Tuesday, December 30, 2008


You know bagels have fully, 110%, transitioned from Jewish to all-American when...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This makes sense.

DC's plan for charter bus parking at the inauguration: have 1,200 buses park at suburban metro stations; have 10,000 buses park in the city, within walking distance of the mall. DC says no buses will be parked in front of residences.

From the Post:

How am I supposed to eat all of this?

Brunch. This is all one item on the menu, it just required two plates.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More inaugural-hype-busting

One piece of the general inauguration hype is that everyone in DC is renting out their apartments to out-of-towners, and fetching thousands and thousands of dollars.

Actually, that's probably not true. All we really know is that lots of people have listed their apartments on Craiglist and elsewhere for astronomical prices. Whether they are actually getting renters, let alone at those prices, is very much un-verified. The City Paper has done some reporting to suggest that responses to these ads are few and far between.

As Matt Yglesias puts it today, "despite widespread rumors of people reaping windfalls by renting out their houses for Inauguration Week, I have yet to encounter real hard evidence of any such thing happening."

DC: "J/K!"

DC, and the Post, walk back from the earlier estimates on inauguration crowds, and say that they don't really have a way to know how many people will show up.

Frankly, I'm not that worried about the whole thing. Wild crowd estimates aside, I think a number of agencies have shown they're taking this pretty seriously and are talking about some logical plans. Having charter busses park within walking distance of the mall, setting up bus-only lanes (details TBA), encouraging DC residents to walk or take city busses, valet bike parking locations -- these are all good steps.

Vigilantes in New Orleans

In The Nation, A.C. Thompson uncovers how in the days after Hurricane Katrina, white vigilantes in New Orleans shot at least 11 black men, killing three or more of them. An accompanying article focuses on the killing of Henry Glover.

Update: Umm al-Fahm March Postponed

I wrote previously about plans by Israeli extremists to hold a "Jewish Pride" march through an Arab town in Israel proper. The march has been postponed indefinitely, with police citing fears of violence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


There's a healthy debate, one that has gone on for many years but that has grown more robust in the past few months, about what should be done about crimes committed by members of the Bush Administration. This is most focused on the authorization of torture, but it's about other crimes, too.

The debate is taking place amongst law professors, human rights groups, bloggers and others. It is still off the radar screen of most of the country. The most basic concepts -- like that authorizing torture is a violation of U.S. law (and I won't even get into international law) -- are not understood by many, perhaps most, commentators. And certainly not by many members of congress. There does seem to be some progress, though, in making the issue more mainstream; Glenn Greenwald points to a number of recent examples.

The questions in the debate include: How should torture be investigated? By whom? By the justice department, by congress, by an independent commission appointed by congress or the president, or by some other body? Could there be prosecutions? Should some people get immunity if they agree to give evidence? How can the whole process have legitimacy to the country and to the world? How, politically, will any of this even get off the ground given that many congressional Democrats approved of torture?

I'm going to make what is surely a gross simplification and describe what I would consider to be three of the camps in the debate:

1. Investigate through some kind of independent commission; possible future prosecution.

2. Investigate through some kind of independent commission; take future prosecution off the table.

3. Have the U.S. Justice Department pursue criminal prosecution immediately.

The question of immunity is huge. Immunity proponents say that no Bush Administration officials are ever going to jail anyway; that we must therefore be practical (if not 100% principled); that only by giving immunity can any investigation get out the most information, and that getting the whole truth out is extremely important. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is sometimes trumpeted as an example for this camp, though obviously that was a very different situation.

Opponents of immunity say that only through criminal penalties will future torture be deterred. The Bush Administration members can be shamed, but if no one goes to jail, future administrations will know quite well that they too can torture. The immunity opponents also say that while more investigation of torture is necessary, we already know most of the facts that we need to know, and that we can get the more information we need without giving immunity.

If you support the immunity arguments, you can even support the idea of Bush pardoning everyone in advance, as that will take care of it right there. I'm betting that's not going to happen, though.

