2012 - %3, March

Quote of the Day: Romney on Rush

| Sat Mar. 3, 2012 1:45 PM EST

From Mitt Romney, missing out on his chance to use Rush Limbaugh's "slut" remarks as his very own Sister Souljah moment:

I'll just say this, which is it’s not the language I would have used.

And even that was only after dodging reporters all day before finally deciding he could risk expressing even this measured-to-the-nano-hair level of disapproval.

By the way: at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the problem here isn't really Rush Limbaugh. His schtick is to say outrageous stuff and then watch as liberals get into a lather over it. He's done it before, he'll do it again.

The real problem is that Rush is speaking for a big pool of people who agree with him. We're all acting as though we're shocked that the "religious freedom" argument was just a facade for a seething hostility toward contraceptives themselves, but what's to be shocked about? Rush knows his audience well, and for most of them insurance coverage of contraceptives has always been a sideshow. That's clear enough already if you're plugged into the email chains and church newsletters that form the backbone of social conservatism, and all Rush has done is drag it out from this netherworld and shine a national spotlight on their real concern: that unmarried women are having sex at all, and that easy access to contraceptives expresses a tacit endorsement of it. They really do disapprove of the pill and the free-love generation it ushered in, and they disapprove of the fact that modern society forces them all to pretend that this is OK. Because they don't think it's OK. They're afraid of it. They think it's bad for public morals, they think it leads to a breakdown of order, and they think it should be condemned. Maybe the hypocrisy of times past was nothing to be proud of, but it's still better than the chaos and self-indulgence of the if-it-feels-good-do-it generation.

I know we all know this. But sometimes it seems like we forget. The issue here isn't really Rush, it's public opinion. There's a big chunk of it that's still offended by the sexual revolution, and we either have to persuade them otherwise or else just steamroll them because we're in the majority. There's really no other option. There never has been. Rush is just a distraction.

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Review: "Benny," by Alex Winston

| Sat Mar. 3, 2012 7:00 AM EST

TRACK 9

"Benny"

From Alex Winston's King Con

Liner notes: "Benny, Benny, takes my penny/Then he skins me to the bone," trills Alex Winston on her portrait of a sketchy faith healer, embedding barbed observations in a sugary pop anthem.

Behind the music: Winston, a classically trained opera singer and Detroit native, got warmed up for her debut album with a covers EP featuring songs by the Rolling Stones and Mumford & Sons. The addictive King Con depicts a variety of fringe characters, from polygamists ("Sister Wife") to rowdy Amish teens ("Run Rumspringa") to pop-culture obsessives ("Velvet Elvis").

Check it out if you like: Women who subvert shiny mainstream sounds to darker ends, such as Lily Allen, Lykke Li, and Gemma Ray.


 

Tom's Kitchen: French Lentils, Delicious (and Easy) Dinner

| Sat Mar. 3, 2012 7:00 AM EST

I love legumes of all kinds, but I'm not always together enough to soak, say, white beans the night before I want them. Many cooks address the soaking problem with a pressure cooker, which can take any bean from rock-hard to cooked in less than an hour. I don't have a pressure cooker, so I turn to the lentil, which cooks in less than an hour without soaking anyway.

Lentils may bear some of the baggage of people's bad college cooking. In my college days in the '80s, we were of that generation whose parents had raised us to demonize salt, so we had no idea how or even whether to use it. I remember eating too many grim bowls of mushy, gray, aggressively bland lentils at friends' houses. But those days are long gone. Now lentils are good!

These days, my two favorite varieties are red lentils, which I cook with plenty of caramelized onions and Indian spices, and the French kind, which are green. Unlike many other lentil varieties, the French ones stay firm when cooked. And they have a great rustic flavor on their own, so it doesn't take much to make them to taste delicious, and well, French. I just cook them with what the French call a mirepoix—a mixture of chopped onion, celery, and carrots. To jazz up my usual French lentil dish this time around, I made a quick arugula and red onion salad. Over rice, or with some crusty bread, it makes a good dinner.

