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MEMO FROM STARR VALLEY, NEVADA

| Sat Jan. 19, 2008 1:51 PM EST

It's mid-morning, and Republicans are caucusing all over Nevada. They've been doing so since 9am.

In Starr Valley, halfway between Elko and the wild-west town of Wells, in an epic snow covered landscape of ranches and soaring mountains, 43 Republicans are caucusing in the Starr Valley Progressive Club. It's a huge turnout for a region this remote. Many of the caucus-goers have driven scores of miles to the old wooden building, with a small Mitt Romney sign outside and a herd of wooly cattle across the icy street to cast their votes.

The people here, a goodly number of them Mormons, have a keen sense of their region's history. Many of their grandparents and great grandparents homesteaded the region in the nineteenth century, and stories of epic cattle drives "before the railroads" provide fodder for familial lore. Most of the men and women here live in the same houses their ancestors built and ranch the land as they did.

"My family homesteaded this area right about the turn of the century," says Sheriff Dale Lotspeich, who is in charge of signing in the voters from his precinct. "My parents and I still live in the family homestead – 300 acres. We run about a dozen head of cattle and fifty head of sheep. People typically here are against higher taxes, are very self-sufficient, don't believe in big government. We're very down to earth. One of the big things we care about is the right to bear arms. Family values are very strong."

Unlike the Democrats, who have a traditional form-and-reform caucus process in Nevada, with candidate supporters continually coalescing into new groups until "viability" has been reached for candidates, the Republicans have a simple ballot process. As the suns burns off the morning fog over the wilderness outside, they talk about party policies for the first half of the meeting, from abortion to tax cuts, from the sanctity of marriage to gun control, and then move on to the real business at hand – choosing the man they want to be their presidential candidate.

They discuss the merits and flaws of each candidate for half an hour, place their ballots in an envelope and wait for volunteers to count the votes.

Not surprisingly, since Romney's the only Republican candidate to really woo Nevadans, and, in addition, since eastern Nevada has a large Mormon presence, two thirds of the caucus-goers choose Romney.

I've no idea whether Starr Valley will be representative of the rest of the state, in particular Las Vegas – though the last polls released did show Romney had a sizeable lead statewide and the Associated Press is already calling the race for Romney. Huckabee is seen as being honest and somewhat charismatic here, but voters seem to have been turned off by his lack of knowledge about the state. Thompson's campaign has been so lackluster, few in rural Nevada support him even though they generally agree with his conservative positions. McCain curries favor for being a westerner; but, despite his win in New Hampshire, he doesn't seem to have gotten enough traction here. People think he's too liberal, too soft on push-button conservative social and economic issues they care about. Ron Paul – they like him, many of them an awful lot, but they're pretty certain he's not electable. As for Giuliani… big city, east coast; need we say more?

We'll know more in a few hours. Right now, I'm off to the Democratic caucus in the tiny city of Wells.

-- Sasha Abramsky.

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Cloverfield: New Kind of Monster Movie or "The Real World" With Giant Frog?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 11:44 PM EST

mojo-photo-cloverfield.jpgI saw Cloverfield (herein I shall refuse to type that ridiculous title and will refer to it as "Monsterfield" or "Cloverfrog") at the press screening Tuesday night, and I suppose waiting three days to write about was probably a good idea. I'm a sucker for apocalypse (my cinematic motto is "The World Must Be Destroyed;" I dragged friends to "The Core" on opening night) plus I'm always intrigued by J.J. Abrams' creepy mysteries, so I came in as giddy as a schoolgirl, ready to see some crap get smashed. And sure, it's scary and there's some good effects, but reading Manohla Dargis' review in the Times just now made me laugh out loud. As you probably know, the film's conceit is that it's "found footage," a videotape found in "the area formerly known as Central Park" after Monsterfrog comes to town. The tape starts out at a loft party for what's basically the casts from every Real World minus the gays or blacks, and we follow a few of them on an insane mission to save a gal whose apartment (in one of the Trump Towers on Columbus Circle!!!) has gotten smooshed. A dude (or perhaps a "bro") carries the camera around the whole time, taping even as friends are killed or they're attacked by giant cricket crabs who need to implant their eggs in your brain. Is it a bitter commentary maybe, asks Dargis:

Caucus-Eve: Obama Woos Elko

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 7:08 PM EST

Elko is a tiny town, but in the mountainous, snowy vastnesses of eastern Nevada, three hundred miles to the east of Reno, it passes for a metropolis.

Barack Obama, wrapping up his caucus campaigning in the state, came to this overwhelmingly white town in conservative ranching and mining country to speak. The venue his campaign selected for the rally was the town's high school, a large brick building adjacent to a sprawling cemetery.

