Blogs

Richard Branson's Friendly Skies of Pond Scum?

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 3:05 PM EST

Next month, Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline plans to fly a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam, powered (in part) by an unspecified, but supposedly clean and sustainable biofuel. It will be the first bioful test flight of a commercial jet, and, if successful, could augur a new age of ecofriendly aviation. Among the fuels Branson might test, that green muck from your fish tank... Read more here.

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Rudy Snags Nod From Jesus

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:54 PM EST

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Rudy Giuliani's faltering campaign needs nothing short of a miracle worker. Yesterday, he may have gotten one. New York Yankees outfielder and Florida resident Johnny Damon endorsed Rudy at an Orlando rally, calling him "a nice and genuine guy" and even tossing out the obligatory Sept. 11 reference: "I've played on many different teams. I was with Oakland when 9/11 happened."

Back before Johnny Damon betrayed Red Sox Nation by signing with the Yankees, there was a popular saying in Boston: "How can we lose? We've got Jesus of Nazareth in center field." Indeed, "Johnny Jesus," as he was known, was a key contributor to the Sox' s unlikely World Series title run in 2004, breaking their 86-year losing streak. On arriving at spring training that year, Damon's first words reportedly were, "Bless you. Bless you all."

But it's an open question how much Damon can help Giuliani's tanking campaign in New York. The Yankees haven't won a title since Damon joined. Plus, he's lost much of that divine sheen since his locks and facial hair were shorn, per order of George Steinbrenner.

—Justin Elliott

Iraq Adopts New Flag (Again)

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:35 PM EST

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Could it be the (long-delayed, thoroughly botched, and ethnically cleansed) birth of a nation? Hot off reforming the disastrous de-Bathification law that *might* enable some former Saddam-era soldiers and civil servants to return to work, the Iraqi parliament today gave the shell-shocked people of Iraq a new flag. Leave the passing of the oil distribution law and the scheduling of provincial elections for later, I guess.

The new design removes the old flag's three green stars (first meant to symbolize Iraq's failed pan-Arab union with Syria and Egypt, later changed to represent the Baath Party's credo: "Unity, Freedom, Socialism"). The flag's Arabic script—reading Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), added in 1991 after Saddam's "victory" in the Gulf War—was also set into a new font, as the former inscription was supposedly penned in Saddam's own hand.

The new flag is meant to appease Iraqi Kurds, who have refused to fly the national standard since the U.S. invasion, claiming that it represents a regime responsible for the mass killing of its citizens. No word on whether the Kurds plan to replace their Kurdish banner or the flags of the various political parties that have fluttered above northern Iraq for the last several years.

Mike Huckabee Cuts Costs, Unintentionally Saves Planet

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:31 PM EST

Okay, so I'm exaggerating.

As of yesterday, the Huckabee campaign decided to scrap its press plane. Says his press secretary, referring to its less-than-half-full media plane, "flying around with a bunch of empty seats was no longer practical." Huckabee and company are obviously trying to cut costs, but bonus, they are unintentionally saving Mother Earth too. As you can imagine, CO2 emissions from a private jet aren't small. In our January/February issue, Mother Jones reports just how not small they are. Check out "How Green Was My Rally" to see our estimate of CO2 emitted by Barack Obama's entourage.

Some candidates, unlike Huckabee, are intentionally trying to minimize their impact on the planet this election season. Many of the Democratic candidates are using carbon-offset groups to offset the energy use of their headquarters and are using air charter companies, which factor in offset costs with each mile flown. And if you missed this blog post, you don't know that Dennis Kucinich was hoping to roll out energy-efficient veggie-oiled-cooled computers to the campaign's field offices.

How Will Ron Paul's Libertarian Fans View His Big Anti-Abortion Endorsement?

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 2:02 PM EST

Do all those libertarians swooning over Ron Paul realize he's no get-the-government-out-of-my life freedom-lover when it comes to reproductive rights? Today Representative Paul was in Washington--not toiling hard to abolish the Department of Education or to end the Iraq war--but holding a press conference with Norma Leah McCorvey. She was the "Jane Roe" of the Supreme Court's 1973 Rove v. Wade decision, which declared that most antiabortion laws in the United States violated a constitutional right to privacy. But since then McCorvey has switched sides and has become an antiabortion activist. These days, she runs her own antiabortion ministry.

At the press conference, McCorvey endorsed Paul. For antiabortion outfits, McCorvey has long been a much used icon. And her support of Paul, who authored legislation in Congress that would define life as beginning at conception, could help his far-from-the-mainstream candidacy among social conservatives. But for his libertarian fans, this endorsement is also a reminder that Paul is indeed in favor of Big Government...when it would do his bidding. If elected president, Paul could fire all those people working at the Department of Education and offer them jobs chasing after anyone who obtains an abortion or uses an IUD.

Tom Brady and Mitt Romney: Together for the Super Bowl?

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 11:45 AM EST

The biggest primary election day of the year: February 5th.

The biggest advertising opportunity of the year: February 3rd.

