Blogs

Is Weeds Secretly Being Directed by Lars von Trier?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 3:49 PM EDT

mojo-photo-weeds-dancer.jpgDanish director Lars von Trier is nothing if not a rabble-rouser. His best-known films, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville have inspired both critical praise and accusations of sadistic misogyny; in each, the female central character suffers brutally, as events seemingly conspire against her, agonizing twist after sickening injustice. After watching the latest episode of Showtime's Weeds, another half hour in which every possible thing goes wrong for our noble heroine, I wondered: is von Trier secretly manning the cameras?

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John McCain's Looming Seniors Problem

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

ss_disgrace.jpg Social Security was not a battle John McCain wanted to fight. The Arizona Senator has avoided putting out a concrete plan on Social Security (his website, for example, doesn't have a section on the issue), and he has been less than exact in his public comments on the subject throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately for him, his flub last week in which he described the basic funding mechanism of Social Security as a "disgrace" — "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today, and that's a disgrace, it's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed" — has given labor unions and seniors' groups, in conjunction with the Democratic Party, the opportunity to highlight McCain's past support for President Bush's highly unpopular plan to privatize Social Security.

On a conference call with reporters today, a coalition of groups similar to the one that fought Bush's privatization initiative in 2005 announced that they would mobilize their supporters and members in the hopes of informing voters nationwide of the fact that, as AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee put it, John McCain wants to "gamble with Social Security." In addition to an online campaign, they plan to have volunteers protest McCain events in the near future. Many will be holding yellow signs provided by the DNC that say "Hands Off My Social Security" on one side and "My Social Security Is Not a Disgrace" on the other. According to a spokesman for the coalition, they will be "heavily incorporating the anti-privatization message on the road at each of the nearly 150 stops on the Bush Legacy Tour." The DNC has made a video highlighting McCain's record on Social Security to accompany the campaign.

McCain opened himself up to these attacks by refusing to take a firm position on the issue. In fact, Social Security appears to be one of an increasing number of issues where McCain has multiple positions at the same time.

Lieberman: Trading Facts for Fear To Help McCain

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Lieberman went on Fox News (where else?) to blast Barack Obama for sticking to what Lieberman called a policy of surrender in Iraq. And he slammed the presumptive Democratic nominee for his upcoming trip to Iraq:

He's already decided his position. He's not going to listen to Petraeus. He's not going to listen to our troops. He's not going to listen to his own eyes with what he sees there. I think that's not the kind of leadership we need in the Oval Office.

Listen to his own eyes? It's as if Lieberman was channeling George W. Bush. But put that aside. Lieberman was trotting out again his I-know-Iraq-best stance, as he continues to be a leading surrogate for John McCain on the war and terrorism. But why should Lieberman have any standing on these matters? He can be as uninformed about national security as McCain (who several times confused Shia and Sunni). Two weeks ago, Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation and said,

But we need a president who's ready to be commander in chief on day one. Senator McCain is....Why? Because our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration. Nine-eleven happened in the first year of the Bush administration. John McCain is ready to take the reins on January 20th, 2009. He doesn't need any training.

Was Lieberman right in his history? Do the evildoers really mount terrorist operations to test new presidents early in their terms? I put this question to Peter Bergen, a journalist who is an expert on al Qaeda and terrorism. (He's written two good books on al Qaeda.) Bergen replies:

What's Next for Gitmo?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 1:17 PM EDT

Now that detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right of habeas corpus, members of one congressional body are asking, how will that work?

While the Supreme Court, with its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, granted prisoners held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo the right to their day in court, many questions remain unanswered—including whether the Boumediene decision applies to "enemy combatant" prisoners held by the US in facilities other than the famed prison camp in Cuba. On Monday, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an entity of Congress also known as the Helsinki Commission, asked the guidance of three experts in a packed hearing room. (Though officials from the departments of justice, defense, and state were invited to testify, none attended.)

African-Americans Genetically Prone to HIV, AIDS

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 12:53 PM EDT

New research shows that Africans and African-Americans bear a gene variant that helps protect them from malaria, but also makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection. The variant increases susceptability to HIV by 40 percent, says the San Francisco Chronicle.

The genetic trait is found in 90 percent of Africans and 60 percent of African-Americans. Thus far, it has protected against malaria by disabling a protein that some strains of malaria use to enter red blood cells. However, that same protein that's disabled in Africans to prevent malaria can actually protect against HIV by soaking up virus cells before they can invade white blood cells. With this sponge-like protein disabled, Africans lose a key pre-infection barrier.

This finding helps explain, in part, the high HIV infection rates among Sub-Saharan Africans and Americans of African descent. On the flipside, there is a genetic variant among people of Northern European heritage that actually makes them immune to HIV infection. Scientists think the mutation was passed down by ancestors who survived the Black Plague. In one test, a man's blood was exposed to 3,000 times the amount of HIV needed to infect a cell, but infection still didn't occur. The HIV virus simply had no gateway of entry.

Both the European and African genetic traits are currently being studied to see if they can shed light on a cure to HIV.

The Last Thing to Bear Jesse Helms's Name

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 10:46 AM EDT

Maybe Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has a really wicked sense of humor.

How else do you explain her current attempt to rename an appropriations bill intended to provide assistance to foreign countries combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases after recently deceased Senator Jesse Helms?

