Blue Marble

One More Problem With Wind Power: Space Aliens Ramming Our Windmills

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 6:55 PM EST

Via the New York Times comes this ITN report about a wind turbine in England that seems to have been hit by an unidentified flying object, which we can only assume was an alien spacecraft. Apparently local observers saw lights moving rapidly across the sky one night last week, and the next morning, it was discovered that a nearby wind farm's turbine had been damaged, with one blade missing and one bent. Sure, the Guardian says it could have been an ice chunk or fireworks, and the idea that intergalactic superbeings could manage to fly here across the vast reaches of space but aren't smart enough to avoid fender-benders with windmills doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense, but never mind, the spooky video report is highly entertaining. They can't find the missing blade!! Plus, there's got to be a way for Republicans to turn this news into a call for more drilling, right?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Some Enviros Hate Obama's EPA Pick

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 5:53 PM EST

eastickmarr.gif Only a few of Obama's cabinet nominations have received any criticism during this transition period; most have been fuss-free. But Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection since 2006 and Obama's pick to head the enervated Environmental Protection Agency, has been slammed by an environmental nonprofit called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that has blasted her in the toughest terms, calling her incompetent, weak, and unaccomplished.

Other environmental groups are cheering Jackson as she heads to the Senate for a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. But PEER has produced pages and pages of research (PDFs available here) that it claims serve as an indictment of her 31-month tenure as the Garden State's top environmental officer. The organization points out that in 2006 Jackson said publicly that "developing a new ranking system to prioritize" polluted sites due for cleanup was "the most important thing" her department was working on. Without a ranking system for the state's more than 15,000 contaminated sites — the longest such list in the nation — her department could not identify New Jersey's most dire pollution problems. But, PEER complains, Jackson never delivered a ranking system and then proposed to outsource clean-up responsibilities to private contractors. Jeff Ruch, the executive director of PEER, says, "She never developed a coherent plan. This was supposed to be her specialty, because the time she had spent previously at the EPA was spent on toxic cleanup. But she never displayed any expertise in a way that was helpful."

Is America Post-Racism?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 8:00 PM EST

Short answer: No.

CNN reports the latest study showing anti-black racism in action. It's one of those scenarios where a white says something horribly racist after the lone black leaves the room and none of the whites react. The beauty part of this study, though, was later asking participants who they wanted to be paired with on another exercise—the black who'd been dissed 'without his knowledge,' or the white who'd done the racist dissing. Guess who most whites chose.

It's reasonable to expect lots of folks not to speak up when hearing racist doggerel, even if they object to it. But to then choose the racist as a partner over the black he insulted pretty much settles the question.

The New Yorker on Breastfeeding

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 4:07 PM EST

This week's New Yorker runs a natural history of breastfeeding well worth reading in its entirety, even if you've never exchanged business cards with another nursing mom while both of you were hooked up to breast pump tubing during a work conference "break."

Some fascinating trivia from the Age of Reason:

...wet nurses were not nearly as common in Colonial America as they were in eighteenth-century Europe. "Suckle your Infant your Self if you can," Cotton Mather commanded from the pulpit. Puritans found milk divine: even the Good Book gave suck. "Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes, Drawn Out of the Breasts of Both Testaments" was the title of a popular catechism. By the end of the eighteenth century, breast-feeding had come to seem an act of citizenship. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1792), scoffed that a mother who "neither suckles nor educates her children, scarcely deserves the name of a wife, and has no right to that of a citizen." The following year, the French National Convention ruled that women who employed wet nurses could not apply for state aid; not long afterward, Prussia made breast-feeding a legal requirement.

Kate Harding over at Salon's Broadsheet found the article's takeaways a bit disturbing; you might too. I was too besotted by the bright, shiny historical details to pay close attention to the mommy war ammo.

I'm looking forward to reading Jill Lepore's book on the broader topic, whenever she publishes it. Write faster, Lepore!

One Way to Help the Third World: Adjustable Eyeglasses

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 3:58 PM EST

Every time you feel so overwhelmed by the horrors of Third World underdevelopment and chaos, someone comes along with a great, oh-so-obvious solution. I came across this one via Slate:

In the United States, Britain and other wealthy nations, 60 to 70 percent of people wear corrective glasses...But in many developing countries, only about 5 percent have glasses because so many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no access to eye-care professionals. Even if they could visit an eye doctor, the cost of glasses can be more than a month's wages. This means that many schoolchildren cannot see the blackboard, bus drivers can't see clearly and others can no longer fish, teach or do other jobs because of failing vision.

[Joshua] Silver's answer: Adjustable glasses.

OK, you have to be a science geek to have come up with this, but still. It's all about the mindset: Instead of giving up because glasses are so expensive, work on making glasses cheaper. Duh.

Check the piece for a link to the guy's site. The glasses are BCGs (think: Drew Carey) in the extreme but, when you make your living dumpster-diving in Bangladesh or wherever, ugly glasses are the least of your problems.

Airline Powers Test Flight With Pond Scum

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 5:45 PM EST

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Nowhere is this more the case than with today's commercial aviation business, whose slow death has been accelerated of late by the twin nightmares of soaring fuel costs and global recession. The price of oil is way down from last year, but the financial breather will inevitably be short-lived as scarcity of fossil fuels grows in years to come.

What's a desperate airline to do? Charging for alcoholic beverages and checked bags won't cut it. (Don't expect these costs to vanish any time soon.) Nope, the only solution lies in experimentation with new fuel sources. Take Virgin Atlantic. Last year, Richard Branson's airline made news by powering a Boeing-747 with fuel partially derived from oils extracted from babassu nuts and coconuts.

