Nature says so: the frequency and strength of Atlantic hurricanes has grown in recent decades. We're now at levels now about as high as anything in the past 1,000 years. The data come from sediment samples along the North Atlantic coast and are analyzed alongside statistical models of the past 1,500 years of hurricane activity. Interestingly, there was a peak about 1000 AD that rivals and maybe exceeds recent levels.

The study validates the theory that two factors fuel higher hurricane activity: La Niña and high surface temperatures over the ocean. If climate change continues to warm ocean waters (and how can it not?) we will likely experience more active hurricane seasons. This year's slow start is thanks to a newborn El Niño... though El Niño is changing too.
 

While everything from laptops to Scrabble is getting dipped in Pepto Bismol and glitter to attract the ladies, Sony Ericsson has one-upped the rest of the gendered marketing world with the soon to be released Jalou phone.

Rather than slap some pink on it and call it a day, Sony Ericsson "explored art, architecture and furniture trends whilst delving deep into the couture and fashion world" to determine just what the ladies would be looking for in a cell phone in 2010. Evidently plaid is out but, "structured forms, intricate corners, hidden depths" are in. Um...sure.

The phone is shaped like a facet-cut diamond, and "depth" refers to a "variety of different shine and matt [sic] finishes," not tech specs. The key pad also features diamond shaped keys—since concern about conflict diamonds was so last year.

The Jalou isn't targeted to every woman. Rather, it is the lifestyle choice for the young, urban, and single with disposable income: "Share the good life. Chat on the treadmill, text in the taxi, snap and share photos from the club: Jalou™ lets you share your life in style."

How does the Jalou offer help to do this?

"The two inch screen’s clever design means that at the touch of a button the screen becomes a mirror, offering a discreet way to make sure you look as good as your mobile phone. It is also the first Sony Ericsson to feature Walk Mate step counter, to help you stay in shape wherever you go. It also has an exclusive fashion interface which automatically updates with zodiac signs and special events throughout the year."

Vanity, body image, and horoscopes aren't the only stereotypes Sony Ericcson made sure cover. Catfights will also be all the rage in 2010. Jalou is derived from the french, jalouse meaning jealousy.

Strangely the phone does not actually come in pink direct from Ericcson, but in the semi-precious colors Deep Amethyst, Aquamarine Blue, and Onyx Black. You'll have to splurge for the Dolce & Gabanna edition, which comes in "sparkling rose" complete with 24-gold karat plating, to really fulfill your gendered fashion needs—just forget about that pesky wage gap.

It seems I'm not the only one irritated this week. So is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who says she's miffed at Organizing for America after her office was inundated with constituents  looking to chew her ear off on health care reform. This makes her the first Democrat to formally frown on the program.

In case you missed my post on Monday or your SPAM filter blocked OFA's email, Obama's netroots machine tapped its Dumbledore's Army of activists to visit their senators during the August recess to express support for healthcare reform. The website even offered a convenient "appointments" widget, meant to help fence-sitters commit to the trek. Tens of thousands signed up. Unfortunately, some folks (including a few of the ones I sat with on Monday morning) thought that meant they had an actual appointment to see the senator. Which they did not. 

So why can't the Obama administration coordinate with it's friends? Is Organizing for America making itself a nuisance? Or is the California senator just a big wet blanket?  

A Chilling Effect

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton deserves a raise.

On Tuesday, Burmese Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest for meeting with an American who swam across a lake to pay her a surprise visit. British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis called on China, Japan, and Thailand to apply "maximum pressure on this Burmese regime." Fat chance: Over at the Daily Beast, our very own resident Burma expert Nicole McClelland explains why that'll never happen—and for that matter, why the US isn't going to stop doing business with Burma anytime soon either.

In July, in an investigative article entitled "First, Do Harm," Mojo contributor Justine Sharrock questioned why the US medical community has been so soft on medical professionals who participated, directly and indirectly, in abuse and torture of detainees at US military prisons.

Today in the New York Times, reporter Scott Shane held out the possibility that at least a couple of these rogue practitioners may eventually face justice. He reports on the activities of two former military men, psychologists who saw an opportunity and set up a lucrative contracting business that ultimately netted millions from the CIA to help set up the nation's torture program.

