Iowa's Democratic Caucus Now January 3rd

| Mon Oct. 29, 2007 10:29 AM EDT

The Iowa Democratic Party has just moved its caucus up to January 3rd, the day on which the Iowa Republican caucus is already scheduled. Political journalists everywhere rejoice at the idea of a New Year's in Des Moines...

Press release after the jump.

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First Listen: Jay-Z - American Gangster

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 9:54 PM EDT

Jay-ZProving once again that retiring is the best way to drum up interest in your work, America's Richest Rapper (TM) returns with another surprisingly interesting album. Okay, sorry, maybe it shouldn't be surprising, everything Jay-Z's done is basically stellar, except for last year's lazy, aimless Kingdom Come. For American Gangster, though, Jay-Z has some inspiration: the upcoming Denzel Washington vehicle of the same name. Now, this isn't the soundtrack, but Jay-Z says each track on the album was inspired by a specific scene in the film, which he then reinterpreted through an autobiographical prism, focusing on growing up in the projects in Brooklyn. Understandably, this is emotional territory. Check out the Marvin Gaye sample in "American Dreamin'": "Oh no/I never give up," he sings, in a loop from 1976's "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" that sounds more like a plaintive cry against greater and greater odds as the song goes on.

But don't worry, the album isn't all tearjerkers; the very next track, "Hello Brooklyn," with the ubiquitous Lil Wayne on guest vocals, is all thudding bass and handclaps, with Jay-Z telling the borough "I ain't mad at you." While Diddy and the Neptunes take production credit on much of the album, "Fallin'," a highlight featuring dramatic strings and a Motown-style chorus, was produced by Southerner Jermaine Dupri. On it, Jay-Z's lyrics come fast and furious, with complicated, tongue-twisting internal rhymes, and a final denouement: "Fightin', you'll never survive/Runnin', you'll never escape/So just fall from grace."

The title track is listed as a "bonus track" on Wikipedia; I'm not sure what that means, since the song is awesome. A funky, horn-filled sample gives it a kind of '70s vibe, with appropriately snazzy metaphors: "The way I shine, it's like a zillion-dollar light bill." Jay-Z has been known for pushing the sample envelope, but on Gangster he sticks to classic soul, creatively cut up, and it gives the album a driving, urgent focus. Are we talking another Blueprint, or even Black Album? Well, probably not, but it's another fascinating chapter in the Jay-Z saga.

American Gangster is out November 8th on Roc-A-Fella, but it's leaking over here at mylifemyhiphop. Get it!

News Flash: Icebergs Still Exist

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

icebergs200.jpgThese days, everyone seems to want a piece of the Arctic. (Diamond prospectors, bone hunters, and global warming tourists are just a few northward bound parties.) After all, who knows what treasures lurk under those hunks of melting ice?

But if you're planning on skipping up to the Arctic and expecting smooth sailing, think again. Today, the International Ice Charting Working Group issued a report on the state of the Arctic sea ice. In the report is a reminder that global warming hasn't quite done away with icebergs yet:

The Arctic is already experiencing an increase in shipping, primarily for oil and gas development and tourism, and we can expect to see further increases as diminishing ice extent makes Arctic marine transportation more viable...The IICWG cautions that sea ice and icebergs will continue to present significant hazards to navigation for the foreseeable future. The Arctic will still have a winter ice cover that will linger into summer for varying lengths of time depending on a range of conditions.

Let's hope it stays that way.

3rd-Gen Prius To Be Half-Size, Price

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:41 PM EDT

prius.jpg Okay, Toyota's got my attention. But will this 3rd-generation Prius be enough of an improvement over my gas-only, LEV Civic to make the switch environmentally compelling? Toyota announced today it'll slash the price and size of its hybrid system by around half for the next Prius model, plus use a nickel-metal hydride battery instead of higher-energy lithium-ion, Planet Ark reports. But what about the all-important MPGs?

No release date yet. Maybe late 2008.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

WTF? New England Rescinds Protections For Sea Turtles

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:11 PM EDT


Come on, New England. This is a wicked bad idea—rescinding protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles caught in scallop dredges. Yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council removed seasonal restrictions on scallop dredging in an area off New Jersey. These restrictions were designed to keep loggerhead and other turtles from being entangled, crushed and drowned in industrial-sized scallop dredges. The Council also rejected a proposed seasonal closure to fishermen of an area east of the Delmarva peninsula, reports the Environmental News Network:

The Council opted to rely on untested scallop dredge modifications called "chain mats" as its sole precaution against turtle bycatch. These grids of chain prevent turtles from entering the chain bag at the rear of a dredge but are unlikely to prevent turtles from being injured by scallop dredges used by fishermen to scour the seafloor. "Turtle chains do not protect turtles from being mangled by scallop dredges. The chain mats may have simply turned scallop dredges into giant turtle bludgeons," said David Allison of Oceana.


Want one of these chain mats crashing through your world? Neither do turtles.

Wondering just how badly sea turtles are doing? Browse the IUCN Red List for loggerheads and leatherbacks.

Okay. Strike northeast scallops off my sustainable eat list.

Oh, and if you're interested in the strange bedfellows that be fishers and fisheries councils, read MoJo's The Catch

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Let's Get Scared with Spooky Halloween Mashups

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 6:10 PM EDT

Mashing PumpkinsHey, look at that, Halloween is next week, and your best chance for spooky revelry is probably this weekend. Is it just me or did that kind of sneak up on us? I haven't even decided whether I should be Wolverine again. I haven't been growing my muttonchops so it's probably moot. Anyway, some of my cohorts in the pointless world of putting songs with other songs have produced a whole compilation's worth of Halloween-themed mashups, perfect for your costume party or, uh, erotic ball. Called Mashing Pumpkins (and not to be confused with the Irish tribute band), the album had to endure some unexpected popularity after getting mentioned on Boing Boing, and their original website crashed or got overwhelmed or just shut down by unsympathetic web service providers. Now that's scary. But both Boing Boing and Mashup Town rushed to the rescue, archiving the tracks and offering them for free download; the latter even has the super scary artwork.

