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Men Are From Mars, But Only If They're Straight

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 6:34 PM EST

Today, AmericaBlog reported on the offensive SuperBowl commercial that aired yesterday. In it, two men, nibbling from both ends of a Snickers bar, wind up accidentally kissing, and then have to do something "manly" to neutralize the incident. Three alternate endings to the commercial were posted on a special Snickers website created by Mars, Inc. Also posted was a video of Bears and Colts team members reacting to the commercial, saying things like "That ain't right" and making faces of disgust.

Mars didn't stop there. They also posted commercials planned for the airing of the Daytona 500. In one, a man mocks what is supposed to be a gay mannerism, in another, the kissing men have to drink toxic substances in order to destroy the effects of a man-on-man kiss, and they scream and vomit while they do so. And in another, when the men decide they must "do something manly," one of them picks up a giant wrench and attacks the other, and the second man puts the first man's head under the hood of a car, and then slams the hood on his head. The Raw Story suggested this ad be named "Matthew Shepard."

The Human Rights Campaign has called on Mars, Inc. (which is owned by billionaire Republican activist families) to pull all of the ads from its website. As of now, you can get to the page, but when you click on the videos, they do not appear.

In a related story, Colts coach Tony Dungy is the honored guest at the gay-hating Indiana Family Institute's Friends of the Family banquet. Tickets for the fundraiser are $75 apiece, and it is expected to be a sell-out.

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Prince Super Bowl Half Time Show: Rebuttal

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 5:24 PM EST

Oh, previous post, you could not be more wrong! My apologies for creating a new post rather than just commenting on yours, but I wanted to include some links.

Video of the actual performance:
- Part 1;
- Part 2;
- Part 3

Other reviews:
- Kelefa Sanneh in the Times
- Tom Breihan in the Village Voice

I promise I'm not just towing the critical line here when I say that I thought this performance was fantastic. (I was in a car driving up I-5 at the time so I had to watch those YouTube links after the fact, but still). I'll gladly admit that any of Prince's recorded output over the past 10 years (or more) has been forgettable at best, and that's incredibly sad considering the brilliance of his work in the 80s. But in this performance on Sunday, he utterly redeemed himself. Given the miniscule performance time, as well as the short attention span and enormous demographic range of viewers, he did the only logical thing: jam together a string of hits (his own and otherwise) like a prime-time DJ set. I don't think it's "pandering" to play a song people know, especially considering every single moment of even the most familiar numbers was altered in some way. He brought completely new melodies and a call-and-response vocal to "Let's Go Crazy," basically created a live mashup of the intro to "1999" with "Baby I'm a Star" and "Proud Mary," and injected every song with a raw, gritty power via those amazing guitar solos. Plus, considering the recent hullabaloo over black musicians playing rock music, there was something both utterly natural and deeply subversive in seeing Prince take on Foo Fighters' ubuquitous (and mediocre) "Best of You," and turn it into an almost-unrecognizably great song that straddled arena rock and gospel.

Ultimately, though, it was the casual ease with which he handled the almost unimaginable pressure of the event that made this such a riveting performance. He tossed off lyrics like he was just improvising at practice, walked away from the mic to deliver a one-handed guitar solo, and sauntered back halfway through a line like it just didn't matter. As Sanneh put it in the Times, Prince "looked as if he were getting away with something," and whether that was the knowledge that an artist once decried as obscene is giving a safe-but-thrilling performance at a venue now terrified of supposed obscenity, the thought that a quirky, diminutive experimental genius could so easily position himself squarely in the middle of the American mainstream, or just the fact that someone who went so quickly from superstardom to silly-symbol joke could come back so triumphantly, it was amazing to watch. One ticket to the Prince Las Vegas show, please.

Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today to Get Through This Thing Called the Super Bowl Half Time Show

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 4:08 PM EST

Super Bowl halftime shows are, of course, bland blimps of branding; processed cheese whiz for the widest possible audience, which no amount of excess, earnestness, or manufactured controversy can puncture. So I was surprised to feel a touch of sadness as I watched Prince roll out all the empty signifiers one would expect from a Pepsi commercial: the atonal call-and-response with "authentic" fans; the writhing Aussie twinbots, and the accessory du jour, the marching band. Prince was once so transgressive, so outsider, and so defiantly himself, and now here he was warbling feeble medley versions of 20-year-old songs. The only song that stood up to the ant-in-a-swimming-pool staging was "Purple Rain," and that was only because it always was a lighters-aloft arena power ballad anyway.

The Purple One could not even shock sartorially: In his teal frock coat and orange shirt, he looked like Little Richard dressed as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, and although I was glad to see him strap on the purple glyph guitar for "Purple Rain," I half expected him to coax a fountain of Pepsi from it, in a nod to the fret board autoeroticism of his past live shows.

Or maybe it was just a sign of the times. Perhaps what I'm really offended by is the fact that my musical heroes are now officially irrelevant.

Iraq More Expensive than Vietnam

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:48 PM EST

According to the Washington Post, Bush will ask Congress today for a quarter of a trillion dollars in additional funding to cover the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president wants $100 billion added to the $70 billion already allotted for this year, and $145 billion for next.

