Blogs

Expect Less PVC at Target

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:09 PM PST

target.jpgRetail giant Target has announced plans to reduce its use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), particularly in goods geared toward children, like bibs and lunchboxes. PVC isn't good for anyone (the EPA says it can cause a whole mess of health problems, including cancer), but it's especially bad for kids, since it contains lead.

The company's goal is to offer PVC alternatives to most toys by fall of 2008. Wal-Mart has promised to completely eliminate PVC products by 2009.

This trend of mega-retailer self awareness is good news, especially considering the fact that Consumer Product Safety Commission officials are off gallivanting around the world on the toy industry's dime.

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iTunes for Magazines?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:07 PM PST

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Heard of Maghound? Will it be the magazine industry's iTunes or Netflix? Read more about Time's soon-to-be service on The Riff.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powers British Lighthouse

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:59 PM PST

Southgarelighhousehistoryone.jpg New Scientist reports how the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast is now powered by a hydrogen fuel cell:

The Soviet Union once powered lighthouses on its Arctic coast using radioactive batteries, leaving its successors the problem of disposing of the nuclear waste. Now a cleaner technology is being harnessed to power lighthouses in remote places: fuel cells. A consortium led by CPI of Wilton, Teesside, UK, is using a fuel cell to power the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast. It was previously prone to power outages when the mains power cable was damaged by the wind and heavy seas. CPI has proofed its fuel cell against the ravages of salty air and seawater, and has developed a novel water-based cooling system for it, too.

Reports are the fuel cell is working well, and the lighthouse is visible from 25 miles out at sea, as it always was.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Dwindling Parrotfish Key To Coral Reef Survival

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:34 PM PST

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A study finds the future of the Caribbean's failing coral reefs tied to fish with an equally uncertain future. The University of California Davis reports on a study of reefs overrun by marine algae (seaweeds) after a plague in 1983 killed virtually all the plant's natural grazers, sea urchins. (Read more about this in MoJo's The Fate of The Ocean.) With urchins gone, the corals' only line of defense against algae is parrotfish—also grazers. But parrotfish are disappearing from overfishing, allowing algae to outcompete corals on the reef.

The researchers created a mathematical model of the reef, then looked at what the future holds, investigating a process known as hysteresis: whereby an effect lags behind its cause. "The idea of hysteresis is that you go over a cliff, then find the cliff has moved," said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. "Going back is harder than getting there. In this case, the loss of sea urchins sent the reef off the road, and now the only guardrail is the parrotfish. Our model showed that if we overfish parrotfish, and the reef goes off the cliff, we would need four times the fish we have now to bring the reef back."

The authors suggest that local authorities act now to reduce parrotfish deaths, including outlawing fish traps. They also call on anyone visiting the Caribbean and sees parrotfish on a restaurant menu to voice their concern to the management.

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Well—as the pithy bumpersticker says—at least the war on the environment is going well.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Can We Talk? The 'Cos and Black Conversation

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:20 PM PST

It's hard to tell whether what Bill Cosby is continuing is a crusade or a tirade, but so far, critics are voting for the second. As usual, average black folks are caught in the crossfire.

In May 2004, Cosby addressed the gala 50th commemoration of Brown v Board (full text here) in a capacity-crowded Constitution Hall in DC. Rather than celebrate the victory and its attendant successes, "America's Granddad" railed at length against a black sloth, nihilism, poor parenting and moribund morality that he believes worse than racism ever was. Here's a taste:

We cannot blame white people. White people -- white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well -- they stay open 24 hours....
50 percent drop out rate, I'm telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is "gimme, gimme, gimme." These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn't care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we've done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They're buying things for the kid -- $500 sneakers -- for what? They won't buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Let's just say the speech got noticed; three and a half years later, he's still pugnaciously facing off with his detractors who think Cosby is further entrenching racist stereotypes and victim-blaming. The blowback seems only to energize him.

Livin' It Up in the Hotel Islamofascism?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:56 PM PST
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The Eagles have always annoyed me ("Hotel California" ranking as the number one depressing song ever to be played at parties), but I can't let a right-wing critique of the boring 70s band go without a fight.

