Blogs

Worm Poop Threatens Corporate Profits

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

Some of the nation's biggest corporations have found that baseless lawsuits are often a useful tool for squashing upstart competition. The latest example of this kind of noxious behavior comes from Scotts Miracle-Gro, a $2 billion company that claims 60 percent of the nation's garden-care market. Earlier this year, Scotts sued the tiny New Jersey start-up TerraCycle, which sells fertilizer made from all-natural worm poop, packaged in recycled soda bottles. Scotts alleges that TerraCycle has copied its packaging design and engaged in false advertising.

TerraCycle was started by college students and has never made a profit, but has made in-roads into some of the bigger retail outlets. Apparently Scotts sees the worm poop as a threat. TerraCycle has fought back mainly with PR. They've put up a cheeky website that notes that the Scotts CEO gets a half-million dollars worth of "personal aircraft use" each year, while TerraCycle's CEO's biggest perk is unlimited free worm poop. The website also has some funny photos comparing the two companies' headquarters.

The PR has helped boost sales, but it's not likely to pay TerraCycle's legal bills. Scotts has demanded every last piece of paper from the company in discovery--everything from plans for future product development to the worm's dinner menu--as a way of driving up the costs of litigation. In the meantime, TerraCycle is asking its customers to write letters to the Scotts board asking the company to drop the lawsuit--and also is taking donations.

(H/T Law and More)

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One Language Disappears Every 14 Days

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 11:33 AM EDT

This is astounding news.

One of the world's 7,000 distinct languages disappears every 14 days, an extinction rate exceeding that of birds, mammals or plants, researchers said Tuesday.
At least 20% of the world's languages are in imminent danger of becoming extinct as their last speakers die off, compared with about 18% of mammals, 8% of plants and 5% of birds....
Half of the world's languages have disappeared in the last 500 years, and half of the remainder are likely to vanish during this century...

Fantastic quote from K. David Harrison, the expert on languages that is cited in the article: "When we lose a language, we lose centuries of thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday." Harrison works at something called the "Institute for Endangered Languages." Check that out here.

The folks there have identified the areas in the world where the most languages are going extinct, and it turns out one such hotspot is in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Click the link for more.

Update: Should have linked this earlier. Here's Mother Jones' recent cover story on animal extinction.

MoJo Staffers Spar Over The Weakerthans' Newest Album

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 9:47 PM EDT
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Gary Moskowitz, Online Editorial Fellow: I know I'm supposed to think all indie rock from Canada is cool (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene), but The Weakerthans' newest CD, Reunion Tour (Epitaph's Anti-, 2007), is weak—no pun intended. The songs are soft and gentle and polite, and not that memorable. In fact the music puts me to sleep.

Anna Weggel, Editorial Intern: Listen, Debbie Downer. You obviously didn't get past the fourth track. I dare you to listen to "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" without looking upward with quivering lips and slowly reliving the happiest moment of your life. Tell me, when was the last time you listened to a song sung from the viewpoint of a loveable, housebroken kitty?

GM: Loveable, housebroken kitties are cute and all, but these songs just aren't that fun. The fact that the band would even consider naming a song "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" is, to me, further proof that this music is best for sleepy time, not party time. That said, "Elegy for Gump Worsely" (once again, with the terrible song titles) has some cool banjo parts. "Night Windows" is one of those cutesy-pie indie songs that has pretty melodies, Johnny Marr-inspired guitar licks, and a pulsing, repetitive kick-drum. I'm cool with some of that.

AW: One of the most infectious little ditties I find is "Sun in an Empty Room," with its clear, repeated chorus that might make for a good prospective Kidz Bop tune someday (and we know once you've hit Kidz Bop, you've made it big). "Night Windows," which originally made me take notice of the band, is getting some play on The Current, my hometown indie public radio station. The Weakerthans is Ben Kweller meets Snow Patrol meets Ben Lee meets the Polyphonic Spree, minus the child chorus and, you know, the weirdness. And might I remind you that sleepy time tunes have just as much a place in the cool-kid music world as party time jams. Everybody likes a good nap, man.

iTunes Losing Download Dominance?

