Did Blackwater/Xe founder Erik Prince knock off informants working with federal authorities investigating the company? These eye-raising allegations, among others, are contained in the anonymous declarations of two individuals claiming to be ex-Blackwater employees, which were filed in federal court yesterday and first reported by the Nation's Jeremy Scahill. (Find their sworn statements here and here.) According to one of the former employees, John Doe No. 2, "...Based on information provided to me by former colleagues, it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct." (He doesn't, however, provide any information about who the targets of these alleged hits were.) Explaining why he must remain anonymous, John Doe No. 2 says that "on several occasions after my departure from Mr. Prince's employ, Mr. Prince's management has personally threatened me with death and violence." He also charges that Prince, a devout Catholic, "views himself a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe."

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."

Modern Cookery

Michael Pollan had a much-quoted piece in the New York Times magazine last week about the decline of actual cooking, the seemingly paradoxical surge in the popularity of TV cooking, and the evolution of what we eat.  Here's a piece:

After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything. As Laura Shapiro recounts in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America,” the food industry strived to “persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.”

So here's something I've been curious about for a while: most people seem to treat cooking as a binary thing.  Either you do it or you don't. But there's actually a broad range here, and I wonder how many people are more or less like me on the cooking continuum?  I don't eat prepared food because I don't like field rations no matter how brightly they're packaged.  On the other hand, neither do I cook — at least not in the conventional sense of hauling out a recipe and making something.  For example, if I'm on my own1 here's my recipe for making salmon:

1. Place a piece of salmon in a baking ban.

2. Put the baking pan in the oven.

3. Take it out after a while and eat it.

So is this cooking?  On the pro side: it's from scratch!  On the con side: it only has one ingredient.  (In the main dish, anyway.)  I don't have the skill or the desire to do much more, but even at that I prefer a simple, freshly baked piece of salmon to, say, Lean Cuisine's "wild salmon on a bed of whole wheat orzo pasta with yellow and orange carrots and spinach in a basil sauce."  And my dinner doesn't take any more time to prepare than theirs, either.

Pollan demonstrates some sensitivity toward this continuum when he talks about what really counts as cooking and what doesn't.  Here he is talking to food marketing researcher Harry Balzer:

Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty.

....I kept asking him what his research had to say about the prevalence of the activity I referred to as “real scratch cooking,” but he wouldn’t touch the term. Why? Apparently the activity has become so rarefied as to elude his tools of measurement.

“Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

So, returning to the excerpt that kicked off this post, here's the question: how many people are there who, like me, (a) resist eating processed food because it reminds them of field rations, but (b) can't really cook in the conventional sense and therefore just end up eating simple but freshly prepared dishes all the time?  Surely I'm not entirely alone in this, am I?

1As you might guess, this isn't very often.  Marian is quite a good cook and does most of the dinner preparation chez Drum.  It's a good thing, too.

Ageism in Hollywood is, groan, an age old problem. It's gotten a bit of attention in the last couple of days after the co-creator of HBO's Hung, Colette Burson, was quoted in the New York Times Magazine as saying:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Whoa! That's no way to treat the ladies. I ripped her. Jezebel ripped her. There was a Twitter storm. Upshot: Burson sought out blogger Melissa Silverstein of WomenandHollywood.com, who had interviewed her before, and gave a long impassioned clarification (you can read it and my original blog post here).

Jezebel, I think unfairly, chose to excerpt only the parts of the post which make Burson look like more of a jerk. And in so doing missed the juiciest part of what Burson had to say, namely how the all-powerful Creative Artists Agency (CAA) views actresses. Which is to say, useless unless young and famous (and in which order, unclear). In addition to repping the famous, agencies like CAA also represent work-a-day character actors. Unless they happen to be women over 40 who don't look like poster children for cosmetic surgery and extreme dieting. According to Burson:

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list. 

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no. [emph. mine] And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

Surprising that Jezebel didn't make hay of this part of Burson's comments, since unrealistic portrayals of women by the entertainment biz are the bread and butter of that blog (which I happen to love). Maybe another Gawker enterprise, Defamer, will get on it (oops, that's just an aggregator now).

And I still want to think what CAA client Oprah says about this.

Update: Upon further reflection, perhaps the real story is how Burson, having pissed off actresses/women everywhere, clarified by alienating Hollywood's most powerful agency. Guessing HBO will assign flack to shadow her henceforth.

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones and has fallen under the sway of Twitter's dark powers. You can read her tweets here.

After hearing the news that Bill Clinton had brokered the release of the two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea, I headed straight to the website of the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to see what the government had to say about the whole affair. Sadly, there's no story up yet about the journalists, although I did learn that Pyongyang University of Construction and Building-Materials Industry has recently developed a profitable stone-washing agent with efficiency of over 90 percent whose spent liquor does not hurt the environment.  The next most informative article—one that builds on a recent theme of fashion criticism emerging from the DPRK—was titled "President Wears Cotton-padded Winter-shoes in Summer." It's not so much a news story as it is an account of a touching shoe inspection performed in 1951 by former leader Kim Il Sung:

Really, Associated Press? From a story about stickers that are attached to "nuisance" houses in Narraganset, Rhode Island:

The police, meanwhile, have continued to distribute the stickers while the court case continues, including one last month for an underage keg party involving a game of "beer pong."

Does beer pong really require scare quotes? I asked our esteemed copy editor, Nicole McClelland. "Absolutely not," she says. "Beer pong is totally legit, and therefore needs neither quotes nor introduction. It's not in the dictionary yet, but soon, my friend, soon."

There you have it. Come on now, AP.

 

Bill Clinton worked his magic today and convinced North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il to agree to grant a "special pardon" for the two journalists arrested earlier this year by state police. According to the state-run KCNA news agency:

"Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it," the news agency reported. "Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view.

"The meetings had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."

This is certainly a good sign, but it's unlikely to mark a new era of cooperation between the United States and North Korea.

It should come as no surprise that Patri Friedman, son of anarcho-capitalist professor David Friedman, and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, is a guy who prides himself on having innovative and controversial ideas. The project he's been devoted to for the past year and a half is called the Seasteading Institute, a research center with a mission "to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous, ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems."

Where did the youngest Friedman get this idea? "I wanted to find other countries that I could possibly settle in," Friedman said. "After researching places that people have ex-patriated to like Costa Rica, I realized that no country is better than the USA. So I looked into the idea of forming new nations. The ocean is the best place to do this, because in the ocean you don't have to fight with others as you would have to on land." The Institute defines seasteading as creating "permanent dwellings on the ocean—homesteading the high seas."

Last year, women maimed by landmines around the world competed for the grand prize of an artificial limb in the Miss Landmine beauty pageant. But this year, the Cambodian government has ordered the organizers of the second annual Miss Landmine pageant "to stop activity immediately in order to keep the honour and dignity of handicapped Cambodians, especially women." 

The pageant's organizer is Norwegian artist/actor/director Morten Traavik. According to Traavik's website, the goals of the project include "female pride and empowerment," "disabled pride and empowerment," and "global and local landmine awareness and information."

Traavik told the Telegraph:
 
"Why this situation comes now and not before two years of good relations, I do not know," said Mr Traavik. "I have requested a meeting with [the social affairs minister Ith Sam Heng] as soon as possible to try to correct the misunderstanding."

Which, to be fair, seems a little disingenuous. I mean, yes, this appears to be a case of someone not understanding (or appreciating) the whole tongue-in-cheek nature of such an event. But presumably, part of the point of the loaded one-two punch of landmines and pageants was to make people a little uncomfortable, so Traavik had to have expected (and perhaps even wanted?) a reaction like this, no?

Hiroshima and Me

As another August 6th approaches, let me tell you a little story about Hiroshima and me:

As a young man, I was probably not completely atypical in having the Bomb (the 1950s was a great time for capitalizing what was important) on my brain, and not just while I was ducking under my school desk as sirens howled their nuclear warnings outside. Like many people my age, I dreamed about the bomb, too. I could, in those nightmares, feel its searing heat, watch a mushroom cloud rise on some distant horizon, or find myself in some devastated landscape I had never come close to experiencing (except perhaps in sci-fi novels).

Of course, my dreams were nothing compared to those of America's top strategists who, in secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, descended into the charnel house of future history, imagining life on this planet as an eternal potential holocaust. They wrote in those documents of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans and of an American "blow" that might result in the "complete destruction" of the Soviet Union.

How's this for a "green" idea: A New Mexico inventor has created a fuel made from Mountain Dew.

The GEET (Global Environmental Energy Technology) fuel processor is comprised of about 80 percent pop and 20 percent gas. It's been used in cars, tractors, and lawn mowers, and according to inventor Paul Patone, it generates nil pollution.

Watch how the caffeinated gizmo works below:

Any cool, eco-friendly ideas you've heard about recently? Post in the comments section.