2008 - %3, July

Amazing Obama Poster Pays Tribute to Bauhaus Design

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaberlin.jpgJeez, I know I've already blubbered endlessly over the sophistication of Obama's graphic design, but you just gotta see this. It's a poster being used to advertise the senator's upcoming speech in Berlin, and it may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I've ever seen. All text is set at a 45-degree angle on varying shades of Obama Blue, with one thin swath of brick red emphasizing that "Tickets are not needed." Barack's profile is oddly de-emphasized, yet the whole poster seems to be covered in a subtle gradient, creating a definite glow from that side of the page. Some rabble-rousers think that any poster with a profile is Hitler-esque, but the blog Meaningful Distraction more accurately sees the poster as a tribute to classic German modernism, specifically the Bauhaus movement, which, like constructivism, revolutionized graphic design by setting type on diagonals, around corners, and even spirals. Of course, it fits right in with my theory about Obama's design being an example of his post-modern campaign, as much about the references as anything else, but whatever, it looks really cool. See a larger version after the jump.

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Top Five: ABBA Songs

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:36 PM EDT

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With the release of the new film Mamma Mia!, ABBA fever has returned: the soundtrack, which features the Swedish quartet's songs, has just hit #1 on the U.K. album chart, and the now-classic ABBA Gold just jumped back into the Top 5. While John McCain recently took some heat for admitting to enjoying a little ABBA now and then, I'll happily admit to ABBA-love. Not only am I gay, but I was just becoming aware of popular music during the band's heyday; and, perhaps most importantly, I'm half-Swedish. Ikea, meatballs, Bergman, it's all good. However, my admiration for ABBA is somewhat selective: I've always felt some of their songs were as transcendent as pop music can be, while others were either hyperactive and shrill or maudlin and overdramatic. Everybody's got their favorites, I'm sure, but here are mine.

Country Music: Not Just for White People Anymore

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 6:26 PM EDT

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I caught a free show in San Francisco's Union Square on my lunch break this afternoon—a country singer, with a voice rivaling Patti Loveless and Lucinda Williams. But this girl ain't your standard Nashville crooner: Miko Marks is a Michigan native, current Oakland resident, and the first black country singer that I personally have ever seen.

Though country, like rock n' roll, has its roots in black music, these days the twangy genres are not exactly renowned for their ethnic diversity. But Marks is a rising star, and she's not the only one: Turns out that while the rest of us were drooling over Amy Winehouse, black women have been taking the country world by storm. Other notable names are Rissi Palmer, Sunny Daye, and Vicki Vann. While all three women draw on a variety of musical influences, there's no question that the sound is country.

The country music establishment has started to take notice, as have the chroniclers of black popular culture: Ebony magazine recently profiled Marks as part of a feature entitled, "What Does Black Sound Like?" and more than one blog has applauded the women's foray into an almost-totally white musical sphere.

Has National Enquirer Taken Edwards out of Veep-Play?

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 5:15 PM EDT

Usually, there's no reason to pay much attention to the scandal news of the National Enquirer. But in a recent report, the mag claims that several of its reporters witnessed and confronted John Edwards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where a woman, who months ago was alleged by the magazine to have become pregnant due to an affair with Edwards, was checked in--with her child. (The woman and Edwards initially both denied they were romantically involved.) The latest story is full of firsthand details--Edwards fleeing the Enquirer snoops, hiding in a bathroom, being escorted out by a security detail--that perhaps even the Enquirer would be hesitant to fabricate. After all, it can be sued by either Edwards or the woman.

Blogger Mickey Kaus has complained that the MSM hasn't touched the matter: "Will this be the first presidential-contender level scandal to occur completely in the undernews, without ever being reported in the cautious, respectable MSM?" But it's tough for responsible journalists to figure out how to handle a report from the gutter about a potential vice presidential candidate. Yet whether you read about this matter in the Times or not, the veep-vetters of the Obama campaign have probably paid the story notice. If Edwards is still in contention, he better have for them a rather convincing denial to allay suspicions that this time the scandalmongers of the Enquirer might have actually gotten it right.

Eat Less, Save The World

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 4:27 PM EDT

800px-L%E9gumes_01.jpg Yup, it's that simple. Nineteen percent of total energy used in the US is tied to producing and distributing food. Too much food. Three times more than we actually need.

Cornell researchers suggest we eat less. The average American consumes 3,747 calories a day. That's 1200-1500 calories more than recommended. It's the reason we're fat and unhealthy, while our planet is lean and unhealthy.