As the costs in Iraq spiral upward, once provocatively high estimates of the Iraq War's costs—like the one [PDF] offered late last year by Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard's Linda Bilmes, which predicted the war would cost more than a trillion dollars—are beginning to look too conservative.

WaPo notes:

The new war spending would bring the overall cost of fighting to about $745 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States -- adjusting for inflation, more than was spent on the Vietnam War.

And don't forget that what Congress earmarks for Iraq and Afghanistan only reflects a fraction of the wars' true economic burden. (See an article Stiglitz and Bilmes' penned for the Milken Insitute Review explaining their assessment of the future and human costs of the Iraq war broken down, as best they can be, into dollar and cents).

--Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Nowhere To Run To

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:37 PM EST

This weekend, the Washington Post reported on the ever-worsening refugee crisis in Iraq. Through the profile of a once-famous singer from Baghdad, the story of nearly 2 million refugees is told. Saad Ali, who has to disguise his Iraqi accent with a Jordanian dialect while living in Jordan's shadows, "teeters on the fringes of life." I have written on this crisis many times before. One of the biggest issues facing Iraqi refugees is the dearth of safe havens. Jordan and Syria have handled a disproportionate amount of this exodus, but after the 2005 bombing in Amman, Jordan essentially shut its borders and increased its surveillance of its Iraqi refugees, hence Sali's life in the shadows. Right now, the Bush administration only allows 500 Iraqi refugees to enter the country. Yup, just 500. So, really that just leaves Syria. Hence the Post's narrative:

"On Jan. 13, knots of Iraqis waited to board 14 buses to Syria...Humfash (the travel agent) makes all his passengers sign waiver forms that read: 'I am traveling on my own responsibility and God is the only one that protects us.'"

As the United Nations tries to determine what can be done, and the United States dutifully ignores the thousands of Iraqis banging down its door, Sali and his fellows Iraqi citizens are left with little hope. The U.S. can hardly get a handle on Iraq's security. The Bush administration is hoping that Petraeus will be a quick fix or an easy out, at the very least. So, if the administration can't even put in the effort, time or resources into staving off a potential proxy war or complete chaos in the Middle East (which would really be in its best interest), I highly doubt that it has any intention of saving refugees. Not to mention the political repercussions. Because if you let Iraqi refugees into our country in droves, then you are admitting their country is not safe for them. If their country isn't safe, then I think it is safe to say, we failed our mission. And this is an even more dire situation for the Shi'ites who face the most persecution in Syria and Jordan, which are both predominantly Sunni and you can be sure they'd be the very last to be granted asylum here.

Global Warming is Only One Symptom

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:31 PM EST

Finally the world is paying some attention to the IPCC reports. Finally there's a sort of awareness of global warming. May the global attention span stretch to meet the need.

But guess what? Climate change is only one symptom of a greater disease scientists call global environmental change (GEC). Global warming is the rash. GEC is the bubonic plague. The other symptoms are equally deadly and still barely recognized outside science. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) lists the following:

• Half of Earth's land surface is now domesticated for direct human use.

• 75 percent of the world's fisheries are fully or over-exploited .

• The composition of today's atmosphere is well outside the range of natural variability the Earth has maintained over the last 650,000 years.

• The Earth is now in the midst of its sixth great extinction event.

This blogger first interviewed James Hansen, the father of global climate change science, in 1985. That's right. Twenty-two years ago, Hansen was trotting out his climate graphics and talking about sea level rise and carbon dioxide. Well, we don't have another 22 years to address the rest of the list. Homo sapiens rip-van-winkleus needs an infusion of Red Bull and reality.

Kevin Noone, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, notes that the IPCC work establishes a template for the other systemic problems:

The IPCC report, with its interdisciplinary approach to climate change, is a clear example of how the Earth needs to be considered as a coupled system in order to understand global environmental change… The study of the Earth as a system, looking not only at climate but also at changes in the oceans and on land, how those changes affect each other, and the role of humans as part of that system is a crucial approach to managing a sustainable planet.

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The Iraq Debate Begins

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:08 PM EST

The Senate debate that begins this afternoon is not quite what it seems to be. The resolution is non-binding, and the president's surge already is in full swing. If the Senate votes against Bush, the president can always turn around and say, "Big Deal. I am the commander-in-chief. Go screw yourselves!" And if the surge succeeds, which seems hard to believe, then the president is off the hook.

But if the Senate comes down against the president and the Bush surge flops, then the president will walk the plank. He will be without any credibility as will those Republicans who supported him. So the full import of this vote may be several months off, maybe even 6 months away, dragging Iraq into the middle of the presidential campaign.

The debate takes place against the backdrop of the presidential election and, much less discussed but crucially important for Democratic control of congress, the re-election of 33 members of the Senate. Of that total Republicans are defending 21, the Dems a dozen. A CQ Weekly analysis finds the GOP in danger of losing 6 seats, with the Dems in danger in two states -- Louisiana and South Dakota.

