2008 - %3, August

What's Up With That Tropic Thunder Controversy?

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 6:00 PM EDT

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I have to admit a slightly wary interest in the upcoming Ben Stiller war/Hollywood/Tom Cruise spoof Tropic Thunder. I still get giggly over Zoolander, and Stiller's deadpan exaggeration of Tinseltown egomania on Extras was pretty hilarious. Moreover, the buzz about Robert Downey Jr.'s edgy portrayal of an over-eager actor putting on blackface for his part has me intrigued: how will he walk that high-wire? But the biggest controversy to emerge before the film's release turned out to be something else: its use of the term "retard." A little context: Ben Stiller plays a bumbling action star, and part of the film's viral marketing is a whole history for his character, including fake trailers for (hilariously terrible) earlier films. One of those was "Simple Jack," a clear jab at Forrest Gump (and Hollywood's other mentally challenged characters). Simple Jack's tagline, "Once upon a time… there was a retard," caused an uproar among disability rights groups, and DreamWorks pulled the viral web site last week. Tropic Thunder includes clips and references to "Jack," which caused more trouble: A representative of the National Down Syndrome Congress emerged from Thunder's Monday premier saying, "I came out feeling like I had been assaulted," and the chairman of the Special Olympics has appeared on various media outlets assailing the "humiliation" of "good and decent human beings."

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Flier Spotted in DC: "BEWARE" of Montgomery McFate

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 5:11 PM EDT

The Washington City Paper reports that fliers have begun cropping up in northwest DC warning locals to "BEWARE!" of Montgomery McFate, the daughter-in-law of Mary Lou Sapone, the gun lobby spy who infiltrated the gun control movement. As we reported in late July, McFate, an anthropologist who currently serves as a senior social science adviser to the military's Human Terrain program, once played a part in her mother-in-law's intelligence gathering business. So did her husband, Sean McFate, who until recently served as a program director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

The City Paper snapped a pic of the flier, which, coincidentally (or, perhaps, not), was spotted in Adams Morgan, around the corner from where Sean and Montgomery McFate reside.

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Russia, China, India: Traces of Coming Power

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 3:22 PM EDT

I'll confess I missed the opening ceremony of the Olympics — pretty grand from what I hear — but what I didn't miss was Harold Meyerson's excellent meditation on what that ceremony meant for the future of global power. "The summer of '08, historians will most likely tell us, signaled the rise of a multi-power, non-Western-dominated planet," Meyerson writes. "It also was the time when it became clear that the American Century would not lap over from the 20th into the 21st." Read the whole thing.

More on Obama and Africa: the Global Poverty Act

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

In a web piece that published yesterday, I note many of the enlightening conversations about Barack Obama that I had on my recent trip to Africa.

I should add one thing: Kenyans and Tanzanians I spoke with rejected the idea that they support Obama (and they almost universally do) because he will usher in a more favorable foreign policy toward Africa. "All Americans presidents have the same policy on Africa," one man told me. "We do not know if Obama will be different."

In actual fact, however, Africans have reason to be optimistic. Obama is the primary sponsor of the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433), a bill that would commit the United States to "the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day." (Full text of the bill here.)

Critics of the bill allege that binding ourselves to the UN's goals would also bind us to its aid targets. The United Nations asks every nation to contribute 0.7 percent of its GDP to foreign aid. Currently, the United States is missing the mark by a substantial amount:

Bad Idea of the Day, Week, Month...

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 12:41 PM EDT

Apparently, Jeremiah Wright is going on a book tour in October.

Update: Possibly not true. Did you know Rev. Wright got banished to Ghana?

Tom Friedman Catches On to McCain's Missed-Vote Hypocrisy

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:22 AM EDT

I've seriously hated on Tom Friedman in the distant and near past, but I have to admit he gets it right on energy most of the time. Yesterday's column is a good example. Maybe I just like it because it touches on one of my favorite topics, absenteeism in Congress.

John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America's energy crisis. "Tell them to come back and get to work!" McCain bellowed.
Sorry, but I can't let that one go by. McCain knows why.
It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems...
Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn't leave his office to vote.
...Despite that, McCain's campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

For more examples of John McCain complaining about public policy problems and then missing votes to address those problems, see here.

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Bush's Last War

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 9:41 PM EDT

deadBEagle3.th.jpg Bush is after the Endangered Species Act with a lame-duck vengeance bordering on the sociopathic. He's proposing a whole new way to gut the Endangered Species Act. By cutting scientific review by independent experts, reports the AP.

