Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Ted RallAn editorial cartoon is like nothing else in a newspaper. Editorial cartoonists don't need any special degrees. Unlike reporters and editorial writers, they don't even have to pretend to be "fair." Moderation in what Jules Feiffer called "the art of ill will" is the ultimate vice: boring.

A great political cartoon can do things no news article or editorial can. It can expose hypocrisies and ideological contradictions with the stroke of a pen and the flash of an eye. It can connect seemingly unrelated events to point out a theretofore unnoticed trend. At its best, an editorial cartoon can prompt readers to rethink society's basic assumptions.

But American political cartoonists are an endangered species. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists estimates that there are fewer than 90 full-time staff cartoonists left in the U.S., down from approximately 280 in 1980. A dozen have lost their jobs in the last year alone. Syndicated cartoonists have seen their income drop by 50 percent or more. Discouraged and broke, young cartoonists are abandoning the field.

Editorial cartoonists face the same enemy as the newspapers where they appear: the more widely their work is disseminated on the Internet, the less they get paid. Particular to graphic journalism, however, is the seeming determination of editors and publishers to render editorial cartooning irrelevant--by promoting hack work over quality.

We Americans live in a golden age of editorial cartooning. Never have has the profession been as ideologically, stylistically or demographically diverse. Never has the art been as daring or ambitious. Never have cartoons been as popular or, thanks to the Internet, as widely read. Yet American editorial cartooning is in danger of disappearing entirely--murdered by editors and publishers at the major magazines and newspapers.


Missile-throwing chimp plots attacks on tourists


A chimp that deliberately fashions discs of concrete to later hurl at zoo visitors is being hailed as definitive proof that the apes plan for future events.

Although similar claims have previously been made about chimps using tools to collect food, what sets Santino – a 30-year-old chimp from Furuvik zoo in Sweden – apart, is that his behaviour, and therefore his apparent state of mind, when collecting the ammunition seems markedly different from when he launches his attacks.

"The chimp has without exception been calm during gathering or manufacture of the ammunition, in contrast to the typically aroused state [when he throws the rocks]," says Mathias Osvath of the University of Lund, also in Sweden.

Unlike previous claims of pre-planning in apes, Santino's planning doesn't seem to be driven by a current emotional or physical drive like hunger or anger, but in anticipation of an event later in the day.

"Nothing like it has as yet been reported from the wild, nor from any captive chimpanzees," says Thomas Suddendorf of the University of Queensland in Australia. "Controlled experiments are now required to determine the nature of the cognitive processes involved."


Former Guantanamo detainee tells of 'medieval' torture

A freed Guantanamo Bay prisoner has said conditions at the US detention camp in Cuba have worsened since President Barack Obama was elected, claiming guards wanted to "take their last revenge".

Binyam Mohamed, who became the first detainee to be transferred out of Guantanamo since Obama took office, also said British agents "sold me out" by cooperating with his alleged torturers, in his first interview since being released to be published on Sunday.

Mohamed, a 30-year-old Ethiopian-born former British resident, gave further details of what he called the "medieval" torture he faced in Pakistan and Morocco, as well as in a secret CIA prison in Kabul and at Guantanamo.

"The result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead," he told the Mail on Sunday newspaper. "It seems like a miracle my brain is still intact."

Far from conditions at Guantanamo improving since Obama was elected in November, Mohamed said the situation there was worse now than before.

The US president had promised during his campaign to shut down the Guantanamo prison and two days after taking office announced it would close this year.

"Since the election it's got harsher," he told the newspaper. "The guards would say, 'yes, this place is going to close down,' but it was like they wanted to take their last revenge."

He also claimed the feared Emergency Reaction Force at Guantanamo, a team which he said punishes inmates in their cells and once almost gouged his eyes out when he declined to give his fingerprints, is now being used more often.

Mohamed said he was beaten at Guantanamo and also described mistreatment at other detention centres. He said his chest and penis were slashed with razors while he was held in Morocco. In Afghanistan he lived in constant darkness and "came close to insanity" after being forced to listen to the same album by rapper Eminem at top volume for a solid month.



Political Animal

When I was a teenager, I had certain misconceptions about politics and government. I assumed, for example, that members of Congress, whether I agreed with their policies or not, were necessarily very bright. After all, these folks are educated and well read. They attend policy briefings, hear expert testimony at committee hearings, and have staffers who help keep them informed on everything from the economy to foreign policy to constitutional law. It's not like voters would just send some misguided schmuck to serve as their voice in one of the most prestigious legislative bodies on the planet.

