Immigration's Disproportionate Significance: Thanks, Iowa

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:20 PM EST

border_fence_beach_230.jpg As you may have heard, Mike Huckabee recently got the endorsement of anti-illegal immigration wackjob and Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist. Matt Yglesias observes that this puts Huckabee in a good place: "a preacher flanked with an anti-immigrant vigilante on one side and Chuck Norris on the other is sort of the ultimate Republican primary candidate."

Huck's going to need all the help he can get on this issue. He's got a soft record on illegal immigration but a hard new stance (that includes forcing every illegal immigrant in the country to leave within 120 days). Many are stunned that Gilchrist would endorse the formerly compassionate Huckabee. (Like my framing?)

But the broader point is about immigration's insanely disproportionate significance in this race. This simply is not an issue the nation cares about. According to this chart of nationwide polling numbers, three things are important: national security, the economy, and health care. And yet, as the LA Times puts it, "More than any other question, Republican presidential candidates are asking voters to consider a single issue in the weeks before primary voting begins: Who detests illegal immigration the most?"


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Me? Mommy Dearest?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:00 PM EST

Car seats are the worst thing about motherhood, no doubt.

My 6 year old can manage his now, praise Jesus, but my 4 year old's m*&^erf%$#$ one! How I hate it, especially when it's raining or snowing as my cellulite-y old caboose pokes attractively out the rear car door. I couldn't wait for them to outgrow diapers, bottles and sippy cups - each, in turn used to be the worst, I was positive - but the freaking car seat thing never ends.

How blissful was my ignorance. Now - and I'm sure this time - overseeing my first grader's homework is the absolute, bloody, gall-dang-it-all, why-did-I-have-children? worst. That, not diaper bags, not carting around that behemoth two ton breast pump or even the bloody car seats, is truly the worst thing about parenting. Nothing will be worse, right?

Will Today's Final Pre-Iowa GOP Debate Become a Theological Smackdown?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 11:29 AM EST

From AP:

Republican Mitt Romney retorted to questions about his faith by surging rival Mike Huckabee on Wednesday, declaring that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."
In an article to be published Sunday in The New York Times, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asks, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
Romney, vying to become the first Mormon elected president, declined to answer that question during an interview Wednesday, saying church leaders in Salt Lake City had already addressed the topic.
"But I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that," Romney told NBC's "Today" show.

This is some setup for this afternoon's GOP Republican presidential debate, the final candidate face-off before the Iowa caucuses. Will Romney this evening have to address that vital national issue: are Jesus and Satan half-brothers? Or might he be forced to say whether he believes the Book of Mormon is literally true? That Jesus really came to the Americas after his resurrection and established an enlightened society that lasted for several generations? That Joseph Smith in 1830 really found golden tablets that only he could read? Might Romney be asked to explain why he was a member of church that followed racist rules (by not allowing blacks to serve in its leadership) until 1978?

Dems Lose in Ohio and Virginia Special Congressional Elections

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:41 AM EST

If you are waiting with bated breath for the results of today's special elections in Ohio and Virginia, here they are. In Ohio, Democrat Robin Weirauch lost pretty badly in a solidly conservative district. Final tally: Republican Bob Latta 57%, Weirach 43%. The only good news out of Ohio is that the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spent $428,000 on the race, which totals nearly one-fifth of its entire cash-on-hand.

In Virginia, it was even more lopsided. Another inexperienced Democrat was unable to take a conservative district away from the Republicans. Final tally here: Republican Rob Wittman 61%, Democrat Philip Forgit 37%. Forgit, an Iraq War veteran with no political background, would have been an interesting figure in Congress, but the moderate Wittman proved too tough. Turnout was just 16 percent.

New Music: Burial - Untrue

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 10:08 PM EST

BurialA few weeks ago I posted about Metacritic's tally of the best reviewed records of the year, and how a surprise candidate, The Field, had snuck up to #1. Well, there's a new #1 on their tally this week, and it's another left-field candidate: UK dubstep wizard Burial, beating the Field by one point and Radiohead by three points. Sure, the album just came out, so its critical average is based on far fewer reviews, but still, that's a bit of a shocker for an album that hasn't topped any individual lists I've seen so far. So what's it all about?

Dubstep is a wonky offshoot of two-step, a strange and wonderful microgenre of dance music that had a brief dominance of UK dance floors and pirate radio stations in the late 90s and early Oughts. Two-step is characterized by a severely syncopated bass drum, throbbing, walking basslines, and a skittering snare drum, typically overlaid with a traditional soul vocal track, so the music ends up being a strange confluence of drum 'n' bass intensity with R&B richness. Dubstep, as its name indicates, both ratchets down the pop trend of two-step and touches base with reggae, allowing half-time rhythms to emerge and the vocals to exist only as echo-y, repetitive samples.