Too often lost in the debate is the history of U.S. torture pre-9/11. I recommend Naomi Klein's summary from a few years ago, "'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate." What changed after 9/11 was not whether the U.S. supported torture as policy, but whether it publicly supported torture as policy. I'm still not sure which is a better situation.

Any investigation or commission will understandably be focused on the torture as public policy of the Bush Administration, and not the earlier history. Fair enough. What's important is that we don't just move back to the pre 9/11 policy of quietly supporting torture, be it in Latin America or elsewhere, but rather that we move to being against torture altogether.

I don't know if this will happen, but the best I would hope for is that in the context of this commission, people in power will somehow finally see how bad torture really is, and be less likely to quietly condone it in the future.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

That whole Georgia / Russia war thing

Remember how the press in the U.S. (and in some other parts of the world, too) initially portrayed the conflict as Russia being evil and Georgia being saintly? But then it turned out that wasn't true?

The Nation
has a look at the coverage, focusing on the NYT, which it says was particularly egregious in building a false storyline and then sticking to it long after it was thoroughly discredited.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren fallout

HRC on Obama's response to criticism of Warren:
We understand that the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights icon and a dear friend of LGBT Americans, will close the inauguration ceremony. But would any inaugural committee say to Jewish Americans, "We're opening with an anti-Semite but closing the program with a rabbi, so don't worry"?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finally, one progressive

Harold Meyerson lauds Obama's appointment of Rep. Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor.

Who is Ray LaHood?

Ray who? The new transportation secretary, apparently. He's a retiring representative from Illinois, a 'moderate' Republican. Transportation isn't really his big thing.

From the little we do know, he seems to be a mixed bag. He has broken with his party on Amtrak funding; but in 2004 he opposed funding for high-speed rail improvements in his own state. And apparently he likes rail-trails, and running on them.


Obama and crew have chosen Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. Great. All we needed was Obama endorsing yet another right winger.

Sarah Posner
sums up some of Warren's history.

I think it's important to not focus too much just on Warren's support for Prop 8 or any of the individual statements he's made on gays or abortion and to look at the bigger picture. As HRC put it, "Rev. Warren has often played the role of general in the cultural war waged against LGBT Americans, many of whom also share a strong tradition of religion and faith."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Death penalty news

The NYT reports today that legislators in Georgia are talking about changing state law so that non-unanimous juries can impose death sentences. In other words, the determination of guilt will still have to come from all 12 jurors, but if, during the sentencing phase, only 9 support execution, the convict would still face death.

Currently, all death penalty states require a unanimous jury, and it's not clear that changing the law will pass constitutional muster.

The Georgia talk comes after a recent case where a guy was convicted of four homicides but three of the jurors did not vote for a death sentence.

If the prosecution is going to seek the death penalty in a murder trial, the jury will be death-qualified. That means that the members have to say they would be willing to give a death sentence if they deem it appropriate under the law. Death penalty proponents aren't satisfied with the death-qualifying as is, because they point to examples where jurors said they were okay with it but clearly had no intention of considering it during deliberations.

The whole death-qualifying thing is a problem because the resulting juries are not truly 'peers' of the accused -- they are a class of people who are all okay with the death penalty, which is just a subset of society. Studies show these people are more likely to convict (see Adam Liptak's writing on the matter last year).

One solution would be to have two juries -- a first jury that would determine guilt or innocence, and a second, death-qualified jury, that would determine sentencing. Of course, a better solution would be to get rid of the death penalty.

But back to Georgia. Last year the AJC documented extensive flaws in the state's death penalty system -- arbitrariness in sentencing, geographical bias, racial bias (based mostly on the race of the victim), and even outright legal mistakes in the courts. The ABA's study around the same time found many of the same things.

The state legislature seems relatively unswayed by this evidence; they are unlikely to repeal the death penalty any time in the coming years. But jurors are less and less willing to impose death sentences, the AJC found.

