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John McCain: Everyone's Second Choice

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 11:43 PM EST

mccain_blackandwhite.jpg I know, I know, the thought-process that goes into one pundit's endorsement isn't particularly interesting. But Andrew Sullivan's endorsement of Ron Paul in the GOP race illuminates something about the Republican field more generally.

The top-line summary of Sullivan's politics is that he's a small-government conservative. As such, it's no surprise that he supports the libertarian in the race. What's interesting, though, is that Sullivan's second choice is McCain, a man who strongly supports a war Sullivan hates and is frequently at odds with Sullivan's social views.

According to Sullivan the explanation is McCain's integrity, a trait he shares with Paul. "They have both said things to GOP audiences that they knew would offend," writes Sullivan. "They have stuck with their positions despite unpopularity. They're not saints, but they believe what they say." He lists McCain's status as a war hero and his willingness to consider issues through a fundamentally serious and apolitical lens.

This is a phenomenon I'm seeing a lot when speaking to Republican voters here in Iowa. McCain is the second choice of many, many people. A number of folks I've spoken to say that they wish they could caucus for the man. Thompson supporters, Huckabee supporters, and Romney supporters have all said to me that they respect and like John McCain, but that their man wins for some other reason (usually, he's right on the issues where McCain is wrong; McCain's advocacy for a moderate immigration plan is often cited as a huge problem).

There is a thirst, I think, for honesty in politicians. When I ask supporters of any candidate here, Democrat or Republican, what they look for in a candidate, 75 percent of the time the first thing they say is "honesty," or some variation thereof. That's a rough number, of course, but I assure you it is stunningly high. The fact that Clinton supporters, Obama supporters, and Romney supporters—supporters of anyone at all—say that honesty is their number one priority indicates that people can convince themselves that basically anyone is "honest." But somehow, deep down, they realize that John McCain is the real deal.

Sullivan and Iowa's Republicans aren't the only ones. I'm prey to this as well.

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Keeping the Obama-Muslim Smear Going: What on Earth is Bob Kerrey Doing?

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 11:00 PM EST

bob-kerrey-head.jpg When former Nebraska Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday at a campaign stop in Iowa and added these lines about Barack Obama—"It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal"—I was willing to give him a pass. Sure, it seemed like a sneaky way to work the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim falsehood back into the media and into the consciousnesses of Iowa voters (Obama is a regular Christian churchgoer), but Kerrey has been a loose cannon throughout his career. And following so closely after the Obama-is-a-drug-dealer fiasco from a different Clinton campaign surrogate... it would just be bad, bad politics for the Clinton campaign to coordinate something like this in Iowa's friendly confines.

But then Kerrey went and did it again. He went on CNN today and tried to backtrack on the first comment—"He is a Christian. Both he and his family are Christians. They've chosen Christianity."—but couldn't help stirring the pot some more. "I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust [Obama] because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa," he said. "I feel quite opposite. I think it's a tremendous strength whether he's in the United States Senate or whether he's in the White House."

Jee-bus. A "secular madrassa" is not an oxymoron, by the way: the word Arabic word madrassa indicates a school of any kind. But as Bob Kerrey darn well knows, the American conception of a madrassa is as an extreme Islamic indoctrination camp in which children are taught how to kill Americans by old men with long, white beards.

As should be well-established by now, for the four years he lived in Indonesia as a child, Obama attended a public school that incorporated the mores of the largely Islamic Indonesian society but did not focus on religion. The teachers wore western clothes. The students were of mixed faiths.

So Kerrey didn't say anything factually inaccurate, but it still stinks. If this is what Obama is getting now, can you imagine what he'll endure in the general, when he's facing off against Republicans? And by the way, this whole episode, intentional or not, will almost certainly hurt the Clinton campaign, as all of Senator Clinton's recent attempts to go negative have.

W-T-Effing-F? Worst Present Ever: Siamese Fighting Fish Trapped in Your iPod Speaker

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:53 PM EST

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Condemned to the throb of your musical bad tastes. No room to even turn around. Can this be real? Apparently it's so real and so desired that some Australian pet stores can 't keep it in stock, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The iPond—yes, that's right, the iPond, surely an epitome of parasitic marketing—is one-fifteenth the recommended tank size for its miserable inhabitant. The tank's water capacity is about 22 ounces. A Melbourne Aquarium spokesman said Siamese fighting fish require a minimum tank size of 2.5 gallons.

All I want for Xmas is a better world for fish.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Even a Stopped Clock...: George Will on the Subprime Mortgage Scandal

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:29 PM EST

When George Will starts sounding good to you, is it time to pack it in?

Reading him today on the subprime mortgage collapse, I found myself experiencing some serious cognitive dissonance; rather than turning my stomach, he messed with my mind. He's got me seeing the problem from a different angle. What were people thinking signing up for mortgages the rates of which increased astronomically, far beyond their ability to pay, capped off by balloon payments of tens and hundreds of thousands? Brokers shouldn't have dangled the loans in front of our eyes but once dangled, who's really at fault for borrowers having bitten? I rent and I got all those "magic bean" mortgage emails. I deleted them.

The Democratic candidates are talking about 90 day moratoriums on foreclosures and 5-7 year interest rate caps on these ridiculous mortgages. Which leaves out in the cold homeowners who scrimped and saved for a down payment and religiously make their monthly mortgage (93% according to Will). It also leaves out those who invested in mortgage-backed securities who will now have no say in the future of their investment.

Senator Clinton is arguing that this 5-7 year freeze remain in place until the borrowers can have been transitioned to "affordable" loans. Which means what, when you live paycheck to paycheck, have crappy credit and never had a prayer of affording the house you then sucked all the equity from and which is now worth nowhere near what you agreed to pay? Far from worries that the subprime mess will make homeowners renters again, is it even arguable that "renters" is all they ever effectively were? Yup, neighborhoods will crumble as foreclosures mount, local business will fail. But what about our whole system of contract law, not to mention how much more difficult, and costly, it will be for even the credit-worthy to get a mortgage after this.

Will is on much less firm ground in scoffing at the notion that "predatory" and "aggressive" brokers and mortgage companies are in anyway culpable:

Farmed Salmon on the Menu? Just Say No

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:26 PM EST

14salmon.650.jpg A forthcoming study in Science shows that parasitic sea lice infestations caused by salmon farms are driving nearby populations of wild salmon toward extinction. Wild pink salmon have been rapidly declining for four years, reports SeaWeb. Author Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist from the University of Alberta, expects a 99% collapse in another four years, or two salmon generations, if the infestations continue. The data are from the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands 260 miles northwest of Vancouver, environmentally, culturally, and economically dependent on wild salmon.

This study and earlier studies by the same authors shows that sea lice from fish farms infect and kill juvenile wild salmon, raising serious concerns about net pen aquaculture in general. "It shows there is a real danger to wild populations from the impact of farms," says Ray Hilborn, a fisheries biologist from the University of Washington, not involved in the study. "This paper is really about a lot more than salmon. This is the first study where we can evaluate these interactions and it certainly raises serious concerns about proposed aquaculture for other species such as cod, halibut and sablefish."

If you must, eat wild Alaskan salmon.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Start Snitching, Get Killed?

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 8:07 PM EST

Here's something that those of us who decry urban mores against 'snitching' forgot to consider—witness intimidation. Imagine having to live down the block from the knuckleheads who know that you know exactly what violent thing they did:

No national statistics on crimes against witnesses exist, and minimal research has been conducted on the subject. The latest National Institute of Justice survey on record -- conducted more than a decade ago -- shows that more than half of big city prosecutors consider witness intimidation a major problem.
Colorado has $50,000 allocated to its witness protection budget. In contrast, the city of Denver spent almost $100,000 on landscaping last year.
The state, on average, spends about $1,000 per witness. That figure supposedly includes moving expenses, rent, and furniture. The federal program spends in excess of $40 million per year on witness protection.
One possible reason for the disparity is that witnesses in state cases do not get new identities, as do federal witnesses. "It's not designed to be a long-term relocation at the public's expense; it's a way to ensure the immediate safety of the witnesses," according to Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Witnesses in criminal cases get intimidated, and murdered, with alarming frequency while those of us who live lives far removed, except by the worst of luck, from crime tsk-tsk over their poor character when they choose their safety over their civic duty. It's one thing to disapprove of tolerating criminality. It's quite another to focus on landscaping when leaving brave witnesses to protect themselves, and their families, from conscienceless predators.

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Love and Marriage

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 8:00 PM EST

Pam Anderson files for divorce after two months. A husband and wife throw down OK Corral-style, leaving her dead. Oh well, at least the couple that enslaves together stays together, if in separate prisons. When, oh when, will homosexuals stop destroying marriage?

Drug-Resistant E. Coli Rampant Among Poultry Workers

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 5:02 PM EST

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If you needed yet another reason to be grossed out by the American meat industry, consider this tantalizing tidbit: U.S. Poultry workers are much more likely than the average American—32 times more likely, in fact—to carry antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria, according to a Johns Hopkins study.

With the recent news that drug-resistant staph infections are on the rise, most people I know have become vigilant about germs in public places. Flip-flop use in gym locker rooms, I'd bet, is on the rise. But actually, we should be feeling squeamish about big ag: "One of the major implications of this study is to underscore the importance of the non-hospital environment in the origin of drug resistant infections," says Eileen K. Silbergeld, one of the study's lead authors, in the study press release. Growth-stimulating antibiotics are just another part of the daily grind (ugh, sorry) at mega-farms. In fact, it's thought that the majority of antimicrobials produced in the U.S. are used in the meat industry. And unfortunately, unlike at the gym, flip-flops probably don't offer much in the way of protection at the slaughterhouse.

Led Zeppelin: No Spring Tour, But Maybe Belfast, and Save Those Ticket Stubs

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 4:46 PM EST

Robert PlantAfter Led Zeppelin's "triumphant" reunion show at London's O2 Arena last Monday, the rumors of an upcoming tour were inevitable. E! reports that a set of dates in early 2008 seemed possible, and that a headline slot at Tennessee's Bonnaroo festival in June was also rumored. But alas, it's not meant to be: Robert Plant has set aside May for a European tour with Allison Krauss, with whom he made the critically-acclaimed album Raising Sand. Plant is also rumored to be the one Zep most opposed to the idea of continuing the band's successful tour, telling the Sunday Times that "a cavalcade of merciless repetition is not what it's all about."

But now the Belfast Telegraph is reporting that a local promoter is negotiating to bring the band back to the Northern Ireland city, where they played "Stairway to Heaven" for the first time in public. While that legendary show was at the Ulster Hall, the promoter says that venue is "too small" and that they would likely play an arena.

And finally, if you were one of the lucky fans who scored a ticket to the aforementioned O2 Arena show, don't throw out that ticket stub: NME reports that the crumpled scraps are going for up to £125 ($250) on eBay.

All I Want for Christmas, Part 2: Tenori-On

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 3:45 PM EST

mojo-photo-tenorion.JPGIs it a Lite Brite? An etch-a-sketch? An elaborate "NextBus" sign? Nope: it's a musical instrument. Tenori-On means "sound in your palm" in Japanese, and this eight-inch square little miracle (made by Yamaha) lets you make beats and loops by touching—well, caressing—its surface. The instructions are a little opaque: draw the wave form! Assign individual sounds to each key! Hold the key down to create a repeating audio loop! Huh? But the video of somebody who knows what they're doing making (an admittedly pretty noodly) little techno number is positively jaw-dropping. Watch it after the jump.

Tenori-On is only available in the UK right now, but with a low low price of $1200 you can afford a round-trip flight to pick it up for me, right, Secret Santa?