Blogs

While You Were Away...

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 7:29 PM EDT

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.

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Double Whammy For the Wilburys

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

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

A Legal Beatles Mashup

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 5:24 PM EDT

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 5:18 PM EDT

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 4:22 PM EDT

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 4:13 PM EDT

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.

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Antarctic Glaciers Sprinting Seaward

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

Hundreds of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are flowing faster, further adding to sea-level rise. This according to new research from the British Antarctic Survey. Satellite radar images reveal the flow rate of over 300 previously unstudied glaciers increased 12% in speed from 1993 to 2003. The observations echo recent findings from coastal Greenland. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in February they could not provide an upper limit on the rate of sea-level rise from Antarctica in coming centuries because of a lack of understanding of the behavior of the large ice sheets. These new results give scientists a clearer picture about the way that climate warming can affect glaciers both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Lead author Hamish Pritchard says "The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced some of the fastest warming on Earth, nearly 3°C over the last half-century. Eighty-seven percent of its glaciers have been retreating during this period and now we see these glaciers are also speeding up. It's important that we use tools such as satellite technology that allow us to monitor changes in remote and inaccessible glaciers on a regional scale. Understanding what's happening now gives us our best chance of predicting what's likely to happen in the future." --JULIA WHITTY

Libby Sentenced to 30 Months

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:40 PM EDT

Just a few minutes ago, Scooter Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. More from CNN, which says Libby will appeal.

Also, prominent figures across Washington -- Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Peter Pace, James Carville -- wrote to the judge on behalf of Libby. The results are good fun.

Time Wonders if Maybe All Those Terrorism Arrests Weren't Legit

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

Looks like even the mainstream media is growing skeptical of the government's terrorism arrests. Time speculates that the JFK plot was overhyped, listing eight reasons why the prosecutor and the folks above her were willing to scare Americans with outrageous statements like the one where she said the plot "could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction." Clearly nonsense, and I'm glad Time is catching on. As for Mother Jones, we reached this point years ago. Jose Padilla and the Lackawanna Six were enough.

Immigration Bill Point System: More Indian Engineers, Fewer Hispanic Families

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 12:24 PM EDT

The new immigration bill currently being hammered out by Congress has a point system to determine which potential immigrants get visas. The system awards points, which increase an applicant's chances of being let into the country, for being English proficient, having a college or graduate degree, and having a job in science, technology, or health. The plan drastically rewrites immigration policy in the United States, and if left in its current form, will fundamentally change the makeup of the country.

The first consequence of the point system is that the primary criteria for being offered a visa changes from family to profession, awarding points not for being related to a current resident of the U.S. but for having a highly skilled job. Individuals trying to bring their adult children, siblings, or parents to America will have a much harder time (spouses and minor children will still be allowed in without being subject to the point system), while engineers and scientists trying to be the first from their family to come to the States will have a much easier time. Dems are saying this breaks up families and contains an inherent class bias. Says Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, "The point system would have prevented my own parents, a carpenter and a seamstress, from coming to this country." (Note: If anti-immigration forces currently claim immigrants steal low-wage jobs from Americans, how long under the new plan until they start crying about the plight of the replaced American doctor of physicist?)

The second ramification is the corruption of the free market. Previously, companies decided what sort of employees they needed, found them from abroad or in American universities, and sponsored them for work visas, creating a perfect match between skills and available work. But the point system makes this sorting and decision-making the responsibility of the federal government. Naturally, big business hates the idea. Democrat Zoe Lofgren represents Silicon Valley, where, she says, no one is in favor. "The government is saying, in effect, 'We have a five-year plan for the economy, and we will decide with this point system what mix of skills is needed,'" she told the New York Times. "That is not the way a market-based capitalist economy works best."

The third problem is that the bill locks in the criteria for the point system for 14 years. The economy may not need engineers, mathematicians, and doctors in 14 years -- it might need unskilled labor or skilled labor of an entirely different kind.

Another effect -- and this one is neither good nor bad, I think -- is the changing racial demographics of the United States. The point system will reward characteristics already found in immigrants from Asia -- in the last 15 years, over 75 percent of immigrants from India, and over 50 percent of those from China, have had some form of college degree. And the English proficiency of immigrants from across Asia is usually high.

Indians in particular will do quite well under the point system, and immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico will do quite poorly. Currently over 40 percent of Indian immigrants are in science, technology, engineering, or health. That compares to less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Over 40 percent of Indian immigrants come with a master's degree or higher. That compares with less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Almost 70 percent of Indian immigrants come speaking English fluently or "very well." That compares to 20 percent of Mexican immigrants.

So in addition to looking at the immigration plan's plethora of other problems, senators need to take a long hard look at the point system. It has some problems, but more than that, it will have a tremendous impact on the composition of our country -- is that something they want to engineer? -- and deserves the utmost care.