mojo-photo-nprlogosm.jpgIt turns out that the economic downturn has taken its toll even on the non-profit among us (gulp!) as National Public Radio announced today it would lay off 7 percent of its staff and cut two underperforming shows. "Day to Day," a midday news program, got the axe, as did, perhaps more troublingly, "News and Notes," NPR's latest attempt to reach out to an African-American audience. Both shows were based at NPR's new Culver City studios. So was this my fault for not giving money to both of our local public stations?

red-deer-stag.jpgThis week, the British organization CHEM Trust, which is financially supported by WWF-UK and Greenpeace, published a report (.pdf) reviewing scientific literature on the reproductive health of wildlife in contact with chemical pollutants. These pollutants include the usual suspects: phthalates, bisphenol A, PCBs, DDT, atrazine, etc. All of these chemicals have been covered extensively by Mother Jones, such as in the current issue's "Let's Go Europe," about European chemical regulations.

In a press release, the report's author, Gwynne Lyons, commented that, "Man-made chemicals are clearly damaging the basic male tool-kit." The report concludes:

Some of the most prevalent effects reported in male wildlife, which are associated with pollutants, are related to genital disruption (GD). GD includes an array of manifestations. Notable amongst these are: intersex features (such as egg tissue in the testes of the male); small phallus; small testes; undescended testes or other obvious structural defects of the male reproductive tract; or ambiguous genitals.

And the human implications?

Taken together, the effects seen in wildlife should raise concerns for contaminant induced genital disruption in human male infants. Indeed a condition called testicular dysgenesis syndrome, including birth defects of the penis of baby boys, cryptorchidism (undescended testes), reduced sperm production and testicular cancer, has been suggested, because there is evidence to indicate that these effects may be interlinked in causation. Scientists have also noted that the rapid pace of the increase of human male reproductive disorders indicates an environmental cause as do studies following baby boys born to immigrants who take on the same risk for testicular cancer, as the offspring of residents born in that country.

[Update: Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson points out that male Polar Bears have been hit especially hard by pollution-related "genital disruption"—their penises are shrinking.]


Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Jindal Bows Out

JINDAL BOWS OUT....Is Louisiana governor and GOP superstar Bobby Jindal planning to run for president in 2012?

At a news conference Wednesday with Bob McDonnell, Virginia's 2009 Republican candidate for governor, Jindal was asked if he was interested in being president, AP reports.

His answer: "No."

Jindal said he's planning to run for reelection in 2011, something that would make pivoting to a national campaign logistically and politically tricky.

I'd say this confirms that Jindal isn't an idiot. Sure, it's possible that Barack Obama is going to crash and burn and turn 2012 into a Republican year. But what are the odds? Far more likely is that Obama is a shoo-in for a second term, and whoever runs against him will suffer the same fate as George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, and John Kerry. The GOP will find someone to embark on this suicide run, but it will have to be someone both dumber and with a lot more jejune self-regard than Jindal. Palin 2012!

mojo-photo-nycsubway.jpgLast year's engaging documentary Helvetica made the point that the font's use as the main typeface of the New York City subway is symbolic of its status as a singular "modern" design. Anyone who's visited New York knows that the plain white-on-black lettering seems to bring a modicum of calming order to the tangled, chaotic system. Clearly this was all part of some benevolent modernist designer's brilliant plan, right? Nope, it turns out it was kind of an accident. The Transportationist blog points out a fascinating recent article in the AIGA Journal of Design that shows just how haphazard the process really was.

The 2008 Zeitgeist

THE 2008 ZEITGEIST....According to Google, here are the search terms that increased the most since 2007. Pretty weird group, isn't it?

Obama and Palin? No surprise there. David Cook? He's the latest American Idol winner, so no surprise there either.

Beijing 2008, Facebook, and iPhone? I wouldn't have guessed them, but OK. Makes sense.

But Fox News? YouTube? Those seem like they would have been massively popular well before 2008. What happened?

And ATT? Huh? I assume this is a search for AT&T, the telecommunications giant. Why on earth did they suddenly get trainloads of Google fu?

And finally, there's Surf The Channel, clearly a Zeitgeist choice designed solely to make me feel old. I've never heard of it. Googling it, I find that it's a "website for TV enthusiasts. We go out into the internet, find the shows we love on other sites and then list them here on our paqes." And it is the tenth fastest growing Google search in the United States. We are all doomed.

The EPA today released a new, "America's Most Wanted"-style list of environmental fugitives. Many of the fugitives, who have been charged with everything from "illegal discharge of hazardous pollutants" to "illegal asbestos removal," are suspected to have fled to countries like Syria and Denmark. Grant Nakayama, an official in the EPA's enforcement division, said in a press release that "Putting this information on the EPA's website will increase the number of 'eyes' looking for environmental fugitives."

