MacAllister Stone is Editor in Chief of AbsoluteWrite.com and CoyoteWildMag.com. She attended the Viable Paradise specfic writing workshop in October of 2006 and has been a member of the VP staff, since. She can often be found on the Absolute Write forums.

“Marlboro Earth: Saving the Environment One Customer at a Time”

Mother Earth Needs YOU to Smoke!How do we best save the earth? By heroically decimating humanity, of course. From The Onion, that last bastion of parodic commentary so true it hurts, perpetually raising the bar in fearless journalistic  pursuit of answers:

According to a press release from Philip Morris, the new environmentally friendly cigarettes work by employing powerful carcinogens that accumulate in the lungs of smokers, slowly breaking down their vital organs and eliminating the danger posed to the overpopulated planet by the human race.

I’m a longtime smoker, so I couldn’t agree more. Imagine if all the BP execs and government regulators responsible for the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico had only eradicated themselves decades ago; we’d have a cleaner, healthier planet, today.

Spin that Story!

Blatant examples of media agenda and spin as seen in the coverage regarding the GM Payback . . . Wow. Just wow.

MSNBC

Fallen giant General Motors Co. accelerated toward recovery Wednesday, announcing the repayment of $8.1 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans five years ahead of schedule.

The Obama administration crowed about the “turnaround” at GM and fellow bailout recipient Chrysler LLC, saying the government’s unpopular rescue of Detroit’s automakers is paying off.

NPR

The American auto industry is showing signs of revival. The question is how that’s being played. Chrysler posted improved quarterly results this past week, and sales to auto fleets have surged. But some are saying that General Motors CEO Ed Whitaker went too far with television ads that have been playing constantly this week.

FOXNews

General Motors Co. has repaid the $8.1 billion in loans it got from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign automaker is on the road to recovery.

GM CEO Whitacre formally announced the loan paybacks Wednesday at the company’s Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas, where he also announced that GM is investing $257 million in that factory and the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, both of which will build the next generation of the midsize Chevrolet Malibu.

GM got a total of $52 billion from the U.S. government and $9.5 billion from the Canadian and Ontario governments as it went through bankruptcy protection last year. The U.S. considered as a loan $6.7 billion of the aid, while the Canadian governments held $1.4 billion in loans.

The Chevy Volt

photo courtesy of chevrolet.com

But is the news really that simple, or anywhere near that positive? Rather a lot of people don’t seem to think so:

Newsvine:

So the taxpayer funded their bailout, and now we will repay the loan via stock purchases, GM never actually feeling the total bite of the 52 billion? That loan never coming out of their pockets, never facing the responsibility for their actions?

They cut nearly 70,000 Union jobs and reductions in the Pension, and moved more manufacturing over seas which had generated enough profits to pay this back. The truth is that GM is a taxpayer funded sinking ship, and not viable as it iscurrently structured. We are just funding the same behavior, the same failed business plans by being their crutch.

TTAC Bailout Watch

PDF of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R, Iowa) letter to Secretary Geithner

NYT Op Ed Piece

Moreover, G.M. is not, in the strictest sense, paying back taxpayers at all. Rather, it is refunding $6.7 billion of an $18 billion escrow account that was given to it by the government when it emerged from bankruptcy. The rest of that account will be used to cover fourth-quarter losses (including $2.8 billion pledged for the rescue of G.M.’s major parts supplier, Delphi), repay loans from the Canadian government, and possibly prop up the automaker’s shaky European operations. That escrow account is due to expire in June, at which time G.M. will repay what remains of the $6.7 billion from this week’s pledge — and then pocket the estimated $5.6 billion remainder.

In fairness, G.M. was clear up front that it would not be able to make the taxpayers whole through cash payments alone. Rightly so: for all the talk of slimmed-down cost structures and booming sales in China, G.M. isn’t making any profit with which to repay its debts.

Ultimately, I find myself much less concerned about partisan politics these days, and much more concerned about this kind of ultra-rich and corporatist warfare on the working classes.

By the way, GM seems to be pinning their hopes of a return to profitability on the upcoming and much-hyped Chevy Volt, reportedly being built in GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck facility.

Veteran Marine, Mainer to Meet Obama

Leroy Peasey, an 87 year old resident of Rockland, Maine who served in the Pacific theater during WWII, was wounded in action on Guam, and waited on reserve during the invasion of Iwo Jima, has been invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during the President’s visit to Portland, Maine, this week.

The pacific island of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima

Mr. Peasey has rather amazing history with American presidents. He was part of the Marine Guard for President Roosevelt at Camp David, during FDR’s administration. Mr. Peasey was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, as evidenced by this yard sign posted a few years ago.

Mr. Peasey unabashedly admires President Obama, and according to this article by Daniel Dunkle in The Herald Gazette, Mr. Peasey is quoted as saying, “I’d follow him to hell and back as a Marine.”

Freedom, Sex, and Censorship, as Reported by the Internet

Several news stories and blog posts worth noting, discussing topics that bear discussion and offer the potential of deeply  interesting further developments.

And so, with no further ado, here’s the Tuesday round-up.

An NPR report about a current lawsuit challenging the Patriot Act as unconstitutional:

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case that pits an individual’s right of free speech and association against a federal law aimed at combating terrorism. At issue is part of the Patriot Act that makes it a crime for an American citizen to engage in peaceful, lawful activity on behalf of any group designated as a terrorist organization.

