Republican Mitt Romney retorted to questions about his faith by surging rival Mike Huckabee on Wednesday, declaring that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."
In an article to be published Sunday in The New York Times, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asks, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
Romney, vying to become the first Mormon elected president, declined to answer that question during an interview Wednesday, saying church leaders in Salt Lake City had already addressed the topic.
"But I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that," Romney told NBC's "Today" show.
This is some setup for this afternoon's GOP Republican presidential debate, the final candidate face-off before the Iowa caucuses. Will Romney this evening have to address that vital national issue: are Jesus and Satan half-brothers? Or might he be forced to say whether he believes the Book of Mormon is literally true? That Jesus really came to the Americas after his resurrection and established an enlightened society that lasted for several generations? That Joseph Smith in 1830 really found golden tablets that only he could read? Might Romney be asked to explain why he was a member of church that followed racist rules (by not allowing blacks to serve in its leadership) until 1978?
If you are waiting with bated breath for the results of today's special elections in Ohio and Virginia, here they are. In Ohio, Democrat Robin Weirauch lost pretty badly in a solidly conservative district. Final tally: Republican Bob Latta 57%, Weirach 43%. The only good news out of Ohio is that the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spent $428,000 on the race, which totals nearly one-fifth of its entire cash-on-hand.
In Virginia, it was even more lopsided. Another inexperienced Democrat was unable to take a conservative district away from the Republicans. Final tally here: Republican Rob Wittman 61%, Democrat Philip Forgit 37%. Forgit, an Iraq War veteran with no political background, would have been an interesting figure in Congress, but the moderate Wittman proved too tough. Turnout was just 16 percent.
A few weeks ago I posted about Metacritic's tally of the best reviewed records of the year, and how a surprise candidate, The Field, had snuck up to #1. Well, there's a new #1 on their tally this week, and it's another left-field candidate: UK dubstep wizard Burial, beating the Field by one point and Radiohead by three points. Sure, the album just came out, so its critical average is based on far fewer reviews, but still, that's a bit of a shocker for an album that hasn't topped any individual lists I've seen so far. So what's it all about?
Dubstep is a wonky offshoot of two-step, a strange and wonderful microgenre of dance music that had a brief dominance of UK dance floors and pirate radio stations in the late 90s and early Oughts. Two-step is characterized by a severely syncopated bass drum, throbbing, walking basslines, and a skittering snare drum, typically overlaid with a traditional soul vocal track, so the music ends up being a strange confluence of drum 'n' bass intensity with R&B richness. Dubstep, as its name indicates, both ratchets down the pop trend of two-step and touches base with reggae, allowing half-time rhythms to emerge and the vocals to exist only as echo-y, repetitive samples.
It's also a hell of a lot darker, and Untrue is one bleak album. It's split between tracks with a drum beat and tracks without, and while the tracks with drums utilize the skittery rhythms of two-step, it's hard to see anyone dancing to them: the bass is so sludgy, so overlaid with gargantuan reverb and crackly effects, it's much more suitable for headphones. Moreover, the vocals that float in and out are mere disconnected phrases, making them all the more devastating: "because you lied " repeats the title track, and "Archangel" keeps asking, "tell me I belong." These songs have a dark majesty that's not matched by the drumless, ambient tracks; those seem a little aimless and generic.
Untrue throws into sharp relief the unfair opposition set up recently in the New Yorker by Sasha Frere-Jones, who gives both white and black music too little credit in assigning them their signifiers. Burial, whoever he is, has managed to stir up so many influences, like R. Kelly in an Aphex Twin blender, that it's hard to tell what's what; moreover, its lyrical focus on the abject misery of a broken heart could not be more universal. It may not be record of the year, but it sure is something.
Scientists recently determined how to make gay fruit flies straight, and vice versa. The findings published in Nature
Neuroscience this week conjure up disturbing images of big pharma manufacturing drugs that erase homosexual desire while the religious right markets them.
This discovery makes Gary Greenberg's "Gay By Choice?" published in Mother Jones in September/October 2007 all the more relevant. The gay rights movement
has been hoping science would vindicate it for far too long. But what if science proves that gayness is not an immutable trait, or worse, finds a way to "cure" it? Isn't it time, as Greenberg
argues, "to find reasons other than medical science to insist that people ought to be able
to love whom they love"?
The International Olympic Committee is threatening to reschedule parts of the 2008 Beijing Games, set for next August, if China can't prove that its air is safe for athletes, reports the BBC. Affected would be competitions involving endurance, such as foot and bicycle races.
Chinese officials already have been working overtime to reduce air pollution in its capital, especially since the United Nations reported last October that levels were more than three times what's acceptable. The government has dismantled or relocated factories and removed high-polluting taxis and buses from roads. As a last ditch effort, China recently launched a campaign called "guard the blue sky" that involves cracking down on dusty construction sites and even outdoor kebab vendors.
For more on China's pollution disaster, and its efforts to tidy up before the Olympics, check out Jacques Leslie's cover story for our January/February issue, which has been posted here.
