mojo-photo-siriusxmmerger.jpgRolling Stone reports that the long-anticipated union of XM and Sirius' roster of music channels took place today, resulting in the elimination of some stations. The move had been expected since the companies' merger went through back in July, but it still took some listeners by surprise. Flagship stations like Sirius' Howard Stern channel and the Eminem-led "Shade 45" as well as XM's Bob Dylan and Tom Petty stations will remain, unsurprisingly, but say goodbye to Sirius' "Left of Center" (whose college rock playlist is now supposed to be covered by XM's "XMU") and XM's "Fred," "Ethel" and "Lucy," whose variations on the alt-rock theme are all kaput.

After the jump: hear a station die!

whale.jpgThe Supreme Court ruled today that a lower court overstepped its authority last February when, citing severe harm to whales and other marine mammals, it imposed strict rules on the Navy's use of sonar in the ocean off of Southern California.

The plaintiff in the case was the Natural Resources Defense Council, but it's not just environmental advocacy groups that oppose sonar. In 2006, Mother Jones reported that the International Whaling Commission, the UN, and a number of scientists had all concluded that the widespread use of sonar likely causes organ lesions, brain hemorrhages, and severe decompression sickness, all leading to mass beachings and deaths.

Despite the primacy of these concerns in the NRDC's filing, the court's decision did not directly address the merits of the environmental group's case. Chief Justice John Roberts did argue, however, that regardless of what harm the animals might suffer, the Navy's interests would almost certainly outweigh the whales'.

"For the plaintiffs, the most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of the marine mammals that they study and observe," he wrote. "In contrast, forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained antisubmarine force jeopardizes the safety of the fleet."

Guess no one told him that destroying marine ecosystems will cause bigger problems for the Navy than an enemy submarine.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from zen.

Top 5: New Music

mojo-photo-top5-1112.jpg

In this edition, blippy '80s-style electro bemoans unrequited love, swaggering rock offers brutal dishonesty, freaky beats reminisce about sugary treats, Portugal gives us the party jams, and in the biggest shocker of all, a hip-hop producer may enjoy marijuana.

1. Lo-Fi Fnk – "Want U" (from Kitsune Maison 6)
This track from the juggernaut French electro label combines a retro-rave piano line with deadpan neo-80s vocals for a sound that's somewhere between Madonna producer Stuart Price and Cut Copy, then, halfway through, it seems to de- and re-construct itself. Sure, as the lyrics say, "you can't make someone want you," but you can sure make them like your crazy tune. (mp3 from Ohh! Crapp)

2. Eagles of Death Metal – "Anything 'Cept the Truth" (from Heart On on Downtown)
These Eagles have always seemed like a junk-food dalliance compared to Josh Homme's other project, the meat-and-potatoes (and, uh, drugs) Queens of the Stone Age. The new album is a mixed bag and often descends into eye-rolling raunch-camp, but when it gets a little serious, it takes on the strutting groove of the Rolling Stones. (Stream at Last.fm)

3. Tobacco – "Hairy Candy" (from F***ed Up Friends on Anticon)
People call this kind of music "druggy," but to me it just seems awesome, although I've always said I may just be naturally stoned. Tobacco is apparently one guy, a member of Pittsburgh freaks Black Moth Super Rainbow (whose 2007 album Dandelion Gum is also great). Friends was recorded way out in rural Pennsylvania, and while its noodly synth melodies may owe something to Boards of Canada, this is gritty and organic music, a nature walk with a kooky 70s soundtrack. (mp3 from Penned Madness)

EVEN YET MORE ON CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS....Admit it: you can't get enough of credit default swaps, can you? Well, after yesterday's post on the subject, a bunch of people insisted that I needed to read Michael Lewis's latest piece in Portfolio right away, and since I'm a big Michael Lewis fan I got right on it. As usual, it's great, so do yourself a favor and drink in the whole thing sometime soon.

