Blogs

Solar Superhighways

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 12:16 AM EDT

800px-Indiana-rural-road.jpg Researchers are developing a solar collector to turn roads and parking lots into cheap sources of electricity and hot water. "Asphalt has a lot of advantages as a solar collector," says Rajib Mallick of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "For one, blacktop stays hot and could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.

Plus there's already gynormous acreage of installed roads and parking lots. They're resurfaced every 10 to 12 years. The solar retrofit could be built into that cycle. No need to transform other landscapes into solar farms. Or maybe not as many.

Furthermore, extracting heat from asphalt would cool the urban heat-island effect, cooling the planet a wee bit. Finally, solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible, unlike those on roofs. Cuz we all know how attractive roads are.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

On the Charts: Mamma Mia, M.I.A., Conor Oberst, The Verve

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 5:40 PM EDT

mojo-photo-charts0814.jpg

Various combinations of the letters "m," "i" and "a" did pretty well on the Billboard US charts this week, plus we can all celebrate the fall from #1 of the eardrum-rupturing "I Kissed a Girl." Hooray! First, on the album chart, the Mamma Mia soundtrack jumped to #1, which is a little weird since the movie is currently a weak #6 at the box office, just behind the Traveling Pants sequel. Well, as we all know, people like ABBA. The rest of the Top Ten consists of standard fare like Miley Cyrus, Kid Rock and Coldplay, although Omaha's got reason to celebrate this week, as favorite son Conor Oberst's self-titled album debuts at #15, while The Faint's Fasciination sneaks into the Top 50 at #46. Take that, Boise!

On the singles chart, Rihanna dominates, as her terrible adventure-in-autotune robo-electro number "Disturbia" climbs to #1, while the marginally better "Take a Bow" sticks around at #4. Lesson: America likes Rihanna. But holy Clash samples, ladies and gentlemen: M.I.A. is now officially a Top 5 Artist in the U. S. of A., as "Paper Planes" jumps 11 spots to #5 on the strength of online sales inspired by Pineapple Express commercials. It's like I've woken up in some strange bizarro world; what next, a #1 hit for Portishead? The track is down a bit on iTunes today, from #2 to #5, so this may be its chart peak, but hey, we'll take it.

After the jump: Richard Ashcroft explains sightlessness.

Troops Abroad Give to Obama 6:1

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

Interesting...

According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul.

Despite McCain's status as a decorated veteran and a historically Republican bent among the military, members of the armed services overall -- whether stationed overseas or at home -- are also favoring Obama with their campaign contributions in 2008, by a $55,000 margin. Although 59 percent of federal contributions by military personnel has gone to Republicans this cycle, of money from the military to the presumed presidential nominees, 57 percent has gone to Obama.

It's a relatively small sample size, for what it's worth: 134 members of the armed services deployed abroad have given to Obama, to the tune of $60,642. And just 26 members of the armed services deployed abroad have given to McCain, for a total of $10,665. Ron Paul's numbers fall roughly halfway in between. That's a stunningly low number for McCain, isn't it?

Oh, and I should point out that this isn't new.

Why is HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt Blogging About Abortion?

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

I can't decide which end of the latest abortion kerfuffle is more inappropriate:

The US Department of Health and Human Services's ill-fated (I hope) attempt to redefine birth control as abortion,

OR,

the fact that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt is blogging about it on my dime:

"I'm delighted to announce that with the help of Planned Parenthood, my blog—for the first time—received more visits than my teenage son's MySpace page. Perhaps I'll address the subject of physician conscience one more time."

Tough call. Either way, I want my tax dollars back.

Read more about the Medical Right's latest volley in the choice wars here, here, and here.

Partition in Iraq: A Serious Problem With Biden as VP?

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 12:11 PM EDT

biden250x200.jpg The chattering classes are buzzing with the possibility of Barack Obama choosing Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the six-term Senate veteran and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his running mate. While the consensus seems to be that Biden would be a safe pick because of his foreign policy credentials and his long history of accomplishment, the question of whether or not he still supports the Biden Plan, a proposal for the partition of Iraq that was the centerpiece of Biden's presidential campaign and is at odds with Obama's withdrawal plan, is a potential stumbling block for the campaign.

