If 1960s Cambodian pop revival doesn't sound like your cup of tea, maybe you just haven't heard the multi-culti rock group Dengue Fever, brainchild of brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman, which has been making waves in the Los Angeles music scene. When Dengue came around recently to perform at Outside Lands, I sat down with Zac and lead singer Chhom Nimol to chat about vector-borne diseases, Long Beach's Little Phnom Penh, their genre-bending new album, and the revival of a musical style Pol Pot sought to wipe out. 

Mother Jones: Gotta ask, what's with the name? 

Zac Holtzman: When my brother was traveling in Cambodia, his traveling companion came down with dengue fever. When they were taking him to the hospital they were in this truck and driving on some crazy dirt roads. The music the driver was playing was a lot of old Cambodian tunes from the late '60s, the early '70s, the stuff we're all into—and that's how my brother heard it for the first time. So when we were thining of a name for the band he kind of went back to his sketchboook, and there it was. I heard it for the first time from my friend who was working at Aquarius Records here in San Francisco. I was playing it to my brother and he was like, 'Oh my god, these are all the same music as the tapes I collected when I was in Cambodia!' From there we were just like, we should form a band around this. 

MJ: How did you find a singer? 

Chhom Nimol: I was working at the Dragon House (a club in Long Beach). I worked there for three years, almost, and then I saw Zac and Ethan come; they wanted to talk to me and they ask me to be in their band. They needed a singer, and I said okay.

MJ: Is there a large Cambodian population in Long Beach? 

CN: About 50,000. In Oakland, Stockton, Boston, and Texas there are communities. But in Long Beach we call it Little Phnom Penh. 

A few months ago I moved into a house with a great backyard and a charcoal grill. Almost immediately, a burger-loving crowd descended, and they sort of haven’t left since. Endless summer is great and all, but I’ve had this nagging feeling that our charcoal habit is cooking the planet along with my food. I’ve considered switching to a gas grill, which releases less carbon dioxide than its charcoal counterpart: According to the Department of Energy, propane-powered BBQs produce 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, compared to 11 pounds for charcoal. And CO2 isn't the only nasty thing about charcoal—it produces nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and soot, too. Bummer, since it's the coals that give your meat its smoky flavor. 

So should you sacrifice charred deliciousness for the sake of the planet? Not necessarily—if you’re occasionally willing to ditch your cow-based grillables for a chicken thigh, or better yet a portobello or two. Blogger Jamais Cascio of OpenTheFuture.com calculated that the average American eats 1 to 3 cheeseburgers a week, contributing 1,190 to 2,017 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per person per year. Now let’s say you grill for half an hour three times a week from May through October—that’s 36 hours of total grilling, which adds 202 pounds of CO2 for gas grills, compared to 396 pounds for charcoal. Grilling 30 fewer cheeseburgers a year on your charcoal grill, then, gets rid of roughly the same amount of emissions as switching to gas.

So here's my advice: Char if you must (and you can pick a low-smoke charcoal like this one, which is made from coconut shells), but whatever kind of grill you choose, consider this rule of thumb: In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, one burger is the same as 3 pork chops, 6 pieces of chicken, 2 salmon steaks, or 21 pieces of mackerel.

Update, August 29, 2014: If you're worried about the cancer-causing compounds generated by charcoal grilling, marinate your meat in beer, says science.
 

Here's today's healthcare reform question: How do Americans feel about the public option?  Do they (a) support it, (b) oppose it, or (c) not care all that much?

I think you can guess the answer.  Here are two questions from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll:

So: 46% support the overall plan.  But 55% support the public option.  The public option is actually more popular than the overall plan.

So what happens if you remove the public option?  Answer: support for the plan goes up.

At first this seems counterintuitive: why would support go up if you remove a popular option?  The answer, of course, is simple: a small number of people who oppose the plan are willing to support it if you remove the public option.  At the same time, supporters of the public plan are mostly pretty luekwarm.  Sure, they like the idea of a public option, but if you remove it they still support reform.  Apparently, most supporters really don't care one way or another.

I guess you can spin this whichever way you want.  If you oppose the public option, this poll shows that healthcare reform does indeed have stronger support without it.  But if you support the public option, this poll shows that it's much ado about nothing: removing the option appeases only a tiny number of people.  And a solid majority support the public option in the first place.

My guess is that polls like this doom the public option: removing it helps in Congress and apparently does no harm with the public.  Nobody goes to the mat for an issue that plays out like that.

The problem with people who march in protest of big government and taxes is that they never seem to acknowledge just how much they depend on the very government those tax dollars support. Case in point: I spent several hours Saturday attending the big “9/12” march in DC, brought to you by the same people who organized the Tax Day “tea parties” and rowdy health care town hall meetings. Tens of thousands of conservatives and libertarians fanned out across Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol lawn, decrying the federal stimulus package, the bailout of Wall Street, and the “czaring” or America.

All that marching and ranting was apparently too much for some folks; several “patriots” suffered medical emergencies and had to be rescued by paramedics—that is, by big government. Or at least local government. Several children also got lost (perhaps because they all seemed to be wearing camo). But the event organizers failed to see the irony in bashing government as the root of all evil one minute and the next, urging little Johnny to find a policeman (and likely stimulus beneficiary) to help him find his mom. (Some in the crowd did suggest people pray for the little tyke, however.)