Sassymonkey Reads brings us an examination of “Common Sense” ratings of YA books on the Barnes & Noble Website:

I was prepared to be really ranty about Common Sense Media. I was prepared to dislike them and everything that they stood for. When I saw the ratings on BN.com last night I was angry. After going to their website I really don’t have an issue with what they are doing. I may not agree with their age-appropriateness on a lot of items (I was a free-range reader as a kid) but they are giving kids their voice as well as the adults and I appreciate that. They are anti-censorship. They aren’t against any of the books, but they are trying to provide ways for families to discuss the issues in the books rather than for them to simply not read them. I can see Common Sense Media being a good tool for parents and educators. I have to give them kudos for their efforts.

But (there’s always a but) I have issues with the way that their service has been implemented on BN.com. The focus is entirely negative. It lists only what the book has in it that is potentially “wrong.” There is no context for any of those potential issues. There are no merits to any of the books like how they deal with those issues.  I think it completely derails what Common Sense Media set out to do.

The Political Carnival discusses a new bill being awaiting the governor’s approval in Utah. Masquerading as a measure against illegal abortions, the bill’s actual content should make anyone with even potential access to a uterus absolutely ill with outrage:

In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the bill also creates a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by “reckless” behavior.

Using the legal standard of “reckless behavior” all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn’t intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.

“This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder,” says Missy Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah. Bird says there are no exemptions in the bill for victims of domestic violence or for those who are substance abusers. The standard is so broad, Bird says, “there nothing in the bill to exempt a woman for not wearing her seatbelt who got into a car accident.”

Finally, because after all that you might be wondering where on earth this kind of stuff gets started, Jon Stewart deconstructs how those memes get started, and the cognitive disconnect required to spread the some of the racist, sexist, anti-progressive, unconstitutional, and anti-American sentiments that cloak themselves in modern American conservatism .

Learn from Man’s Best Friend

canine fair play

Canids compensate for size and status, to play fair

Scientific American brings us The Ethical Dog, an interesting and thought-provoking article about the social behaviors and ordered customs of canids. We’ve admired and lived side-by-side with these remarkable animals for thousands of years.

These behaviors, including altruism, tolerance, forgiveness, reciprocity and fairness, are readily evident in the egalitarian way wolves and coyotes play with one another. Canids (animals in the dog family) follow a strict code of conduct when they play, which teaches pups the rules of social engagement that allow their societies to succeed.

The authors of the article point out that human beings could learn a thing or two about playing fair from our four-legged companions.

Virus Fossil Bed

Good Ideas Come in All Sizes

Scientists spent thirteen years mapping and sequencing the human genome. The Human Genome Project, though completed in 2003, was only the barest beginning of what we have yet to learn about ourselves, our own DNA, where we’ve come from, and where we’ve yet to go.

Hereditary predispositions to disease and illness—cancer, for example—may well be regulated or even eradicated in another generation or two.

Also, think of the billions of dollars to be made if we can only learn to manipulate the DNA of parents to guarantee children of unusual brilliance, custom eye-color chosen off a ring of those little color-sample chips, and perfect pitch.

Scientists are reconstructing million-year-old viruses from the remnant DNA scraps found in the human genome, according to this article in the New York Times:

Scientists who hunt for these viruses think of themselves as paleontologists searching for fossils. Just as animals get buried in rock, these viruses become trapped in the genomes of their hosts. While their free-living relatives continue to evolve, fossil viruses are effectively frozen in time.

Now, while reconstructing viruses that changed the course of human evolution may sound rather alarming, we’re told that the search for these virus fossils, and their eventual reconstitution, has a great deal of information to impart about the course that human evolution has taken:

Fossil viruses are also illuminating human evolution. Scientists estimate that 8.3 percent of the human genome can be traced back to retrovirus infections. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times more DNA than is found in all the 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome.

So not to worry. This is gentle pursuit of science for its own sake. It’s not as if they’re cloning dinosaurs. Or building flesh-eating battle robots.

Moff’s Law

Inevitably, in an online discussion (especially a discussion about -isms in art) involving more than three people, some ignoramus will say something very like: Jeez, it was just a movie. STFU and enjoy it, okay?

How to respond the next time someone accuses you of overthinking a text or a film? Please allow me to direct your attention to the newly-coined Moff’s Law.

First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible”! — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

Because I don’t know about you. But at least once a week, someone demands to know why I insist on thinking about things so much.

And unless you live on a parallel version of Earth where too many people are thinking too deeply and critically about the world around them and what’s going on in their own heads, you’re not helping anything; on the contrary, you’re acting as an advocate for entropy.

The discussion giving rise to this matter-of-fact observation that it’s actually both unreasonable and intellectually hostile to demand that everyone turn off their brains when they approach a book, movie, or other form of art, originated in the comments thread following  Annalee Newitz’ review of Avatar on  io9

TSA Knocking on Doors to Seize Hardware

Wired has the story:

Two bloggers received home visits from Transportation Security Administration agents Tuesday after they published a new TSA directive that revises screening procedures and puts new restrictions on passengers in the wake of a recent bombing attempt by the so-called underwear bomber.

And the follow-up:

In the wake of public outcry against the Transportation Security Administration for serving civil subpoenas on two bloggers, the government agency has canceled the legal action and apologized for the strong-arm tactics agents used.

We have got to walk back the crazy. Because when the brownshirts TSA is banging on your door, confiscating your hardware, bullying, threatening, and then backing down under public outcry—what happens when the public gets bored and jaded, and stops raising the outcry?