2008 - %3, July

Polling the Ohio Pols

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 4:36 AM EDT

Barack Obama and John McCain may be sparring over several different issues—Iran, Iraq, health care, immigration—in their fight for the White House, but, at least in swing states Ohio and Florida, one issue trumps them all: the economy.

An NPR poll conducted with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's School of Public Health shows (.pdf) more than 50 percent of respondents in both states say their pocketbooks will be the most important issue guiding their votes in November. When pollsters combined respondents' first and second most pressing concerns, the economy showed up 70 percent of the time.

This could bode well for Obama and his fellow party members, especially in Ohio, where some counties face unemployment rates of more than eight percent. "It does help the Democrats," says Johnnie Maier, chairman of the Democratic party in Stark County, Ohio, which historically has acted as bellwether county in presidential elections. "When George W. Bush took office, we had a budget surplus. We didn't have a housing crisis. Now we're replacing what used to be living-wage jobs with part-time jobs at places like Wal-Mart—a major Chinese importer. It's beyond a mess."

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Diddling While America Burns

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 4:00 AM EDT

This must have been how the peasants felt, watching Nero fiddle a merry tune while Rome burned.

Gasoline approaches $5 a gallon, runs on our banks are just barely averted, the war on terror drags on and on and what are we obsessed with? A magazine cover, now that the New Yorker's suddenly embraced satiric ones, and Bernie Mac's barely funny jokes at an Obama fundraiser. Imagine...a comedian making luke warm fun of the probable next Prez's marital woes. Heavens!

Do our problems seem so insoluble that we don't know what else to tackle but inanities like this? The only good that can come of this puerility is the fodder it provides for those of us who teach journalism (students, see: what not to do). It's twaddle like this that makes good journalism so much more precious. Wanna feed your brain instead of swaddle it in crap, wanna encourage journalists to produce more of it? Here are three items not to miss.

When W Talks Down

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

Try this one on for size: W wouldn't dare talk down to his citizens by suggesting they drive less and conserve near $5/gallon gas. From Politico:

"I mean, you know, it's interesting what the price of gasoline has done," Bush said at a news conference in the White House press room, "is it caused people to drive less. That's why they want smaller cars: They want to conserve. But the consumer's plenty bright. The marketplace works."

"It's a little presumptuous on my part to dictate how consumers live their own lives," the president added. "I've got faith in the American people."

Unless, of course, the American people are women who want to control their own bodies.

Aboriginal Singer Tops Australian Independent Music Charts

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 8:19 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yunupingu.jpgAn indigenous Australian singer has topped the Australian independent record charts with an album recorded mostly in his native Yungul language. The 37-year-old singer, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, has been blind since birth, but has already become an accomplished self-taught musician—he might be known to some world music fans as a sometime member of the Yothu Yindi band. But it's his debut solo album that's causing a sensation, mostly due to Yunupingu's voice, which the Sydney Morning Herald called one of "absolutely transcendental beauty." The singer is a bit of a recluse, since he apparently speaks little English, and Australia's ABC News calls him "very shy." But that didn't stop him from selling out the Sydney Opera House twice last weekend, and the UK Guardian says Elton John, Sting, and Björk are fans.

After the jump, check out "Wukun," a track from the new album that foregrounds the clear, shiver-inducing tones of Yunupingu's voice against a simple guitar melody that's almost like a lullaby.

New Music from Around the Blogs: Machines Don't Care, Kid Cudi, Santogold, Lykke Li

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 7:51 PM EDT

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The hotly-anticipated full length from electro supergroup Machines Don't Care (comprised of Party Ben faves Sinden, Herve, Trevor Loveys, and more) just released their full-length effort this week; The Docking Station has a few tracks and a mini-mix. Try out "Spycatcher" if you miss the old rave days but love the new wobbly bassline sound—it's got both! (For fans of: Moby, Joey Beltram, glowsticks)

For edgy hip-hop with some depth, check out Cleveland's Kid Cudi, whose "Day N Nite" has a melancholy style that's a throwback to '80s tracks like Oran "Juice" Jones' "The Rain." Remember that one? "I saw you, and him...?" No? Oh well. Gorilla vs. Bear's got the mp3. (For fans of: Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, Cleveland)

After the jump: taking the Clash back to their reggae roots, and hipster head-explosion fun times!

