Blogs

TV: "Greatest Comedy Sketches" Inspire Deadly Serious Writing

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

mojo-photo-50greatest.jpgOkay, I'll bite: Nerve.com (the sexy website) and IFC.com (the, er, indie film channel's website) have combined forces for some reason to bring us a list of the Top 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. Sure, we've all got three hours to watch a bunch of YouTube videos of sketches we've all seen 100 times already. And I can ignore the fact that this joint venture requires one to jump back and forth between the two websites (opening a new browser window each time), and the fact that The State scored more entries than the Kids in the Hall. But it's the writing that does my head in: leaden descriptions of each sketch that are so brutally unfunny, they seem to siphon off the comedic energy of the sketches themselves. Check out this neutered portrait of Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch (#33):

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Updated: Obama's Hebrew Blog

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 1:53 PM EDT

Earlier today I passed on the news that according to Israel's Ynet news, Barack Obama today became the first US presidential candidate to start a Hebrew blog.

But an Obama aide, Sam Graham-Felsen, has since been in touch with my colleagues to say the new site is not an official one. "Some supporters made it on their own," Graham-Felson writes. "Obviously any official blog would be on barackobama.com and I would know about it." Oy vey, the perils of blogging. My apologies.

John McCain's Age: An Issue?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

Yesterday, the DNC released some internal polling it conducted on John McCain. There's nothing groundbreaking — some people know a lot about McCain, some don't; some can be swayed by new (presumably negative) information about McCain, some can't — but there is one interesting observation. When swing voters are asked about McCain, the "most frequently volunteered concerns" are his age (19%), his position on the Iraq War (18%), his support for continuing the policies of the Bush Administration (10%), and his positions on economic issues (8%).

That first number is pretty stunning: nearly twice as many people are worried about McCain's age — he'll be 72 in August — than his manifold similarities to a failed president who has an approval rating hovering around 30 percent.

But will the Democrats make an issue of McCain's age? Not according to party chairman Howard Dean, who said yesterday, "I doubt we will bring it up in the election." Dean tried to portray the decision as a moral one: "There is somewhat of a higher ethical bar on what we do. We don't have any Lee Atwaters or Karl Roves on our side." In reality, Dean is probably unwilling to risk upsetting the AARP vote, which turns out reliably and doesn't want to hear that an energetic man of its age should be disqualified from holding office. Age discrimination, and all that.

That doesn't mean age won't be an issue. There will be independent liberal groups, not to mention liberal blogs, that will be all too happy to suggest McCain is "too old-fashioned" or "out of touch with modern views." Heck, even the Democratic nominee can play this game — a surrogate can "accidentally" make a comment that inserts age into the national debate, and then apologize the next day after the damage is done.

And of course, every story and blog post that debates whether age should be an issue makes age an issue.

I'm Not Crazy, Sexism Is

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

More, as if we were running low, on sexism, its pervasiveness, and its actual effect on its victims.

From mindhacks.com:

Female anger at work seen as worse, a character flaw:

Psychological Science has just published an eye-opening study that found that women who express anger at work were thought of more negatively than men and were assumed to be 'angry people' or 'out of control'. Male colleagues who did the same were typically viewed in a more positive light and were assumed to be upset by circumstances.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

So who's crazier: a woman who expresses basic human emotions appropriately based on relevant stimuli? Or the man who 'sees' anger differently based on the presence, or lack, of a penis on said angry person. But wait, female evaluators also came to the same conclusions when observing angry people in the workplace. Men get angry. Women go insane. And are professionally punished for it.


Medical Nonprofit Designed for 3rd World Helps Here at Home

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

This is a heartbreaking look at the uninsured and underinsured in America, and one nonprofit that is doing what it can to help them. If you've got 13 minutes, watch it through the end — the last two minutes are excellent.

If you were looking for a place to make a charitable donation...

Petraeus for Prez? Not Likely

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 11:40 AM EDT

The four-star tries to put this rumor to rest.

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Exclusive: Read the Internal Documents Exposing the Former Secret Service Agents Who Went Through Greenpeace's Trash

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 5:10 AM EDT

A Mother Jones exclusive investigation has revealed that a security firm run by cops and former Secret Service agents spied on Greenpeace, Fenton Communications, the Center for Food Safety, and other progressive groups. The most interesting company communiques you weren't supposed to see? Check out the glow-in-the-dark Taco Bell emails and the handwritten notes about which green groups to dumpster-dive in D.C. We've made them public for the first time; they're available on the site here. You'll have to read James Ridgeway's story itself to find out about the Mary Kay cosmetics, Obama, and Scientology angles, though.

Yes, it's weird. Wait'll you get to the Greenpeace undercover operatives part.

Watch Bitter Enemies Make Nice on Bloggingheads.tv

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:20 AM EDT

Not really, but it's a great example of how we reach across the color divide to figure out how to learn to live in peace with each other. It's a video of me and Ross Douthat of The Atlantic. It was fun and I actually learned useful things about the quote-unquote white POV.

Lock Up CO2 In DVDs

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 10:26 PM EDT

71519130_a643617ede_m.jpg Here's an idea. Carbon dioxide removed from smokestack emissions could become a valuable raw material for the production of polycarbonate plastics in eyeglass lenses, car headlamps, DVDs, CDs, and drink bottles. The processes involved would offer less expensive, safer and greener products, researchers suggested in two separate reports presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"Carbon dioxide is readily available, especially from the smokestack of industries that burn coal and other fossil fuels," says chemist Thomas Müller. "And it's a very cheap starting material. If we can replace more expensive starting materials with CO2, then you'll have an economic driving force." There's already a huge market, and millions of tons of polycarbonates are sold each year. But what hasn't been factored in is that these hard, tough materials represent what Müller calls "intriguing sinks" for exhaust carbon dioxide. In fact, there's no other consumer product with such potential for removing CO2 from the environment.

So, we may be drinking from a CO2 plastic bottle (well, hopefully not) and watching movies on waste-CO2 DVDs (well, preferably streaming) soon. "I would say it's a matter of a few years before CO2-derived polymers are available to the public," says Müller.

Good idea: make polycarbonates from waste CO2. Better idea: make less pollution and less polycarbonate plastics.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Flower Scent Destroyed by Air Pollution

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 9:16 PM EDT

86496697_f9d2addeda_m.jpg Air pollution is destroying the fragrance of flowers and preventing pollinating insects from following scent trails to their source. The research from the University of Virginia indicates that power plants and automobiles are behind at least some of the decline of wild pollinators, like bees.

According to Jose Fuentes, co-author of the study, the scent molecules produced by flowers in the less polluted environment of the 1800s could travel up to 4,000 feet. Today, downwind of major cites, they may travel only 700 feet. This makes it increasingly difficult for pollinators to find flowers. The result, potentially, is a vicious cycle where pollinators struggle to find enough food to sustain their populations, and populations of flowering plants don't get pollinated sufficiently to proliferate and diversify. [Sound familiar?]

The scent molecules produced by flowers are highly volatile and quickly bond with pollutants such as ozone, hydroxyl and nitrate radicals, which destroy their aromas. So the flowers no longer smell like flowers. This forces pollinators to search farther and longer and possibly to rely more on sight and less on smell. Using a mathematical model of how scents travel with the wind, the team found it apparent that air pollution destroys the aroma of flowers by as much as 90 percent from periods before automobiles and heavy industry. The more air pollution in a region, the greater the destruction of the flower scents.

Just in case we don't already have enough reasons to tackle emissions.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.