The problem is that American diets are larded in animals and in junk food. Both use more energy to produce than healthful staples like potatoes, rice, fruits, and veggies.

By eating less junk and less meat, the average American would have a massive impact on fuel consumption and his/her health.

The authors suggest moving towards more traditional, organic farming methods for meat and dairy. They suggest crop farmers reduce pesticides and use more manure, cover crops, and crop rotations for better energy efficiency.

Changing the way we process, package and distribute food would help too. Although apparently the single most dramatic improvement in energy use would come from you and me consuming less processed foods. On average, American food travels 1,500 miles before it gets eaten.

Try the Modern Commandments: 1) Buy local. 2) Support organic and sustainable farms. (Stop whinging about the price, you're going to buy and eat less.) 3) Eat mindfully and savor every nourishing bite.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

The Dark Knight Turns Out to Be a Dick Cheney Fantasy

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-darkknightcheney.jpgI know I just remarked on the proliferation of ridiculous Batman tie-in blog posts, attempting to grab some page views from a populace obsessed with this record-breaking film. But I promise this isn't a cynical grab for your clicks; I'm just pissed off and want to get it off my chest.

I finally got myself into an Imax screening of The Dark Knight yesterday, and sure, it was enjoyable. The extra-large shots of city skylines were impressive, the effects were well done, and Heath Ledger's performance was riveting, if only for the creepy back-of-your-mind sense that embroiling oneself so deeply in such disturbing emotions could easily lead one to dangerous self-medicating. But as the film reached its climactic denouement, I found myself getting more and more perturbed at its underlying message, which seemed straight from the office of the Vice President.

Afterwards, a quick search showed that otherwise-erudite reviews didn't reflect my concerns, with most critics won over by the film's expansion of the superhero genre into deeper, darker territory. But what, exactly, was the message emerging from the darkness? Finally, I Googled "dark knight dick cheney," and I found an article that expressed my feelings exactly: "Batman's Dark Knight Reflects Cheney Policy." You go, Washington Independent:

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Iraq Contract Fraud: Senators Call For Arrests, Recovery of Funds

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

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This morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, heard testimony from Pentagon officials about their efforts to counter waste and fraud in federal contracts related to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Byrd expressed outrage at the "appalling" mismanagement of funds. "Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are lost, ... gone!" he cried, his outrage visibly building as he spoke. "How many minutes have passed since Jesus Christ was born? A billion! So, that's a lot of money! ... This is a failure of leadership. Individuals think they can get away with bilking—they're not just milking—bilking the U.S. and Iraqi governments... taking bribes, substituting inferior workmanship, or plain, old-fashioned stealing! Stealing!" he exclaimed.

Byrd cited a April 2007 GAO report (.pdf) that concluded, among other things, that the Pentagon "lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors" and "does not have a sufficient number of oversight personnel to ensure that contracts that are in place are carried out efficiently and according to contract requirements." To illustrate the scale of the waste and fraud, the report estimates that the Army Material Command loses about $43 million each year solely on the provision of free meals to contractors who also get per diem food allowances. Another GAO report (.pdf), released in May 2007, found that the amount of money obligated in DOD contracts for support services "exceeded the amount the department spent on supplies and equipment, including major weapons systems." [Emphasis added.] And with all this money being spent, often under cost-plus arrangements (the more a contractor spends on expenses, the more it collects in fees), the scale of abuse, fraud, and "plain, old-fashioned stealing" has been historic. We still do not know exactly how much money has been lost, and we may never know. But last year, the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified $4.9 billion wasted on overcharging or fraud, and an additional $5.1 billion spent without any documentation. Since only a sampling of contracts have yet been audited, the murky waters of corruption remain largely undisturbed.

Vanity Fair Parodies New Yorker Cover, Includes Actual Comedy

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 3:08 PM EDT

mojo-photo-vfmccainsm.jpgSure, you could look at this as a little faw-faw fancy-pants insider jab-taking over at the Conde Nast building. And you'd be right. But Vanity Fair has managed to one-up the New Yorker's now-infamous Obama cover with an image that's actually funny, and come to think of it, they kind of stole my idea (although I admit it was pretty obvious). The cover shows the McCains also celebrating their arrival in the White House with a fist bump, although John's head is decorated not with a turban, but with bandages, and he leans precariously on a walker. Cindy clutches pill bottles in one hand (snap!) and a portrait of a doofy-looking W hangs on the wall, while the constitution burns in the fireplace. It's funny cause it's true! See the full-sized image after the jump.

