Mojo - October 2007

Army to Expand Numbers, Time in Iraq

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 1:10 PM PDT

Military leaders said yesterday that they plan to accelerate the Army's expansion, adding 74,000 soldiers by 2010, not 2012 as originally planned. The goal, they say, is to relieve the strain on troops currently serving while maintaining the numbers necessary to continue the war effort.

Sounds great, right? Hire more soldiers, give the troops on the ground a much-needed break. But where are they going to get these people? Defense Secretary Robert Gates specified that the recruiting needs to be done without forcing anyone to stay or loosening entry standards. That might be tough, considering how much the Army has already had to widen its net to meet recruiting goals. In addition, a big part of the plan involves retention—convincing servicemen and women not to leave the Army at the end of their tours. While in a perfect world this might mean rest between deployments, practically speaking, it probably means more time in Iraq.

To top it all off, last time I checked, General Petraeus had announced plans for a troop drawdown beginning next spring. Bush endorsed the plan provided he saw evidence of progress. But given the Army's current numbers, a troop reduction is inevitable. Does the expansion push mean there won't be a drawdown after all? More likely that even with the departure of 30,000 soldiers, we're still planning for the very long term.

—Casey Miner

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Telephone Industry's Comical Consolidation

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 12:41 PM PDT

Surfing wikipedia can lead to wonderful things. Check out this neat chart we found showing the evolution of telephone company consolidation. Click the box to see a larger version.

att_graph300.jpg

Old AT&T really knows how to be persistent.

Update: Stephen Colbert has a typically awesome take on this.

BP and Chevron Go Virtual and Green

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 11:21 AM PDT

What do Chevron and BP have in common, besides being leading members of Big Oil? Computer games, apparently. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on BP's latest rebranding move—a "collaboration" with the video game company Electronic Arts. To learn more about these companies' quests into unknown territory, read the rest of this post on Mother Jones' environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Empire State Building to be Lit for Muslim Holy Day

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 10:59 AM PDT

New York City again shows that the as one of only two American city cities* actually attacked by Islamic terrorism, it is the one perhaps most willing to embrace Muslims, immigrants, and its own rich cultural diversity. From Newsday:

The Empire State Building will be illuminated green this weekend to mark the Islamic holy days of Eid-al-Fitr (EED-ALL-FEET-er).
The joyous "Festival of Fast-breaking" marks the end of Ramadan, a month of intense spiritual renewal.
This year is the first time the famous skyscraper will be aglow for the Islamic holiday. A spokeswoman for the building's owner says it will be an annual event, in the same tradition of the yearly skyscraper lighting for Christmas and Hanukah.
In Islam, the color green symbolizes a happy occasion and the importance of nature.

* I am a complete idiot. Thanks to melissa in the comments.

Rudy Giuliani Out Flubs the Republican Field

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 8:16 AM PDT

I've blogged before about how much I love factcheck.org. They come through again with some real treats on the Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson got the facts straight for his GOP debate debut Oct. 9. But former Mayor Rudy Giuliani added to a lengthening string of exaggerations and misstatements:
Giuliani claimed Sen. Hillary Clinton once called the free-market economy "the most destructive force in modern America." She didn't say that. She quoted another author who said free markets were "disruptive." She also said free markets bring prosperity.
The mayor falsely claimed Clinton proposes to give $1,000 to "everybody." Her proposed subsidies to workers' retirement accounts would be for couples making up to $60,000 a year and would be $500 for those making up to $100,000.
Giuliani falsely claimed that more than 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product is spent on "frivolous" lawsuits. The figure is from a study about the cost of all lawsuits.

Another Reason to Suck It Up and Buy a Minivan

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 8:10 AM PDT

One of the great enduring myths created by the American auto industry is that SUVs are safer than regular cars. The Ford Explorer rollover scandals in 2000 helped pierce this image a little, but Americans still seem to believe that an SUV is a safe place to store a family on the road. (The Frost children, in fact, who've been attacked by right wingers during the SCHIP debate were nearly killed when the family SUV slid off the road and hit a tree.)

