Blogs

Okay, Here's the Freakin' Dog

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 4:42 AM EDT

This definitely isn't "media," and it's probably not "culture," although the little pooch does seem to be wearing a lei, which is, er, kind of cultural, right? Whatever, you know you want to look at pictures of the Obamas' new pet, which whitehouse.gov has provided, and The Riff can use the traffic. As you already know by now (since the story leaked two days early) the President has finally made good on his campaign promise to get Sasha and Malia a dog. The puppy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog, he's a gift from Senator Edward Kennedy, and his name is Bo. Hmm, "Bo Obama" is a little awkward, but the name is apparently the same as the Obama girls' cousins' cat, a phrase I can't believe I just typed, and is also an oblique reference to Michelle's father's nickname, Diddley, which is marginally more interesting I suppose. I have to say, Bo looks like he's pretty skeptical about this whole deal in the above photo, but I guess I would be too if I was forced to pose for photos in a nothing but a cheap-looking lei. (Again.) One more picture of the first family greeting their new doggy after the jump, and then I'm getting back to posting about indie disco dance tunes.

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Susan Boyle, Curing Cynicism Since 2009

| Sun Apr. 12, 2009 12:46 PM EDT

Good for what ails you: This 7-minute clip (video embed disabled, sorry) of 47-year-old Susan Boyle singing on Britain's Got Talent.

Wait for minute 4 when unbridled joy breaks out on the judges' faces. 

Forum Sneak Peek: Is Organic and Local so 2008?

| Sat Apr. 11, 2009 1:02 AM EDT

So. Are you still peeved at Paul Roberts for dissing locavores and heirloom tomatoes? Well, grasshopper, Monday afternoon you'll have a chance to get in the ring with him and other foodies all answering the question: Is organic and local so 2008? If so, what's next?

Stay tuned for our MoJo Forum on organic food next week. In the meantime, you might want to reread Spoiled, watch Bryant Terry cook a vegan recessionista fave, or chow down on our meaty report about the future of food.

Update: The Food Forum is live.

Friday Cocktail: The Conflagration: Splash the G-Word, 1 Shot of Rainforest, Light My Fire & Pass the Ganga

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 8:54 PM EDT

As Steve Allen said: Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth.
 
Round 1: The G-word punched through the media membrane this week. Geoengineering. Big word for the headlines. Uttered by none other than John Holdren, Obama's chief scientific adviser. He was referring to the possibility that we might be well advised to at least talk about some potential solutions to climate change that involve mitigating the shitstorm coming our way. You'd think he'd just come out in favor of pedophilia. Pour that man a drink. He's going to need one to deal with the hysteria of a misunderstanding media.

Round 2: An unusually uplifting paper at the online journal Plos One by topnotch researcher Stuart Pimm and colleagues concludes that rainforest reserves in the Amazon really are working. Fewer fires are being lit to clear trees inside then outside. They've been watching fires on what might as well be called SatellitEarthTV (can I trademark that?)—the ultimate reality show: namely, the European Space Agency's Ionia World Fire Atlas, mapping fires globally and monthly since 1996. Fewer fires are not always a result of fewer roads in the reserves, since there aren't, at least not always. The reason is partly because of a new generation of politicians in Amazona who foresee that avoiding deforestation will make money in future markets for carbon credits. I'll drink to that.

Round 3: Adding fuel to the fire is an analysis out of UC Berkeley of 10 years of satellite data on global fire activity, combined with a climate-projection model assuming little curtailment of current greenhouse gas emissions. The result: More than a quarter of the terrestrial world is likely to see relatively sharp changes in fire patterns in the next 30 years. That means more fires in some places (Scandinavia, western US, Tibetan Plateau). Less in others (southern US, central Africa, most of Canada). However less fire is not always good since all kinds of green growing plants that help mitigate CO2 need fire to germinate their seeds. Pour me another.

