One Good Thing About the Death of Newspapers

| Wed Mar. 4, 2009 1:30 PM EST
Bad thing about the death of newspapers: No more beat reporters to hold cops accountable.

Good thing: David Simon comes out of retirement to kick some ass on the streets of Baltimore.

In a recent Washington Post article, The Wire creator and former crime reporter looks into the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer. The police department says it can't reveal the cop's identity; Simon calls BS and does the digging no other reporter—or blogger—is doing. And he concludes: "Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit—these are the wages of a world in which newspapers, their staffs eviscerated, no longer battle at the frontiers of public information."

Amen. Every time a beat reporter gets canned or a daily is shuttered, a public official smiles. More of Simon's conclusions about the death of accountability journalism after the jump.

Advertise on

Quote of the Day - 03.04.09

| Wed Mar. 4, 2009 1:22 PM EST
From Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R–Ca.), speaking to one of her aides after a visiting reporter suggested that the stimulus bill didn't actually contain a provision for a maglev train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas:

"Get him the bill, it's right there, show him."

You will be unsurprised to learn that no such provision turned out to be in the bill.  Mack's reaction went sadly unrecorded.  (Via Steve Benen.)

Cuba Lunacy

| Wed Mar. 4, 2009 12:35 PM EST
Barack Obama supports a provision in the spending bill before Congress that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year and end limits on the sale of American food and medicines in Cuba. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D–Lunaticville) is so outraged by this that he's threatening to oppose the entire bill.  And he's holding up two of Obama's science nominations (John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco).  And he's threatening to hold his breath until his face turns blue.

Jeebus.  What is it about Cuba that drives people into decades-long fits of insanity?  Even JFK, the guy who instituted the Cuba embargo in the first place, thought we were all kind of crazy on the subject.  But 50 years later?  Crazy doesn't begin to describe it.

What's more, it's a different kind of crazy from most exile communities.  What accounts for it?  A Cuban-American congressional candidate told me last year that the difference was simple: most Cuban exiles, when they fled the island after Castro's takeover, left with their entire families.  So for a lot of them, there's literally nothing remaining there that they care about.  You could drop a nuke on Havana and they'd be OK with that.  This promotes a different brand of insanity than in most exile communities, which might hate the current regime in their home country but still have deep personal ties to it.

I don't know if that's really the explanation or not.  Comments welcome on this score.  But there's got to be something that explains this.  It's just nuts, and Menendez should be ashamed of himself.  It's time to grow up.

Do You Think Bills Should Be Read Before They Are Passed?

| Wed Mar. 4, 2009 11:42 AM EST

It's a dirty little secret of Capitol Hill's: lawmakers frequently vote on bills they haven't read, either because they don't want to spend the time or because the majority party, hoping to ram through a contentious piece of legislation, demands a vote immediately after a bill's final version is produced. Now, a petition is circulating that aims to change that. has a simple demand: "Congress should change its rules to require that non-emergency legislation and conference reports be posted on the Internet for 72 hours before debate begins."

That 72-hour period would give lawmakers enough time to determine if they really support a bill. Perhaps more importantly, it would give everyday citizens and public watchdogs enough time to hunt for hidden provisions, kickbacks, and conflicts of interest. Take a look at some bills that got rushed through Congress here; they include the stimulus bill, FISA, and the PATRIOT Act. You can sign the petition here.

Is the Kindle Too Smart For Its Own Good?

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 10:09 PM EST
Yesterday I decided to buy a Kindle.  As a patriot, I even paid for next day delivery, since surely UPS deserves to be stimulated every bit as much as Amazon.  Right?  Today it came, I charged it up, and then dove into its guts to buy a book and try it out.  Charles Stross's Halting State seemed like a nice choice.

So I clicked on "Kindle Store," and before I could even type in the name of the book Amazon offered up four recommendations.  One of them was Halting State.

I dunno.  That's kind of scary.  I'm pretty sure I've never bought a Stross book via Amazon, so how did they know?  Does the Kindle read my mind?  Brrr.

The book itself was easy to buy.  Too easy, really: click "Buy" and you're done.  The Kindle magically comes preprogrammed with your Amazon account information, and I guess they just assume that anyone impatient enough to buy ebooks online also wants one-click shopping.  A couple of minutes later the book was downloaded and ready to go.  (They say it only takes a minute, but I appear to live in something of a Sprint dead zone, so it took a little longer.)

I shall report back after I've tried it out for a while.  In the meantime, it's pictured above, along with some suitable background material to show scale.

Easy Fixes: Vinegar and Chickenshit

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 9:06 PM EST
Two interesting papers in the science lit today on home-brewed solutions to industrial-strength problems. The first: contaminated water can clean itself if simple organic chemicals such as vinegar are added. The second: chicken manure cleans soil that's been contaminated by crude oil.

