Blogs

Huckabee vs. Paul: Video from Yesterday's Republican Debate

| Thu Sep. 6, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

This is my favorite video clip from yesterday's debate.

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With World Not Tense Enough, Israel and Russia Decide to Provoke Their Neighbors

| Thu Sep. 6, 2007 2:09 PM EDT

The Israeli and Russian air forces, apparently bored with the amount of violence in the world, picked today to provoke their neighbors. Eight Russian planes were "warned off" from the NATO air defense zone by British fighter jets, the BBC reported, while the New York Times reported a Syrian claim that Israeli jets had violated Syrian airspace.

Some important differences between the two incidents should be noted. The Russians never violated British airspace, and the British defense ministry said that "the re-emergence of long-range flights from Russia is something the Russians are entitled to do." The Israelis, for their part, would not comment on the Syrian allegations.

If true, however, both of these events represent unnecessary provocations in already-tense situations. Israel and Syria have been trying for months to convince each other that neither wants war, and this incident will strain already frayed nerves. And while Russia certainly has the right to fly its planes in international airspace as much as it wants, its much-hyped resumption of long-range bomber patrols should be recognized for what it is: a demonstration that, as the Economist wrote recently, "the Russian bear is back—wearing a snarl with its designer sunglasses." The world is dangerous enough. Russia and Israel should be careful to avoid making it more so.

—Nick Baumann

Fred Thompson Flubs the Facts on Tonight Show

| Thu Sep. 6, 2007 1:16 AM EDT

In response to a question from Jay Leno about why America is so disliked worldwide, new presidential candidate Fred Thompson had this to say (transcript here):

Well, part of that comes with being the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world. I think that goes with the territory. We're more unpopular than we need to be. That's for sure, but our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples in this country than all the other countries put together. (Applause.) And I don't feel any need to apologize for the United States of America.

First, this is silly. As the "strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world," we can be the most popular or least popular country around, depending on our actions. There's nothing inherent about being on top that makes people hate you.

Second, this is false. The Soviet Union lost over 20 million people in World War II, an astonishing 10-13 percent of the country's total population. The U.S. lost 418,500 in WWII, 117,465 in WWI, and roughly 60,000 in Vietnam. More on those numbers here; point is, it's not even close.

Look, I don't mean to denigrate the sacrifice of American servicemen and women through the ages. But let's not be badly, badly factually incorrect in the name of national pride.

Update: See my thoughts on why Thompson would be the GOP's worst nominee.

African Pentecostal Christians Destroying Ancient African Culture In Nigeria

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 11:25 PM EDT

Most of us have read or heard about European colonists and Christian missionaries looting the treasures of Africa. That destruction and theft occurred a long time ago, but now, a new version of it is taking place. Pentecostal Christian Nigerians are destroying ancient artifacts in order to "break the covenant" with what they call "ancestral idols." Costumes, bronzes and carvings have all been targeted.

Pentecostal Christianity has increased along with poverty in Nigeria during the last couple of decades. "Redemption camps" have sprung up in the country, attracting such famous pastors as Benny Hinn. The Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai, a leader of the Pentecostal Church in Nigeria, is said to have told his followers that the ancient African religious artifacts represent "curses and covenants" linked to various gods.

Of course, there are forces in Nigeria that are fighting this trend. Some pieces have been sold to museums, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is conducting a campaign to explain to Christians that "they can't detach themselves from their past, that there is a beginning to their history." The commission is also asking for stricter enforcement of a law that prohibits the export of artifacts.

Congressional Battle Over GAO's Iraq Report Continues

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 6:47 PM EDT

Building on yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, today the House of Representatives grilled U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker about the contents of a new GAO report, which concludes that the Iraqi government has achieved only 3 of 18 political, economic, and security benchmarks. Walker fought off attacks from Congressional Republicans in a morning hearing with the House Armed Services Committee and again in an afternoon appearance before the House Foreign Relations Committee.

