Blogs

Hard-Working Microbes Make Hydrogen At Record Rate

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 8:21 PM EST

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Bacteria break up fermented plant waste in a microbial electrolysis cell, forming hydrogen

Researchers at Penn State University have coaxed common bacteria to produce hydrogen in a new, efficient way. Using starter material that could theoretically be sourced from a salad bar, the team has charmed bacteria from wastewater into generating abundant, clean hydrogen from cellulose or vinegar with a little zap of electricity. In a table-top reactor, no less.

Other systems produce hydrogen on a larger scale, reports the National Science Foundation, but few if any match the new system for energy efficiency. Even with the small jolt of electricity, the hydrogen provides more energy as fuel than the electricity needed to drive the reactor. The overall efficiency of the vinegar-fueled system is better than 80 percent, far better than the efficiency generating the leading alternative, ethanol. By perfecting the environment for the bacteria to do what they already do in nature, the new approach can be three to ten times more efficient than standard electrolysis.

Good news. And further proof that bacteria are our friends.

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

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Stupid in the Eye of the Beholder: The Human Genome and Racial Difference

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 8:18 PM EST

The decoding of the human genome continues apace and those of us who have latched on to the '99% meme' (e.g. "99% of our DNA is the same so we all live in a yellow submarine of bio-racial sameness la la la," etc.) have to batten down the hatches for the continuing unprocessed info-glut from the science types even as the political types sharpen their anti-intellectual cultural swords.

Here's the good news: "When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2000, they were quick to portray it as proof of humankind's remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical."

Here's the bad: "But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins."

Take Two Aspirin and Call the NSC in the Morning

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 5:01 PM EST

The hawks in charge of health care reform? Say it ain't so. Okay, it ain't so ... yet. But in this month's Health Affairs, Leonard Schaeffer warns that if we don't act soon--the "we" in this case being the U.S. medical-industrial complex--the national security guys and budget minders will be the ones rakishly calling the shots on our healthcare future. Why, they wouldn't dare! Well, actually they would, because in case you haven't noticed, healthcare spending is turning into the new global warming. (more after the jump)

Mixing Activism With Heavy Rock

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 4:30 PM EST

When he's not speaking with members of Congress about the Armenian Genocide, System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian is playing sold-out concerts around the globe. Mother Jones spoke with Tankian about his new solo record, his nonprofit activist group, and Turkey's role in the war in Iraq. To read the full interview, head to MoJo's Media & Culture page.

Thompson (Almost) Accuses Bush of Weakening the U.S. Military

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 4:11 PM EST

The Repubs running for president are each in something of a corner. They have to defend the record of their president and party (a record that is mighty unpopular) and propose change. Fred Thomspon ran smack into that challenge yesterday when he called for "revitalizing" the U.S. military. Doesn't such a battle cry imply that Bush has failed the nation and our troops? Here's how I wrote about it for CQPolitics.com:

According to Fred Thompson, George W. Bush has been derelict in his duty as commander in chief. How else to explain Thompson's latest policy initiative?

On Tuesday, Thompson unveiled what he has dubbed his "Four Pillars of a Revitalized National Defense." You might ask, why must the national defense of the United States of America be revitalized after nearly seven years of the Bush administration? And remember that for most of this time, Bush's GOP controlled Congress. Yet Thompson is saying that on Bush's watch, the military has not been properly managed. He is essentially calling Bush a devitalizer.

His Pillar No. 1: boosting military spending. Apparently, Bush's 60-percent hike in Pentagon expenditures since 2001 (in real terms) hasn't been enough--even though U.S. military spending now represents almost two-fifths of the world's total military tab. And at $626 billion, the U.S. military budget is about seven times the size of the military budget of China, the second largest military spender on the planet. It also is much larger than the combined military spending of Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Cuba (about $15 billion). But still, six-tenths of a trillion dollars is not enough for Thompson. So he must believe that Bush has imperiled the nation by spending too little during the previous six years.

For Pillar No. 2, Thompson wants to increase the size of the military to create a "million-member" ground force. Right now, the Army has about half a million troops, and the U.S. Marines Corps has about 180,000. Bush has called for increasing the Army to 550,000 and the Marines to 202,000. But yet again, Bush--as Thompson sees it--is not doing enough. Thompson advocates boosting the Army to 775,000 troops and beefing up the Marines to 225,000. Will there be a draft? Thompson doesn't say so. By the way, CBS News on Tuesday reported that Iraq war veterans have a suicide rate two to four times higher than civilians the same age. How's that for a recruitment pitch?

Moving on to Pillar No. 3. "The U.S. must modernize its Armed Forces," Thompson insists. That's obviously one more important task Bush did not get to while he was busy with the Iraq war.

Pillar No. 4: "The U.S. must take better care of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines....We must also take care of our veterans by fixing the VA system." Is Thompson implying that Bush has not done all he can to support the troops and our wounded warriors? (See the suicide stats mentioned above.)

It would appear that Thompson has a low regard for the current military status quo. And who's to blame for that?

Of course, Thompson doesn't point a finger directly at Bush. Now that would take guts, for the GOP presidential contenders don't want to criticize the president and possibly piss off Republican voters....

You can read the rest here.

The Real Reason Richard Mellon Scaife Has Embraced Bill Clinton?

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 3:52 PM EST

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As Jonathan notes below, the Clintons seem to have won over Richard Mellon Scaife. That's right, Scaife, he of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," the man who funded the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other publications and entites, to go after Bill and Hill with a zeal not seen since the Comstock days, is now saying Clinton is "very laudable" and, through his latest media mouthpiece Newsmax.com, is moreover "a political and cultural powerhouse" who is "part Merlin and part Midas—a politician with a magical touch." In reporting on this strange turn of events, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff (who broke the Monicagate story) can only throw his hands up and say "cue the apocalypse."

