2008 - %3, April

On 5th Anniversary of Iraq Museum's Looting, New Attention to Antiquities Trafficking

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:36 PM EDT

iraq-artifacts.jpg Iraq's National Museum, home to artifacts of the world's oldest civilization, was looted five years ago tomorrow. A collection of academics, lawyers, law enforcement officials, and former military personnel commemorated the anniversary with the release of a new book, Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, and an event for interested parties at the National Press Club. That included me.

The invasion of Iraq actually did surprisingly little damage to Iraq's historic sites, in part because McGuire Gibson, an expert on ancient Mesopotamia based at the University of Chicago, gave the military coordinates of thousands of sites it should avoid on its way to Baghdad. "Iraq is Mesopotamia," said Gibson, who spoke at the Press Club. "It is the root civilization for all civilizations." The military did make mistakes, however. On April 10, looting of the Iraq Museum began and, due to a lack of postwar planning (and due to the Bush Administration's unwillingness to treat culture like a legitimate facet of post-war reconstruction), it took six days for American soldiers to show up to help museum staff defend the premises. In all, 15,000 items from the Museum's collection disappeared or were damaged. Theft and vandalism occurred at archaeological sites across the country.

Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine colonel, led the effort to investigate the looting of Iraq's artifacts and to secure their return. Speaking at the Press Club today, Bogdanos showed slides of stolen or damaged artifacts from the Iraq Museum — the first naturalistic depiction of a human face in stone, for example — that could be found nowhere else in the world. Speaking of the unique nature of Iraq's treasures, Bogdanos said, "Everything in Iraq can be prefaced with the word 'first.'"

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House Democrats Go Soft on Petraeus, Crocker

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:04 PM EDT

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Following on yesterday's lackluster performance by their Senate colleagues, House Democrats, if this morning's Armed Services Committee hearing is any indication, will show themselves to be equally cowed by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top-ranking military and diplomatic figures in Iraq, and just as unwilling to bring serious challenge to the larger theme promulgated by the morning's testimony—namely that, while "reversible," security (if not political) gains in Iraq are real and the result of an enlightened strategy. Certainly, in this morning's hearing, Democrats failed to subject their witnesses to the sort of aggressive questioning we might have expected from a party that took control of the Congress determined to challenge Bush administration policy in Iraq and, as of last summer, remained determined to affect significant short-term troop withdrawals.

This is not say that there was no loyal opposition to the Petraeus/Crocker message of cautious optimism, but simply to call attention to how exceedingly, excessively, and deferentially loyal it was. Perhaps the most significant challenge to the administration's narrative came from Rep. John Spratt, Democrat of South Carolina, who used his allotted five minutes to display charts showing the tremendous cost of the war to date, as well as projections from the Congressional Budget Office (the Pentagon refuses to speculate on such things) that by 2018, assuming troop levels have already declined to 75,000 by 2013, the U.S. government will have shelled out more than $2 trillion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point, Spratt said, was that "whenever you spend $2 trillion on one thing, you don't have it for something else"—whether that "something else" is stepped up operations in Afghanistan, reinvestment in the strategic readiness of U.S. forces for future high-intensity conflicts, or any number of other things you can imagine the federal government might do with a couple trillion bucks.

Tick, Tock: Time Running Out on McCain's Membership on Non-Profit's Board

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

ProjectVoteSmart.gif As Mother Jones reported Monday, the nonpartisan voter-education non-profit Project Vote Smart (PVS) has spent nine months trying to get John McCain to respond to its Political Courage Test. The test is a survey that PVS sends to state and federal candidates every time they run for office — it tries to get politicians to cut the spin and equivocations and tell voters where they really stand.

We all know McCain loves straight talk more than anyone, so it's natural that McCain has been on PVS's board of directors for a decade. But after nine months, 17 phone calls, and eight emails, PVS simply can't get a response to its survey. It's executive committee has a set a deadline: if McCain doesn't respond by the end of the day today, he gets the boot.

Since Mother Jones' story came out Monday, the McCain campaign has not responded to calls for comment or sent any materials to PVS.

