2009 - %3, January

Can Paving America be Eco-Friendly?

| Sat Jan. 3, 2009 10:12 AM PST

Given that Obama's economic stimulus package is likely to include billions of dollars in road projects, how will he counteract the environmental toll? One idea, supported by the steel industry, is to funnel more of that money into rail, such as the $45-billion high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco that was approved by the state's voters in November.

Another idea is to build those roads greener. Two new cement companies, one in Great Britain, another in Silicon Valley, claim to have discovered a new way to produce cement that not only emits no carbon dioxide, but also sucks much of it from the atmosphere.

This is no small feat. Cement production accounts for 5 percent of the world's CO2 emissions--more than the entire aviation industry. And a recent report by the French Bank Credit Agricole estimated that demand for cement will increase 50 percent by 2020.

The Silicon Valley company, Calera Corp, was founded by Stanford professor Brent Constanz, who in 1986 invented a medical cement that revolutionized the way hospitals repaired broken bones. Unlike conventional cement, which is made by heating up limestone or clay to around 1500 degrees C, his medical cement combined carbon dioxide and magnesium to mimic the way coral reefs are formed. His new eco-cement works much the same way, except the carbon dioxide comes from power plants that would otherwise spew it into the atmosphere. The British company, Novacem, uses a similar process.

Both companies claim their products are strong enough to work in roads, buildings, and bridges and are cost-competitive with conventional cement. The hard part will be to convince customers that the cements will endure the test of time when there's no real track record. Of course, using conventional cement will also be a gamble--in the form of some 450 million tons of yearly carbon emissions.

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2009: Predictions For the Year In Music

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 1:10 PM PST

mojo-photo-2009glasses2.jpg2008 is dead and gone, and the universal opinion seems to be, from the economy to our government to music: "good riddance." As Slant put it, "the cliché that oppressive Republican administrations foster the most compelling music was disproved over nearly each of the last 52 weeks." Music seemed splintered and aimless, and year-end best-of lists seemed to reflect the confusion, with the same 50 records showing up a lot, but in completely different orders. Some of the year's most successful and compelling music was actually made months, or even years, before the start of 2008. So, 2009, will you be any better? Here's a quick (and admittedly somewhat fanciful) look ahead at the year ahead's most anticipated releases.

Friday Cat Blogging - 2 January 2009

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:23 PM PST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Here's Inkblot in the pod again. For some reason, he seems to be going through weird phases of being frightened by the pod, followed by phases of adoring the pod. Yesterday he was in one of his adoration phases. Today he's sleeping on the bed, but making sure to keep his distance. I'm really not sure what's going on.

Domino, meanwhile, is obviously annoyed that Marian is explaining something to Professor Marc, who was visiting last night, instead of keeping immobile and providing her with a proper cat bed. Truly, the life of a cat is a hard one.

*Long-Form Journalism

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:06 PM PST

LONG-FORM JOURNALISM....David Brooks today:

Everything becomes a shorter version of itself. Essays become op-eds. Op-eds become blog posts. Blog posts become Twitter tweets. The Sidney Awards stand athwart technology, yelling stop. They are awarded every year to some of the best examples of long-form journalism and thought.

Of the four pieces Brooks chooses to honor, the Lewis and Judis pieces I had already read, and both were good. The Professor X piece I had also already read. I didn't reread it, but I remember thinking at the time that it was more routine gripe than insightful observation. The Caldwell piece was new to me, and it was pretty engaging. Overall, a pretty good bunch of selections.

Maybe Blagojevich Does Owe Burris Something

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:48 AM PST

The media has been looking for evidence that Roland Burris' appointment to the United States Senate is payback for something Burris once did for Governor Rod Blagojevich. Ben Joravsky, publishing over at TNR, may have put his finger on it. Without Burris, Balgo would have never made it out of the Democratic primary in the 2002 race for Illinois governor:

Getting it Right

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:32 AM PST

GETTING IT RIGHT....How many people figured out that the U.S. financial system was headed for disaster before the disaster actually struck? Just for starters, I think that if you want credit for "getting it right":

  • You need to have really gotten it right. For example, predicting a dollar crash due to our expanding trade deficit with China doesn't count, since that's not what actually happened.

  • You need to have figured this out in 2004, not 2007. By 2007 the storm clouds were overhead, the Fed was in full panic mode, and it was too late to do anything useful.

  • You need to have a decent track record, not merely one of being a chronic doomsayer. After all, if you're always predicting disaster, you'll always be right eventually.

That said, the Wall Street Journal profiles "The Doomsayers Who Got It Right" today, and given my bullet points above, I have to say that fund manager Bob Rodriguez seems pretty spectacularly prescient:

He saw storm clouds gathering in 2005 when newly minted pools of supposedly high-quality "Alt-A" mortgages began acting oddly....He quickly dumped the holdings, reckoning that by the time he figured out what was actually going on, whatever disaster the odd behavior foreshadowed would have already occurred.