Needless to say, I didn't fully appreciate, at the time, how this process works.

I thought about this when I saw Matt Yglesias' item from yesterday, reflecting on Rep Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) twittering about how much he's enjoying "Atlas Shrugged." Matt commented:

Something I think most liberals don't understand is exactly how stupid many conservative leaders are. There is, yes, a condescending tendency to believe that no smart person could be on the right ideologically at all. That's dead wrong. There are plenty of bright people on the right. But the way their movement works, intelligence or understanding of politics and policy has no meaningful role in advancement. If anything, there's something of a negative correlation between knowing what you're talking about and being able to get ahead in right-wing politics.

So you get stuff like this. He's not cocooning by reading Milton Friedman, he's cocooning by reading Ayn Rand. It's nuts, but it's the way things work.

I'd go a little further. Most of the media and the public underestimate the scope of the foolishness, too.

If a member of Congress -- not just some back-bencher, but a senator or a member of the House leadership -- says something seemingly provocative, a lot of people are predisposed to take it seriously. After all, he/she is in a position of authority. He/she helps shape the policies of the federal government. His/her opinion must have some value; I'm seeing it on television.


How Oscar got it wrong

by Mark Caro

Few are begrudging Kate Winslet winning her first Oscar in six nominations for "The Reader." As the common refrain in Hollywood went last week: "It's time."

Yet few argue that her portrayal of former Nazi concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz is her strongest work. Her performances in last year's "Revolutionary Road" and 2006's "Little Children" were more complex and searing, and she transfixed even in her 1994 debut, "Heavenly Creatures."

So Winslet has joined a long, honorable tradition of accomplished artists who won Academy Awards for the "wrong" movie. Here are 10 more (which are not necessarily intended as commentaries on who actually won in those years):

Martin Scorsese
Won: best director for "The Departed" (2006)

Should have won: best director for "GoodFellas" (1990), "Raging Bull" (1980) or "Taxi Driver" (1976) Scorsese's work in "The Departed" was expert but far from the groundbreaking status of those earlier classics.

Reese Witherspoon
Won: best actress for "Walk the Line" (2005)

Should have won: best actress for "Election" (1999) She was fine in the borderline-supporting role of June Carter, but her primly ambitious high-schooler Tracy Flick from "Election" is a timelessly hilarious, horrifying creation.

Renee Zellweger
Won: best supporting actress for "Cold Mountain" (2003)

Should have won: best actress for "Nurse Betty" (2000) or best supporting actress for "Jerry Maguire" (1996) Her indelible work in the two earlier movies wasn't even nominated, yet she won for a performance that seemed right out of "Mama's Family."

Randy Newman
Won: best song for "If I Didn't Have You" from "Monsters, Inc." (2001)

Should have won: best song for "When She Loved Me" from "Toy Story 2" (1999) or "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story" (1995) Newman was on his 16th nomination when he finally got his statuette, but could you hum a few bars of "If I Didn't Have You"? Those "Toy Story" songs are essential to the movies.

Russell Crowe
Won: best actor for "Gladiator" (2000)

Should have won: best actor for "The Insider" (1999) or best supporting actor for "L.A. Confidential" (1997) Crowe was the charismatic hero in "Gladiator" but had more going on in "The Insider" and "L.A. Confidential," as well as "A Beautiful Mind" in 2001.

Al Pacino
Won: best actor for "Scent of a Woman" (1992)

Should have won: best actor for "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), "The Godfather Part II" (1974) or "The Godfather" (1972). HOO-ahh! This is the classic career-achievement award for a hambone performance. He was better in "Glengarry Glen Ross" the same year.


Vision of future tinted in green

Environmentalism is good for economy, Kennedy says


450_builtgreen_kenneEnding America's dependence on carbon fuels would power the nation's economy the way abolition of slavery unleashed the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Friday in Seattle.

"Our deadly addiction to (carbon) is the major drag on the American economy," the lawyer and environmental activist told green building professionals in the keynote speech to this year's BuiltGreen conference. He spoke on a podium crowded with potted plants and trees.

"Every nation that has decarbonized its economy has experienced immediate prosperity."

Before Kennedy's talk, state Ecology Department Director Jay Manning noted that climate change was already affecting Washington, presaging "sort of an Old Testament future, with floods and fires and pestilence and disasters with a frequency we have not experienced before."

