Starr Endorses Sotomayor

Ken Starr, the uber-conservative special prosecutor last heard from trying to chase Bill Clinton out of office, says he "thinks very well" of Sonia Sotmayor and has told several senators that he supports her nomination to the Supreme Court.  David Corn has the details.

Times Square's Carbon Ticker

New Yorkers (actually, more like throngs of tourists) will be able to see exactly how many metric tons of greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere in real time, thanks to the new 70-foot-tall carbon ticker that Deutsche Bank unveiled in Times Square today. Deutsche Bank says the ticker itself is carbon neutral: It's made of LEDs, and is offset with carbon credits. (Wonder what kind...)

MoJo contributor Joel Makower, who runs the site GreenBiz. com, points out that the ticker could be overwhelming:

“It’s good to get this information constantly in front of them [people]," says Joel Makower executive editor of GreenBiz.com. At the same time, however, he says that such a huge number could be intimating to some people, who might question whether they could actually make a reduction in those numbers. "Big numbers are impressive, but they make us feel impotent," adds Makower.

The other problem: Metric tons can be hard to wrap your mind around. I guess the point of the ticker is to show how quickly we're dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but a more concrete measure (cars on the road? Power plants? How close we're getting to some kind of tipping point?) might make it all more fathomable, and hence more effective.

HT @makower.

The Party of Nyet

Jim Manzi is opposed to the Waxman-Markey climate bill because he thinks it won't be effective and wouldn't be worth it even if it were.  Fine.  But there's something missing here:

At a practical political level, as far as I can see, the fulcrum of the debate is among midwest and mountain state Democrats. The Republicans (excepting the senators from Maine) seem solidly against it, and most coastal Democrats solidly for it. The legislative strategy appears to be to cut whatever side deals are necessary to get the swing Democrats to support it. This mostly has meant giving away special allowances and spending programs to pretty much every industry or region that actually produces greenhouses gasses at sufficient scale to play the lobbying game.

There does not seem to be any line in the sand that they will not cross. At this point, the side deals seem to have consumed the cap. That is, when you look under the hood, there is not really a material binding cap in this bill for at least a decade....In fiscal terms, Waxman-Markey will bring in almost nothing. We’ve given it all away.

Obviously I have a more generous view of Waxman-Markey than Manzi, but even if you accept his political analysis (which is basically correct, I think) you have to ask: Why is there no line in the sand that the bill's sponsors won't cross to get support from midwestern Dems?  Why are they so eagerly giving away the farm?

And the answer is obvious: it's because Republicans have cynically decided nearly en masse to blindly oppose any action on climate change whatsoever.  This means that Waxman and Markey have no choice except to grimly cut deals with every last parochial interest on the Democratic side just in order to get anything passed at all.  So that's what they're doing.  And it's ugly.

Now, if they wanted to, Republicans, in return for their votes, could fight to keep the bill cleaner, keep it more effective, and insert provisions that would make it more acceptable to conservatives.  That would be great.  Waxman and Markey wouldn't have to give away the store to every congressman with a coal mine in his backyard if there were even a small band of serious Republicans willing to support a climate change bill and bargain in good faith to help get it passed.

But there isn't.  It's the Party of Nyet that's created this political dynamic.  They can stop it anytime they want.

Among the remarkable things to come out of the Iranian presidential election, aside from the street demonstrations, is the emerging picture of the clerical regime's complex internal divisions. For years, Iran has been depicted in the Western press as a monolithic regime, but the range of opinions and surprising alliances born of last Friday's disputed election reveal a much more vibrant and nuanced society. Take this letter to the people of Iran from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. A key figure in the 1979 Revolution, he's become a strong voice in support of the protesters, deriding election results which he alleges were "altered considerably." 

Excerpts from his letter, as translated by the Tehran Bureau:

Over the last several days I have been witnessing the glowing presence and the lively and sacrificial efforts of my dear and dignified sisters and brothers, old and young, in the campaign for the 10th presidential elections. Our youth also demonstrated their presence in the political scene with hope and good spirit, in order to achieve their rightful demands. They waited patiently night and day. This was an excellent occasion for the government’s officials to take advantage of and establish religious, emotional and nationalistic bonds with our youth and the rest of our people.

Unfortunately, however, this opportunity was wasted in the worst possible way. Such election results were declared that no wise person in their right mind can believe; results based on credible evidence and witnesses has been altered extensively, and after strong protests by the people against such acts — the same people who have carried the heavy weight and burden of the Revolution during eight years of war and resisted the tanks of the imperial government [of the Shah] and those of the enemy [Iraq] — they attacked the children of the same people and nation right in front of the domestic and foreign reporters, and used astonishing violence against defenseless men and women and the dear [university] students, injuring and arresting them. And, now, they are trying to purge activists, intellectuals, and political opponents by arresting a large number of them, some of whom have even held high positions in the government of the Islamic Republic.