Round 4: It seems the cannabinoids in marijuana (THC) have anticancer effects on human brain cancer cells. This according to a new Spanish study. Tumors from two patients with the badassest form of brain cancer receiving intracranial THC administration showed signs of tumor death. Light one for the stoners.

Passion of the Twitter

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 6:59 PM EDT

Experience the power of God in real-time...on Twitter! To commemorate Jesus' crucifixion and death, Trinity Episcopal Church in Manhattan tweeted its three-hour reenactment of the Stations of the Cross today. Well-known twitterers included Jesus Christ, Mary Mother of Jesus, and Pontius Pilate. And in between their tweets, world-wide followers shared their thoughts. Here are some excerpts: 

Pontius Pilate: What harm has this man done? Why does the crowd cheer on his murder? I wash my hands of this. They can do what th...

jgderuvo: Guys, stay within the 140 character limit...it's truncating, ruining the effect!

JesusChrist: Let the sctriptures be fulfilled. It is as the prophets wrote. I am who you say I am.

romanguard1: I've got dibs on his robe, but if you guys want to cast lots for the rest of his clothes, I'm cool with that.

mrst72443: I am sure I am missing out on somethign here. I guess I do not understand this TWS thing. How and what do I DO???

JesusChrist: Forgive them, they know not what they do.

Will twittevangelism replace televangelism? Judging by today's tweeting it looks like St. Isidore of Seville, the sixth-century scholar who Pope John Paul named patron saint of the internet, is praying for the church to keep up with the times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who's Hating on Mrs. Obama's Garden?

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 5:50 PM EDT

Michelle Obama’s plan to plant a vegetable garden on the White House lawn is old news—everyone’s been bombarded with that adorable photo of schoolchildren tilling the south lawn with Mrs. O.—and no one seems to have much of a problem with it. Sure, it’s not the first White House garden. It’s mostly a PR stunt, a lovely vegetable patch that children can visit on field trips. Maybe some of them will plant a garden of their own, or visit a farmers' market, or just eat more fresh produce. What could be wrong with that?

A lot, according to the Mid America CropLife Association. The large agricultural association was so horrified by the idea of a vegetable garden that they wrote an open letter to Michelle Obama (Mrs. Barack Obama to be precise) and sent it to industrial farmers' advocacy groups. You can read the entire letter on the web, but here are a few choice excerpts: 

Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive...

If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?

There's a lot to be said for advancing beyond the hunter-gatherer phase of human existence, but I doubt a home vegetable garden is enough to disintegrate several thousand years of evolutionary progress. It gets even better: 

The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder.

Really, shudder? Organic produce may be over-hyped, but the real problem is that "organic" produce doesn't do enough to find a truly sustainable solution. The Mother Jones food issue presents a number of proposals for the future of agriculture, (check back later this week for a special forum!) none of which involve reverting back to our Homo erectus habits. Or hating on home gardens.

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California's Charitable E-Bingo Is E-Liminated

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 5:39 PM EDT

Californians can say goodbye to the electronic bingo machines (better known as e-bingo) in their charitable bingo halls thanks to a ban signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger that takes effect tomorrow. Turns out that bingo isn't just good old-fashioned fun anymore. Instead, it's at the center of a fight between nonprofits and Native American tribes who are all clamoring after bingo's big money.  

Federally recognized tribes will still get to operate the machines on their reservation land, but charities will have to shut theirs down. Despite a few upshots for charitable bingo operators in the new law, like an increase on prize caps from $250 to $500 for traditional bingo games, the e-bingo ban still puts them on the losing end because many have come to rely on the machines to keep their business afloat.

Gastrosexual Intercourse with Lynne Rossetto Kasper

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 4:53 PM EDT

The Splendid Table, NPR's signature cooking show, recently launched a Gastrosexual of the Month Contest. Gastrosexuals, we know (thanks Urban Dictionary), are foodies who use their culinary skills to impress friends and woo the opposite sex. Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of course, is the ultimate gastrosexual: that sultry voice, that Midwestern perkiness, all that experimentation with raddichio. Grrr, and winners get to join the original saucy dish on the air.

I'm sure gastrosexuals nationwide are now polishing their essays on the sexiest culinary tool and waxing poetic about variegated beets and double creme gouda. Yet, the phrase "gastrosexual" is more a clever marketing tool than trendy neologism. A pseudo-scentific paper entitled "The Emergence of the Gastrosexual," concludes that the newest forces in the culinary scene are men, ages 25-44, who cook with the hopes of getting frisky. The paper, written by the dubious sounding Future Foundation, was commissioned by a British food company called PurAsia.

A descendant of the metrosexual, gastrosexual falls victim to the adding-a-witty-prefix-to-sexual-to-describe-a-cultural-phemonmeon curse, pushing it into marketing ploy territory. Further Googling reveals the website gastrosexual.com, an elaborate ad for PurAsia, complete with an interactive quiz, with a focus on Asian cuisine, that purports to answer the question, "just how gastrosexual are you" before guiding users on "a journey of enlightenment into the cuisine of the East"—a journey outfitted, of course, with PurAsia products.

Private Medicare Insurers Pump Up Propaganda to Preserve Profits

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 3:40 PM EDT

Earlier this week, I wrote about the government’s long-overdue move to cut back  subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans, much to the chagrin of the insurance companies that have profited so handsomely from this setup. As reported by the Medicare Rights Center, these insurers are already threatening to pass on the cuts to the old and disabled people who subscribe to their private plans:

The lobbyists for the insurance companies say the subsidy cuts could mean sharp premium increases and reductions in the extra benefits provided to enrollees in these plans. It is up to the companies offering these plans to decide whether to pass through the subsidy reductions to plan members. There is another option, of course.
Insurance companies can become more efficient at providing services. Universal American, a company with over 240,000 Medicare Advantage enrollees, spent just over 83 percent of its premium income on medical services for its enrollees last year. The other 17 percent went toward administrative costs and agent commissions (13 percent) and profit (4 percent).
Original Medicare spends about 3 percent on administrative costs. It does not make a profit. If Universal American and the other insurance companies could reduce their administrative costs, or even their profits, then their plan members might see little, or no, premium increase or reduction in benefits. Such a strategy, of course, puts the interests of people with Medicare ahead of the financial well-being of shareholders and insurance agents, whom Universal American recently enlisted to fight the subsidy reductions.

Actually, Universal American is trying to enlist more than just insurance agents in the struggle to hold on to their sweet deal. It's trying to bring Medicare Advantage subscribers and other ordinary old people into the fray, through a PR initiative misleadingly named The Coalition for Medicare Choices.

Happy Days Are Here Again--Not

| Fri Apr. 10, 2009 3:30 PM EDT

After waiting about a year too long to admit that the country was actually in a recession, financial analysts are now rushing to declare it over—with the politicians and the press not far behind. In another example of the upbeat rhetoric I wrote about earlier this week, the Washington Post this morning suggested that some “tentative signs of strength” in the banking sector, along with small gains in the Dow, could offer ”at least some hope that the darkest days of the recession could be ending.”

To be fair, the Post also acknowledges that unemployment rates are still rising, and could pass 10 percent this year. But they give the final word to a Standard & Poors analyst who declares, in a triumph of Orwellian Newspeak, “Less weakness is the new strength.” (Many of these same “analysts,” of course, were the folks who told us that the bubble would never burst.)

As Obama huddles with his top economic advisors today, the administration is also promoting a sense of what Agence France Presse describes as ”shy optimism” about the economy. At an Economics Club luncheon yesterday, Lawrence Summers acknowledged that there were “still substantial downdrafts” in the economy–which is how he describes more than half a million Americans losing their jobs every month. “But you also have to see that there has been a substantial anecdotal flow in the last six to eight weeks of things that felt a little bit better,” he added.

There are plenty of others, however, who refuse to add their voices to this “anecdotal flow.”