Normally federal agencies have to consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before building roads, dams, mines, and whatnot. You know, in consideration of any one of the 1,353 animal and plant species in danger of extinction. But, no, says Bush. Who needs science when god whispers in your ear?

Not only that, the draft rules would also prohibit federal agencies from assessing greenhouse gas emissions from construction projects. This is Bush's way of getting back at the listing of the polar bear on climate change grounds.

Senator Barbara Boxer says the draft rules are illegal. Nevertheless the new rules are subject to a 30-day public comment period before they're law. That's all. Then Bush can launch his last war against eagles, owls, whales, ferrets, manatees, wolves…

Look for the casualties in court.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Rolling Stone Shrinks to Normal Magazine Size

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 7:25 PM EDT

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Rolling Stone magazine unveiled plans on Monday for a major design overhaul, scaling down its signature large-format pages to a standard magazine size in a bid to bolster advertising and sagging newsstand sales. The U.S. pop culture magazine will end the oversized look that for more than 30 years has distinguished it from rival publications starting with an issue set to hit newsstands on October 17.
Reuters

TrackMasterz, an 8-track tape distributor, has unveiled plans for miniature 8-tracks, only 1 1/2 by 2 inches wide, which the company "thinks probably" will work on iPods. "You should be able to just, like, stick it in there somewhere, right?" asked a spokesman, clad in a burlap sack and pointing a small REO Speedwagon cartridge at an iPod Touch. He added, "Spare some change?"

DRK Music, the leading manufacturer of player piano rolls, has announced a new, double-speed roll, in a bid to compete with rival player piano roll manufacturers. "Think of all the notes," screamed a spokesman over the horrific clatter of hundreds of upright pianos seemingly playing themselves at twice normal speed. "'Michigan Rag' will no longer sound so turgid and morose!"

Tablets-R-Us, the premier producer of engraved stone tablets, has revealed a design overhaul of its rock slabs, featuring a revolutionary new "Thin-sonite" material which allows tablets of less than 200 pounds each for the first time. "Advertisers and religious leaders will flock to this new, convenient format," claimed a spokesman from the bottom of a giant strip mine. "Imagine a day when reading Zac Efron features or reminding yourself of tricky commandments will only require the assistance of 10 Egyptian slaves, instead of 20!" Competitor Rolling Stones, whose new circular format caused thousands of accidental crushing deaths last year, was unavailable for comment.

Liam Gallagher Thinks Liking Radiohead Makes Me Ugly

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 5:25 PM EDT

mojo-photo-liamgallagherblue.jpgWrong, Liam: I was ugly way before I'd even heard of Radiohead. The notoriously blabbermouthed Oasis frontman gave a freewheeling interview to the Times over the weekend in which he went after not only the "mellow" music of Coldplay and Radiohead, but also the physical attractiveness of the fans who love it:

"I've mellowed, but not in the sense of liking Radiohead or Coldplay. I don't hate them. I don't wish they had accidents. I think their fans are boring and ugly and they don't look like they're having a good time." Liam doesn't like any contemporary bands. "Not interested. I play the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, Neil Young, the Pistols. Maybe a bit of the Roses. Don't like modern bands."

He doesn't wish they had accidents? Boy, he has mellowed! Although I will say that someone with a mug like that one (above right) shouldn't, you know, throw stones.

New Music From Around the Blogs: Franz Ferdinand, Joanna Newsom, Saul Williams, DJ Excel

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 5:04 PM EDT

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Franz Ferdinand finally have a complete song for us to listen to at their website, although they want your e-mail address for the privelige. "Lucid Dreams" hums along pleasantly enough, at the tempo of "Take Me Out" but without the brain-seizing hooks. Hey, I think I can embed their player, so you don't have to go here. (For fans of: Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, songs that mention Ithaca)

Via No Words comes good news for everyone into harps and stuff: a new Joanna Newsom song! Granted, in this working version of "Heart to Task," the recording is terrible and I think you can actually hear someone sneeze. Unfortunately, proving the rabid intensity of Newsom fandom, the bandwidth limit has already been reached for the mp3, but you can still stream it here. (For fans of: Björk, CocoRosie, Narnia)

After the jump: Niggy Tardust puts feathers in his hair, and DJ Excel makes Baltimore mellow out.