A Feminist Hears a Who

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 1:52 AM EDT

I was aghast to hear my four year old daughter playing with her dolls the other day. The dolls are not the problem; the story line was. Tuning in and out while she nattered on, I suddenly realized the dialogue went something like this:

First Princess: "Oh no! The evil witch is coming. We need Prince Sean!" (Sean is the boy she's all but stalking at preschool).

Second Princess: "Oh! She'll cut our guts out. Where are the boys? We need boys."

FP: "Girls aren't strongly brave. We shall die! Who will save us? Oh! It's the prince. He'll save us."

All in a high-pitched and annoying ditzy soprano. It got so much worse than this, I had to sit her down for a chat. Where on earth was she getting this stuff?

I pummel her and her 7-year-old brother with feminist analysis of every medium they encounter, from billboards to story books to cereal boxes. I'm a single mom with a freelance career; they watch me struggle and kick ass everyday, all without help from a 'prince.' Yet, my daughter argues furiously with me that only boys are strong and brave and tough. She was actually offended when I called her a tough cookie after she'd done something cool. "I'm not tough, Mom! I'm a girl." Yeah, and if I'm very lucky, someday I'll get to wipe the sweat from your brow as you push out a fetus as big as you were. Then we'll talk about tough.

I know she's just trying to make sense of all the conflicting messages the world is lobbing at her, but overhearing her made me see just how naive I'd been to think my unrelenting feminist harangues would shield her from the world's low expectations of what she can do. Make her doubt herself, no matter what her actual accomplishments. Her four-year-old brain is telling her that she has to choose between feminity and strength. I know. She'll work it out over time. But, boy, was I freaked.

I fight bigotry for a living; surely my kids would be immune to it, right? The light came on when I took them to the movies this weekend.

Botox Takes a Hit from Flailing Economy

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 7:28 PM EDT
The effects of the struggling economy are finally trickling up. The Los Angeles Times reports that local LA resident Goldy Anthony has had to give up her regular botox-cum-ladies-who-lunch appointments in Beverly Hills because, well, at $1,800 a session (not including lunch), she no longer has the pocket change to spare. With the announcement last week that 80,000 American jobs were cut in just this past month, and foreclosures sweeping the nation, it's hard to bemoan the casualty of Goldy's botox procedures, and that she will no longer be able to inject toxins into her face to achieve that eerily placid perma-expression.

But the whole thing is making cosmetic surgeons pretty nervous. One doctor claims his number of surgeries decreased by "5% in January and February," while other doctors are reportedly "off by 30% to 40%." Although we may easily shrug off cosmetic surgery, the fact that the economic downturn has reached this sector indicates that even the wealthy are being forced to cut back—which is not a good sign for consumer spending. Over at Slate.com, though, William Saletan is rejoicing that elective cosmetic surgery has taken a small hit. Cosmetic procedures have increased 457 percent since 1997. Now, maybe doctors will get back to the true meat and potatoes work of practicing medicine.

—Joyce Tang

Music: The Prizes, They Are a-Changin'

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

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Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock 'n' roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall. Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.
- AP

Hip-hop has finally broken the boundaries of time and space, as the Nobel Foundation announced today that Snoop Dogg would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Gunnar Öquist, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, presented Snoop with the prize in a ceremony in Stockholm, citing the rapper's "inquisitive lyrical themes concerning the behaviors of liquids ('Gin and Juice') and gases ('Chronic Break')," as well as his "hebetudinous delivery which has been proven to alter the listener's perception of time." Snoop pronounced the medal "fly."

Back in the States, in a move that has been anticipated for weeks, Miley Cyrus was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work as Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana. The MacArthur foundation heaped praise on the singer for her contributions to "the advancement of syncretic metafiction," describing the singer, real name Destiny Hope Cyrus, as a "a web of multiple identities, the first true post-human creation of the digital age." Cyrus reacted to the news by hugging her dog and thanking her role model Hillary Duff, who won the Pritzker in 2007.

In related news, it was screaming mayhem at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice awards last week as host Jack Black presented Richard Dawkins with the award for "Favorite Male Evolutionary Biologist." "Up yours, Gouldy," he exclaimed, referring to the writer Steven Jay Gould, who had famously been nominated 14 times for the award, yet never won. Attendee Tiffany Wright, 11, clutching a tear-stained copy of The God Delusion, told reporters she had actually touched the writer's tweed jacket. "Religion is the opiate of the masses," she exclaimed, "Ricky is totally my idol!"

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Music: Today's Top 5* CD Releases and a Word from Critics

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 4:14 PM EDT

At this point, waiting for a release date, putting on your hat and coat, runing to the record store and plunking down cash bills for a plastic-wrapped compact disc is so retro, it's almost a novelty, like a horse-and-buggy ride through Central Park. Remember, kids, back in Grandpa's day, we couldn't just google the band's name and "Rapidshare" to find variable bit-rate mp3s in a password-protected RAR file three months before the release date, I tell you what. Awww, Grandpa!

*According to me.

mojo-cover-cave.jpg1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig! (Anti-)

"Triumph" – UK Observer Music Monthly, 5/5
"Gold" – Entertainment Weekly, A-



mojo-cover-breederssm.jpg2. Breeders
Mountain Battles (4AD)

"Raw" – Rolling Stone, 3.5/5
"Lively" – Radar Online



mojo-cover-tapes.jpg3. Tapes 'n' Tapes
Walk It Off (XL)

"Swarming" – Rolling Stone, 3/5
"Messy" – BBC



After the jump: Old trees, and old Russian guys.

Iraq Hoarding Oil Revenue While U.S. Pays For Reconstruction

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 2:53 PM EDT

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Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, in testimony (.pdf) this morning before the Senate Armed Services committee, heralded increased Iraqi investment in its own reconstruction, noting $18 billion in pending budget allocations by the government in Baghdad and assuring lawmakers that "the era of U.S. funded major infrastructure projects is over." This would surely be welcome news to committee chairman Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, if only he could bring himself to believe it.

Levin, along with Senator John Warner (R-Va.), has for months been expressing concern that the U.S. continues to shoulder the majority of Iraq's reconstruction costs at a time when Iraqi oil exports are finally producing sufficient revenue for the Baghdad government to begin shouldering a greater part of the financial burden. Last month, the senators asked the GAO to conduct a study of Iraq's oil business to determine just how much reconstruction spending should be transferred to the Iraqi side. Indeed, basic details such as total Iraqi oil revenues since 2003, how much of it has been spent on reconstruction and security, and how much the Iraqi government has deposited in banks around the world remain unclear, as do projections for expected revenues from oil exports for the coming year.

In their letter to the GAO's David Walker, Levin and Warner cite pre-Iraq invasion assurances from the Bush administration that Iraq would be able to pay for its own reconstruction. "The oil revenues of that country could bring in between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years," Paul Wolfowitz told Congress in March 2003. "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." This, of course, like almost every other Bush administration contention, turned out to be untrue. But today, five years after the invasion, Iraqi oil revenues may finally be reaching the levels required to finance major projects. According to Levin and Warner, Iraq is estimated to have netted $41 billion from oil exports in 2007 and is on track to make $56 billion for the current year, for a total exceeding $100 billion over two years—not exactly chump change.

Hillary Clinton's New Ad Blitz: Some Good, Some Bad

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:50 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton is up with five new ads in Pennsylvania. One of them seems to be a product of Mark Penn's departure: her former chief strategist was reportedly opposed to "humanizing" Clinton, and thus would have probably blocked this very good ad:

But the ad's aren't flawless. Look at the text on the screen at the 0:20 second mark in this ad.

Easy joke: maybe Mark Penn was in charge of spell-checking.

Sunni/Shiite Mix Up: Did John McCain Just Do It Again?

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

Questioning General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in an on-going Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, John McCain just tried to reaffirm al Qaeda's importance by asking if it was "a minor Shiite group... or minor Sunni group, or anybody else." He was clearly trying to draw out a "no," but that's not the point. The point is that McCain still doesn't seem to understand al Qaeda is a Sunni group.

Most foreign policy experts have known this since the '90s. Those that didn't, found out on 9/12/01. How is McCain doing this over and over and over?

I'm stunned. I'm going to have to check the video when it's available to see if I have this right.

Update: I was close. Here's the transcript:

MCCAIN: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.
MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites overall?
PETREAUS: No.
MCCAIN: Or Sunnis or anybody else.

Video after the jump.