Blogs

Bruno Strikes Again: Baron Cohen Tricks Former Mossad Agent

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 2:28 PM EDT

mojo-photo-bruno2.jpgSacha Baron Cohen is stepping things up in preparation for Brüno, the actor and comedian's followup to the $260 million-grossing Borat. As we've covered here before, the Brüno character's gay antics were hilarious on Da Ali G Show and apparently deeply disturbing to Wichita airport patrons more recently. But his latest prank has made headlines: former Mossad agent and political analyst Yossi Alpher has revealed that he and a Palestinian were duped by Brüno during an interview in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Highlights include a question confusing Hamas with hummus, a comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the, er, Jennifer-Angelina conflict, and a good-hearted attempt to help unite "Jews and Hindus." Those first two are kind of iffy, chuckle-wise, but that last one totally kills me for some reason. Alpher wrote about the experience in a column for The Forward, and he insists that he knew something didn't smell right (the Jerusalem post actually said, "something wasn't kosher," but I just couldn't repeat that) throughout the interview, but stuck with it, clinging to the belief that Cohen's character was the "German rock star" producers had claimed him to be.

One can't help but wonder what one would do in such a situation. Of course we'd like to think we'd see right through it, but as Stanley Milgram's social psychology experiments back in the '60s proved, we do what we're told. Or, perhaps more optimistically, we try to be nice, even when faced with a lunatic with a crazy hairstyle who thinks our political conflicts are about chickpea paste. Either way, the Brüno movie is due out next spring.

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Bin Laden and the $144 Barrel of Oil

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 2:27 PM EDT

If you didn't spot this Think Progress post over the weekend — explaining how Osama bin Laden demanded $144 barrels of oil ten years ago — it is worth a read. The price for a barrel of oil this past holiday weekend was exactly what bin Laden wanted.

America: A Broadband Loser?

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

We just got our most recent copy of CQ Weekly, and it has an interesting section on broadband access. It's clearly written for an audience that lacks tech savvy (section header: "What is broadband and how many people have it?"), but it has some really interesting stats on how far America has fallen behind as an international leader on high-speed internet. All sources: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Broadband penetration rankings, in 2001:

1. South Korea
2. Canada
3. Sweden
4. United States
5. Belgium
5. Denmark
7. Netherlands
8. Iceland
9. Austria
10. Germany
11. Japan
12. Switzerland
13. Norway
14. Finland
15. Spain

Broadband penetration rankings, in 2007:

1. Denmark
2. Netherlands
3. Iceland
4. Norway
5. Switzerland
6. Finland
7. South Korea
8. Sweden
9. Luxembourg
10. Canada
11. United Kingdom
12. Belgium
13. France
14. Germany
15. United States

We do equally poorly in terms of broadband speed. Here are the average broadband download speeds (Mbps) of 15 developed nations:

Video: Bush Goes on Compassion Tour of All of America

| Sun Jul. 6, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

Comedy really is a wonderful thing. A hundred blogosphere's worth of ranting wouldn't nail the Bush Administration as effectively as these three minutes from the Onion.

Video: Fox News Altered Photos

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 7:44 PM EDT

If you haven't already seen it, check out this Media Matters video of Fox News trying hard to uglify some NYT staffers:

Not that dark circles, coffee teeth, and weird hair are particularly rare among flocks of journalists, but c'mon, even Bill Murray's fake factcheckers are truthier than those photos.

Really makes you trust Fox's coverage of the war, right?

Snake Sidewinds Energy from the Sea

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 7:40 PM EDT

snake_waves.jpg How cool is this. A giant rubber tube may help pump affordable electricity from ocean waves. The snakelike design is called the Anaconda. It's ultra-simple, cheap to manufacture and maintain, and could help deliver clean energy from the sea.

Here's how it works. The Anaconda is closed at both ends, filled with water, and anchored below the surface. One end faces the oncoming waves. When a wave hits, the water squeezes the Anaconda, causing a bulge wave to form inside the tube. The bulge wave runs through the snake at the same time the ocean wave runs along the outside of the tube, squeezing the tube further and causing the bulge wave to grow bigger. Eventually the bulge wave triggers a turbine at the far end of the Anaconda. The power produced by the turbine is then fed to shore via a cable.

Confused? Watch the video.

The Anaconda is still only a small-scale prototype. It's funded by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, in collaboration with the Anaconda's inventors and with its developer, Checkmate SeaEnergy. Engineers at the University of Southampton are embarking on large-scale experiments and mathematical studies, working towards full-scale implementation.

