Morning Political Trivia, July 20th Edition

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 10:29 AM EDT

This morning's question comes courtesy of my friend Dave Olsen:

Which president has a statue erected to him in the classical municipal style (full figure, bronze) declaring him to be our "least memorable president"?

And where is that statue?

Remember, no Googling, just guessing.

Most Recent Update:

"Retraction, Retraction!" that was the phone message I got from last night, but not before Jonathan had updated the post with the "answer" below, which we now know to be entirely subjective.

Here's what happened: Dave emails me the picture, no comment provided. I reply, "Can't make it out, what does it say below Chester Alan Arthur?" He emails back "least memorable president." I ask: "Where is it." And he replies: "Madison Square Park."

Did my friend Dave intentionally mislead me? No, this comes from a long line of trivia/philosophical questions passed around an extended group of friends, ranging from those that divide into bitterly divided camps—Which kind of bacon is better, floppy or crispy? (IMO: crispy).—to those to which there's an answer to which almost everyone can agree upon—such as: What's the worst album title of all time (Reo Speedwagon's "You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tune a Fish").

So "most obscure/least known" president was one such question some time back, the mostly agreed upon answer was Chester Alan Arthur (though all the presidents the commentors named were also bandied about). The next day, Dave spots the statue, takes a cell phone pic, and forgets about it until yesterday morning.

So a bad misunderstanding, and mea culpa for not triple checking with Dave. And special apologies to President Arthur, for obscure though he might be, it sounds like he acquitted himself pretty well in office (see below).

Jonathan's Original Update:
The answer is Chester A. Arthur, as commentor Mark guessed. Before moving to the White House as James Garfield's vice president, Arthur was a deputy to New York City political boss Roscoe Conkling. Arthur was an active participant in the world of graft, spoils, and the like, both while in New York and while the vice president, a fact that so angered the president that he at times refused Arthur entry to the White House. Garfield was shot by a supporter of Conkling's — leading to speculation that Arthur had engineered the situation to assume the presidency, a claim that is now generally thought to be false. Upon taking over for Garfield, Arthur, a native of the tiny town of Fairfield, VT, become a champion for civil service reform and largely acquitted himself in the eyes of history.

Said one historian, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired… more generally respected." But clearly someone dislikes him. Here's a picture of that statue we mentioned, which is located in New York City:


Bonus trivia: Arthur served as president from 1881-1885, during which time he never had a VP.

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"La Loi, C'est Moi," Part XIV

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 10:17 AM EDT

A few months ago, Seymour Hersh reported that a White House official and Iran Contra alum, Elliot Abrams, had recently led a "lessons learned" discussion about Iran Contra:

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal "lessons learned" discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: "One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office"—a reference to Cheney's role, the former senior intelligence official said.

Today the Washington Post reports that the White House may have taken that lesson to heart. It has determined, the Post reports, that in legal disputes between the Congress and the White House over executive privilege, game over, because the White House has decided no US attorney can uphold a contempt of Congress decree:

Review/Infographic: Sonic Youth, Berkeley, 7/19/07

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 4:56 AM EDT

New York combo Sonic Youth are a third of the way through their Daydream Nation tour, where they're performing the legendary 1988 album in its entirety. For simplicity's sake, here's an infographic describing my experience at the show. Enjoy.


Rural Communities Revived By Renewable Energy

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 9:40 PM EDT

Renewable energy projects in Britain not only help in the fight against climate change but also bring people together, revitalize local economies, and alleviate poverty. This according to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The study documented more than 500 community energy projects happening in the UK, far more than researchers expected to find. "There is a huge demand for this," says project leader Professor Gordon Walker. "It's no longer a question of convincing the public that small scale renewable energy is a good idea. Whenever money is made available it is snapped up immediately." The vast majority of projects, which are rural, provide new income for farmers. Some have been set up and run by communities, with shared ownership of the technology, like the cooperatively owned 750-kilowatt wind turbine at Bro Dyfi in Wales. The researchers found good projects are often driven forward by strong local enthusiasts intent on meeting a local need. . . Sounds delightfully subversive. JULIA WHITTY

Plame Lawsuit Dismissed

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 4:57 PM EDT

The civil suit filed by Valerie and Joseph Wilson against Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Richard Armitage was dismissed by a federal judge today. Ruling that the court lacked the jurisdiction to award damages for the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's covert identity, Judge John Bates made the curious argument that blowing the cover of an undercover CIA officer could be considered to fall within the job duties of an administration official. "The alleged means by which defendants chose to rebut Mr. Wilson's comments and attack his credibility may have been highly unsavory," he wrote. "But there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism... by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties."

The Wilson's counsel, Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is currently reviewing the decision and anticipates filing an appeal. After four years, Joe Wilson isn't about to back down. Here's what he had to say about the setback in a statement: "This case is not just about what top government officials did to Valerie and me. We brought this suit because we strongly believe that politicizing intelligence ultimately serves only to undermine the security of our nation. Today's decision is just the first step in what we have always known would be a long legal battle and we are committed to seeing this case through."

