Blogs

People Picks up on Hypermiling Guru

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

hypermilers100x120.jpgThe just-released August 13, 2007, edition of People magazine features stories on Star Jones' weight loss, Britney Spears' custody battle, and ... hypermiling? That's right, People has exactly 1 page covering the slightly wacky, fuel-effecient style of driving of Wayne Gerdes, the obsessive hybrid owner we featured in the magazine earlier this year.

Gerdes, the "king" of hypermiling, who glides his way toward 100 mpg in an ordinary Honda Accord, shares tips on how to use big rigs to reduce air resistance, and how to slow down without braking, in our article, but with People, readers learn about fuel-efficiency obsession on one page and the summer's hottest strapless dresses on the next. What would we do without People?

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British to U.S. Forces in Afghanistan: Get Out

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:01 PM EDT

Guess who British forces in southern Afghanistan see as creating an intolerably high number of civilian casualties? If you guessed the Taliban, you're wrong. If you guessed the Americans, you've been paying attention for the last four years. Are we really making things worse, not better, in both halves of our Middle Eastern misadventure?

From the New York Times:

A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

The Times tells the story of an Afghani man whose village lost 20 people in an American airstrike launched after Taliban fighters passed through. Six of the dead were family members; the living did not fare much better.

His son, Bashir Ahmed, 2, listless and stick thin, seemed close to death. The boy and his sister Muzlifa, 7, bore terrible shrapnel scars. NATO doctors had removed shrapnel from the boy's abdomen at the time of the raid and had warned his father that he might not survive, but two months later he was still hanging on.... His wife lost an arm, and the children's grandmother was killed, he said.
...He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents.

So American airstrikes are driving civilians into the arms of the Taliban. And what can the British forces on the ground use to make survivors forget their grief and not turn against the westerners? A few measly bucks.

Maj. Dominic Biddick, commander of a company of British soldiers in Sangin, is making a big effort to ease the anger and pain as his men patrol the villages. He has a $5,000 good-will fund and hands out cash to victims he comes across, like the farmer whose two sons were shot in the fields during a recent operation.

The magnitude of that insult is unimaginable. The dishonor and the disgust a father must feel when offered cash (in some amount under $5,000, no less) to compensate for the loss of two sons — that's truly brutal.

The total number of civilians dead in the region of Helmand this year has been estimated at 300, "the vast majority of them caused by foreign and Afghan forces, rather than the Taliban," according to the Times.

El Paso Opens Largest Inland Desalination Plant

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

Yesterday El Paso marked the opening of what will be the world's largest inland desalination plant, a project 15 years in the making that will aim to provide water for the nearly million residents of the area for the next 50 years.

Most desalination outfits are in coastal areas, for obvious reasons. This one will pull water from an aquifer of brackish water yet untapped hundreds of feet underground. The project costs a cool $87 million and will require multiple wells and several dozen miles of pipeline to connect the aquifer to the plant. Backers hope the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant will serve as a model for inland cities and water supply.

The driving force behind this project—and the reason Texas was able to secure $27 million in federal funding—is the expansion of Fort Bliss, the city's Army base, which is set to grow by more than 20,000 troops by 2011. Fort Bliss is already the second largest military installation in the country (next to neighboring White Sands Missile Range), covering an area roughly the size of Rhode Island.

Reminiscing the Cold War Over Guam

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 2:13 PM EDT

According to news reports (here and here), two Russian Tu-95MS bombers flew to Guam yesterday, where Russian Major General Pavel Androsov said they "exchanged smiles" with the U.S. fighter pilots who scrambled to meet them. "It has always been the tradition of our long-range aviation to fly far into the ocean, to meet [U.S.] aircraft carriers and greet [U.S. pilots] visually," Androsov told reporters today at a news conference. "Yesterday we revived this tradition, and two of our young crews paid a visit to the area of the base of Guam."

Such long-haul (and politically charged) flights were common during the Cold War, but were suspended after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin, flush with oil money, has apparently ordered the flights to resume as part of a push to reinvigorate the Russian armed forces. Yesterday's sortie began at a Russian airbase near Blagoveshchensk in the Far East and flew a 13-hour round trip to Guam. According to Reuters:

President Vladimir Putin has sought to make Russia more assertive in the world. Putin has boosted defense spending and sought to raise morale in the armed forces, which were starved of funding following the fall of the Soviet Union...
Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow office director of the Washington-based World Security Institute, said he saw nothing extraordinary in Moscow sending its bombers around the globe.
"This practice as such never stopped, it was only scaled down because there was less cash available for that," he said.
"It doesn't cost much to flex your muscles ... You can burn fuel flying over your own land or you can do it flying somewhere like Guam, in which case political dividends will be higher."
The bombers give Russia the capability of launching a devastating nuclear strike even if the nuclear arsenals on its own territory are wiped out.