French Lentils With Arugula-Red Onion Salad

Serves three
Ingredients:
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium-size onion, chopped
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red-hot dried chili pepper, chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon hot Spanish smoked paprika (optional)
1 cup French (also called puy) lentils
½ (lengthwise) of a medium-size red onion, sliced into thin, short strips
1 good handful of arugula (Italian parsley will work too)
A lemon and some olive oil for dressing
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1) Add a good splash of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot, and turn heat to medium-low. When the oil shimmers, add the mirepoix vegetables and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they're soft. Add the garlic and the chili pepper and paprika (if using), and stir. Let it sizzle for a second, and then add the lentils. Stir them in, letting them sauté for a few seconds, and add enough water to cover them by an inch or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, turn heat to low, and let them simmer until they're tender but still pleasantly firm. Check occasionally, and be ready to add water if the lentils threaten to dry out.

2) After the lentils have simmered a while and are almost done, make the salad. Add the onion slices to a medium sized bowl and over them, tear the arugula leaves into bite-sizes pieces with your hands. Add a good pinch of sea salt, a grind of black pepper, a splash of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Combine with your hands and taste, adding a little more of whatever in the dressing seems to faint.

3) When the lentils are done, season with sea salt, pepper, and lemon juice. (Actually, lentils are a great way to learn the genius of salt. First taste the cooked lentils unseasoned, then add salt a pinch at a time, tasting after each pinch. Note how the salt draws out the other flavors out as you add it bit by bit. Be careful not to over-salt—you want to taste the food, not the salt). Distribute them among three bowls, leaving a little behind for seconds, and garnish each bowl with the salad on top. Serve with bread.

Why Virginia's New Mandatory Ultrasound Law Still Sucks

| Sat Mar. 3, 2012 7:00 AM EST
The final version of Virginia's bill allows women to opt for a jelly-on-the-belly ultrasound instead of a transvaginal one.

Virginia's controversial mandatory ultrasound bill is now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell's desk. While the final version of the bill allows women to opt out of having an invasive transvaginal ultrasound—the provision that drew a national spotlight in the last couple weeks—don't be fooled: It's still a burdensome law.

The original bill would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo whatever kind of ultrasound gets the best image of the embryo or fetus. In the early stages of pregnancy—when the vast majority of abortions occur—that's typically a transvaginal ultrasound, which is far more invasive than the abdominal kind (think jelly-on-the-belly). That requirement was scrapped at the eleventh hour, after a deluge of national attention. Abortion rights activists said mandating such an invasive procedure amounted to "state-sanctioned rape," a comparison that clearly struck a nerve: Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show took cracks at the bill; more than a thousand women gathered in silent protest outside the state capitol. Eventually, McDonnell backtracked on his initial support, stating last week, "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."

The public outcry against Virginia's bill appears to have caused other state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Idaho to back down as well—at least when it comes to the transvaginal requirement. It seems Virginia Del. Dave Albo isn't the only one to discover that "transvaginal" can be a rather radioactive term. But while it's tempting to view this new aversion to forced vaginal probing as a partial victory, abortion rights advocates are quick to point out that Virginia's final bill—and others like it—is still terrible. Here are five reasons why:

  • It's medically unnecessary. Although many doctors do perform an ultrasound before an abortion, it's not considered medically necessary in the first trimester—and requiring them leaves no room for the doctor's discretion or the patient's choice. Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation told TPM, "Really the abdominal versus transvaginal ultrasound issue is a distraction, one that has gotten a lot of publicity." And since abdominal ultrasounds typically can't even get a good image in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Sean Holihan of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia explains, the new law is essentially "telling women to go and pay for a completely useless procedure."

Virginia Supreme Court Ends Cuccinelli's Case Against Climate Scientist

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 7:05 PM EST

Blue Marble readers are no stranger to the story of Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who has been the subject of a number of right-wing attacks over the years. (See this feature or this video for starters.) For the past few years, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been on a quest to sift through Mann's email and documents from his time at the University of Virginia to find evidence that he has been making climate change up.

