2007 - %3, September

Army's Methodology for Calculating Sectarian Violence Finally Revealed

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 11:11 AM EDT

The good people over at TPM filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out exactly what counting system General Petraeus was using when he went before Congress and said that sectarian violence is down in Iraq. A number of independent assessments and outside experts either contradicted his claims or threw serious doubt on them.

Here are some answers. First, any violence perpetrated by Sunnis on other Sunnis or by Shiites or other Shiites doesn't count. While that seems like a natural enough thing to exclude from a definition of "sectarian violence," it means that the general level of crime/lawlessness in Iraq is scrubbed out of Petraeus' numbers. It also means that when the sect of a perpetrator of a violent crime isn't immediately obvious, the authorities have the ability to do some investigating and deducing, and then to label the attack as either sectarian or non-sectarian. And those authorities, be they Iraqi or American, absolutely have an agenda.

Second, attacks on U.S. forces don't count. Again, a reasonable thing to exclude from a tabulation of sectarian attacks. But Petraeus should have presented statistics on the number of attacks on U.S. forces with the same frequency and prominence that he presented stats on sectarian violence.

Third, attacks on the Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces are not included. This is just preposterous. The Shiites control the government and have infiltrated the security forces. The Sunnis insurgents had control of the country for decades and are now on the outs. This can't be stressed enough: when insurgents attack the government, their intentions are sectarian. Whatever other motivations there might be, they cannot be teased out from sect-based hatred and jockeying for power.

When Sunni insurgents attack the government or the government's corrupt goons in uniform, they do so because their targets are Shiites. That's reality. When the Army believes otherwise it is an act of willful ignorance meant to deceive the American people.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

U.S. Officials Informed of Blackwater Misdeeds Many Times, Failed to Act

| Sun Sep. 23, 2007 9:55 PM EDT

When this happened, we should have known this was the case:

Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until 11 Iraqis were shot dead last Sunday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Before that episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.
"There were no concrete results," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government, said in an interview Saturday.
The lack of a U.S. response underscores the powerlessness of Iraqi officials to control the tens of thousands of security contractors who operate under U.S.-drafted Iraqi regulations that shield them from Iraqi laws.

Read the full Post article for more info. Read this Mother Jones feature for more on Blackwater.

MoveOn.org Rakes in the Cash After "Betray Us" Ad

| Sat Sep. 22, 2007 11:46 AM EDT

Just got this email from MoveOn.org. Check out how much money they've pulled in after the allegedly disastrous "Betray Us" ad.

Dear MoveOn member,
Yesterday, an amazing thing happened. After the Senate's shameful vote, and after President Bush called MoveOn "disgusting," our email started to fill up with messages like this one:
I'm currently in Iraq. I do not agree with this war, and if I did support this war, it would not matter. You have the RIGHT to speak the truth. We KNOW that you support us. Thank you for speaking out for being our voice. We do not have a voice. We are overshooted by those who say that we soldiers do not support organizations like MoveOn. WE DO.
YOU ARE OUR voice.
And then came the donations. By midnight, over 12,000 people had donated $500,000—more than we've raised any day this year—for our new ad calling out the Republicans who blocked adequate rest for troops headed back to Iraq.
The message from MoveOn members was loud and clear: Don't back down. Take the fight back to the issues that matter.
So today we're shooting for a very ambitious goal: Reach $1 million so we can dramatically expand the campaign we launched yesterday going after politicians who support this awful war. Can you chip in $25 toward our goal?

My thinking on this originally was that the GOP had played it perfectly. They were outraged when it came out. Then they waited a week and President Bush slammed it. Then they waited a little longer and passed a resolution in Congress condemning it. As a result, what should have been a blip on the national radar has become a permanent fixture in the debate over the war and in the 2008 elections.

But maybe it worked out better than anyone thinks. That's a lot of money MoveOn.org can use on Democrats and in ending the war.

Except... there's a movement afoot amongst MoveOn'ers to cut off the Democrats. Drama!

Park Your Greenery by the Curb

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 9:14 PM EDT
park-green

Folks today were "parking" themselves—and plants and flowers, wheel barrows and benches—in parking spaces throughout San Francisco, a dozen other U.S. cities, and a dozen more cities worldwide as part of PARK(ing) Day.

Some guys from a San Francisco architecture firm that had taken over a parking space near Mother Jones' offices told me that the whole idea is get people to think about the concrete jungle they inhabit and to consider new, greener urban planning ideas. So I pulled up a bench surrounded by temporarily-placed indigenous plants and shrubs—and carbon monoxide-spewing cars and trucks whizzing by— and chatted them up.