Well, I don't really have any idea either, but it's perhaps worth noting that Scaife is going through a particularly tawdry divorce, one that was hilariously detailed by the Washington Post's David Segal back in October. It is more than worth reading in full—this accompanying illustration gives you a sense of Segal's itinerary of a divorce/travelogue device, but just to get you to follow the link...

[Scaife] is best known for funding efforts to smear then-President Bill Clinton, but more quietly he's given in excess of $300 million to right-leaning activists, watchdogs and think tanks. Atop his list of favorite donees: the family-values-focused Heritage Foundation, which has published papers with titles such as "Restoring a Culture of Marriage."
The culture of his own marriage is apparently past restoring. With the legal fight still in the weigh-in phase, the story of Scaife v. Scaife already includes a dog-snatching, an assault, a night in jail and that divorce court perennial, allegations of adultery.
Oh, and there's the money. Three words, people.
No. Pre. Nup.
Unfathomable but true, when Scaife (rhymes with safe) married his second wife, Margaret "Ritchie" Scaife, in 1991, he neglected to wall off a fortune that Forbes recently valued at $1.3 billion. This, to understate matters, is likely going to cost him, big time. As part of a temporary settlement, 60-year-old Ritchie Scaife is currently cashing an alimony check that at first glance will look like a typo: $725,000 a month. Or about $24,000 a day, seven days a week. As Richard Scaife's exasperated lawyers put it in a filing, "The temporary order produces an amount so large that just the income from it, invested at 5 percent, is greater each year than the salary of the President of the United States."

But wait, there's more:

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Peace Brings Cash, For a Change

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 3:14 PM EST

Today's the day in California when community activists get a heap of cash ($25,000) for their efforts at social justice, winners of what's known as the Peace Prize. Past winners have included Father Greg Boyle who works with gang youth in Los Angeles, to Connie Rice, Condeleeza's (second) cousin whose apple fell far from Condi's tree, as she runs a civil-rights nonprofit. Yet most awardees are unknowns, people who toil at the grassiest of grassroots for decades in relative obscurity, except to those whom they impact.

The awards this year, the 15th that The California Wellness Foundation has honored such efforts, went to three lifetime advocates, Casey Gwinn, Patricia Lee, and Cora Tomalinas, three folks I can almost guarantee you have never heard of, but who have likely made a world of difference to the hundreds, if not thousands, they have worked with.

"Lacerations, Perforations and Death"

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 2:00 PM EST

Back in June, Cameron Scott reported that George Bush's choice for Surgeon General, Dr. James W. Holsinger, like so many other so-called medical science appointees, has some problems with the concept of human sexuality. Dr. Holsinger, of course, explains it all by reminding us that pipe fittings are named after the parts used in "real" sex, between males and females.

Dr. Holsinger appeared before the Senate health committee in July, in order to answer questions concerning his misgivings about gays and bisexual individuals, which he outlined many years ago in a document in which he warned that gay sex can lead to "lacerations, perforations and deaths." Holsinger, who founded a church to help make gay people straight, told the Senate that his opinions have "evolved" since he first made his famous statements about the dangers of homosexuality. He also has gone from favoring stem cell research to being against it. On July 26, the committee gave him a questionnaire, whose return it requested by August 10. Dr. Holsinger has still not returned the questionnaire, but the recent is now apparent: He does not have to.

Holsinger has resigned
from the board of trustees of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and the supposed reason is that he is going to get a recess appointment as Surgeon General.

Branding "Progressive" in the Midwest - Your Thoughts?

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 12:41 PM EST

The folks at the Center for American Progress are looking for opinions on their new ad campaign currently running in the Columbus, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis media markets. Here are there ads:

These first two are great, particularly the first one. The left lost the branding wars over the word "liberal," and this sort of head-on messaging is necessary to win the branding wars over "progressive." I particularly like the line "Progressive. And proud of it." Less success here, though...

By pairing the progressive message with those super smug Mac ads, these spots just reinforce the idea that progressives are coastal elites who think they dress hipper, talk smarter, and know politics better than their middle American cousins. There's also a dangerous degree of oversimplification going on.

Elliot Spitzer Drops Plan To Issue Drivers' Licenses To Illegal Immigrants (Boy, I'll Bet Hillary's Pissed)

| Wed Nov. 14, 2007 11:20 AM EST

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New York Governor Elliot Spitzer is dropping his plan to issue drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, that pesky little issue that caused Hillary to stumble in the last debate.

In explaining why he's changed his position three times in as many weeks, Spitzer told the NYT that, in their words, "opposition is just too overwhelming to move forward with such a policy." Courage, Mary! Says Spitzer: "You have perhaps seen me struggle with it because I thought we had a principled decision, and it's not necessarily easy to back away from trying to move a debate forward."

Well, I guess the Lou Dobbs of the world are winning this debate, which is too bad, because if you supply some simple logic and some basic facts, it becomes obvious why Spitzer's policy (the first one) was a good one.

For starters, according to the "Unlicensed to Kill" study put out for AAA by the Texas Transportation Agency (which is the premier research group on all things traffic/auto related): "20 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States—one fatal crash in five—involves at least one driver who is unlicensed, driving on an invalid license, or of
unknown license status."

Not all of these drivers are illegal immigrants, of course. That figure also includes a lot of kids and DWIers. But here's the thing: