This weekend I was lucky enough to catch the aptly titled The Simpsons Movie at my local independent theater. With all the hype—7-11s transformed into Kwik-E-Marts complete with Squishees and Buzz Cola, annoying ads during other Fox shows—I was ready to be wowed. But what wowed me, I didn't expect—the movie took on the thorny issue of environmentalism ... well, sort of, if you count Homer fighting power-crazy environmentalists with motorcycles and dog sleds.
In the film, Lisa crusades door-to-door for the salvation of Springfield's lake and, predictably, gets many of them slammed in her face; Homer's her undoing, dumping a silo of "pig crap" into the lake that turns it into a seething, green, boiling pool of acidic sludge; and there's an interesting twist, wherein, the EPA actually cares about the environment. Humorously, the EPA puts a huge, glass dome over the city to keep the lake's toxins from spreading (they care more about the trees than the people of Springfield).
The Simpsons of course fight back and attempt to free Springfield from its doom in the dome and the EPA v Homer battle is surely amusing, but unfortunately, after 87 minutes of comedy, the sentiment that people should not drop "pig crap" into lakes is pretty much forgotten. Not that I was really expecting (okay, I kind of was) great pearls of wisdom from The Simpsons but I had hoped for more examples of criminal environmental degradation, especially since the mastermind behind everything Simpsons is from my home state of Oregon, a state with a long history of fighting the timber and fishing industries to preserve its unique natural beauty.
Former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, whose testimony this past spring that the US attorneys had been fired because of poor performance helped open the can of worms at the Justice Department, has found a new job. Roll Callreports that McNulty will become a partner starting September 1 at Baker & McKenzie. Specialties? How about defending administration official clients being investigated for perjury, politicizing federal agencies civil services, violations of the Hatch Act, with a smidgen of obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress defendees thrown in?
There's a lot of talk lately about how the Iraq troop "surge" is working and how, at long last, we may finally be close to turning a corner in the struggle to stabilize the country. I call bullshit. (So does George Packer.) Isn't this the sort of self-serving delusion that got us in there in the first place? No? Well, take a look at this report released yesterday by Oxfam International and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), a consortium of non-governmental organizations. From the report's executive summary:
Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment. Of the four million Iraqis who are dependent on food assistance, only 60 per cent currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 per cent in 2004.
Forty-three per cent of Iraqis suffer from 'absolute poverty'. According to some estimates, over half the population are now without work. Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 per cent before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28 per cent now.
The situation is particularly hard for families driven from their homes by violence. The two million internally displaced people (IDPs) have no incomes to rely on and are running out of coping mechanisms. In 2006, 32 per cent of IDPs had no access to PDS food rations, while 51 per cent reported receiving food rations only sometimes.
The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation. The 'brain drain' that Iraq is experiencing is further stretching already inadequate public services, as thousands of medical staff, teachers, water engineers, and other professionals are forced to leave the country. At the end of 2006, perhaps 40 per cent had left already.
It's highly unlikely that any meaningful corners can be turned in Iraq until the population's basic needs are met. Yes, lack of security is the primary reason for the lag, but aren't we responsible for that, too? For those of you who missed it, NPR's "On Point" aired an interview with filmmaker Charles Ferguson, whose documentary, "No End in Sight: The Occupation of Iraq," won a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It opened in theaters last Friday. You may think you've heard it all before, but you haven't. Take a listen.
This week, the Top Ten celebrates music from around the world, mostly even outside of, like, California! Also, I manage to restrict myself to only one track that could qualify as French techno (More about Daft Punk's live show later). So come take a round-the-world trip on Riff Airlines, no carbon offset credits necessary.
10. Manu Chao - "Rainin in Paradize" (from La Radiolina, out 9/4 on Virgin)
A perfect track to kick off an internationally-themed top ten, the uptempo beat of "Paradize" contrasts with its darker lyrical themes. Polyglot Chao here gives voice to various "calamities" and "atrocities" from Baghdad to Zaire, with repetitive lyrics that take on the aura of a kind of chant, or a prayer.
