Blogs

Obama Gets Back to Basics

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

obama-casey.jpg Touring across Pennsylvania Monday, Barack Obama largely eschewed the daily back and forth of the campaign and refocused on the reasons he entered the presidential race over one year ago. Speaking to a small group of voters at a community college outside of Philadelphia, Obama said he decided to run because he thought the "country was ready for a different kind of politics." He talked about the obvious: the economy, the war, and the energy crisis. And he got even more detailed, discussing skyrocketing autism rates, working conditions for nurses, and net neutrality as an engine for innovation. The vagaries of the campaign season were left behind, perhaps because with one day before voters headed to the polls, the controversies and "manufactured issues" had been addressed and had taken whatever tool they would take. It was time to get back to basics.

In McKeesport, a town near Pittsburgh with a declining population and a disappearing manufacturing base, Obama reintroduced himself. "I have been running for 15 months now," he said. "When I first announced, people asked me, 'Why are you running so soon? You're a young man. You can afford to wait.' And I said, 'I'm not running because of some long-held ambition or because I think it's my turn. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the 'fierce urgency of now.'" He slammed lobbyists and special interests, saying they had a "headlock" on the nation's politics. He said he wanted to "change the culture in Washington." But for a few missing chants ("Fired up and ready to go!" has been left behind), it was the same speech he had delivered in the snowy cornfields of Iowa, home of the first primary.

Obama briefly addressed the new Hillary Clinton ad that features Osama bin Laden, dismissing it as politics as usual. But he did not bother to refer to the so-called "Bitter-gate." But at his rallies, there were voters who identified themselves as bitter. A local man named Roy Kelley who worked in a local hospital for 38 years said that he agreed with the comments that got Obama into trouble. "It is bitter," he said. "I feel bitter. I come from McKeesport here. You drive through this area, you start at Braddock, you come through McKeesport, Duquesne, Glassport, all these cities here. Presidents and Congress come through this area and make promises and nothing ever changes." Kelley felt Obama could deliver where other presidents had failed. "I drive through this town everyday, it makes me cry—what it was and what it looks like now. It pains me every day. My daughter, I mean, I want her to move out of this area. There's nothing here for her."

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Growing Up Nuclear: Author Kelly McMasters Tells Her Story

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 1:17 PM EDT

kelly-mcmasters.jpg

The following is a guest blog post by Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town. The book, which hits stores this week, recounts McMasters' childhood in the beautiful town of Shirley, bucolic home to nuclear power plants and, later, to cancer clusters and polluted waterways.

I grew up in a blue-collar town on the east end of Long Island. Just north of the town, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal nuclear facility, sits deep within a thick forest of towering pine trees. As a child, I imagined the lab's buildings were made of an igloo-like substance, and the rooms inside were full of metallic file cabinets, clinking glass test tubes, and notebooks full of secret codes. Men and women in crisp white lab coats and plastic goggles coaxed new species of frogs and lizards out of mottled purple eggs. Others hovered over milky glass globes of light whose kinked antennas sparked blue shots of electricity into the dim, silent air. My neighbor worked as a maintenance man at the lab, and he often teased that he glowed in the dark. After he died of brain and lung cancer, my imaginary lab became a much darker place—a small, sinister pocket hiding in the pines.

Harry Potter and His Copyrighted Magic

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 12:48 PM EDT

It's the epic struggle of our time: Scrappy internet fair-use exploiters vs. authors and their corporate overlords. But this time, the battle has, you know, wizards and muggles or whatever. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling appeared in a New York courtroom last week to defend copyright infringement charges against Vander Ark, the creator of the unauthorized Harry Potter Lexicon web site, after plans were revealed for a book version. While some commenters attacked the site as "something parasitic on years of hard work by Rowling," the potential publisher of the Lexicon pointed out that giving authors too much control over "books about them" is dangerous:

We would have to get approval before we could write or publish on people's work. They would control critical commentary on their work, at any time, whether it is our kind of book or an Associated Press article. It would create total chaos in the area of critical commentary. Frankly, I don't think that would be good for anyone, even the authors themselves.

Rowling herself has appeared somewhat self-contradictory on the matter, first complimenting Ark's work and insisting she "never ever once wanted to stop Mr. Vander Ark from doing his own guide," but during the trial she came close to tears, describing the book version of the Lexicon as "wholesale theft."

Chinese Weapons Ship To Head Home?

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

A series of updates to my earlier post about the plight of the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese cargo vessel currently searching for a suitable African port to offload a shipment of bullets, rockets, and mortars bound for Zimbabwe:


  • Der Spiegel reports that the ship's captain made haste to leave the port of Durban in South Africa last week, in part, because a court order had been issued that would have allowed Germany's state development bank, KfW, to seize the shipment in recovery of unpaid debts owed by Robert Mugabe's government.
  • The Associated Press says that U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking the ship and that American diplomats have requested the governments of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola to turn the ship away. A senior State Department diplomat has been dispatched to Africa to underscore U.S. concern.
  • Agence France-Presse quotes a shipping agent as saying that the An Yue Jiang is now heading for Luanda, Angola. But the BBC and the Associated Press report that the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the cargo ship's owners are considering recalling the vessel and canceling the delivery.
  • Meanwhile, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is calling for U.N. intervention to stem the gathering post-election violence in his country, where Mugabe's military is "terrorizing the people."
  • UPDATE (1:00pm, EST): McClatchy says the ship is headed back to China.


