Blogs

The Price of Saving Homes from Forest Fires

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 3:04 PM EDT

It takes money to fight fires, and the bigger the fire, the more expensive it is. With all the news of wildfires in the west, it's interesting to learn that it costs the Forest Service a billion dollars a year to protect homes in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). High Country News has an interesting post today about a report on the cost of fighting fires in the WUI.

Some interesting tidbits from the report:

* Only 14% of forested western private land adjacent to public land is currently developed for residential use. Based on current growth trends, there is tremendous potential for future development on the remaining 86%.

* Given the skyrocketing cost of fighting wildfires in recent years (on average $1.3 billion each year between 2000-2005), this potential development would create an unmanageable financial burden for taxpayers.

* If homes were built in 50% of the forested areas where private land borders public land, annual firefighting costs could range from $2.3 billion to $4.3 billion per year. By way of comparison, the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget is approximately $4.5 billion.

* One in five homes in the wildland urban interface is a second home or cabin, compared to one in twenty-five homes on other western private lands.

* Residential lots built near wildlands take up more than six times the space of homes built in other places. On average, 3.2 acres per person are consumed for housing in the wildland urban interface, compared to 0.5 acres on other western private lands.

Protecting the WUI from future development, it seems, would be a step in the right direction. But till that happens, there are some pretty interesting ethical questions to wrestle with. Here's one: Do second-home owners have as much of a right as first-home owners to build in the WUI, if firefighters must risk their lives—and spend taxpayer money—to save vacation cabins?

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Richardson Courts the Fat Vote

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

Presidential candidates are famous for promising wars against various social ills—the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, etc.—but Bill Richardson may be the first to launch the "War on Fat." Richardson, who has shed 30 pounds over the past year, bragged yesterday that he was the only person running for president to address The Obesity Society.

In an open appeal to the 66 percent of Americans who now tip the scales as officially overweight, Richardson called for covering the obese under the Americans With Disabilities Act and for federal funding for college PE classes. Future campaign posters to read: "Richardson Fights Freshman 15!"

Wanna Have Breakfast with Turd Blossom?

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

Well, thanks to dark prince Robert Novak, you can for the low, low price of $595... See Radar Online.

Beasties to Add Lyrics to Mix-Up

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 2:19 PM EDT

Beasties
Hey, those guys are stealing my idea for a mash-up album! Oh wait, if you made the original I guess it's not stealing. Billboard reports the no longer boyish (if basically beastly) Beastie Boys are planning to release a remixed version of their instrumental album, The Mix-Up; artists tapped for inclusion on the new mix include rapper M.I.A., former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, and visa-denial poster child Lily Allen. In other words, as Adam "MCA" Yauch said, "a bunch of British people."

No word on whether the vocalists will be contributing existing a capellas or writing new material for the album, either would be interesting I guess, although it'd be hard to make The Mix-Up more boring. Perhaps the band were inspired by The Beastles, the multiple-album project from Boston's DJ BC?

Scooter Needs Your Help!

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:51 PM EDT

From a recent Mary Matalin letter written on behalf of Scooter Libby: "Scooter should never have even been put on trial. His conviction was an absolute and total miscarriage of justice." Uh huh, and? "Scooter still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding legal bills from his trial." Ohhh. "These bills need to be paid immediately." Yikes. Sorry, somehow I think giving to the Red Cross might be a bit more worthwhile. But try me again next year, when this thing is still on appeal.

You'd think this guy would be better at raising Scooter some dough.

Pitchfork's Gender (and Name) Imbalance

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:43 PM EDT

PitchforkPitchfork, like it or not, is at the center of the indie-rock whirlwind. The music site has been credited with launching the careers of Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and more; a good review can create a fan base (hello, Girl Talk) or push you off the map (too many to count). And yes, we're aware that music criticism is a traditionally male enterprise (just as indie rock is), but Gawker points out today that the male-to-female ratio over at the Fork may be even higher than you'd suspect. In an accounting of the genders and names of reviewers on 10 days of four random months, they found that reviews by guys named Mark always outnumbered reviews by women of any name, usually by at least 2-to-1. For instance, in March of 2007, out of 50 sampled reviews, there were two by women, and ten by dudes named Mark. Well, what can I say: dudes named Mark like bands named Animal Collective.

People love to hate on Pitchfork, but you have to know how to read it: ignore their snarky, sub-3.0 reviews, meant to make a point of some sort; don't feel bad if one of your favorite CDs gets a 5.3; but always, always search out and listen to things they like. Overwhelmingly male (and Mark-y) or not, it's hard not to celebrate a home for such in-depth music criticism of usually-overlooked artists. I just wish they weren't becoming the judgemental high school clique that I'm sure oppressed all of them in actual high school.

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How Refreshing: A Secretary of Defense with Common Sense and a Grasp on Reality

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

Let's see what we were missing by being too cheap to pay for (the now extinct) TimesSelect...