The Dem margin of control is so thin, the two danger spots must be taken seriously. One involveas Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, which she has held with narrow margins. People have left New Orleans which could effect the vote in unknown ways. In South Dakota, Tim Johnson won election in 2002 by 524 votes. He has not fully recovered from his recent brain hemmorrage, and his future seems problematic.

On the other hand, there are any number of Republican senators teetering on the brink: Such moderate Republicans as Maine's Susan Collins and New Hampshire's John Sununu could go down in a Democratic blitz. Wayne Allard is retiring in Colorado and CQ thinks the Dems there could pick up that seat. Dems eye Libby Dole in North Carolina and Gordon Smith in Oregon. And then there is always Al Franken's bid in Minnesota.

John Edwards Releases Health Care Plan

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 2:35 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has released his health care proposal, and I'll try to hit the main points here, with the disclaimer up front that I will echo a lot of what Ezra Klein has said on the American Prospect blog.

First of all, health care is still tied to the employer, but not really.  edwards130.jpg Employers have an obligation to purchase health care for every employee either through their current practices or through a "health market," which is a non-profit purchasing pool that offers both private plans and a public one modeled after Medicare. The benefits of these "health markets" are obvious: every employed person has access to public health care if he or she so desires, "health markets" can use economies of scale to get lower premiums, and the competition between public and private plans within a "health market" will drive down prices. There is even the possibility of a single-payer future. As the Edwards plan puts it, "This American solution will reward the sector that offers the best care at the best price. Over time, the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan."

It's a fairly neat mix of the public sector and the private sector, and it relies on the market to drive down costs instead of government protections, so it might have some appeal to Republicans. But what about Americans who don't have jobs? They will be given tax credits so they will be able to purchase their own plan through the same "health markets" the business use. Also, Medicaid will be expanded to insure low-income Americans are taken care of.

You can read the whole thing in PDF format here. There's a whole bunch of stuff in there about how Edwards plans on helping doctors do their jobs better and more inexpensively, but because that part matters less to the vast majority of Americans, it will probably get little coverage. It will be interesting to see how the insurance lobby reacts to all this.

Can Brainiacs Save the War in Iraq?

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 10:55 AM EST

That's the question asked in a Washington Post article that says new Iraq commander David Petraeus has put war planning in the hands of a team of "warrior-intellectuals" who have been leading critics of the way the Army has operated for the last three years.

In effect, the war has been turned over to a special group of dissidents -- "military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq" -- who are being told, "Here, you try." The new counter-insurgency chief is "an outspoken officer in the Australian Army" who "holds a PhD in anthropology, for which he studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia." Petraeus' executive officer "received a PhD at Ohio State for a dissertation on how U.S. Army infantry divisions were developed during World War II." One of Petraeus' advisors is based at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and wrote a book "about the failures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War."

This infusion of talent is undoubtedly a good thing, but one wonders (1) why it took so long to get the Army's most qualified people on the scene, and (2) if even the military's best brain trust can save a bad situation. The Post article quotes two professors as saying Petraeus' new plan is inevitably destined for failure because the conditions on Iraq are past the point of redemption.

Leigh was thinking the same way last week when she wrote that Petraeus is being set up to fail.

If we fail in Iraq it will no longer be the fault of the Bush administration's years of incompetence before, during and after the war (all of which is thoroughly documented in the Mother Jones timeline). This is the same criticism that has been made about Bush's escalation of troops, that the administration can claim, "we sent 20,000 troops, what more can we do?" Now, they have an even better scapegoat -- the most revered General in the United States Army. That seems fair. "Look, if Petraeus couldn't do it, there was nothing more that possibly could have been done," they'll say, as they wipe their hands clean. What is even more infuriating is that maybe it can be done, maybe Petraeus' insurgency doctrine has all the answers or he has several other tricks up his sleeve. But if the administration's past actions have been any indication of how well they support their military leaders in Iraq, it doesn't matter what the doctrine looks like, Petraeus won't be given the resources or the freedom to show us how talented he really is.

Electronic Museum

| Sun Feb. 4, 2007 4:18 PM EST

I don't much like to buy shoes online. The color can be different in person, and the shoes may not fit right. But more and more art buyers are buying works valued in seven figures via email, the New York Times reports. Buyers make their decisions based on JPEG images, or compressed digital photographs. Many are motivated by a sense of urgency, partly generated by other buyers' virtual purchasing habits, which eliminates time spent on transcontinental flights.

Many buyers use JPEGs at some point in the buy-sell dance. But some by-pass the dance altogether. As the Times piece delves deeper, it suggests that the latter are brand name-seekers. As a result hot new artists, like Claire Sherman, who graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago 2 years ago, are particularly likely to sell their works sight-unseen.

In another interesting twist, the prestigious Gagosian Gallery recently posted JPEG images of an exhibit on a password-protected section of its website, and emailed the password only to posh buyers. No newcomers allowed.

The funny thing about JPEGs is that they reveal no texture, and the color of the works can be altered significantly depending on the computer monitor. Can you imagine buying, say, a De Kooning—well, at all, but especially without seeing the brushstrokes? Will the advent of the JPEG lead artists to forego texture an a non-value adding proposition? Maybe buyers should purchase the JPEG itself—plus, of course, a JPEG of the artist's signature.