Georgia's death penalty story will probably be similar to many other states -- it will be a long, slow decline.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

C is for Cookie

This is from earlier this year: Cookie Monster interviewed on NPR.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Note: Yes, I do realize I'm following a post about eating less meat with a post on chicken recipes. Oops.

Here's the situation we face:

That's right, two bucks a pound for boneless, skinless chicken breast (BSCB), which is usually an arm and a leg ("no, it's a breast! the arm and leg are something different!"). Anyway, you have till the end of the day Thursday if you want it at that price.

I know white meat gets a bad rap from the foodies (and much of the world). Oh well. I thought I'd use the occasion to post a few recipes for what you can do with the stuff.

My go-to chicken recipe for a nice meal is this one, "Pan-Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic and White Wine." Beth found this recipe back in the E4 days. It keeps the chicken moist and delicious. I serve it with a green vegetable and either roasted red potatoes (also w/ rosemary) or rice. While I usually make it with BSCB, the recipe is actually for various whole chicken parts. It's good either way.

This one is an easy marinade for grilling chicken, BSCB or otherwise (got this from the Boston Globe magazine a few years ago). It's great to bring a ziploc of marinating chicken to a barbecue party, ready to throw on the the grill. The recipe:
-Juice of 1 lemon
-salt and pepper, to taste
-2 tablespoons mustard
-1 clove garlic, finely chopped
-1/4 cup olive oil
-4 BSCB or other pieces
Whisk the lemon juice, slat, pepper, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the oil a little at a time until the dressing emulsifies. Marinate the chicken for a an hour or few. Grill.

Brining chicken is also a crucial way to go. As in, soaking it in salt water. Makes it moist and delicious. Folks seem to disagree on the exact proportions of salt to water. Including lime or lemon juice is popular; so is adding some sugar. Here are two brining recipes I used as a vague guide the other week. I ended up cooking the chicken in a frying pan (covered), which took a bit longer than I had wished. Should've pounded it, maybe.

In this case, I took the moist, flavorful chicken I cooked and chopped it up into small pieces. I made burritos -- with the chicken, black beans from a can, onion and green pepper (one of each, in a frying pan, with oil and salt and pepper), grated cheddar and salsa. Delish.

Lime Pepper Chicken with Fresh Pico
Okay, I haven't actually made this yet. But I think I'm going to this week, with the chicken I bought for $2/pound.

And finally, you can, after all, just toss the chicken in some soy sauce or soy vay and then throw it in the oven (or broil it, if you're careful). Just don't overcook it. I included this one because I found a picture of it. Bon apetit!

Food, Real

The food blog Macheesmo led me to this 20-minute video of a talk by Mark Bittman, "What's wrong with what we eat." I know a lot of this stuff is pretty familiar to many of you, but I found it a useful summary, and one with a skepticism of overemphasizing local food. Video below.

One point I'd add that Bittman doesn't make directly is that the difference in carbon output is generally much bigger between meat and non-meat than between local and not so local. In other words, eating less meat, particularly less cow and pig, is more important than trying to replace the vegetables-from-across-the-country you buy with local vegetables.

Inauguration hype

So there are going to be 4 million people here for the inauguration? That's the number everyone likes to throw around. And anything is possible. But it's a figure that's not actually based on anything.

In fact, on Thursday, the Secret Service explicitly contradicted the idea: "We have seen nothing to suggest that there will be 4 million people in attendance, but if that many people come, we will be prepared for it." (the Washington Times was right, I think, to deem this front-page news; the Post, meanwhile, put it in the third paragraph of it's article, on B1).

So where did the 4 million thing start? Katharine Seelye tried to track it down:
The number first materialized in a Nov. 18 newspaper article, which said the District of Columbia and federal officials were "preparing for as many as 4 million people" for the inaugural.

That estimate seems to have been extracted from a quote from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who said: "We will have crowds that will be two, three, maybe even four times as large as the largest inaugural," which some estimate was 1.2 million people at Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965.

I'm not sure about that second paragraph; did Seelye actually confirm that the Post wrote 4 million based on multiplying 1.2 by four (and wouldn't that, um, equal 4.8?). Maybe D.C. explicitly told them "4 million."