LEDs Just Got Brighter

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 7:08 PM EDT

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Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are four times more efficient than incandescent lights and greener than compact fluorescent bulbs (think: mercury). They also last up to 15 years before burning out.

So why aren't they everywhere?

Because they're expensive—created on a pricey layer of sapphire.

Until now. Purdue University researchers report a novel technique using cheap metal-coated silicon wafers to make LEDs.

Cheaper is better. Widespread LED use could cut electricity consumption by 10 percent.

That could help us heed Al Gore's call to produce all global-warming-free electricity by 2018.

The LED findings appear this month in Applied Physics Letters, journal of the American Institute of Physics.

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

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Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Fed

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 6:53 PM EDT

How comforted should we feel by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's pronouncement that the country's largest mortgage-finance companies are in "no danger of failing"? Or this week's rebound in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae shares?

Not as comforted as Congress now appears to be. No, we don't have 25 percent unemployment, or the bread lines of the early 1930s, but anyone who lives in Indymac's hometown of Pasadena, California knows we're seeing bank runs. And while it's all well and good for the SEC to restrict the short selling of Fannie, Freddie and primary bond dealers, when whole countries are dumping US stocks and bonds, something more drastic is required.

Pre Pre-Negotiations?

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 6:48 PM EDT

With the media and international affairs observers focused on the Bush administration's decision to send a US envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva this weekend, this detail in a wire report out of the Turkish capital Ankara today is interesting. From the AP, who's in Turkey today? White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley. What's he doing there? According to the AP report, talking about Iran. And who is coming to Turkey tomorrow? Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Now, Turkey has been playing the role of mediator - for a long time secretly, and recently openly - in indirect proximity talks between long time adversaries Israel and Syria. One wonders, is Turkey hosting some sort of pre pre-negotiations now between the US and Iran?

One former State Department official tells me that is unlikely. "It seems highly improbable… If only because it would undercut (or worse) the prospective Jalili-Burns meeting on Saturday. Mottaki is far less influential, so why would you have a more senior [US government] official do a sit-down with him?"

LA's Lean, Green, Dating Machines

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

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Leave it to LA to find a way to combine efficiency, sex, and eco-street cred. In the city of instant gratification, there's now an easy way to determine if that cute guy at the gym will build a LEED-rated home with you: green speed dating!

Jenean Smith, founder of the Green Speed Dating website, came up with the idea while brainstorming ways to raise money to install solar panels at a rural school in Nicaragua. "One day—I have no idea why—I said, you know what the world really needs? Green speed dating!" She set up an event in Santa Monica, where for $20 participants could spend three minutes on green mini-dates. Eco-conscious Angelenos couldn't get enough. "There's all these green singles' sites that don't have enough people on them, and there's regular speed-dating where you don't know who you're going to meet," says Smith. "People liked that this was a green event for a good cause."

And how did the LA speed-daters evaluate their potential partners' green-ness? By asking what they drove, of course! One lucky guy narrowly escaped having to admit he owned an SUV; another found his bicyling habit made him a little too green for most dates. NPR caught some of the oh-so-awkward car convos; listen yourself here.

Okay, okay, so only in LA would cars be the focus of a green dating event. (To each his own: Portland, OR offers bicycle speed dating.) But the cause is indeed worthy, and word of the site is spreading fast. California readers take note: This could be your summer of green love.

The Emmys: No Wire, Lots of Mad Men, Buckets of Yawns

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 3:32 PM EDT

mojo-photo-emmysnowire.jpgA quick scan of Google headlines for "Emmys" tells the story: "The Emmys Wimp Out," "The Ineptitude of Emmy Voters," "Did They Get Them Right?" Oh yeah, and the requisite "Emmys Go Mad for Mad Men!" Give that guy a Pulitzer. Sure, the detail-obsessive AMC show deserves its 16 nominations (including Best Drama), and you gotta love 30 Rock, whose 17 nods include Best Comedy (and seven for guest actors, is that cheating?). But in that category alone, you also have the increasingly-irrelevant Entourage, the past-its-prime Office, the suitable-for-torture Two and a Half Men, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which, with all due respect, I didn't even know was still on the air. Flight of the Conchords, Family Guy, Monk, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park, Weeds?