2008 - %3, January

Suffer the Children, Embrace the Moms: Female Genital Mutilation

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 9:18 PM EST

Maybe the way to make female genital mutilation matter to the West is to take it out of the African (i.e. savage) context. Did you know that Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims? That 96% of girls there are circumcised, many not even a year old?

There's a slide show at the NY Times link (from which the below is excerpted). Check out the slide number 4, a nine month old whose eyes are saucered, after the 'procedure,' with horror I'd say.

Inside a Female-Circumcision Ceremony. When a girl is taken — usually by her mother — to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes. There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl's genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she's given a small, celebratory gift — some fruit or a donated piece of clothing — and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.

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Hold Grudges Much? Misuse Power to Settle Them? Meet, Rudy Giuliani

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 8:45 PM EST

rudy-giuliani-80s.jpg NY Times:

Rudolph W. Giuliani likens himself to a boxer who never takes a punch without swinging back. As mayor, he made the vengeful roundhouse an instrument of government, clipping anyone who crossed him.
In August 1997, James Schillaci, a rough-hewn chauffeur from the Bronx, dialed Mayor Giuliani's radio program on WABC-AM to complain about a red-light sting run by the police near the Bronx Zoo. When the call yielded no results, Mr. Schillaci turned to The Daily News, which then ran a photo of the red light and this front page headline: "GOTCHA!"
That morning, police officers appeared on Mr. Schillaci's doorstep. What are you going to do, Mr. Schillaci asked, arrest me? He was joking, but the officers were not.
They slapped on handcuffs and took him to court on a 13-year-old traffic warrant. A judge threw out the charge. A police spokeswoman later read Mr. Schillaci's decades-old criminal rap sheet to a reporter for The Daily News, a move of questionable legality because the state restricts how such information is released. She said, falsely, that he had been convicted of sodomy.

It gets worse.

The Mortgage Crisis and our Pending Economic Collapse: Whose Fault, Who Gets Paid Twice?

Tue Jan. 22, 2008 8:08 PM EST

I'm ambivalent, trending towards punitive, towards all the supposedly hapless folks who bought ridiculously overpriced homes at dumb-ass rates that have our economy reeling from the mortgage crisis. I rent, I hate renting, and I deleted, unread, all the "no money down, fifty cents a month...for awhile" mortgage email calls, fliers, and emails I received. Too good to be true? You betcha. Yet, all the Dem candidates are weeping crocodile tears and promising to help these foolish folks who 'bought' homes they couldn't possibly afford without dealing crack and not the sensible ones like me who are still waiting for homes we can actually afford. Where's their plan for us?

I hate predatory lending and its focus on the usual suspects but c'mon! A bubble payment two years down the road twice the FULL value of the overpriced house? Who's zoomin' who? Part of me says "you made your bed, now move it back to your mama's house," part of me says, indict and jail the brokers and loan officers. Well, now we stand on the brink of recession partly due to it and—guess what—the lawsuits against the brokers and real estate agents have begun.

Prince Charles (in Hologram) Lauds UAE's Green Cities Investment

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 5:18 PM EST

abu_dhabi.jpgWhich is more bizarre? Prince Charles' hologram walking and twiddling his way across a stage, or a proposal for a no-waste, carbon-neutral city in a desert where searing temperatures make air conditioning a must?

Both the hologram and the city plan made appearances at the World Future Energy Summit, in Abu Dhabi, which began yesterday and runs through tomorrow. It might seem strange to discuss energy efficiency and global warming in a country that sells oil for a living, but 2,500 delegates from around the world are doing just that. Some tidbits from the summit thus far:
-Prince Charles, OB Wan Kenobi-style, called for immediate climate change action.
-Abu Dhabi, partnering with MIT, will build an alternative energy university.
-A British architect announced an elaborate plan for a car-free, zero-emissions city for 50,000 to be powered by solar panels.
-Abu Dhabi will spend $15 billion on a green energy initiative and will build the world's largest hydrogen power plant.

Now, if only Las Vegas would follow in the footsteps of Abu Dhabi, that'd be something to hologram about.

War Dance Nominated for Oscar

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 4:21 PM EST

wardance.jpgIt's official: War Dance—a documentary about former child soldiers who journey from their IDP camp in Northern Uganda to a music competition in the nation's capital—has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. Its running mates: No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, Sicko, and Taxi to the Dark Side.

Go here to read Mother Jones' interview with War Dance filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine.

Taking a Look at Bush's Economic Stimulus

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 4:03 PM EST

bush_bernanke250x200.jpg In case you haven't noticed, things aren't going terribly well on the worldwide financial markets. President Bush isn't insensitive to that fact—that's why, a few days ago his administration announced the rough outlines of an economic stimulus plan. And it is going to help everyday folks, not just big business. Tax credits will flow like manna from heaven: $800 for individuals and $1,600 for married couples are the most commonly cited figures (more on that below). "Letting Americans keep more of their money should increase consumer spending," the president said.