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 5:41 PM EDT

Stupid FrogSpiralfrog.com, an ad-supported free download service, launched today, and your iPod isn't invited to the party. By the way, doesn't that idiotic name bring you back to those heady internet startup days, when companies seemed to throw a dart at a color and an animal chart for their names? Redgorilla.com! Bluegiraffe.com! Anyway, that was good times. This Frog plans to feature over 2 million tracks within the next few months, most notably from Universal Music; the label had famously refused to renew a long-term contract with iTunes over pricing disagreements. SpiralFrog's business model, such as it is, requires you to click on their ads to keep downloading songs, and they promise "no threat of viruses," which I totally believe; I mean, why would the intertubes lie to us?

This development comes on the heels of NBC/Universal's recent decision to jump ship entirely from iTunes and take its video content to Amazon's new download service, the nearly-as-stupidly-named Unbox. It's a box, but not a box! Derrrr! Apparently 40% of iTunes movie content was from Universal, and this became all too clear for me recently. I was searching through the iTunes movie section to grab some entertainment for a plane trip, and found slim pickings (sorry, Wild Hogs and Aeon Flux, but I'd rather read the in-flight magazine). NBC's TV shows will also be exclusive to Amazon's service, which totally sucks since I watched the whole season of "30 Rock" on my iPod last year, and that's how I realized that was a good show. Sorry, Tina Fey.

While I'm all for competition, pulling your products from a popular store for spite just seems ridiculous, like, sorry, no orange juice at Safeway, we want to charge you twice as much at Albertson's. Customers forced to search for their favorite shows will just give up and buy something else, or do what I did and grab a Bittorrent of the Simpsons movie, and feel only slightly guilty during the scene of Bart writing "I will not illegally download this movie" on the blackboard.

Population Declines in Rural America

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 4:08 PM EDT

Rural blog The Daily Yonder says the American countryside is in trouble. Because of both natural population decrease and outmigration, rural counties are shrinking fast.

A cool map, created by USDA demographer Calvin Beale, shows the trend.

The reasons for the population decline are complicated, but one thing is clear: The new farm bill isn't helping.

DC Representation Fails in Senate, Mitch McConnell Explains Himself to Space Aliens

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 4:04 PM EDT

A cloture vote in the Senate just moments ago on whether or not D.C. residents will get congressional representation ended up with 57 Ayes and 42 Nos, meaning Democrats and moderate Republicans weren't able to find the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster organized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The citizens of DC will go without representation in Congress for another year, possibly two. For background, see my piece that published yesterday.

Here's my rendition of Mitch McConnell explaining this situation to a space alien.

McConnell: Wow, an alien.
Space alien: Mitch, we have abducted you because you are the most powerful man in the most powerful legislative body of the most robust democracy on Planet Earth.
McConnell: Oh, news must travel slow through outer space. You want Harry Reid.
Space alien: What?
McConnell: Forget it. Can I help you with something?
Space alien: Yes. We want an explanation of how your government works. Does everyone get representation in your national body?
McConnell: Um, no.
Space alien: Ah, only land-owning males of the dominant tribe or race are allowed to vote for their representatives.
McConnell: No.
Space alien: Any male of the dominant tribe or race, regardless of property ownership?
McConnell: No.
Space alien: Any male, regardless of tribe?
McConnell: No.
Space alien: Any male or female?
McConnell: No.
Space alien: Quite admirable, Mitch. Everyone of legal age can have a representative in your Congress?
McConnell: Everyone except the citizens of one city.
Space alien: Which city?
McConnell: Our capital city.
Space alien: Heavens to murgatroid! Surely they don't pay taxes in this arrangement.
McConnell: They do.
Space alien: Surely they do not fight in your wars.
McConnell: They do.
Space alien: And how do you justify this?
McConnell: ...
Space alien: Mitch?
McConnell: ...
Space alien: Surely you are doing something to end this unjust and obviously undemocratic arrangement.
McConnell: Actually, I just filibustered to maintain the status quo.
Space alien: ...

