2012 - %3, December

Andrew W.K. Still Aims to Be Party Ambassador to Bahrain

| Mon Dec. 3, 2012 7:03 AM EST
Andrew W.K. on the cover of his 2001 album I Get Wet.

If you have a passing familiarity with rocker philosopher Andrew W.K., this is probably what you see: A guy with long hair in a uniform of scrubby white jeans who has a penchant for puking and bleeding regularly. If you're into the deeper W.K. cuts, you'll know that his appearance belies a quest to spread his message of relentless existential positivity (a.k.a PARTYING) far and wide. Last week, though, W.K. surprised many with the announcement that the State Department was sending him to Bahrain as a cultural ambassador.

One problem: The State Department claimed otherwise (as reported here by MoJo's Asawin Suebseang). And while W.K. now says US officials cancelled on him last minute, that doesn't mean he's ready to quit. We caught up this past week with W.K., who insists he's still looking to get to Bahrain on his own—and isn't taking the State Department's snub too personally.

Mother Jones: What would your Bahraini itinerary have looked like if the trip weren't called off?

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Why Do We Tolerate Sexist Jerks in Show Biz?

| Mon Dec. 3, 2012 7:03 AM EST
Chris Brown, looking ready for a foot-in-the-mouth.

R&B pop star and convicted felon Chris Brown is no longer MIA on Twitter. In case you missed last weekend's lurid social media drama, it kicked off with Brown posting a picture of himself and tweeting, "I look old as fuck! I'm only 23." To which comedy writer Jenny Johnson (who describes herself in her Twitter profile as "Writer, wife, asshole and owner of 2 dogs") tweeted back, "I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person."

Thus began the crossfire, with Brown boasting of the various graphic sexual and scatalogical acts he would impose on his antagonist "hoe," and Johnson, who'd been baiting him on Twitter for a while, jabbing back with a sense of humor that made Brown look like even more of an asshole. The singer eventually took himself out of the game by deactivating his Twitter account, whereupon Johnson received death threats from Breezy fans. Six days later, Brown's Twitter account reappeared with all his old tweets obliterated.

At first, Brown's absence seemed to indicate that Johnson had won the duel. I had intended to write about how the episode was an exception to the rule—the rule that says misogynistic pop stars can get away with treating women horribly because we're willing to look the other way when celebrities do bad things. But now I wonder if it's not just going to end up in the archives as yet another case of, "Oh, there goes Chris Brown being Chris Brown." 

It's not just that the music industry has cheerfully supported Brown throughout his probation for felony assault on singer Rihanna, his former (or possibly-on-again?) girlfriend. I'm also talking about how things like this get shrugged off by music critics, or play out in conversations over hoppy beer with progressive, liberal arts types. The conversation usually goes something like:

"Have you heard so and so's new album? He's a genius."

"Yeah, but he's a terrible human being."

"Does that matter?"

My gripe isn't just that Brown got off with zero jail time after pleading guilty to violently assaulting his girlfriend. It's that we have a habit of endorsing, defending, and even rewarding artists (and athletes and radio hosts and movie stars) who display harmful behavior toward women, occasionally express a little remorse, and then go on reinforcing their destructive messages.

Remember Tyler, the Creator, the "art rap" guy who used to spit about gory rape fantasies? It was bad enough that music writers at one point were wiping drool off their keyboards over the dude; but it was actually being a thoughtless shock-jock that landed him his own TV show—much like Glenn Beck. Then there's old-school Oakland rapper Too $hort, who in February offered "fatherly advice" in an XXL magazine video to boys on how to pressure middle school girls into sex. Last Tuesday, Pitchfork rated Too $hort's new album a glowing 7.8, writing, "Nothing keeps you young like a persistent hard-on and a filthy sense of humor." The piece neglected to mention the rapper's struggle with comedy and paternal instincts earlier this year.

The Sports Tax That Everyone Pays

| Sun Dec. 2, 2012 1:40 PM EST

From the LA Times today:

The average household already spends about $90 a month for cable or satellite TV, and nearly half of that amount pays for the sports channels packaged into most services.

I knew that sports programming accounted for a big chunk of my cable bill, but I had no idea the chunk was that big. And this is something that's become suddenly more prominent here in Southern California. The Lakers just signed a big new contract that will swell my cable bill, even though I don't watch basketball. Ditto for the Dodgers, even though I don't watch baseball. And ditto again for the Pac-12 network, even though I watch maybe half a dozen Pac-12 sporting events a year. I watch enough sports that I don't mind paying to get ESPN and a few other channels, but these new contracts are likely to add another ten bucks a month to my cable bill for channels I barely watch at all. The numbers are really getting ridiculous for those of us who are only casual sports fans. (And even more ridiculous for people like my sister or my mother, who don't watch any sports.)

The obvious answer, of course, is to offer channels on an a la carte basis—or perhaps on a semi-a la carte basis—but both the content providers and the cable companies fight this tooth and nail. Here's the excuse:

National and local sports networks typically require cable and satellite companies to make their channels available to all customers....The idea of offering channels on an "a la carte" basis used to be sacrilege to the industry. Executives argued it would not lower prices because networks would just charge more to make up for the loss of subscribers.

You know what? That's exactly what would happen. People would start to understand just how much they're paying for sports programming and they'd be appalled. Many wouldn't subscribe, and sports fans would be forced to pay the actual cost of their sports programming without being subsidized by the rest of us. This is exactly how it should be. There's no reason that, for all practical purposes, every single person in the LA area should be forced to pay a tax to the Lakers and Dodgers even if they don't care about basketball and baseball.

