2007 - %3, January

Ex-Gay, or Faking It?

| Sat Jan. 27, 2007 2:02 AM EST

If you haven't already seen them, here are the "God Hates a Fag" music video and the list of bands that will make you gay from this week's internet-only Christian rock sensation, Donnie Davies. His ex-gay schtick is bound to offend you or make you laugh out loud -- depending on whether you think it's a hoax.

godhates1.jpg

In the video, Donnie dances around in a pink button-up shirt, delivering classic lines like "the Bible says it plain as day: with a man you shall not lay." But he also tosses off innuendo-drenched head-scratchers like "to enter heaven, there's no back door" and "righteous man, get on your knees." The mixed message has inspired endless speculation on whether Donnie is the real deal. To me, it's pretty clear that this is a farce -- a smart, well-acted farce by someone with a studied appreciation for the genre.

Why has it taken off so quickly in the secular blogosphere? People are quick to forward Donnie's material because it's shocking enough to grab your attention, but has just enough irony to leave you questioning whether it's real. A list of "gay bands" with...uh...Ravi Shankar and our buddy Ted Nugent? An fundamentalist site featuring an Oscar Wilde quote? A ex-gay Christian rock song that says Jesus is "the only man for me?" (Hat tip to South Park's "Christian Rock Hard" episode.) Like with last year's Lonelygirl15 mystery, people are intrigued with figuring out whether it's for real.

Take a peek at Donnie's site while there's still a smidgen of intrigue left. Like Borat, it's good performance art that flirts with politics before eloping with entertainment. And whoever Donnie is, his performance is spot-on. As one poster on Dan Savage's blog says, Donnie nails the "so-gay-he-must-be-straight-and-evangelical-or-he'd-sure-as-hell-be-a-drag-queen thing."

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Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 8:12 PM EST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

-- Elizabeth Gettelman

K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 8:12 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

-- Elizabeth Gettelman

K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:15 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

NY Times Pokes Fun at an Iraqi Parliament in Shambles

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:07 PM EST

You know there's trouble when this is the lede in the New York Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's presentation of a new Baghdad security plan to the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday broke down in bitter sectarian recriminations, with Mr. Maliki threatening a Sunni Arab lawmaker with arrest and, in response, the Sunni speaker of Parliament threatening to quit.

Nice. What else can you tell us, gray lady?

The prime minister's claim [that Iraqi law enforcement will hit Shiites as hard as Sunnis] was challenged by Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, who represents a powerful Sunni Arab bloc. "We can not trust the office of the prime minister," he said over jeers from the Shiite politicians before his microphone was cut off.

And how did our esteemed Prime Minister respond? With the equanimity of someone in his illustrious and weighty position, I presume? With the knowledge that his behavior in this time of national strife could determine the outcome of a new republic?

Mr. Maliki could barely contain his rage, waving his finger in the air and essentially accusing Mr. Nasir of being a criminal.
"I will show you," Mr. Maliki said. "I will turn over the documents on you" showing all your crimes, "then you can talk about trust," Mr. Maliki said.

Oh my. But it did eventually settle down? Must have, right? After all, this session of parliament was televised for the Iraqi citizenry to see.

As the prime minister continued, Shiites encouraged [the Prime Minister] on and Sunni Arabs tried to shout him down.
Mr. Mashhadani [speaker of the Parliament] yelled for everyone to "shut up."

Wow. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison this group is not. Tell me, New York Times, was there anything super-ironic that might make all of this even more absurd?

The lawmakers had their shouting match while sitting beneath a banner with a phrase from the Koran extolling civil debate as the key to good decisions.

Well, good. Now America's greatest newspaper has subtly mocked the country we invaded and then provided with a broken infrastructure and sham government. Somehow, I feel as though everyone involved in this depressing circus has let each other down.

Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:15 PM EST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

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Q: What Do Dolphin-Mounted Weapons and NSA Wiretapping Have in Common?

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:06 PM EST

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets privilege, as Mother Jones reported in August, is basically a get-out-of-court-free card.

Bad news for Bush, the government's attempt to invoke the privilege was denied in several suits brought against it as a result of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. But, the New York Times reports today, the government is still using Kafkaesque tactics to make the suit difficult for the plaintiffs. The Justice Department is filing its legal briefs in an office in its own building. It promises the employees guarding the briefs and the litigators in the case are separate and that the documents have not been altered—but the funny thing about lying is that it makes everything you say in the future suspect. Government lawyers have also demanded that a document accidentally provided to an Oregon Muslim charity, documenting warrantless surveillance of the group, be returned to the FBI even though the document is the primary evidence the charity is using to claim damages.

Kinda makes your head spin, doesn't it?

Victory Over Wal-Mart for Overtimers

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 5:55 PM EST

Mother Jones has always been hot on the Wal-Mart beat. In November of last year, when San Diego banned Wal-Mart Supercenters, I summarized on MoJoBlog.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on.

Today, a new addition. Wal-Mart has agreed to settle a case in which 87,000 employees sued for unpaid overtime wages. Specifically, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $33 million, which averages out to be $379 per employee involved. Hilariously, though, the damages paid to each employee range from a few cents to, in one instance, $39,000.

If you are a Wal-Mart employee and are wondering if you are due any unpaid overtime, you can go here to find out.

Bernie Kerik To Try His Luck In Guyana

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 4:15 PM EST

Bernie Kerik, who rose to fame after 9/11, is now headed to Guyana where he will be a new state security advisor, working alongside the President and the national security ministry. Kerik was the New York City police commissioner when the 9/11 attacks occured and was subsequently praised for his department's valor.

But Kerik's career since then has been marred by scandal. And, we mustn't forget his stellar performance in Iraq. The NYPD hero took over a police advisory role in the country in May of 2003, but due to his less than sufficient preparation -- he watched A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein to prepare -- and lack of experience in Iraq, he proved to be incompetent in the role. He held only two staff meetings while in the country and returned having failed. (To be fair, the administration did not send enough advisers to Iraq despite numerous recommendations to do so.) The lack of competent police advising would prove to be one of the gravest errors made by the adminstration to date. For more examples of the adminstration's incompetence regarding Iraq, see the Mother Jones timeline.

Kerik, though, certainly has a nose for a deal. One can only imagine how much his one year contract in Guyana, which begins next month, is worth.

The Thirteenth Tipping Point Begins

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 3:43 PM EST

Climate change is in the air. And not just the warming kind. A fresh breeze blows from Washington DC as Congress finally declares an interest in global warming. The barometer climbs a notch as CEOs urge Bush to address the issues now. The heavy, foggy, dark, oppressive weather stagnating in place for the past six years is finally yielding to new air destined to dismantle the Big Low from the top down. We may see sunshine yet. By Independence Day, if Speaker Pelosi has her way.

Yet no matter what changes transpire in government or industry, you and I can't abrogate our responsibility. Only we can shift the human race from its doomsday course. My article in the November/December 2006 issue of Mother Jones, The Thirteenth Tipping Point, examined what science can tell us about our ability to change ourselves. The outlook is good, and the following op-ed, which ran in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere summarizes:

What if twelve meteors were on known collision courses with earth? What if we could alter their trajectories and save our planet by the cumulative effect of our individual efforts? What if science and history proved that we are fully capable of such heroism? What would it take to get us started?

John Schellnhuber, distinguished science advisor at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, has identified 12 global warming tipping points—from the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest to the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—any one of which, if triggered, will likely initiate sudden, meteoric changes across the planet.