Blogs

New York Times May Have Been First Doubters of JFK Plot

| Wed Jun. 6, 2007 6:57 AM PDT

I blogged yesterday about Time magazine's commendable skepticism about the alleged terror plot targeting JFK airport in New York City. Today, a quick update. Turns out the New York Times was skeptical from the beginning, at least a day before Time. Even though the NYT played their story about the plot big on their website, they completely buried it in their print version. Readers complained, and today the NYT's national editor responded:

"In the years since 9/11, there have been quite a few interrupted terrorist plots. It now seems possible to exercise some judgment about their gravity. Not all plots are the same. In this case, law enforcement officials said that J.F.K. was never in immediate danger. The plotters had yet to lay out plans. They had no financing. Nor did they have any explosives. It is with all that in mind, that the editors in charge this weekend did not put this story on the front page."

Hear, hear! Next time a government official spews hyperbole, claiming with scant evidence that "one of the most chilling plots imaginable" almost "resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction," I hope the rest of the media and American citizens across the country exercise as much judgement as the New York Times.

Update: I love this attitude from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but Josh is right, he'll never survive in the GOP thinking this way: "There are lots of threats to you in the world. There's the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist."

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Proof that God Hates Rudy Giuliani!

| Wed Jun. 6, 2007 6:40 AM PDT

During yesterday's Republican debate, Wolf Blitzer asked the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani about abortion. A Catholic bishop, Wolf said, had analogized Giuliani's stance, which is that abortions are wrong but should be available to American women anyway, to Pontius Pilate opposing the execution of Jesus but still allowing it to happen. When a somewhat shocked Rudy tried to explain himself, lightening actually hit the building, cutting off Giuliani's microphone. Everyone had a good laugh and Giuliani put forward a pretty good answer in the end, but RG should probably avoid golf courses, swimming pools, and summer rainstorms for a while. Somebody's out to get him.

Elsewhere in Catholic news, a man jumped a security barrier and tried to board the popemobile while Benedict was riding in it. These are turbulent times for people of faith, surely.

Wilco Guys Own VWs and Like Them, Thank You Very Much

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 8:13 PM PDT

mojo-photo-wilco.JPGChicago alt-rock elder statesmen Wilco have licensed tracks from their new album Sky Blue Sky to Volkswagen to accompany TV commercials featuring, for instance, the amusing antics of a tow truck driver who really likes the cute little VW GTI. Wilco apparently felt insecure enough about this decision to release a multi-paragraph statement defending themselves on their website. "We feel okay about VWs," the statement reads, in what I assume Volkswagen considers the indie-rock equivalent of a ringing endorsement. But Wilco didn't come to this decision lightly:

Massive Crackdown of Electronic Media in Pakistan

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:55 PM PDT

It seems like General Musharraf is getting more and more nervous as Pakistani citizens continue to protest his assault on the judicial system. Now Musharraf's taking aim at the ever-critical Pakistani media.

On Monday, General Musharraf issued the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance, "sweeping curbs on media" that bestow PEMRA with the authority to "seal channels, suspend licenses, make new rules without informing parliament," and increases the fines tenfold.

This follows the ban issued on Saturday which prohibits live TV coverage of the opposition rallies that denounced Musharraf's decision to sack the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The popular Geo TV channel, whose journalists have asked General Musharraf some uncomfortable questions, is one of the victims of this ban.
The subsequent protests in front of the PEMRA office in Islamabad resulted in the police filing "preliminary complaints against about 200 journalists for defying a ban on rallies in the capital by protesting curbs on the media."

This incident is hitting major American media now, but the stifling of press freedom by the Musharraf government is nothing new. In April, Human Rights Watch issued an open letter to Musharraf about his attempt to "muzzle the media." The English language Pakistani paper Dawn has kept tabs on the "conflict between the Government and Dawn" from 2004-2007. Reporters Without Borders' 2007 annual report on Pakistan details the fight for press freedom, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) calls the current state of the Pakistani media a "sickening crisis."

-- Neha Inamdar

While You Were Away...

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:29 PM PDT

The surge is failing, but the government's focus, such as it is, is on Iraq. Yet the whole Middle East is a tinderbox, and while the United States flexes its military and diplomatic muscles in Iraq, the rest of the region is lapsing into chaos. The notoriously volatile Palestinian refugee camp Ain al Hilweh is caught in a battle between Islamic militants and the Lebanese army. Four have died. Meanwhile, in a televised speech to commemorate the Six-Day War, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians were "on the verge of civil war." Things in Gaza have gotten so bad that some Palestinian journalists have conjectured that many residents would prefer the Israeli occupation to the hunger and joblessness that have resulted from Israeli and U.S. sanctions. Lost ground in these difficult and longstanding conflicts means long-term problems. These, too, are partially attributable to the United States' catastrophic occupation of Iraq.