Anyhow, regardless of how exactly the figure started, Mayor Fenty subsequently said "3 to 5 million." When pressed on the source of the number, he admitted that 3 million is simply the estimated capacity of the mall and the parade route, assuming 3 square feet per person. Right...

Hints of Obama's Middle East plans

Haaretz reports:
Jerusalem has received various reports in recent weeks indicating that American foreign policy in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia after president-elect Barack Obama takes office will operate on the basis of special envoys who will report directly to Obama and his designated secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
senior government sources in Jerusalem said that the information they have received indicates that the new administration is planning a hierarchy of about five special envoys to various regions, overseen by a kind of "super coordinator," who would answer directly to the president and the secretary of state.
..The most prominent name in consideration for the top coordinator post is Dennis Ross, who served as President Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East. Ross' name has also come up as a possible senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

The envoy to the Middle East would oversee the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiations between Syria and Israel and the situation in Lebanon.

Short-listed for this job are Colin Powell, who was President George W. Bush's secretary of state during his first term; Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005; and Martin Indyk, who is close to Hillary Clinton and who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2001.

Ross, Kurtzer and Indyk would all likely be not good. Powell would probably be much better.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

5 gal.

I went to a party in an under-construction row house and look at what I saw!

That would equip, like, a whole samba band.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anti-gay attacks up in 2008

The AP today picks up stats from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Project's on attacks against LGBT people.
The number of reported attacks against LGBT people increased 24 percent in 2007 over 2006, and "we anticipate the numbers are going to jump" in 2008, Stapel said. Officials are still crunching 2008 figures, which will be released next spring, she said.

While Stapel attributed the increase in part to more people reporting incidents, she believed there could be an actual spike in assaults because 2008 was an election year.

"Election years are always violent years for us because of wedge issues," Stapel said, referring to ballot measures this year in various states. "With increased visibility comes increased vulnerability to LGBT stereotypes and violence. We've seen some of the most violent hate crimes that we've seen in a while."

It's an interesting and troubling theory; I want to see more analysis. The data presented here alone isn't enough to support it; indeed, violence went up from 2006 (election year) to 2007 (non election year).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More torture

Last week, it was Dianne Feinstein, incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who let it be known she was okay with torture (see Glenn Greenwald). She had previously endorsed the Army Field Manual as a rule book for the C.I.A. and other agencies conducting investigations. Not anymore. As the NYT reported:
'I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,' she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

She said that "extreme cases might call for flexibility."

This week, it's Silvestre Reyes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who's letting people know that torture is okay with him:
"We don’t want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that’s vital and critical to our national security," he added. "That's where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are."

Spencer Ackerman sums it up:
How charming. The chairman of the House intelligence committee just framed the debate as between effective torture and ineffective compliance with the law. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the actual debate on torture knows how clearly fallacious this is. And yet this is the man in charge of one of the two oversight committees for the intelligence community. Maybe it shouldn't just be those leaders who lose their jobs.

Reyes, interestingly enough, was the one who replaced Jane Harman as chair; Pelosi rightly found Harman to be too conservative. Reyes also said in an interview that he thinks Al-Qaeda is primarily a Shiite movement.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Darfur - Jan 21, 2009

On the front page of today's Post, Stephanie McCrummen and Colum Lynch have a good, nuanced look at the future of U.S. policy on Sudan under the Obama Administration.

As previously discussed, Susan Rice has a hawkish position on Darfur, promoting direct U.S. and/or NATO military intervention. Clinton, Jones and Gates have also said some pretty strong words. But, the Posties note:
So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. "help." He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.

The Post gets into why it's important that Obama not overreach and go mega-hawk on Sudan:
Some analysts and Sudanese observers with no love for the government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir worry that Obama's administration may try to impose a military solution that might have worked at the height of the killing in 2004 and 2005, but not anymore.

