Author Archives: Larissaiyb

The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They’re Too Reliable

Mother Jones

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Matt Richtel has an intriguing article today in the New York Times about electric cars. The question is: why aren’t they selling better? Is it because they have weak performance? Because they can only go a hundred miles on a charge? Because they’re expensive?

Those are all issues.1 But it turns out that people who want to buy an electric car anyway have a hard time getting dealerships to sell them one:

Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about the technology, but…the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions….Marc Detsch, Nissan’s business development manager for electric vehicles said some salespeople just can’t rationalize the time it takes to sell the cars. A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”

He also pointed to the potential loss of service revenue. “There’s nothing much to go wrong,” Mr. Deutsch said of electric cars. “There’s no transmission to go bad.”….Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said there wasn’t sufficient data to prove that electric cars would require less maintenance. But he acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits and that dealers didn’t want to push consumers into electric cars that might make them less inclined to return for service.

I suppose this makes sense. And to all this, you can add the fact that none of these cars can fly. There are so many hurdles to overcome before we make it into the Jetson’s future we were all promised.

1We are, of course, talking about the non-Tesla market here.

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The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They’re Too Reliable

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Stop lying! Enviros are fed up with false ads about Obama’s power plant rules

radio static

Stop lying! Enviros are fed up with false ads about Obama’s power plant rules


Even as dishonest fossil-fuel propaganda goes, a National Mining Association advertisement being played in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania is a true doozy.

Environmental groups have been calling on radio stations to stop playing the ad, which claims that electricity rates have nearly doubled because of the Obama administration’s proposed CO2 regulations for new power plants – which would be pretty extraordinary, given that the rules haven’t even taken effect yet. Enviros say playing the ad violates Federal Communications Commission guidelines on honesty in advertising.

Yet 23 radio stations continue to air the ad, prompting the environmentalists to take their complaint on Wednesday to the FCC commissioners. Here are highlights from a letter cosigned by the Natural Resources Defense Council,, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, and 22 other groups:

The central claim of the National Mining Association ad, which has been determined to be false by independent researchers, is an inaccurate and duplicitous statement about the impact of proposed clean air standards. …

The FCC has advised broadcasters that they are “to be responsible to the community they serve and act with reasonable care to ensure that advertisements aired on their stations are not false or misleading.” We request that the FCC investigate whether the radio stations running this misleading advertisement are properly serving their communities.

The ad is based on a misleading press release issued by congressional Republicans. “This is a case study of how a trade group takes a snippet of congressional testimony and twists it out of proportion for political purposes,” The Washington Post wrote last month in debunking the ad. “The EPA’s proposed regulations, along with other factors, may boost the cost of electricity, but the NMA should not rely on such bogus, hyped evidence to make its case.”

Here’s a list of radio stations that the green groups say are still airing the dishonest ad:


June 11 letter from environmental groups to FCC officials, NRDC
A bogus claim that electricity prices will ‘nearly double’ because of clean coal technology, The Washington Post

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Stop lying! Enviros are fed up with false ads about Obama’s power plant rules

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Elizabeth Warren Pens a Book, Is Still Totally Not Running for President

Mother Jones

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It’s been a busy first year in the Senate for Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Since she entered the Congress in January 2013, she’s become a liberal hero, a frequent YouTube star who turns dull congressional hearings into viral hits. She’s pushed the government to lower interest rates on student loans. Protected vets from financial scams. Introduced legislation to protect poor people searching for a job. Called on banks to reveal their donations to think tanks.

Somehow she’s also found time to write a 384-page book. Next month Warren will release A Fighting Chance, which, according to the AP, will tell her whole life story, dating back to her early life in Oklahoma to her time setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her first year in the Senate. Warren will embark on a brief book tour in Massachusetts after the book’s publication on April 22.

Warren is already a prolific author, having published eight books before she ever ran for office. But those other writing ventures were an outgrowth of her academic career. Her new book appears purely political, the sort of hagiographic biography politicians pen to position themselves for a future run at higher office. Barack Obama published The Audacity of Hope, at around the same point of his career in the Senate. Mitt Romney wrote No Apology: The Case for American Greatness in 2010 to gear up for his 2012 campaign. Hillary Clinton is set to release a book in June.

Warren has said, time and again, that she has no intention of moving into the White House. “I’m not running for president and I plan to serve out my term,” she said at a December press conference. But politicians have a long history of ignoring their previous denials when circumstances change. Barack Obama frequently dismissed the notion that he’d seek the presidency so early in his career, only to ditch those denials and announce a campaign in 2007. It’s unlikely that Warren would challenge Clinton should Clinton, as expected, run in 2016. The Massachusetts politician joined her fellow female senators in signing a letter urging Clinton to run for president again. But, should she pass on another bid, Warren could always change her tune.

