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Idiocy or Intentional Media Manipulation: Jonah Goldberg Edition

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 10:43 AM EDT

If you heard Barack Obama say that he wants to "set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year," would this be your response?

There's a weird irony at work when Sen. Barack Obama, the black presidential candidate who will allegedly scrub the stain of racism from the nation, vows to run afoul of the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.
For those who don't remember, the 13th Amendment says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime … shall exist within the United States."
I guess in Obama's mind it must be a crime to be born or to go to college.

You would if you were the author of this book.

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Iraqi PM: I Want a Timetable

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 10:09 AM EDT

What degree of agency do we give the Iraqi government? The AP:

Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating.
It was the first time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has explicitly and publicly called for a withdrawal timetable — an idea opposed by President Bush.
He offered no details. But his national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government is proposing a timetable conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security.

This is more a change in rhetoric than a change in substance. A timetable for withdrawal tied to unspecified benchmarks of Iraqi troop readiness is a recipe for staying in the country indefinitely. But it does represent a break from the Bush Administration, and if Maliki backs up this new language with specifics, we'll have a situation on our hands.

Obama, for the record, wants combat troops out in 16 months. I wonder if in his upcoming trip to Iraq, he'll meet with Maliki.

Update: Bush's statement on the sovereignty of the Iraqi government after the jump.

Smart Energy = No More Wall Warts

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 2:07 AM EDT

Surge_protector.jpg

Wall warts are those external power adapters that come with everything electronic these days. We know they suck. First of all, they're energy vampires, sucking 4 percent of all electricity used in the average US home even when they're not in use. They consume 52 billion kilowatt hours of power annually, the same amount of energy produced by 20 average-size power plants.

They also suck in terms of design. Many are too big and use up both sockets. Some are too heavy to stay in their sockets.

Doug Palmer of Calit2 at UCSD thinks there's a better way. He's designing a prototype for a Universal Power Adapter, or uPower adapter, a "smart" device that would supply both power and communications to consumer electronics.

Palmer's adapter would serve as a single power supply for one or more mobile devices, "requesting" the voltage needed, when needed, and delivering that and nothing more. This makes sense when you think that many modern electronics use only 3 to 12 volts yet have to deal with wall sockets that deliver 220 or 100. In theory, even hybrid cars could be plugged into the uPower adapter.

The smart design might also improve conditions in the developing world. Palmer is collaborating with Calit2's India Initiative, which works with the Indian government, universities, and NGOs to create collaborative projects. One of India's most pressing needs is reliable energy in a country that lacks a reliable power grid. Paired with a low-cost solar panel, the uPower adapter might provide lighting to some of India's 1 billion for the first time.

See? When we actually use our much-vaunted intelligence, the future looks better.

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

Hoax Alert: Bizarre "McCain Adviser" Too Good to Be True

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 10:29 PM EDT

homer-simpson-doh.jpg A few hours ago, we (okay, I) posted a blog about a man claiming to be a McCain adviser who made ridiculous comments on Iraqi television about building a casino in the Baghdad Green Zone. In addition to the inherent absurdity of it, there was a lot of arrogance, cultural insensitivity, and racism thrown in. Other blogs had posted on the guy, and when I checked him out before posting I found his blog and a foreign policy institute claiming his employ. Turns out the blog and institute, like the adviser, were an elaborate hoax. It didn't help that the guy, in creating his fictional foreign policy expert, closely mimicked the name of a real foreign policy expert.

Here's why I got taken: I received an emailed press release reporting that the supposed McCain adviser had apologized for his comments about the casino. You're welcome to disagree with me, but I had no reason to believe that someone would invent a persona, a blog, a foreign policy institution, a video with a fake Iraqi television station, a press release, and an organization or email entity to send out said press release.

But frankly, there was enough info on the web that I should have sussed this thing out. This is a long way of saying I apologize and that I'm more than a little ashamed. I've taken the post down. Kudos to the inventor of this whole thing. My only consolation is that if I had as much time on my hands as he clearly does, I probably would have figured this out and saved myself a fair amount of embarrassment.

America's Coral Reefs Declining

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 9:10 PM EDT

398px-PillarCoral.jpg Not good news. NOAA reports that half of US coral reef ecosystems are in poor or fair shape. This includes reefs in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Navassa Island, Florida, Flower Garden Banks, the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, the Pacific Remote Islands, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Palau.

The nation's coral reefs face intense threats from development, overfishing, run-off from the land, and recreational use. Even the most remote reefs suffer from marine debris, illegal fishing, and climate change problems, including coral bleaching, coral diseases, and ocean acidification.

More than 270 researchers authored the 15 chapters of the 569-page report, grading the ecosystems' health as excellent, good, fair, poor or unknown. They note that US reefs have been declining for decades. Since the last status report in 2005, two coral species, Elkhorn and Staghorn, have become the first corals ever listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

One thing's for sure, we're going to leave behind tons of documents detailing exactly how the the world got frakked while we awaited the anti-Bush.

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

McCain Complains About Congressional Recess After Missing 367 Votes

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 5:39 PM EDT

This seems legitimate...

McCain took Congress to task for taking a July 4 recess without completing action on a housing rescue plan, calling it "incredible that Congress should go on vacation while Americans are trying to stay in their homes."