Didn't this concept conflict with the basic nature of architecture (you know, building things, which usually requires steel and concrete and fuel-burning machines)? They were quick to say no. Buildings in urban areas, they explained, can and should always include more green park space and, in some instances, roofs from which grass and plants can grow.

Of course, in a small, compact little city like San Francisco, it's pretty easy to live a car-less life where parking spaces can be used to make a political statement; in huge urban sprawls like Los Angeles where public transportation is lousy and everything is at least 20 minutes away (by car), not so much.

PARK(ing) Day folks say more than 70% of most cities' outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle while only a fraction of that land is allocated to open space for people. For citizens who want to take back the pavement, they offer advice on creating temporary street intervention tool kits and slightly less plausible ideas like the Parkcycle.

For another reporter's take on Park(ing) Day, see Josh Harkinson's post below.

Fun With Ping Pong

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:53 PM EDT

pingpong.gif

"Weird Al" Yankovic is famous for recording spoof versions of pop songs, but Ubiquity recording artist Shawn Lee doesn't merely spoof, he takes a song that was already good and makes it better. It's not so much ironic pranksterism as kickass, creative borrowing. Think of him as an artier, hipper version of Weird Al.

Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra, which releases Hits the Hits on October 9, changes the entire vibe and aesthetic of other people's songs. Lee turns Missy Elliot's "Get UR Freak On" into an ominous surf-guitar rant; Britney Spears' "Toxic" into an instrumental driven by sitar and flute melodies and hard, funky drum beats; and OutKast's hit "Hey Ya" into a swanky saloon diddy powered by accoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica.

With his collection of vintage instruments (a 1940s Clavioline, a 100-year-old Marxophone zither, and a 1900s Dulcetone), random assortment of covers—and talent—these songs are as funny as they are meticulously-performed. Pop this CD in at a stuffy wine and cheese party and see who's first to notice something is awry.


From the Funk Corner to the Hip-Hop Block

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:46 PM EDT
galactic190.gif

Galactic's hip-hop-influenced 2007 CD From the Corner to the Block is further proof that I have seriously misjudged this band. A few years ago, having heard only a few songs and met plenty of hippie-ish fans, I was quick to write Galactic off as a jam band.

Don't get me wrong; the New Orleans-based funk-rock-jazz-fusion band, with its abilities to stretch songs out with extended solos and their ability to swing back and forth effortlessly between mid-volume funky pockets and loud, sustained sections of rock energy make them very jam-like.

But From the Corner to the Block is something else entirely. Songs on the CD average about three-and-a-half minutes, and have definitive verses, choruses and bridges. Guest hip-hop MCs like Lyrics Born, Mr. Lif, Boots Riley, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Gift of Gab anchor the songs and make this album a veritable who's-who of today's (mostly Bay Area) hip hop artists. And listening to tracks, it sounds like everyone had a helluva good time making the album. The artwork, a stylized, brown-toned sketch of people walking through what looks like an artist's rendition of the French Quarter, is a nice touch also.

When interviewed about collaborating with Galactic, the deep-voiced Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2Na said, "I'm shocked, but yet I'm not surprised. It's a no-brainer. When we were in practice, it felt good, it felt right."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Blending and Bending with UFOs over Bamako

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:44 PM EDT

farkatoure.png

Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure's self-titled 2006 debut spawned a 2007 remix album that I can't stop listening to. I play it at work, on BART to and from work, and at night doing Google searches for God-knows-what.

The remix album, UFOs Over Bamako, takes the effectiveness of the original's West African rhythms, conga-heavy beats, sweet but somber vocal hooks and spacious, acoustic simplicity and works it into a mix that bounces with intensity; an earthy, full sound that more DJs should be spinning at dance clubs. The use of electronic beats and digital sound effects doesn't kill Farka Toure's vibe; it takes it to a level that is less contemplative and more stylized, more beat-heavy and less spacious. The resulting remix is a combination of folk and electronica that could easily have been awkward but instead is a great piece of musical blending—and bending.

Vieux Farka Toure is the son of Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure, who until his death last year was one of Africa's most internationally-recognized musicians. There's a story that during a visit to Bamako, Mali in the late 1960's, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and John Lee Hooker introduced Ali Farka Toure to the blues. He eventually toured Africa, Europe, and America, and in 1992 earned a Grammy for Talking Timbuktu, which he recorded with globe-trotting American guitarist Ry Cooder.

Just as his father was fascinated by the African roots in American blues music, Vieux Farka Toure's remix CD embraces the global connection between African rhythms and reggae, certain elements of club music, and electronica.

