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LOST: Last Pre-Strike Episode Not So Striking

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 8:00 PM EDT

kevin-johnson.jpg

Last night's episode of LOST was the last we'll see until April 24. And it was the last written before the infamous strike. Will there be a difference between pre-and post-strike shows? We can only hope so, as the "Meet Kevin Johnson" episode yesterday felt rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.

The episode takes place almost entirely in flashbacks, a trademark of the series. The flashbacks, which reveal critical stories from characters' pasts, have been an easy way for viewers to learn more about characters and their motivations in the present. But some episodes, like last nights', seem to be nearly entirely flash-backs, making it feel contrived and hard to jump back into the present and still remember what's happening. Combine it with the innovative use flash-forwards (which happened in last week's show) and you've got a recipe for confusion in an already complex TV series. Some TV shows and movies (Tarantino's Kill Bill and his inspiration Kung Fu) do flashbacks seamlessly. But it seems to me, when flashbacks start to take up more than 70 percent of an episode, you're asking for trouble.

In last night's flashback, I mean episode, the story of Oceanic flight 815 survivor Michael (aka Kevin Johnson) was interesting, since he was the first Lostie to make it off the island. But it wasn't nearly as fascinating as another character's glossed-over revelation that the alleged remains of Flight 815 found at the bottom of the ocean, were, in fact, planted. But by whom is still a mystery: Bad guy Ben's henchmen say it's industrialist Charles Widmore.

But would Widmore really put his company's real name on a purchase order to buy the same model of plane that crashed? And could a Boeing 777 commercial airliner really cost only $450, as the receipt indicates? To me, that enters the realm of fantasy more than the idea that busy businessman Widmore took 300+ bodies from a Thai cemetery, put them in a plane, and shoved them into the ocean, all so he could hide an island with special powers from the rest of the world.

Another unsatisfying detail of last night's installment was the perfunctory shooting of Danielle, mother of bad guy Ben's daughter, and Karl, boyfriend of said daughter, just before the episode ended. One can only hope the April post-strike episodes will be a bit tidier, since writers got some, er, rest during the five-months they weren't working.

Photo courtesy ABC

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Bush & Company Choke on Clean Air

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 7:37 PM EDT

ISS014-E-7738.jpg The EPA said last week it would improve air quality by cutting ground-level ozone limits from 80 parts per billion to 75 ppb. This should save thousands of lives a year. Sounds good? Well, according to New Scientist, the EPA's own scientific advisers told the agency last year of overwhelming evidence that an even tighter limit of 70 ppb would save thousands more lives. No go, said the EPA, apparently deciding those other thousands of lives are inconsequential.

Now the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says the Bush administration wants to overhaul the whole process of setting air-quality controls by allowing political appointees to help draft advisory reports, taking the job away, at least in part, from researchers. New Scientist reports the words of Tim Donaghy of the UCS: "The administration has changed the rules along the way so that when the next administration gets into office, the role science plays in setting regulations will be greatly diminished."

This, by the way, dovetails with a call last month by the UCS for the next president and Congress to end political interference in science and establish conditions allowing federal science to flourish. "Good federal policy depends upon reliable and robust scientific work," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at UCS. "When science is falsified, fabricated or censored, Americans' health and safety suffer."

MoJo Staff Picks: March 21

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 7:20 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x200.jpgThe "staff picks" shelf at the record store sucks me in every time. My rationalization: These folks work at a record store, so they must know what they're talking about. Right? Well, we work at a magazine, so, uh...anyway, a few of us here at MoJo decided to compile our own favorites-of-the-moment list. Like it? Super. Hate it? Tell us something better to listen to. Especially if you happen to work at a record store.

We think our picks this week are worth a listen or two. But as LeVar Burton would say, you don't have to take our word for it:

1. "Along the Way," DeVotchKa: Gary saw DeVotchKa perform this song in Austin last week at SXSW, and it's been stuck in his head ever since. Old-world gypsy folk that's pretty and sad at the same time.

2. "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks," Los Campesinos!:
Welsh indie pop band with names almost as twee as their music: Neil, Ellen, Ollie, Tom, Gareth, Harriet, and Aleks.

3. "Organism," Tommy Guerrero: At a recent live performance in San Francisco, Guerrero and his band drove through songs like this with scary precision. Hip-hop beats + thick, reggae bass lines + funky guitar = Tommy Guerrero.

