Mojo - March 2007

Treading Into (Or Walking On) Biblical Waters

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 3:40 PM EDT

TIME underscores this week's headline, "Why We Should Teach The Bible in Public School," with the advisory subhead: "But very, very carefully." What does that mean, exactly? It's like saying, "Here, grab this scalding hot pan, but be careful when you grab it," or "Hey, let's jump off of this bridge into raging waters hundreds of feet below, but let's be careful while we're doing it." We're either doing something or we're not, caveats aside.

Carefully or not, the Bible is nudging its way into public schools. And it's worth noting that the magazine, read by millions each week, is essentially endorsing it. But TIME is not alone.

Georgia's Board of Education will endorse and fund biblical teachings next school year when they add two Biblical literature classes to its curriculum. Why teach the Old and New Testament in public school? Because of the Bible's "important role in history," one Republican supporter said.

Georgia's just one example. According to the National Council on Bible Curriculum, 373 school districts in 37 states now implement its Bible course curriculum. And the states are red and blue.

The TIME story argues (strongly, and favorably) that the Bible is the "bedrock of western culture," backing up the argument with a colorful timeline of popular culture items (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, Babel, Spamalot) that rely on Biblical themes, and a full-page photo of a conservative Christian Texas school teacher who honors "constitutional neutrality" in her classroom.

The Biblical wave is moving and growing, and groups like the Bible Literacy Project are riding it out, fully endorsed by the AP, Chicago Tribune, Knight-Ridder newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and WORLD Magazine.

Consensus is building (to Biblical proportions, maybe), but it's not clear how carefully we are moving forward.

--Gary Moskowitz


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Pakistan Gets Fat $4.2B Check, Now 3rd Largest Recipient of US Military Aid

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

The Center for Public Integrity informs us that thanks to a Defense Department program- Coalition Support Funds (CSF)- Pakistan is now the third largest recipient of all US military aid and assistance, following the heels of Israel and Egypt.

The three years prior to September 11, 2001, US military aid to Pakistan was $9.1 million. Three years after 9/11, it was more than $4.2 billion, a 45,000% increase. Since 9/11, Pakistan has been awarded a total of over $10 billion. A lot of money? Tim Rieser, majority clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs told the Center,

"With the possible exception of Iraq reconstruction funds, I've never seen a larger blank check for any country than for the Pakistan CSF program."

As if this carte blanche isn't enough, earlier this month, three Democrats introduced a "nonbinding resolution," which attempts to make military aid to Pakistan dependent on how much "progress" Pakistan is making in the war on terror. Note: "progress" here does not equal democracy and the will of the Pakistani people, who are directly affected by the General's actions. Why should it matter anyway? What matters is that the General Musharraf secures US geo-political objectives.

We've heard this story before. And apart from the fact that the US is arguably helping to fuel the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, it's at the expense of the civilian population. Husain Haqqani notes that the "three periods of significant flow of US aid to Pakistan have all coincided with military rule in Pakistan" and the civilian leadership has hardly been given a helping hand:

Most of the American aid money has gone towards Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Economic Support Fund (ESF). Very little of it has flowed in ways that are visible to the Pakistani people as altering their daily lives.

According to figures provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) between 1954 and 2002, the US provided a total of $12.6 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan. Of this, the majority, $9.19 billion was given during 24 years of military rule, only $3.4 billion was given to to civilian regimes which ruled for 19 years.

On average, US aid to Pakistan amounted to $382.9 million for each year of military rule compared with only $178.9 per annum under civilian leadership for the period until 2002.

So much for "spreading democracy."

—Neha Inamdar

John McCain Gets Bitch Slapped

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 12:36 PM EDT

I'm sorry for the language, but there's really nothing else you can use to describe this video of CNN's Michael Ware going off on McCain's claim that parts of Baghdad are safe enough for an American to take a stroll in. Ware directly questions McCain's credibility and points out that military officials are laughing at Senator Straight Talk's comments. Apparently, they're straight crap.

It's a must see.

Need an Introduction to Fred Thompson?

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 11:45 AM EDT

As you may know, former Republican Senator and current television actor Fred Thompson is floating the idea of running for president, and the early returns suggest the idea might be going somewhere. fred_thompson130x150.jpg Thompson places third in the Republican field with 12% support, only bested by Giuliani at 31% and McCain at 22%. (Mitt "Dead in the Water" Romney polls at a shockingly low 3%.) They're skeptical over at The Plank:

A Hollywood actor, high-priced attorney, and lobbyist (for Toyota and the S&Ls, among others), who ran for Senate as a pro-choicer and had a reputation as a considerable ladies man before marrying his second (much younger) wife doesn't seem to me to quite fit the profile of white knight for the political right.

