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New York’s massive new bike-sharing program tripped up by computer problems

Yet again, our favorite New York City bike rider.

The City of New York was very excited about the partnership it made with Citi for the launch of Citi Bike -- a program that will eventually put 10,000 bikes on the streets of New York (well, mostly Manhattan). And New Yorkers seem excited about it too, though they will undoubtedly soon be cranky.

But the launch date for Citi Bike has been pushed back for at least a month, thanks to the bicycle's longest-standing enemy: more modern technology.

From the Times:

On Thursday ... Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered a culprit: computer problems.

“Its software isn’t working yet,” he told reporters at a groundbreaking ceremony in West Harlem. “And just rest assured we’re not going to put out any program here that doesn’t work.”

Bah! Computers! Is there nothing you won't ruin?

Read more: Biking, Cities

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Aquifer discovered in arid Namibia could yield 400 years of water — or 15

We are not huge fans of digging in the ground to pull out oil that is then burned. But we are sometimes fans of digging in the ground to pull out water so people can drink.

Namibia is dominated by the Namib desert, which runs 2,000 miles along the western coast of the continent from Angola into South Africa. The country is the most arid African nation south of the Sahara. Residents in the northern region rely on a 40-year-old canal to bring water in from neighboring Angola.

But that may change. The BBC reports:

A newly discovered water source in Namibia could have a major impact on development in the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa.

Estimates suggest the aquifer could supply the north of the country for 400 years at current rates of consumption.

Scientists say the water is up to 10,000 years old but is cleaner to drink than many modern sources.

The general region appears on the map above.

Read more: Uncategorized

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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Colbert

Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, made an appearance on The Colbert Report last night. If you like your discussion of environmentalism filtered through the lens of a faux-conservative comedian, you'll probably enjoy their interaction.

Read more: Politics

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Whooping cough cases on track for 50-year high

Whooping cough bacteria on a charcoal agar. Click to embiggen. (Photo by Nathan Reading.)

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that 2012 will be the worst year for whooping cough since 1959. But don't jump to the conclusion that the problem lies with the anti-vaccination crowd. For now, at least, the problem is more likely with changes in the vaccine itself.

Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far -- more than twice the number seen at this point last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. At this pace, the number for the entire year will be the highest since 1959, when 40,000 illnesses were reported.

Nine children have died, and health officials called on adults -- especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children -- to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

The CDC indicates that whooping cough outbreaks tend to come in waves. In 2004 and 2005, there were a lot of cases. In 2010, California saw one of its worst outbreaks ever.

Experts believe whooping cough occurs in cycles and peaks every three to five years. But they have been startled to see peaks this high. Vaccinations are supposed to tamp down the amount of infection in the population and make the valleys in the cycles longer, said Pejman Rohani, a University of Michigan researcher who is co-leader of a federally funded study of whooping cough trends.

Initial research from the CDC suggests that a weaker vaccine introduced in the 1990s may be to blame.

Read more: Uncategorized

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GOP tries to block black-lung protections. Big Tobacco would be proud

House Republicans are trying to block efforts to protect coal miners from black lung disease. This comes just days after the Center for Public Integrity released a big report showing that black lung is making a comeback:

From 1968 through 2007, black lung caused or contributed to roughly 75,000 deaths in the United States, according to government data. In the decades following passage of the 1969 law [that first addressed black lung], rates of the disease dropped significantly. Then, in the late 1990s, this trend reversed.

Click to embiggen.

The Charleston Gazette explains how efforts to halt this trend are being stymied:

House Republicans are seeking to extend their measure that blocks the Obama administration from moving forward with a new rule aimed at combating the resurgence of deadly black lung disease, which experts say has reached epidemic proportions in the Appalachian coalfields. ...

If approved, the language would forbid [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] from using any funds from its budget to finalize its October 2010 proposal to tighten legal coal-dust limits and improve other protections for miners.

"House Republicans' proposal to stop modern protections against black lung disease for our nation's miners is outrageous and should be defeated," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said the budget measure "amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners."

"Preventing black lung isn't a matter of overregulation," Roberts said. "It's a matter of life and death."

Read more: Coal

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More bad drought news: Drought makes hotter temperatures more likely

Which sounds best: DroughtMill? GristDrought? DroughtDrought? We're just giving up and changing this site into your all-drought, all-the-time news source.

