This week's cute endangered animal is the pygmy rabbit, which hails from my home state of Oregon, as well as Washington and Idaho. The pygmy rabbit is the smallest in the US, weighing just 1 pound. It's also one of two wild rabbit species in North America that digs its own burrows, and communicates vocally with squeaks, squeals, and chuckles.

Despite the stereotype of rabbits breeding like, well, rabbits, the pygmy rabbit is quite close to extinction due to increasing agriculture, and possibly disease. The rabbits live pretty much on just one food source: sagebrush. Now you might think sagebrush is epic in the West: Is there a Western that's complete without a tangle of sagebrush rolling through the dusty streets right before a shootout? But in reality, sagebrush is becoming less and less common in Oregon since the damming of the Columbia River created more arable land. As a result, dense sagebrush habitat is hard to find in the rabbit's range, and pockets of it serve to isolate populations.

Until a few years ago, there were two sub-populations of pygmy rabbits: Columbia Basin and Idaho. As of 2002, researchers could only find 16 Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits in the wild, and in 2008, the entire sub-population went extinct when in 2008 the last known purebred Columbia Basin rabbit died in captivity. Since then, conservationists have mulled switching funds from the Columbia Basin preservation program to the Idaho program, since that sub-population is much healthier. Currently, the Oregon Zoo and other organizations are feverishly trying to breed the rabbits in captivity to create species biodiversity.

News on healthcare, the environment, wildlife, and energy from our other blogs.

Green Cheese: Pondering why it's easier to put a man on the moon than to pass a freakin' healthcare bill.

USA v. Europe: Kevin Drum debates the European approach to healthcare.

Full Court Press: Will Obama be able to push healthcare through fast?

The communists at the Wall Street Journal present us with the latest executive pay data today:

Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the U.S.....In the five years ending in 2007, earnings for American workers rose 24%, half the 48% gain for the top-paid. The result: The top-paid represent 33% of the total, up from 28% in 2002.

....The data suggest that the payroll tax ceiling hasn't kept up with the growth in executive pay. As executive pay has increased, the percentage of wages subject to payroll taxes has shrunk, to 83% from 90% in 1982. Compensation that isn't subject to the portion of payroll tax that funds old-age benefits now represents foregone revenue of $115 billion a year.

You probably thought that the big problem with skyrocketing executive pay was the fact that it left nothing for the rest of us.  And you're right: that 24% increase for "American workers" includes the 48% increase for the top earners.  In other words, the executives got a 48% increase, the rest of us got approximately nothing, and it all averaged out to 24%.

But that's not all!  It also means that the average joes with stagnant wages couldn't keep up, so they went deeper and deeper in debt.  And who loaned them the money to do that?  Well, the rich can't really spend that ocean of extra dough they're getting — the technical reason is that they have a lower marginal propensity to consume than average joes; the nontechnical interpretation is that you can only buy just so many yachts — so they ended up loaning most of it back to the middle class.  We all know how that turned out — but the rich got bailed out by the taxpayers so they ended up OK.  The rest of us, not so much.

And now the Journal is pointing out yet another problem with running our economy solely for the benefit of the wealthy: you only owe payroll taxes on income up to $106,000.  This number rises every year, but it doesn't rise nearly as fast as the earnings of the rich.  Which means that more and more income every year is above the cutoff and doesn't get taxed.  And that in turn means that Social Security is in considerably worse shape than it would be if increases in national income weren't being hoovered up almost exclusively by the executive class.

So there you have it.  If we don't pass healthcare reform it will be because the rich don't want to help pay for it.  Average wages are stagnant because that leaves a bigger pool of money for the rich to slosh around in.  We're letting the planet fry because policies to stop it would inconvenience the rich.  Regulatory reform of the financial system increasingly appears to be a dead letter because Congress is owned by the rich and they don't want it.  Against all that, I suppose that crippling Social Security hardly even shows up in the ledger.  But we might as well tot it up anyway.

Babycenter and Parenting are great for pregnancy deets, but the advice jiujitsu of Let's Panic is satire of the most necessary kind.

Like these pregnancy sections:

Non-Pregnancy-Related Trivia You Can Discuss with Your Non-Pregnant Friends: Apparently those jerks want to talk about something that's not the miracle growing inside you.
What to Look For in a Pediatrician: Will you choose the attachment-parenting advocate, or the attachment-loathing automaton?
Who's Going to Catch That Baby?: Wait—do you even have a birth philosophy?