Updates: Here's your roll call. Republicans who voted with the Dems: Hatch (UT), Bennett (UT), Collins (ME), Snowe (ME), Coleman (MN), Lugar (IN), and Specter (PA). Democrat Max Baucus of Montana voted with the Republicans.

Update Update: The Plank slaps Baucus around for his incredibly stupid rational for voting against.

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Bearish About Global Warming

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 3:12 PM EDT

Reuters reports that a group of investors, state officials, and environmental advocates have filed a petition urging the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to force publicly-traded companies to disclose the "risks and benefits" they face as a result of global warming (of course, all prefer the more expansive and friendly-sounding phrase "climate change").

"Companies' financial condition increasingly depends upon their ability to avoid climate risk," reads the petition, signed by 22 officials and groups, representing $1.5 trillion in assets. The upshot is that in covering their assets, investors may force the corporate world generally to be more forthright about the coming "endless summer."

Survey Reveals Mixed Feelings about Brown v. Board of Ed

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 2:40 PM EDT

It's been 50 years since Pulaski County, Arkansas's Central High integrated, and believe it or not, some people still aren't so sure it was a good idea.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock called 1,666 people in Pulaski County and asked them about race relations in the community since the Central High crisis.

The majority of respondents (69 percent) said integration was a change for the better, but the demographic breakdown was pretty interesting: While 77 percent of African Americans surveyed said the crisis had a positive effect on the community, just 61 percent of whites did.

And some of the negative comments were real gems:

The black culture is different in a negative way and I don't want this influencing the white culture. - White female, 79 years old

Sometimes black teachers give special treatment to the black students, that affects the quality of education the white students receive. - White female, 55 years old

Oy.

CREW Releases Dossiers on 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 2:27 PM EDT

Our buddies at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) are doing what they do best: exposing and explaining the misdeeds, corruption, and ethical lapses of those in power. Their latest effort is their third annual "Most Corrupt Members of Congress" report. If you want in-depth info on 22 evildoers and two dishonorable mentions, click the link.

Eighteen of the twenty-two (and both dishonorable mentions) are Republicans, one of whom is actually running for president. The Senate Minority Leader (currently busy slapping democracy in the face) made the list, as did all three members of Alaska's delegation. Perhaps Alaska should consider electing a Democrat once in a while.

Tuesday: Doozy of a Music News Day

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 2:03 PM EDT

God Save the Queen

  • Reunion mania continues: John Lydon tells NME that the Sex Pistols will come together for a one-off concert at Brixton Academy November 8th, their first show since... oh, just since 2002. Yawn. NME tries to drum up excitement by spearheading a campaign to send "God Save the Queen" to #1 on the charts for its 30th anniversary, a position it was supposedly denied in 1977 by, you know, chart freemasons or whatever, desperate to preserve the Queen's dignity in her jubilee year.
  • With Kanye West on track to outsell 50 Cent by at least 100,000 records this week, Fiddy cancelled his U.K. promo appearances after selling less than Mr. West there as well; he had threatened to retire from solo albums if West won the sales race.
  • The venerable management company The Firm has dropped Britney Spears as a client, after only one month. The Firm was to spearhead Brit's comeback, but released a statement saying "current circumstances have prevented us from properly doing our job." Ouch.
  • Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, frustrated by high CD prices and distribution problems in Australia and China, respectively, is telling concert-goers to steal his music. A YouTube clip shows him telling a Sydney audience, "Steal it, steal away, give it to your friends." He also told a Beijing audience that because Western music is difficult to find via legal channels in China, that "downloading from the Internet is a more acceptable options than buying pirated CDs."