"Things have changed dramatically since 2004," said a senior U.N. political officer in Khartoum, who asked not to be identified so that he could speak more freely. "The kind of conflict we have now is really a low-intensity conflict with high-intensity political ramifications. So all of this posturing of a military solution, or a no-fly zone, it's not going to work."
The U.N. official and others said that military intervention could have dangerous consequences for Sudan as a whole, as well as the nine countries bordering it.

As venal as many consider Bashir's government to be, it did sign a landmark peace deal that ended a long and bloody civil war between the north and south. If Bashir's government is destabilized, that deal could fall apart, plunging another huge swath of the country into war.

The line from an un-named Obama team member is far more skeptical of Bashir. It's a mixed bag:
But an Obama campaign adviser who worked closely on the candidate's Africa positions said the naive move would be to think it is possible to trust Bashir's regime, which has a long history of broken promises and is highly unpopular across much of Sudan.

The adviser noted that the government only signed the deal with the south after the U.S. helped push it into a corner by indirectly arming the southern rebels. Eventually, the government realized it could not win.

Accountability should also be part of any long-term political settlement in Sudan, the adviser said; the leaders who orchestrated the campaign in Darfur must face their misdeeds, he said, even if that comes several years late.

"If we accept the notion that the brutality we've witnessed from this regime over the past two decades is acceptable to bring about temporary stability, then shouldn't we have done the same for the Nazis in Germany?" said the adviser, who was instructed not to speak to the news media.
But the adviser said that military options, including covert operations and regime change, are likely to remain under serious discussion in the new administration.

"These people have been in power for almost 20 years " the adviser said. "I doubt that the majority of Sudanese would cry if they were ousted."

The suggestion of regime change is probably irresponsible. The outright rejection of a negotiated impunity for Sudanese leaders is good, and notable.

All in all, I'm actually fairly optimistic that Obama will not overreach and start a larger war in and around Sudan, and that he will do a better job than the Bush Administration at pressing the issue internationally. Bringing peace and stability to Darfur will require the Europeans, and even more so the Chinese and Russians, to change their policies. The Bush Administration did genuinely try to lobby those countries, but it didn't prioritize it that highly, and only succeeded so much. It will be no easy task, but I do think Obama will do somewhat better.

Bad scene

Israeli extremists, many of whom explicitly favor expelling Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, are going to be taking the fight to Arabs in Israel proper. They'll be marching in the city of Umm al-Fahm on December 15.

All too quiet on the Western front

Last week Israel prepared to evict and then evicted some settlers from this building in Hebron. Some of the settlers went on rampages against Palestinians in the area, including burning homes and shooting two people (not fatally). It's a big deal in Israel right now; on Sunday, Olmert called it a 'pogrom'. Daniel Levy has a useful rundown on what's happened and the bigger context of the extremist settlers.

The response by many news orgs in the U.S. has been something of a yawn.

Ethan Bronner's account from Hebron in the NYT is thin on the settler violence against Palestinians, saying only:
Young settlers then rampaged through Palestinian fields and neighborhoods, setting olive trees on fire and trashing houses.

The Washington Post printed a 4-sentence wire excerpt on the entire day's events, and on the settler violence, mentioned only that the evictions had ignited "a wave of settler violence across the Palestinian territory."

The LAT account picked up some more specifics, though:
After losing a swift afternoon battle, settlers struck back into the night with gunfire and arson attacks on Palestinians in this troubled city and other parts of the West Bank, raising tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Seventeen Palestinians were wounded along with at least 35 Israeli soldiers, police officers and settlers. Fires blazed after dusk along a ravine dividing Hebron, a largely Palestinian city, and the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba as police skirmished with settlers on both sides.
At that point, the settlers began clashing with Hebron's Palestinians, who threw stones at them from rooftops. Settlers set fire to two homes, a store and nine cars, Palestinian officials said. In an incident caught on film, a settler shot and wounded a 65-year-old Palestinian and his adult son outside their Hebron home.