Or their "Surviving Bed Rest" advice:

You can still be a productive member of society even flat on your back in a dark, stuffy room surrounded by dirty teacups. Where your body has failed you, your mind can now develop new paranoias you never knew existed!
Try to figure out what you did to deserve this: Think back. Was it the time you laughed at your mom's varicose veins? You definitely did something and the Universe waited until now to punish you.
Chat up telemarketers: After they insist that they cannot ship you any diseased carcasses via the postal service, you can get to talking about more personal matters. Like, "Wouldn't you haul slabs of limestone to your friend's bedside? You wouldn't think that was too much to ask, would you, Shonda?"
Knit all of your baby’s clothing for the next fifteen years: For years, every time your child dresses it will be a reminder of how much you sacrificed so that he might be born. Just let him try and complain that his woolen swim trunks bunch up during pool time at camp. LET HIM TRY.
Build a bed-fort.

Anyway, made me laugh today. Pass it on to your pregnant/new parent friends—especially the ones you wish would lighten up a little.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

US Energy Use Falls

Americans used more solar, nuclear, biomass, and wind energy, and less coal and petroleum in 2008 than in 2007. Natural gas consumption rose slightly and geothermal remained the same. This according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (The schematic is informative and you can see a bigger image in pdf.)

Estimated 2008 US energy use equaled 99.2 quadrillion British Thermal Units, or 99.2 quads, down from 101.5 quads in 2007. The bare bones of the resuls:

  • Energy use in the industrial and transportation sectors declined by 1.17 and 0.9 quads respectively and can be attributed to the spike in oil prices in summer 2008
  • Commercial and residential use climbed slightly (that could look different in 2009, I'm guessing)
  • Last year saw a significant increase in biomass with the recent push for the development of more biofuels including ethanol
  • Increases in wind energy can be attributed to large investments in wind turbine technologies over the last few years as well as better use of the existing turbines
  • 2008 saw a slight increase in nuclear energy from 8.41 quads in 2007 to 8.45 quads in 2008, mostly because existing plants had less down time


Of the total 99.2 quads consumed in 2008, less than half—only 42.15 quads—ended up as useful energy that does things like move your light your lamps. The rest is known as rejected energy and does useless and counterproductive things like make waste heat from power plants.

Clearly we have a long way to go on the rejected energy front and should move on that as fast as possible.
 

Kindle v. Kindling

This is apropos of nothing in particular, but I thought I'd update everybody on what I think about the Kindle after a few additional months of usage.

Here's what happened: a couple of months I found myself at loose ends, book-wise.  I didn't really have anything special I wanted to read, so I started browsing around on Amazon for books I might enjoy.  I found one, but it wasn't available for the Kindle.  Then another.  And another.  Hmmph.  Then Eric Boehlert's Bloggers on the Bus came in the mail, so I read that instead.  When I was done, I wandered over to the corner of my living room that temporarily holds the stack of books publishers send me and took one off the top.  Then the next, and the next. It was kind of fun: totally random book selection.  So over the course of a few weeks I ended up reading half a dozen real books printed on real paper: Bloggers on the Bus (excellent); In Search of Jefferson's Moose (Jefferson stuff pretty good, internet stuff not so much); Intelligence and How to Get It (better than I expected); The Summer of 1787 (pretty good, though not really groundbreaking or anything); Bailout Nation (polemic, but mostly good polemic); and The Evolution of God (one of the less convincing books I've read in a while).

Then I got bored and went back to the Kindle.  This was all pretty unplanned, but what's struck me the most in my back and forth between Kindle and paper is that the Kindle is really unsatisfactory for books that have a lot of charts and tables.  The resolution is poor; columns don't line up right; captions break up halfway through; and both charts and tables can sometimes be pages and pages away from the text they're connected to.

More generally: the Kindle is bad for any book in which the actual layout of the text is important.  That's pretty obvious for something like a coffee table picture book, but it turns out to be true for nonfiction with lots of illustrations too. (I can't imagine what it's like reading In Search of Jefferson's Moose on the Kindle, for instance. Between all the charts, tables, footnotes, and callouts, it must be a real mess. If anyone's done it, let me know.)

I guess this is all pretty obvious, but a few months has driven it home more strongly.  The problem is, how do you know if a book relies on lots of illustrations?  Most fiction doesn't, of course, but a lot of nonfiction doesn't either.  But some does, and it's not always obvious from the title or subject of the book.  I suppose I could look at the table of contents on Amazon and see how long the list of figures and tables is.  That's not a perfect proxy, though, and not all books have a ToC for tables and figures anyway.  (And not all books are browsable on Amazon, either.)

Anyway, I'm not quite sure what to do about this.  Right now, for example, I'm reading A Farewell to Alms on the Kindle and it's driving me crazy.  I should be reading it on paper.  But I didn't know.  I'm not quite sure what the answer to this dilemma is.  Can the hive mind help?

