2008 - %3, November

Hillary at State

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 8:06 PM EST

HILLARY AT STATE....The latest on the Hillary front:

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

....Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the secretary of state job.

I don't know what sources the Guardian bases this on, but there are no weasel words in that first sentence. If this really turns out to be true, color me gobsmacked.

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Huntington vs. Burlington: How to Grow a Healthy City

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 7:35 PM EST

westvirginia.jpgThe CDC recently ranked Huntington, West Virginia as America's unhealthiest city, leading the nation in rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes—even the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth.

On the other end of the scale was Burlington, Vermont, land of happy, healthy hikers and natural-food co-ops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Burlington is a relatively wealthy area, where fewer than 10 percent of people live below the poverty line. In Huntington, the number rises to nearly 20 percent.

In interviews with the Associated Press, a number of Huntington residents said they didn't have the time, the resources, or the inclination to prioritize personal health. Looked at that way, the equation seems simple: people in Burlington have the luxury to shop at boutique health food stores; people in Huntington don't.

But Keri Kennedy, a state health officer, says the bigger problem is one of perception.

Prop 8: Mormons For Gay Marriage

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 6:34 PM EST

prop8little.jpgIt's been widely reported that the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) helped tip the balance in favor of California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. But not all Mormons voted yes. On the site Seeking Forgiveness, LDS Church members apologize on behalf of their church to the gay community—and express their regret that Prop 8 passed.

The apologies are worth a read. After the jump, I'll quote a few that moved me:

"Hundreds" of Hate Crimes Under the Radar, Post-Obama Victory?

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 5:50 PM EST

Am I the only one who has missed news of this? The AP:

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of incidents, including vandalism, threats and at least one physical attack. There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.
In Snellville, Ga., Denene Millner said that a day after the election, a boy on a school bus told her 9-year-old daughter that he hoped "Obama gets assassinated." That night, Millner said, someone trashed her sister-in-law's front lawn, mangled the Obama lawn signs and left two pizza boxes filled with human feces outside the front door.
"It definitely makes you look a little different at the people who you live with," said Millner, who is black. "And makes you wonder what they're capable of and what they're really thinking."
Potok, who is white, said he thinks there is "a large subset of white people in this country who feel that they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them."

The rest of the article has more specifics, if you're interested. I know no one actually believed that America would transform into a post-racial paradise because of Obama's victory, but did anyone think we'd see a wave of hate crimes? If that is, in fact, what this is?

Paul McCartney Announces Unreleased Beatles Track

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 5:42 PM EST

mojo-photo-beatles-2.jpgPaul McCartney has confirmed to BBC Radio 4 the existence of a "mythical" 14-minute-long unreleased Beatles track, and says the song will see the light of day. The track, called "Carnival of Light," commissioned for an electronic music festival, was recorded during the Penny Lane sessions in 1967, and was apparently only played once, at the festival itself. McCartney told Radio 4 that at the time he asked the other Beatles to indulge him:

I said all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum then wander on to the piano, hit a few notes, just wander around. So that's what we did and then put a bit of an echo on it. It's very free.

He said the track was never released because it was too "adventurous," but that "the time has come for it to get its moment."

After the jump: Brits find a reason to complain!

SNL Gets Gay

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 5:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-snagglepuss.jpgNot to be all-Prop-8-all-the-time over here on the Riff, but there was some surprising, funny, and surprisingly funny stuff on SNL Saturday night, and some of the best bits seemed to be inspired by the sudden re-emergence of gay rights as a newsy topic. In fact, homosexuality was pretty much the running theme of the whole episode, from the overly-kissy family opening sketch (which culminated in a jaw-dislocating open-mouth snog between Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen) to the baffling-but-hilarious digital short featuring Samberg and host Paul Rudd painting each other's naked portraits, Titanic-style. Justin Timberlake's lispy cameo as one of three terrible male dancers in leotards in a Beyonce video also might count. By the way, somebody give Justin Timberlake a variety show—his two-minute version of himself hosting the show was pretty mind-blowing.

After the jump: Heavens to Murgatroyd!

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Detainees Fear Transfer to Iraqi Government Control

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 3:59 PM EST

With a draft "Status of Forces" agreement having been accepted by Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet, the timetable for US withdrawal is close to being set. American forces will pull out of Iraqi cities by next June and will leave the country entirely by January 2012. The agreement next must be approved by the Iraqi parliament and a three-member presidential council before it becomes law. But with things seemingly on course for official approval, new concerns have arisen over one of the draft agreement's provisions: the transfer of insurgent detainees form US to Iraqi custody.

Basil al-Azawi, head of the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, is calling for amendments to the agreement, ensuring that detainees will be protected from abuse. From al-Azawi:

As parliament represents the Iraqi people, it should act in line with the interests of Iraqis... Absolute justice must be achieved and Iraqi and international laws must be implemented when dealing with those detainees in Iraqi prisons... A suitable life inside the prisons must be guaranteed according to the Iraqi constitution and law. More visits to Iraqi prisons must be allowed by international and local human rights activists, and the treatment [of prisoners] must not be based on their sectarian background.

Under the draft agreement, anyone captured by US forces must be turned over to Iraqi custody within 24 hours. There are already 17,000 detainees in US-run detention centers in Iraq.