Helms was a throwback to the period when bigots could serve openly and proudly in the U.S. Senate. He fought funding for AIDS research, saying, "The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct." At a different time, he contextualized his comments by saying, "Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle." He once said that AIDS prevention literature was "so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up."

Those his position on AIDS in Africa would soften over time, he remained a steadfast opponent of progress in the States. The man didn't mince words, and wasn't ashamed of his positions. "The Bible is unmistakably instructive on the sin of sodomy," he said in the mid-90s. "I confess I regard it as an abomination." He once admitted he voted against a Clinton appointee "because she's a damn lesbian."

And now an AIDS bill may carry his name. That's either an incredibly vicious way of marring the bill and insulting AIDS victims, or its an incredibly savvy way of tarnishing Helms's legacy. Which do you think it is?

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US Mediator Will Attend International Talks with Iran

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 9:09 PM EDT

In an historic development, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns will attend international talks with Iran on its nuclear program, to take place this weekend in Geneva. The Washington Post reports:

In a significant departure from longstanding policy, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns will join a scheduled meeting in Geneva between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to a senior State Department official.
Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians nor hold separate meetings, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Instead, he will advance the White House's position that serious negotiations can only begin after Iran suspends its enrichment of uranium. [...]
The U.S. official said Burns would not participate in any further discussions during the freeze-for-freeze period. "This is a one-time deal," he said.

"European officials hailed the news that Burns would come to Geneva as a breakthrough, one that sends a clear message to Iran that the international community was interested in negotiating a solution to the nuclear impasse," the Post further reports. Said one European official cited by the paper, "It is a very interesting and important sign by the United States." The pro-engagement National Iranian American Council also welcomed the move.

With a lot of recent Iranian noises in different directions, some indicating they are considering going for a "freeze for freeze" offer -- in which Iran would freeze further installations on its nuclear enrichment program (but not suspend enrichment) and the UN would freeze further sanctions for a six week "pre-negotiations" period -- Burns' forthcoming presence in Geneva signals to Iran that Washington would actually support such a deal. It would also seem to signify that for now anyhow, Bush continues to entrust the major thrust of his administration's second term Iran policy to its relatively more pragmatic wing, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

If Iran and the internationals, joined by the US, are even able to get to the "freeze for freeze" six week prenegotiation period, how will Washington proceed if Iran demands some face-saving way around a total halt to uranium enrichment activities? Former US diplomat Thomas Pickering and colleagues have a proposal.

The Cutest Rehab

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 8:53 PM EDT

This video is funny and sweet. It restores my faith in human beings. Even Amy Winehouse would love it. Maybe.

Produced by Bluevoice, it shows a bunch of volunteers from Orca, a Peruvian nonprofit, as they rescue and rehabilitate sea lion and fur seal pups orphaned by fishing nets and disease.

Part of the rehab involves the volunteers releasing their inner sea lions. You know, barking, socializing, and climbing all over each other, just like pinnipeds do.

The heroic part: these volunteers work in the seriously cold waters of the Peru Current. They have no money for wetsuits and tough it out for hours in soggy jeans.

Bluevoice is trying to raise the money to test tissue samples and figure out why all the seal mothers are dying.

(First seen on my secret addiction, the antidote to bad news, CuteOverload.)

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

Dead Zone Overkill

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 7:08 PM EDT

070717_mississippi_hmed_7a.h2.jpg

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is set to bust all its own records. Forecasts suggest this super-duper-unproductive ocean zone will reach 8,800 square miles this summer. That's the size of New Jersey.

Last year it reached 7,903 square miles. The earlier record was 8,481 square miles in 2002.

Notice a trend?

Notice the Bizarre-New-Age-of-Abysmal-Record-Everythings we've entered?

For those of you who've been asleep during the Bush-van-Winkle years, here's the primer. A dead zone forms when fertilizers wash from farms via rivers to fertilize the sea.

There are other reasons too. Including whatever nutrients you add to your lawn. Don't even get me started on golf courses.

So this year's climate-change-induced record floods on the Mississippi River do a lot more damage than to Midwestern croplands.

That's because the ocean doesn't like a lot of fertilizer. It makes too many plants grow. Those plants die and feed too many decomposers who use up all the oxygen in the water. Everything suffocates.

Dead zone. Coming soon to a seashore near you.

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

Do GLAAD Network Ratings Matter?

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

mojo-photo-gaynetworks.jpgThe Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation just released its annual "Network Responsibility Index," an exhaustive look at television programming that counts the percentage of a network's shows that feature LGBT people or characters. Once again, ABC was the queer juggernaut, so to speak, with gay-inclusive fare like Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty adding up to a whopping 24 percent of the network's prime time. The CW made it to 21 percent on the strength (?) of America's Next Top Model, and below that, things take a turn for the pathetic. Queers show up on CBS 9 percent of the time, on 6 percent of NBC's shows, and just 4 percent of whatever Fox does. Cable did a little bit better, as an FX viewer runs the risk of spotting a homophile 45 percent of the time, with HBO and Showtime just behind. A&E, Spike, TBS, TNT, USA all received grades of "Failing." Bravo doesn't seem to have been ranked, I'm assuming because it would have completely thrown off the grading curve: I'm sorry all other netverks, you are AOUUT, auf Wiedersehen.