Blogs

Drinking The Ocean Not A Solution For A Thirsty World

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 11:32 AM PDT

Making drinking water out of sea water is a growing trend but a potentially insidious threat to the environment that could exacerbate climate change. The World Wildlife Fund reports that desalination is not only expensive but also an energy-intensive and highly environmentally unfriendly way to get water. Yet more and more of a drying world is looking to it: the Arabian Gulf gets 60% of its fresh water through desalination; Perth, Australia, hopes to source a third of its needs the same way; Spain uses 22% of its desalinated water for agriculture and holiday resorts in arid areas. Meanwhile, the impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas, and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. . . Howzabout we stop engineering and start conserving. First on the chopping block: golf courses.

This from the Aussies, drought masters.

--JULIA WHITTY


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Musharraf Gets Full U.S. Backing Despite Crackdowns

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 11:16 AM PDT

As I've pointed out before, the United States has refrained from directly criticizing General Musharraf's assault on the judiciary and his crackdown on the Pakistani media. And once again, the Bush Administration is paying more lip service to its "commitment to democracy" while giving a military dictator full backing in the same breath.

This weekend, during his visit to Pakistan, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte gave Musharraf support by stating, "It is up to him (Gen Musharraf) to decide when to take off his uniform but we do want free, fair and transparent elections scheduled for this fall or early next year." Negroponte makes it clear where America stands: Despite the fact that Musharraf has locked up more than 1,000 opposition activists and shut down Pakistani TV channels that have been critical of him, it's really up to the good General to decide when to stop being a military dictator.

Negroponte and Musharraf also discussed strong U.S. support for Pakistan government's FATA Development Plan, "a $ 750 million five-year US support programme that we will begin implementing in the next few months" Money and political backing—what more could Musharraf ask for?

But the administration's actions certainly aren't winning us any hearts and minds of the people. As one Pakistani teacher puts it, "America is supporting Musharraf against the people...The reason people hate America here is that they always support dictatorship in Pakistan."

—Neha Inamdar

Toxic Fumes Poisoning Us, Pilots Say

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 10:58 AM PDT

Toxic fumes on planes are poisoning pilots and rendering them unable to fly safely. NewScientist reports that British pilots are campaigning for "aerotoxic syndrome" to be recognized as a disease, while two official investigations examine whether highly toxic fuel contaminants are leaking into cabin air supply on commercial airliners in flight, exposing passengers, pilots and cabin crew. The UK government will fit air-monitoring equipment aboard aircraft, and 1500 pilots will take part in the first major health study designed to establish the extent of the problem.--JULIA WHITTY

Sounds Of A Dying Glacier

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 10:46 AM PDT

Scottish artist Katie Paterson set up a phone line to an Icelandic glacier and invited people to call up and listen as it melted away. Catherine Brahic blogging at NewScientist reports how Paterson dropped a waterproof microphone into the water near Glacier Vatnajokull and hooked the microphone up to a mobile phone. Check out Paterson's diary and photographs or listen to the sounds of the dying glacier. . . Eerily beautiful in an emo kind of way. --JULIA WHITTY

Arctic Spring Comes Weeks Earlier Than A Decade Ago

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 10:22 AM PDT

Winter in the Arctic is yielding to spring as much as a month earlier than ten years ago. On average, spring is arriving two weeks earlier, as reported in Current Biology. Using the most comprehensive data set available for the region, the researchers documented extremely rapid climate-induced advancement of flowering in plants, and emergence and egg-laying in a wide array of High Arctic animal species. The finding in the Arctic offers an "early warning" of things to come on the rest of the planet.--JULIA WHITTY

Hillary Clinton Makes Phenomenal New Campaign Vid -- To Introduce Crappy Song

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 9:42 AM PDT

Okay, I was all set to rip Hillary Clinton's choice of campaign song, but I can't anymore. She's really impressed me.

You probably know the story: supporters were allowed to suggest songs on the Clinton website and Clinton's top folks picked the one they liked best. Just today, they chose "You and I" by Celine Dion, which is great if you like shrieking Canadians and awful if you have taste. (You can hear the song at Clinton's campaign site.)

But boy, have they headed off criticism big time. The video introducing the pick is genius. Pure genius. I've watched it twice and smiled more the second time. It even has Bill Clinton saying, "My money's on Smashmouth!" Check it out here.

Note: After you've watched the video, come back and watch this one -- tell us which is better.

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Bill Richardson Supports All-Muslim Peacekeeping Force in Iraq

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 9:01 AM PDT

Presidential candidate and hilarious ad-man Bill Richardson has frequently criticized Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for being willing to leave a "residual" force in Iraq after the main pullout of American troops is over. Richardson says he would never support such a thing. "No airbases, no troops in the Green Zone, no embedded soldiers training Iraqi forces -- because we all know what that means -- it means our troops will still be out on patrol, with targets on their back."