Jason Bentley to Replace Nic Harcourt as KCRW Morning Host

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 3:52 PM EST

mojo-photo-jasonbentley.jpgSanta Monica-based public radio station KCRW has announced that longtime evening host Jason Bentley (right) will be taking over for Nic Harcourt as Music Director and host of the influential "Morning Becomes Eclectic" when Harcourt leaves on December 1. Harcourt's exit was just announced last week, and included a vague notion of "expanding on other activities" which to me seems code for "I didn't have anything else lined up," but what do I know.

Harcourt came to KCRW from Woodstock, New York's WDST in 1998, and over the past ten years used the morning show to introduce artists like Coldplay, Dido and Franz Ferdinand. Bentley's promotion will excite fans of groovy beats, as the DJ and producer has focused much of his career on electronic music, with his KCRW show "Metropolis" and a long-running Saturday night show on Los Angeles alternative juggernaut KROQ. We'll see how well his laid-back late-night DJ persona translates to 9am.

Iranian Arms Update

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 3:36 PM EST

IRANIAN ARMS UPDATE....Gareth Porter reports on the findings of Task Force Troy, which was set up earlier this year to look for evidence of Iranian-made weapons in Iraq:

According to the data compiled by the task force, and made available to an academic research project last July, only 70 weapons believed to have been manufactured in Iran had been found in post-invasion weapons caches between mid-February and the second week in April. And those weapons represented only 17 percent of the weapons found in caches that had any Iranian weapons in them during that period.

....The caches that included Iranian weapons [] represented just 2 percent of all caches found. That means Iranian-made weapons were a fraction of one percent of the total weapons found in Shi'a militia caches during that period.

To be exact, Iranian weapons accounted for 0.36% of all weapons found during the six-week period examined by the task force. What's more, the task force also looked at large caches of supposedly Iranian weapons uncovered in Basra and Karbala during April and May and concluded that they weren't Iranian after all. Cernig provides more:

Left out of the list of Iranian-made weaponry were 350 armour-piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) found in Iraqi weapons caches. Despite the lurid claims of US officials, the task group couldn't ascribe an Iranian origin to a single one. Which along with press reports about finding EFP manufactories inside Iraq explains why, since mid-Summer, we've heard nothing about Iranian-made EFPs whereas before official reports and statements were full of them.

....Iranian equipment is less reliable and more expensive than Eastern Block materiel that flooded the region after the 2003 invasion — something which a certain imprisoned international arms dealer, ex-CIA and ex-US military contractor and supplier to despots and terrorists, Viktor Bout, may well know a fair bit about. It's a buyer's market and the Iranians are seeing market forces exclude their produce, with the exception of simple artillery rockets. They're more expensive than the Pakistani arms bazaar's copies coming down the old Silk Road routes and far less effective than easily available and comparitively-priced black market US weapons too.

There's no question that Iran has substantial interests, both political and military, in Iraq, and has been assisting various armed groups there over the past few years (some of them allied with Maliki and the U.S. government). But evidence is evidence, and the evidence that they've been providing anything more than token amounts of weaponry to Iraqi fighters is very thin indeed. It's time to move on to some other bugaboo.

Stimulus Dreams

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 2:17 PM EST

STIMULUS DREAMS....Clay Risen recommends a piece in New York magazine about the virtues of using a trillion-dollar infrastructure program as economic stimulus. It's by architecture critic Justin Davidson, and it argues that a building plan would do more than just stimulate the economy:

A new New Deal, equipped with an Obama-era version of the Works Progress Administration, could put millions back to work, modernize the country, nudge the economy towards recovery, and produce a barrage of working monuments. It would be a stimulus package that keeps on stimulating long into the future.

This late-model WPA would take advantage of a moment when great architecture, buoyed by a long construction boom and debilitated by the bubble's pop, is looking for a purpose. The international corps of architectural auteurs, who have spent a decade or two dreaming up fantastical museums and ever more luxurious condos, could be challenged to build in American cities — particularly ours — on the grandest possible scale. They should be given the chance to tackle society's most massive, crucial, and abiding projects: viaducts, junctions, sewage plants, power plants, and bridges.

I have my doubts about this. In the first half of the 20th century, huge engineering projects were viewed as symbols of economic power and national greatness. Each skyscraper was taller than the one before, each bridge longer, each highway more miraculous. But here in the industrialized West anyway, that's just not true anymore. We've done too much of it, and it's become too routine. Individual pieces of architecture still have the power to inspire, but building programs qua building programs just don't kindle the same passions they used to.

This is especially true given the nature of the stuff we'd be building (or repairing): "viaducts, junctions, sewage plants, power plants, and bridges." There would probably be a few chances to build beautiful new bridges — Davidson mentions the new Tappan Zee bridge as an example — but they're going to be few and far between. For the most part, we've already built all the big bridges we need, and the vast bulk of any federal building program will instead be on inherently prosaic projects. Even on the bridge front, most of the projects will be straightforward roads, like the infamous I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, not gossamer creations spanning rivers and mountain gorges.

Which is too bad. I love beautiful bridges, and if we do allocate money for infrastructure, I hope we allow it to be used to create works of art when and where it's possible. For the most part, though, we don't need grand new projects so much as we need to repair old ones — and the new ones we do need are going to be things like windmill farms, electricals grids, and rail systems. It'll stimulate the economy, and be an excellent investment in the future, but it's asking too much to think it will be much more than that.