Our David Roberts anchors the 6 p.m. newscast.

Climate Central has some news that makes the bad news about the drought even worse: Droughts increase the likelihood of hot weather, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's a feedback loop -- heat leads to droughts, droughts worsen heat.

This occurs because of feedbacks between the ground and the air: as the soil and vegetation dry, more of the sun’s energy is able to go into heating the air directly, rather than going into evaporating moisture from plants and the soil.

With drought conditions intensifying during mid-summer, the study suggests that the U.S. may be in for particularly brutal Dog Days of August.

Read more: Climate Change

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Lobbyists spent $173.5 million trying to shape the 2008 farm bill

The farm bill is all about cheddar and cabbage.

The last time Congress passed a farm bill was 2008. Not exactly a triumph of thoughtful politics, it was loaded with subsidies and carve-outs. (This year's farm bill, now moving through Congress, has been pulled between between removing  and worsening those giveaways.)

There's a reason why that 2008 bill heavily favored the status quo: the status quo invested heavily in that outcome. A new report from Food and Water Watch outlines exactly how much was spent and by whom to lobby for the final bill.

Click to embiggen.

The 2008 Farm Bill lobbying campaign ranked among the most well-financed legislative fights of the past decade. More than 1,000 companies, trade associations and other groups spent an estimated $173.5 million lobbying on just the 2008 Farm Bill, according to a Food & Water Watch analysis of data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. (See Table 1.) During every day that the 100th Congress was in session in 2007 and 2008, special interests spent an average of $539,000 lobbying on issues covered by the Farm Bill. …

Agribusiness, commodity trade associations, food manufacturers and other interests all pushed to get a big slice of the Farm Bill pie. The $173.5 million lobbying frenzy ranked alongside the Center for Public Integrity’s $120 million estimate for health care reform lobbying and the Center for Responsive Politics’ $250 million estimate for lobbying on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

Read more: Farm Bill

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Chevron announces plans to begin drilling in a free Iraq

A Humvee in Iraq.

Chevron made a big announcement this morning. From FuelFix:

Chevron said today it will enter Iraq and begin drilling for oil there next year after purchasing major interests in two areas of its Kurdistan region.

The company has no interests in Iraq and had previously not disclosed its pursuit of land in Kurdistan, Chevron spokesman Kurt Glaubitz said.

The Iraqi government has expressed frustration with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government for approving oil exploration and production contracts without approval from the national government

So, congratulations are in order to Chevron. It's no doubt pleased to have figured out a way to get around the objections of that nation's sovereign leadership.

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U.S. Navy unveils its ‘great green fleet’ with some red-white-and-blue machismo

Logo on a Navy FA-18. (Photo by the USDA.)

What do you get when you mix animal fat, algae, and 10,000 pounds of steel? The least-popular Navy Blackhawk on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday, during its regular "Rim of the Pacific" exercise, the U.S. Navy showed off its "great green fleet," a number of ships and aircraft running solely on biofuel. As we discussed last week, a lot of Republicans haaaaaaaate the idea: ostensibly because biofuel costs more than oil, but really because anything that could possibly reduce the use of oil is a cardinal sin.

What do you say to that, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus?

As a Navy jet screamed by the Nimitz, Mabus stopped his speech and said, "You just heard biofuel."

You just heard biofuel, suckers! There's something tremendously amusing about the combination of Top Gun-style machismo and sensible environmental considerations. Picture a bulky, muscular Rambo-type, holding massive weapons in each hand, snarling into the camera: "Time to take out the compost."

Read more: Biofuel

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Seven graphs that should make the Obama campaign very nervous

One of the biggest threats facing the president in his bid for reelection is the drought. Not because it's miserable outside, though if it's 100 degrees on Election Day, that will certainly tamp down turnout. The real threat lies in the perception of the economy.

It's almost certain that food prices are going to go up as a consequence of the drought -- probably in a month or two, just as campaign season gets into high gear. As food prices go up, so does concern about inflation and also concern about the economy. If you're already trying to make ends meet, a steep rise in the price of staple foods is the last thing you need.

Here's what has happened to predicted prices for various food products over the last few months. These graphs track futures -- that is, what the expected price will be at a future date. In these graphs (all of which are from TradingCharts.com), that date is December 2012.

Corn

Click to embiggen.

Soybeans

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Food, Politics