2007 - %3, April

Life After Cars

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Geography of Nowhere, a history of suburbia, and The Long Emergency, an exploration of what life will be like after oil ceases to be plentiful and cheap, spoke at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club yesterday. Kunstler, unlike the rest of the chorus chanting that Americans should drive less, actually provides specifics. He argues that Americans are so reluctant to give up driving—despite the hassles of parking, long commutes, expensive insurance, and the fact that cars are killing us and the planet—because of the perverse human tendency to throw good money after bad. In this case, the bad money is 50 years of building suburbs.

Kunstler also has some relatively sane ideas about how we might start preparing for the time when we will have to drive less. We will have to rethink our industrial agricultural system, which has been accurately described as "The Oil We Eat." We should invest in rebuilding railroad and shipping infrastructures, to replace trucking.

The weird thing is, Kunstler's view is rather utopian. Giving up oil will cure what ails us about modernity: Locally owned small family farms will replace industrial agriculture, small businesses will replace Wal-Mart, and home schooling will replace public schools to which students are brought in a fleet of buses.

But alongside these heart-warming predictions, Kunstler also tells us to brace ourselves for serious battles over remaining resources, which, in the absence of mega-productive oil-fed agriculture and our most common forms of transportation, will need to be redistributed one way or the other. As to how to ensure that the redistribution will be equitable, not a peep.

So: Brace for a revolution, after which things will be surprisingly pleasant because they just will. Sounds kinda like Marxism, doesn't it? Even so, I think he's onto something with smart growth and railroads (to which I would add mass transit).

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Debunking Sandra Tsing Loh's review of I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 3:18 PM EDT

A new book claims women have weaker sex drives than men because of testosterone.
Yeah right. First of all, women have testosterone too. Secondly, testosterone is made out of cholesterol, which is just about the least sexy molecule I can think of.

Keep reading on The Riff.

Prosecutor Purge: House GOPers Call Out DOJ, Mock Bush's Immigration Record

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

TPMmuckraker brings this Washington Times piece to our attention. House Republicans still think there was no foul play in the recent canning of eight U.S. Attorneys (no surprise there), but they do take issue with the reasons given by the DOJ (the Dems took issue a long time ago). And one reason, in particular, has them chuckling. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, sneered:

"It stretches anybody's credibility to suggest that this administration would have retaliated against U.S. Attorneys for not enforcing immigration laws. This administration itself is so lax in its attitude towards immigration laws and controlling the border."

Rohrabacher is referring to the firing of San Diego's former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who was forced to resign last winter under the premise that she was not filing enough immigration cases. (Au contraire.) Anyone who has been following the prosecutor case knows that the DOJ's allegations against Carol Lam are bogus and more likely the reason she was let go was because she was hot on the trail of defense contractor Brent Wilkes and former CIA official Kyle "Dusty" Foggo. TPMmuckraker notes that AG Alberto Gonzales' lying evoked unity among Dems and Republicans. I'd say we owe this bipartisan harmony to Bush's immigration record.

Debunking Sandra Tsing Loh's review of I'd Rather Eat Chocolate

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 2:14 PM EDT

A new book claims women have weaker sex drives than men because of testosterone.
Yeah right. First of all, women have testosterone too. Secondly, testosterone is made out of cholesterol, which is just about the least sexy molecule I can think of.

To be honest, I didn't read the book but I did read the book review by Sandra Tsing Loh. It holds some truth. Maybe it would help my friend, a 110-pound waif, have some compassion for her libido, which she compares to the libidos of those beefcakes who spend a few hours a day pumping iron at Gold's. Just because she's not on the prowl constantly doesn't mean she's repressed. Her sex drive isn't "weaker" but "calmer," "less demanding," and "less needy." She shouldn't pathologize it. True enough, Loh.

On the other hand, I've been mulling over Loh's anecdote about two obese L.A. lesbians who haven't had sex since the Clinton impeachment. When I first read about "Teri and Pat" a month ago—suspiciously mentioned by first name only—something just didn't seem right. In lieu of sex, "Teri and Pat have had a special Monday-night ritual. They order an extra-large cheese pizza… settle in on the couch with large twin bags of Doritos. Each chip is dipped first in cream cheese and then in salsa. Cream cheese, salsa. Cream cheese, salsa.... The Doritos are finished to the last crumb, and then, upon arrival, the pizza as well."

Here's what tipped me off: Doritos dipped in cream cheese. Ever seen that? No, because it doesn't happen. You can dip a Dorito in sour cream, baked brie, even Easy Cheese. But cream cheese is so firm that the Dorito in hand just crumbles. And so does this anecdote, despite Loh's deft prose. Nobody dips Doritos in cream cheese—not lesbians, not gays, not straights, nobody. Maybe "lesbian bed death" exists, but this Monday night, double-dipping, binge routine does not. "Teri and Pat" are no more than a caricature striking terror in the hearts of women everywhere.

Obama Matches Hillary Clinton's Fundraising Record

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 11:50 AM EDT

People were impressed that Hillary Clinton raised $26 million in the first quarter of 2007 -- but not that impressed. Clinton, after all, came into the fight with a pre-constructed fundraising machine and the best organization of any candidate in either party. After two senate campaigns and eight years in the White House, she was pretty much expected to set a fundraising record.

