Blogs

James Fallows Is Feeling Sprightly

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 11:36 AM EDT

Check out his shredding of David Brooks and the Brooks/Friedman cultural paintbrush. You know the one — it paints a mile wide.

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Private Contractors Have Banked $100 Billion Since Iraq Invasion

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 10:21 AM EDT

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release a report later today showing that the federal government has paid private contractors $100 billion since the 2003 Iraq invasion. The report will place "the first official price tag on contracting in Iraq and [raise] troubling questions about the degree to which the war has been privatized," according to the New York Times. Between 2003 and 2007, the U.S. government awarded $85 billion in contracts for services ranging from security to construction to food preparation to translation. At the current pace, contracts will exceed $100 billion by year's end, a figure that might be low, given the chaotic state of contracting during the Iraq War's early years. There are currently at least 180,000 contractors working in Iraq, far outnumbering U.S. troops in theater.

Video: Proposed Quantum of Solace Theme Song

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 10:21 PM EDT

Bruce Falconer has already noted the head-slapping meaninglessness of the new Bond film title, and it looks like somebody took his idea and ran with it. Via Cinematical, it's UK comedian Joe Cornish, who has put together a theme song he's offering to the producers of the upcoming Quantum of Solace, although they may be put off by the opening line's reference to star Daniel Craig's "great big man tits." Is that hyphenated? Best of all, it's in the style of David Bowie. Hilarious, although Cinematical points out the real QoS theme will be handled by Jack White and Alicia Keys, which could end up being even funnier.

Can Playing Pac-Man Save the Forests?

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 9:05 PM EDT

packman200.jpgIn another effort to attract attention to environmental issues through colorful, interactive cartoons (see The Meatrix), Dogwood Alliance—an organization dedicated to protecting US forests—has basically carbon-copied Pac-Man in a game to fight excessive packaging.

"Packaging Man" is basically Pac-Man with a few new graphics. Recycling symbols replace power pellets, Blinky and the gang are "corporate executives" intent on pilfering forests with phallic chainsaws, and the protagonist is not a yellow dot.

Though surely created with good intentions—US packaging waste weighs in at 80 million tons (.pdf) and is the largest source of municipal waste—the most creative part of the game is its intro, and who sits through those anyway?

Nonetheless, the "take action" link at the end is a little more rewarding than a perfect play, and it handily fills 20 minutes. Play here.

—Brittney Andres

Photo from dogwoodalliance.org

R.I.P. Isaac Hayes

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 7:02 PM EDT

mojo-photo-hayes.jpgSome commentators are saying it's a shame that young people know Isaac Hayes only as the voice of South Park's "Chef," but I don't know, at the very least it might be a way for Comedy Central-watching tweens to discover the soul legend. Hayes, who passed away yesterday in Memphis at the age of 65, was able to dabble in self-parody on South Park only because he had such a profound influence on music, almost single-handedly creating an entire genre of sexy, edgy funk. Entertainment Weekly's piece on Hayes rightly calls the theme from Shaft the "hippest track ever to win the Academy Award for best song," and NME points out the album was the first by a solo black artist to top both the R&B and pop charts. To date, it's estimated his music has been sampled in over 200 songs, by artists from Snoop Dogg to Portishead; blog Hip 2 Da Game has a partial listing. [Edit: The Fader's blog has a link to a mix from DJ Wonder including original Hayes material and tracks that sampled his work, check that out here]. I've included a few videos from artists who sampled Hayes and the source tracks after the jump.

Honestly, looking around for these YouTube links, I've had Hayes' music on all day, and I'm wondering why I haven't been listening to it all the time: the extended instrumental jams are groovy and hypnotic, incredibly forward-looking. "Look of Love," after its long central instrumental section, breaks down to a beautiful flute solo, and finally features Hayes singing "don't go" under a majestic echo, his voice seeming to move off to a great distance, until it finally disappears.

Segments of Olympics Opening Ceremony "Faked"?