That's right, the Super Bowl and all of its nationwide advertising potential is just two days before the 20+ state February 5th super duper primary election extravaganza. The candidates are considering taking advantage. The plan may backfire, however: folks who tune into the Super Bowl just to see hilarious and inventive commercials from Pepsi and Budweiser are going to be irritated when they find Romney's handsome but boring mug instead.

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Barack Obama, Wire Fan

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 12:01 AM EST
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So Barack Obama says his favorite TV show is The Wire. And his favorite character, he tells the Las Vegas Sun, is Omar Little, the charismatic, sawed-off shotgun toting, Honey Nut Cheerios-eating, gay stickup artist. "That's not an endorsement. He's not my favorite person, but he's a fascinating character," says Obama, displaying both admirable honesty and pop-culture cred, yet risking alienating the demographic (i.e., women) that will never forgive Omar for helping set up Stringer Bell. And all the culture warriors who will take issue with Obama calling the gangster "sort of a Robin Hood." But picking your favorite Wire character is all about moral ambiguity—a real minefield for a politician who thinks the answers to these kinds of questions really matter. All the cops are corrupt or boozers or philanderers. The politicians are weasels. And the drug dealers and journalists? Enough said. The only mildly politically safe Wire character I can think of is Lester Freamon, whose biggest sin is a love of miniature furniture. If you want to get a little more daring, you could go for rookie middle-school teacher and ex-police Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski—but don't forget that he's an accidental cop killer.

The Dems Debate in South Carolina: Ugh

| Mon Jan. 21, 2008 10:27 PM EST

dems-debate-south-carolina.jpg It was bound to happen. If you insist on 10,000 debates in a four or five month period, you are going to cover every policy difference, philosophical difference, and tonal difference. It's all over but the shouting, as they say.

And that's what we got tonight with the Democrats' debate in South Carolina: the shouting. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton traded so many jabs and talked over each other so many times that it's hard to remember any one line—the only thing that sticks in the mind, just half an hour later, is the sound of constant squabbling.

And it's bad for the Democratic Party. Every time the Democratic candidates launch attacks on each other, they provide the eventual Republican nominee with ammunition. Not to mention the fact that they obscure their strengths and highlight their weaknesses.

The media coverage is already all about "tensions flaring." Immediately after the debate ended, Anderson Cooper started reshowing the debate's contentious moments. I'm not going to recap any of them here—you can read about them elsewhere or see them on YouTube, but suffice to say, they were simply sharper versions of what you have already heard.

Two moments of actual substance:

Black History Month and Negro-Bibliophilia: We Didn't Start the Fire. Y'all Did

| Mon Jan. 21, 2008 9:03 PM EST

With my kids home for four days (dammit), I've had scant time - what with going insane and all - to stay current. That's why the bombardment of black book reviews took me aback for a moment once I got back in the know. Whatever could have caused the sudden interest? It couldn't be the superficial politcal analyses (as opposed to worthy ones like this) attendant upon this election...then it hit me. Oh nooooooo. Black History Month is coming, with all it's attendant neuroses. Batten down the hatches.

I mock, because I must, but I find myself intrigued by this latest crop.

First, Randall Kennedy's Sell Out: The Politics of Racial Betrayal:

Fortunately, it's no how-to manual. Kennedy's chapters are dense, stuffed with facts and anecdotes, compressed almost beyond belief. His second and third chapters move the reader through roughly 177 years of black sellout history in approximately 50 pages. Since this history has been suppressed almost by definition, it has the advantage of offering a fresh look at a rarely considered aspect of black history. I'm pretty sure that the slave commended by his masters for helping to thwart the 1739 Stono Rebellion, in part by killing rebellious fellow bondsmen, has never shown up on any of those black history calendars full of noble-looking portraits of heroes, even though he was named July. You can bet that the words of William Hannibal Thomas, the first black man to attend Otterbein College, have never been trotted out at graduations, sermons, or rallies. Thomas' 1901 screed, "The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He Will Become: A Critical and Practical Discussion," posits that "the negro represents an intrinsically inferior type of humanity, and one whose predominant characteristics evince an aptitude for a low order of living." Anyone who, like me, has a morbid fascination with deliberately forgotten corners of history and wrongheaded, outdated belief systems like W.H. Thomas' will wish that Kennedy had expanded these chapters, perhaps into their own jaw-dropping, crazy book.
Instead, Kennedy devotes a lengthy chapter to a contemporary Thomas—Supreme Court justice Clarence, that is—whom the author describes as "the most vilified black official in the history of the United States."

Let's just say that Randy (a dear friend and mentor), has a problem with group think.

A Global Recession?

| Mon Jan. 21, 2008 9:00 PM EST

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Not since 9/11 has the world seen markets tumble as quickly—or as dramatically—as they did today: While American markets were closed for the federal holiday, the MSCI World Index fell by 3 percent, and Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index plummeted by 5.7 percent.

This means a few things:

First of all, Bush and Bernanke's attempt to prevent a recession by calling for a stimulus package didn't quite do the trick. In fact, globally speaking, it probably made things worse:

The selloff followed falls on U.S. markets on Friday that ended the worst weekly performance on Wall Street for five years and a round of bloodletting in Asian markets yesterday, as investors were left underwhelmed by U.S. President George W. Bush's package of measures aimed at stimulating the world's largest economy.