Never underestimate the intellectual power mustering on all fronts. We may yet immunize the future against ourselves.

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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Making Fake Stuff Look More Real

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 7:00 PM EDT

pleather%20couch%20150.jpgBad news for snobs and aesthetes the world over: Scientists are working hard to make synthetic material look "more natural."

Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory in England have set up an experiment to determine what tips our brains off that a substance is the real deal, and not an impostor:

The physical characteristics of a surface, such as its colour, texture and surface roughness, are being linked to what is happening in a person's brain when they see or touch the surface. Once this is understood it should be possible to accurately predict what we will perceive as natural, and manufacturers will be able to design synthetic products to meet this expectation. The results could have a great impact on materials such as wood, animal skin and furs, marble and stone, plants and even prosthetics.

Offended though your rarefied tastes may be, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ostensibly, these fakester materials of the future will be a far cry from Naugahyde. Ultimately, if we get to the point where we can (sustainably and non-toxically) make faux ivory so convincing it's indistinguishable from the actual elephant product, well, I know a few elephants who probably wouldn't have too many aesthetic complaints. I've never known an old-growth forest to call fake mahogany tacky, either.

Photo by Flickr user Somaamos

Farms Kill Frogs

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 6:35 PM EDT

734px-Bufo_marinus_from_Australia.JPG You might think a farm canal would be a better place for a frog than a supermarket drainage ditch. Not so. University of Florida zoologists find that suburban toads suffer fewer reproductive abnormalities than toads living near farms—where many possess both testes and ovaries.

Sure it sounds like good clean bi fun. But double tooling is ultimately a lethal attribute. Here's why. Normal male toads (toads are a variety of frogs) have thick, strong forelimbs. More of the intersex frogs (found only in ag areas) have thin, weak forearms. Plus intersex frogs have fewer "nuptial pads"—the scrappy skin on the feet used to grip females during mating. The likely end result: fewer tadpoles.

This is the first peer-reviewed study to compare wild toads from heavily farmed areas with those from partially farmed and completely suburban areas. Past studies have suggested a link between farm herbicides and sexual abnormalities in amphibians, whose populations are crashing globally.

The UF study finds that male toads are the most affected. Normally, males are brown and females are mottled with brown stripes. But males from ag areas are mottled and look like females. The more agricultural the site, the more feminized the males' reproductive organs and the less testosterone they produce.

"What we are finding in Bufo marinus might also occur in other animals, including other amphibian species and humans," says lead author Krista McCoy. "In fact, reproductive abnormalities are increasing in humans and these increases could partially be due to exposure to pesticides."

Another reason why organic is less expensive than the alternative.

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

McCain & Co. Find New Ways to Circumvent Campaign Finance Laws McCain Wrote

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 3:09 PM EDT

I said yesterday that running for president makes messes of good men (and women). And I meant it:

...a Republican Party fund aimed at electing governors has started marketing itself as a home for contributions of unlimited size to help Sen. McCain. His 2002 campaign law limits donations to presidential races to try to curtail the influence of wealth.
The Republican Governors Association isn't subject to those limits, and has long gathered up large donations from individuals and companies. Now it is telling donors it can use their contributions to benefit Sen. McCain in some key battleground states.
That makes the group "the best way to help McCain," says donor David Hanna, who gave $25,000 -- more than 10 times the legal cap of $2,300 for direct gifts to presidential candidates.

The campaign finance system isn't perfect, and a donor with deep pockets can find a way to funnel money into the system:

Yearning for Polygamist Fashion

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 2:56 PM EDT

dress150.jpgRejoice, ye Laura Ingalls Wilder wannabes.

People have called the Yearning for Zion ranch members a lot of names since their compound was raided in April, but "fashionable" has never been one of them. Until now.

The New York Times reports that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have begun peddling their prairie-chic children's couture online.

Modesty, it turns out, is totally affordable. The Jr. Teens girls' underwear, which, with long sleeves and pants, is the ultimate anti-thong, costs between $25 and $32, depending on size. The Teen Princess Dress will set you and your flesh-concealing daughter back $60 to $73.

The bummer is that so far, the FLDSdress.com only sells clothes in kids' sizes. Which leads us to the real question: Where does Chloe Sevigny's character on Big Love get her weird duds?

Photo courtesy of fldsdress.com.