“It’s kind of nice seeing those same old mountains,” said U.S. Army Sgt. James T. Schmidt, an infantry squad leader from Decatur, Ill., assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, while looking through his night vision goggles as the sun sets from a hilltop in the Shal Valley in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan Province, Nov. 8. This is Schmidt’s second combat tour to the same region in Afghanistan. Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

So, apparently Bill Nye the Science Guy was giving this speech to a bunch of Southern California students Tuesday when he tripped over an extension cord, knocked his head, spoke some gibberish, and fainted onstage. And the crowd just sat there, with nary a good Samaritan among them, live tweeting the series of unfortunate events till Bill came around of his own accord. Twitty Twitterers? You bet. A sad commentary on the youngs and their gawker culture? Perhaps.

But journalist David Axe has a different takeaway from the audience's unresponsiveness. A young war correspondent for the likes of Wired and the Washington Times, Axe writes on his group blog War Is Boring that "this 'passivity' could also be something else: journalistic 'objectivity.'" Then he gets weirdly personal:

So another pollster has attempted to address the question of just how racist the tea party movement really is. OK, that’s not exactly what the new Public Religion Research Institute survey set out to do, but that’s basically one of the most interesting take-aways. In a report published today on the role of religion in the 2010 elections, the institute released its findings from a 2010 post-election "American values survey" that asked, among other things, whether respondents believe that white people face significant discrimination. It’s sort of a loaded question, but still a less direct way of asking people about their views on race.

Tea party critics won’t be surprised to hear that 61 percent of people who identify with the movement said discrimination against whites "is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities." (White evangelicals also saw doors slamming in the faces of white people, with 57 percent agreeing that discrimination against people like themselves was equal to that against minorities.) That view was shared by only 28 percent of Democrats and about half of independents. Republicans were closer to the tea party on that question, with 56 percent agreeing that discrimination against whites is a big problem.

Just as tea partiers think claims of discrimination against minorities are overrated, they also believe by a 6 in 10 margin that the government has paid too much attention to them—and to women's problems, too. While most Americans, according to the survey, believe that discrimination is still a significant problem for women, more than 58 percent of tea partiers think that women no longer face discrimination in the US.

The data can be read several ways. On the one hand, tea partiers seem to have a rosy view of the state of American equality. They seem to believe that the country has achieved equal opportunity, at least for women and minorities. Because at the same time, it’s clear that they view themselves as the country’s most victimized demographic, a perspective that tends to drive a lot of their rhetoric. Tea partiers often see themselves as under siege— by the government, by immigrants and other foreigners, by popular culture, and probably by women, too, if the survey is andy indication. The survey produces some other interesting though perhaps also not surprising data points about the tea party. Among them:

Tea partiers are no fans of Islam; 66 percent of them said that Islam is at odds with American values. Three-quarters of them also believe that their God has granted the U.S. a special role in the world, a view that makes them much more inclined than other Americans to say that torture is justified in some cases.

PRRI dug in a bit to see what various voting blocs see as priorities for the new Congress. Those findings, too, show some significant differences between the tea party movement and establishment Republicans and Democrats. The tea party movement's obsession with the health care reform law shows up in their list of top legislative priorities. Forty-one percent said they believe that repealing "Obamacare" should be the top priority for Republicans in Congress, a higher percentage than even regular Republicans, 36 percent of whom think repealing health care reform is the top issue. (Sadly, PRRI didn't ask how many of them already had government-run health care.) Meanwhile, in a signal to "annoyer-in-chief" Rep. Darryl Issa, who has said he plans 280 investigative hearings next year, only 4 percent of tea partiers thought that investigating the Obama administration should be the Republicans' primary focus. Even tea partiers, it seems, see Republican crusading as more annoying than constructive.

It's official. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has launched a bid to become ranking member of the House oversight committee, when the Republicans take over the House in January, a race that will pit him against the panel's current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The top Democratic slot on the committee will be a key position for the Dems in the next Congress, for the GOP pitbull who will be at the helm of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has earned a reputation as Obama's "annoyer-in-chief" and has vowed to initiate multiple investigations of the Obama administration. Issa, as the ranking Republican member of the committee, has already launched politically charged probes of, among other things, a White House job offer made to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), presumably to persuade him to not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. If Issa was a thorn in the side of the administration as a minority House member, when he assumes the chairmanship and obtains subpoena power, he will become a giant pain in the ass for the White House. Think Henry Waxman during the Bush years. Issa has already promised to hold an unheard of 280 hearings during his first year, which are expected to include a probe of climate science. By comparison, Waxman held 203 hearings over two years.

From Kucinich's letter:

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has already made wild and unsubstantiated charges which threaten to turn the principal oversight committee of the House into a witch hunt.

In just the past week, he has indicated a telling enthusiasm for a broad probe into the $700 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act program.  He has equated it with "walking around money."  As you know, that is political slang for money off the books and under the table.  He made this unsubstantiated claim in the context of promising hundreds of investigative hearings into the present Administration, calling President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." I immediately sent Mr. Issa a letter (attached) calling for him to produce the evidence for such charges or to retract his statement.