    New Study Says Women To Start Dropping Like Flies

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 10:38 AM EDT

    For most of recent human history, one of the few places where women have dominated is on the actuarial charts. But the big news today: Life expectancy for women has plummeted in 1,000 counties across the country, in one area by nearly five years. The drop is unprecedented, and marks the first time since the 1800s that women have seen a major dip in longevity. The reasons for the drop aren't too surprising, largely because they track pretty closely to the Virginia Slims revolution, or the time when women embraced smoking in rates closer to men's. While men have reaped huge health benefits from kicking the habit, women are still dying in high numbers from smoking-related lung cancer. Obesity is also playing a huge role, with its complications from type-2 diabetes and other heart-related illnesses. The feminist movement, it seems, has not just brought women opportunities to live more like men, but also to die like them.

    Expectations for Tuesday's Primary

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 3:23 AM EDT

    PITTSBURGH, PA — Tuesday is the big primary and the campaigns are naturally trying to manage expectations.

    Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton, has dutifully repeated the Clinton campaign's position, which is that any margin of victory would be great for Clinton considering the commitment, in terms of both money and time, that Barack Obama has made to Pennsylvania. Singer has called Obama's spending in the Keystone State, which outstrips Clinton two-to-one and possibly more, "earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping, extraordinary."

    The Obama campaign, though, is quick to point out that Clinton had huge leads just weeks ago, and that anything close ought to be considered a victory for them (in the weird media universe where things other than victories can be considered victories). Obama told a Pittsburgh radio station this week, "I'm not predicting a win. I'm predicting it's going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect."

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    Clinton Ad With Osama bin Laden: Meh

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 2:18 AM EDT

    The Clinton ad at right is getting a ton of play because it includes an image of Osama bin Laden. Obama fans and some other portions of the left are questioning whether it is tantamount to waving a bloody flag. The outrage writes itself: Using images like this one to scare voters is a Karl Rove tactic!

    Personally, I don't think it's all that bad. The point is that the next president faces immense challenges — finding bin Laden and stopping men of his ilk are two of those challenges. I understand the subtext is pernicious: the whole ad relies on fear, and it paints the likely Democratic nominee as soft on terror (or at least softer than Hillary Clinton). But politics ain't beanbag, and frankly if I'm going to get all worked about fear-mongering, it's going to have to be a lot more blatant than this.

    What do you think?

    Update: The Obama campaign blitzed reporters with this October 2004 quote from Bill Clinton: "Now one of Clinton's Laws of Politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope. That's the best."

    "Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 2:04 AM EDT

    Great catch by Chris Hayes.

    Google. No. Google? No.

    Food Miles & Your Carbon Footprint

    | Mon Apr. 21, 2008 10:57 PM EDT

    ee_foodmiles.jpg The number of miles your food travels from farm to plate makes a difference in your personal climate-change footprint. But not as much as eating red meat and dairy, which are responsible for nearly half of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions for an average U.S. household. New research published in Environmental Science & Technology finds it's how food is produced, not how far it's transported, that matters most for global warming. Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University conducted a life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gases emitted during all stages of growing and transporting food. They found transportation creates only 11% of the 8.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases that an average U.S. household generates annually from food consumption. The agricultural and industrial practices that go into growing and harvesting food create 83%.

    Switching to a totally local diet is equivalent to driving about 1000 miles less per year. Yet a relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same. Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving, say the study's authors. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year.

    Why not all of the above? Though there are other factors to consider when we choose our foods, everything from the ecological costs of hunting wildlife (fish), to fertilizer runoff and oceanic dead zones (dairy), to cruelty issues (eggs). As always, and as your mama said, veggies rule.

    Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

    In Defense of Long Songs

    | Mon Apr. 21, 2008 9:02 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-kraftwerk.jpgWhile Joshua Allen's piece in the Morning News appears to have tongue firmly planted in cheek, there's something intriguing about its thesis: that there is a "golden mean" of pop songs, and it's exactly two minutes and 42 seconds. As proof, he presents us with multiple unassailably great songs that clock in right around the two-and-three-quarter-minute mark: The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry," Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," The Beach Boys "God Only Knows," Prince's "I Would Die 4 U." Fine tunes all, and, as he puts it, they're "100 percent fat-free," with their brief running time forcing them to get right to the point. But does the 3-minute length zone really have a monopoly—or even a plurality—of great pop songs?

    While there are lots of toweringly great 10-minute-plus tracks (Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea," Low's "Do You Know How to Waltz,") I'll concede these don't exactly fit into the mold of pop songs, with their extended sections of instrumental improvisation and feedback. But even within the accessibility restrictions of "pop," there are more, shall we say, full-flavored pleasures than the slim-and-trim pop nuggets listed above. Example #1: New Order's "Blue Monday." In its original version, this 1983 single runs 7:29, nearly three times the length of our "perfect" song, yet not a moment is wasted: it's structured so there's little repetition, and while the instrumental intro lasts over two minutes, new elements are introduced every few seconds, giving the track a sense of drama and majesty. Funny story: a boss at my old radio station once asked me to make a shorter edit for airplay, but I refused, since there's nothing that can be cut without changing—ruining!—the song's intricate progression. Yes, I am annoying to work with.

    After the jump: sometimes you just gotta have that coda.