9. Mumiy Troll - "Ru.Da" (from Amba on Real) (mp3 via their site)
Vladivostok combo Mumiy Troll (Мумий Тролль) are saddled with greatness: ten years ago, they made Morskaya, a near-masterpiece of an album that perfectly captured the excitement of post-Communist Russia. While their latest effort isn't quite as inspired, single "Ru.Da" leaps from Pixies-reminiscent verses to an epic chorus.
8. Various Artists - Optimo - Pitchfork Mix 01
This set from the Glasgow DJs redefines "eclectic," effortlessly mixing from Brazil to Germany to Norway to, er, Sonic Youth. While the duo are known for favoring "psych-rock," the hour-long set is, at its core, utterly groovy, in the best possible sense.
7. Mexican Institute of Sound - "El Microfono" (from Piñata on Nacional) (listen on his MySpace page)
MIS is basically a one-man band (Mexico City's Camilo Lara); he brings together hip-hop and electronic sounds as well as more traditional Mexican influences on his new album. "Microfono" has a quirky, loping sample and mellow feel, over which Lara delivers a laid-back freestyle rap.
6. Various Artists - Typsy Gypsy Mixes
(mp3s via 'T Nieuwe Werck, more info at Boing Boing)
Belgian DJ Typsy Gypsy (of the Balkan Hot Step Soundsystem) has put together two mixes featuring a fusion of Klezmer and Balkan sounds with electronic beats (which, the blog brags, all come in over 150bpm). Hopa!
The world-renowned "little orchestra" known as Pink Martini recently released their third album, and it's damn good.
What started out as a a quintet playing fundraisers for causes such as affordable housing and public broadcasting in 1994 is now a 12-piece ensemble that tours the world as Portland, Oregon's "international ambassador of culture."
I mean, I'm all for mixing politics with music, but really? After seven years off, you'd think the band would have prepared a better statement.
This is the same band that, 10 years ago, took on social justice issues by making an album cover from a picture of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk protesting the murder of fellow monks by self-immolation in Saigon in 1963. This is also the same band that has spoken out against the death penalty in front of the United Nations, donated concert earnings to social justice organizations, and performed benefit shows for American political prisoners like Leonard Peltier.
I'm not sure what the band was hoping to accomplish, but de la Rocha's comment got author Ann Coulter and rocker Ted Nugent to agree that there's a limit to freedom of speech rights.
The FBI and IRS have searched the home of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in a ski resort in Alaska as part of an investigation into his links with an oil-services company, officials said on Monday.
Stevens, probably the biggest porker in Congress, once threatened to resign when the Senate challenged a frivolous Alaskan earmark in order to help rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, so it's not like anyone will miss this guy if he ends up getting taken down. But that won't happen if the hulk tie has anything to do with it.
Arctic sea ice does more than provide habitat for polar bears and reflect sunlight. It also acts as a barrier between the rough ocean and delicate coastlines, like those of Alaska. With softening permafrost and disappearing sea ice, Alaska's coast is eroding faster than ever and may result in old oil wells actually slipping into the ocean.
In particular, the coast of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (a 23 million-acre area managed by the Bureau of Land Management and a plum drilling site, according to Bush) is eroding faster than ever, a new US Geological Survey study found. The BLM has identified more than 30 oil wells in danger of being reclaimed by the ocean, each of which will cost $20 million to clean to ensure that, if they do get sucked into the ocean, they won't spill even more oil into the state's ecosystem.
About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago. This according to a new analysis by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and altered wind patterns associated with global climate change are fueling much of the increase. The analysis identifies three periods since 1900, separated by sharp transitions, during which the average number of hurricanes and tropical storms increased dramatically and then remained elevated and relatively steady. SSTs have risen by about 1.3 degrees F in the last 100 years, and other studies indicate that most of the rise in Atlantic sea surface temps can be attributed to global warming. "Even a quiet year by today's standards would be considered normal or slightly active compared to an average year in the early part of the 20th century," says study author, Greg Holland.
By the way, the current period has not yet stabilized. So the average hurricane season could be even more active in the future. . . The planet lives and breathes in powerful ways. Here's an amazing video recap of some of the 2005 hurricane season. Stunningly beautiful. Terrifying. JULIA WHITTY
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