2008 - %3, January

China's 'Great Shutdown' Is Scientific Gold

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 7:26 PM PDT

AsianBrownClouda.jpg What happens when you turn off the pollution? Well the Beijing Olympics are giving scientists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe how the atmosphere responds when a heavily populated region seriously curbs everyday industrial emissions.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is flying unmanned aerial vehicle to measure smog and its effects on weather during China's 'Great Shutdown.' The flights start at Cheju Island in South Korea, 725 miles southeast of Beijing, and directly in the path of Chinese pollution plumes.

Data from the flights, combined with satellite and ground observations, are tracking dust, soot and other aerosols leaking out of China in atmospheric brown clouds.

Chinese officials have reduced industrial activity by as much as 30 percent and mandated cuts in automobile use by half, to safeguard the health of competing athletes.

Too bad most of Beijing's air quality doesn't have much of anything to do with its own emissions but comes from its own heavily-polluted provinces to the south. Too bad China doesn't make the Great Shutdown permanent. Too bad the whole world doesn't follow. Too bad the athletes' health is more important than everyone else's.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Top Four: Music (Not) to Skate To

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 4:55 PM PDT

badly-drawn-boy-250x200.jpgOk, I admit it: yes, I'm in my 30s, and yes, I still skateboard. Whether this makes me incredibly brave, incredibly stupid, hopelessly juvenile, or the coolest old dude on the block is completely debatable.

Skating is an aggressive sport that can be brutal on your body, so I've always thought that it lends itself to fun, aggressive, loud, or energetic music. But I'm amazed at some of the sad, dreary music I hear being played at skateparks. Here's a sampling of what I've heard:

Who's the Closed Country Now: NBC Withholds Olympics Until It's Damn Well Ready

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 3:55 PM PDT

mojo-photo-olympicslogo.jpgFirst revelation: it turns out the whole world doesn't arrange stuff according to America's prime time TV schedule! Who knew? The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing kicked off at 8 a.m. Eastern Time, and one would imagine that NBC, understanding the demand for immediacy in the decentralized internet age, would broadcast it live, right? Nope. At the time of the ceremony, NBC was broadcasting a cooking segment on the Today show. For the billions of dollars they paid for the rights, they're going to get their money's worth, and that means the opening ceremony will be delayed 12 hours so American audiences can watch it after dinner, with what I can only assume will be a whole lot of commercials.

After the jump: your desire for immediate access to information makes you a criminal!

John Edwards Confirms that the National Enquirer is Credible

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 2:05 PM PDT

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about today's revelation that John Edwards—in the midst of launching a presidential campaign—indeed had an affair, is that the National Enquirer was spot on, eight months ago. In his ABC confessional, to air tonight on Primetime, Edwards points out that the Enquirer got it right when it reported that he met with his lady friend at the Beverly Hilton two weeks ago. Edwards still denies the baby-daddy accusation, saying he is not the father of Rielle Hunter's child, though DNA may be called for given his truth track record here.

Makes one wonder, did the DNC finally have its act together on this one? Think about it, if his "friends and supporters" knew enough to perhaps pay her living expenses (which Edwards suggests in tonight's interview) then perhaps some organized party machinery pushed him out of the limelight just in time. I mean, the man with the Plan to Build One America, set out some lofty plans for this country. But Americans want their politicians faithful and straight (or at least as far as they know).

New Liberal Group Gets Tough With Conservative Donors

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 12:44 PM PDT

You could call it an attempt by long-beleaguered liberals to finally stop Swift Boat groups before they to attack Democratic candidates. You could also call it scare tactics.

Tom Matzzie, the former Washington director of Moveon.org and Judd Legum, the research director for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, have teamed up to create Accountable America, a group independent of the Obama campaign and the DNC that will identify, publicize, and potentially create legal headaches for donors who fund conservative attack groups.

Accountable American will "deter Swift Boating groups by discouraging contributions to the groups," said Matzzie on a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters. By publicizing the misdeeds of the groups and the sometimes sordid histories of the people who enable them, Matzzie said, the group will "create a sense of scandal around donating to these groups."

The Politics You'll See As You Watch 100M Hurdles

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 9:51 AM PDT

I mentioned earlier that the presidential campaign will essentially go on a short hiatus, starting today and lasting for a week or so. Don't think the lack of news will mean a stop to the TV ads, though, especially if you live in a battleground state.