4. "Zhong Nan Hai," Carsick Cars: We hear tinges of Mission of Burma and the mighty Joy Division in this Beijing band's sound. What do you hear?

Black Intelligentsia: Holla If You Hear Obama

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 4:12 PM EDT

The ball is now in America's court. How will the country rise to Obama's challenge? Can we agree to engage each other respectfully, stand our ground only after careful consideration, and just plain fight fair? Will both sides (yes, there are many more than two but you can't do everything in one post) enter the fray knowing that others have a right to disagree and be proved wrong, if they are indeed wrong? So far, not so much. But a nation doesn't transcend race in a day.

Odd how comedians are free thinking and brave enough to confront serious issues, albeit while sporting a Steve Martinesque arrow-through-the-head get-up. So far, the white boys at the Daily Show (with an assist from its Senior Black Correspondent, Larry Wilmore) win. Granted, the Jew and the black guy overcame their angry stalemate by agreeing, in the end, to dog the white guy, but hey. It's a start. Even sadder? Confederate flag-pandering, non-evolution-believing, bring-the-Constitution-in-line-with-the-Bible Mike Huckabee is displaying more wisdom and humanity than most in what we're hearing so far.

Come on, white folks. You can do better than this: "I don't want to hear that [blacks] are blaming [whites] for [Wright] saying this"? "...they are perpetual victims and they enjoy the victim status and, by proxy, me as a white person is their victimizer. And as long as we perpetuate these divisions, we will never heal." Y'all were saying that five minutes after Lee bolted from Appomattox. There was another quote from Pennsylvania I can't find now about how blacks should be talking about the present (where things must be great for them) and not what happened 100 years ago (which must have no bearing on present racial ills. But then: see above. There are no racial ills, only an enjoyable victimology because it simply cannot be that I, a beer drinking, laid off Joe, benefit from racism or outrank anybody). Man, it must be exhausting thinking in circles like that, desperate circles that lead ever farther away from you.

But no more exhausting that the lengths blacks continue to go to to evade reconsidering their own sacred cows. So far, they aren't exactly bringing on the deep thinking either: the whites I'm dogging are refusing to admit there is racism now, or any lingering effects from past racism. The blacks I'm after are refusing to admit that, as long as racism exists, we can behave however we choose, especially intellectually. Whatever whites criticize must be defended. I know it hurts, black people. Weirdly, I've experienced more life-affecting racism in the last few years since I've been a big ol' success than I ever did as the ghetto-girl daughter of Jim Crow sharecroppers desperate to move on up. And don't even get me started on gender. Still, that makes a rigorous intellectual and moral focus more important than ever. The 70s are over. Drop the bull horns, and for the love of God stop invoking COINTELPRO (no one's bugging your tired old Third World Students Association meeting) and put your own arguments to the test before convening another kente-cloth laden panel discussion on Tuskegee.


Obama and Clinton Camps Spar Over Trust, MI/FL Situation

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

Sometimes it feels like both campaigns have an endless supply of spin. On a conference call today with reporters, Obama campaign aides pushed a new Gallup polls that shows just 53 percent of Americans think Hillary Clinton is trustworthy. "To head into the general election with over half the electorate not thinking you're trustworthy is a problem," said Obama's surrogates. The campaign insisted that Clinton's campaign tactics only bolster her perceived distrustfulness. They cited her newly released First Lady schedules as evidence: The schedules show Clinton in meetings intended to sell NAFTA, seemingly contradicting current claims that she is a long-time opponent of the trade agreement.

The Clinton campaign had its own conference call a few minutes later and had responses ready. "The Obama campaign is in political hot water," said spokesman Phil Singer, referencing the ongoing controversy over Rev. Wright's sermons, "and is desperate to change the subject." The discussion about trustworthiness and the First Lady schedules is a "full assault on Senator Clinton's character," the Clinton campaign insisted. It pointed to the fact that David Gergen, who moderated one of the NAFTA meetings then-First Lady Clinton attended, has said recently "Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA. And I think that's putting it mildly." In response to the Gallup poll, chief strategist Mark Penn took care to point out that in poll after poll, Hillary Clinton is identified as the best potential commander-in-chief in the Democratic field. Clearly voters have some kind of trust in her, Penn argued.

And then there is the issue of Michigan and Florida.

Inflation "Walloping" Everyday Americans

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 2:44 PM EDT

For those of you who don't get the WaPo delivered every day and didn't see this morning's front page:

Inflation is walloping Americans with low and moderate incomes as the prices of staples have soared far faster than those of luxuries.

Check it out, after the jump...

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Christian Right Group: "Export Homosexuals"

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

The Uniting American Families Act would allow gay Americans the same right straight Americans have to sponsor a foreign partner for citizenship. The status quo, supporters argue, forces same-sex couples to leave the United States in favor of more gay-friendly countries. The right-wing Christian group Family Research Council has no problem with that. The thoughts of Peter Sprigg, FRC's Vice President for Policy:

"I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society."

You stay classy, Christian Right. (H/T Andrew Sullivan)

The Waxman Takes Action in Obama-State Dept. Flap

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:19 PM EDT

Three State Department contractors have been punished for improperly accessing Barack Obama's passport and other files in what State is calling acts of "imprudent curiosity." Congressman/bulldog Henry Waxman wants to make sure there isn't something more sinister going on. He wants to know exactly who these contractors were working for. Here's his letter to Secretary Rice:

Dear Madam Secretary:
Yesterday, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, confirmed that three contract employees working for two State Department contractors gained unauthorized access to the passport records of Senator Barack Obama. When Ambassador Kennedy was asked for the identities of the contract employees and the companies, however, he declined to provide them:
Question: Are you releasing the names of any of these three contractors or the companies for which they were contracting on behalf of the State Department?
Ambassador Kennedy: In a word, no.
I am writing to request that you provide the Oversight Committee by Monday with the identities of the companies involved in these breaches. I also believe this information should be made publicly available.

Obama Camp Goes Too Far To Claim Clinton = McCain

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

In Barack Obama's latest email pitch for donations, his campaign manager, David Plouffe, writes:

Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy.
They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act.
And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working....
Barack is facing a two-front battle against Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Plouffe is trying to hit Clinton (and McCain) from both the left and the right (or the dovish and hawkish sides) simultaneously. But he stepped over the line regarding the former.

On the first point, Plouffe is referring to the criticism Obama drew when he suggested he would, as president, strike unilaterally against al Qaeda in Pakistan if he possessed solid intelligence and if the Pakistani government did not act. With this claim, he was obviously trying to show that he could be damn tough--even cowboy tough--when it comes to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Critics blasted him for recklessness, but it turns out that the Bush administration has mounted these sorts of attacks to take out al Qaeda leaders.

On the second point--that Clinton has "mistakenly" stood behind Bush's "policy of non-engagement"--Plouffe is stretching the facts. Clinton did jump on Obama when Obama vowed at the CNN/YouTube debate that he would meet with the thug-leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Cuba in his first year as president. But as Clinton has repeatedly said, refusing to promise meetings with these leaders in the first year of a presidency is hardly equivalent to a policy of non-engagement. She has repeatedly slammed Bush's unilateralism and called for a vigorous revival of American diplomacy and multilateralism.

Plouffe wants to lump Clinton and McCain together to show that Obama is the candidate of change taking on two candidates of Washington conventionalism. Obama does have a case in this regard. (Both Clinton and McCain share responsibility for the Iraq war.) But this argument does not extend to Clinton endorsing Bush go-it-alone-ism. Given that the Obama campaign often complains (justifiably) about the Clinton camp's truth-twisting oppo research, Plouffe ought to be more careful.

Richardson Decides

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 10:51 AM EDT

Bill Richardson is endorsing Barack Obama. His motivation may have been this charming little anecdote, it may have been a true affection for Obama (Richardson was reportedly very impressed by BHO's speech on race), or it may have just been an acknowledgment that the electoral math is so heavily in Obama's favor that it is time for the Democrats to move on to the general. Supporting that final theory is something Richardson wrote in an email to supporters. It is time, he said, "for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall."

As the nation's only Hispanic governor, Richardson could have been a big help to Obama in Southwestern states. Problem is, there are none left on the primary calender. The closest thing is Oregon, which is where Richardson endorsed Obama today.

In fact, John Murtha's endorsement of Hillary Clinton from earlier this week probably means more. Murtha is a long-time Pennsylvania congressman with a specialization in national security, one of the campaign's current hot-button issues. If voters in the upcoming Keystone Primary are going to be swayed by anyone, it's Murtha.

That said, it's possible that both endorsements are irrelevant. I've argued as much in the past.