Blogs

U.S. Always Outsourcing, More Contractors Than U.S. Troops in Iraq

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 5:53 PM EDT

Americans are known for outsourcing everything. So, why not the Iraq war too? Currently, contractors in Iraq number more than 180,000, according to the Associated Press. 137,000 of them are working for the Department of Defense, and thousands more have been separately contracted by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Their number is greater than the 163,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq now.

As journalist Jeremy Scahill writes, "In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely profitable for a few unaccountable private companies."

And this "shadow army" is accountable to no one, thanks to the immunity granted by U.S. authorities following the invasion in 2003, which essentially prohibits Iraqi courts from prosecuting contractors. This action prompted politicians on both sides of the aisle to introduce bills which would place U.S. security contractors under U.S. federal criminal codes. But in the meantime, contractors continue to rake in billions of dollars in Iraq and surely, when we withdraw, they'll make bank off that as well.

—Neha Inamdar

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Heroes" Season Two Premieres Tonight - Party at My House

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 5:25 PM EDT

Heroes
The saga of NBC's breakout hit "Heroes" is oddly inspiring. Remember back in the Fall of '06, everyone was excited about this new show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." It's Sorkin Does SNL! What could go wrong? Like millions of TV viewers, I tuned in for "Studio 60," and then just left the TV on, discovering a kind of cheesy "X-Men" ripoff with an eye-rollingly bland and weirdly jingoistic title. And, like millions of viewers, by the third week, I'd stopped even turning on the TV til 9pm, completely exasperated by "Studio 60" and enthralled with "Heroes." I'm a sci-fi junky, for sure, especially if the World Hangs in the Balance, but "Heroes" had unusual charms for a network TV show: first of all, its ethnic diversity was unparalleled for prime-time, with multiple interracial romantic relationships, and significant portions of the show taking place in Japanese with English subtitles. After a while, I began to get the sneaking suspicion that the producers had chosen the title "Heroes" as a kind of cover—behind the vaguely 9/11-y protection of that word, the show was free to push the envelope.

Not that its first season was without troubles. The cast's diversity didn't extend to the gays, and what appeared to be a gay character seemed to suddenly re-enter the closet; plus, an extended subplot about a mother's "bad side" got kind of annoying. Its finale was also underwhelming, with the flying politician sacrificing himself to save New York City in a cheap "oops sorry I've been evil this whole time but now I'm real sorry" plot twist. But for sheer inventiveness, the series reached some amazing heights, most notably an episode set five years in the future, full of head-spinning unexplained situations and dystopian terror. Plus, hello: George Takei!!

Tonight, we pick up where we left off: Hiro's stuck, inexplicably, in feudal Japan, baddy Sylar survived, and a new bigger baddy is apparently on the way. "Heroes" is no "Buffy" (despite its superhero cheerleader subplot) and who knows if the series can survive the transition from ignored underdog to great white hope of a sinking network. But tonight at 9, I'll be tuned in.

Fujimori Handed Over to Peru

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

Last Friday, Chile's Supreme Court ruled to extradite former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori to face charges of corruption, and more importantly, human rights violations in Peru. Within a day of the decision, authorities packed Fujimori into a helicopter and flew him to the airport, from where he was shuttled off to Lima. This is pretty stunning considering every indication from Chile's high court could have predicted exactly the opposite and that it is not unlike a South American court to let one of its leaders get away with, well, murder. But Chile's unprecedented ruling might just change the game.

News reports indicate that Chile's full Supreme Court lost its nerve after initially deciding to reject Fujimori's extradition, but what's really important here is that for the first time in modern history a domestic court of a sovereign nation has returned a dictator to face the people he abused. I definitely didn't see this one coming.

—Rafael Valero

Ahmadinejad Claims Gays Do Not Exist in Iran

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

This is why you let guys like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak. They eventually make asses of themselves. From the Iranian president's highly disputed appearance at Columbia:

Actually, um, there are gays in Iran. Think Progress quotes 365gay.com: "Some international gay rights groups believe that more than 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs seized power in 1979." And here's video proof.

Producers Tailoring Mixes for iPods

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

MP3 Spectrum Analysis

NME is featuring a British production combo, The Boilerhouse Boys, who got sick of nobody knowing who they were, and decided to craft a press release touting their supposedly new production technique that's specifically designed for the iPod. The previously-anonymous Boys say they analyzed early stereo recordings, as well as the compression effects of MP3 and Apple AAC encoding, to come up with their innovative strategy: turn up the treble!

'Poduction' works by giving a boost to the higher frequencies, copying Motown recording techniques. Now even the likes of Kaiser Chiefs are set to release a 'poduction' remix, reports BBC News. Explaining their method further, Ben Wolff, one half of The Boilerhouse Boys said: "All of those Motown singles were sent up to the technical department who would analyse it and send it back with recommendations on how to make it louder. They'd say 'add another tambourine, put in some footsteps', or whatever. "I don't think the average fan will necessarily be able to tell the difference", Wolff added, "but you'll know which one you like more, even if you don't know why."