Double Whammy For the Wilburys

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 3:15 PM PDT

There's something about the band name The Traveling Wilburys that's about as exciting as a bowl of cold oatmeal. But the band, which consisted of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, was considered a "fantasy camp for rockstars" when it first popped up in the late 80s.
Despite the fact that two of the band members have since passed away, the Wilburys are making a comeback with two volumes of reissued CDs. I admit, my friends and I went to great lengths making fun of the "old dudes" with a lame band name playing boring songs, but you can't ignore the Wilburys. The individuals that make up the group have a pretty amazing combined body of musical work, and as an ensemble, they snagged two hit singles and a Grammy.

—Gary Moskowitz

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A Legal Beatles Mashup

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 2:24 PM PDT

If you liked the Beatlemaniacal Powerpuff Girls clip Ben posted below, check out this sentencing memo from a Montana judge (via the Smoking Gun). Peeved that a 20-year old burglary defendant had alluded to the band as the "Beetles" in a letter to the court, Judge Gregory Todd responded thusly:

If I were to overlook your actions and Let It Be, I would ignore that Day in the Life on April 21, 2006. That night you said to yourself I Feel Fine while drinking beer. Later, whether you wanted 'Money' or were just trying to Act Naturally you became the Fool on the Hill on on North 27th Street. As Mr Moonlight at 1.30am, you did not Think for Yourself but just focused on I, Me, Mine.

Because you didn't ask for Help, Wait for Something else or listen to your conscience saying Honey Don't, the victim later that day was Fixing a Hole in the glass door you broke. After you stole the 18 pack of Old Milwaukee you decided it was time to Run For Your Life and Carry That Weight. [...]

Later when you thought about what you did, you may have said I'll Cry Instead. Now you're saying Let it Be instead of I'm a Loser. As a result of your Hard Day's Night, you are looking at a Ticket to Ride that Long and Winding Road to Deer Lodge. Hopefully you can say both now and When I'm 64 that I Should Have Known Better.

Judge Todd then said the word and set the would-be beer thief free, giving him three years probation.

Noah's Ark Of 5,000 Rare Animals Floating Off China

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 2:18 PM PDT

Five thousand of the world's rarest animals have been found drifting in a deserted boat near the coast of China. The Guardian reports the cargo included 31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards, and 1,130 Brazilian turtles, as well as 21 bear paws wrapped in newspaper. Photographs showed other animals, including an Asian giant turtle. They were found crushed inside crates on a rickety wooden vessel that had lost engine power. Most were still alive. The haul came from one of the world's most lucrative and destructive smuggling routes between the threatened jungles of southeast Asia and the restaurants of southern China. The animals were found when local fishermen noticed a strange smell emanating from the vessel, which did not have any registration plates. Coastguard officials boarded the deserted craft and found more than 200 crates of animals, many so dehydrated in the tropical sun they were close to death. The 13 tons of animals were taken to port, doused with water, and sent to an animal welfare center. "We have received some animals," said an office worker at the Guangdong Wild Animal Protection Centre. "We are waiting to hear from the authorities what we should do with them"...What to do with them? Another seriously bad day for any faith in human nature. --JULIA WHITTY

KEEP IT DOWN: Special for the Cranky Noise Police

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:22 PM PDT

All these years, the cranks among us complaining about other people's blaring music, endless car alarms and stupid, stupid leaf blowers have been right. The noises of modernity really are sending human civilization—and individuals' health—down the toilet. Read more on The Blue Marble.

Noise Pollution: The Next Frontier

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:13 PM PDT

It turns out that fossil fuel is interfering even more actively with our happiness than Bill McKibben wrote in a recent issue of Mother Jones. The daily noise created by fossil-fueled machines—traffic, and my two pet peeves, leaf blowers and jet skis—are making humans cranky and chronically stressed out. A growing body of studies has shown that noise—even noise we think we are "used to"—triggers the body's fight-or-flight instinct, depressing the immune system and taxing the heart.

The EPA has reported that "The idea that people get used to noise is a myth." True, people are especially bothered by noises they neither accept nor control. But while your attitude about your neighbor's leaf blower might affect your mood, you and the live-and-let-live neighbor across the street are likely to have the same elevated levels of stress hormones.

I've been hypothesizing since my stint teaching college some years ago that "the youth today" have a lower attention span than youth in my day. (I'm embarrassed to admit this because wondering what's wrong with "the youth today" officially makes one old, but hell, I'm getting closer and closer to 40.) The ever-increasing noise threshold of modern life (along with the temptations of portable video games and TV) may be to blame:

Another insidious effect of noise is its cultivation of what scientists call "learned helplessness." Children given puzzles in moderately noisy classrooms are not only more likely to fail to solve them but are also more likely to surrender early.

What's more, people were less willing to stop and help one another when the noise of a lawnmower was present. There's a sweeping critique of suburbia for you!

Of course, one person's noise is another's music. There's no word in these studies about how to address that difference, but it is interesting that the noises most often cited as irritating were cars, traffic, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, car alarms, and sirens. Humans weren't designed to deal with the noise engines make any more than the planet was prepared to accept huge discharges of the gases they pour out while they make them.