Scientists Discover Super-Smarts in Tiny Fish

Note to humans: We've got some unusual competition in the battle for intellectual superiority, from an unlikely opponent: a 1.5" long fish called the nine-spined stickleback.

If you thought that animals could only learn by Pavlovian methods (just hearing the bell still makes me salivate, due to all of the psychology classes I slept through in college), think again. Earlier this year the stickleback proved itself to be a uniquely intelligent species, as researchers learned that these little fish are "much more willing to take risks in search of food in pairs than alone." But by golly, the little fellows aren't done yet.

DiscoveryNews reports that the nine-spined stickleback (try saying that 10 times fast), "possesses an unusually sophisticated capacity for learning not yet documented in any other animal, aside from humans." These creatures have learned to watch the mistakes of their peers so they don't repeat them, an achievement humans could learn from. This new knowledge was the result of a study done by University of St. Andrews research fellow Jeremy Kendal and his colleagues, who published their findings in Oxford University's Behavioral Ecology journal.

With this significant scientific breakthrough, who knows what else we will learn about our underestimation of animal intelligence in the near future?

There's the Beef! KFC's New Meaty Chicken

KFC's saucy new grilled chicken is made with a marinade of "secret herbs and spices," one of which is "beef powder." Hmm, is beef powder an herb, or a spice? This revelation apparently has people up in arms, and the chicken chain El Pollo Loco has even made commercials about what they are calling false advertising. KFC's response? "Small amounts of beef flavors are commonly used in seasonings for many food products, for both restaurant and retail use."

True.

Remember in 2002 when McDonald's settled a lawsuit (for $10 mil) brought by Hindus and vegetarians for the beef fat in their fries (after they promised they only used vegetable oil)? That companies beef up their products is not surprising: Beef makes things tastes good!

When I read the ingredients in KFC's "better-for-you option for health-conscious customers" grilled chicken I actually get stuck on the MSG (twice, in the marinade and in the seasoning) and the partially hydrogenated oil. Sure, other fast foods are just as bad if not worse. But there are all sorts of things in foods that aren't advertised well for consumers. For example, both Wendy's and Burger King, list "spices" as an ingredient in their chicken sandwiches. Which isn't all that descriptive, maybe they're slipping us the beef as well.

Soldiers of 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, stand in formation prior to leaving for Afghanistan at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, April 14. The 154th Trans. Co. is the second 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) unit in three weeks to move directly to Afghanistan from Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

Kenneth Starr Endorses Sotomayor

Kenneth Starr, the lawyer who chased after President Bill Clinton and his wife, said on Thursday that he supports President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Starr voiced his backing of Sotomayor while delivering the keynote speech at a luncheon held in Los Angeles for Loyola Law School's program for journalists who cover legal issues. He said that he "thinks very well of her." He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested. Starr said that he has told more than one US senator that he supports her nomination, but he wouldn't identify which senators he has spoken to about Sotomayor.

Film Review: New Muslim Cool

Growing up in a Puerto Rican-American family in a tough section of the Bronx, Jason “Hamza” Perez dreamed he would end up in jail and die young. Now he thinks he was right—sort of. When he meets some local Muslim sheikhs at 21, he converts to Islam and his gangbanger self “dies.” A few years later, he finds himself volunteering at a faith-based initiative program in a local prison. A sensitive and perceptive film, New Muslim Cool chronicles Hamza’s halting evolution from thug to Muslim leader and family man.

We meet Hamza in medias res: A single dad raising two kids, he’s about to get married to a woman he met on a Muslim dating website and move to a community of mostly Latino Muslim converts in Pittsburgh. Director Jennifer Maytorena Taylor deftly constructs a portrait of Hamza learning to build cultural bridges: He cooks “boricua halal” food (traditional Puerto Rican fare made according Muslim dietary code), ministers to teenagers with his hip hop group, the Mujahideen Team, and explains to his skeptical but curious mom why her granddaughter has started wearing a hijab to school.

But the film’s real strength is mixing the political with the domestic: Just as Hamza has learned to move among his own worlds, the outside world gets in the way. And that’s where things really start to get interesting: The police raid the new Pittsburgh mosque—the stated reason is a convicted child molester who worships there, but the community suspects the FBI had been watching them for a while. And later, the prison where Hamza volunteers suddenly revokes his security clearance without explanation (he eventually gets it back). New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one family’s daily life, but the most remarkable part is watching Hamza and his family take the turmoil in stride. “You know you’re not doing anything wrong,” says Hamza’s wife Rafia. “So you just live your life.”


New Muslim Cool debuts on PBS Tuesday, June 23 at 10 PM, and opens in select theaters nationwide this month.

 

CO2 Highest in 2 Million Years

Quick hit: an article in the June 19 issue of Science reports that : CO2 in the atmosphere is now at its highest concentration in 2.1 millions years. Also, that more recent ice ages may have been caused by changes in the Earth's tilt toward the sun, not : CO2 levels. So even though carbon dioxide is higher, it doesn't mean it's going to plunge us back into a cooling trend.