But on Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Cuccinelli does not have the authority to force UVA to turn over Mannn's documents. He had attempted to use the "Fraud Against Taxpayers Act" to demand the documents in his efforts to find something to show that Mann had indeed committed some act of "fraud" in his climate change research. Cuccinelli, of course, has made it clear he's no fan of the conclusion that the earth is warming and it's caused by human activity.

Mann sent Mother Jones a comment via email shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision:

I'm pleased that this particular episode is over. Its sad, though, that so much money and resources had to be wasted on Cuccinelli's witch hunt against me and the University of Virginia, when it could have been invested, for example, in measures to protect Virginia's coast line from the damaging effects of sea level rise it is already seeing.
One would have hoped that the fact alone that the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation last year looked into the allegations by Cuccinelli and other climate change deniers against me, and found that there was absolutely no basis to them, would have ended the attacks against me. But as I describe in my just published book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, they are part of something much larger—a coordinated assault against the scientific community by powerful vested interests who simply want to stick their heads in the sand and deny the problem of human-caused climate change, rather than engage in the good faith debate about what to do about it.

Iran War Watch: Threatening Pakistan

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 5:52 PM EST

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

The Pakistani government is moving forward with plans to construct a pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Iran. The multibillion-dollar project has been kicked around for six decades, with both parties now shooting for a December 2014 completion date.

For some reason, the State Department really isn't too fond of this:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has threatened Pakistan with sanctions if the country continues with plans to build a natural gas pipeline to Iran. The U.S. is moving to squeeze Iran financially in a bid to force it to drop its nuclear program. But Pakistan has been unwilling to line up behind the U.S., saying it needs Iran, a neighbor, to help it meet a massive energy shortage.

Mrs. Clinton told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee Wednesday that sanctions could be triggered if Islamabad presses ahead. As Pakistan’s economy already is in dire straits, the sanctions could be "particularly damaging" and "further undermine their economic status," Mrs. Clinton said.

Pakistan's top bureaucrat in the Petroleum and Natural Resources Ministry, Muhammad Ejaz Chaudhry, said the pipeline was crucial for Pakistan's energy security – the longstanding Pakistan position. But he added that Pakistan was "committed not to create any problems."

Despite the possibility of rough sanctions, Pakistani officials confirmed this week that the pipeline deal is still a go. "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan," Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani affirmed during an online Q&A.

Any potential sanctions targeting Pakistan's fragile economy would be in sync with the Obama administration's approach to pressuring the Iranian regime—economic sanctions recently imposed on Iran are harsher than they have been in decades, and international sanctions are taking a serious toll on the country's central bank and oil sales.

So in case you were wondering, yes, there are indeed other ways in which the US-Pakistan relationship can get even lousier.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 2 March 2012

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 4:27 PM EST

I fell down on the catblogging front this week, so today's pictures are last-minute snaps. On the bright side, this means you're getting a near-real time view of what the cats are up to right now. Which is: pretty much the same as always. Enjoy.

Oil and the Weak Dollar

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 4:23 PM EST

Responding to my post this morning about gasoline prices, several people have asked why I didn't say anything about the weakness of the dollar as a possible culprit. Answer: because the dollar isn't especially weak right now, and in any case, the value of the dollar has only a slight effect on the global price of oil. Obviously a weak dollar makes all imports more expensive, so it does play a role in domestic prices, but as you can see from the chart below — where the dollar value is inverted and rescaled to show the relationship more clearly — the strength of the dollar has very little relationship to the price of oil. In 2007-08, the price of oil spiked from $60 to $140 while the dollar weakened only slightly. The recent spike began in November, while the dollar was strengthening. After that the dollar weakened a bit, then strengthened last month. It's just not a big factor here.

Unprecedented Ocean Acidification Underway

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 4:20 PM EST

Coral reefs are at risk from an acidifying ocean.

