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Bad Math = More Extinctions

We may be underestimating extinction risks by as much as 100-fold. The problem is that current extinction models treat all individual members as the same. You know, one polar bear is more or less a behavioral, programmed clone of the next polar bear. Ooops. Not so. A new model finds that random differences—male-to-female sex ratios, size differences, behavioral variations—affect individuals' survival rates and...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 5:02 PM EDT

gone_rhino_300x398.jpg We may be underestimating extinction risks by as much as 100-fold. The problem is that current extinction models treat all individual members as the same. You know, one polar bear is more or less a behavioral, programmed clone of the next polar bear.

Ooops. Not so. A new model finds that random differences—male-to-female sex ratios, size differences, behavioral variations—affect individuals' survival rates and reproductive success. These differences don't just ripple outward. They tsunami outward into the overall population. Consequently, extinction rates for endangered species can be orders of magnitude higher than conservation biologists previously believed.

The model developed by Brett Melbourne of Colorado University Boulder and Alan Hastings of the University of California Davis monitored populations of beetles in lab cages. "The results showed the old models misdiagnosed the importance of different types of randomness, much like miscalculating the odds in an unfamiliar game of cards because you didn't know the rules," says Melbourne.

Some high-profile endangered species like mountain gorillas are already tracked individually. But for many others, like stocks of fish, biologists only measure abundance and population fluctuations. "It's these species that are most likely to be misdiagnosed," says Melbourne. "We suggest that extinction risk for many populations… need to be urgently re-evaluated with full consideration of all factors contributing to stochasticity, or randomness."

The IUCN Red List tallies more than 16,000 species threatened with extinction worldwide. One in four mammal species, one in eight bird species and one in three amphibian species are teetering on the brink. The new study in Nature, "Extinction risk depends strongly on factors contributing to stochasticity," makes those numbers look tame.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Ian Curtis' Gravestone Stolen

News of the Weird: The gravestone marking the final resting place of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis has been stolen, reports the BBC. The singer committed suicide in 1980. Officials say that the memorial, inscribed with the words "Ian Curtis 18-5-80 Love Will Tear Us Apart," was taken from Macclessfield Cemetery in Cheshire, England sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday. A police spokesman told...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 4:56 PM EDT

mojo-photo-iancurtisgrave.jpgNews of the Weird: The gravestone marking the final resting place of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis has been stolen, reports the BBC. The singer committed suicide in 1980. Officials say that the memorial, inscribed with the words "Ian Curtis 18-5-80 Love Will Tear Us Apart," was taken from Macclessfield Cemetery in Cheshire, England sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday. A police spokesman told the BBC that the lack of area security cameras means they have "no apparent leads." Okay, stop just a minute. This is a singer whose stature just keeps rising, with two movies about him in the last couple years, and whose short, troubled life and self-inflicted death means he's one of the great cult figures of our time; his gravestone features the title of his band's biggest hit, and nobody was watching it? Plus, doesn't England have CCTV cameras trained on everybody at all times? Where are they when you need them? Boy, this is making me depressed. I need to watch a Joy Division video. Join me in despair, won't you, after the jump.

Video: DNC Hammers McCain on Economic Double Talk

He basically asked them to make this video... Background....

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 3:41 PM EDT

He basically asked them to make this video...

Background.

Confidential to Amy Winehouse

I'm worried about little Amy. I'm not a huge fan of her music, but I liked Rehab and her whole downtown, big hair, hard partying girl schtick. She's the antithesis of the fake-squeaky clean, "I'll pretend to be a virgin," blonde plastic Barbie Hollywood crams down our throats everyday. But that was when I thought she knew what her limits, however stratospheric, were. Clearly,...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 2:20 PM EDT

winehouse-250x400.jpgI'm worried about little Amy.

I'm not a huge fan of her music, but I liked Rehab and her whole downtown, big hair, hard partying girl schtick. She's the antithesis of the fake-squeaky clean, "I'll pretend to be a virgin," blonde plastic Barbie Hollywood crams down our throats everyday.

But that was when I thought she knew what her limits, however stratospheric, were. Clearly, she does not. Way she's going, she's gonna wake up dead one day, as a grizzled old west Texas cowboy I used to know put it.

Girlfriend, fresh from a collapse and a grim diagnosis, just spoiled her reemergence by cold cocking a fan during a concert. Now, it's every woman's right—nay, her duty—to slap the crap out of any man who gropes her, but given the increasing likelihood that record companies may rethink their investment in what may be a very short career, Winehouse might oughta have let those enormous bouncers flanking her flatten the twerp. Amy, Amy, Amy—what are you doing?

But here's what I also dread: That bad-ass Amy Winehouse will get straight...and then go straight.

McCain Denies Ever Saying He Lacks Expertise on Economy

John McCain is a honest dude. Sure, he flip-flops on stuff (see the bottom of this post), but he utters...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

John McCain is a honest dude. Sure, he flip-flops on stuff (see the bottom of this post), but he utters truths that a lot of other politicians wouldn't. A perfect example is his statement from December 2007: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." He's said similar things as well.