And Eric Westervelt's report on NPR used stronger language:
Israeli border police in riot gear used water hoses and non-lethal stun grenades to try to control stone-throwing right-wing settler youth who rampaged again Wednesday through Arab parts of Hebron.
Hundreds of settlers, many of them teenagers, have rushed to the Jewish enclave in the last week to try to fight the evacuation order. In recent days, angry settlers have vandalized Arab homes and desecrated a Muslim cemetery. Stone throwing Palestinians who live near the disputed house wounded settlers earlier this week, including a teenager who remains hospitalized with a serious head injury. Near the house Wednesday, masked Palestinian youths set tires ablaze in the street before Israeli soldiers gave chase in a familiar cat and mouse through Hebron's narrow, winding streets.

AP picked up on the violence earlier in the week than most of the others:
Israeli security forces did not intervene Monday as hundreds of settlers threw stones at Palestinian cars and nearby houses, defaced a Muslim cemetery and damaged Palestinian property in several other areas of the West Bank.

Fighting started up again Tuesday, with settlers, some of them masked, throwing rocks at Palestinian houses.

In one incident, young settlers battered at the door of a Palestinian house with a wooden pole, and residents rushed to the roof to throw rocks at the group below. A 16-year-old Israeli was hit in the head in this confrontation, witnesses said. Hospital officials described his injuries as serious.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bus transfer as beer in a paper bag

This week's City Paper has a serious article on the coming end, next month, of paper bus transfers in DC. You'll still be able to transfer for free using a Smartrip card ($5 initial investment), but there will be no transfer at all if you pay with cash.

The context of the change is that a significant portion of bus riders don't pay, and often the scam involves presenting a transfer slip that shouldn't actually be valid, or that is faked. The bus drivers generally won't challenge a rider, as they are unfortunately sitting ducks for assault; a driver in New York City was killed recently, in fact.

Here's the nut of the article:
One driver doesn’t understand why people go to such lengths to get a free bus ride, when there is a really simple way to get from points A to B when you’re short on cash.

“I understand that some of my co-workers have attitudes, but most of us don’t,” he says. “If someone says, ‘Mr. Bus Driver, I don’t have any money, but I need to get somewhere, can you let me ride?’ most of us would probably do it,” he says.

That’s a fine sentiment from an empathetic driver. But it misses the point of the whole transfer transaction, and that’s saving face. No one—not the lowliest of bus riders—wants to tell an entire busload of people that he doesn’t have five quarters and a dime to rub together.

It’s why the bus transfer in D.C. has become the mass-transit equivalent of sticking a beer in a brown paper bag: If you went to the trouble of waving a strip of paper—even an ice-cream sandwich wrapper or a corner of the Giant food circular could work—a bus driver would likely allow you to board, no questions asked. With a transfer, you don’t have to shred your dignity by pleading poverty or trying to sneak in through the back door as other passengers disembark. In return, the driver gets to keep his eyes and mind on the road instead of playing transit cop and social worker.

So what's the solution? High criminal penalties for assaulting transit workers is one idea, but I believe most jurisdictions already have those, and it's not like that fixes the problem. Prosecuting for fare evasion is probably not that realistic.

Maybe we should go the other direction: get rid of fares for busses. The lost revenue is less of an effect than you might think, because you can save on all the costs associated with fare collection. Some U.S. cities have already experimented with this -- Seattle and Portland, for example, both have ride-free areas downtown.

Coming to a bookstore near you

Timothy Egan, on Joe The Plumber getting a book deal:
Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Marcus-ism Alert

I don't generally think of myself as a masochist, and yet, for some reason, I turn to the op-ed page in the Washington Post every day to check it out.

Today, Ruth Marcus goes for attention-grabbing from the start:
Was Larry Summers right about women and science, after all?

Her column turns out to be based on two studies, published 4+ months ago, that provide more data on test scores for girls and boys. One of the studies was one of those about how, for some tests, boys' scores are more stratified than girls', and more of the top scorers are boys.