The vinegar solution was tested on groundwater tainted by former textiles factories, smelters, and tanneries. The leftovers of these industries produced harmful chromium compounds that cause cancers and all kinds of kidney, liver, lung and skin troubles. But add dilute acetic acid, aka vinegar, and—presto!—the oxidized chromate became non-soluble. That means it's no longer bio-available and can be left safely in the ground without risk to the surrounding ecosystem. The vinegar feeds and grows naturally-occurring bacteria which then alter the chemistry of the chromium compounds, rendering them harmless.

Good job bacteria!

The chicken guano solution was used on soil contaminated by crude oil spills. Conventional clean-up bears a heavy environmental cost since detergents become pollutants themselves and persist in the environment for a long time. Better to bioremediate: use natural or engineered microbes to metabolize the organic components of crude oil. But too often that requires expensive nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers with their own hefty environmental price tags (decreased soil quality). But when chicken manure was added to the soil—presto!—nearly 75 percent of the oil was broken down after two weeks. At least 12 different species of oil-munching bacteria liked the chickenshit menu and responded by metabolizing the oil.

Let's dig back through our great-grandmothers housekeeping diaries and find out what else they (probably) knew that we've forgotten?

Advertise on

The Mortgage Rescue

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 9:04 PM EST
This isn't the most pressing issue in the world, but a few days ago I suggested that some seemingly contradictory poll numbers on Obama's mortgage rescue plan might actually be perfectly compatible.  Even though it's counterintuitive, it's possible that a majority of people approve of his plan and that a majority of people think it's unfair because it helps out homeowners who were irresponsible.

Today's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll confirms this.  They asked questions about both support and fairness in the same poll and the results are below.  The most likely interpretation is that about 20% of the country thinks the mortgage rescue rewards irresponsible borrowers but supports the plan anyway.  This shouldn't come as a big surprise, either.  Lots of us have had to swallow hard over the past few months and support interventions of one kind or another solely because, even though we don't like them, they seem to be necessary to save the economy.  This is just one more.

Quote of the Day - 03.03.09

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 6:26 PM EST
From Andrew Exum, commenting on Andrew Bacevich's review of David Kilcullen's book on counterinsurgency in Iraq:

No one who really understands COIN wants to do it.

Amen.  (Via James Joyner.)

New Music: The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 5:57 PM EST
Today witnesses the long-awaited return of an alternative-radio behemoth who sold millions of albums, a band that was once hailed as the"next big thing" but kind of went away, and now is releasing a new album, hoping to recapture a little of the original mojo. If you somehow missed the headline, you might have thought I was talking about Irish egoistes U2 (whose HRC-saluting No Line on the Horizon comes out today), but no, I'm speaking of The Prodigy, the UK combo that, along with The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, broke through the grunge-rock hegemony with a crowd-pleasing brand of arena-techno in the mid-to-late '90s. However, among their "Electronica" comrades, The Prodigy is a unique concept: a one-man band with roots deep in the UK underground rave scene that became, depending on your perspective, cynical sellouts, a fun show to see in between Foo Fighters and Oasis concerts, or a brilliantly successful KLF-style theatrical art-prank. Their new album, the charmingly titled Invaders Must Die, bugs me, but I'm not sure it's terrible, and the wild mix of reviews confirms the band's slippery meaning.

On the one hand, to even the most patient fan of hardcore electronic noise (hi there!), Invaders is cartoonishly brutal. There are song titles like "Warrior's Dance" and "Run With the Wolves"—is Robert Bly a co-writer? Rolling Stone correctly identifies the album's sound as "pummeling, vacuous rave noise," and ascribes the ridiculously thumpy title track to the same empty posturing that brought us 1997's controversial "Smack My Bitch Up." They give the album 1 1/2 out of 5 stars. On the other end of the spectrum, Spin looks kindly on the band's "anthemic breakbeat spazz," acknowledging that it's "retro" but giving props to founder/producer/everything-but-dancer-and-screamer Liam Howlett's programming skills and awareness of musical history, offering 4/5 stars. Pitchfork comes right down the middle with a 5.8/10 review, calling the more sonically extreme sections of the album "lunkheaded," but hearing echoes of the band's first album, 1992's ravey, silly, and wildly enjoyable Experience.

A Bouncing Rush Limbaugh

| Tue Mar. 3, 2009 5:41 PM EST

Have you ever wanted to see Rush Limbaugh bounce? If so, Americans United for Change has made your dream come true. Trying to exploit the recent news story about GOP chairman Michael Steele apologizing to the radio host after calling his broadcasts "ugly" and "incendiary," this progressive advocacy group has put out another ad targeting the conservative kingpin of the airwaves, who has said he would like to see President Obama fail. And in this spot, Limbaugh jiggles at the end.

By the way, the White House seems delighted by the Rush-Steele dust-up. At the very end of Tuesday's press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped, "I was a little surprised [at] the speed with which Mr. Steele, the head of the RNC, apologized to the head of the Republican Party." Meow.