Glaciers & Ice Caps To Dominate Sea-Level Rise Through 21st Century

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 4:16 PM EDT

Ice loss from glaciers and ice caps is expected to cause more global sea rise this century than the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. A startling new University of Colorado at Boulder study finds glaciers and ice caps currently contributing 60 percent of the world's ice to the oceans, with the rate markedly accelerating in the past decade. The contribution is presently 100 cubic miles of ice annually, a volume nearly equal to the water in Lake Erie, and is rising by three cubic miles per year. In contrast, Greenland now contributes 28 percent of the total global sea rise from ice loss and Antarctica 12 percent. The acceleration of glaciers and ice caps is due, at least in part, to rapid changes in the flow of tidewater glaciers discharging icebergs into the ocean. The team estimates the accelerating melt of glaciers and ice caps could add 4 inches to 9.5 inches of additional sea-level rise globally by 2100 &mdash not including the thermal expansion of warming ocean water, which could double those numbers. A one-foot sea-level rise typically causes a shoreline retreat of 100 feet or more. . . In other words, even if the big canons stay frozen, these little guys are going to inflict a lot of damage.

This of the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. JULIA WHITTY

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Interview: Jack Carneal, Founder of Yaala Yaala

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 2:46 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yaala1.jpgEight years ago, 31-year-old teacher Jack Carneal moved with his wife and young son to Bougouni, Mali. While his wife was busy researching rural education, Jack became immersed in the region's home-grown musical culture, buying up hand-copied cassettes and recording live street performances. Upon returning to the states, his handing out of Mali mix-tapes for friends grew into Yaala Yaala Records, an imprint of Chicago's Drag City dedicated to bringing Malian music to more listeners. We exchanged e-mails this week.

What was daily life like in your village in Mali?

It was based on domestic rituals: hanging out with neighbors, going to the market, taking naps, preparing meals. Our son was only 2 when we were there so much of our lives—the joys and stresses—revolved around our being relatively new parents, and in such a dynamic environment, to boot. On the main it was fantastic but we lived in a cinderblock house with a tin roof, and when daytime temps got up to 115 we often longed to be elsewhere.


How difficult was the process of tracking down musicians, getting their permission to record them, and, well, getting a good take?

The 'getting a good take' part was so simple as to be nonexistent. They played, I recorded. The musicians, in many cases, would've been performing regardless of whether or not I was there, and in the other cases I'd met the musicians and hung out with them a little bit before recording them.

I was, coincidentally, obsessing over Malian duo Amadou & Mariam's Dimanche a Bamako when I happened upon the Yaala Yaala releases, but then I saw on your label's site that they're dismissed as music for "export", and not really part of the local musical culture. I had thought I recognized some similar musical motifs, but am I just a naïve westerner thinking French fries make me an expert on French cuisine?

I love Amadou and Miriam, actually, but yes, they were never once mentioned out in Bougouni. There is a scale that a lot of Malian and West African music is based on and a similar long descending melody line in some tunes as well, ergo the audible similarity.

Clean Up That Mosh Pit When You're Done

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 2:42 PM EDT

Ever seen an arena after a big show? It's an apocalyptic nightmare of trash, grime, beer bottles, cigarette butts, random articles of clothing, and sweat; not to mention the huge chunk of energy that was used to power stage lights, amps, sound boards and speakers.

Well, the green-friendly folks at Reverb, a nonprofit founded by an environmentalist and a musician, want to reduce the "environmental footprint" of big touring shows this summer—not just by recycling and reducing plastic waste at shows, but by using biodiesel tour buses and generators, eco-friendly merchandise, and biodegradable catering products. They're also setting up Eco-Villages at shows to educate folks about carbon offsets and green technologies.

Who is Reverb tagging along with this summer? Pretty boy John Mayer, The Fray, the Beastie Boys, and Brandi Carlile, who by the way is donating $.50 from every ticket back to Reverb.

So, I guess it's not cool to show up to the rock show with your pals in a gas-guzzling Ford pickup and throw beer cans all over the parking lot anymore...

Mother Jones is Going to do What? When?

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 12:25 PM EDT

After 31 years of path-breaking independent investigative journalism, Mother Jones has decided to really shake things up, and you're part of it. We're launching something bold, something big, and something brand new. Check back with us on July 23rd to find out more.

Jay Harris
President & Publisher

Daughter of Jailed Iranian American Writes About "Brutal Men Going About Their Brutal Business"

| Thu Jul. 19, 2007 11:30 AM EDT

Yesterday Iran's new 24 hour TV channel broadcast a "documentary" featuring two jailed Iranian Americans, Haleh Esfandiari, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant to the Open Society Institute. Both are being held in Evin prison. Esfandiari had been robbed of her passport in December while visiting her ailing 93 year old mother in Tehran, and since then has been undergoing interrogation by Iran's secret police, then house arrrest, and for the past 70 days, solitary confinement in Iran's notorious Evin prison. The 63 year old grandmother had run programs at the Woodrow Wilson Center that sought more than any other think tank I am aware of to promote US-Iran engagement. Its president, Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, has urged the Bush administration to talk with Iran.

Esfandiari's daugther Haleh Bakhash, a lawyer in Washington, writes in the Washington Post today about her mother's interrogators: