Blogs

Running From The Waves in Beijing

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

800px-Tuvalu_Funafuti_atoll_beach.jpg Tuvalu's first Olympics may be it's last. The Pacific island-nation faces inundation from rising sea levels and no one knows if its nine coral atolls will still exist for future Olympics. Tuvalu's two track athletes and one weightlifter are gunning for more than gold, reports Planet Ark.

Neighbor island-nation Kiribati has sent three athletes to its second Olympics. But its atolls are also disappearing. Storm surges erode coastlines and contaminate fresh water supplies, and long before the islands go under they'll be uninhabitable.

Think of it as a sneak preview for all coastlines.

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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Solar Cell World Record

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

275px-Photoelectric_effect.svg.png A new world record has been set by a solar cell that converts 40.8 percent of light into electricity. The proud parents are scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab.

The 40.8 percent efficiency was measured under concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is the amount of light that hits Earth on a sunny day. The new cell will work well for space satellites. Also for land-based arrays that focus sunlight onto solar cells with lenses or mirrors.

You know, the kind we need to be building everywhere. Marshall Plan for Earth, and all that.

The new cell is grown on a gallium arsenide wafer. Then flipped over and the wafer removed. The result is an extremely thin and light solar cell with better performance and cost. Bring it on.

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

So Much for McCain's No-Lobbyist Policy

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:01 PM EDT

John McCain's declared policy of not having lobbyists as part of his campaign team has always been full of holes and contradictions. But the fact that his top foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann arranged a phone call between his longtime lobbying client, the Georgian president, and the Republican presidential candidate on the same day that Scheunemann's lobbying company Orion Strategies signed a $200,000 lobbying renewal contract with the country really takes the cake for conflict of interest. With the Caucasian nation's territorial integrity in jeopardy after five days of fighting with Russian forces, it's hard not to wonder whether the Georgian leadership thinks in retrospect that it got its money's worth from its lobbying investment.


Top 5: Pavement

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 8:30 PM EDT

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At the moment, I'm working on a bit of a secret mixtape project, and the set suddenly seemed to require some classic indie-rock. But what, exactly? Over to my vinyl shelves I went, and suddenly, Slanted and Enchanted popped out at me like an ace from a magic deck. What an album; a cassette with that on one side and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless on the other basically didn't leave my Walkman the entire summer of 1993, and when I moved to the Bay Area a few years later, I took a drive to Stockton just to see where they'd come from. Nerd.

All five of Pavement's studio albums (released between 1992 and 1999) are pretty great for different reasons, so the task of whittling down my five favorite songs could be futile, but let's give it a try. To make it easier on me, I'll restrict the list to one song per album, why not.

"In the 21st Century, Nations Don't Invade Other Nations"

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 6:24 PM EDT

McCain today, speaking about Russia and Georgia.

I don't even have to say it. Easiest blog post ever.

What's Up With That Tropic Thunder Controversy?

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 6:00 PM EDT

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I have to admit a slightly wary interest in the upcoming Ben Stiller war/Hollywood/Tom Cruise spoof Tropic Thunder. I still get giggly over Zoolander, and Stiller's deadpan exaggeration of Tinseltown egomania on Extras was pretty hilarious. Moreover, the buzz about Robert Downey Jr.'s edgy portrayal of an over-eager actor putting on blackface for his part has me intrigued: how will he walk that high-wire? But the biggest controversy to emerge before the film's release turned out to be something else: its use of the term "retard." A little context: Ben Stiller plays a bumbling action star, and part of the film's viral marketing is a whole history for his character, including fake trailers for (hilariously terrible) earlier films. One of those was "Simple Jack," a clear jab at Forrest Gump (and Hollywood's other mentally challenged characters). Simple Jack's tagline, "Once upon a time… there was a retard," caused an uproar among disability rights groups, and DreamWorks pulled the viral web site last week. Tropic Thunder includes clips and references to "Jack," which caused more trouble: A representative of the National Down Syndrome Congress emerged from Thunder's Monday premier saying, "I came out feeling like I had been assaulted," and the chairman of the Special Olympics has appeared on various media outlets assailing the "humiliation" of "good and decent human beings."

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Flier Spotted in DC: "BEWARE" of Montgomery McFate

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 5:11 PM EDT

The Washington City Paper reports that fliers have begun cropping up in northwest DC warning locals to "BEWARE!" of Montgomery McFate, the daughter-in-law of Mary Lou Sapone, the gun lobby spy who infiltrated the gun control movement. As we reported in late July, McFate, an anthropologist who currently serves as a senior social science adviser to the military's Human Terrain program, once played a part in her mother-in-law's intelligence gathering business. So did her husband, Sean McFate, who until recently served as a program director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

The City Paper snapped a pic of the flier, which, coincidentally (or, perhaps, not), was spotted in Adams Morgan, around the corner from where Sean and Montgomery McFate reside.

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Russia, China, India: Traces of Coming Power

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 3:22 PM EDT

I'll confess I missed the opening ceremony of the Olympics — pretty grand from what I hear — but what I didn't miss was Harold Meyerson's excellent meditation on what that ceremony meant for the future of global power. "The summer of '08, historians will most likely tell us, signaled the rise of a multi-power, non-Western-dominated planet," Meyerson writes. "It also was the time when it became clear that the American Century would not lap over from the 20th into the 21st." Read the whole thing.

More on Obama and Africa: the Global Poverty Act

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

In a web piece that published yesterday, I note many of the enlightening conversations about Barack Obama that I had on my recent trip to Africa.

I should add one thing: Kenyans and Tanzanians I spoke with rejected the idea that they support Obama (and they almost universally do) because he will usher in a more favorable foreign policy toward Africa. "All Americans presidents have the same policy on Africa," one man told me. "We do not know if Obama will be different."

In actual fact, however, Africans have reason to be optimistic. Obama is the primary sponsor of the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433), a bill that would commit the United States to "the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day." (Full text of the bill here.)

Critics of the bill allege that binding ourselves to the UN's goals would also bind us to its aid targets. The United Nations asks every nation to contribute 0.7 percent of its GDP to foreign aid. Currently, the United States is missing the mark by a substantial amount:

Bad Idea of the Day, Week, Month...

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 12:41 PM EDT

Apparently, Jeremiah Wright is going on a book tour in October.

Update: Possibly not true. Did you know Rev. Wright got banished to Ghana?