In a piece I wrote for Mother Jones prior to the Virgin flight, I reported on widespread speculation that Branson might also choose to test algae as a biofuel. He never did so, of course, and now Continental Airlines has beaten him to the punch.

From the BBC:

The 90-minute flight by a Continental Boeing 737-800 went better than expected, a spokesperson said.
One of its engines was powered by a 50-50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraft fuel.
Wednesday's test is the latest in a series of demonstration flights by the aviation industry, which hopes to be using biofuels within five years.
The flight was the first by a US carrier to use an alternative fuel source, and the first in the world to use a twin-engine commercial aircraft (rather than a four-engine plane) to test a biofuel blend.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Scientific American Just Can't Let It Go

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 2:12 PM EST

I'm joking, of course. The esteemed science mag runs an article in its January 2009 issue slamming John McCain and Sarah Palin, but with a serious purpose: pointing out that many of those oh-so-hilarious earmarks that the GOP ticket brought up as illustrations of congressional waste — "We spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue," said John McCain, repeatedly — were actually examples of valuable scientific projects.

The DNA work on grizzlies that McCain mentioned was actually fairly standard stuff mandated by the Endangered Species Act. Scientists have to do DNA studies to track population fluctuations, which are important when an animal is, you know, endangered. The "overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois" that McCain mocked in a debate with Obama was, in reality, a replacement for the Adler Planetarium's star-projection system in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. A statement from the planetarium after the debate said pointedly that the earmark request, which was not funded, was "not an overhead projector." And finally, the "fruit-fly research in Paris, France" that Sarah Palin dumped on during the campaign was actually $211,000 in funds that helped French researchers figure out ways to protect American crops from dangerous pests.

This is just the latest phase in the Republican war on science. We have some recommendations on how Obama can bring this long, stupid saga to a close.

Mississippi, Vanguard of Abstinence Sex Ed, Now Boasts the Highest Teen Pregnancy Rate in the Nation

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 1:42 PM EST

eastickmarr.gif
Mississippi now has the nation's highest teen pregnancy rate, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control released yesterday. Between 2005 and 2006 the state's rate of teen pregnancy increased 13 percent, and is now more than 60 percent above the national average.

The report did not attempt to explain the spike, but a major factor is probably Mississippi's rejection of sex ed. The state's schools must stress abstinence and are prohibited from demonstrating how to use contraceptives. Numerous studies have found that kind of approach to be ineffective.

A common myth surrounding abstinence-only sex ed is that it works for teens who are evangelical Christians--the kids of the parents who are pushing schools to adopt the programs--so if schools would stick with the approach, the Godless masses would eventually get on the straight-and-narrow. But Bristol Palin isn't the only evidence that shreds that argument. In November the New Yorker's Margaret Talbot described the findings of Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who published a book called "Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers":

His findings are drawn from a national survey that Regnerus and his colleagues conducted of some thirty-four hundred thirteen-to-seventeen-year-olds, and from a comprehensive government study of adolescent health known as Add Health. Regnerus argues that religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical. The vast majority of white evangelical adolescents--seventy-four per cent--say that they believe in abstaining from sex before marriage. (Only half of mainline Protestants, and a quarter of Jews, say that they believe in abstinence.) Moreover, among the major religious groups, evangelical virgins are the least likely to anticipate that sex will be pleasurable, and the most likely to believe that having sex will cause their partners to lose respect for them. (Jews most often cite pleasure as a reason to have sex, and say that an unplanned pregnancy would be an embarrassment.) But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their sexual début--to use the festive term of social-science researchers--shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

IMAGE AT RIGHT: Logo for Mississippi's abstinence campaign

Video: Explaining NY's "Obesity Tax" on Non-Diet Sodas

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:54 PM EST

The New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Richard Daines, is going to break it down for you. Yes, that tax on non-diet soda that New York Governor David Paterson is proposing feels a bit heavy-handed in these difficult economic times. Yes, it seems silly (and statist!) to try and direct people's consumption habits. But listen up: Americans drink roughly six cans of soda more per week than they did in 1970. That translates to 13 pounds of straight sugar and 21,000 additional calories per year! I learned that and more from Dr. Daines and his awesome visual aides in the video below. (Courtesy of the U.S. Food Policy blog.) I encourage you to take a look.

Rick Warren's AIDS Work in Africa Has Ties to Anti-Gay, Anti-Condom Activists

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 3:48 PM EST

Rick WarrenIf you were wondering if there was any way for you to be more perturbed at Rick Warren, get ready to have your life be even more purpose-driven. The Daily Beast is reporting that the mega-church pastor's work on AIDS in Africa, held up by the Obama team as "one of the things on which they agree," has close ties to anti-gay, anti-condom activists, and according to a UN envoy, is "resulting in great damage:"

Warren's man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempe enjoys close ties to his country's First Lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa's stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

Of course, Warren also has links to the Bush administration: one official administering the president's $15 billion anti-AIDS initiative who appeared at Warren's church said in 2004 that condoms "have not been very effective." The article details how Republican-allocated funds were used "exclusively" for abstinence education, which of course led to an increase in infection rates. With evidence mounting, the newly Democratic congress tried to remove the abstinence-only earmark last year, only to be fought by Warren, who claimed that the provision's removal would increase sex trafficking of young women. The pastor has also apparently been vocal in his support of virulently anti-gay Ugandan Anglicans. Sure makes comparing gay marriage to pedophilia and incest seem like a friendly pat on the back, doesn't it.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user All About You God.