Blogs

Video: Bush Goes on Compassion Tour of All of America

| Sun Jul. 6, 2008 10:56 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.

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Video: Fox News Altered Photos

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 6:44 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 6:40 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.

Making Fake Stuff Look More Real

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 6:00 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 5:35 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 2:09 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:

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Yearning for Polygamist Fashion

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 1:56 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.

Will Trouble in Afghanistan Become a Tough Campaign Issue for McCain?

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 12:57 PM EDT

For two days in a row, The Washington Post has front-paged bad news on Afghanistan. First, the paper reported,

June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001, as resilient and emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks in an effort to gain control of the embattled country.
Defense officials and Afghanistan experts said the toll of 28 U.S. combat deaths recorded last month demonstrates a new resurgence of the Taliban, the black-turbaned extremists who were driven from power by U.S. forces almost seven years ago. Taliban units and other insurgent fighters have reconstituted in the country's south and east, aided by easy passage from mountain redoubts in neighboring Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

Then, it noted,

The nation's top military officer said yesterday that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to tamp down an increasingly violent insurgency, but that the Pentagon does not have sufficient forces to send because they are committed to the war in Iraq.

It appears that the war in Afghanistan is going less well than the war in Iraq these days. And that is bad news in particular for John McCain.

Barack Obama, of course, has argued that invading Iraq was a profound error and distracted the U.S. government and military from finishing the job in Afghanistan. The above-referenced testimony from Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports that argument. With Mullen saying that the Iraq war has undermined the Afghanistan effort, how might McCain's respond to the charge that he and other supporters of the Iraq war undercut the mission in Afghanistan?

MoJo Convo: Iran Panic? A Follow Up Question for the Experts

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 9:53 AM EDT

Earlier this week MoJo writer Laura Rozen asked an Israeli intel correspondent, an Iranian American activist, an arms expert, a former peace negotiator, and an anti-war intellectual:

How likely is a scenario in which the US or Israel strikes Iran before Bush leaves office? (Or is the Left falling for the hawks' propaganda?)

Read the original conversation here.

Now for a follow up question:

There have been hints of potentially momentous shifts on policy to Iran this past week. Final thoughts on what promises to be a long hot summer?

daniel_levy-65x70.jpg

Daniel Levy, a former Middle East peace negotiator, is Director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation, and of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation:

The first thing I would say would be to caution against expectations of a dramatic breakthrough in either direction—either imminent attacks or an imminent deal—when hearing the latest developments, which is good news in the case of the former, but not so much in the case of the latter. I would also be careful about drawing what some may see as an obvious causal relationship: Israel and American heightened the threat; Iran climbed down—longer and more complicated processes are at work.

If one were to be mischievous, one could even pose the opposite speculation: Namely, that in anticipation (or with advance information) of a greater Iranian willingness to demonstrate flexibility on the enrichment freeze, the threats were escalated in order to allow the claim that chest-thumping was working. If indeed we have inched closer towards negotiations, then the key thing will be to give those negotiations a chance to make progress and to demonstrate patience. Naturally, all sides would have to justify a change in approach to their respective domestic audiences.

The challenge will be to do this in a way that does not undermine the process itself. So keep any clucking and "they blinked first rhetoric" to a minimum. My own sense is that one of the significant factors in play here is that Iran, similar to other regional powers, is already looking beyond the Bush administration and beginning to choreograph it signals and messaging with the next administration in mind. Syria's resumption of negotiations with Israel probably comes from a similar place.

Hard diplomatic bargaining is not only the best option, but also the option most likely to address legitimate concerns on all sides in ways that the other parties can live with (limitations and transparency of any enrichment/civil nuclear energy program, Iranian regime security, cessations of Iranian provision of material assistance to groups deploying violence against Israeli civilians, etc.); and the new Trita Parsi-Shlomo Ben-Ami op-ed is well worth reading on this. But note—negotiations entail brinksmanship and moments of crisis that require very skillful management, which makes me worry given the current actors on the scene.

There have been some posts and questions on this thread regarding the relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iranian issue. In shorthand, I would say the following:

New (Leaked) Music: Beck - Modern Guilt

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 8:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-beckmodernguilt.jpgYou'd think, in this exciting Age of the Intertubes, that the music album, freed from physical constraints, would have expanded like American waistlines. No longer tied to the 56-minute-ish limit of the vinyl LP or the 80-minute cutoff of the CD, you'd expect our self-indulgent, uncontrollably nutty musicians to start putting out 3- or 4-hour albums, with, say, 60 or 70 of their newest compositions. But no, just the opposite seems to be happening: albums are getting shorter. Take this Beck thing that just leaked out onto the aforementioned internet: it's 32 minutes long. That's ten quick songs. I thought I'd give it a spin today while I was working on other stuff; I'd barely sat down when it was already over, and the next thing up in my alphabetical iTunes library, a Bee Gees remix by the Teddybears, thundered out incongruously. I had this experience all day, starting Modern Guilt from the beginning, only to have it slip by without me really noticing it, and then, blam: Bee Gees. There it goes again. This album has probably run through at least six times by now here at Party Ben HQ, and I keep trying to pay attention, but it keeps melting into the background, and I'm starting to think it's not me that's the problem.