2008 - %3, January

Movie Music Madness

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 6:50 PM EST

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Best-picture Oscar nominations this year have gone to a compelling and diverse group of films that, for the most part, earned them: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood. For me, the soundtracks or scores to three of these films in particular helped make them as great as they are. Here are a few examples:

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MPAA Accidentally (On Purpose?) Exaggerated Impact of Piracy

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 6:43 PM EST

mojo-photo-mpaa.jpgHey, remember the MPAA? The Motion Picture Association of America? Well, like their buddies in the RIAA, they've been using every tactic they can think of to fight illegal downloading of movies, especially on college campuses; that includes lobbying lawmakers to sanction educational institutions on whose intertubes the naughty downloading was done. But it turns out the numbers they used as the basis for their claims were a wee bit exaggerated. The MPAA just revealed (pdf link) that a 2005 study which claimed that "44% of the motion picture industry's domestic losses were attributable to piracy by college students" was, erm, a mistake:

Saddam Gambled And Lost, Says FBI Agent

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 5:28 PM EST

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Saddam Hussein played up his mythical WMD stockpile in the belief that the U.S. would not invade, according to George Piro, an FBI agent who interrogated him after his December 2003 capture. Apparently, he was convinced that the U.S. would only drop a few bombs, not send in ground troops. He'd survived a similar air attack in 1998, he told Piro, and thought he could do it again. But why, you ask? He wanted to keep up his tough-guy image. "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam," Piro says. "He thought that would prevent the Iranians from re-invading Iraq." Piro will appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday.

Franz Ferdinand Hoping for Comeback

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 3:41 PM EST

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So much can change in four years. Your approval ratings can drop 20 points, your hair can turn gray, or your band can go from worldwide domination to leftfield footnotes. In 2004, Franz Ferdinand could do no wrong: their nervous, aggressive dance-rock embodied the wary times, the neo-Soviet album art suddenly seemed fresh again, and they sure looked good in those tight-cut suits. While proclaiming they only got into music to "make girls dance," their lyrics contained unexpected depths. "Michael" turned into a gay anthem, and the inescapable stomper "Take Me Out" turned out to be about lovers as snipers, daring each other to pull the trigger: "I know I won't be leaving here / with you." The song's stunning musical twist, an exhilarating deceleration from new wave to hip-hop speed, seemed to hint at previously unexplored regions of rock innovation.

Michelle vs. Bill: In the Democratic Race, the Spouses Go at It

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 3:22 PM EST

Can Michelle Obama take down Bill Clinton?

Well, can she at least exploit the spouse of her spouse's chief rival to raise money for her own spouse?

On Thursday afternoon, the Obama campaign sent out a fundraising appeal signed by Barack Obama's wife that uses Bill Clinton's recent swipes at Senator Obama as its main get-out-your-checkbooks motivator. She writes:

We knew getting into this race that Barack would be competing with Senator Clinton and President Clinton at the same time.

Happy 2008! Your Prius' Fuel Efficiency Just Dropped 16%

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 2:00 PM EST

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Old-school Detroit must be smiling just a bit right now. After decades of providing unrealistic fuel-efficiency estimates—those big numbers touted in magazine ads and printed in large fonts on the vehicle-details stickers in new car lots—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally modified its method for calculating average miles per gallon, and the most fuel-efficient cars on the road have taken the biggest hit. Then again, they have a lot farther to fall.

The new method, which applies to all 2008 models and beyond, still doesn't quite reflect actual driving conditions, but unlike the old numbers, which basically reflected your mileage in heaven (or, if you prefer, in an idealized lab setting), the new ones take into account things like acceleration, winter driving, air conditioner use, and realistic speeds (ever tried doing 55 in a 55 zone on a moderate-traffic day? It's a recipe for abuse). Alas, the new formula appears to favor the gas guzzlers. Combined mileage for a 2007 Toyota Prius (automatic, 4 cylinder, 1.5 L engine) is down 16 percent under the new formula, to 46 mpg. The '07 Honda Civic Hybrid is also down 16 percent, to 42 mpg.

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Has California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Actually Increased Carbon Emissions?

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 1:53 PM EST

Last year California passed a much-heralded law requiring oil companies to cut the carbon intensity of their fuel 10 percent by 2020. The state is allowing ethanol to be used as one low-carbon substitute, and recently raised the cap on ethanol in gasoline from six to ten percent. You've probably read about the ways the ethanol craze contributes to higher food prices around the world, but what nobody has calculated, until now, is how this affects ethanol's true carbon footprint. In an analysis released January 17th, two UC Berkeley researchers found that ethanol actually produces more carbon emissions than gasoline. As a result, the carbon intensity of California fuel has ironically risen, between 3 and 33 percent.
 