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Elizabeth Warren Pens a Book, Is Still Totally Not Running for President

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7 High-Tech Gadgets for Helicopter Parents

Mother Jones

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First off, let’s get one thing straight: You suck as a parent. This is obvious because you’re human and thus almost certain to do unforgivable things like leave your baby alone in his or her crib for several hours at a time just so that you can sleep. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that you never sleep: How do you really know that your sleeping child is healthy? By staring at her all night long? Please. It’s time to admit that you have no idea how to raise a child, and that you should outsource the job to your friends in Silicon Valley. Let’s face it, they’re probably smarter than you, and their kids will probably have higher IQs than your kids and get into better colleges. So heed their advice, and buy these indispensable baby-rearing gadgets.

Withings Smart Kids Scale

During scheduled check-ups, your pediatrician will typically weigh your baby to make sure that his growth curve falls within the range of “normal.” But given that your baby may go days, weeks, or even months between check-ups, how do you know he hasn’t suddenly forked off onto an inexorable path towards anorexia or morbid obesity? That’s why you need the Withings Smart Kids Scale. It weighs your baby and automatically transmits the measurements to a smartphone app. You can use the app to tweak your feeding strategy, stuffing or starving your infant into total normalcy.

Owlet Vitals Monitor

A sensor woven into your baby’s sock tracks her heart rate, blood-oxygen levels, skin temperature, and “sleep quality.” It streams this data in real time, along with any “roll over alerts,” to your iPhone, where it’s logged in perpetuity by a special app. Rest assured knowing that the slightest perturbations in your child’s bodily rhythms will be brought to your immediate attention, enabling you to constantly wonder if you ought to rush her to the hospital before it’s too late. Only 6 percent of Owlet customers have babies with health issues, according to Owlet founder Jordan Monroe. But nobody has health issues, you know, until they do.

Babies’ Diary

Unfortunately, sensors and smart scales can’t monitor everything that matters to your baby’s health (and ultimate fantastic success in life). For that, you’ll need the Babies’ Diary, an app that tracks nursings, diaper changes, baths, doctor visits, baby length and head size, and the duration of stroller walks and play sessions. Concerned that constantly updating these details might detract from, say, your quality time with your child? Don’t worry about it! Just sleep less.

True Fit iAlert Convertible Car Seat

When a VC drives his little guy around Menlo Park, how does he really know the kids is buckled in and happy? He could turn around and check on him, but who has time for that while updating their Baby Diaries and negotiating the gridlock on Sand Hill Road? That’s why the True Fit iAlert Convertible Car Seat is such a lifesaver. For just $399.99, you get a seat that’s fully integrated with your iPhone. You’ll never have to take your eyes off the screen again to know that your child has overheated, jumped out the window, or been abandoned by you in the parking lot.

Why Cry Baby Cry Analyzer

Do you know why your baby is crying? Neither do the autistic geniuses who rule Silicon Valley. That’s why they own the Why Cry Baby Cry Analyzer. Who needs common sense when you’ve got algorithms?

Locate 1 GPS

Until robot nannies become viable, you may need to hire a human to help take care of your baby while you’re at work. Instead of trusting your nanny’s judgment, bug your baby’s diaper bag with the Locate 1 GPS. For only $500 (and a $15 to $50 monthly service fee), it can tell you where your baby is going, if he has exceeded a certain speed limit, and whether he has crossed into any “forbidden zones” that you may wish to designate, such as East Palo Alto. The Locate 1 will also come in handy once your baby gets his own drivers license.


You can put your fetus on the waiting list of an exclusive preschool, but don’t count on it being accepted without BellyBuds. As any good parent knows, children exposed to music in the womb develop sooner than children who aren’t. Sure, affixing two giant suction speakers to your engorged belly every night might not sound like fun, but neither is raising a child that can’t even get into MENSA.

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7 High-Tech Gadgets for Helicopter Parents

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White House Announces the Return of Solar Panels

A White House official confirmed that solar panels are being installed on the First Family’s residence. Photo: Flikr/Tom Lohdan

In 2010, the Obama administration pledged that it would show the president’s commitment to renewable energy by putting solar panels on the White House. This week, Obama made good on the promise, as construction workers began putting the panels in place.

A White House official confirmed to The Washington Post that the project was in process and said it was “part of an energy retrofit” to improve the efficiency of the building.

The official, who has asked for anonymity, says that the solar panels will pay for themselves in eight years through energy savings. Furthermore, the installation will show the value of retrofitting older buildings — even historic ones — and creating more energy-efficient buildings.

