Today's must-reads are in an Empire State of Mind:

  • The president is headed to Wall Street today to talk about the economy. What will he say? (WaPo)
  • What does the public really think about the public option? (MoJo)
  • Key GOP senator wants Obama to take public option "off the table." (NYT)
  • Related news from the department of Republicans wouldn't think twice: "Massachusetts Democrats wary of Kennedy law change." (Politico)
  • What's the deal with those "9/12" protests? (MoJo)
  • Trade war! China retaliates against US tire tariff. (NYT)
  • Things are really not going that well in Afghanistan. (WaPo)
  • Kanye West interrupts President Obama (YouTube)
  • Michael Kinsley: FREE JOE WILSON! (WaPo)
  • Leon Wieseltier reviews Norman Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberals? (NYT Book Review)
  • What does it mean to have a million Twitter followers? (Mediaite)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Jay-Z would like a moment of silence for Auto-Tune, the pitch-tweaking software that gave us basically every Billboard Hot 100 song since Summer 2007. On his latest album, The Blueprint III, the rapper heralds an end to the revamped vocoder and needles his contemporaries for "T-Paining too much." But is Auto-Tune really "D.O.A."? 

Hardly. In its most subtle form, Auto-Tune makes kinda okay singers sound like John Mayer; in its late-decade form, it makes everyone sound like T-Pain, a liability T-Pain himself has been quick to exploit. On Friday, he released "I Am T-Pain," an iPhone app that lets users Auto-Tune themselves in real time, on the go, for $2.99. It also conveniently bundles in several background tracks for karaoke emergencies. If you want proof that the "I am T-Pain" app is evil, look no further than this video review by CNet's Justin Yu:

Happy Monday, everyone. Here's the enviro, health, and science news for today:

Podcast, people! David Corn and Kevin Drum on healthcare, Obama's speech, and Twitter's quirks. Corn doesn't really like to talk about the truthers, which makes his latest take on Van Jones and 9/11 conspiracies all the more interesting.

The Economics of Traffic: How much would you pay for a shorter commute?

Poland's organic revolution: The newest Western trend to hit Eastern Europe isn't a new fast-food chain—it's organic food. [AFP]

Vaccine skeptics and swine flu: Experts say vaccines don't cause autism, and young children who contract the H1N1 flu strain are at risk for serious complications. So why are some parents still refusing to give their kids flu shots? [L.A. Times]

U.S. of Euthanasia? Is Barack Obama's health care plan nothing but an underhanded plot to bring European-style euthanasia to the United States? David Corn and James Pinkerton duke it out on Bloggingheads.tv.

 

 

 

U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Schrock tries to keep warm after waking up on a cold morning in the mountains near Sar Howza in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2009. Schrock is assigned to the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith.)

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.")