2009 - %3, March

Welcome, NY Times Readers!

| Sat Mar. 7, 2009 10:25 AM EST
Hey, great to see you here! Can we get you something to drink? Something to read about food? How about a quick tour of why MoJo went open source, or more about the two fabulous working moms who run this joint? Yeah, we thought you'd like that.

David Corn's on Twitter raising hell at White House press briefings. We're on Facebook; Kevin Drum, Debra Dickerson, and Julia Whitty are over here, here, and here.

Oh, we can't have you leave without a party favor or two. Free e-box brightener, anyone?

Anyway, welcome. Help yourself to as many National Magazine Award winning stories as you like–we've got lots. Like what you read? Tip your writers and tell your friends.

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Nalini Nadkarni Speaks for the Trees

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 8:29 PM EST
It's not like people aren't way into trees; some embrace them, others even live in them. But arguably, neither the huggers nor the Dumpster Muffins of the world do as much for the trees as Evergreen State College ecologist Nalini Nadkarni, who has made a career of defending them. On today's TEDTalk, Nadkarni tells you stuff you probably didn't know about the tree canopy (there's a whole ecosystem up there) and explains why it deserves our attention. The president of the International Canopy Network, a nonprofit she founded in 1994, she's enlisted dancers, rappers, prisoners, and churchgoers to help her spread the tree gospel. Here's a sampling of her projects (H/T TED):

  • ICAN
    Nalini is president of the International Canopy Network, a non-profit built in 1994 to support interaction between all people with a vested interest in the state of the canopy. Clearly, scientists aren't alone in the desire to preserve our environment and this project connects them with educators, activists and more.
  • Biome
    After spending time exploring the treetops at Nalini's invitation in Costa Rica, choreographers for the innovative modern dance group Capacitor created a live show and video performance about their experience. Nalini was credited as Scientific Advisor.
  • Treetop Barbie
    Showing little girls that they can be scientists and canopy researchers too, Nalini and her graduate students collect secondhand Barbie dolls and outfit them for a day in the field before distributing them to eager young minds.

The Skinny Tie Is Officially Back!

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 6:21 PM EST
Skinny Ties Yes! Thank you, econapocalypse! Photos used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr users endlessstudio, sheenabizarre, spunkinator, goldberg, and tantek.

GOP Gets LESS Tech-Savvy

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 6:13 PM EST

The RNC's top in-house new media and tech guy, Cyrus Krohn, is resigning his post, setting the GOP even further back in its effort to match the Democrats' use of web tools to organize, raise funds, and message. (I've written about the GOP's tech deficit before.) I asked Matt Lewis, a conservative blogger, for his thoughts. They are below.

"I think Cyrus' departure is very bad news for the RNC. It is important for any organization to maintain institutional knowledge, and a lot of that knowledge just walked out the door.  This -- coupled with the fact that the RNC still has not filled key staff positions -- raises serious questions about the RNC's ability to fulfill basic logistical functions.

"Cyrus was a tech guy, which is important because it is easier to teach a tech guy politics than to take a political guy and make him technologically proficient. He was also highly regarded by the conservative blogosphere."

Michael Steele is off to a rocky start as the new head of the RNC. The one thing everyone seemed to agree he was doing right was his unreserved embrace of the web and conservative web activists. With Krohn's move, that too is in peril.

In Lifting Bush's Stem Cell Research Ban, Obama Removes a Bush Lie

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 5:51 PM EST

One of the more infuriating prevarications of the presidency of George W. Bush concerned stem cell research.

On August 9, 2001, Bush delivered his first nationally televised prime-time address, and the subject was the federal funding of stem cell research. In the speech, he announced that he would allow federal funding of research involving stem cell lines that had already been created, but he said he would prohibit federal financing of research using new stem lines. His reasoning was that doing the latter would place the US government in the position of underwriting the destruction of blastocysts (a.k.a., very young embryos), and that would be morally wrong.

But have no fear, Bush said, this restriction would not get in the way of stem cell research, for there were already 60 existing stem lines. These lines, he said, "have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating opportunities for research." Funding research that depended on those existing lines while saying nyet to research utilizing new lines, he maintained, "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line."

Bush was trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He was protecting blastocysts everywhere (and endearing himself to the Catholic Church and the anti-abortion movement), while maintaining that his administration would be supporting research that could find cures for all sorts of terrible diseases. Yet at the core of his argument was a serious misstatement of fact. There were not 60 lines available for vigorous research. By the estimates of expert scientists, between 10 and 30 lines existed, and not all of them were suitable for the best research. Many could not be regenerated indefinitely. And most were tainted by mouse DNA and not useful for the most advanced and promising sort of research related to finding cures and treatments for human diseases. The scientific community's consensus was unequivocal: The existing lines did not allow researchers to explore fully or effectively the promise and potential of stem cell research. Bush had greatly misled the public on this.