But here's where it get interesting -- Richardson would leave some troops behind: "An all-Muslim peacekeeping force." I've never heard that before, but it could be interesting. I wonder if the Muslim peacekeepers would come from the region or from America. I also wonder if this idea has been seriously debated and fleshed out in think tanks and other places, or if Richardson is just pulling it out of thin air to gain a bit of publicity. Either way, interesting brain candy.

Update: An all-Muslim peacekeeping force has been considered before. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf proposed it in May. Minus points for cribbing from a dictator, plus points for being open to ideas from around the world.

Mike Gravel Has the Only Campaign Focusing on "Light, Heat, Warmth"

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 7:31 AM PDT

Remember this video of Mike Gravel staring into your soul and then throwing a rock in a lake? It had a companion that consisted of (1) Gravel gathering twigs, and (2) a fire made of those twigs burning for seven minutes.

Weird and inexplicable, right? That's what I thought too until I found on MSNBC, via Wonkette, Gravel explaining the videos in brazenly cantankerous fashion.

"What people like you don't understand — which I think is hilarious — is this is a metaphor," Gravel said Monday, lecturing guest host David Shuster during an appearance on MSNBC's "Tucker."

You didn't understand two videos that looked like they were made by two dudes who got hopped up on acid, read a bunch of Foucault, and decided to make a crazy dreamscape campaign video? Listen closely to Mike Gravel: this means you're dumb.

Anyway, here's the explanations for the spots. Of the rock one, Gravel says, "The point of the spot is not the rock but the ripples it leaves in the water." Gravel is making waves. That doesn't explain the several minutes of staring directly into the camera, but whatevs.

Of the fire spot, the candidate says, "Branches are what people acquire in the way of wisdom... And then he reaches down and acquires a little more experience, a little more wisdom. Reaches down, picks up a little more wisdom. And then goes out and starts a fire."

"What does a fire represent?" Gravel asked rhetorically. "Fire represents light, heat, warmth. It's the sustenance of life."

Makes sense, I guess. Except for the part about "branches are what people acquire in the way of wisdom." I always thought those were "degrees."

So, anyway, yeah -- how about Mike Gravel, everybody?

Massive Number of White House Emails Deleted

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 7:09 AM PDT

Quick follow up on the missing emails story. Here's what we know: the White House has been using nongovernmental email addresses, specifically ones administered by the RNC, in order to keep its correspondence out of the hands of investigators and historians. Congress caught wind of these nongovernmental email addresses through an entirely separate investigation, looked into the issue, and found that many of the emails sent through the RNC had been deleted.

Now we find that many, many more have been deleted than previously thought. The White House originally said that about 50 White House officials had RNC email accounts. But Henry Waxman and his supersleuth committee have found that there were at least 88 officials with secondary email addresses, and that emails for 51 of them have been completely lost.

While this shakes ones trust in our government -- what do they have to hide? -- the good news is that this is a potential violation of the Presidential Records Act, and officials scared of being indicted may take immunity in exchange for ratting out their superiors. Eighty-eight officials with nongovernmental emails is a coordinated, deliberate attempt to drive a stake through the heart of open government, and it must have been directed at the highest levels. Further investigation of Rove, anyone?

Unqualified Employees: State Dep't Repeating Pentagon's and CPA's Mistakes in Iraq

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 6:36 AM PDT

One of the problems that hampered reconstruction in Iraq was that the Bush Administration hired young loyalists with no foreign policy experience to do extremely important and difficult jobs. In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran noted that potential employees seeking a position in Iraq were asked explicitly if they voted for George Bush in 2000, and some were even asked for their views on Roe v. Wade. Unsurprisingly, the people hired tried to implement tenets of conservative ideology instead of taking necessary and pragmatic steps.

So why stop now? The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq just complained to Condoleezza Rice in an unclassified memo that employees at the massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad are either too young for the job, are unqualified, and/or are "trying to save their careers" by taking an urgent assignment in Iraq.

"Simply put," wrote the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, "we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people." Sorry, Mr. Crocker. If this administration's track record is any indication, you'll be getting Bush-Cheney '04 opposition researchers and Heritage Foundation junior staffers. Good luck trying to protect America's interests in a failed state of our own making -- especially with those folks on your team.

The embassy in Baghdad is America's largest embassy in the world, with a 2007 budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that includes more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals. It is due for a $1.3 billion remodeling, which would renovate the 100+ acre compound and add a new pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, and the like. Whoops, forget I mentioned that.