Well, if I see a news story about the Boilerhouse Boys, now I know why. Anyway, the quality issue about mp3s is hard to pin down; compression methods vary depending on the encoder, and they've advanced significantly in the past few years. A "Variable Bit Rate" 128 kbit/s mp3 in joint stereo created using a current encoder can sound almost as good as a CD, depending on the song, and Apple's AAC encoding (used with songs you buy from iTunes) has always sounded pretty good at 128 kbit/s. But the Boilerhouse Boys are right that it's the high end where you can really hear the difference with a crappy mp3: a kind of crackly blockiness on the hi-hat, like the audio equivalent of a bad JPEG (see the spectrum analysis of an mp3 above). However, with most current recordings maxed out in terms of volume anyway (compare a new CD with one of your old Cure CDs or something), it's unclear how much louder any part can get.

The uncompressed audio on a regular CD is recorded at the equivalent of 1378 kbit/s; that means it has ten times the info of your iTunes AAC file, no matter how well it's encoded. And let's not forget vinyl records, whose method of pressing grooves into black glop has a resolution limited only by, well, the size and number of atoms in the glop. Now that's bit rate. I've always preferred the warmth of vinyl, and that's why I don't feel bad about grabbing free mp3s: if I really like 'em, I'll buy the record. But honestly, I probably lost about 30% of my hearing at a My Bloody Valentine show in 1992 that was like standing inside a fluffy pink jet engine, so who knows what things really sound like.

Bush Opts Out of U.N. Global Warming Talks

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 2:44 PM EDT

Guess who's coming to dinner?

In the case of today's U.N. climate talks, it's President Bush. Too bad he's skipping the rest of the day.

Yes, that's right, in yet another my-way-or-the-highway climate move, the president has declined to participate in a daylong U.N. meeting. The meeting's goal? To bring world leaders together to fight climate change. But instead of joining the party, President Bush is throwing his own, with a different theme: He wants each of the world's most powerful nations to set up its own carbon emissions standards. The embarrassing message: The U.S. doesn't want to cooperate, and neither should anyone else!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

DLC Prez Wins Romney Ad-Making Contest

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

Democratic Leadership Council President and Slate blogger Bruce Reed answered the call last week when the Romney for President campaign launched a "create your own ad" contest. Team Mitt promised to buy air time for the ad with the most "love" and page views. Reed apparently couldn't resist. He used the campaign's official materials (provided by the contest), cut and pasted, and— voila!—created "Way!," a funny riff on how Mitt dissuaded son Tagg from becoming a Democrat.

The Romney people were not amused and have banned Reed's creation from the contest (which got all of 137 entries, according to Reed). Nonetheless, Reed's creation has generated vastly more love than anything the Mitt supporters have come up with. See it for yourself here:
jumpcut movie:"Way!"

Does Eco-Tourism Encourage Child Labor?

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 1:39 PM EDT

There may be no way to travel guilt-free.

For a while, carbon offsets looked promising—we were told (and we told ourselves) that by paying a little extra, we could make it as if our long-haul flights never happened at all! Well, as it turns out, not quite.

The latest bad news about carbon offsets: In some cases, child laborers may be paying for our supposedly ethically sound vacations. Climate Care, a British company that finances sustainable projects in the developing world, is at the center of the scandal:

Climate Care uses the money to help persuade families...to give up labour-saving diesel pumps and buy human-powered treadles instead. It claims that by using the treadle, a family will save money on diesel and hire charges, earn more from increased crops and cut the carbon emissions that would have been produced by the pump.

And in many of these families, the human that powers the treadle is a child (the London Times found a family who, because of financial circumstances, had a six-year-old child working half-hour shifts on the treadle).

So much for guilt-free.


Everyone Start Mailing Newt Gingrich Checks Right Now

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 1:38 PM EDT

Christopher Orr highlights the best part of Newt Gingrich's Fox News interview from yesterday.

CHRIS WALLACE: You've been flirting with the idea of running for president for months. And this week you said you want to see if you can get pledges of $30 million before deciding. How is that going to work?
NEWT GINGRICH: ....Next Monday, Randy Evans, who's been my friend and adviser for many, many years, will hold a press briefing. Randy will spend the next three weeks checking with people around the country. If he reports back that, in fact, we think the resources are there for a real race.... then close to that we'll face a very big decision in late October. If there aren't enough resources, I'm not for doing unrealistic things.
WALLACE: But why even go through it unless, if you get the money, you'd run?
GINGRICH: I think the odds are very high, if we ended up with that level of pledges, we'd -- I don't see as a citizen how you could turn that down.
WALLACE: So you'd run.
GINGRICH: I think you'd be compelled to.

People say Hillary would fare poorly in a general election because she would energize Republicans. Newt Gingrich would do the same to Democrats, except times a thousand. So everyone get out your checkbooks and start mailing money to this Randy Evans fellow. Or just use newt.org. Winning the future!

More on Rudy and the NRA

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 12:51 PM EDT

Here's Rudy awkwardly answering a phone call from his wife during the speech I mentioned below. Note the equally awkward jokes afterward.

And here's Rudy roughly ten years ago calling the NRA extremists. This can't play well.