So for the time being let's consider Thompson another imperfect entry in a class of GOP candidates from whom imperfection is the norm. A 1996 Washington Monthly article has some really good material on Thompson for those looking for more info. Some sampling below.

Buh-Bye, Al: National Review Says Gonzales Should Go

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 11:03 AM EDT

The editors of the conservative National Review have decided they've seen enough out of Alberto Gonzales. In an editorial today calling for him to resign, they manage to dump on both the Democrats and the embattled Attorney General.

On the Dems:

The story of the eight fired U.S. attorneys has been relentlessly overhyped. We do not know that any of them was fired because the administration put its political interests ahead of his or her prosecutorial judgment. Sen. Dick Durbin's recent insinuation that the attorneys who were not fired had kept their jobs by compromising their prosecutions was outrageous.... congressional Democrats are wrong to bluster...

On Gonzo:

We do not need more evidence... to reach a conclusion about the suitability of Alberto Gonzales for the leadership of the Department of Justice. While we defended him from some of the outlandish charges made during his confirmation hearings, we have never seen evidence that he has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability. Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence.
His claim not to have been involved in the firings suggests that he was either deceptive or inexcusably detached from the operations of his own department.

On Gonzo and the Dems:

What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. All that now keeps him in office, save the friendship of the president, is the conviction of many Republicans that removing him would embolden the Democrats. It is an overblown fear. The Democrats will pursue scandals, real or invented, whether or not Gonzales stays. But they have an especially inviting target in Gonzales. He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign.

This is fun, isn't it?

TIME Doesn't Want to Bore You With Real News

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 10:36 AM EDT

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This never gets old. When America's venerable newsweeklies don't think Americans can handle the truth -- see Newsweek's work on global warming and losing Afghanistan -- they put real reporting on their international covers and soft-peddle the U.S. with all sorts of nonsense.

And if you're going with nonsense, why not the nonsense that Americans love most -- pop theology. According to Folio magazine, a cover featuring Jesus or the Bible can raise single-issue sales by roughly 50%, and as a result TIME and Newsweek frequently try to out-Christian one another on consecutive weeks. (See "Jesus, What a Cover!" from the Dec/Jan 2006 issue of Mother Jones.)

So, yeah. This week it's TIME serving up "The Case for Teaching the Bible" to Americans, and "Talibanistan" to its international audience. As Wonkette puts it, "Americans get the special-ed stories." I don't know if I should be disgusted with and embarrassed by the magazine editors who made this decision, or the magazine readers whose tastes they are clearly pandering to.

Oh, and check out Rose's thoughts on Mother Jones' Arts and Culture blog, The Riff.

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McCain's MySpace Page Hacked

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 12:34 AM EDT

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Josh points out a curious prank pulled on McCain in his MySpace profile. First spied by TechCrunch the following appeared today on the page:

Today I announce that I have reversed my position and come out in full support of gay marriage. Particularly marriage between passionate females.

Oooh, can't you just see the steam coming out of his ears when he saw that this morning. Well, apparently it's his own doing, or his staff's anyway. The story goes, as of now, that the designer of the page's template, Newsvine Founder and CEO Mike Davidson, was pissed that McCain staffers didn't give him credit on the page. Plus, Davidson ends up paying for the bandwidth used from page views on the site. So, as the guy in control he turned the tables for a time, replacing contact info with McCain's "announcement."

That's what happens when you piggyback on existing technology and templates. You open yourself up to pranks that end with your very own cursive signature.

It's just too bad that Davidson's comments weren't a touch more tasteful. Leave it at the first sentence and he would have gotten a lot more cheers. Instead he had to go all mud-wrestling fantasy and turn what is a very serious message, into a frat-house joke.

Is Someone Gaming Obama's YouTube Site?

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:15 PM EDT

Over at Techpresident, a group blog on web politics, blogger Joshua Levy is making an interesting case that something's amiss. Obama's YouTube channel has 2,700,000 views--35 times as many as the second most-popular political site, that of Hillary Clinton. While people trolling for the 1984 video may have skewed web traffic to a degree, that's still a huge disparity. "There are a few reasons why the high number of channel views looks fishy," Levy says:

First, the total number of views of Obama's individual videos is nowhere near the total number of channel views. When you first load the channel, a video automatically plays, which may or may not contribute to that video's total views (the relationship between channel and video views is sketchy, though we're told by sources at YouTube it should be cleared up soon). But if we take the total number of video views as accurate this means that only about 24% of visitors to his video-sharing web site are actually watching videos, while over 2 million people are visiting the channel but not watching any videos.