Unlike Edwards' event in Reno last night, Obama's had all the trappings of superstardom:

Is Music Really So Bad? Another Music Snob's Dissent

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 5:52 PM EST

Daughtry is America

Yesterday, my Riff cohort Gary posted a diatribe against Americans' terrible taste in music. The commoners like their trash, for sure, and it's not restricted to music by any means: "Everybody Loves Raymond" lasted nine seasons, and I believe George W. Bush actually got a majority of the popular vote in 2004. It's tempting to curl up into the fetal position and whimper, "why, why, why," and it happens to the best of us: Idolator recently mocked a College Times writer for, ahem, "waking up to discover people have lousy taste," and he covered some of the same territory:

5 Questions On Israel For The Next Debate

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 5:06 PM EST

As I've said before, there's been a vacuum surrounding Israel and Palestine this campaign season. Moderators have broached the issue only twice in the last 13 debates. And the most recent question, posed by Wendell Goler last week at the Fox News debate in South Carolina, was pretty weak. As Goler wound up—"Mayor Giuliani, President Bush is in the Middle East ... laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state"—there was, briefly, a glimmer of hope. Then he tossed this doozy of a softball: "I wonder, sir, how you would keep a Palestinian state from becoming a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism." One of several surreal assumptions behind the question seemed to be, "The Palestinians are prostrate, mightn't it be better if they're kept that way?" And that to the candidate with the Likudnik A-team advising him. Oh, well.

Since the debates have been so deficient in this area, I asked five well-informed Middle East observers what they would ask the candidates on the issue, if they could ask anything. The only ground rule was to keep it brief; no other boundaries. Here are their responses:

Friends: Who Needs 'Em?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 4:03 PM EST

volleyball100.jpgNo friends? No problem! Researchers at the University of Chicago say you can make them yourself out of everyday household objects.

For evidence, they say, look no further than a crappy Tom Hanks movie:

"In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was isolated on an island and found the social desolation to be one of the most daunting challenges with which he had to deal," said Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
"He did so, in part, by anthropomorphizing a volleyball, Wilson, who became his friend and confidant while he was on the island." Although fictional, "Castaway depicts a deep truth about the irrepressibly social nature of Homo sapiens," Cacioppo said.


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Presidential Campaigns Using Lots of Inappropriate Songs

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 4:02 PM EST

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I posted on the night of the New Hampshire primaries that the Romney campaign headquarters hosted a performance of Stone Temple Pilots' "Crush," a song that features both some ironically appropriate lyrics and some uncomfortably weird ones. Turns out that using inappropriate songs is a bit of an epidemic in the presidential campaigns, reports the Washington Post. First, they point out two of Hillary Clinton's choices for tunes at campaign rallies: Tom Petty's "American Girl" and Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business," both of which have some uncomfortable lyrical ironies:

The Debate Over Virtual Schools

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 3:46 PM EST

An appeals court ruling to cut funds for a virtual K-8 school in Wisconsin has rippled through the interwebs this week, causing tears among some students and applause from one teachers' union.

Friday Sighs, "Music News Day"

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 3:45 PM EST

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  • Did someone say "unicorn"? Neko Case, T-Pain and MF Doom will provide the voices for characters in an upcoming Adult Swim cartoon called, er, "Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge." Good title, but somehow I know it won't be nearly as good as the first season of Aqua Teen.
  • Speaking of adults, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has provided the music (link possibly NSFW) for an adult film called "Extra Action (and Extra Hardcore)," out on DVD March 18th. Wocka waa, wocka wah waaaa? The video is being directed by Richard Kern who has also made some Sonic Youth videos, so that helps explain that, I guess.
  • Both Beyonce and Foo Fighters have promised to attend the Grammys, no matter whether it's a full-on ceremony with union writers penning the jokes or a guy tossing the awards out of the back of a truck. The Foos' manager, John Silva, extended support to striking writers but confirmed the band's commitment to the Grammy ceremony.
  • Some sad news: Lily Allen, who announced her pregnancy last month, has had a miscarriage. A representative for the singer asked for privacy for Allen and her partner, Chemical Brother Ed Simons. Messages of support are being posted at Allen's MySpace page.

30 Million Years to Recover From Extinction?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 3:02 PM EST

herd200.jpg
Scientists have been saying for a while that by the end of this century, half of all species could be extinct. And a new study says that it could take an awfully long time for Earth to recover—30 million years, to be specific.

Back in the Permian era, Earth lost more than 90 percent of all life. Scientists once thought that species rebounded quickly from the hit, but it turns out they were sort of missing the fine print, according to researchers at Bristol University:

Sahney and Benton looked at the recovery of tetrapods – animals with a backbone and four legs, such as amphibians and reptiles – and found that although globally tetrapods appeared to recover quickly, the dramatic restructuring that occurred at the community level was not permanent and communities did not recover numerically or ecologically until about 30 million years later.

And when the species were struggling to rebound back then, they didn't even have to deal with us.