Oh, here's a David Brooks column revealing that the Secretary of Defense rejects several of the main tenets of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Nice. From a recent Robert Gates speech:

Throughout the messy years that followed, Gates explained, we have made deals with tyrants to defeat other tyrants. We've championed human rights while doing business with some of the worst violators of human rights....
Two themes ran through his speech. First, the tragic ironies of history — the need to compromise with evil in order to do good. And second, patience — the need to wait as democratic reforms slowly develop.

Using this logic, Gates would likely argue that we should be actively engaging Iran and Syria, regime's we don't approve of, in order to bring order to Iraq. And he would argue that, since "democratic reforms slowly develop," invading countries unaccustomed to democracy and foisting it upon their people isn't too bright. What else?

"I don't think you invade Iraq to bring liberty. You do it to eliminate an unstable regime and because sanctions are breaking down and you get liberty as a byproduct," he continued. I asked him whether invading Iraq was a good idea, knowing what we know now. He looked at me for a bit and said, "I don't know."

Well, that's just about the most honest thing a high-level Bush Administration official has ever said in public. You might claim that Bush's best decision in the Iraq War was appointing this guy to be SecDef. You might also claim that Bush's worst decision was waiting so freaking long.

And wait, Gates isn't done.

I asked him if it was a good idea to encourage elections in the Palestinian territories. He didn't directly address the question, but he noted: "Too often elections are equated with democracy and freedom."
I asked about how we can promote freedom in Iran while taking care of security threats. He emphasized soft power.

It's official! He's the anti-Cheney!

Fox's Hypocrisy on Sally Field Revealed

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

Surely you remember a few days back when Fox censored Sally Field at the Emmy's because she tried to say the line, "If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn't be any goddamned wars in the first place."

At the time, I wondered if it was because Field was making a political statement or if it was because she said the word "goddamned." To censor her for making an anti-war statement that innocuous would reveal their political leanings too blatantly, right? It was probably just the language she used.

Wrong. It turns out, assuming the worst out of Fox is always the right choice. This video by Robert Greenwald shows that not only have Fox commentators used the word "goddam" in the past, they've thrown it around playfully.

Now, admittedly, Field said the word on Fox, a network, and the commentators in this video said it on Fox News, a cable station. But that shouldn't make a difference. According to the FCC, here are the standards for censoring material on any TV channel:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law.
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

This situation doesn't fall into any of those three categories. Moreover, there is no list of words that are banned completely, ala George Carlin's seven dirty words, and in this FCC ruling, "goddam" is specifically categorized as "not profane."

(H/T Think Progress)

Mitt Romney and the Formula Makers

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 11:27 AM EDT

Public health officials across the country have been trying to address record-low rates of breastfeeding among American women, a move that threatens the enormous profits of formula companies (pharma giants all). So the formula makers have responded aggressively, lobbying successfully to water down federal breastfeeding promotion campaigns, among other things.

No good lobbying campaign, of course, comes without the creation of an Astroturf group to demonstrate "grassroots" support for the cause. The formula makers have recently launched two of them, with websites, www.momsfeedingfreedom.com and www.babyfeedingchoice.org, both of which proclaim to champion women's "right to choose" formula. Interestingly, MomsFeedingFreedom is the product of the very same web consulting firm that works for presidential contender Mitt Romney, reports Mothering Magazine this month.

Romney and the formula companies have a long history together. Back in 2005, his state became the first in the nation to ban the distribution of formula samples in hospitals, a move backed by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. But as governor, Romney pressured the Massachusetts Public Health Council to overturn the ban. When it refused, he fired three members of the council and replaced them with members who voted shortly afterwards to allow formula back into the hospitals. Romney clearly won't be the "breast is best" candidate in '08...

(H/T Center for Media and Democracy)

Group Sues Pentagon Over First Amendment Religion Issue

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 8:14 PM EDT

Yesterday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Army Major Paul Welborne. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that Army specialist Jeremy Hall, who is currently serving in Iraq, had his First Amendment rights violated last Thanksgiving when he was threatened and otherwise harrassed because he declined to participate in a Thanksgiving prayer ceremony.

According to Hall, who is an atheist, when he refused to join hands with other soldiers and pray, he was told by a staff sergeant (who first had to ask someone what an atheist was) that he could not eat Thanksgiving dinner with his peers. Hall, however, continued to eat his dinner at the table.

According to the complaint, in August, Hall received permission from a military chaplain to organize a group for atheist soldiers, but when the group met, Major Welborne broke it up, and also threatened to charge Hall with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hall says that Welborne further threatened him that he would block Hall's re-enlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet. Hall alleges that Welborne disrupted the meeting and confronted those in attendance.

Hall's complaint is not unique. Just last month, the Pentagon's Inspector General responded to a complaint by an MRFF that Defense Department officials violated their own regulations by appearing in a video to promote a fundamentalist Christian organization.

A spokesman for the MRFF has indicated that the Hall lawsuit is just the first of many.