An alternate course would lead to homes that produced more electricity than they consumed, electric cars that produced no pollution and people who rarely drove those cars because they lived in compact communities close to work, shopping and convenient transit, Manning said.

"Last year, Washingtonians spent $16 billion on imported petroleum products. We could keep that $16 billion. We could spend it here on technology that exists."

Speaking to the point of the conference, Manning acknowledged that the economic downturn had slowed growth and construction in Washington, but added: "Growth will come back, and those people need to go somewhere."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said climate change "became something very local" when a shrinking snowpack started affecting local power and water supplies. He also noted that the progress of Sound Transit light rail lines, the first of which is scheduled to open later this year, and the city's commitment to reducing emissions.

"Seattle is billing itself as the green building capital of America," he said. "We have the experience and knowledge and creativity to be able to export that to the rest of the country."

Kennedy praised Nickels, saying, "His leadership is unequalled among mayors across the country."

He also recounted his first visit to Seattle, in 1962, with his father, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, visiting the San Juan Islands and fishing in Puget Sound.

The United States has vast geothermal reserves, enough solar capacity to power the country, even if everyone had an electric car and enough wind capacity in three states to do the same, Kennedy said. He called the Great Plains States "the Saudi Arabia of wind."

The biggest technical hurdle in moving from dirty "fuels from hell" to green "fuels from heaven," is the nation's outdated electrical grid, Kennedy said. "A Texas wind farm owner cannot sell his electrons in New Orleans because the electrons would diffuse before they crossed the Texas border."

The U.S. could build the needed wind and solar infrastructure to power the country for about how much it spends every year on oil, Kennedy said. "For a $750 billion investment we could have free energy in this country forever."


Iraq's Unspeakable Crime: Mothers Pimping Daughters

    informazione dall'iraq occupato
    information from occupied iraq
by Rania Abouzeid

After her husband was killed, Atoor's family tried to sell her to a local Baghdad brothel. "I didn't think it would happen to me," she said. "My mother used to spoil me. Yes, she sold my sisters but she regretted that. I thought that she loved me."

She goes by "Hinda," but that's not her real name. That's what she's called by the many Iraqi sex traffickers and pimps who contact her several times a week from across the country. They think she is one of them, a peddler of sexual slaves. Little do they know that the stocky, auburn-haired woman is an undercover human rights activist who has been quietly mapping out their murky underworld since 2006.

That underworld is a place where nefarious female pimps hold sway, where impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters into a sex market that believes females who reach the age of 20 are too old to fetch a good price. The youngest victims, some just 11 and 12, are sold for as much as $30,000, others for as little as $2,000. "The buying and selling of girls in Iraq, it's like the trade in cattle," Hinda says. "I've seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters." (See pictures of Iraq since the fall of Saddam.)

The trafficking routes are both local and international, most often to Syria, Jordan and the Gulf (primarily the United Arab Emirates). The victims are trafficked illegally on forged passports, or "legally" through forced marriages. A married female, even one as young as 14, raises few suspicions if she's travelling with her "husband." The girls are then divorced upon arrival and put to work. (See Iraq's return to "normalcy".)

Nobody knows exactly how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sexual slavery since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, and there are no official numbers because of the shadowy nature of the business. Baghdad-based activists like Hinda and others put the number in the tens of thousands. Still, it remains a hidden crime; one that the 2008 US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report says the Iraqi government is not combating. Baghdad, the report says, "offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country."

Scientists to issue stark warning over dramatic new sea level figures

Rising sea levels pose a far bigger eco threat than previously thought. This week's climate change conference in Copenhagen will sound an alarm over new floodings - enough to swamp Bangladesh, Florida, the Norfolk Broads and the Thames estuary

Windmills in Holland
With much of the country already below sea level, even a small rise would be devastating for the Dutch.

Scientists will warn this week that rising sea levels, triggered by global warming, pose a far greater danger to the planet than previously estimated. There is now a major risk that many coastal areas around the world will be inundated by the end of the century because Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting faster than previously estimated.

Low-lying areas including Bangladesh, Florida, the Maldives and the Netherlands face catastrophic flooding, while, in Britain, large areas of the Norfolk Broads and the Thames estuary are likely to disappear by 2100. In addition, cities including London, Hull and Portsmouth will need new flood defences.

"It is now clear that there are going to be massive flooding disasters around the globe," said Dr David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey. "Populations are shifting to the coast, which means that more and more people are going to be threatened by sea-level rises."