For now, though, let's focus just on the CDS part of Lewis's piece. Here's the backstory: a hedge fund manager named Steve Eisman, who believed the entire subprime house of cards was due to implode, wanted a way to bet against the market. So he shorted the stocks of subprime originators like New Century and Indy Mac and then looked around for even more targeted ways to make money on the coming collapse. The Holy Grail came from Greg Lippman, a mortgage-bond trader at Deutsche Bank:

The smart trade, Lippman argued, was to sell short not New Century's stock but its bonds that were backed by the subprime loans it had made. Eisman hadn't known this was even possible — because until recently, it hadn't been. But Lippman, along with traders at other Wall Street investment banks, had created a way to short the subprime bond market with precision....Instead of shorting the actual BBB bond, you could now enter into an agreement for a credit-default swap with Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs. It cost money to make this side bet, but nothing like what it cost to short the stocks, and the upside was far greater.

But why was a bond trader recommending that Eisman short bonds in his own market? The answer came after Eisman had a conversation at an industry dinner:

His dinner companion in Las Vegas ran a fund of about $15 billion and managed C.D.O.'s backed by the BBB tranche of a mortgage bond, or as Eisman puts it, "the equivalent of three levels of dog shit lower than the original bonds."....[But] not only did he not mind that Eisman took a dim view of his C.D.O.'s; he saw it as a basis for friendship. "Then he said something that blew my mind," Eisman tells me. "He says, 'I love guys like you who short my market. Without you, I don't have anything to buy.' "

That's when Eisman finally got it. Here he'd been making these side bets with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank on the fate of the BBB tranche without fully understanding why those firms were so eager to make the bets. Now he saw. There weren't enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors' appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman's bet to synthesize more of them....The only assets backing the bonds were the side bets Eisman and others made with firms like Goldman Sachs. Eisman, in effect, was paying to Goldman the interest on a subprime mortgage. In fact, there was no mortgage at all. "They weren't satisfied getting lots of unqualified borrowers to borrow money to buy a house they couldn't afford," Eisman says. "They were creating them out of whole cloth. One hundred times over! That's why the losses are so much greater than the loans. But that's when I realized they needed us to keep the machine running. I was like, This is allowed?"

I still won't pretend that I fully understand this. In fact, every time I read a story like this, it seems to get right up to the good stuff — "They were creating them out of whole cloth. One hundred times over!" — and then suddenly moves on. But I want more! I want an entire 10,000 word piece on how the combination of CDOs and CDS allowed Wall Street to magnify their underlying subprime losses so catastrophically. Instead, I just get a teaser and then the story meanders off in a more colorful direction.

Better than nothing, I suppose. And you should read Lewis's entire piece regardless. But I still wish someone could explain in layman's terms what this all means.

UPDATE: Further explanation here on what Eisman was doing and how the swaps he bought "synthesized" subprime mortgages. It doesn't explain exactly how big CDS losses are or which sectors of the financial industry lost most of the money from them, but it does explain the mechanics a bit better.

mojo-photo-tegansaraelton.jpgThe passage of California's Proposition 8, re-banning same-sex marriage, has inspired a variety of responses from music's out gays. While most have reacted with anger, some even threatening to withhold taxes, Sir Elton John is more practical. Gays and lesbians have often made peace with our lack of marriage rights by rejecting the institution itself, and John has taken this side, blaming Prop 8's win on "the word marriage" freaking people out:

"What is wrong with Proposition 8 is that they went for marriage… I don't want to be married. I'm very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership," said John. "The word marriage, I think, puts a lot of people off. You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships."

Okay, Elton, let me introduce you to Tegan & Sara.

pegandjen.JPGThough many of us on the West Coast are still despondent over the passage of Prop 8, there's reason to take heart: in Connecticut this morning, the first same-sex couples took their state-sanctioned marriage vows.

The state's supreme court legalized the marriages in October, and local courts finalized the details this morning. Last week, Connecticut voters rejected a ballot measure that would have opened the way for a constitutional challenge to the marriages, even as Californians passed Prop 8.

For me, this issue hits close to home: After sixteen years in a committed relationship, my uncle and his partner got married this past summer in Los Angeles. Prop 8's victory last week was a huge emotional blow to them, and to me.

But another personal connection gives me hope. Peg Oliveira, one of the women who got married in Connecticut this morning, was my yoga teacher while I lived in New Haven. The local online daily profiled Peg and her wife today. The two had vowed to get married, she said, "when the state of Connecticut gets around to it and catches up to us." I couldn't be happier that it finally has.