Mr. Issa, through his eagerness to make unsubstantiated charges and to draw conclusions in advance of evidence, reveals a lack of restraint and basic fairness.  This conduct in the Chairman of the Committee will degrade Congress’ oversight credibility and undermine the institution of the House through a lack of restraint in the use of subpoena power.  

We cannot simply stand by idly and hope that such a reckless approach to the use of the power of the Chair will not happen, especially since it is not only being promised, but demonstrated by the person who will hold the gavel.

It is a matter of the highest importance that any intemperate use of the power of the Chair be challenged at every turn.

The independent-minded Kucinich (on his website he dubs himself "America's Most Courageous Congressman"), who mounted a long-odds and unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, has often challenged the powers that be on both sides of the aisle. There's little doubt that he would throw out every obstacle he can to thwart the more partisan aspects of Issa's agenda. Towns, on the other hand, has largely proven himself unable to keep the California Republican in check. In recent years, Towns' own investigation's have frequently been overshadowed by Issa's.

Recently, Democrats have privately expressed concerns about Towns retaining the senior slot on the committee during the Issa-era, preferring someone with a stronger presence to do battle with Issa. But Kucinich, an ardent progressive who takes pride in adopting buck-the-conventional policies (such as his years-long quest to establish a Department of Peace), may have a tough time convincing fellow Democrats that he ought to be placed in this high-profile position. Additionally, he's currently fifth in seniority on the committee (though Rep. Paul Kajorski, who's second, lost his reelection bid). In challenging Towns, he is leapfrogging several other members. And there's this: if House Democrats back Kucinich—or another committee member—over Towns, that could draw protest from the Congressional Black Caucus, which usually is quick to protect the chairmanship positions of its members.

For the Dems, it's a bit of a catch-22. Towns remaining the top Democrat on the committee poses a problem. So does replacing him with Kucinich or amonther oversight member.

Last week, San Francisco cut the "happy" out of McDonald's Happy Meals by banning the packaging of fast food with plastic toys. Now the city may soon weigh another controversial effort to protect its children: A law banning doctors and mohels from coming after Mr. Happy.

On Monday, San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield filed notice that he intends to get a proposal to ban male circumcision onto the city's fall 2012 ballot. The initiative, which would ban the "genital cutting of male minors," was written by a San Diego-based nonprofit group, MGMbill.org (MGM=Male Genital Mutilation), which has tried unsuccessfully to push similar measures through Congress and 14 state legislatures. As a press release from the group notes, "Ten out of ten babies oppose circumcision—and for good reason."

"When a baby is circumcised, they are removing 50 percent or more of the most erogenous tissue of the penis," explains Schofield. "It's really just time to get the facts on this." He says he first began questioning circumcision years ago when he noticed that uncircumcised boys were a minority in his school locker room. Two years ago, he became an "intactivist," short for "intact activist," after seeing members of the Bay Area iNtactivist Group (BANG) march in the city's gay pride parade, dressed as giant phalluses and carrying a picture of an indignant-looking infant wondering, "You wanna cut off what?" (See their video below.) Schofield, who is is also a foreskin restoration activist, won't say whether he is or isn't "intact."

Across the country, the question of whether to snip one's newborn son or not has become something of a parental conundrum. Circumcision may prevent infections and the transmission of STDs, but it also may decrease sexual pleasure. Porn star Rocco Siffredi (AKA the Italian Stallion) chose to be circumcised at age 31 for hygienic reasons; as he told Mother Jones earlier this year, he quickly discovered that with a foreskin, "you can feel much more fun."

Many parents don't need a law to convince them to spare their sons from the scalpel. The portion of newborn American boys that gets snipped fell from 64 percent in the late '70s to 56 percent in 2006, most likely due to immigration from circumcision-averse regions. In immigrant-saturated California, only 20 percent of newborns are circumcised. Schofield claims that only 10 percent of San Franciscan newborns are. "People have voted with their children already," he says.

Circumcision is, of course, an important sacrament for many Jews, and some lawyers have already suggested that Schofield's ballot initiative could be an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom. Yet Schofield counters that "your religious freedom stops with damaging someone else's body." He argues that allowing male circumcision yet prohibiting the female variety, which has also been practiced on religious grounds, denies males the equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Female genital mutilation, he says, is "horrible and it needs to be stopped. It has been pretty much been stopped in the United States. We just need to do the same with men."

Here's a video made by the intactivists:

A Task Force Destiny, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter conducts aerial reconnaissance Nov. 8, 2010, in southern Afghanistan. Photo via U.S. Army.