The research, of course, doesn't provide new answers on the matter of intrinsic sex differences; it provides information on sex differences as a whole, without evidence as to the nature or nurture of them. But it's no matter to Marcus, who concludes her review of the studies by saying that Summers "probably had a legitimate point." Oh, and for that matter, "the continuing uproar says more about the triumph of political correctness than about Summers's supposed sexism."

So there you have it.

Since Summers is on the table, I'm going to refer back to what Sean Carroll wrote at the time:
Okay, imagine you like to play chess, but the only person you know with a chess set is your friend (let's call him "Larry"), so you have to play with him over and over. You believe that the two of you are evenly matched, so the games should be competitive. Except that, while you are an extremely polite and considerate player, Larry is consistently obnoxious. When it is your turn to move, Larry likes to take out his trumpet and practice scales (he's a terrible trumpet player). Also, he tends to flick the light switch on and off while you are thinking. And he is consistently jiggling the chessboard slightly, so that the pieces are vibrating around. Occasionally, at crucial points during the game, he will poke you in the side with a sharp stick. And more than once, when it looked like you were about to win the game, he would "accidentally" spill his coffee on the board, knocking over the pieces, and declare the game a draw by forfeit.

You put up with this behavior (he does, after all, own the chess set), but you are only able to win about ten percent of the games. Eventually, in frustration, you complain that his behavior is unfair and he should cut it out. "Well," says Larry, "let's entertain the hypothesis that you usually lose because you just aren't as good a chess player as I am. I suggest that you are just a sore loser with inferior cognitive capacity, although I'd love to be wrong about this."

Perhaps he is correct -- but in context, you have every right to slap him. Nobody should be against seeking the truth and exploring different hypotheses. But when systematic biases are widespread and perfectly obvious, and these biases are strongly affecting the representation of a group such as women, people have every right to be offended when the president of the most famous university in the world suggests that discrimination is imaginary, and it's women's own fault that there aren't more female scientists. Of course psychologists and sociologists should continue to do research on all sorts of hypotheses, and perhaps some day we will have a playing field that is sufficiently level that any remaining differences in the numbers of working scientists can be plausibly attributed to innate capacities. But in the meantime, we should be focused on overcoming the ridiculous biases that plague our field, not in pretending that they don't exist.

Obama's hawks

I feel weird -- nay, dirty -- linking to Peter Beinart, neoconservative extraordinaire. But I think his piece in TIME last week on Obama's appointment of hawks makes an interesting argument, one that, for now, cannot be proven incorrect. Here's the basic case:
It's precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he's surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home. When George W. Bush wanted to sell the Iraq war, he trotted out Colin Powell--because Powell was nobody's idea of a hawk. Now Obama may be preparing to do the reverse. To give himself cover for a withdrawal from Iraq and a diplomatic push with Iran, he's surrounding himself with people like Gates, Clinton and Jones, who can't be lampooned as doves.

I'd like to believe that Beinart is correct. I think it's more likely that he is incorrect. But, I'll hold out some hope, if just a bit.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Good clean fun

Yes, a Rice Krispies Treat with ice cream in the middle. Bet you didn't think of that. My relatives make these. They're in Whole Foods. Yum.

Monday, December 01, 2008

From the shameless self-promotion department

Monday's NYT was the first of the majors to analyze the appointment of Susan Rice to be U.N. Ambassador, which was made official later today. Peter Baker catches the significance in his article, "Choice for U.N. Backs Action Against Mass Killings":
She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

It's all true, and it's a point we brought you last week.

Over at NPR, Michele Kelemean misses the point about just how radical Rice's plan for Darfur was.

Also, Robert Dreyfuss caught one more interesting thing on Rice a few weeks ago:
In June, 2008, Lake and Rice took part in a WINEP-sponsored Presidential Task Force that issued a report called "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." That paper had a hawkish tone that suggested that the US and Israel must work closely together to deal with the Iranian threat, and it criticized those strategists who believe that the United States may ultimately have to reconcile itself to the notion of a nuclear-armed Israel. While the report didn't call for a military attack on Iran, it did portray Iran's nuclear research in the most dire light.

People with too much time. And too much awesomeness.

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