Blogs

Red Storm Rising: Russian Fleet Resumes Regular Patrols

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 10:18 AM EST

Dust off your old Tom Clancy novels. The Red menace has returned. Well, not really, but it's certainly giving it the old college try. Earlier this year, apparently emboldened by oil and gas profits, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the resumption of long-range flights by Russia's mothballed fleet of strategic bombers. The news today is that the Russian Navy has dispatched an 11-ship aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean. According to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly E. Serdyukov, the move is part of an effort to restore regular Russian naval patrols to the high seas, which had fallen off after the end of the Cold War. The fleet currently in the Mediterranean includes an aircraft carrier, two anti-submarine ships, a guided missile cruiser, and refueling ships.

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Banning Harry Potter Is Just SO 20th Century

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 11:15 PM EST

Now that the Harry Potter books, films, water globes, watches and tote bags are an established part of western culture, banning The Golden Compass is about to be all the rage. The film, which stars Nicole Kidman, is based on the novel, Northern Lights, the first of British author Phillip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials . It tells the story of an orphaned girl who lives in a parallel universe that is threatened by a rigid dictatorship called the Magisterium.

Calling the film "atheism for kids," the Catholic League has strongly suggested that Northern Lights and the rest of the trilogy be removed from schools and libraries. Most descriptions of the film indicate that the author's stance against organized religion, and the Catholic church in particular, has been significantly diluted in the film version, but the banning has already begun. Catholic League William A. Donohue say he is aware that the film is tame by the book's standards, but he is afraid that children who see the film will want to read the novel.

Pullman, for his part, disagrees that The Golden Compass is anti-Catholic, though he acknowledges that atheism is a theme in the film. The American Library Association has issued a statement that calls on parents, teachers and librarians to resist any attempts to censor library collections.

And in a parallel universe where children are discouraged from reading books, several schools have already removed Pullman's works from the shelves.

The Golden Compass opens in theaters this Friday.

Iraqi View of Surge's "Success"

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 8:27 PM EST

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In a recent post on Last of Iraqis, one of the few Iraqi English-language blogs still up and running, blogger Mohammed offers a new perspective on what the U.S. has called success in Iraq. After a November 25th bombing near the ministry of health left his good friend's mom in critical condition, the 25-year-old dentist said he suspected the relative calm of the last couple of weeks didn't mean the insurgents were gone—just that they were pausing to regroup. He wrote, "It seems that the terrorists from all sides were just planning what to do next, they were planning how to overcome the current changes."

With another deadly blast hitting Baghdad today, Mohammed's view of recent developments seems far more accurate than the mainstream American media's. The violence has always been cyclical, and there's no reason to believe things are any different this time around.

Throughout the war, undiluted blogging from Iraqis on the ground has kept American news outlets in check. The BBC has done a roundup of these posts from civilians inside the country every couple of months since January of this year.

—Andre Sternberg

Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:55 PM EST

No one can say for sure, but rumor has it that director Morgan Spurlock, of McMadness fame, has located the elusive al Qaeda leader. Read more over at The Riff.

—Casey Miner

Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:50 PM EST

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It's still only a rumor, but word is that the payoff of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, is, well, Osama Bin Laden. Alt-film blog SlashFilm reports that in February, the Weinstein Co. bought the film after seeing only 15 minutes of footage, quoting the film's director of photography as saying that Spurlock "definitely got the holy grail."

While I find it hard to believe that the irreverent Spurlock actually located, spoke with, or filmed Bin Laden, I'm a little worried about his fate if he did. Our government doesn't take kindly to embarrassment, and if he got anywhere near Bin Laden, Spurlock's contact list alone is probably enough to earn him a visit from Homeland Security. Hopefully, though, when it premieres next year at Sundance this film will do what Sicko did for the healthcare debate and help us shift our energies towards where they're really needed.

—Casey Miner


Mitt Romney, You're No Jack Kennedy

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:32 PM EST

George Packer on why Mitt Romney's upcoming "Mormon speech" should not be compared to JFK's famous 1960 "Catholic speech":

Romney's intention is the exact opposite of Kennedy's. He's caught in a trap of his own and his party's making. Romney can't raise the shield of secularism, as Kennedy did, because he is seeking the nomination of a sectarian party that's built on a religious test. He can't stand on any principle at all, secular or religious; instead, he has to win over the Christianists, who make up a large part of the Republican base, even though he belongs to a faith that most of them consider un-Christian. His eternal truth will be: "Hey, we're not that different." He parades his large and perfect family, he reminds us of his spotless personal life, he is dismissive of the possibility of appointing a Muslim Cabinet member, all to immunize himself against the religious bigotry of the voters he's wooing. He's going to do the same thing on Thursday. So no more comparisons with Kennedy, please.

Read the rest here.

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Government Can't Get Its Story Straight On Iran NIE

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:23 PM EST

George Bush, yesterday:

DAVID GREGORY: When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: ...I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze...it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claimed much the same thing on Monday:

[W]hen the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we'll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically -- as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.

As implausible as this seems, the Los Angeles Times reports that, according to "U.S. intelligence officials," Bush was telling the truth:

Party With Saddam

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:15 PM EST

Fishbone, a ska/funk/metal/rock band that formed in 1979 and has continued to tour and release albums ever since, has a song from their newest CD, Still Stuck in Your Throat, called "Party With Saddam" that is arguably the cheeriest, most hopeful, and most danceable song I've heard about the former Iraqi president.

The song is a standard ska romp, and it's catchy chorus goes like this: "We won't see the end / If we party till our colors blend / Party till Saddam's your friend / Never drop a bomb again / All right / We can break the chains / If we party like our blood's the same / Party till we lose our aim / Never shoot a gun again." The song was actually released in Europe in August '06, but after Saddam's death last December, the band has since been inviteded to talk about/perform the song (a crowd favorite) on radio stations. Here's one acoustic performance:

Fishbone's been around for decades (I've seen them live a dozen times), and despite having only two original members, they keep making socially-conscious, energetic, up-tempo music that most of their musical peers probably can't—or just don't want to—keep up with anymore.

Lefty Think Tank Sells Itself on eBay

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:02 PM EST

I've never even sold so much as a lamp on eBay, but the owners of a Bay Area think tank are taking the idea of peddling wares online to a whole new level: They're selling the whole damn tank. Their ad reads: "Own This Think Tank: BACVR for Sale on eBay - Perfect Holiday Gift for Political Junkies."

Allegedly the first to do so (eBay did not return my call or email), the Bay Area Center for Voting Research (BACVR) has garnered a few bids, one at approximately $5,100, according to co-founder Jason Alderman.

"You don't need to be an Ivy League professor or a former administration official to run a think tank. There's an enormous number of smart Americans out there that can do this, and this is a great way to solicit their help," Alderman told me at the end of last week.

Can Fringe Anti-Mormon Fundamentalists Bring Down Romney?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 5:57 PM EST

Don't ask me why, but I'm on the email list of several extreme Christian fundamentalist groups. And lately I've received a couple of warnings from them: watch out for Mitt Romney. He's a Mormon.

On Thursday, Romney is scheduled to give (finally) what's being called his "Mormon Speech." Romney recently said, "I can tell you I'm not going to be talking so much about my faith as I am talking about the religious heritage of our country and the role in which it played in the founding of the nation and the role which I think religion should generally play today in our society."

No one really wants to hear Romney expound on the history of religion in the United States. The issue is whether he can persuade conservative conventional Christians that he, as a Mormon, is as good a Christian as they (and Mike Huckabee) are. Why is he delivering such a speech just weeks before the Iowa caucus? Obviously he and his advisers have decided he has no choice, especially with Huckabee, the former Baptist minister, surging in the polls in the Hawkeye State.

There are Christians who consider Mormonism a heretical cult, but there's no telling if the fundamentalists who are gunning for Romney will have any influence on GOP Iowa caucus-goers, a relatively small slice of Iowans dominated by social conservatives.

One outfit called Godvoters.org has put out an email decrying Romney.