Solar panels had previously been installed on the roof of the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency and were used to provide hot water to the building. They were removed in 1986 by former President Ronald Reagan. During George W. Bush’s presidency, two solar thermal units and a photovoltaic system were installed on a maintenance building to heat the White House swimming pool.

It is not yet clear how many solar panels are being installed or how they will be used. Obama previously had pledged to installing 20 to 50 solar panels.

The installation of solar panels is one of several measures taken to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, according to the The Washington Post, based on a plan outlined by the president and signed into an executive order in October 2009. Other measures have included doubling the number of hybrid cars and trucks in the federal fleet, increasing the government’s use of renewable energy and cutting the government’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House’s announcement comes just days after a report released earlier this week by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that the price to install solar panels has fallen to an all-time low.


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White House Announces the Return of Solar Panels

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Dogs Have Terrible Eyesight: See for Yourself

“Waterloo” by C. M. Coolidge. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sorry, C. M. Coolidge, but man’s best friend would probably really suck at poker. For one, dogs can’t see red. Two, their vision is so awful that they’d probably have trouble even making out the numbers.

See for yourself: WolframAlpha, every nerd’s favorite search engine, has a web app that lets you look at life through a dogs’ eyes.

See what we mean? Photo: WolframAlpha

Where people have three specialized receptors in our eyes to distinguish colors, dogs only have two: this leaves them red-green color blind (we think). Life’s Little Mysteries:

To see blue and yellow, dogs and humans alike rely on neurons inside the eye’s retina. These neurons are excited in response to yellow light detected in the cone cells (which are also inside the retina), but the neurons’ activity gets suppressed when blue light hits the cones. A dog’s brain interprets the excitation or suppression of these neurons as the sensation of yellow or blue, respectively. However, in dogs and color-blind individuals, red light and green light both have a neutral effect on the neurons. With no signal to interpret these colors, the dogs’ brains don’t perceive any color. Where you see red or green, they see shades of gray.

“A human would be missing the sensations of red and green,” Neitz told Life’s Little Mysteries . “But whether or not the dog’s sensations are missing red and green, or if their brains assign colors differently, is unclear.”

Aside from the color issue, dogs’ sight is pretty bad. Using a custom eye test for dogs, researchers have found that dogs basically have 20/75 vision compared to a person’s 20/20 vision, says Psychology Today.

To give you a feeling about how poor this vision is, you should know that if your visual acuity is worse than 20/40 you would fail the standard vision test given when you apply for a driver’s license in the United States and would be required to wear glasses. A dog’s vision is considerably worse than this.

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Dogs Have Terrible Eyesight: See for Yourself

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Clever Uses for Tuna Cans

Mary K.


Ben and Jerry’s Remove GMOs from Ice Cream

5 minutes ago

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Clever Uses for Tuna Cans

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Charts: Look At How Badly Obama Lags on Judicial Appointments

Mother Jones

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Last week, President Obama withdrew his judicial nominee for the powerful DC Circuit Court of Appeals—which hasn’t had a nominee confirmed since 2006—because Republicans threatened to filibuster her. This high-profile battle is just the tip of the iceberg. Because of Republican obstructionism, the Obama administration’s lackadaisical pace of nominations, and problems with the Senate confirmation process, more federal judgeships are staying vacant nationwide under this president than under President Bush, and Obama’s nominees are taking longer to get confirmed.

During Obama’s first term, the number of appeals court vacancies rose from 14 to 17. During Bush’s first term, by contrast, appeals court vacancies dropped from 27 to 18. Because Obama has been slower to nominate than Bush or Clinton, the average number of days from the opening of a seat to a nomination increased by 44 percent between Bush’s and Obama’s first terms.

This graph, by the data visualization shop Remapping Debate, shows the average number of vacancies per year, starting in 2001 (scroll to view all years, and hover over for details):

Learn About Tableau

When the president finally does nominate someone, the Senate is generally reluctant to confirm her. Obama has 15 judicial nominees waiting for Senate floor votes right now. Overall, his judicial nominees wait an average of 116 days on the Senate floor for a vote—three times longer than Bush’s average judicial nominee wait time. When the 112th Congress ended in December, the Senate had approved 175 of Obama’s judges. By contrast, Bush had 206 judges approved in his first term, and President Clinton had 204.

The figure below, also by Remapping Debate, compares Bush and Obama’s first terms, showing the average number of days between vacancy and nomination, and the number of days nominees were pending before the Senate.

Why is the GOP so obstinate on confirmations? Senate Republicans may be giving Democrats a little payback. “Republicans don’t think Bush’s nominees were treated fairly,” Russell Wheeler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, which has tracked the phenomenon, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday.