A survey asking for positions on almost three dozen issues that Barack Obama filled out in 1996 as a state senate candidate shows that Obama has been a strong progressive for his entire (albeit relatively short) political career. On two issues, however, he held bolder and more liberal positions than he does currently. Here's Politico:
"Do you support capital punishment?" one question asked.
"No," the 1996 Obama campaign typed, without explaining his answer in the space provided.
"Do you support state legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?" asked one of the three dozen questions.
"Yes," was Obama's entire answer.
The PDFs of the survey are available on Politico's site. Obama now says that he does support the death penalty, but only in limited circumstances, such as for a particularly awful crime. On handguns, he says he is for "common-sense limits" but not bans.
Is it troubling that Obama switched his position on these issues? Somewhat, yes. Obama is supposed to be the purist candidate in the Democratic race, the one who doesn't change his beliefs based on possible political advantages. But that said, if these two shifts, which are relatively minor, are the biggest inconsistencies his opponents can point to, they probably ought to look elsewhere. Like at the fact that his political career began in just 1996.
There's still like 20 days left in 2007, but some journalists have decided to ignore all the potential hot platters that could emerge between now and December 31st and go ahead an issue their Best of 2007 lists. Now we at The Riff are tallying up our opinions and will present the definitive top ten albums of the year next week, but for now, here's a little graph of some of the big albums and where various publications are ranking them. It's decidedly unscientific: I just picked eight magazines whose lists I could find online, and then included albums with at least two mentions, and at least one of those in a top ten, and then ranked the albums by number of mentions. And what have we learned? White people really like white people! Sure, the sample is skewed towards some rockist, British mags, but no Kanye? Jay-Z? Lil Wayne? Come on, critics!
These nurses have sass. The California Nurses Association (CNA)/National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) are running this newspaper advertisement in the top 10 Iowa newspapers, cheering universal health insurance and poking Dick Cheney with a sharp stick. In case you can't read the fine print, I'll type some of it here.
"The patient's history and prognosis were grim: four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasty, an implanted defibrillator and now an emergency procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat.
"For millions of Americans, this might be a death sentence. For the vice president, it was just another medical treatment. And it cost him very little.
"Unlike the average American, the president, vice president and members of Congress all enjoy government-financed health care with few restrictions or prohibitive fees. They are never turned away for pre-existing conditions or denied care for what an insurance company labels "experimental treatments."
For the past few years, I've been posing a question to all my music-enthusiast friends: Why do we like music? And more specifically, why do we like the particular music that we do? "There's no accounting for taste" simply doesn't cut it for me. I'd like someone to explain to me exactly what accounts for musical taste. So far, though, no one's been able to answer my question definitively.
All this has, however, led to some pretty interesting nature-vs.-nurture discussions. Most people I've asked are cheering for nurture. "My older brother was really into hardcore, and I ended up stealing all his mixtapes," they'll say. Or, "I liked this guy in high school who played in a punk band." Even, "I used to dance around my living room to my parents' Paul Simon tapes, so I've always had a soft spot for folk music."
So it's pretty clear that formative musical experiences influence our music preferences at least a little, but there's some scientific evidence that there's an organic component, too. Today, I came across an Innovation Canadainterview with Daniel Levitin, a McGill University neuroscience professor who studies music's effect on our brains. Now don't get your hopes up: Levitin says that scientists have a long way to go before they'll be able to answer the taste question. But what's really interesting is Levitin's unique research method:
IC: You emphasize using actual music not abstract electronic sounds in your studies. Is rap music by Busta Rhymes better than classical Bach for your research purposes?
DL: Part of the challenge in designing a rigorous experiment is ensuring that each subject has something equivalent. In the old way of thinking, you played everybody the same piece of music, but if you hate classical music and I make you sit for an hour and answer difficult questions about music while listening to Beethoven, I may not be getting meaningful answers out of the experiment. The newer way of thinking is that we need to be flexible about equivalence across subjects. That doesn't mean a loss of rigour, it means that you might have an experiment where everyone brings in their own music and each subject serves as their own control. So, the experiment may steer more to [rapper] Ludacris than [virtuoso pianist/composer] Liszt depending on who your subject is.
So even if he can't explain taste, Levitin is obviously acknowledging that it exists—and that it's important. My challenge to Levitin: Find me a scientific explanation for the fact that anyone was ever into the Doors. Now that would be impressive.
These two women had always known they were adopted but had no idea that they had a sibling, let alone an identical twin!
At 35, when one started searching for her birth family, they found out that researchers had intentionally separated them, and as many other twins and triplets as they could get their mitts on, specifically so they could study the nature v. nurture thing. To top it all off, these separated siblings have no legal recourse. The study results won't even be available until 2066. Did the birth parents know their kids would be separated?
I guess I'd have made a lousy scientist because there's no way I could ever have devised, or agreed to, something so callous. Here's hoping they don't give up on the legal angle so no one ever comes up with this type of psychological Tuskegee experiment again.