Via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, and offered without further comment:













"The image above appears on Rush Limbaugh's Web site. Is any American more adept at exploiting racial dog whistles? It's always egregious enough to be calculatingly offensive, but never quite an open and shut case, because most of all the talk radio host revels in being called a racist so that he can throw up his hands and complain about liberal race-baiting. The accompanying text (emphasis added):

This guy is an utter wrecking ball all by himself on the world stage to the point now of getting embarrassing.  This presidency of Obama's, it doesn't take much to irritate the left.  Try this:  "Barack Obama's presidency is graffiti on the walls of American history."  That's what his administration is.  No more than graffiti on the walls of American history.  We have a juvenile delinquent for a president who has ruined so much public and private property, not even his gang is making much of an effort here to protect him.  It's an utter disaster.

This is self-concious and all the more disgusting for that reason."

This week, I was hit by the social media onslaught of this man's trouble with the TSA at the San Diego airport. Would-be traveler John Tyner of Oceanside, California, wasn't too happy about the new "enhanced" pat-downs the agency rolled out nationally on November 1. The new guidelines let TSA officers feel passenger's genitals with their hands if they refuse to go through the high-tech body scanner. Tyner told the agents he was fine with going through the metal detector, but didn't want to be scanned. Agents told him if he didn't get scanned, he'd have to be patted down. Tyner didn't want to be groped, especially as the man in front of him in line had been allowed to opt-out of the scanner without receiving a pat-down. Exact words: "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

After arguing with the agents, Tyner decided not to fly after all—but they wouldn't let him leave the screening area. He was allegedly told that he would have to submit to a pat-down or be subject to a $10,000 fine and a civil suit. Despite the threats, Tyner eventually did leave the airport unmolested—and took his tale to Fox News. The TSA has said it is now investigating Tyner. "He's violated federal law and federal regulations, which states once you enter and start the process you have to complete it," San Diego TSA security director Michael Aguilar told CNN.

Tyner isn't the first person to object to the creepy pat downs, but he's one in a string of men whose stands against on TSA groping have stirred up a lot of anger. The New York Times' Joe Sharkey and the Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg also went through the process, which some observers consider a punitive measure. Sharkey's opt-out request resulted in loud, embarrassing shouts of "opt-out!" by the agents—and despite TSA claims that the new body scanners do not produce graphic images, Goldberg discovered that agents at the Baltimore airport refer to it as a "dick-measuring device."

viktor boutViktor Bout.

Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who inspired the movie "Lord of War," is set to arrive in the United States around 9:00 p.m. today* after being extradicted from Thailand, where he was arrested in a Drug Enforcement Agency-run sting in 2008.

Mother Jones has been following Bout's story for years. In 2007, Laura Rozen related the real-life story of the former Soviet military officer who made millions selling weapons to anyone and everyone who could afford them. In March 2008, after the first reports of Bout's arrest in Thailand, Bruce Falconer reminded readers that the "Merchant of Death" had been among the first to bring supplies into Baghdad after the city fell to invading American armies in 2003. Later that month, Falconer told the full story of the DEA-led sting that captured Bout and brought us to where we are now. That piece was called "Viktor Bout's Last Deal." And this August, I worried that the US may have bungled the extradition process. It took a few months, but Thailand and the Obama administration worked things out. 

The successful extradition is sure to anger Russia, which maintains Bout's innocence. The New York Times' Seth Mydans, who's on the scene in Bangkok, explains: 

Russia quickly called the extradition illegal.

"From a legal perspective, what has occurred cannot have a rational explanation and justification," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout came about as a consequence of unprecedented political pressure exerted by the U.S. on the government and judicial authorities of Thailand. It is deeply regrettable that the Thai authorities succumbed to political pressure from outside and undertook the illegal extradition."

At first glance, this seems like a straight win for the White House. The Russians weren't even alerted that Bout was headed to the airport, and America clearly won the tug-of-war in Bangkok. But this is about more than just Bout and Thailand—it has to be understood in the broader context of President Barack Obama's somewhat stalled efforts to strengthen relations with Moscow. The centerpiece of that effort, the New START nuclear arms treaty, is languishing in the Senate, and Russian hardliners have recently been emboldened by the victories of their Republican counterparts in the US. The decision to extradict Bout—and upset the Russians—may suggest that the Obama administration is beginning to give up hope on New Start and moving to take victories where it can get them. UPDATE: Okay, maybe that was going too far. Obviously, it seems hard to imagine that the Russians would fail to ratify New START just because of Bout. (The Senate still has to move before the Russians.) You can read a lot of different things in these tea leaves: maybe extraditing Bout suggests the administration thinks its relationship with Russia is strong enough to withstand the controversy over one arms dealer. Who knows. 

*Corrected to reflect the fact that Bout is arriving at 9:00 p.m.

If Ayn Rand were a Christian fundamentalist, she'd be Bryan Fischer.

As the public face of the American Family Association, Fischer has cornered the market on crazy invective that sounds neither Christian nor pro-family, but more like the golden-calf worshiping of Rand and her cult followers. Fischer called for a whale to be ritually slaughtered once. But now he's simultaneously taking on American society, womanhood, and soldiering. He says today's Medal of Honor recipients are a bunch of girly men: