2007 - %3, August

Muhammad al-Corleone: New Trouble in Iraq

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 1:28 PM EDT

Yet another problem for General Petraeus and the American military to worry about: the Italian mafia is selling weapons to insurgent factions in Iraq. It just got caught trafficking "100,000 sophisticated machine guns." Wonder if that's in the vaunted counterinsurgency manual...

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Mitt Romney Loves Iran, Sudan, Cigarettes, Other Bad Things

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 11:31 AM EDT

Mitt Romney is rich. So rich that his wealth is estimated to be between $190 million and $250 million. Want to know how he made all that money? Here are some of his current and former investments:

  • An Italian oil company doing business in Iran. (former)
  • A Chinese oil company doing business in Sudan. (current)
  • Philip Morris U.S.A., the world's largest cigarette manufacturer. (current)
  • A half dozen casino companies. (former)
  • Wal-Mart. (current)

There's enough in there to anger both the right and the left, particularly because Evangelicals are getting all worked up about Darfur these days. Mo' money, mo' problems, I guess.

Rove and the National Press

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 10:54 AM EDT

Worth reading: Jay Rosen on how Karl Rove figured out that the national press would never cover the extent of his extremism and tactics. Rosen cites from Joshua Green's 2004 Atlantic Monthly profile of Rove:

He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.


Meantime, the Weekly Standard is now playing Joseph McCarthy. Figuring in the same way as Rove that the press and polite establishment will never call them on the depths of their extremism and propaganda. (Remember "Case Closed"?) Which is why, as he relentlessly mocks and exposes this absurd and dangerous state of affairs, Atrios is right, a wise man, if not a Very Serious Person.

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 8/13/07

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 12:07 AM EDT

This week, lilting Europop seems to be the theme, sort of. Northern climes represented include the lovely Sweden and the dashing Denmark! But there's other stuff here too: mopey indie rock, ribald hip-hop, and zoomy techno. Come to think of it you can probably just read last week's.

mojo-photo-guzman.JPG10. Isabel Guzman – "When You Were My Friend"
(listen on her MySpace page)
The first of two Swedish women with snazzy hairdos on the Top Ten this week, Guzman is the up-and-comer, and her voice has a deep, almost guttural quality; mostly, though, this song is about the flawless dance-pop production. Like the best of Madonna, it manages to grab all the latest, coolest effects from electronic music and put them to good use.

mojo-cover-brunettes.JPG9. The Brunettes – "Small Town Crew" (from Structure & Cosmetics on Sub Pop) (mp3 via the Sub Pop site)
This New Zealand duo have been described as "twee," but it seems to apply only in the best possible sense: delicate, sparkling acoustic pop, with the barest waftings of melancholy. But then the lyrics take a darker twist ("if only I could have you here/I'd love to smack you around the room") and the instrumentation fills out, giving the song a cinematic feel.

mojo-cover-juniorsenior.JPG8. Junior Senior – "Can I Get Get Get" (from Hey Hey My My Yo Yo, out 8/14 on EMI)
(mp3 via You Ain't No Picasso)
While the exuberance of 2003's "Don't Stop" may have settled down a bit, the infectious Jackson 5-style grooves are still in effect. The rhymes are a little silly… and I just had the realization that Junior Senior might be the Flight of the Conchords of Denmark, which actually makes me like them a little more.

mojo-cover-newyoungponyclub.JPG7. New Young Pony Club – "The Get Go" (from Fantastic Playroom on Modular)
(grab an mp3 at Cause=Time)
I have to admit, I wrote this London combo off after getting sick of their omnipresent first single, "Ice Cream" (seen any Intel commercials lately?) but it turns out they have a lot more to offer, and a much deeper understanding of post-punk possibilities. This song features a Joy Division-reminscent bassline, but a more mellow, straightforward dance beat—unlike fellow Brits Klaxons or Bloc Party, NYPC aren't afraid to groove.

mojo-photo-50cent.jpg6. 50 Cent w/ Justin Timberlake – "AYO Technology" (from Curtis, out 9/11 on Interscope) (buy it at iTunes)
So much trouble! First there's all the delays with the album release date, and 50's, um, anger management issues . This single was originally so explicit that the label refused to release it, and it's still pretty, um, ribald, but whatever: Timbaland outdoes himself on production once again. While a syrupy-slow beat counts time, what sounds like an old Nintendo jacked up on too much juice goes mental with blippy hyperspeed arpeggios. Have I asked for Timbo to get a MacArthur genius grant yet? Well, I assume he doesn't need it.

Baghdad Beautifies Its Blast Walls

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 10:39 PM EDT

Dozens of Iraqi artists have been painting murals along miles of concrete blast walls throughout Baghdad, and the American military is paying a portion of the bill. To learn more, read this post on Mother Jones' arts and culture blog, The Riff.

Baghdad Beautifies Its Blast Walls

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 10:38 PM EDT
baghdad_wall.jpg

Dozens of Iraqi artists have been painting murals along miles of concrete blast walls throughout Baghdad. The artwork is an attempt to beautify 12-foot high structures designed to protect buildings from truck bombs and insurgent attacks. The walls have also been the source of intense debate because they divide the city into Sunni and Shiite areas.

Parts of the walls are now adorned with artistic renderings of kings, queens, warriors, ancient writings, and other references to ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Financed by the American military, Iraq's Ministry of Works and Social Affairs, and aid organizations, artists are making about $15 a day for their work. They named themselves "Jamaat al-Jidaar," which means "The Wall Group."

Avenues for creative expression are difficult to come by for Iraqi artists. Some have resorted to painting renditions of wedding and baby photos of American troops, or have simply fled the country. For the artists still there, the blast walls are a chance at steady income and the opportunity to create art on structures that, once demolished, will be cause for celebration.

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Rising Temps Will Stunt Rainforests

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 8:44 PM EDT

In case you think the climate naysayers trotting out their tired 10-year-old studies are in the forefront of science — this is for you. Just one example of the overwhelming quantity and quality of science being published on the many facets of climate change. A new study in the prestigious journal Nature finds that global warming could cut the rate at which trees in tropical rainforests grow by as much as half. This is based on more than two decades' worth of data from forests in Panama and Malaysia. The effect has so far been largely overlooked by climate modellers, and it could severely erode or even remove the ability of tropical rainforests to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Rising temperatures have reduced growth rates by up to 50% in the two rainforests, both of which experienced climate warming above the world average over the past few decades. If other rainforests follow suit, the pristine Amazon could conceivably stop storing as much carbon. This would be bad for all of us, no matter where we live. JULIA WHITTY

Butterflies Suffering From Changing Climate

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 8:10 PM EDT

Well, this is sad news. Expanding forests in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are slowly isolating groups of alpine butterflies from each other. A new study from the University of Alberta suggests this isolation may lead to the extinction of some species. Global warming is raising the altitude of treeline, and this problem is exacerbated by a policy not to initiate prescribed burns for forest management. Consequently, meadow-loving butterflies, such as the Apollo, are suffering, as forests encroach on mountain meadows. "The risk of local extinction and inbreeding depression will increase as meadows shrink, the population sizes decrease and the populations become more isolated," said Jens Roland, lead author. "The gene pool of this species is getting more and more fragmented, and gene flow is reduced, which means these populations are more vulnerable." One particularly cold winter or summer season may be enough to wipe out an entire meadow of Apollo. The paper appears in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. JULIA WHITTY

New Jose Gonzalez Video Inspired By Jim Woodring

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 7:18 PM EDT

I posted a link to a new Jose González track last Monday at the top of my Top Ten, and now a video is making the internet rounds for another new song, "Down the Line."

The video, directed by Andreas Nillson, is apparently part of this "sins" theme González has described as providing fodder for the upcoming album, In Our Nature, and Nillson's video makes the connection sort of explicit. In it, a pig-man creation does a lot of (mostly) humdrum things; I guess we're all pigs, is the point? The porcine fellow was, it turns out, inspired by Manhog, a far more compelling comic creation of Seattle artist Jim Woodring.

mojo-photo-manhog.JPGWoodring's work hurts my head, but I can't look away. While Manhog's unlucky adventures in his surreal world are noteworthy, he's not even the most affecting aspect of these stories, of which the word "comics" seems unworthy. Souls become visible, toaster-shaped pets save your life, and the universe is a terrifying, beautiful riot of life and color, all seen through the innocent eyes of Frank, a Sylvester-like cat seemingly brought in from some other comic strip. The wordless panels are often funny, but more often deeply disturbing, so I hesitate to recommend them without a caveat—maybe have a close friend nearby the first time you open one of his books?

Check out Woodring's blog here, and don't say I didn't warn you.

Jose Padilla Trial: Dirty Bomb, What Dirty Bomb?

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

The government concluded its case against Jose Padilla today. Gone is any real talk of the dirty bomb that Attorney General John Ashcroft made such a splash with just as the administration was taking heat from the 9/11 Commission for ignoring the warnings of Coleen Rowley and others (go to our Iraq War Timeline and look at June 2002). After spending 3 1/2 years in solitary confinement without access to an attorney, Padilla's been charged with attending an Al Qaeda terror camp, and thus being part of a conspiracy to murder. Via Reuters:

The main evidence against Padilla is what the government calls an al Qaeda application form bearing his fingerprints, birthdate and similar background. It was recovered in Afghanistan and says the author speaks English, Spanish and Arabic, graduated from high school and trained as a carpenter, as Padilla did.
It used a name prosecutors contend was Padilla's alias, and lists as his sponsor a man whose name was in Padilla's address book when he was arrested.
Padilla's defense is expected to argue his fingerprints could have got on the form when investigators handed it to him to examine after his arrest.

Attention trilingual journeymen carpenters everywhere: Watch your back! Now Padilla may have been an Al Qaeda wannabe or even the real deal. But it seems unlikely we'll ever get to the bottom of that given that

Padilla was held without charge for 3-1/2 years before being indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that do not mention any bomb plot. The bomb allegations came from alleged al Qaeda operatives who have said they were tortured during interrogation before being sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Anything Padilla might have told interrogators in the military brig about such a plot would be inadmissible because he was denied access to an attorney for most of the time he was there.

Just an update from the war on terror. You can find all of Mother Jones' extensive coverage of the Padilla case here.