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, this is all quite aside from this, which is pretty disturbing all on its own.  The future may not be quite as Kindle-riffic as I initially thought.

"This approaching triumph of India was a muddle...a frustration of reason and form." -- E. M. Forster, A Passage to India.

Not much has changed since Forster wrote the above in 1924, at least from an American perspective. India is still a muddle. With a population now topping a billion, however, it's a far larger and potentially threatening muddle. At least that's what you would think from reading coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip there.

Coverage focused mainly on India "digging in its heels" (the New York Times) against a mandatory cap on carbon emissions. The Washington Post highlighted Clinton's "clash" with Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on this issue, which a HuffPo contributor called a "blunt exchange."

A WSJ blog referred to "India's refusal to countenance" limits on GHG emissions, a position that was "angrily aired" during the meeting.

There was no real anger displayed, nor was any of this a surprise. India has consistently rejected any mandated cap on its emissions since before the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The coverage needs to be seen in the context of the debate last month in the US House over cap-and-trade provisions.

Republican foes of the bill ranted about how the Waxman-Markey bill played into the hands of our Asian foes.

"The big winners are countries like China and India," warned Steve Scalice (R-LA), "who are champing at the bit to take our jobs."

Michigan Representative Michael Rogers pleaded with his colleagues, "Do not, do not eliminate our middle class and send it to China and India. That is what this bill will do."

That fear-filled message was consistently broadcast by the "Republican Noise Machine," (to use David Brock's evocative phrase for the right wing media) and is pervasive among conservatives.

That attitude helps explain the angry reaction to the administration's acknowledgement, made by Clinton and others, that India is correct in pointing out that the bulk of CO2 in the atmosphere was produced by industrialized nations and that there should be some form of aid in helping other nations develop without polluting as much as we did. "We are hoping," said Clinton in Mumbai, "that a great country like India will not make the same mistakes."

A comment yesterday on the conservative blog, Hot Air, shows how effective Republicans have been at linking any domestic action on climate change with xenophobic fears about job loss to India and China:

BullCrap. I will NOT pay for my own emmissions [sic] let alone another countries. I am so sick of this vile crap.

As a result, a few important aspects of Clinton's visit were ignored or barely mentioned. Climate change was only one topic addressed in meetings between Clinton and Indian government officials. Another, mentioned by Reuters, was "the largest arms deal in the world," in which Lockheed Martin and Boeing may sell 126 fighter jets to India for something over $10 billion.

The other story, on the Bloomberg.com website,  is about an arrangement Clinton was negotiating to allow General Electric and Westinghouse to build a pair of nuclear reactors in India -- with a price tag of around $10 billion.

Also rarely mentioned: India has one of the most ambitious plans for developing solar power, just behind China. Even while the GOP is nearly unanimous in its opposition to government investments in alternative power, the two nations they claim are the main threats to our economic well-being are racing ahead, investing in the technologies -- and the jobs -- of the future.

If Forster were writing today, I think I know what country he would identify as being a muddle.

Apparently Henry Louis Gates, Jr., noted Harvard professor, was arrested trying to get into his own house:

Black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is accusing a Massachusetts police department of racism after being arrested while trying to get into his locked home near Harvard University.

Police say they were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man try to pry open the front door.

They say that they ordered the man to identify himself and that Gates refused. According to a police report, Gates then called the officer a racist and said, "This is what happens to black men in America."

Sources tell Mother Jones that Gates hung up pictures of his family everywhere. (Skip to around 3:40. The language is NSFW):

Peloton Madness

I kinda sorta tried to figure out what the whole Hincapie/Garmin/Columbia/etc. contretemps this weekend at the Tour de France was about, but I eventually gave up.  Cycling is just such a stupid sport.  explains it here in case you're interested.

Still a stupid sport, though.  Especially the velodrome version.

As this blog was among the first to note, the EPA has a Most Wanted list. Posted in December, it includes rap sheets and mug shots for 21 environmental criminals, among them  Robert Wainwright, an Indianan convicted of child molesting and weapons violations whose personal hygiene seems as if it should be an environmental crime of its own. Accused by the EPA of dumping steel mill slag into a wetland, he was featured on this site in March. Behold the power of the press: On Friday, the EPA announced that federal and Mexican agents nabbed him in Zamora, Mexico. It's hard to say whether a Mother Jones reader turned him in (the tipoff was anonymous), but publicity from the list seems to be paying off. Since it debuted, the EPA has also caught two other fugitives.

Anyone seen this fellow? He's accused of discharging unnamed pollutants into San Diego harbor. Body hair, perhaps?