote and hand him or her a copy of The New Yorker. I'd bet Wolf Blitzer, in his heart of hearts, would recommend the same thing.

Fun With Rebates

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:46 PM EST

FUN WITH REBATES....Felix Salmon thinks the Obama economic team is showing its behavioral economics roots. Why? Because their proposed tax rebate will come a little bit at a time by reducing tax withholding in paychecks:

The point of a stimulus package, of course, is to boost spending. And hiding a tax rebate in slightly higher take-home paychecks seems like a good way of doing that: even people who save a certain amount of money every month still tend to spend the rest.

I guess that's true. Send me a $1,000 check, and there's a good chance I'll use it to pay down my credit card. Reduce my withholding by $20 a week for 50 weeks, though, and I'll probably just blow it on beer and fritos. And that's consumption, my friends!