....He stopped buying Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt and took giant insurer American International Group Inc. off the list of approved commercial-paper investments. He refused to invest in financial-services companies because of what he saw as "a pandemic collapse" in the rules by which lenders approved mortgages.

As of 2004, he began moving his fund to more than 45% cash, even as one big shareholder yanked out $300 million because of his bearish stance.

Not bad! You can read more about Rodriguez from Money magazine, who called him "the best fund manager of our time." So what's he concerned about now?

Looking forward, he, too, sees "a massive bubble in Treasurys" forming. "Quite frankly, we do not trust government," he says, as the U.S. government adds more debt to pay for economic-revival measures. He's not buying Treasurys because "We will not lend long-term money to a borrower that capriciously erodes its balance sheet."

His real concern, he recently told shareholders, isn't the next two years, "but period three through 10." In an interview, he says it will be punctuated by inflation, and he expects real GDP growth of no more than 2% a year, possibly less.

I too am concerned about years three through ten. As Barack Obama prepares his stimulus plan for years one and two, I hope his economic boffins also explain what they're doing now to prepare for what they think the economy will be like in 2010. That dollar collapse might still come someday, after all.

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Drudge, NY Post Have Field Day with Kathy Griffin's CNN "Trash Talk"

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:23 AM PST

Kathy Griffin CNNComedian Kathy Griffin is making news for uttering an expletive during CNN's New Year's Eve broadcast, which the D-lister hosted with Anderson Cooper. The network's enemies are having a field day. Here's how the New York Post described the moment:

Comedienne Kathy Griffin may be doomed to life on CNN's S-list after answering a heckler with a shrieking, vulgar tirade during the network's live New Year's Eve broadcast.
"Screw you," she told the heckler. "Why don't you get a job, buddy? You know what? I don't go to your job and knock the d- - - out of your mouth."
The raunchy exchange, which occurred well after the ball dropped at midnight, was received with guffaws by the camera crew.

That's because everyone at CNN is a godless, liberal heathen, right, everybody? Actually, if you watch the clip (which you can do after the jump) it's clear she was responding sarcastically to good-natured ribbing, not a "heckler," and I'd say the "shrieking" part is debatable, too. Either way, we watched CNN's coverage New Year's Eve before heading out for DJ gigs, and honestly, the almost-always-hilarious Griffin was the best thing about that sloppy, nonsensical broadcast—can someone teach them how to avoid the talk-over-each other problem during live remotes? Also amusing: watching both Griffin and drag queen Sushi (live from Key West!) hold themselves back from making gay jokes about Cooper. Do you think they sign a contract?

Alberto Gonzales: Pathetic? Deluded? Crazy?

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:03 AM PST

Short fiction writer Alberto Gonzales is confused, asking in a recent interview, "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?"

If Gonzales is trying this unctuous nonsense in an attempt at image-rehabilitation, he needs to hire a professional PR company. If he's asking this question in earnest, he is demonstrably insane.

As Think Progress points out, the answer to Gonzales' question includes: corrupting the DOJ by insiting on ideological purity tests in hiring; firing US Attorneys that refused to toe the Bush Administration line; signing off on torture as White House Counsel; trying to strong-arm a hospitalized Attorney General into authorizing domestic spying despite widespread opposition within the federal government; lying about said episode and the domestic spying program in general; and lying about pre-war intelligence. Gonzales also stonewalled Congress when they sought answers on a number of these subjects and had his aides do the same.

So the question is, was Gonzales this pathetic/insane when he joined the Bush Administration, or was there something about the experience that affected his brain? Did he do so much mental work to convince himself that what he was doing was acceptable, even needed, that today he simply has no ability to engage with reality? Did he go so far down the rabbit hole that he has no ability to get out?

Watch Your Tongue

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 10:54 AM PST

WATCH YOUR TONGUE....The Washington Post reports that a Muslim family was tossed off a flight to Orlando yesterday. AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson explains:

"At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn't have made on the airplane, and other people heard them," Hutcheson said. "Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions."

"It just so happened" indeed. But it gets even worse. Apparently after making these comments that "shouldn't" be made on an airplane and freaking out some high-strung passengers, the flight was delayed:

As a result of that report, federal officials made the decision to order all 104 passengers from the plane and re-screen them and their luggage before allowing the flight to take off for Orlando — two hours late and without the nine passengers.

So everybody was thoroughly rescreened, luggage was rechecked, and presumably it turned out that the Muslim family didn't have so much as a nail file on them. But they were kicked off the flight anyway. And TSA's reaction? Apparently they think the system worked exactly the way it was supposed to.

Welcome to 2009.

*Quote of the Day - 01.02.09

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 10:30 AM PST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Jon Chait, commenting on — well, just click the link to see what he's commenting on:

That's the problem with Marxists. They're everywhere you don't want them to be and nowhere you really need them.

Noted. Of course, I'd be churlish too if I were stuck being a Michigan fan this year, so this should all be taken with a grain of salt.