Blue Marble

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:07 PM EDT

138907447_a23ad0acb3_m.jpg At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

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Using Bees To Save Elephants

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 9:37 PM EDT

3779_file_Elephant2_Balfour.jpg Fact #1: Elephants fear bees and run when they hear angry buzzing. Fact #2: African elephants are being squeezed into smaller and smaller wild neighborhoods. Problem: Elephants don't generally buy into our notions of land ownership and cross onto private property (imagine) to eat farmers' crops. Solution: Strategically placed beehives, or even just recordings of bees, to create "fences" elephants understand.

The new study, published in Current Biology, suggests a low-tech elephant deterrent and conservation measure. Way, way better than shooting them.

The researchers who deserve kudus: Lucy E. King of the University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi; Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants in Nairobi; and Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Marijuana Laws Cost Taxpayers Billions

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 7:12 PM EDT

A new study finds the marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers $41.8 billion a year in law enforcement, diverts $113 billion from the legal economy, and loses a whopping $31.1 billion in revenue annually. The Marijuana Policy Project reports the sad numbers. I mean, think how many wars we could fund with that kind of money. Not to mention the cost of all the enviro-damage from growing in national parks and supposedly pristine wilderness areas. Not to mention the good medicine never taken.

And—shhh—don't tell the boozers, but was Lawrence Welk—or Myron Floren—on the toke many, many moons ago? Clearly the weed's been mainstream forever. Check out the video, sans bubbles:

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Get Em While They Last: 99-Cent Flourescent Lightbulbs

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 6:29 PM EDT

Grab this offer if you live anywhere in the Pacific Gas & Electric forcefield. PG&E is giving away 1 million energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs this month. They bought them for $1.25 a pop, less than retail, and are working with Safeway to sell them for 99 cents each in their service area (northern and central California). CFLs cost more than standard incandescent lightbulbs but use about 75 percent less energy and last as much as 10 times longer. Each CFL could save $30 in energy costs over the bulb's lifetime. The giveaway might save 400,000 megawatt hours of power use and prevent 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of powering 60,000 homes or taking 31,000 cars off the road for a year.

Okay, the gauntlet's been thrown. How about the other utilities? Maybe their customers should lean on them.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Greenpeace Kid Declares War

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

Angry kid will grow up. Have we calculated that into the global warming equation?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

The New Gideons Bible Or How To Really Save The World

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:45 PM EDT

I've got an idea. You know all those free Gideons Bibles in hotel rooms all over the world that nobody reads (how many trees? how many carbon emissions?). Let's start a new movement. Let's, one by one, replace them with copies of The Hydrogen Age: Empowering A Clean Energy Future, by Geoffrey Holland and James Provenzano. It's loaded with stories (and pictures) of one view of salvation. Don't like hydrogen? Pick the vision/book that you offers your version of redemption.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

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Good News On Ozone Hole

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

In a year of bad news from the Polar regions, a bright note. The ozone hole over Antarctica shrunk 30 percent compared to last year's record size, reports the European Space Agency. This year's ozone loss peaked at 27.7 million tons, compared to the 2006 record of 40 million tons—although the researchers caution the data don't prove the ozone layer is actually recovering. This year's hole was probably smaller because it was less centered on the South Pole, allowing it to mix with warmer air, reducing its growth.

So, we're not off the hook on this one. Though it does mean that for one season, at least, fewer phytoplankton, penguins, leopard seals, and great whales, had to suffer life in the ultraviolet. May that come to pass again next year.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Hatchery Fish Struggle To Reproduce In Wild

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:51 PM EDT

Here's another surprise from the unpredictable frontlines of biology. A new study from Oregon State University finds that steelhead trout raised in hatcheries face a dramatic and unexpectedly rapid drop in their ability to reproduce in the wild—nearly 40 percent per captive-reared generation. Fish reared in a hatchery for two generations had around half the reproductive fitness of fish reared for a single generation. The effects appear to be genetic, and probably result from evolutionary pressures that quickly select for characteristics that are favored in the safe, placid world of the hatchery, but not in the comparatively hostile natural environment. The study, to be published Friday in the journal Science, raises serious questions about what happens to wild populations when they interbreed with hatchery fish, and the wisdom of many hatchery practices.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Recall Irony Roundup

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 6:11 PM EDT

Two pieces of news about recalled products stood out today:

First off, there's RC2, the toy company (slogan: "compelling, passionate parenting and play for all ages") that recalled about 1.5 million Thomas & Friends toys in June. To the customers who surrendered their lead-laced toys, RC2 sent a consolation prize: shiny new railway cars.

The ironic twist: Last week, those "bonus gifts" were recalled because of—you guessed it—lead paint.

Then there's the line of canvas and vinyl lunchboxes made by TA Creations in China.

The ironic twist: In California, the lunchboxes are distributed to low-income families as part of the Network for a Healthy California program. The most cringe-worthy detail? The lunchboxes are emblazoned with the message, "Eat fruits & vegetables and be active" in both English and Spanish. Another cheerful health tip could read, "Throw away this lunchbox before it gets anywhere near those fruits and vegetables."

Ozone Shuts Down Immune Response

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 9:42 PM EDT

We already know that exposure to ozone, a major component of urban air pollution, increases cardiovascular and pulmonary hospitalizations, and deaths. Now Duke University Medical Center finds that inhaled pollutants impair the immune system, making mice, at least, more susceptible to subsequent foreign invaders, such as bacteria. This just as the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the standards for levels of ozone in the air. The current standard is 85 parts per billion. Many medical groups, including the American Thoracic Society, recommend a stricter standard of 60 parts per billion.

(BTW, have I mentioned that we should build a memorial the size of Kansas to all the lab rodents who've unwilling sacrificed themselves so you and I can get fat, do no exercise, make pollution, and still live to 90? I'm thinking a giant white, faux Swiss cheese rat, inscribed with the names all the little lab pets were never given. You and I can write them in with Sharpies.)

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.