While portraying people who commit environmental crimes as serious criminals is definitely laudable, EPA enforcement has been almost completely toothless under the Bush administration. You gotta wonder if, even if they the EPA does get information on these fugitives, they'd actually try to convict them. According to the Associated Press, in 2008 the EPA opened 100 fewer criminal enforcement cases than they did in 2004. In 2006, it began shutting down its research libraries. As one senior EPA scientist, Wes Wilson, told us in the current issue, the EPA has moved far from its investigative past. "Now we sit around and basically do nothing," he said.

Not only is the EPA investigating fewer cases, it's getting political interference on the cases it has pursued. According to a recently retired EPA official, the DOJ may have improperly shut down an investigation of a huge 2006 BP oil spill. Maybe the EPA is just treading water waiting for an Obama-related reorganization, but I couldn't help but feel the list is a waste of resources without including more headshots of CEOs from oil and energy companies. Though CEOs aren't fugitives, when it comes down to it, their corporations are the ones doing the major damage, not guys like Alessandro Giordano who "illegally imported automobiles that did not meet the United States emission standards." For my taxpayer dollar, I'd prefer to see less energy spent looking for small-time criminals abroad, and more effort on catching those really big fish here at home.

desperate_housewives_gay.gif
The excellent Hollywood biopic, Milk, has unwittingly exposed a subtle form of homophobia--"a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia," as the Washington Post puts it--that remains a fixture of the Hollywood media circuit. Today the Post has compiled a disturbing account of interviews given by male actors who play gay men in the movies, and who are invariably asked by journalists and talk show hosts what it was like to kiss another man (with the obvious subtext: wasn't it kind of nasty?).

Exhibit A is a conversation between David Letterman and Milk's James Franco, in which Letterman asks him what he was thinking going into a minute-long kissing scene with Penn:

"I didn't want to screw it up," Franco told Letterman.
"See, if it's me, I kind of hope I do screw it up," Letterman shot back. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
"To screw it up?" Franco asked.
"I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?" Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Even worse was an interview Chris Potter, an actor in Showtime's Queer as Folk gave to MSNBC: "Soon as they say 'cut,' you spit," he sneered. "You want to go to a strip bar or touch the makeup girls. You feel dirty. It's a tough job."

Yesterday I noted that three of the last five Illinois governors (including Blagojevich) have been charged with some kind of major wrongdoing. Today, Slate points out that it isn't just the governors; politicians across the state are caught with their hands in the cookie jar with a stunning frequency.

...in the last three decades, at least 79 local elected officials have been convicted of a crime, including three governors, one mayor, and a whopping 27 aldermen from the Windy City. What makes Chicago so corrupt?
...to some degree because the city never had the benefit of a reformist mayor like New York City's Fiorello LaGuardia, who had political ties to FDR. Instead, Chicago moved towards a one-party system that made it even more vulnerable to corruption: The city's last Republican mayor left office in 1931. Today, not even the Democratic primaries are competitive—for the most part, once you're in office, you stay there. The weak campaign finance laws in Illinois probably helped to stave off competition in recent years....
How do we know that Chicago's so corrupt? The most straightforward way to measure corruption is to check the number of convicted local officials. Between 1995 and 2004, 469 politicians from the federal district of Northern Illinois were found guilty of corruption. The only districts with higher tallies were central California (which includes L.A.), and southern Florida (which includes Miami).

Candidate #5

CANDIDATE #5....Brian Ross reports the latest on Blago:

Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) is the anonymous "Senate Candidate #5" whose emissaries Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich reportedly claimed offered up to a million dollars to name him to the U.S. Senate, federal law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

An awful lot rides on just who the "emissaries" were and whether anyone has any evidence that they were acting with Jackson's knowledge. Needless to say, Jackson denies any involvement.

Bad Pundits

BAD PUNDITS....Foreign Policy rounds up the top ten worst predictions of 2008 today. Bill Kristol tops the list, and while I can't argue with that in a cosmic, karmic kind of sense, I have to confess that predicting Hillary Clinton would beat Barack Obama hardly qualifies as uniquely idiotic. Surely he's said something dumber than that recently?

Personally, I would have given the #1 spot to Don Luskin, who claimed, on the day before Bear Stearns collapsed, that it was ridiculous to say we were in a recession. That's an epic fail.

However, if I were Walter Wagner I'd sue for crystal ball malpractice. He's the guy who predicted that the Large Hadron Collider would destroy the earth, and FP says, "The LHC was turned on in September, and it appears that we are still here." But the truth is that the LHC never reached its full operational capacity before a malfunction shut it down. It might yet suck the planet into a black hole, and won't the FP editors have egg on their faces if that happens.