Consumers should always assume that they're being ripped off if prices are hidden in some way. In the same way that hidden bank fees are generally good for banks but not so good for the rest of us, the current cable TV system is great for sports providers because it dulls the edge of market discipline, but not so good for the rest of us. The end result of a la carte programming would be more competition between sports providers, which would force them to offer better products, and it would also (probably) result in less money flowing into pro and college sports, which would be an almost unalloyed good. And people like my mother wouldn't be forced to pay $400 per year for programming they have no interest in, merely as the entry fee for having cable TV at all. It's time for a revolt, people.

Military-Intelligence Boundaries Grow Ever Fuzzier

| Sun Dec. 2, 2012 12:29 AM EST

Greg Miller of the Washington Post reports on the latest developments in the military-industrial complex:

The Pentagon will send hundreds of additional spies overseas as part of an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the CIA in size, U.S. officials said....They will be trained by the CIA and often work with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.

....The sharp increase in DIA undercover operatives is part of a far-reaching trend: a convergence of the military and intelligence agencies that has blurred their once-distinct missions, capabilities and even their leadership ranks. Through its drone program, the CIA now accounts for a majority of lethal U.S. operations outside the Afghan war zone. At the same time, the Pentagon’s plan to create what it calls the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS, reflects the military’s latest and largest foray into secret intelligence work.

The Post's sources, naturally, say that this won't really change anything, but that's just not true. Ever since 9/11, the executive branch has been steadily moving assignments around so that they'll be carried out by whichever agency has the loosest rules and the least oversight. Don't like military restrictions on drones? Assign them to the CIA. Don't like congressional oversight of clandestine operations? Assign them to the military. The Pentagon's new plans make these boundaries even fuzzier than before, and allow President Obama to pay even less attention to pesky oversight rules than he has in the past.

Honestly, at this rate I wonder if we should just make the CIA the sixth branch of the military and be done with it. At least then we'd know which rules applied to everyone.

CHART: Only 0.17 Percent of Peer-Reviewed Papers Question Global Warming

| Sat Dec. 1, 2012 7:03 AM EST

James Lawrence PowellJames Lawrence Powell

The chart comes from James Lawrence Powell, a geologist, science-writer, and former professor, via DeSmogBlog. Powell reviewed 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific articles published between January 1991 and November 9, 2012 that mentioned "global warming" or "global climate change." The grand total of articles that questioned global warming or whether rising emissions are the cause: 24. That's 0.17 percent of all the literature on the topic.

Powell's review covers more papers than Naomi Oreskes' oft-cited 2004 study in Science

Feds Shutter Historic Northern California Oyster Farm

| Sat Dec. 1, 2012 7:03 AM EST
An oyster farm worker at Drakes Estero.

After years of highly publicized debate surrounding the fate of an oyster operation on Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore, the Interior Department has decided against renewing the company's lease and has ordered it to vacate the property within 90 days. "After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company to expire at the end of its current term and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," interior secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generation who will enjoy this treasured landscape."

Salazar plans to designate 2,700 acres of the estuary, including 1,100 acres the farm operated on, as wilderness, the first such distinction for a marine area on the West Coast. Environmental groups—including the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Parks Conservation Association—and conservationists hailed the decision as a special victory for a parcel of water and land that hosts 90 species of endangered birds and the biggest colony of seals on the coast.

But owner Kevin Lunny, who bought the property in 2004 from another oyster operation, was predictably devastated. "It's disbelief and excruciating sorrow," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. His team of thirty will lose their jobs, and seven families who live on the property will be displaced. The region, which is also home to many other ranchers, will also lose a historic farm that has thrived on the inlet since the 1930s and well before the park existed. (Full disclosure: I worked as a fellow for the small, Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly Point Reyes Light newspaper, where my colleagues aggressively covered the saga and did not shy away from publishing editorials criticizing the government's role in the matter.)

Several high-profile oyster farm supporters have also criticized the way the National Park Service and the Department of Interior have handled the issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said she was "extremely disappointed" with Salazar's choice. "The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science, which was also used in the Environmental Impact Statement," she said in a statement. Park Service officials have alleged that the farm's operations had a negative impact on marine life. But in 2009, a review by the National Academy of Sciences found that park officials "had made errors, selectively presented information, and misrepresented facts" in their studies. In August, the organization concluded that there was no evidence to support claims about effects on seals and shoreline habitat.

Nonetheless, the shacks, motor boats, and oysters racks will be removed. And the National Park Service will soon preside over a new swath of wilderness.

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DOJ Mysteriously Quits Monsanto Antitrust Investigation

| Sat Dec. 1, 2012 7:03 AM EST
Just a handful of companies control the US seed market.

There's an age-old tradition in Washington of making unpopular announcements when no one's listening—like, you know, the days leading up to Thanksgiving. That's when the Obama administration sneaked a tasty dish to the genetically modified seed/pesticide industry.

This treat involves the unceremonious end of the Department of Justice's antitrust investigation into possible anticompetitive practices in the US seed market, which it had begun in January 2010. It's not hard to see why DOJ would take a look. For the the crops that cover the bulk of US farmland like corn, soy, and cotton, the seed trade is essentially dominated by five companies: Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dow. And a single company, Monsanto, supplies nearly all genetically modified traits now so commonly used in those crops, which it licenses to its rivals for sale in their own seeds.

What's harder to figure out is why the DOJ ended the investigation without taking any action—and did so with a near-complete lack of public information. The DOJ didn't even see fit to mark the investigation's end with a press release. News of it emerged from a brief item Monsanto itself issued the Friday before Thanksgiving, declaring it had "received written notification" from the DOJ antitrust division that it had ended its investigation "without taking any enforcement action."