Warner Todd Huston this week dissed The Eagles' new album, Long Road Out of Eden, in his blog on the website NewsBusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias for "attacking the integrity" of the United States and forgetting to mention the "Islamofascists trying to blow us all up" in their lyrics. Sure, it's important to be cognizant of terrorist activity, but what lyrics could possibly rhyme with the word "islamofascism?"

First of all, since when do we expect concise political commentary from The Eagles? Personally, the band's songs are more likely to conjure up yawns from me than activism. Second of all, why is Huston wasting almost 2,000 words on an essay dissing a laid-back, folk-rock-pop band that hasn't released a studio album in 28 years? Surely there are other bands, artists, and organizations out there with much more influence and a bigger following who are much more worthy of some conservative backlash.

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Bipartisan Effort To Strengthen War Powers Act

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:40 PM PST

A bipartisan group of six congressmen—Jones (R-NC), Delahunt (D-MA), Abercrombie (D-HI), Brady (D-PA), Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX)—have introduced a bill strengthening the 1973 War Powers Act. This is an important development for those who care about boring old things like democracy, yet it's gotten little attention online and almost none in the regular media.

To learn more, start with an impressively honest column by George Will and Chris Weigant's useful analysis. You can also check out the bill itself, press releases from Delahunt and from Jones, and well as stories from the Sun-Journal in North Carolina, Voice of America and CNS News.

Heroes Back on Track

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 11:50 AM PST

mojo-photo-heroes1106.jpgIt's been a rough couple weeks for the "little X-Men that could," as NBC's breakout hit from last season seemed to wilt under the pressure of being, well, NBC's only breakout hit from last season. The first episodes so far this season have been both confusing and kind of dull, with our heroes scattered around the world (and throughout time), one of them even affected with amnesia in, well, a place people are often affected with amnesia, actually: a bar in Ireland. I'd come close to giving up on the show, to be honest, but a scene two weeks ago hinted at intriguing directions to come: a new villain, Maury, the father of Matt the mind-reading policeman, emerged with the ability to trap you in a literal nightmare, oblivious to the outside world. The two nightmare scenes had a minimal beauty and elemental terror, hinting at how the show has often achieved surprising, unique moments.

Imagine What They'll Do to Avoid Retina Scans!

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 11:27 AM PST

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Since 2004, U.S. border guards have been fingerprinting everyone caught illegally crossing into the U.S. and checking the prints against terrorist watch lists and criminal records. The program has rooted out a few criminals, but it's also had an unexpected side-effect.

According to USA Today, border guards have caught a number of people who've burned off the tips of their fingers to hide their identities. One enterprising money launderer caught illegally crossing the border had recently had skin from his feet grafted onto his fingers. He was still limping when he was apprehended. Most of these folks have been criminals, but at least one woman caught by border guards had undergone plastic surgery on her fingertips so she could be reunited with her daughter.

The government might want to think twice about such unintended consequences before it moves ahead with plans to integrate retina scans into passport documents, or Tom Cruise's eye transplant in Minority Report might seem truly prescient!

Tuesday's on the Ones and Twos With Music News Day

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 10:55 AM PST

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  • A 43-year-old man of African-American descent has been charged with defacement of property at the Tupac Amaru Shakur arts center in Atlanta that included hanging a noose around the statue of Tupac. He has not been charged with a hate crime. The vandalism also included flyers bearing rants about other rappers, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, so it turns out the guy is just, well, a little nuts. And not all nutty protesters can be as fun as our 12 Galaxies guy.
  • Roseanne Cash, the 52-year-old daughter of Johnny Cash, is set to undergo brain surgery for a "rare but benign condition" and is canceling the rest of her tour. Her label released a statement saying that the singer is expected to make a full recovery.
  • The White Stripes have apparently been busy, posting on their website that they've been working on a new video, three new songs that include a "special collaboration," and a new version of a track from Icky Thump. Well, yes, that's what bands do I guess, but they're the White Stripes.
  • Jimmy Page broke his pinky in a fall in his garden, it turns out. Rock 'n' roll!