Five at 8 – 3/1/10: The new face of pollution

The Monday Morning Rouser has the faint whiff of warmer weather. Sing along with your cubicle mates:

1) Is this…


The new this?


The price of being “business friendly,” or is it “farmer friendly”? The New York Times today reports some of the biggest polluters are now outside the reach of the Clean Water Act, thanks to the Supreme Court:

“We are, in essence, shutting down our Clean Water programs in some states,” said Douglas F. Mundrick, an E.P.A. lawyer in Atlanta. “This is a huge step backward. When companies figure out the cops can’t operate, they start remembering how much cheaper it is to just dump stuff in a nearby creek.”

Who seems most happy about the situation. Steel mills? Paper mills? Paint companies? No. Farmers.

That’s where the Washington Post picks up the story today:

Animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become an unlikely modern pollution problem, scientists and environmentalists say. The country simply has more dung than it can handle: Crowded together at a new breed of megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields.

2) What’s Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas really like? SCOTUSBlog interviews David Stras, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who clerked for Justice Thomas in 2002.

3) The U.S. – Canada hockey game was an instant classic, but from the dour expressions while receiving Olympic medals, the silver had a bitter taste going down. Why? They’re the Seinfeld Generation.

But I digress. The U.S. won the most medals, thanks to sports like snowboarding, but Nate Silver at calculates that it would’ve been so even without the newfangled sports.

4) If reporters felt comfortable following up bumper-sticker political speeches like “God is in charge” and “If God was good enough for the Founding Fathers, he’s good enough for me,” we might be treated to an intellectual exercise in the power of God and the nature of disaster that James Carroll treated us to in the Boston Globe.

But a world-historic disaster like the Haiti earthquake (the worst there in centuries) raises a more abstract question about God, the question of theodicy. If God is all-powerful, how can God permit the innocent to suffer so? Where does such an instance of what might be called natural evil come from? For many people, the experience of such suffering obliterates the faith by positing as contradictions the received notions of God’s goodness and power. Either God is all-good, or God is all-powerful – not both. In either case, God is not God. Therefore unbelief. Catastrophic interruptions in history – or in personal life – lead to the destruction of overly simple ideas of God, what Einstein called “the dross of anthropomorphism.” God is not an executioner. God is not a nanny, either. But, in truth, the challenge to faith goes deeper than that. Is there order in the universe? Is life meaningful? Every person ends up as dirt. What do transcendent impulses amount to then? Are there answers to such questions?

In other disaster news, if there had been a tsunami in the Pacific on Saturday and warnings hadn’t been issued, what do you suppose today’s news stories would be saying?

5) Tell the truth, now: If you drove to work today while talking on the phone, you probably caught yourself thinking, “I don’t really remember driving the last ‘X’ miles.” If you didn’t, you’re probably still on the phone. Hang up.

NPR’s Car Talk has set up the Driver Distraction Center, which is being run by the University of Utah Cognition Laboratory. There are guidelines here for how you can study distracted driving at your favorite intersection (we should have a designated day when it warms up when News Cut readers conduct a study and pool our findings). And here’s a quiz that’ll rank your distractions. Come on! Share yours below.


A trainer at Sea World was killed last week in an accident involving a killer whale. Officials at the tourist attraction say they’ll continue to put the whale on public display. Is it right to keep and train animals for human entertainment?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Home sales are lagging of new and existing homes, despite a federal tax credit worth thousands of dollars to some homebuyers. A look at what the weakness in the housing market is doing to the economy and people’s abilities to buy and sell homes.

Second hour: From the Civil War through prohibition and the rise of mega-breweries, the August Schell Brewing company has seen its share of ups and downs but managed to survive, and thrive. As Schell’s celebrates 150 years in business, Midmorning looks at the company’s colorful history, and the history of brewing in Minnesota.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Three Independence Party candidates for governor join Gary Eichten on Midday to discuss issues facing the state and take questions from listeners.

Second hour: Thomas Goetz, executive editor of Wired magazine, discusses his new book, “The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine.” Goetz was in MPR’s UBS Forum for the series, “Policy and a Pint.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: What to do with aging nuclear power plants.

Second hour: Who takes corporate responsibility when things go wrong?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Fargo is scheduled to begin sandbagging. The goal is to have 1 million sandbags ready in a heated warehouse before the waters rise. Moorhead is also beginning its sandbag work. MPR’s Dan Gunderson will report on who shows up to volunteer.

A new $8 billion federal loan guarantee for a nuclear power plant in Georgia shows President Barack Obama wants nuclear to be part of the solution to the nation’s energy needs. Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans support that position. But Minnesota has banned the construction of new nuclear power plants, mostly over concern about what to do with the waste. State lawmakers will likely vote again this year on whether to lift the ban. With an outgoing governor who supports nuclear power and most legislators up for re-election this year, lawmakers who believe the state should keep the ban could feel more political pressure than ever to change their position. MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar and Stephanie Hemphill will have a report.

NPR reports on the delicate decision facing U.S. officials. When should the country pull its troops out of Haiti?

Also, the changing nature of Girl Scout cookie sales. They’re going online. What fun is that?

  • You mixed some visual metaphors with the illustrations you picked for the NYT story on large-scale agriculure and the Clean Water Act. But I’m glad you didn’t post a manure photo! (Collins notes: See yesterday’s post)

    Its a teachable moment. Almost everyone (myself included) gets the mental image of smokestakes billowing dark smoke into the air when we think of the word “pollution.” We don’t think of our own cars and trucks, and the air pollution they emit. We should, as they are the single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota.

    Tom Meersman at the Strib did a nice story on MN air pollution on Saturday:

  • Nate

    No one on that hockey team is Jerry Seinfeld’s age, so…”Seinfeld generation”? I hope not. Plus, 50 percent of every generation either likes Seinfeld comedy or absolutely abhors it.

    My wife and I were talking last night about this (we are the age of the hockey players). What’s so bad about the silver? It means you’re second best in the WORLD! I mean, is that so bad?

    I blame NBC for three things:

    1) Repeating the medal count so much that I’d like to throw something at Bob Costas.

    2) Not showing enough actual, pure sport. “Clipshow” seems to more appropriate for this Olympics.

    3) Showing a Jerry Seinfeld show before the closing ceremonies was over. Although, that was enough of the inflatable creatures, Michael Buble, and mounties.

  • Bob Collins

    I wish Canada would’ve banned lip syncing prior to the Olympics.

  • Steve

    Greatest moments of yesterday’s Olympic festivities:

    1) Crosby scoring in overtime/Canada rejoicing.

    2) Neil Young showing every other performer in the closing ceremony how it should be done.

  • Dorian Eder

    Small, family-scale sustainable farms that more resemble your photo are NOT the new mega polluters. Most folks would be horrified to see how much worse a CAFO is than a smokestack. It may be difficult to find a photo of of a large-scale livestock operation, but if you did, I’m certain people would understand the eqivalency.