When Biden, who initially supported the war, was running for president, he repeatedly insisted he was the only candidate with a workable plan for ending it. His campaign created a video, featured in the YouTube debate, that said, "Joe Biden is the only one with the experience and the plan to end this war responsibly so our children don't have to go back."

That plan was widely seen as calling for the partition of Iraq. It read, in part, "The United States should actively support a political settlement in Iraq based on the final provisions of the Constitution that create a federal system of government and allow for the creation of federal regions, consistent with the wishes of the Iraqi people and their leaders." Despite Biden's occasional objections, that wording was read by other politicians and the media as calling for the division of Iraq into three regions, one for Sunnis, one for Shiites, and one for Kurds. For that perception, Biden has himself to blame. An op-ed Biden wrote in 2006 described his plan this way:

The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests....
The first [point of the plan] is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.

End of War!

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

On this day in 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II. The original New York Times article from that day, available here, contains this interesting tidbit about the events of that day:

The Navy canceled nearly $6,000,000,000 of prime contracts.

That's $6 billion. In 1945 dollars. ($72 billion in today's dollars, according to this site.) Will there ever be an August 14, 1945 for the "War on Terror"?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Social Security: Message of the Day!!!

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

I've received five six seven eight emails from the DNC and the Obama campaign since 11:00 pm last night about Social Security. Most of them attack John McCain.

"DNC Releases New Web Ad Highlighting the Threat John McCain Poses to Social Security."

"MCCAIN WATCH: SAME-AS-BUSH PLAN TO PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY."

And so on. McCain has suggested in the past that he supports private savings accounts, but he has always fudged on what they would look like and whether or not they would mirror exactly the ones in the controversial plan President Bush pushed several years back. Moreover, McCain has called the basic funding mechanism of Social Security a "disgrace," meaning he doesn't philosophically agree with the program or doesn't understand how it works. The Democrats are right to hit him for all of that.

But there's a distinctly lame feel to the Democrats excitement here — You're not supposed to talk about Social Security in campaigns because it pisses people off! McCain is talking about it! Let's nail him! You can't claim the guy is a fake maverick and then attack him when he talks out of school.

Running From The Waves in Beijing

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

800px-Tuvalu_Funafuti_atoll_beach.jpg Tuvalu's first Olympics may be it's last. The Pacific island-nation faces inundation from rising sea levels and no one knows if its nine coral atolls will still exist for future Olympics. Tuvalu's two track athletes and one weightlifter are gunning for more than gold, reports Planet Ark.

Neighbor island-nation Kiribati has sent three athletes to its second Olympics. But its atolls are also disappearing. Storm surges erode coastlines and contaminate fresh water supplies, and long before the islands go under they'll be uninhabitable.

Think of it as a sneak preview for all coastlines.

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

Solar Cell World Record

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

275px-Photoelectric_effect.svg.png A new world record has been set by a solar cell that converts 40.8 percent of light into electricity. The proud parents are scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab.

The 40.8 percent efficiency was measured under concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is the amount of light that hits Earth on a sunny day. The new cell will work well for space satellites. Also for land-based arrays that focus sunlight onto solar cells with lenses or mirrors.

You know, the kind we need to be building everywhere. Marshall Plan for Earth, and all that.

The new cell is grown on a gallium arsenide wafer. Then flipped over and the wafer removed. The result is an extremely thin and light solar cell with better performance and cost. Bring it on.

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

So Much for McCain's No-Lobbyist Policy

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:01 PM EDT

John McCain's declared policy of not having lobbyists as part of his campaign team has always been full of holes and contradictions. But the fact that his top foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann arranged a phone call between his longtime lobbying client, the Georgian president, and the Republican presidential candidate on the same day that Scheunemann's lobbying company Orion Strategies signed a $200,000 lobbying renewal contract with the country really takes the cake for conflict of interest. With the Caucasian nation's territorial integrity in jeopardy after five days of fighting with Russian forces, it's hard not to wonder whether the Georgian leadership thinks in retrospect that it got its money's worth from its lobbying investment.