Confirmation of a nominee to the DC circuit court, which is one step below the Supreme Court, is particularly important for Obama’s second term because the court handles all disputes related to regulations and executive actions. “With legislative priorities gridlocked in Congress, the president’s best hope for advancing his agenda is through executive action, and that runs through the D.C. Circuit,” Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told the Washington Post Tuesday.

Right now that court is conservative-dominated, with four Republican and three Democratic appointees, and four vacancies (twice as many as any other court of appeals). This configuration didn’t work out so well in the Obama’s first term. The DC circuit court blocked EPA air pollution rules and put a hold on cases related to workers’ rights.

Of the DC circuit confirmation, Kendall says “There are few things more vital on the president’s second-term agenda.”

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Charts: Look At How Badly Obama Lags on Judicial Appointments

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Scandal-Plagued Menendez Donor Feted Obama and Chauffeured Harry Reid on His Jet

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Salomon Melgen is the eye doctor, investor, and big-time political donor embroiled in controversy for his cozy relationship with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate. On two occasions, Menendez pressed government officials—once over Medicare and Medicaid billing practices and another time over Latin American governments not honoring trade-related contracts—in ways that appeared to benefit Melgen, who has donated handsomely to Menendez and Democratic causes. Menendez also took two round-trip flights on the doctor’s private jet, reimbursing the doctor only after the details spilled into public view.

Menendez, it turns out, wasn’t the only powerful politician Melgen feted. Politico reported Tuesday night that Melgen hobnobbed with President Obama at 2010 fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (though Melgen was peeved at Obama’s reluctance to fully schmooze him). Melgen also ferried Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on his private jet to a fundraiser in Boston for Majority PAC, a super-PAC devoted to electing Senate Democrats and run by former Reid aide Susan McCue. Reid flew back to Washington with Melgen. Reid’s office said the senator reimbursed Melgen for the flights.

Politico gleans some more details about Melgen’s quirkiness as a big-time bankroller:

Some rich folks looking for special treatment would work through a lobbyist with experience navigating government bureaucracy.

Not Melgen—he was his own lobbyist, with access to lots of cash and a private jet owned by his company.

He went to top officials about the Dominican government’s reluctance to implement a $500 million port cargo-screening contract with one of his companies and to challenge the finding that another of his companies overbilled Medicare.

While he was glad-handing politicians, Melgen was living the high life. He was driven around South Florida by a chauffeur in a customized Audi A8 and invited all manner of politicos to his mansion in the Dominican Republic.

Melgen keeps an enviable collection of photos with politicians—including one of him golfing with Bill Clinton—and bragged of using his plane to transport the rapper Pitbull to a super PAC fundraiser at the Democratic National Convention last summer, according to sources who know him.

Yet Democratic fundraisers interviewed for this story say Melgen fits a particular model of naive, high-maintenance donor: the type that expects politicians to help further their business or philosophical interests but don’t know enough about the process to figure out if they’re getting anything for their money.

Let’s not forget that Melgen is under federal investigation over a port deal in Latin America and his company’s Medicare billing practices. The Senate ethics committee, meanwhile, is probing Menendez’s trips on Melgen’s plane, and a grand jury is looking into the senator’s advocacy on Melgen’s behalf, according to the Washington Post.

Even if nothing comes of these probes, the whole affair has been an embarrassment for Menendez. You can bet other politicians with even the faintest connection to Melgen will be distancing themselves from the donor so as to avoid any future stories like Tuesday’s Politico item.

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Scandal-Plagued Menendez Donor Feted Obama and Chauffeured Harry Reid on His Jet

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Rape Was Rampant During the Vietnam War. Why Doesn’t US History Remember This?

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

On August 31, 1969, a rape was committed in Vietnam. Maybe numerous rapes were committed there that day, but this was a rare one involving American GIs that actually made its way into the military justice system.

And that wasn’t the only thing that set it apart.

War is obscene. I mean that in every sense of the word. Some veterans will tell you that you can’t know war if you haven’t served in one, if you haven’t seen combat. These are often the same guys who won’t tell you the truths that they know about war and who never think to blame themselves in any way for our collective ignorance.

The truth is, you actually can know a lot about war without fighting in one. It just isn’t the sort of knowledge that’s easy to come by.

There are more than 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print. There are volumes on the decision-making of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, grand biographies of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rafts of memoirs by American soldiers—some staggeringly well-written, many not—and plenty of disposable paperbacks about snipers, medics, and field Marines. I can tell you from experience that if you read a few dozen of the best of them, you can get a fairly good idea about what that war was really like. Maybe not perfect knowledge, but a reasonable picture anyway. Or you can read several hundred of the middling-to-poor books and, if you pay special attention to the few real truths buried in all the run-of-the-mill war stories, you’ll still get some feeling for war American-style.

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Rape Was Rampant During the Vietnam War. Why Doesn’t US History Remember This?

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