Second, it appears that there's a way to game the system. Last fall a social networking news site called Mashable published a post about "Gaming YouTube for Fun and Profit," in which they described how to artificially increase the number of video views on YouTube. Essentially, if you set your browser to auto-refresh a YouTube page (a Firefox extension does it), every time the browser refreshes the video has a new view added to it.

(To test this idea, Levy made a video of himself discussing the problem, uploaded it to YouTube, and set his browser to auto-refresh every ten seconds for 12 hours. The strategy yielded 1200 views).

Third, Levy notes the Obama channel's unusually small number of viewers compared to subscribers. See his post for the cagey response from YouTube.

If gaming is indeed at play, it wouldn't be a first for Web 2.0, nor would it be all that surprising. Elliot Schrage, Google VP of Global Communications, recently predicted the advent of political spyware in this year's election and wondered whether people will attempt to track candidates using GIS chips in their cell phones. As David Weinberg of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society put it to me today: "Anything that you can imagine happening online, eventually, probably will."

Time Caught in Act of Dumbing Down the News for US Readers

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

Blogger Paul Schmelzer has been busy raising questions about some of the nation's widely read periodicals when it comes to the selection of their cover stories—namely the difference between Time's April 2 U.S. and International editions. While the international cover features a story about Pakistani religious extremists filtering across the border of Afghanistan "with the intention of imposing their strict interpretation of Islam on a population unable to fight back," the US edition of the publication features the story, "The Case for Teaching the Bible." Schmelzer wonders why Time isn't giving the U.S. the same edition that the rest of the world is seeing on newsstands. The choice can't only be about marketing and keeping newsstand sales up in the U.S. Something's a little fishy here.

This isn't the first time that a major US news weekly has pulled this trick of presenting the news differently to US readers than it does to the rest of the world. Last September, Newsweek gave international readers a cover story about the Taliban and US readers a cover featuring photographer Annie Leibovitz, in essence replacing with a hard-hitting news story of international importance with a much lighter celebrity piece. In the case of both the Time and the Newsweek cover story cover-ups, the stories were related to coverage of the Taliban. Is marketing getting in the way of the serious news in the U.S.? Or is the media afraid to tell Americans what they don't want to hear? Only Time can tell.

—Rose Miller

Homeland Security Up Your Butt--For Real

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 8:50 PM EDT

A fistula-in-ano is an abnormal connection between the rectum and skin that can cause pain, bleeding, infections, and discharge of fecal matter through openings in the body other than the anus. The condition is generally caused by infection of a gland within the anal canal. Bacteria multiply and create an abscess that goes through the rectal wall to the surrounding skin. The condition can also be caused by cancer, Crohn's Disease, and an episiotomy that does not heal.

Sue Clark, M.D., a surgeon in Harrow, England, had a patient with fistula-in-ano who had been treated through surgery. The 48-year-old man had a long-term seton to control sepsis. This particular seton was a length of suture material knotted to form a loop placed into the fistula track. Last August, this patient traveled from England to New York for a vacation. Upon arrival, he was interrogated by immigration officials, and then examined and searched. During the rectal exam, an official yanked hard on the seton, causing the patient severe pain. The patient was told he could not enter the United States unless the seton was removed.

Not wanting to give up his vacation after he had flown across the ocean, Dr. Clark's patient allowed a doctor to remove the seton. The physician claimed he had never seen an anal seton before. The good news is that the yanking done by immigration officials did not cause any damage to the sphincter muscles. The bad news is that Dr. Clark's patient must now go under general anastesia to have a new seton inserted.

In a letter to The Lancet last month, Dr. Clark said she wanted to "highlight this rather bizarre manifestation of 'homeland security' in order to warn other patients with setons who travel to the U.S." Former Sen. Carol Mosely Braun talked about Homeland Security's propensity to "look between your toes." Former Texas governor Ann Richards had her crotch checked at the airport. And now an Englishman has had his surgical procedure (not to mention his dignity and his physical comfort) destroyed so that the U.S. can be safe from terrorists.

(Information from the current issue of Harper's, "The Long Arm Of the Law")