Oh, but wait. The Tax Policy Center, a joint effort of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, did an analysis of Bush's plan and found that a number of people (and by "a number of people" I mean millions of people) would be shortchanged. And the poor were the most likely to get the short end of the stick.

According to TPC's analysis, 56 million people would get nothing and another 21 million would get less than the promised $800/$1,600. Bush's stimulus plan only helps earners (as though the unemployed don't need help right about now), but even there it's not so hot. Thirty million earners get nothing, and another 19 million get less than $800/$1,600. That means 49 million working households would get nothing or only a partial rebate.

All of this, plus the rapidly worsening economic news, has forced the White House to admit today that it is open to a larger stimulus package. The hope, however, is that the package is not only larger, but more fairly and evenly spread.

Further criticism after the jump.

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Fred Thompson Exits, Stage Right

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 3:50 PM EST

Fred Thompson, we hardly knew ye.

Well, actually, we did. And we—or, more importantly, Republican voters—didn't like what they saw: a halfhearted and curmudgeonly candidate who didn't seem to have all that much to say.

The failed candidacy of Thompson, who announced his retreat from the presidential race on Tuesday, does not demand much analysis. On paper, he seemed ideal: a Southerner with a conservative bent, a popular television star, and a Republican who did not piss off any major bloc in the GOP coalition. But as any Hollywood veteran knows, a project on paper can look a lot better than what eventually hits the local multiplex or TV screen.

Thompson put in the worst presidential campaign performance of recent years. At times, he didn't seem to want the part. The media narrative that emerged—Thompson the Lazy Candidate—was, whaddayaknow, kind of true. A few days ago, NPR asked several presidential candidates to name their all-time favorite presidents. The replies were predictable. And Thompson selected George Washington. But his explanation was all-too telling. Thompson did not cite Washington's military victory over the British or his achievements as the nation's first president. He said he admired Washington because he had been able to walk away from the presidency after serving two terms. Thompson pointed out that Washington never returned to Washington (the city) once he was no longer chief executive. Thompson was more intrigued by how a president leaves office than how one governs while in the job.

Richard Branson's Friendly Skies of Pond Scum?

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 3:05 PM EST

Next month, Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline plans to fly a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam, powered (in part) by an unspecified, but supposedly clean and sustainable biofuel. It will be the first bioful test flight of a commercial jet, and, if successful, could augur a new age of ecofriendly aviation. Among the fuels Branson might test, that green muck from your fish tank... Read more here.

Rudy Snags Nod From Jesus

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:54 PM EST


Rudy Giuliani's faltering campaign needs nothing short of a miracle worker. Yesterday, he may have gotten one. New York Yankees outfielder and Florida resident Johnny Damon endorsed Rudy at an Orlando rally, calling him "a nice and genuine guy" and even tossing out the obligatory Sept. 11 reference: "I've played on many different teams. I was with Oakland when 9/11 happened."

Back before Johnny Damon betrayed Red Sox Nation by signing with the Yankees, there was a popular saying in Boston: "How can we lose? We've got Jesus of Nazareth in center field." Indeed, "Johnny Jesus," as he was known, was a key contributor to the Sox' s unlikely World Series title run in 2004, breaking their 86-year losing streak. On arriving at spring training that year, Damon's first words reportedly were, "Bless you. Bless you all."

But it's an open question how much Damon can help Giuliani's tanking campaign in New York. The Yankees haven't won a title since Damon joined. Plus, he's lost much of that divine sheen since his locks and facial hair were shorn, per order of George Steinbrenner.

—Justin Elliott

Iraq Adopts New Flag (Again)

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:35 PM EST


Could it be the (long-delayed, thoroughly botched, and ethnically cleansed) birth of a nation? Hot off reforming the disastrous de-Bathification law that *might* enable some former Saddam-era soldiers and civil servants to return to work, the Iraqi parliament today gave the shell-shocked people of Iraq a new flag. Leave the passing of the oil distribution law and the scheduling of provincial elections for later, I guess.

The new design removes the old flag's three green stars (first meant to symbolize Iraq's failed pan-Arab union with Syria and Egypt, later changed to represent the Baath Party's credo: "Unity, Freedom, Socialism"). The flag's Arabic script—reading Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), added in 1991 after Saddam's "victory" in the Gulf War—was also set into a new font, as the former inscription was supposedly penned in Saddam's own hand.

The new flag is meant to appease Iraqi Kurds, who have refused to fly the national standard since the U.S. invasion, claiming that it represents a regime responsible for the mass killing of its citizens. No word on whether the Kurds plan to replace their Kurdish banner or the flags of the various political parties that have fluttered above northern Iraq for the last several years.