Joe the Not-Plumber claims he was on Obama's enemies list

By GottaLaff

Awww, poor Joe Sam the Plumber Nutcase. Everyone reach for a Kleenex on 3. Ready? One. Two. Three:
Judicial Watch formally filed a federal civil rights law suit on behalf of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, Joe the Plumber today. It alleges that "officials of the State of Ohio violated Mr. Wurzelbacher's constitutional rights by illegally accessing confidential information from its official databases," per Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
Okay, maybe that has some merit, maybe not. But that's not important now. What is important is this:

"It is our contention that there is an open question whether Joe the Plumber was number one on Obama's enemies list," Fitton said, referring to the alleged White House enemies list including Rush Limbaugh. "We already have evidence that government officials were misusing government resources to, in our view, to try harm our client for speaking out against Mr. Obama."

What?! Why, that's outrageous! Team Obama has... an enemies list? With enemies on it? Like that crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the mass murderer Osama bin Laden, and... a fake plumber?

Fitton said four days after Wurzelbacher's interaction with Obama on Oct. 12, 2008, the three highest ranking employees of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at the time held a meeting where they discussed Joe the Plumber. Fitton also said the three Ohio employees, who Fitton said are "believed to have been supporters of Obama's presidential campaign," then instructed agency personel to search confidential databases for information about Wurzelbacher.
Those awful supporters! I bet they were sitting around dissing Sam's wardrobe and... and... choice of scalp-care products. That is like, so Facebook!

Wait, what? The media was in on this, too? Totally talking trash about, like, Sam and stuff? That's it. Media? If this happens one more time, I'm coming over there and confiscating your Blackberries!


Shoe hurled at Ahmadinejad in Iranian city

By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

A shoe was recently hurled at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while he was in the city of Urmia, an Iranian Web site has reported.

The incident in the Iranian city was an apparent imitation of a similar attack on former U.S. president George Bush in Iraq last year.

Urmia News, the Iranian site, reported that Ahmadinejad was in a car en route to an election rally when the shoe was thrown. Ahmadinejad was traveling to a local stadium where he was meant to deliver a speech ahead of upcoming presidential elections.

According to the report, a hat was also thrown at the Iranian president before his convoy sped away from the scene.

The incident was not reported by Iran's major news outlets. But it has been widely commented upon in the Islamic Republic's blogosphere, which is viewed as one of the most developed in the world. It is one of the key tools for disseminating information that contradicts the position of the regime. The government controls Iran's traditional media.

How to destroy civilization

Beaver joke not so funny in N.C.

Supporters of wildlife program say McCain's gag shows he doesn't know the dam issue.

By Barbara Barrett
U Photo 0224
An industrious beaver has reeked havoc on many of the trees
surrounding Dragonfly pond at Reedy Creek Nature.

WASHINGTON "How does one manage a beaver?" U.S. Sen. John McCain asked his followers from the Senate floor this week.

McCain's derisive comments – "$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi," he typed on his Twitter mini-blog – came as part of his continuing campaign against directed spending, or earmarks, in the federal government.

But he angered workers in North Carolina who say they know full well how to manage beavers: Trap the critters, blow up their dams and let the water flow.

State and federal wildlife officials claim to have saved nearly $5 million last year in potential flood damage to farms, timber lands, roadways and other infrastructure through its Beaver Management Assistance Program – the same one McCain was making fun of in Washington.

"Maybe you should ask him how much he knows about this and why he picked it out for ridicule," said U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat. "We know why he chose this – because it sounds funny."


Pentagon's Unwanted Projects in Earmarks

Democrats Press Backyard Spending

When President Obama promised Wednesday to attack defense spending that he considers wasteful and inefficient, he opened a fight with key lawmakers from his own party.

It was Democrats who stuffed an estimated $524 million in defense earmarks that the Pentagon did not request into the 2008 appropriations bill, about $220 million more than Republicans did, according to an independent estimate. Of the 44 senators who implored Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in January to build more F-22 Raptors -- a fighter conceived during the Cold War that senior Pentagon officials say is not suited to probable 21st-century conflicts -- most were Democrats.

And last July, when the Navy's top brass decided to end production of their newest class of destroyers -- in response to 15 classified intelligence reports highlighting their vulnerability to a range of foreign missiles -- seven Democratic senators quickly joined four Republicans to demand a reversal. They threatened to cut all funding for surface combat ships in 2009.

Within a month, Gates and the Navy reversed course and endorsed production of a third DDG-1000 destroyer, at a cost of $2.7 billion.


Sarah Palin Bags a Big One