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 6:06 PM EDT

mojo-photo-olympics.jpgSorry, the incredibly awkward shots of President Bush getting to his seat were all too real. However, it turns out that a climactic moment of the elaborate, 15,000-person-employing Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on Friday was a clever bit of CGI. The jaw-dropping shot of sequentially-launched fireworks in the shape of footsteps heading towards the "bird's nest" stadium was "a 3-D graphics sequence that took almost a year to produce," conceived as an antidote to the smoggy skies which would have obscured actual footage. Not to act all smart or anything, but while watching the ceremony I noticed that not only did that segment have the slightly-hyperreal look of a Pixar film, but also, who could be filming it? Apparently that was also a concern: the Olympic committee was worried about the safety of a helicopter pilot who would have been forced to follow the route of the fireworks.

Various news organizations are reporting the footage was "faked," although that seems a little harsh, since the committee came clean rather quickly. The segment in question was just so well done (and perfectly timed) that most people were taken in, and from what I can tell, they actually did launch those foot-shaped fireworks, so the CGI bit was more like a diagram of something really happening, which seems less sinful, somehow.

After the jump: but I thought I was immune to Olympics Fever!!

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Speedo's $600 Swimsuits: Made in America, Bought by China

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 3:25 PM EDT

lzr-in-water-200-140.jpgBy now, nearly everyone's heard about Michael Phelps's Olympic medal quest. But for those of us who have watched the swimming competitions thus far, there's one competitor you just can't ignore: those black and gray, space-age looking suits that nearly every athlete is wearing.

The wetsuit-style Speedo LZR Racer (here's a pic) is one reason world records continue to be broken in swimming. The science behind the suit includes "ultrasonically welded" seams and panels of drag-reducing fabric tested by NASA. But the main benefit of the suit is how it fits: tightly. So tightly that it acts as a sort of corset, helping swimmers maintain an aqua-dynamic form and supporting abdominal muscles when they tire at the end of the race. Since the suit was introduced in February of 2008, more than 50 world records have been broken by athletes wearing it. American swimmer Ryan Lochte, who won a bronze this week in the individual medley, said wearing the suit makes it feel like you're "swimming downhill." Even Chinese athletes cannot resist the American-made suit, though they covered the Speedo logo with duct tape.

This is NOT What They Mean When They Say "Message Discipline"

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 2:53 PM EDT

russ_feingold.jpg I lament the fact that YouTube, cable news, and the blogs have put the fear of god in politicians and keep them from saying anything interesting. And I respect Russ Feingold's right to say his piece about a man he clearly respects.

But jeez...

"I think [McCain] calls 'em as he sees 'em, and as president would call 'em as he sees 'em, and would make people mad all over the place because it wouldn't fit anybody's playbook," said Feingold, who teamed up with McCain to rewrite federal campaign laws....
"They both have the intellectual ability and the maturity to form judgments about important policy issues. I'd feel comfortable with both of them in there as president," Feingold said. "They are not people who are just preening for the cameras. They're both celebrities. (But) they're the rare breed: celebrities who are actually interested in getting things done."

Die Hard Clintonites Plan Trouble for Dem Convention

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

I'll be the first admit I don't know how much of a threat this is to Obama.

Frustrated supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are planning multiple rallies at the Democratic convention in Denver, coupled with television and print advertisements....
The Denver Group, formed a couple of months ago by two Clinton backers, says it has filmed a television commercial and is looking to air it soon....Meanwhile, another pro-Clinton group called "18 Million Voices" is organizing a march on Aug. 26 in Denver "and nationwide to support Sen. Clinton and advocate for women's rights worldwide."

Wolfson: Delayed Revelation of Edwards Affair Cost Clinton the Nomination

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

I'm intrigued but unconvinced.

Late update: Overheard this observation about Wolfson. The poor guy carries the burden of knowing exactly what would have happened if things had been different, without having the commensurate ability to have predicted what actually did happen.