It's also a hell of a lot darker, and Untrue is one bleak album. It's split between tracks with a drum beat and tracks without, and while the tracks with drums utilize the skittery rhythms of two-step, it's hard to see anyone dancing to them: the bass is so sludgy, so overlaid with gargantuan reverb and crackly effects, it's much more suitable for headphones. Moreover, the vocals that float in and out are mere disconnected phrases, making them all the more devastating: "because you lied…" repeats the title track, and "Archangel" keeps asking, "tell me I belong." These songs have a dark majesty that's not matched by the drumless, ambient tracks; those seem a little aimless and generic.

Untrue throws into sharp relief the unfair opposition set up recently in the New Yorker by Sasha Frere-Jones, who gives both white and black music too little credit in assigning them their signifiers. Burial, whoever he is, has managed to stir up so many influences, like R. Kelly in an Aphex Twin blender, that it's hard to tell what's what; moreover, its lyrical focus on the abject misery of a broken heart could not be more universal. It may not be record of the year, but it sure is something.

Burial - "Archangel" (audio only):

One Small Step for Gay Science, One Giant Step Back for Gay Rights?

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 8:27 PM EST

Scientists recently determined how to make gay fruit flies straight, and vice versa. The findings published in Nature Neuroscience this week conjure up disturbing images of big pharma manufacturing drugs that erase homosexual desire while the religious right markets them.

This discovery makes Gary Greenberg's "Gay By Choice?" published in Mother Jones in September/October 2007 all the more relevant. The gay rights movement has been hoping science would vindicate it for far too long. But what if science proves that gayness is not an immutable trait, or worse, finds a way to "cure" it? Isn't it time, as Greenberg argues, "to find reasons other than medical science to insist that people ought to be able to love whom they love"?

—Celia Perry

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China's Bad Air Could Postpone Olympic Events

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 8:16 PM EST


The International Olympic Committee is threatening to reschedule parts of the 2008 Beijing Games, set for next August, if China can't prove that its air is safe for athletes, reports the BBC. Affected would be competitions involving endurance, such as foot and bicycle races.

Chinese officials already have been working overtime to reduce air pollution in its capital, especially since the United Nations reported last October that levels were more than three times what's acceptable. The government has dismantled or relocated factories and removed high-polluting taxis and buses from roads. As a last ditch effort, China recently launched a campaign called "guard the blue sky" that involves cracking down on dusty construction sites and even outdoor kebab vendors.

For more on China's pollution disaster, and its efforts to tidy up before the Olympics, check out Jacques Leslie's cover story for our January/February issue, which has been posted here.

Two Inconsistencies from Obama's Past

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 6:32 PM EST

obama-flag.jpg A survey asking for positions on almost three dozen issues that Barack Obama filled out in 1996 as a state senate candidate shows that Obama has been a strong progressive for his entire (albeit relatively short) political career. On two issues, however, he held bolder and more liberal positions than he does currently. Here's Politico:

"Do you support … capital punishment?" one question asked.
"No," the 1996 Obama campaign typed, without explaining his answer in the space provided.
"Do you support state legislation to … ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?" asked one of the three dozen questions.
"Yes," was Obama's entire answer.

The PDFs of the survey are available on Politico's site. Obama now says that he does support the death penalty, but only in limited circumstances, such as for a particularly awful crime. On handguns, he says he is for "common-sense limits" but not bans.

Is it troubling that Obama switched his position on these issues? Somewhat, yes. Obama is supposed to be the purist candidate in the Democratic race, the one who doesn't change his beliefs based on possible political advantages. But that said, if these two shifts, which are relatively minor, are the biggest inconsistencies his opponents can point to, they probably ought to look elsewhere. Like at the fact that his political career began in just 1996.

Best Albums of 2007: Critical Consensus Emerging?

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 4:24 PM EST

There's still like 20 days left in 2007, but some journalists have decided to ignore all the potential hot platters that could emerge between now and December 31st and go ahead an issue their Best of 2007 lists. Now we at The Riff are tallying up our opinions and will present the definitive top ten albums of the year next week, but for now, here's a little graph of some of the big albums and where various publications are ranking them. It's decidedly unscientific: I just picked eight magazines whose lists I could find online, and then included albums with at least two mentions, and at least one of those in a top ten, and then ranked the albums by number of mentions. And what have we learned? White people really like white people! Sure, the sample is skewed towards some rockist, British mags, but no Kanye? Jay-Z? Lil Wayne? Come on, critics!


Nurses on Cheney: "He'd Probably Be Dead by Now"

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 4:02 PM EST

nurses-cheney.jpg These nurses have sass. The California Nurses Association (CNA)/National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) are running this newspaper advertisement in the top 10 Iowa newspapers, cheering universal health insurance and poking Dick Cheney with a sharp stick. In case you can't read the fine print, I'll type some of it here.

"The patient's history and prognosis were grim: four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasty, an implanted defibrillator and now an emergency procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat.

"For millions of Americans, this might be a death sentence. For the vice president, it was just another medical treatment. And it cost him very little.

"Unlike the average American, the president, vice president and members of Congress all enjoy government-financed health care with few restrictions or prohibitive fees. They are never turned away for pre-existing conditions or denied care for what an insurance company labels "experimental treatments."

"The rest of us deserve no less."