This kind of disconnect seemed to infuse one of the larger conservative protests in recent memory. What, exactly, did all these protesters want? Who knows? Their message was as muddled as any Starbucks-vandalizing-World Bank protester’s. Some wanted an end to illegal immigration. Others wanted to abolish the auto czar. A few protested “cap and tax” and carried signs suggesting that CO2 emissions came from the sun. One guy carried a poster with photos of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ben Bernanke, Obama and others, all wearing Hitler mustaches—in protest of the socialism that was taking over the country. More just seemed to hate Obama generally, along with ACORN and Ted Kennedy. (A popular sign: “Obamacare should die with Ted Kennedy.”)

When bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he knocked over those temples of finance, he famously replied: "Because that's where the money is."

Duh.

And yet, even with a growing understanding of global warming and the realization that fossil fuels are finite, we're having a hard time implementing Mr. Sutton's wise, if obvious, rule: get the biggest bang for your buck. (Actually, Sutton's rule is more accurately rephrased as "getting the biggest bucks for your bang.")

Politics and Lederhosen

Via Henry Farrell, the Economist's Charlemagne columnist tags along with Angela Merkel while she campaigns near Munich and then falls into a reverie about how America handles such things:

The Bavarian event was genuine, in a way that stage-managed American politics cannot match. There is a lot that is creepy about an American campaign event. Arriving early at Bush rallies, I would watch aggressive and chilly young Republican aides in smart suits kneeling on gymnasium floors with fistfuls of different felt tip marker pens, and large rectangles of white card. Frowning with concentration, they would then write things like “South Dakota Loves W” in deliberately babyish writing, or pick out the words “Hello Mr President” in red, white and blue lettering.

The styles and slogans would be carefully varied, and the end results were impressive: a stack of signs that looked as though supporters of all ages had lovingly written them out on homely kitchen tables. Then, when the crowd arrived (all of them invited and vetted as bona fide Bush supporters) any of them who had forgotten instructions not to bring signs of their own would have them politely confiscated. Then they would be handed one of the ersatz home-made signs by one of the chilly, bossy young munchkins from campaign HQ. On television, it all looked very sweet.

Good times.  The Germans don't get off entirely scot free, though.  Read the whole thing for Charlemagne's thoughts on lederhosen.

Deep Thought

Why have Americans allowed the British to overtake us in the pivotal contest to erect waterproof coverings over large tennis stadia? What has become of our national honor?

UPDATE: Speaking of tennis, tonight featured the Footfault Heard Round the World.  And I didn't see it because I didn't even know they were playing tonight.  But I probably wouldn't have anyway since I was watching USC-Ohio State instead, which turned out to be helluva game too.  But if I'd known, at least I could have switched obsessively back and forth between the two.

And all the while, Wozniacki and Wickmayer were playing a U.S. Open semifinal before a roaring crowd of 300.  Sheesh.

Quote of the Day

From Sen. Jim DeMint, commenting on the demonstrators in Washington DC carrying signs that call Nancy Pelosi a Nazi and Barack Obama a communist:

This is not some kind of radical right-wing group. I just hope the Congress, the Senate and the president recognize that people are afraid of what’s going on.

Uh huh.  That really means a lot coming from a guy like DeMint.

But what I'm really curious about is the guy in this photo with the Nancy Pelosi sign.  I'm trying to figure it out.  The other signs all sport  some pretty standard fare (Chicago thugs, socialism, Acorn, cap-and-tax, etc. etc.), but what's this guy trying to say about Pelosi?  That she dreams of Nazis?  That she thinks about Nazis?  That she's secretly a Nazi?

And then there's the even more puzzling "ASTROTURF!!!!" business.  Is Nancy Pelosi an astroturf Nazi?  What would an astroturf Nazi be?  Or is he suggesting that conservatives can defeat Pelosi via an astroturf campaign?  Somebody help me out on this.

Paying for Traffic

Matt Yglesias links to an IBM survey asking people how much they'd be willing to pay to shave 15 minutes off their daily commute, and concludes that most people would consider $10 a pretty good deal.  James Joyner, who commutes 45 minutes to work each day, is skeptical.  "I simply don’t believe the numbers," he says.

I commute about 30 seconds each day, so I don't really have a personal opinion about this.  But here's a data point.  A few years ago a toll road company opened up a highway that slashed the commute time coming in to Irvine from Riverside County.  A few of my coworkers who lived up there were ecstatic: it would cut their travel time by upwards of 45 minutes each way, they said.

Now, they might have been exaggerating.  Maybe it was more like 30 minutes.  But the price of the toll road at rush hour is only about $4, and since the toll folks could charge more if they wanted to, this is presumably the fee that maximizes their revenue.  If it really saves 30 minutes compared to taking the nearest freeway, it values commute time at roughly $8 per hour.

This is just one data point, and I don't know for sure how good a substitute the new toll road is for the existing freeways in the area.  It's not a bad one, though.  And surely there are plenty of other examples like this, where a toll road roughly parallels a free road, which gives you a good idea of how much people are willing to pay in real life to avoid crawling in traffic.  That seems like a much better way of collecting this data than taking a survey.

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