Photo of Peg Oliveira (right) and her wife, Jen Vickery, courtesy New Haven Independent.

As Barack Obama prepares to take office, all sorts of advocacy groups are angling for his attention. And atheists, too, are seeking his blessing. This week the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobbying group for "atheists, humanists and freethinkers," released its wish list. The group is not looking for Obama to remove "In God We Trust" from US currency. It has a more a modest agenda: countering what it claims is discrimination against atheists and non-Christians in the military.

The group is requesting that Obama appoint leaders who are committed to a secular military and that he issue a directive to the military that explicitly prohibits proselytization, prayers at mandatory events, and official statements endorsing a particular faith. The proposal also advocates creating a "commission for religious accommodation" within the Pentagon's Inspector General's office.

mojo-photo-nevermindguy.jpgI know your corns were giving you trouble and you just stepped on your bifocals, but here's another reminder of your rapidly advancing age: the wee tot whose wee-wee was displayed proudly on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album is now 17 years old, and he has recreated the famous photo, just to rub it in. Spencer Elden was just a baby when his parents were paid $200 to drop him in a pool for the up-and-coming Seattle band. The resulting image of the infant swimming hungrily after a dollar bill (coinciding with Nirvana's move to Geffen) has since become one of the most iconic in the history of recorded music. MTV News says it's "unclear" why Elden shot the new photo, although I think the subject of the photo itself might be a big hint. Elden's wearing dopey board shorts in the new photo, which EW's Popwatch blog says turns out to be "the difference between art and commerce," and they're right: naked, it would have been a kind of John-Lennon-In-Bed-With-Yoko statement, but instead it gives the impression some sleazy web site gave him 50 bucks, and he goes "okay, but I'm keeping the shorts on," and they go, "fine, just hurry up, we've got a Lohan story to cover." So the whole thing feels more sad and embarrassing than anything else. ...Or wait, maybe that's our gray hair that's sad and embarrassing.

Photo from splashnewsonline.com.

Seeing Party Ben's post on Jay Z's new victory rap, I thought I'd add a link to an NPR bit on how Obama energized (and cleaned up) some rappers. Apparently, some have moved from 'hos to po-li-ti-cos!

Get it?

See? I'm not a nerd.

What Just Happened

WHAT JUST HAPPENED....Despite all the grief she's gotten, I continue to think that the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate represents the breaking of a consensual cultural barrier far more fundamental than most people realize. It's not just that she was inexperienced (Spiro Agnew and John Edwards weren't much more experienced than Palin when they ran for VP) but that she was — obviously, transparently, completely — uninterested in and uninformed about national policy at nearly every level. We've simply never seen someone so completely unmoored from the normal requirements of national office before. She was chosen purely at the level of celebrity, and an awful lot of people seemed to be just fine with that.

Unfortunately, I've never really been able to find the words to describe just how corrosive I think her choice was. The whole affair just left me gobsmacked. So instead I'll turn the floor briefly over to Andrew Sullivan:

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy....The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months — and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish — is a sign of their total loss of nerve.

....This deluded and delusional woman still doesn't understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her — but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Andrew's obsession with Palin was often hard to take, and I sometimes wished I could reach through the screen and strangle him whenever he started talking about Trig Palin again. Still, aside from the "clinically unhinged" crack, I agree with all of this. Disturbing hardly begins to describe what we've gone though with Palin over the past two months.

UPDATE: Via email, here's an excerpt from Wolf Blitzer's interview today with Palin:

BLITZER: Another question. What are your new ideas on how to take the Republican Party out of this rut that it's in right now? Give me one or two new ideas that you're going to propose to these governors who have gathered here in this hotel.

PALIN: Well, a lot of Republican governors have really good ideas for our nation because we're the ones there on the front lines being held accountable every single day in service to the people whom have hired us in our own states and the planks in our platform are strong and they are good for America. It's all about free enterprise and respecting the ...

BLITZER: Does that mean you want to come up with a new Sarah Palin initiative that you want to release right now.

PALIN: Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I'm going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it's our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don't get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we're dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.

Should I laugh or should I cry? I think it depends on whether Palin disappears back into well-earned obscurity over the next few months.