In Washington, no one blinked when President Obama chose Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco councilman and gay rights activist, to receive the Medal of Freedom. But in San Francisco, one man did.  

His name is Randy Thomasson, and he heads the conservative policy watchdog Save California. On Wednesday, the group held a press conference outside San Francisco City Hall to protest the honor, spitting distance from where Milk was assasinated in 1978. Using a series of visual aids, Thomasson argued that the civil rights crusader was unfit for the nation's highest civilian honor. 

"Is this for the Onion? Come on, this must be for the Onion,"  a casual observer announced to no one in particular.  

That pretty much sums it up. Of the 16 recipients of the Medal of Freedom today—among them Stephen Hawking and Sidney Poitier—perhaps none is more artificially controversial than Milk, whose life and work inspired last year's Oscar-nominated film. Sure, California's enjoyed it's fair share ofreal gay controversy this past year (Prop 8, anyone?). But nothing stokes artificial controversy like TV news cameras. 

 

From Richard Holbrooke on how to gauge success in Afghanistan:

"You'll know it when you see it."

In fairness, click the link to read about the various metrics and aid programs and whatnot that Holbrooke's team uses and supports.  That said, though, I have a sinking feeling that when all's said and done, that offhand comment represents our real state of knowledge depressingly well.

Newt the Visionary

Matt Taibbi points out today that up until very recently, Newt Gingrich was a big booster of advance care directives and hospice care:

Well, what happens when suddenly the Republican party decides it wants to scare the shit out of a bunch of old people by telling them the new health care bill is going to include a provision in which “death panels” ask them “when they want to die”? Now all of the sudden Gingrich is violently against the same programs he was so windily praising earlier this year.

And make no mistake, this is exactly the same thing. The only thing that’s actually in the health care proposals is a provision that would allow Medicare to pay for exactly the kind of programs Gingrich praised, on a voluntary basis. The programs are not government-administered in any way, there’s just government money now to pay for the private programs. And now Gingrich is suddenly aghast at them.

Nobody ever accused Newt of not being opportunistic enough, so this is no surprise.  It's also pretty much identical to his flip-flop on cap-and-trade.  Two years ago he was a huge fan because it used market mechanisms to control greenhouse gas emissions.  Hooray for the market!  But when an actual cap-and-trade plan was introduced — by Democrats — it suddenly became a "command-and-control, anti-energy, big-bureaucracy agenda, including dramatic increases in government power and draconian policies that will devastate our economy."

But Newt's a visionary.  Never forget that.

"Why do we tune up our cars but not our far more complex buildings?" asks Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  He's talking about "commissioning," a basket of techniques for increasing the energy efficiency of buildings:

Energy-wasting deficiencies are almost always invisible to the casual observer, and unfortunately also to building designers, operators, and owners. Commissioning is not a widgit or “retrofit”; it is an integrated quality-assurance practice.

....Back in 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy asked my team at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to build a national database of commissioning experience....The results are compelling. The median normalized cost to deliver commissioning was $0.30/ft2 for existing buildings and $1.16/ft2 for new construction....Correcting these problems resulted in 16% median whole-building energy savings in existing buildings and 13% in new construction, with payback times of 1.1 years and 4.2 years, respectively.

....Applying our median whole-building energy-savings value (certainly far short of best practices) to the U.S. non-residential building stock corresponds to an annual energy-savings potential of $30 billion by the year 2030, which in turn yields greenhouse gas emissions reductions of about 340 megatons of CO2 each year.

In other words, this is a way of reducing greenhouse emissions significantly — and it's not just free, it saves money.  It's a no-brainer, and it's the kind of thing that will become more widespread if the Waxman-Markey climate bill passes.

It's also why the cost of Waxman-Markey, despite the pronouncements of the doomsayers, is likely to be close to zero.  The CO2 goals in W-M are actually fairly modest (a 17% decrease from 2005 levels by 2020), and commissioning could provide upwards of a thirds of that at no cost.  Other technologies have similar paybacks, and the net result is that we can almost certainly achieve a 17% reduction at a net cost that's very, very small.  Things gets tougher after 2020, but that's also the point at which W-M has provided several years of incentives to develop green technologies that will make further cutbacks considerably less painful than they would be today.  Warts and all, that's why Waxman-Markey needs to pass.