Problem is, uttering truths doesn't help you run for president. (Shocker, right? Is it a sign of a fundamental idealism or innocence that writing that statement genuinely upset me?) So now McCain is not just insisting that he does have economic expertise, he's actually denying that he said the statement in question. Think Progress has the depressing, not-very-honest details. Running for president makes messes of good men.

Report: Interrogation Instructors at Gitmo Taught Communist Tactics from 1950s

Really? When the military was copying old communist torture tactics verbatim, no one thought, Hey, this doesn't seem like a...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 11:20 AM EDT

Really? When the military was copying old communist torture tactics verbatim, no one thought, Hey, this doesn't seem like a very American way of doing things?

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure."
What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

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One More Clinton Campaign Post-Mortem: No Hierarchy, No Trust, No Comity

There's a new Vanity Fair article on the squabblings of Hillary Clinton's key campaign advisers. As you would expect, it...

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

There's a new Vanity Fair article on the squabblings of Hillary Clinton's key campaign advisers. As you would expect, it feels about two months out of date, but it's still well-reported. The dysfunction described — some of the folks at the top of the Clinton campaign really couldn't stand each other — really makes you wonder how the campaign ran at all. Here's an excerpt, for short-term nostalgia's sake:

It was impossible to find anyone who could lay out the hierarchy of Hillary's campaign. Almost everybody had veto power, but no one could initiate. The group was about as effective as the U.N. Security Council. After Super Tuesday and Obama's remarkable run of February victories, it was clear their arrogantly defended strategies had failed. They became consumed with trading personal invective, hurling expletives, and trashing one another in print.
[Mark] Penn and [Harold] Ickes especially hated each other. Penn was a protégé of the most poisonous character in the Clinton White House, pollster Dick Morris. Leon Panetta, who had battled against Morris's morally empty advice in the '96 campaign, compared Penn to Karl Rove and saw Hillary's dependence on Penn as an ominous sign. "Morris had no lines between right and wrong," says Panetta. "There are moments when [the Clintons] want to hear from the dark side because that may be the only way to win.… Losing is not part of their vocabulary. They know no limits when it comes to the energy and tactics they will use—no matter how distasteful."

Everyone takes digs at everyone in the piece. It's an ugly scene, and it undercuts the claims of greater executive management skills — "Think about the [election] as a hiring decision!" HRC used to say — that Clinton made when running against Obama.

The Dust-Off: The Feelies

The New York Times today celebrates the return of the Feelies, the legendary New Jersey band whose minimal, focused strumming influenced bands from R.E.M. to Sonic Youth. The Feelies are opening for der Yoof at a free show in Battery Park this Friday night (which doesn't sound like any fun at all, arrrgh!), and the Times article is appropriately effusive, calling the band a...

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 6:38 PM EDT

mojo-photo-feelies.jpgThe New York Times today celebrates the return of the Feelies, the legendary New Jersey band whose minimal, focused strumming influenced bands from R.E.M. to Sonic Youth. The Feelies are opening for der Yoof at a free show in Battery Park this Friday night (which doesn't sound like any fun at all, arrrgh!), and the Times article is appropriately effusive, calling the band a "vivid apparition," and quoting various musical luminaries who give them props. But despite their influence, the band never really had mainstream success, and it seems like they're below the radar of most of today's kids. Unbelievably, their brilliant 1980 LP Crazy Rhythms isn't even on iTunes. Well, dammit, I'm getting out my scratchy old vinyl and putting it on the record player.

Boots Riley: F Bombs Not Cool in Norfolk

After dropping some variation of the F word at a live performance in Virginia with Galactic recently, Boots Riley, front man for Oakland's hip-hop/funk group The Coup, got slapped with abusive language charges from local police. Riley, who Mother Jones profiled in our November/December 2007 issue, claimed the charges were racially motivated, part of a backlash from a recent Afr'Am Festival in Norfolk, at...

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

boots-180.jpgAfter dropping some variation of the F word at a live performance in Virginia with Galactic recently, Boots Riley, front man for Oakland's hip-hop/funk group The Coup, got slapped with abusive language charges from local police.

Riley, who Mother Jones profiled in our November/December 2007 issue, claimed the charges were racially motivated, part of a backlash from a recent Afr'Am Festival in Norfolk, at which gospel and R&B performances allegedly generated noise complaints.

The incident is not the first like it for Boots:

Forecast for Solar: Cloudy

Now that the Bureau of Land Management is deferring solar projects on public land, the forecast for solar energy seems a bit cloudy. What happened? Just over a year ago, the BLM was actively encouraging solar projects to be shuttled through in a "timely manner." Then it teamed up with the Department of Energy "to assess the environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with...

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 6:06 PM EDT

Solar_energy_power_266094_l.jpgNow that the Bureau of Land Management is deferring solar projects on public land, the forecast for solar energy seems a bit cloudy. What happened?

Just over a year ago, the BLM was actively encouraging solar projects to be shuttled through in a "timely manner." Then it teamed up with the Department of Energy "to assess the environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with solar energy development."