MoJo Prison Issue Banned From Prisons

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 2:38 PM EDT

We must be more street-smart than we thought here at Mother Jones. Apparently, our list of cellblock slang in the current issue was too realistic for actual prison censors. One would-be reader wrote us from Pickaway Correctional Institution in central Ohio after his copy of Mother Jones was confiscated because—according to the prison's Notice of Withholding Printed Material—the article "appears to be written in cipher or code, or that instructs in the use of cipher or code."

The magazine-less 73-year-old prisoner who wrote us reported "evidently, you are doing something right. Alas, I shall never know what it is, since the state of Ohio won't deliver your July issue." But he's not going to just let it slide: "I intend to ask if they will deliver the magazine, after excising p. 59." On the envelope he wrote: "First Amendment! First Amendment! First Amendment!"

Hopefully the censors will reconsider their definition of the First Amendment for our wanna-be reader, especially since they already allow books like The Hitler We Loved And Why in prison libraries.

Will John McCain Make Exorcism (Literally) a Campaign Issue?

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 1:49 PM EDT

As John McCain moves to select a running mate, it seems--at least for the moment--that the star of potential veep nominee Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, is rising. This is good news for Democrats.

On one level, Jindal is impressive. The son of Indian immigrants, he's only 37 years old, and he has already been elected a member of the U.S. House and a governor. (Talk about a Junior Achiever!) Yet can McCain, who claims Obama is not sufficiently experienced to become president, say with a straight face that Jindal is prepared to take the helm? And Jindal's record in Louisiana--including his stint in charge of the state health department--has its spotty moments. Then there's that exorcism.

Blogs and news outfits have already picked over a 1994 essay that Jindal, a convert to Catholicism, wrote for a Catholic magazine, describing an exorcism of a friend in which he was an observer/participant. Not only did Jindal and his pals manage to drive the Satanic demon out of their friend; the exercise, Jindal suggested, also cured her skin cancer. The article was entitled, "Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare."

Americans tend to be quite religious. Most tell pollsters they believe in heaven and hell (and assume they are heading upward, not downward, once they expire). Many tend to believe literally in the devil. But how will an amateur exorcism--that violated Catholic law (which allows only certified exorcists to perform the ritual in very limited circumstances)--play with, say, swing voters? No doubt, Jindal will have to discuss the episode. With Oprah perhaps? That would indeed be Must See TV.

Here's one excerpt of his article that an interviewer might want to ask about:

While Alice and Louise held Susan, her sister continued holding the Bible to her face. Almost taunting the evil spirit that had almost beaten us minutes before, the students dared Susan to read biblical passages. She choked on certain passages and could not finish the sentence "Jesus is Lord." Over and over, she repeated "Jesus is L..L..LL," often ending in profanities. In between her futile attempts, Susan pleaded with us to continue trying and often smiled between the grimaces that accompanied her readings of Scripture. Just as suddenly as she went into the trance, Susan suddenly reappeared and claimed "Jesus is Lord."
With an almost comical smile, Susan then looked up as if awakening from a deep sleep and asked, "Has something happened?" She did not remember any of the past few hours and was startled to find her friends breaking out in cheers and laughter, overwhelmed by sudden joy and relief.

As a vice presidential candidate, Jindal would be under great pressure--and ought to be--to make other participants in the event available for interview. In the article, he used fake names. But he insisted every single detail was true. Given that such an event must have had a profound impact on him--he came face to face with a real demon!-- this possible president-in-waiting would be obligated to prove that he got the story right, that he was not exaggerating. (Remember how the press and the GOPers went after Al Gore's claims in 2000 with a vengeance?) And the media, of course, would be on the hunt to find "Susan" to get her side of the tale. (Enquiring minds might want to know if her skin cancer is still gone.)

Is Jindal prepared to disclose more about this exorcism? Is the McCain campaign prepared to see more disclosed? The event is a legitimate target for voter interest and media scrutiny. After all, Representative Dennis Kucinich had to explain his UFO sighting. And Jindal should not be allowed to hide behind the cloaks of faith and personal privacy. Barack Obama had no choice but to explain his relationship to a particular minister. He didn't duck the issue by claiming it was a private relationship based on faith. So if Jindal is anointed by McCain, the exorcism will be fair game.

America may or may not be ready for a national political debate about exorcism and Satanic demons. By picking Jindal as a running mate, McCain would give the country a chance to find out.