Why recall this now? Because of the news that President Obama will sign an executive order on Monday lifting Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. This will mark yet another move in the effort to undo the damage done by Bush's war on science.

For almost eight years, Bush's based-on-a-lie policy prevented research that could help scientists develop cures for serious diseases. There's probably no way to quantify the number of people who were negatively affected by this Bush decision--those who have suffered with Parkinson's, diabetes or other ailments--but there's no doubt that eight years is a long time when it comes to applying the brakes on promising research. On Monday, Obama will free federally-funded scientists from Bush's restrictions, and he will free the country from one of Bush's more consequential falsehoods.

Mick LaSalle vs. A.O. Scott on Watchmen

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 5:32 PM EST
In a world, where two movie critics, see the same movie, but form two, very, different, opinions, one review, holds the key... LaSalle: Director Zack Snyder ("300") is beginning to look like the best thing to happen to the action movie in this decade. Scott: I wouldn't say that Mr. Snyder's "Watchmen" is a good movie, though it is certainly better than the same director's "300." LaSalle: One could say that the filmmakers' strategy in "Watchmen" is to try to hold the audience's attention, not with a great story (the story is just OK), but with great scenes. Scott: If I had [Dr. Manhattan's enhanced temporal perspective], the 2 hours 40 minutes of Zack Snyder’s grim and grisly excursion into comic-book mythology might not have felt quite so interminable. LaSalle: [Snyder] had a strong advantage going into "Watchmen," an audacious adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. Scott: There are times that the filmmakers seem to have used [the original] book less as an inspiration than as a storyboard. LaSalle: Advisory: This movie contains simulated sex. Scott: “Watchmen” features this year’s hands-down winner of the bad movie sex award, superhero division: a moment of bliss that takes place on board Nite Owl’s nifty little airship, accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” LaSalle: The viewer has been infused with a sense of life on earth as chaotic and hopeless. Scott: Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it’s better to grow up. LaSalle walks away, dejected. Fade to black.

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Baby Bottle BPA Bye Bye

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 5:28 PM EST

Today's heartening public health news from WebMD:

The top six makers of baby bottles in the U.S. have agreed to stop using the polycarbonate plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their bottles...
The FDA is studying bisphenol A, but hasn't issued any warnings about BPA in baby bottles or other consumer products.
But the National Toxicology Program issued a report last year that includes "some concern" about BPA's possible effects on the brain, prostate gland, and on behavior in fetuses, infants, and children, and "minimal concern" for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for female puberty in fetuses, infants, and children.

Read MoJo's Plastic Panic investigation for a primer on BPA.

Listen to Upcoming Sonic Youth Album (In Pieces)

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 4:43 PM EST

The legendary New York combo Sonic Youth is planning to release what appears to be their 16th studio album The Eternal on June 9—is Confusion as a Sex a full-length? Anyway, June seems like a million years away, but thankfully we've been given a little jolt of Sonic goodness to tide us over. The band has released a two-and-a-half-minute audio clip containing excerpts of tracks from the album, which, as you would expect, is both great and annoying. There are plentiful moments of shiver-inducing guitar work and eyebrow-raising lyrics (did Kim just say "anti-war is anti-orgasm"?) but I want it all, and I want it now! Actually, as Newsweek (from whence this stream comes) pointed out, the little medley is itself rather artfully composed, with the various clips rolling into each other, if not exactly smoothly, then at least interestingly. So that's something.

Your absurdly-named DJ was a mega-fan of der Yoof's last platter, 2006's scrappy, hooky Rather Ripped, an album that was both a return to form and a bold, accessible step forward. From the wee clippies in this little montage, The Eternal sounds a little edgier, with about equal time given to hectic rock-outs as strummy jams, but I can already tell it's going to be another good one. We're coming up on 30 years of fine material from this band, and still no Hall of Fame?! Goes to show.

Like I said, The Eternal is out June 9 on Matador, and if you buy early (starting April 28) you get extra goodies and a full preview stream, I guess is what Matador wants me to tell you.

Friday Cat Blogging - 6 March 2009

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 3:51 PM EST
Inkblot is back up exploring the new fence today.  Something has caught his eye in our neighbor's yard, but it's not clear what.  A leaf?  A stray molecule?  Something from another dimension?  Domino, meanwhile, is rolling around in the lovely, lovely sunshine and mugging for the camera.  And why not?  What better way is there to spend one's day?

Should We Pity the Rich?

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 3:44 PM EST

I found this little gem on National Review online via Oliver Willis. I think it says a lot about modern conservative thought. Stick with me all the way through; I think it's worth it.

The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities….

No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife's former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling? Instapundit speculates on people "going John Galt." I think golf — a time-intensive sport that the hard-working have eschewed for the past decade or two because it took too long — will make a comeback.

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