The data, however, continue to show that most people would be safer in a Mini Cooper (or a minivan) than a Chevy Trailblazer. The latest news comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose new crash tests show that most SUVs perform poorly when hit from the side, even though they're much higher off the ground than other cars.

"People often think they're safer in one of these vehicles, but many cars hold up better than some of these midsize SUVs in this test," David Zuby, the institute's senior vice president, told the Associated Press.

You can watch the crash videos here.

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Candidates' Kids Can Blog Better Than This

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 6:28 PM PDT

By now, you may have heard some of the buzz surrounding McCain Blogette, the new blog put out by John McCain's daughter, Meghan, and her friends (including "political fashionista" La-Toria Haven, thank goodness). The second family campaign blog this cycle, McCain Blogette is more of a shameless self-promotional vehicle than, say, a shameless pander for family-values votes like the Romneys' Five Brothers. But this new genre has real potential. Here are some other efforts we'd like to see:

  • Chelsea Clinton—McKinsey Confidential: Chronicling an ambitious young woman's quest to make it in the all-boys club consulting world
  • Grace and Christina Dodd, Malia and Sasha Obama, Emma Claire and Jack Edwards, Jenna Brownback—The Playpen: Influential group blog for intelligentsia of the under-10 set
  • Randy Tancredo—Minuteman: Liveblogging the immigration fight, straight from the borderlands
  • Caroline Giuliani—My Obama Girl: Caroline signs on as occasional guest blogger at fan site
  • David Huckabee—Huck's Heart: Online community service clearinghouse, part of court-ordered restitution for animal cruelty incident, weapons charges

Readers, let's see what you can come up with! There's a Beau Biden gag just begging to be made here.

—Justin Elliott

Lieberman Says No To Investigating Blackwater

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 5:26 PM PDT

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, says that he has no intention of investigating Blackwater USA and other government contractors who have been accused of criminal action.

Lieberman said he gets "angry when I hear about fraud or corruption in the spending of American dollars," but "You've got to set your own priorities, and it was clear to me that other committees were going to pick this up."

Where I come from, the alleged murder of seventeen people is not classified as "fraud" or "corruption," but Lieberman sees it another way. His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Rep. Henry Waxman, is holding hearings on the Blackwater incident.

Halo 3: Now You Can Kill Mother%*#$@#*s in Church

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 3:07 PM PDT

Halo 3, the violent video game that made Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in its first week on store shelves, is now being used to attract young men to church, the New York Times reports today. "Teens are our 'fish,'" one youth pastor wrote in a letter to parents. "So we've become creative in baiting our hooks."

The headline of the article is "Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church," which seems to be trying to paint church leaders as hypocritical for using Halo parties to get kids in the door, and then selling them the gospel. Sure, being against violent media and then using that same media to recruit churchgoers is hypocritical. But even though the author mentions evangelical opposition to violent games, he never presents an example of a pastor who condemned violent games and then used them for outreach. Without that, there is no evidence of hypocrisy. There are just some pastors disagreeing with other pastors about what is appropriate.

Simply believing in the 10 Commandments and then playing a violent video game is not hypocritical. Killing virtual aliens is not equivalent to violating the 5th (sometimes 6th) commandment, and it's insane for the Times to imply that it is. Most religious scholars agree that killing animals doesn't violate "Thou shalt not kill." Why would killing imaginary characters be prohibited?

But even if the author didn't want to hunt down actual evidence of hypocrisy, there were still plenty of other interesting questions left unasked. As I wrote in an article two weeks ago, the Halo games have always been an online playground for bigots of all stripes. Homophobia, racism, and antisemitism are rampant in the smack talk that is a staple of the multiplayer game. So it's especially interesting to learn that some of the young men (they're almost all men) who are playing Halo are doing it at church. Are they shocked to hear what other players say? Do their pastors insist that they play with the mute button on? Or, more disturbingly, are some of these young Christian soldiers and the hate-spewers one and the same?

Let's Hope the Clinic Showed Baywatch Reruns

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 2:28 PM PDT

The missing mayor of Atlantic City has officially resigned after spending a week in a psych hospital. Robert W. Levy may have been in a little over his head as mayor. Before getting elected, he had served for decades as the city's chief lifeguard...