At yesterday's event, senators from both parties grimly accepted Walker's determination that the Iraqi government is "dysfunctional." But today, Republicans seem to have gotten their talking points and came out swinging. Numerous GOP congressmen assailed the GAO's methodology, accusing Walker of downplaying recent "progress" in Iraq and complaining that his metrics for assessing the benchmarks (met, partially met, and did not meet) were insufficiently flexible to reflect accurately the difficult and fluid situation on the ground. Walker responded that his task, unlike that of similar Bush administration assessments, was to examine whether the benchmarks had been achieved, not whether progress had been made. He suggested that the Congress take both approaches into account, but warned that the forthcoming Petraeus/Crocker report would probably paint a rosier picture, as both men ultimately report to President Bush. "The GAO represents the only independent and professional assessment that the Congress will receive based on these 18 benchmarks," he said. This caused something of a stir until Walker acknowledged that both Petraeus and Crocker are "professionals." He stuck to his opinion, however, that their conclusions, whatever they may be, would not be completely independent.

The primary argument at both of today's hearings centered on Benchmark 13: "Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security." All parties are in agreement, Walker said, that militias remain the primary arbiters of local security. But, as reported in today's Washington Post, serious disagreement exists with regard to the number of recent sectarian attacks. The figures are classified, but the Pentagon insists sectarian attacks are down as a result of the 'surge,' and reportedly requested in advance of the GAO report's release that this be recognized. Walker, however, insisted that he was "not comfortable" with the military's methodology in differentiating between sectarian attacks and random violence. Jim Saxton, the ranking Republican in the House Armed Services Committee, referred to the Post article and suggested that the feeling of discomfort was mutual. Walker's response was blunt. "It's not uncommon for those being held accountable to be uncomfortable," he said, adding later, "There is still significant sectarian violence."

During the afternoon hearing, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, encouraged Walker to discuss matters outside of the GAO's mandate, such as the unequal sacrifice for the Iraq War being asked of a small portion of the population and the war's effect on the U.S. military. Walker accused the Bush Administration of passing the buck. "We're not paying for this war; we're debt-financing this war," he said. "Our children will pay it off with compound interest." He went on to describe the U.S. Army as "stressed and strained," stating that the current approach is "unsustainable." This invited the ire of Republican ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who asked, "What in the world qualifies you to say that?" She went on to thank Walker for his efforts, but expressed frustration with his conclusions. The GAO report "seems to be having a lot of credibility with the American people that I think is unwarranted," she said.

The battle will continue tomorrow with the delivery of Marine General James Jones' report on the training and capabilities of Iraq's security forces. Click here for a complete schedule of upcoming events.

Saddest Picture of the Day Alert

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 6:23 PM EDT

It takes a special kind of person to get this kind of reception at a campaign event and keep on plugging. It's hard out there for a pimp crazed right-winger who refers to stem-cell research as "research on the youngest of humans."

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BBC Radio 1 Celebrates 40 Years of White People

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 4:34 PM EDT

Macca on Radio 1
The BBC's venerable pop-music outlet, Radio 1, turns 40 years old later this month, and to celebrate, the network is featuring ten days of special shows hosted by major figures in music. The series, called "Radio 1 Legends," kicks off on September 17th with Sir Paul McCartney, then continues with more guest DJs:

Dave Grohl (9/18)
Gwen Stefani (9/19)
Paul Weller (9/20)
Paul Oakenfold (9/21)
Noel Gallagher (9/24)
Debbie Harry (9/25)
Arctic Monkeys (9/26)
Ozzy Osbourne (9/27)
Norman Cook (9/28)

Okay, first of all, of course dance music is central to Radio 1's history, but Oakey and Fatboy Slim?! Were, um, Rob Da Bank and Jive Bunny not available? Secondly, I know I just posted about the trouble with demanding social realism from our art, and I also know this is the BBC, but I'll go out on a limb and say that non-whites have made some contributions to music in the last 40 years. Perhaps one of them could have been included?

New iPods Have WiFi! Somebody Give Me $399!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 4:09 PM EDT

iPod Touch Well, there was no big announcement of The Beatles coming to iTunes, but this is pretty cool: Steve Jobs just announced a new line of iPods that are basically iPhones without the phone complication. The "iPod Touch" will have the same full-screen touch interface as the iPhone, and will be able to connect to iTunes via WiFi. This may seem a little silly, but I have to admit whenever I travel and see a record store in an airport, I think, "why can't I just walk in there and aim my iPod at a thingy and grab a new song?" Well, now, basically, I can—if I just spend $299 for an 8GB model or $399 for a 16GB.

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive.

Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out. Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos.

Continue reading on the Mother Jones arts/culture blog, The Riff.

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

"I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.