Party Ben recommends:
Track 5 – "I Want My Mummy"
A cheeky upbeat combo of The Who, Steve Martin, and some mummy-oriented clips from LA's Mr. Fab.
Track 6 – "Snap Yo Specials"
While the Specials' "Ghost Town" seems only tangentially Halloween-related, Lil' Jon's growly raps flow perfectly over the top.
Track 10 – "Bad Moon Werewolves"
You can't go wrong with "Werewolves of London," and the fact that the UK's Cheekyboy got "Bad Moon Rising" to fit over the top is nothing short of miraculous.

So is it time for the Christmas-themed mashup albums yet?

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While South Africa Changes, Its Rugby Federation Appears to Stay the Same

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 5:09 PM EDT

The historical powerhouse that is South African Rugby won the World Cup on Saturday, defeating England 15-6 and bringing pride to this rugby-mad country. But the decision yesterday to drop Soweto from the team's victory parade itinerary is making people question whether the squad meant only to bring pride to the Afrikaners for whom rugby has been a whites-only tradition throughout South Africa's tumultuous history.

Soweto, a black township outside of the largest and most populous city in South Africa, Johannesburg, has been the epicenter of social justice movements and a thriving black culture since the first anti-apartheid uprisings, which occurred there in 1976. Despite the fact that South African rugby has historically been a white sport, this year's World Cup rallied the whole nation behind the Springboks (the nickname of the national team). Said African National Congress lawmaker Tsietsi Louw, "During the finals, the fan parks were filled with black people. The Township shebeens [bars] ran out of drinks with blacks supporting their team."

South African Rugby Federation officials blamed the omission of Soweto on time constraints and logistics, but this is an unconvincing excuse considering the team's history of not actively recruiting young blacks or trying to build popularity in the black community. What makes this so ironic is that although the Springboks only have two black players, one of them is Bryan Habana, who was just named 2007 World Player of the Year.

—Andre Sternberg

Edmund Burke Speaks Out About Blogs and the Failure of the Democrats

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 5:04 PM EDT

What did the famous British parliamentarian and political philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) have to say about the internet and our current political circumstances? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Burke is beloved by conservative intellectuals. George Will, for instance, mentions him all the time. Quoting Burke gives their pronouncements a nice glossy sheen.

Yet their Burke-worship is genuinely bizarre. Few people understand this, since few people (including conservative intellectuals) bother to read what Burke wrote. Anyone who does, though, will immediately understand how strongly Burke would have opposed today's conservative movement, since he strongly opposed their 18th century equivalents.

This is particularly clear in Burke's 1770 pamphlet, "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents." It's not merely that Burke was writing during a time of uprisings in overseas colonies, and in opposition to a monarch named George who was trying to expand executive power and neuter the legislative branch. Almost every sentence Burke wrote applies precisely to today.

For instance, in one passage Burke sounds like he's describing current efforts by MoveOn and blogs to prevent Congress from granting telecom companies immunity for violating FISA:

Skateboarding Dogs and Dramatic Chipmunks: I Love the '00s

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

When it comes time to commemorate the pop culture of the '00s, I sincerely hope it doesn't happen via a VH1 "I Love the '90s" clone. I hope it is online, viral, and ADDed to the extreme—in short, I hope it befits this glorious decade.

Maybe it'll look something like this...

If you can identify over 75 percent of the references in that video, you are basically Perez Hilton. If you can identify 50-75 percent, you win a free Nintendo Wii and a case of Sparks. If you can identify 25-50 percent, you need to use YouTube more. If you can identify under 25 percent, you can return to your volume of Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetry and not worry about it.

(This has nothing to do with social issues or political commentary. But if the squares at The Corner can post it, so can I.)

Getting Even in Alabama

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 4:25 PM EDT

Daniel Siebert, who was convicted of capital murder in 1987, was scheduled to be executed yesterday at Holman State Prison in Atmore, Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld his execution even though Siebert's lawyers argued that it should be postponed until the U.S. Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

Alabama's determination to execute Siebert comes despite the fact that he is suffering from terminal cancer and only has a few months to live anyway. Locking up criminals is supposed to serve four aims—rehabilitation, retribution, deterrence, and societal protection. But Siebert's case surely proves that Alabama seeks only one of those ends when it comes to capital punishment: retribution.

The southern state claims it shouldn't have to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether lethal injection is cruel or unusual because it has already changed its procedure in order to ensure that the condemned is not experiencing pain while he is being put to death. But the new safeguards are hardly adequate and they really don't address the problem. The Birmingham News reports that the adjustments consist of calling out the inmate's name, pinching his arm, and brushing a finger against his eyelash in order to see if he's conscious enough to feel pain. But the inmate cannot respond to such stimulation because one of the three chemicals used during lethal injection paralyzes him and makes it impossible for him to flinch when he's pinched, let alone cry out when the third deadly chemical pumps through his blood.

Thankfully the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the absurdity of all of this in the nick of time. On Wednesday it found that the changes to Alabama's procedure were insufficient, and delayed Siebert's execution until the U.S. Supreme Court makes its ruling. Maybe by then Siebert will have died from natural causes, rather than state-inflicted vengeance.

—Celia Perry