Barack Obama has released his ad that will play during the Olympics. It's here:

A new McCain ad that will also be showing in the next few days is here:

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U.S. Places Violent Iraqi Prisoners In Standing Coffins

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 9:21 AM PDT

The United States. Not China. Not Zimbabwe.

The U.S. military is segregating violent Iraqi prisoners in wooden crates that in some cases are not much bigger than the prisoners.
The military released three grainy black-and-white photos of what it calls the "segregation boxes" used in Iraq. They show the rudimentary structures of wood and mesh. Some of the boxes are as small as 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet tall, according to military officials. They did not release a picture of a box that size.
The military said the boxes are humane and are checked every 15 minutes. It said detainees, who stand in the boxes, are isolated for no more than 12 hours at a time.

Here's how the story was uncovered. You can see the photos at the link — they're like something out of the Great Escape.

So, Why Do We Hate Us? New Book Tries to Explain

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 7:54 AM PDT

41GORi-mMxL._SL500_AA240_.jpg

I was born in the 1970s, and even at my tender age, have fallen victim to a creeping cynicism (too often expressed in the form of easy sarcasm) that has me worried lately. I'm too young for such negativity. I haven't earned that badge. Not yet, anyway. For years, I chalked it up to a generational entitlement: after all, isn't my brood, Generation X, defined by its feelings of apathy and emotional confusion? That was the message of popular culture at the time. (Just watch "Reality Bites" or read Douglas Coupland's Generation X.) And it's the culture that is the problem, writes Dick Meyer in his new book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.

Meyer, the editorial director of digital media at NPR, ticks off the many widely shared annoyances of everyday life: telemarketers, pedestrians with eyes glued to their iPhones, t-shirts emblazoned with vulgar or stupid messages, and the ever-expanding menu of inane reality TV shows.* Lest you think he's just a grumpy old man, he also takes on weightier subjects, such as the impact of social networking sites, the decline of "organic communities," the all-pervasive presence of marketing, and our national worship of celebrity, among many other things. All told, it's a composite of exactly the sort of cultural ugliness that feeds our collective distrust of government, the media, entertainment, and each other.

If, like me, you believe that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but you're not sure what, give Meyer's book a read. You'll laugh, if nothing else, and might just find that it helps you to look on the bright side of things.


*I have an iPhone, some stupid t-shirts, and have been known to enjoy certain reality TV shows. I have never worked as a telemarketer.

Okay, Folks. Ready for a Deep Breath?

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 7:48 AM PDT

Because here's your chance to grab one. I just got a copy of Barack Obama's public schedule and it looks like this.

Friday, August 8: "Welcome to Hawaii" Event in Honolulu, HI.

Saturday, August 9 to Friday, August 15: No public events.

That's called a vacation. It will be interesting to see if Obama will come out of hiding to react to major international news, an important investigative report, or a particularly vicious attack by the McCain campaign. To not do so would be a pretty foolhardy attempt to impose his will on the furiously paced 24-hour news cycle. I assume he'll do it. He might even get in a couple photo-ops along the way — as someone remarked to me earlier, he's just got to be careful to avoid the windsurfing.

Meanwhile, the Olympics start tonight, meaning that what little news there will be in the presidential race will get even less coverage. The McCain campaign might do well to think of next week like a NBA coach: when the other guy removes his big, you do the same to get yours some rest. Surely McCain could use it.

Did the Son of the NRA-Connected Private Spy Lose His Job Because of Mom?

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 7:28 AM PDT

Is Sean McFate the first casualty of Gun-gate?

Sean McFate is the son of Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate), the NRA-connected private spy who infiltrated the gun control movement for about 15 years. Her tale was first disclosed by Mother Jones last week. That article noted that Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper, and his wife, Montgomery McFate, a controversial Pentagon adviser, had once both worked for Mary Lou Sapone's business, which specialized, according to an old version of Montgomery's resume, in "domestic and internal opposition research" and "special investigations." Sean and Montgomery McFate might also have been involved in Mary Lou Sapone's penetration of the gun control community.

More recently, Sean McFate was program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. That is, he was until the appearance of the Mother Jones story on his mother.

As that story was being posted last week, McFate was listed on BPC's staff list on its website. Days later, his name was gone.

Asked about McFate's fate, the BPC issued this statement: