Blogs

Ditching the Holiday Cheer With Mahjongg

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 9:08 PM EST
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I love holiday music (Kenny Rogers' Christmas album is a family favorite. Seriously.) as much as the next person, but now that vacation is over, I'm ready to ditch the holiday cheer and get back to music that is rougher around the edges.

Mahjongg, a Chicago-based five-piece, is helping me do just that.

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Ron Paul on the Theory of Evolution: "I Don't Accept It."

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 7:40 PM EST

Another example why Congressman Ron Paul, a former obstetrician who is known as Dr. No for his penchant to vote against nearly every government spending bill to cross his desk, is a curious breed of libertarian. News of his take on evolution comes via the libertarian magazine Reason, which has proclaimed: "Say it ain't so Dr. No!"

In reality, Paul is just being himself, and Reason's surprise has more to do with the gulf between self-proclaimed Cosmopolitan Libertarians (typically secular Reason subscribers) and the more religious Paleolibertarians (acolytes of Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff). To make sense of this all, check out our recent feature on the Paul campaign, and our breakdown of libertarian factions.

Ultimately, it makes little difference whether Paul is a Creationist. As a libertarian he's opposed to any government funding for scientific or religious endeavors. And that partly explains why the Ron Paul coalition is so elastic.

Obama Presents His Closing Argument

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 3:01 PM EST

obama-profile.jpg After months of delivering a remarkably consistent stump speech, Barack Obama broke out a brand new one for his "closing argument" to Iowa voters. (Its unveiling yesterday was overshadowed by the Bhutto assassination.) The spirit of the thing is the same as the speech he has been delivering, which is more or less the same as the speech he delivered on the convention floor in 2004.

A couple thoughts. First, the speech is filled with the gently-drawn contrasts that have characterized much of the Democratic race. Aside for a period where Edwards went full bore on Clinton, and a very brief time where Clinton open fire (disastrously) on Obama, the Democratic campaign has been filled with statements like, "Some believe you make change by hoping for it, some believe you make change by demanding it, I believe you make change by working hard for it." Lines such as these require listeners informed enough (Obama=hope; Edwards=fight) to understand their connotations.

Second, Obama has included one of the better lines of the entire campaign. Responding to Hillary and Bill Clinton's accusation that electing him would be a "roll of the dice," Obama says, "The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead."

And third, it's kind of amazing that Obama has been able to ride this "new kind of politics" message for so long. It really hasn't changed for years. You can either attribute that to years of fawning, unquestioning press coverage or to a centeredness that hasn't shifted or been shaken by doubts. Plenty of people have said you can't hate American politics and still win in them (i.e. that you have to play the game, just a little), but Obama hasn't compromised.

Things immediately get much, much tougher if he wins the nomination, however.

A Meat-and-Potatoes Kind of Candidate

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 2:20 PM EST

ad891.jpgFrom an AP list of fun facts about presidential hopefuls, Grist has culled candidates' culinary preferences, which, by and large, don't include veggies.

This, in and of itself, is not surprising. I mean, everyone knows that only girls like vegetables, and confessing your love for green beans is basically tantamount to admitting you're a little too in touch with your feminine side. You might as well get it over with and say your favorite sport is figure skating. But the extent to which the candidates shun the greens in favor of hunks o' red meat borders on the absurd. Witness the republicans' favorite foods to cook:

Giuliani: Hamburgers or steak on the grill.
Huckabee: Ribeye steak on the grill.
McCain: Baby-back ribs.
Romney: Hot dog.

But my very favorite response is buried in the middle of the piece, in the section where candidates name their least favorite foods. Huckabee, it turns out, hates carrots. I mean, he really hates carrots:

Huckabee: "Carrots. I just don't like carrots. I banned them from the governor's mansion when I was governor of Arkansas because I could."

Now that's a manly move if ever there was one. Compared to the carrot proclamation, Edwards' response looks awfully milquetoast:

Edwards: "I can't stand mushrooms. I don't want them on anything that I eat. And I have had to eat them because you get food served and it's sitting there and you're starving, so you eat."

So he's going to choke down the offending mushrooms without a fight? Then who, under Edwards' watch, may I ask, is going to save America from emasculating veggies? This could be trouble.

—Kiera Butler

Rembering Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 1:38 PM EST

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By now we are all familiar with YouTube's knack for elevating the obscure amateur to star status. But for all you TV addicts bemoaning the writers' strike out there, here's yet another reason to turn to online TV: its ability to resurrect the great, unheralded classic.

Caught in strike-induced withdrawal, I recently discovered via YouTube Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest—not an album or a song, but a short-lived, self-financed TV show Seeger put on for about 40 episodes in the mid-1960s. The show (whose title is a variation on the lyrics of the folksong "Oh, Had I A Golden Thread") had a casual format, with Seeger chatting up his musician guests, many of whom were his friends, in between songs. Rainbow Quest's setting and tone are quintessential Seeger: He and his guests sit around a rustic living room set, discuss their craft in earnest tones, and, when it's time for a song, Seeger, clad in his proletarian clothes, often joins in on the banjo.

Have Yourselves a Kooky Little Kwanzaa

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 12:12 PM EST

A few years back, I wrote an op-ed about my feelings about Kwanzaa. Every year since, I politely decline offers to 'dog' Kwanzaa again and every year the 'afro-sphere' digs it out and dogs me for being a tool of The Man who "hates every drop of black blood in her veins". Yeah, the deep thinkers out there actually write things like that, let alone think them. That little nugget, by the way, came from a Ph D teaching at a leading black university and who heads an organization dedicated to racial progress. Makes home schooling seem reasonable.

That piece has zinged around so much in the last week, I gave up ignoring it. Here it is. Have fun.

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See Mary Crash

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 11:57 AM EST

bike-topper.jpgIt's not exactly big news that baby boomers have decided not to ride off into their golden years playing Scrabble in the booth of some tacky Winnebago. Instead, they're flocking to their local Harley dealers and saddling up some big-ass Hogs. The decision to trade the RV for a Harley, though, hasn't come without a price. Boomers, with slower reflexes and quite a few more pounds than their younger counterparts, are slaughtering themselves on the nation's highways in record numbers. The number of people killed on motorcycles who were 50 and older has quadrupled over the past decade.

Among those boomers with some experience crashing a motorcycle is our very own U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. While she ranks high on the list of "cabinet secretaries you've never heard of," Peters put herself in a public service announcement last month to talk about how her safety gear saved her life when she wiped out on her huge bike in 2005. The PSA is part of her new motorcycle safety initiative aimed at goading boomers into better driving and encouraging Harley Davidson into giving its novice customers driving lessons before letting them zoom off the lot. What it doesn't do, of course, is something really useful, like force boomer-heavy states like Texas and Florida to reinstate their mandatory helmet laws.

DOT's own data show that after Florida repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2000, motorcycle fatalities went off the charts. Texas, which repealed its law back in 1997 under Gov. George W. Bush, had similar results. Apparently Peters, who has championed privatizing the nation's highway system, doesn't want to offend her fellow bikers with heavy-handed regulation, even if it might save some of their lives. But hey, she looks cool in those shades..

Google Earth: The Ultimate NIMBY Tool

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 6:27 PM EST

The EPA has harnessed Google Earth to give us the most detailed picture of point-source pollution ever: a Google Earth map showing every major power plant, oil field, petroleum refinery, chemical factory, cement manufacturer and paper mill in America. In short, it's a NIMBY dream. From the comfort of your home you can pull up the biggest smokestacks in the hood and imagine precise amounts of NOx, SOx, VOCs drifting down to your lawn. Fun, fun, fun!

Of course, the EPA probably hopes the fun will make you forget how it substantially weakened requirements that companies disclose toxic releases this year, and that it now offers significantly less public info in its popular Toxics Release Inventory reports. Earlier this month the GAO found that the EPA had been pressured to scale back the reports by the White House. The EPA had "expedited" the decision to satisfy the Office of Management and Budget, which wanted to reduce the paperwork burden on industry, the GAO found.

So take the maps with a grain of salt. Air, for the time being, still can't be Googled.

Writers' Strike Could Drive a Quarter of TV Watchers Away for Good

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 6:09 PM EST

youtube100.jpgAs the writers' strike slogs on, TV pundits look to the past for answers—specifically, the last writers' strike in 1988. A blogger over at YouLicense has talked to a Writers' Guild official who claimed that after the last strike, 10 percent of TV watchers gave up the tube for good. There aren't many hard numbers to back up that claim, but some are saying that the decline in TV devotees will be even steeper this time around—and this time, there's a much more compelling reason—Internet TV:

Whichever way this strike plays out in the near future the real winner is the internet. There are hundreds of well funded online TV platforms like Joost , Babelgum, RayV, Knocka TV and many more ready to make their big move. Millions of viewers are emigrating to these newly launched platforms. Millions of viewers prefer watching 3 minute videos on YouTube and Metacafe over the traditional TV shows. The longer the strike continues, the more accustomed these viewers are to getting their fix online.

Some predict as many as 28 percent of viewers will switch to an Internet-only diet. We can only hope this means online TV will get better.

—Kiera Butler

Huxley's Brave New World Led to Bush's Stem Cell Decision

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 5:29 PM EST

brave75.jpgA high school English class classic helped Bush make up his mind about stem cells, according to a former Bush adviser. From a Commentary Magazine piece called "Stem Cells and the President: An Inside Account" by Jay P. Lefkowitz, who worked as general counsel in the Office of Management and Budget under Bush:

A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room. "We're tinkering with the boundaries of life here," Bush said when I finished. "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

H/T Think Progress.