...until you realize that John McCain has missed 367 votes in the 110th Congress. He is the most absent member of the Senate.

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Simon Mann Gets 34 Years For Plotting African Coup

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 5:19 PM EDT

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After enthusiastically giving up his co-conspirators, including Margaret Thatcher's son Mark (read my earlier post here), British mercenary Simon Mann has been sentenced to 34 years in prison to be served in Equatorial Guinea—punishment for his leading role in a failed 2004 coup plot that would have given him and his buddies free rein to loot the impoverished country of its natural resources.

At first blush, Equatorial Guinea is not a place where you'd want to spend that kind of time. It's hot, the plumbing stinks, and your very survival would be in the hands of the same dictator you'd tried to take down... a guy, let us say, not exactly known for his commitment to human rights.

But Mann, it seems, has less to worry about than most. For whatever reason, he is proving to a popular guy with members of the government he set out to destroy.

From the BBC:

Mann seems to have struck up a cosy relationship with some members of the regime he tried to overthrow.
While in Malabo's Black Beach prison, he has apparently been paid frequent visits by Security Minister Manuel Nguema Mbo and the two have drunk wine over lunch.
The minister said Mann had lent him a copy of the Wonga Coup - an account of the plot by journalist Adam Roberts.

Mann will go to jail, but his willingness to squeal on his pals may still have its desired effect: President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Mann's erstwhile target, has left open the possibility for him to serve part of his sentence in the UK or, better yet for the jailed mercenary, to receive a presidential pardon. Meantime, though, he'll have to settle for liquid lunches in Malabo's Black Beach Prison.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Podknox.

Song of the Summer: Dizzee Rascal "Dance Wiv Me"

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 5:10 PM EDT

While NY Magazine's Vulture blog has taken the reins on plowing through 2008's pop hits to find this summer's "Umbrella" (finally proclaiming, not without some justification, Brit singer Estelle's jaunty "American Boy" the winner), there's a new UK Number One this week that has more come-from-behind cred and propulsive, sweaty dancefloor grooviness. Like Estelle's hit, in which she joins forces with Kanye West (whose tongue-twisting, Britishism-mocking rap may be the best part of "Boy"), "Dance Wiv Me" is also an intriguing collaboration. In one corner, Dizzee Rascal, the 23-year-old rapper who has already proven his mettle as the greatest talent to emerge from the East London grime scene; in the other, Calvin Harris, whose '80s-retro productions and winking, cocky vocal style have made him the new, tougher Mylo. Throw in UK soul singer Chrome for a couple lines and you've got a track that UK chart watcher James Masterson calls "three and a half minutes of three men having a whale of a time on a record that is fun, accessible and yet amazingly true to the musical roots of all three participants at the same time." Hear hear.

YouTube: Reality Show Contestants Aren't Here to Make Friends

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 3:28 PM EDT

Sometimes it's the simplest video cut-ups that are the most effective, and here's another one of those "wish I'd thought of it" clips. Via the blog FourFour, it's a montage of reality show competitors (see how many you can name, kids!) insisting they're not interested in attaining any level of chumminess with their fellow contestants. Sure, I knew I'd heard that statement a few times on TV, but not this much:

After a while, the continual repetition starts to seem more like a desperate effort at convincing themselves than us. But they're right, "this is not America's Next Top… uh, Best Friend" (my favorite moment of that whole clip). Therefore, consider me inspired. I've decided to adopt this attitude from now on, and so to all you sassy commenters (and Mother Jones employees who find my presence on your hallowed web pages offensive): I didn't come to the Riff to make friends! I came here to, uh, write about French techno, I guess. And win the million dollars. I get a million dollars for this, right?

Bruno Strikes Again: Baron Cohen Tricks Former Mossad Agent

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 2:28 PM EDT

mojo-photo-bruno2.jpgSacha Baron Cohen is stepping things up in preparation for Brüno, the actor and comedian's followup to the $260 million-grossing Borat. As we've covered here before, the Brüno character's gay antics were hilarious on Da Ali G Show and apparently deeply disturbing to Wichita airport patrons more recently. But his latest prank has made headlines: former Mossad agent and political analyst Yossi Alpher has revealed that he and a Palestinian were duped by Brüno during an interview in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Highlights include a question confusing Hamas with hummus, a comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the, er, Jennifer-Angelina conflict, and a good-hearted attempt to help unite "Jews and Hindus." Those first two are kind of iffy, chuckle-wise, but that last one totally kills me for some reason. Alpher wrote about the experience in a column for The Forward, and he insists that he knew something didn't smell right (the Jerusalem post actually said, "something wasn't kosher," but I just couldn't repeat that) throughout the interview, but stuck with it, clinging to the belief that Cohen's character was the "German rock star" producers had claimed him to be.

One can't help but wonder what one would do in such a situation. Of course we'd like to think we'd see right through it, but as Stanley Milgram's social psychology experiments back in the '60s proved, we do what we're told. Or, perhaps more optimistically, we try to be nice, even when faced with a lunatic with a crazy hairstyle who thinks our political conflicts are about chickpea paste. Either way, the Brüno movie is due out next spring.