Newspapers 'Pay It Forward'

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 1:41 PM EDT

Minneapolis has been on the minds of many since the devastating events of last week. But being on people's minds wasn't enough for some; one newspaper took it a step further. To hear more about the benevolence of the media industry, continue reading this post on our arts and culture blog, The Riff.

Glenn Greenwald Will Not Be Hired by Brookings Anytime Soon

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 11:51 AM EDT

Glenn Greenwald's mini-discourse on the completely fallible Foreign Policy Community is the smartest and most thought-provoking thing I've read this week. Attendant readings include the Samantha Power memo that spurred Greenwald's thinking and and the Matt Yglesias blog post that echoes Greenwald and adds another angle.

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Joe Biden: Consider Criminal Charges Against Administration

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 11:43 AM EDT

Joe Biden recently sat down with Newsweek to discuss his presidential campaign and his thoughts on 35 years in the Senate. When asked about impeachment, Biden said he's against the idea because impeachment proceedings would paralyze Congress and take the nation's focus off other, more important matters. But he has a pretty stunning Plan B.

The alternative, and it's taken me time to think through, I think we should be acquiring and accumulating all the data that is appropriate for possibly bringing criminal charges against members of this administration at a later date.

Somebody call Elizabeth de la Vega! She's already made the case.

Oh, and you can put to rest those rumors that Biden, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of Washington's most informed foreign policy experts, is campaigning in order to be named Secretary of State.

I promise you, I don't want to be secretary of State.

Clear enough? He's also a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, so maybe instead of running State, Biden can be in charge of those criminal prosecutions.

Newspapers 'Pay It Forward'

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 8:21 PM EDT

Minneapolis has been on the minds of many since the devastating events of last week. But being on people's minds wasn't enough for some; one newspaper took it a step further. The Roanoke Times, a Virginia newspaper, sent a snack bundle including pork rinds, cupcakes, and other "delicacies" to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week.

But this isn't the first instance of this type of dogoodery among media cohorts. It appears the tradition began with the Oklahoman, which sent the Roanoke Times a similar box after the Virginia Tech massacre. The Oklahoman staff obviously understands the stresses placed upon local publications when disaster strikes an area, having lived through the Oklahoma City bombing. Looks like the Roanoke Times is just paying it forward.

—Anna Weggel

Pearl Jam Lollapalooza Webcast Censored

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 7:09 PM EDT

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Pearl Jam have released a statement on their website saying that certain political content was cut from the AT&T "Blue Room" live webcast of their performance at Lollapalooza on Sunday night. Fans informed the band of the missing content.

At live shows, lead singer Eddie Vedder often replaces or changes certain phrases in their songs; in this instance, during an extended rendition of "Daughter," he sang the lines "George Bush, leave this world alone," and "George Bush, find yourself another home," to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." Both lines were excised from the webcast.

When contacted, AT&T confirmed the editing, calling it a mistake. A representative told CMJ the cuts were "an unfortunate mistake made by a webcast editor." Pearl Jam responded by saying, "This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media." The band plan to post the uncut performance on their website soon.

Turkey, Iraq Unite in Opposition to PKK

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 5:47 PM EDT

I've written recently (here and here) about rumors that the Turkish military may be preparing to go after PKK fighters based in Iraqi Kurdistan. The latest news is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have signed an agreement to take on PKK forces based in northern Iraq's remote Kandil Mountains, near the Iranian border. As Maliki told a gathering of reporters in Ankara:

We found a mutual understanding with the Turkish side about the need to co-operate to confront the activities of all terrorist organisations in Iraq, including the PKK... There was agreement to unite our joint efforts to find a solution that will end, eliminate, and cancel [the PKK's] presence on Iraqi territory through shared action by both parties.

So, is it really going to be that easy? Should we write off the PKK altogether? Nope, not according to Time's Andrew Lee Butters in Beirut. You can read his thoughts here.