A new and alarming paper in the prestigious journal Science reports today that the world's oceans may be acidifying faster now than at any time during the four major extinctions of the last 300 million years, when natural pulses of carbon sent global temperatures soaring as much as 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F)

The study is the first of its kind to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification over such a huge time frame. 

In the past century, due to fossil fuel emissions, atmospheric CO2 has risen about 30 percent. The oceans have sequestered about a third of that, making them ~30 percent more acidic, as pH has fallen from 8.2 to 8.1.

Estimated change in annual mean sea surface pH between the pre-industrial period (1700s) and the present day (1990s). : Plumbago via Wikimedia Commons.Estimated change in annual mean sea surface pH between the pre-industrial period (1700s) and the present day (1990s): Plumbago via Wikimedia Commons.

When pH dropped to 7.8 in coral reefs off Papua New Guinea, diversity declined ~40 percent. When pH drops below 7.8, clownfish larvae in the lab lose their ability to smell predators or find their way home.

That amounts to a gargantuan change in chemistry, which has reduced carbonate ion concentrations in seawater by ~16 percent.

Carbonate ions are needed for marine life to make their shelters—their reefs and shells.

Which means that rising acidity threatens the survival of entire ecosystems from phytoplankton to coral reefs, and from Antarctic systems reliant on sea urchins to many human food webs dependent on everything from oysters to salmon. 

The Science paper authors reviewed hundreds of paleoceanographic studies and found evidence of only one period in the past 300 million years when the oceans changed at even close to the rate they're changing today.

That was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 56 million years ago, when rapid extinctions in the sea and on the land changed Earth's menagerie of life forever.

Cinnamon clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus): Nick Hobgood via Wikimedia Commons.Cinnamon clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus): Nick Hobgood via Wikimedia Commons.

From the paper:

Ocean acidification may have severe consequences for marine ecosystems... We review events exhibiting evidence for elevated atmospheric CO2, global warming, and ocean acidification over the past ~300 million years of Earth’s history, some with contemporaneous extinction or evolutionary turnover among marine calcifiers. Although similarities exist, no past event perfectly parallels future projections in terms of disrupting the balance of ocean carbonate chemistry—a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place.

The paper:

 

 

Has Right-Wing Media Become an Albatross for the Right Wing?

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 3:39 PM EST

As you probably already know, Rush Limbaugh plumbed some new depths of loathsomeness a couple of days ago when he claimed that Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown student who's testified in favor of mandated contraceptive coverage in healthcare plans, was a slut:

What does it say....that she essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex, she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? The pimps.

Tod Kelly mulls over the larger meaning of this:

In the late 90s through the early and mid 00s, the GOP found that it could increase both number of voters and voter passion by aligning itself with a media machine that was initially created to build ratings from shock value....The GOP found, much to its delight, that by using the segment of the media that it controlled, it could continually rally its base and win elections without dealing with the traditional difficulties of having to sell superior policy proposals....In a world as hard and difficult as politics, the GOP found a way to make everything easy.

But, as Terry Pratchett has oft said, the problem with the easy way is that eventually it makes everything so damn hard.

The media business model the Right chose to embrace was based on the shock-radio model. An inherent flaw with this type of model is that while it leads to quick ratings and advertising profits, it it can be difficult to sustain. If you spend one week calling the President a liar and an idiot, it’s not going to be long before calling him a lying idiot isn’t really all that shocking. You have to continually push just a little bit more as you go, or risk being irrelevant in the shock-media world.

....Somewhere along the line, however, this model has to break down — partly because you eventually reach a ceiling where the base that believes the ever-increasingly shocking claims is small enough to make the party you’re backing politically irrelevant, and partly because to those that aren’t part of the machine or the base you begin to look increasingly out of touch. Birtherism is a fairly good example of this ceiling being reached, as are the Death Panels and Obama/Hitler youth programs. Unfortunately for the Right, however, once you tie yourself and your success so inexorably to the machine it becomes almost impossible to untangle yourself from it.

Question #1 of the day: Is this true? Is the right being hurt by its media machine these days? Question #2: Are liberals in danger of going down the same road?