02/27/2012 archive

The Oscars, Politics and a Few Red Dresses

“If George Valentin could speak, he’d say, “Formidable! Merci beaucoup,” ~ Jean Dujardin, Best Actor, “The Artist

That was Frenchman Dujardin’ reaction to winning the Oscar over favorite American George Clooney. There were the expected winners, “The Artist” taking the top three awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Dujardin’s Best Actor, putting the movies total statue count at six. It was followed closely by “Hugo” with five. The win for Best Actress by Meryl Streep for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” was an upset for favored nominee, Viola Davis for her role in “The Help“. I’m sure Melissa Harris Perry is pleased, she hated “The Help.” You can find all the winners marked with an asterisk in last night’s Live Blog diary.

It was an interesting night that was both old and new. Old in the age of many of the winners, Christopher Plummer, Best Supporting Actor, at 82 is the Academy’s oldest recipient.”You’re only two years older than me, darling!” Plummer said to the Oscar he was clutching. “Where have you been all my life?” In the ninth stint as host, a much older, comedian Billy Crystal along with a receding hairline was a lot of funnier than last year’s co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. The new was that the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress wasn’t the first award given. As with last year all the life time and humanitarian awards are given the night before at a special ceremony, much like all the technical awards, with the winners announced and introduced en masse. It does shorten the show and the tedium.

There were some politics, inevitable in an election year. On of the proudest moments was when “A Separation“, became the first Iranian movie to win the Best foreign Language Film. In his acceptance speech, director Asghar Farhadi read a statement graciously thanking the Academy:

“At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy,” director Farhadi said while accepting the Oscar.

“At a time of talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their county, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

“I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

During last night’s broadcast, Center for Consumer Freedom, a corporate front group run by right-wing PR flack Rick Berman that is closely tied to the food industry purchased air time to run an attack ad on the Humane Society of the United States claiming that only a small percentage of their donations went to shelters. Of course they forgot to include the work the Humane Society does fighting animal cruelty in the courts and in legislatures. Sheesh

One of the most obvious politic quotes came from Tom Hanks, introducing Christian Bale, slyly  quipped, “A dark knight, an American psycho, a charismatic crack addict — you’ll get to choose one on Super Tuesday!”  That’s about right.

Then there were the fashions with the usual hits and misses. Most of the men looked dashing in their tuxedos wit a few minor faux pas, like George Clooney’s Armani pants pooling around the top of his shoes and a number of more well endowed ladies in ill fitting stapless gowns. But the talk of the night were the ladies in red, or shades of red.


Ladies in Red left to right: Livia Firth in Valentino for the Green Carpet Challenge; Natalie Portman in vintage Christian Dior; Jane Seymour.

I guess it’s a matter of taste.

I forget.

Which is Pravda and which is Isvestia again?

Obama’s Deficit Dilemma

Obama’s unacknowledged debt to Bowles/Simpson plan

By JACKIE CALMES, The New York Times

Published: February 27, 2012

Mr. Obama has come to adopt most of the major tenets supported by a majority of the commission’s members, though his proposals do not go as far. He has called for cutting deficits more than $4 trillion over 10 years by shaving all spending, including for the military, Medicare and Social Security; overhauling the tax code to raise revenues and lower rates; and writing rules to lock in savings.

Three weeks ago Mr. Obama met with Erskine B. Bowles, a former chief of staff to Mr. Clinton who was a co-chairman of the commission along with former Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Republican. In speeches nationwide, the chairmen have expressed disappointment that the president – and Republicans – did not take up their plan.

“The president wanted to make sure that we understood that he had had a strategy to take the framework of what we’d negotiated” on the commission, Mr. Bowles said, “and to use that as a vehicle to negotiate a deal.”

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: What Ails Europe?

Things are terrible here, as unemployment soars past 13 percent. Things are even worse in Greece, Ireland, and arguably in Spain, and Europe as a whole appears to be sliding back into recession.

Why has Europe become the sick man of the world economy? Everyone knows the answer. Unfortunately, most of what people know isn’t true – and false stories about European woes are warping our economic discourse.

Read an opinion piece about Europe – or, all too often, a supposedly factual news report – and you’ll probably encounter one of two stories, which I think of as the Republican narrative and the German narrative. Neither story fits the facts.

New York Times Editorial: Justice and Open Files

Prosecutors have a constitutional duty to disclose significant evidence favorable to a criminal defendant. But too often that duty, as laid out by the 1963 Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, is violated.

To help ensure compliance, some prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and legal scholars have sensibly concluded that prosecutors’ files, as a general rule, should be made open to defendants. In cases where turning over evidence might endanger a witness, for example, a judge could allow an exception.

A small number of state and local governments have adopted open-file policies that require prosecutors to make available well before trial all information favorable to the defense, without regard to whether such information is likely to affect the outcome of the case. North Carolina and Ohio and places like Milwaukee have found that such policies make prosecutions fairer and convictions less prone to error. The Justice Department should join this movement and set a national example. But instead, it continues to take half-measures in response to its own failures to meet disclosure requirements.

Robert Kuttner: The Volcker Rule: Return to Sender

Paul Volcker deserves better. In the hands of Tim Geithner’s Treasury, the Rule named for Volcker supposedly limiting speculative mischief by government-guaranteed banks is fast becoming a cumbersome parody of itself.

Financial regulatory officials, at the behest of Wall Street, have turned a simple bright line into a convoluted monstrosity. The questionnaire alone, inviting comments, runs 530 pages.

The bankers and their allies in government have succeeded once again in making their financial engineering too complex to regulate. The Volcker Rule, in the spirit of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, was supposed to simplify matters. But the regulators are helping Wall Street by adding to the complexity. See Jesse Eisenger’s analysis from Propublica.

The capacity of Wall Street to create new mutations of derivatives that are not quite explicitly covered by this or that sub-sub-sub rule is of course endless. In the absence of a clear line, Wall Street can always field more lawyers than the government can spare regulators, and what an awful waste of taxpayer money.

Robert Fisk: The New Cold War has Already Started – in Syria

If Iran obtains nuclear weapons capability, “I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons”.

Thus thundered our beloved Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in one of the silliest pronouncements he has ever made. Hague seems to spend much of his time impersonating himself, so I’m not really certain which of Mr Hague-Hague’s personas made this statement.

Flaw number one, of course, is Hague-Hague’s failure to point out that there already is another Middle East “nation” that has, in fact, several hundred nuclear weapons along with the missiles to fire them. It’s called Israel. But blow me down, Hague-Hague didn’t mention the fact. Didn’t he know? Of course, he did. What he was trying to say, you see, was that if Iran persisted in producing a nuclear weapon, Arab states – Muslim states – would want to acquire one. And that would never do. The idea, of course, that Iran might be pursuing nuclear weapons because Israel already possesses them, did not occur to him.

Max Blumenthal: Progressive Democratic Hero Elizabeth Warren Enlists to Serve AIPAC’s Pro-War Agenda

Few congressional candidates have excited the progressive base of the Democratic party as much as consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren has. With her tenacious advocacy for a consumer protection agency to fight unfair lending practices and her consistent framing of economic issues in terms of structural inequality has earned her enthusiastic promotion from major progressive figures from Markos Moulitsas to Rachel Maddow to Michael Moore. [..]

While progressives celebrate Warren for her fight against the big banks and the financial industry’s lobbying arm, they have kept silent over the fact that she has enlisted with another powerful lobby that is willing to sabotage America’s economic recovery in order to advance its narrow interests. It is AIPAC, the key arm of the Israel lobby; a group that is openly pushing for a US war on Iran that would likely trigger a global recession, as the renowned economist Nouriel Roubini recently warned. The national security/foreign policy position page on Warren’s campaign website reads as though it was cobbled together from AIPAC memos and the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry by the Democratic Party hacks who are advising her. It is pure boilerplate that suggests she knows about as much about the Middle East as Herman “Uzbeki-beki-stan-stan” Cain, and that she doesn’t care.

Gary Younge: The Itinerant US Left Has Found Its Home in the Occupy Movement

Far from alienating middle America, the progressive movement has captured the public and political imagination

At the auction of foreclosed homes at Queens supreme court in New York, the official carefully explained the process for one person to make an offer on another person’s misery. As the bidding was about to begin on what was once the home of Valencia Williams, around 20 people stood up and started to sing: “Mr Auctioneer / And all the people here / We’re asking you to call off the sale right now / We’re going to survive but we don’t know how.” [..]

The legacy of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is still in the making. Those who believe it came from nowhere and has disappeared just as quickly are wrong on both counts. Most occupiers were already politically active in a range of campaigns. What the occupations did was bring them together in one place and refract their disparate messages through the broader lens of inequality. The occupations were less an isolated outpouring of discontent than a decisive, dynamic moment in an evolving process.

The Crisis In Syria

The Syrian uprising has been going on for a year, centered around the city of Homs, which has been brutally shelled by the Syrian army for weeks. The city has been isolated with nothing and no one allowed in or out. A brief cease fire Friday was arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent allowed for the evacuation of only 27 of the hundreds of wounded in Homs, and did not include the two injured journalists. Negotiations are continuing to get humanitarian aid into Homs and other cities that have some under attack by the army. There was also a failed effort to remove the bodies of Marie Colvin, 56, a U.S. citizen who wrote for the Times of London, and Remi Ochlik, 28, a French photographer, who were killed in the shelling last week.

Amidst the fighting, the Syrian government held a referendum to approve a new constitution which had been offered up as a solution for reform. According to the Syrian press it was approved by nearly 90% of those who voted. The new charter was dismissed by Western diplomats as “too little, too late” as demands continued for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The referendum vote has fooled nobody,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Brussels on Monday as European foreign ministers tightened economic sanctions, including limits on transactions by Syria’s central bank, a ban on Syrian cargo flights into Europe and travel restrictions on several senior officials.

“To open polling stations but continue to open fire on the civilians of the country has no credibility in the eyes of the world,” he said.

The crisis in Syria and the Middle East was discussed by a panel of experts moderated by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on his show Up with Chris. The discussion was held by guests Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute Jeremy Scahill; founder of Women for Women International Zainab Salbi; former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Elise Jordan; and former director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State Ann-Marie Slaughter. Mr. Scahill and Ms. Slaughter got into an intense debate over whether the United States should intervene militarily and the US relationship with Yemen’s brutal government.

Crooks & Liars” blogger Nicole Belle had a good analysis of the nuanced of the split that Scahill and Slaughter honed in on:

Former White House Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an op-ed last week for the NY Times which called for the “humanitarian” need to protect Syrians from slaughter by creating “no-kill” zones and arming members of the resistance [..]

But Jeremy Scahill, who has written some of the best and conventional wisdom-challenging journalism about the Middle East, thinks this is just more of the same short term thinking that gets the US in trouble again and again. And there’s good arguments for both (though I fall short of Slaughter’s op-ed. There’s no evidence that Syria poses a threat to the US at all and the vague allusions to Al Qaeda is eerily reminiscent of Bush administration-era scare-mongering) and certainly, the desire to intervene against such horrifying examples of brutality is understandable. [..]

Bottom line: while there is nothing more horrifying than the violence we hear happening under Assad and I think Scahill is probably closer to the truth than Slaughter in terms of there being manifestly a civil war under way. But it cannot be the US interfering to decide the outcome for the Syrians. We cannot afford another open-ended, nebulous deployment that only causes resentment among the citizenry.

Agreed, Nicole

On This Day In History February 27

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 27 is the 58th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 307 days remaining until the end of the year (308 in leap years).

On this day in 1827, New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras with groups of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.