The researchers, professors Michael O'Hare and and Alexander Farrell, take issue with the model state regulators used to calculate ethanol's carbon output, arguing that it did not factor in the indirect effects on the global food supply. Among other things, higher corn prices cause farmers half-way around the world to convert more forests into farmland, and those trees are then burned or decay, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. The professors pointed this out in a letter sent earlier this month to the California Air Board, which is discussing changing its carbon model in light of the findings.

"The Man's" Morse Code and the Continuing Blight of White Racism

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 1:40 PM EST

Well, all my subliminal advertising worked: I'll be on Colbert today, barring death, famine, or a Britney Spears sighting.

If Tuesday's show is any indication, Colbert has still got it, writerless or not. If you didn't see it, you missed something sweet, wonderful and daring. I had extreme fun the first time last year and am determined to do so again. Here's hoping that I actually speak, given Colbert's nonstop high jinx. If I do, here's what I hope to get around to saying: Barack, don't let The Man force you to pull a Sister Souljah and apologize for being black.

In Slate, Mickey Kaus gallantly provides a primer for Barack to "escape the ghetto." Here's the thinking of no doubt many oh-so-post-racial white politicos (though Kaus doesn't endorse the entire idea; he just pubs it up): The moment Barack allowed the dreaded Reverend Al Sharpton to defend him against criticism for his past drug use, Obama became a race hustler, dealing the (oh dear, not this again) race card from the bottom of the deck. Sharpton is the embodiment of black perfidy, and to align oneself with him is to reject any claims of race transcendence or racial fair dealing, no matter whom whites ally themselves with. In other words, Caught ya being black, Obama! And we thought you were different. Funny how playing the race card is something only liberal blacks can do (though Secretary Rice's frequent invocation of girlhood segregation and knowing one of the Four Little Girls in Birmingham, not to mention Thomas' "high tech lynching," are never invoked as examples).

One of the things I didn't want to accept in Hillary's "it took a President to get the job done" was that she was sending The Man's Morse code—for President, read "white person," and for MLK, read "nice sermon, oratory boy, now step aside so the grown ups take over." Now I'm beginning to wonder. Are white folks calling up their new and improved inner night riders? SUVs instead of horses, but the demand, the expectation, of supremacy, remains the same.

The Nobel Laureates Have Spoken: We Need a Presidential Science Debate

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 1:05 PM EST

Eleven Nobel laureates, nine congressmen, multiple university presidents, and the heads of numerous science organizations have signed a petition calling for a presidential science debate this year. "Science and engineering have driven half the nation's growth in GDP over the last half-century, and lie at the center of many of the major policy and economic challenges the next president will face," says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We feel that a presidential debate on science would be helpful to America's national political dialogue."

It's not surprising that the candidates haven't jumped at the idea. Global-warming- and evolution-denying Republicans would look hilarious in such a forum, but even Democrats might worry about making a gaffe while weighing in on debates that are normally left to the experts. Still, it seems like an idea Democrats should take seriously. By signaling to voters that science is important, it would drum up support for the party's ideas, and, more fundamentally, lay out how post-Middle-Ages worldview translates into superior leadership.

Giuliani Foreign Policy Advisor Says 'Bomb 'Em'

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 12:50 PM EST

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With Rudy Giuliani hanging on at least until I-Can't-Believe-We-Have-Nine-More-Months-Of-This Tuesday (February 5), his candidacy still matters, if a little bit less than before. You might be interested to know, then, that one of the Hero of 9/11's neocon foreign policy advisors has just written an astoundingly long-winded piece in the conservative journal Commentary advocating that the U.S. military bring its shock and awe to Tehran. Norman Podhoretz, intellectual godfather to the neocons who goaded us into the Iraq mess, argues that the only way to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a preemptive bombing campaign—this despite the latest National Intelligence Estimate finding that Iran suspended its nuclear program in 2003. The only question, says Podhoretz, is of "who should do the bombing." Israel? Nope, they don't have the necessary military capability to ensure success and, besides, the Iranians would blame us anyway. "If Iran is to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power," he writes, "it is the United States that will have to do the preventing, to do it by means of a bombing campaign, and (because 'If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long') to do it soon."

So, does Rudy agree with this assessment? After all, as of October, Podhoretz was still among the group of hawks whispering in his ear (along with the likes of Daniel Pipes and Michael Rubin). According to Giuliani's chief foreign policy advisor, Charles Hill, a State Department veteran who also worked as an aide to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, the answer is no. "Norman's position is unique to Norman, and it's well thought out," Hill told the New York Sun last fall. "It is not a far out, radical position, and it is deeply felt and held intellectually, but it is unique to him. Rudy Giuliani has Rudy Giuliani's view." What's that exactly? That we should give tougher sanctions a chance. As for Podhoretz, he says, "I express my views mainly through email communications to the foreign policy team. Rudy is free to accept or reject them."

Still, having Podhoretz in the mix (not to mention Pipes and Rubin) is enough to make you question where Rudy's really coming from. He might as well add the Filipino Monkey as his communications secretary...