This news, though, is really wowing people: Obama raised $25 million in the first quarter. It's an outstanding number from a guy who entered the national stage three years ago and is building his fundraising apparatus while raising money. I guess people don't share my concerns.

McCain Continues His Hiring Practices

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 11:42 AM EDT

In December, I reported that Sen. John McCain had hired Terry Nelson to be his campaign manager in his run for the presidency. Nelson, Bush's national political director in 2004, was the creator of the infamous anti-Ford "Call me" spot that ran in Tennessee. Later that month, I reported that McCain had also hired Jill Hazelbaker as his New Hampshire communications director. Hazelbaker is best known for posing as a liberal and disrupting dialogue on liberal blogs, then lying about it.

Now McCain has hired Fred Malek as his national finance co-chair. If that name sounds familiar, it is because Malek was the man who "counted Jews" for Richard Nixon, who was seriously anti-Semitic and wanted Jewish staff members in the Bureau of Labor Statistics demoted to less visible positions. Malek was also deputy director of CREEP in the 70s. During the 80s, he was deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, but resigned when it was revealed that he had been the man who compiled the list of Jews for Nixon.

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Iran to Release Hostages; Victory for Diplomacy

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 10:14 AM EDT

Hey, so it turns out if you don't drop bombs first and ask questions later, you can actually get something productive done. And, as a bonus, no one gets killed!

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has given "amnesty and pardon" to the fifteen British soldiers detained by an Iranian border patrol. They are set to be returned to Britain shortly.

Looks like "Britain's quiet diplomacy" did work. Who knows what backroom deal was made to secure the release of these fifteen young people -- the point is they are all safe and an international incident was averted. Are you taking notes, George?

Edwards Goes on the Attack. Target: Obama

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 9:29 AM EDT

Consider this quote from John Edwards: "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the rhetoric. It's not enough to talk about 'hope' and 'we're all going to feel good.' We're past that. This is a very serious time in American history. It's time for anybody running for president to treat this seriously. I have talked about hope and inspiration in the past, and they're wonderful things, but you have to translate them into action."

Okay, he's obviously targeting Obama. I'm sure the Obama campaign's response, if there is one at all, will be something about how this attack is another sign of the "smallness of our politics" and how we need to "elevate the tone" in Washington.

(In a recent panel discussion between reps from all three major Dem campaigns, Obama advisor/oracle David Axelrod repeatedly used the phrase "lift this country up" while simultaneously getting in a pissing match with the Clinton rep on hand. See the period from 1:13 to 1:22 in the video "Campaign 2008: Looking Ahead." The Edwards guy tries to stop the bickering by saying something to the effect of "Guys, guys, this is what people don't like.")

I think it's great that Obama inspires and excites people, and that he brings people who don't normally follow politics into the Democratic fold. I think it's great that he gave progressives a speech they can point to and say, "That's our message. That's who we are. That's what we believe." I think it's great that he's so smart, so charismatic, and such a truly phenomenal orator that he can likely overcome the handicaps any minority candidate faces when running nationwide in America.

But can we please get some specifics? You want to lift this country up? What does that mean exactly? You want to reclaim America's promise? Great, how? I assume that underneath the platitudes is a progressive agenda that mirrors the one John Edwards articulates in detail in nearly all of his speeches and appearances. But maybe I'm projecting my desires onto Obama: maybe "the audacity of hope" means something else entirely. I really have no idea.

Perhaps Obama's high-flying rhetoric and ambiguity on the issues is acceptable to folks that make voting decisions based on how they feel and who they're inspired by, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of policy. That's fine. But I'd like more.

This contrast between Obama and Edwards plays out in their campaign appearances. Obama fills his speeches with "anecdotes and set-piece jokes" while Edwards, who has folksy charm by the bushel, instead produces a "stream of policy talk on global warming, Iraq, education, poverty, and health care." Can we meet in the middle, gentlemen? Isn't that in the spirit of lifting this country up?

Clinton Slips in New Hampshire Poll, Edwards Rises

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 8:19 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton started the presidential race with such a hefty lead over her opponents, she can fall a long way before relinquishing the frontrunner's crown. And while that may be comforting to her and her staff, they have to realize she's headed in the wrong direction.

A new CNN poll of New Hampshire voters shows Clinton's support has dropped from 35 points in February to 27 points currently. John Edwards is the main beneficiary -- his support rose from 16 points to 21 over the same period. That puts him one point ahead of Barack Obama, who sits at 20 points and has shown little change in support over the last few months.

The only other politician with double digit support was Al Gore, with 11 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 5.5 percent, which kind of makes this whole thing laughable.

Catching Big Pharma's Little Lies, Teens Bust GlaxoSmithKline

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 12:04 AM EDT

A blackcurrant drink produced by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline was advertised as having way more Vitamin C than it actually does. What's cool is that the independent investigation was conducted by two 14-year-old girls for a science fair project. As Seed Magazine reports, New Zealanders Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the Vitamin C content of eight juices, with most matching their advertised C content. But Ribena, which claimed to have four times as much Vitamin C as oranges, fell far short. The teens tried to contact the company directly, but failed to get a response. So they went to a consumer affairs TV show and then the Commerce Commission. After two years, GlaxoSmithKline finally admitted breaching the Fair Trading Act. They'll pay a fine and change the labeling on the drink. Tch tch. How about detention?--Julia Whitty