Teacher Fired For Giving Student Brilliant Comic Book

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:42 PM EDT

Eightball 22

A Connecticut teacher has been forced to resign after he gave a copy of Dan Clowes' "Eightball #22" to a 14-year-old female freshman student. The English teacher gave the student the comic book as part of a "make-up" assignment and not as part of regular curriculum. The comic contains mature subject matter, for sure: references to rape, various sex acts and murder, and a naked woman. That is, a drawing of a naked woman. While the feelings of the student about the situation are not explained, the parents are letting everybody know how they feel:

The girl's father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as "borderline pornography... it's not even like a gray area," the father said. "It's clearly over the line."

And more:

"I personally don't ever want him teaching again," he said. "There is nothing that he could say that would account for this. … That poor judgment is something you can't take back."

Apparently the student has now been the target of ridicule (and perhaps even threats) because the teacher was quite popular, which is pretty easy to understand, considering he assigned a super-cool comic book as make-up reading.

Why is it that this kind of overreaction or censorship always seems to happen in the most ironic way possible, to the works of art that are actually the least harmful in the ways they're being accused of? The "Eightball" subplots that eventually became the acclaimed graphic novel (and film) Ghost World are told from the point of view of young women, and not only are they complex and heartfelt, they're also empowering in the best sense of that overused word. They bring up the tribulations of young womanhood without condescension or whitewashing, and when I read them, my first thought was "my little sisters need to read this." I think they can handle a drawing of a boob. At this point I guess it shouldn't be surprising that nuanced, honest work raises hackles while truly moronic, pornographic pablum seeps into children's brains from TV or advertising without protest. But just once, couldn't backwards, hypocritical parents like these get somebody at MTV fired for "The Hills" instead?

My Park(ing) Day

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 7:57 PM EDT

Lunch in a parking spot is never much fun, unless it's Park(ing) Day in San Francisco. Seizing the moment this afternoon, I packed a bowl of curry and headed two blocks down Sutter Street to a metered spot in front of the Charles Schwab building. I entered the space from the curb, ambled along an extremely short yet artfully snaking pathway lined with potted salt rush, blue squirrel tail and California lilac, and took a seat on a wooden park bench. Three park attendants watched eagerly. "Welcome to our park!" one of them said. They snapped photos as I stirred my rice. A bus blew by frighteningly close.

In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, laid a parking space with sod, a bench and a large potted tree, creating the first of what would become many guerrilla parks. The event has grown into an international phenomenon, with participants this year in more than ten cities worldwide. The mission is "To rethink the way streets are used, call attention to the need for urban parks and improve the quality of urban human habitat. . .at least until the meter runs out!"

While I ate my chicken korma on the park bench, a park(ing) attendant handed a complimentary packet of poppy seeds to a businessman who'd stopped by. The businessman said, "Do they grow indoors? Or. . ."

"No, but you can try if you want, as long as you soak them first. . ."

My cell phone rang. It was a friend calling from Boston. "I'm at a guerrilla park," I told him.

"That sounds awesome," he said. "A very San Francisco day."

A bit too San Francisco, perhaps. It was 3:00, and the inevitable, frigid Pacific gale was nearly toppling the shrubbery. Then the meter ran out: I still hadn't finished my lunch when a woman arrived in a Volvo to haul the bench away. "I'm sorry, but we have got to take this," she said. A park(ing) attendant quickly added: "Thank you!" I probably would have fared better in the Presidio, but the fact that other people had actually been excited to see me take up a parking spot--instead of scowling or writing me a ticket--made the trip well worth it.

Wal-Mart, More of a Dirty Brown Color

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 6:08 PM EDT

Wal-Mart has begun selling its own brand of inexpensive compact fluorescent lightbulbs, according to a Reuters article, as part of its effort to be more environmentally responsible. Called "Great Value" bulbs, they are "a more accessible option for our shoppers as we strive to sell 100 million CFLs by the end of 2007," said Wal-Mart General Merchandise Manager Andy Barron.

But, while Wal-Mart pushes its customers to be more green, the company itself has a long way to go, according to the folks over at Wal-MartWatch. A comprehensive report released this month called "It's Not Easy Being Green: The Truth About Wal-Mart's Environmental Makeover" discusses the tremendous amount of electricity used by the company, as well as its impacts on green space and wildlife, and contributions to sprawl and water pollution due to parking lot runoff. It also notes that, contrary to the company's public relations efforts, Wal-Mart still throws most of its financial support to politicians with terrible environmental voting records.