The celebration of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by early French settlers. The first record of the holiday being celebrated in Louisiana was at the mouth of the Mississippi River in what is now lower Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on March 3, 1699. Iberville, Bienville, and their men celebrated it as part of an observance of Catholic practice.

The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is unknown. An account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established. Processions and wearing of masks in the streets on Mardi Gras took place. They were sometimes prohibited by law, and were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833 Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.

James R. Creecy in his book Scenes in the South, and Other Miscellaneous Pieces describes New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1835:

   Shrove Tuesday is a day to be remembered by strangers in New Orleans, for that is the day for fun, frolic, and comic masquerading. All of the mischief of the city is alive and wide awake in active operation. Men and boys, women and girls, bond and free, white and black, yellow and brown, exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolic, horrible, strange masks, and disguises. Human bodies are seen with heads of beasts and birds, beasts and birds with human heads; demi-beasts, demi-fishes, snakes’ heads and bodies with arms of apes; man-bats from the moon; mermaids; satyrs, beggars, monks, and robbers parade and march on foot, on horseback, in wagons, carts, coaches, cars, etc., in rich confusion, up and down the streets, wildly shouting, singing, laughing, drumming, fiddling, fifeing, and all throwing flour broadcast as they wend their reckless way.

On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mystick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization. It started a number of continuing traditions. It is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. According to one historian, “Comus was aggressively English in its celebration of what New Orleans had always considered a French festival. It is hard to think of a clearer assertion than this parade that the lead in the holiday had passed from French-speakers to Anglo-Americans. . . .To a certain extent, Americans ‘Americanized’ New Orleans and its Creoles. To a certain extent, New Orleans ‘creolized’ the Americans. Thus the wonder of Anglo-Americans boasting of how their business prowess helped them construct a more elaborate version of the old Creole Carnival. The lead in organized Carnival passed from Creole to American just as political and economic power did over the course of the nineteenth century. The spectacle of Creole-American Carnival, with Americans using Carnival forms to compete with Creoles in the ballrooms and on the streets, represents the creation of a New Orleans culture neither entirely Creole nor entirely American.”

In 1875 Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but the city has always celebrated Carnival.

Pique the Geek 20120226: The Things that we Eat. Breast Milk

This is the forth and final installment on my short piece about milk.  This time, instead to focusing on human consumption of milk from other species, in particular from cattle, to the importance of human infants being given human milk until at least six months of age.  The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

Human milk was universally used up until comparatively recently as the sole food for infants.  However, it was not always the mum of the child that supplied the milk.  Throughout history, surrogate women have supplied milk for other women’s children, a practice know as wet nursing.  This was pretty much confined to the wealthy class when the mum chose not to breastfeed her child and either hired other women to feed them or made slaves to that.  Although not explicitly said, the Mammy character in the book and motion picture was assumed to be Scarlett’s wet nurse.  In other cases friends of relatives of women who for some reason or another could not nurse a baby would fill in for her.  More on that later.

In the 1950s many countries began to encourage the use of infant formula as the “scientific” successor to natural breast milk.  While formula can be a wise choice in many circumstances, the latest research is pretty much a consensus that natural breast milk is superior in almost all ways to formula.  More on that later as well.

Live Blog: The Oscars

“And the winner is”. With those words there will be at least 5 people holding their collective breath, while a finely coiffed and swathed celebrity tears open a sealed envelop with the closely guarded secret. Welcome to the Live Blog of the 84rd Academy Awards from fabulous downtown Hollywood or, in my case, on the couch in the family room with my lap top, a pitcher of martinis and Parmesan popcorn, Oh, and lots of napkins.

I used to chuckle at the introduction of the tuxedoed men carrying the brief case with those envelops and the silly ritual of reading of the “Rules” on how the votes were cast and who voted on what. Do they even do that any more?

The first Oscars were presented on May 19. 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood at a private brunch for 270 people. My how far they have come. Now it is the “hottest” ticket in town and the parties after for winners and losers are elaborate affairs that would keep food pantries in business for a year. I shouldn’t be too critical many of the industry’s actors, directors and producers do wonderful humanitarian work for causes that would be easily forgotten.

In 2009, the Academy decided to return to its roots. When the award for Best Picture was presented in 1934 and 1935 there were 12 nominees, and from 1935 to 1943 there were 10. This years there are nine nominated movies contending for the golden guy with a sword. Over at the New York Times, Melena Ryzik, a k a The Carpetbagger, gives her predictions for the winners:

Best picture: “The Artist”

Best director: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”

Best actor: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Best actress: Viola Davis, “The Help”

Best supporting actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Best supporting actress: Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Best adapted screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, “The Descendants”

Best original screenplay: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

Best animated film: “Rango”

Best foreign language film: “A Separation,” Iran

You can cast your ballot for your favorite in this poll let us know how well you do during the course of the show. h/t to our reader seakit.

There was a lot of revealing stories recently about the diversity of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and who votes for the awards. Low and behold, the Academy voting panel is overwhelmingly white, male and over 50. The other revelation was why there were only two song nominated from a list of 39 songs that were given Academy voting members. It’s the rules:

As it turns out, the sheer number of songs in the running split votes to the point that only two songs could be featured on the ballot, per current Academy rules. Basically, voters had to sort through the 39 songs and score each on a scale of 6 to 10 points, and only songs that received an average of 8.25 points could be nominated. Hence, only two songs made the cut.

There are pro’s and con’s for this. The pro, it will mercifully spare us from some really bad productions. The con, a lot of really good artists like Elton John, Lady Gaga, Chris Cornell, Mary J. Blige, and Willie Nelson did not make the cut. Now that’s a rule that needs to be revised.

One of the categories the Academy needs to create is “Best Animal in a Featured Film.” Some of the scene stealers this year are a Jack Russel terrier named, Uggie, “The Artist“, who won an inaugural Golden Collar from Dognewsdaily.com. He beat out his competition for cute, a fellow Jack Russell, Cosmo, “The Beginners”. The Dobermans that appeared in “Hugo” appeared to be quite fierce but, according to the trainers, in reality were quite timid and shy. As the late actor Lee Marvin said when he accepted his 1965 Oscar for Best Actor, “I think I should be sharing this award with a horse somewhere out there in the San Fernando Valley,” a reference to the horse Kid Shelleen rode, who appeared to be as drunk as Shelleen was.

The annual Razzie nominations were announced last night. The Razzies honor the worst movies and performances of the year. Adam Sandler was nominated for a record 11 awards for everything from worst actor to producer for three movies, “Jack and Jill,” ”Just Go with It” and “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.” He takes that title from Eddie Murphy who had 5 awards for just one picture, “Norbit,” in 2007.

Along with “Bucky Larson” and “Jack and Jill,” worst-picture contenders are “New Year’s Eve,” ”Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1.

Jack and Jill” led with 12 nominations, with “Transformers” second with nine and “Breaking Dawn” right behind with eight. [..]

For worst actor, Sandler is up against “Bucky Larson” star Nick Swardson, along with Russell Brand for “Arthur“; Nicolas Cage for “Drive Angry,” ”Season of the Witch” and “Trespass“; and Taylor Lautner for “Abduction” and “Breaking Dawn.”

Swardson also was nominated for worst supporting actor for “Jack and Jill” and “Just Go with It.”

For worst actress, Sandler is joined by another cross-dressing actor, Martin Lawrence in “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.” Also nominated were Sarah Palin for her documentary “The Undefeated”; Sarah Jessica Parker for “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and “New Year’s Eve“; and Kristen Stewart for “Breaking Dawn.”

Appropriately, the winners will be announces on April Fool’s Day.

I will be your fashion and performance critic as we watch the parade down the red carpet and the main event. BTW, I always cry at the memorial tribute. Below the fold is the list for all the nominees. On with the show.