Saturday, October 31, 2009

For WashPost, Honduras agreement is a victory. Just not how you thought.

Say what you will about the agreement, reached late Thursday night, in Honduras. It's not completely clear what the national assembly will do from here, or that the conditions for free and fair elections will now necessarily be in place by a month from now, though they could be.

But what would the Washington Post editorial page say about it all? They declare it a win for Honduras, and particularly for the Obama Administration's diplomacy, which is sort of the emerging CW. Whatever, that has some truth to it, though I think it misses the point that, you know, a deposed government is having to agree to potential 'power-sharing.'

For Jackson Diehl and Fred Hiatt at the Post, though, this was all about Hugo Chavez, of course. In fact:
The beauty of the U.S.-brokered deal is that it is founded on democratic process -- the very thing the Chavistas want to destroy. The Honduran Congress will vote on whether to restore Mr. Zelaya to office for the three months remaining in his term. Mr. Zelaya says he has the votes to return as president, but if he does, he will head a "government of reconciliation," and the armed forces will report to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a presidential election previously scheduled for Nov. 29 will go forward with international support and regional recognition for the winner. Neither of the two leading presidential candidates supports Mr. Zelaya or his agenda, which means that Honduras's democracy should be preserved, and Mr. Chávez's attempted coup rebuffed.
Chavez's attempted coup? Huh?

Newsweek's other reality

Newsweek says: "Like Mussolini and Stalin before him, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has erected his very own movie studio." has the story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Peter Orszag's lovely touch on Fred Hiatt

Krugman today mentions a spat between OMB director Peter Orszag and WashPost editorial page editor Fred Hiatt over healthcare. Krugman:
Mr. Hiatt had criticized Congress for not taking what he considers the necessary steps to control health-care costs — namely, taxing high-cost insurance plans and establishing an independent Medicare commission.Writing on the budget office blog — yes, there is one, and it’s essential reading — Mr. Orszag pointed out, not too gently, that the Senate Finance Committee’s bill actually includes both of the allegedly missing measures.
"Not too gently" -- this is going to be fun! So I checked the excerpt from Orszag's blog post ("Missing the Boat on Cost Containment") directly:
Fred Hiatt in today’s Washington Post is the latest of these naysayers, writing in his column that the two biggest steps that can be taken to reduce the rate of health care cost growth — changes in health care’s tax treatment and an independent Medicare commission — are missing. I agree with Hiatt on the potential substantial benefits in terms of cost containment from these two changes. But a note to readers who have not read their Washington Post the past few weeks: the Senate Finance Committee bill includes both of these measures.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On the IOC and human rights

Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch had a good op-ed in the Post the other day about the Olympics and human rights.
More than a year later, however, it is clear that awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing actually worsened the human rights climate in China.
There were many lessons learned with Beijing 2008. First, that the leverage comes before the host city is chosen. The moment the city is chosen, there's little leverage left.

With Chicago's, there was an opportunity for U.S. activists to exert influence -- a rare situation where "what the rest of the world thinks" could influence a domestic issue. Often it's the other way around -- i.e. the extensive European activism against the death penalty in the United States appears to do little, and in at least some cases has been counter-productive. But with Chicago's bid was a chance to force the United States to do right on the world stage (be it on the death penalty, or on accountability for Bush-era torture, or any number of other issues). With a few exceptions (very few) groups failed to take advantage of that opportunity.

Worden touches on another one of the lessons learned from Beijing: that the IOC is currently awful. They aren't doing right; they don't care about human rights for Chinese people or anywhere, some public statements to the contrary.

I thought Worden was going to end up talking about the human rights nightmare that is Rio, but actually she focuses on Sochi, Russia (2012). I forgot about that one. Oy. It's bad and worse.

HRW's proposal is this: that IOC take steps to work on human rights issues directly related to the olympics. Not that IOC would get involved in a host country's human rights generally. But that at least it would do right when it comes to the issues directly around the games -- such as the home demolitions that are all but standard practice. It seems like an awfully reasonable ask.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On today's signing of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Chris Geidner puts it like this:
Will the legacy be that with its passage, the White House and Congress passed a watershed moment in LGBT equality to be followed in short order by action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; the elimination of Don't Ask, Don't Tell from our Armed Forces; and significant movement toward the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act? As Elizabeth Birch, the former head of the Human Rights Campaign, said at the evening reception, "This was the moment that was required in order to have new laws follow."

Or, will this be, like so often in legislative struggles, the single trinket doled out to a loyal constituency group until the next time the group demands action?

Stewart disappoints on Freakonomics interview

Stephan Faris at True/Slant has a good piece explaining why Jon Stewart's interview of Super Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt last night was so bad.

Update: Brad Johnson has a more extensive takedown of Stewart's performance. He writes:
In reality, the critics of Levitt’s treatment of climate science and policy are not “dogmatic” believers of a “secular religion” — they are highly respected climate scientists, energy experts, and economists, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who has said Levitt and Dubner misrepresented his views. The widespread criticism isn’t based on the book’s personal attacks on Al Gore or its mocking of global warming as a “religion,” but on the multitude of factual errors, misrepresentations, and false conclusions that the authors use to promote their mindless contrarianism.

"Arnold to SF: Fuck You"

Via Slatest, this catch by Tim Redmond of the SF Bay Guardian: a hidden profane message in a letter from the governator to state legislators.

Three years later, no justice in Brad Will murder

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the killing of Brad Will, an American Indymedia journalist, in Oaxaca. The investigation by Mexican authorities has gone way out of its way to focus on individuals who almost certainly did not kill him (see my previous: "In Brad Will case, Mexican government moves ahead with its farce" 7/14/09, and "Grim but expected development in Brad Will case" 10/21/08).

Here is the email update from Amnesty International from earlier this evening:
Three years ago today, American video journalist Brad Will was shot and killed in Oaxaca City, in southern Mexico.

However, the latest forensic examination, conducted by experts from Physicians for Human Rights and the National Human Rights Commission, sheds light on the increasingly high probability that the man being held responsible for Brad Will's death could not have committed the crime.

Demand that Mexican authorities find out who really killed Brad Will.

Experts concluded that Will was not shot at close range. Yet Juan Manuel Martínez, who was said to have been standing right next to Brad Will when the shooting occurred, has been in custody since October 2008.

At the time of the shooting, Will was in Mexico to film the widespread protests and political violence that had gripped the region. At least twelve other people were killed and scores more were abused and illegally detained that day. Yet Mexican authorities refuse to investigate any possible connection between Brad Will's death and the pattern of larger human rights violations committed in Oaxaca.

Amnesty International believes that the Mexican government is using Martínez as a scapegoat so it will appear that progress is being made in Brad Will's case. Such actions at best violate international fair trial standards, and at worst, allow Brad Will's real killer to remain at large.

Help bring those responsible for the murder of Brad Will to justice!

In another recent development, Mexico's National Supreme Court of Justice concluded that serious human rights violations had indeed been committed in the region during 2006 and 2007. Despite this ruling, the Mexican government continues to drag its heels on setting up a new, impartial investigation that reviews the evidence brought forth by independent forensic experts that could clear Martínez's name.

The tragedy and injustice of Brad Will's death and Juan Manuel Martínez's unfounded prosecution are part of the failure to investigate and hold to account those responsible for the larger human rights abuses committed in Oaxaca during 2006 and 2007.

On the anniversary of Brad Will's murder especially, we are reminded that the factors surrounding his death simply do not add up. If justice is going to be served for the crimes committed in Oaxaca, then Mexican authorities must find out who really killed Brad Will.

Monday, October 26, 2009

That Pew Poll on climate change, in context

Pew issued a poll last week that found that 57% of respondents believe there is "solid evidence the earth is warming" -- which is down from 71% back in April 2008.

Obviously it's troubling, and it makes me wonder about all that research on how it's hard to change people's minds once they're set on something. You know, the studies in recent years that say, i.e., if someone believes Barack Obama is Muslim, they will become firmer in their belief when presented with a news report showing clear evidence that they are incorrect. This poll would seem to show the opposite -- it shows the more common sense direction -- that industry's campaigns against the notion of global warming are succeeding.

I'm not sure if this should make us feel better about the Pew poll or not, but David Roberts makes these points:
It should be noted, of course, that 57% ain’t bad, given the public’s generally low level of scientific knowledge. About 79% of people know the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa, while 80% believe prayer accelerates healing. Some 75% believe in angels but just 39% believe in evolution.


The poll also shows that 73% of people—22% more than believe there’s good evidence for anthropocentric climate change—believe it’s a serious or somewhat serious problem.
And 20% of our budget goes to foreign aid, I'd add.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Actually a lot of people in LA do take public transportation

Matt Yglesias had a useful post about this the other day. A million people in fact take transit there, literally. And here's a chart that compares various U.S. cities.

For Politico, J Street a Ripe Target

The assault on J Street these days is coming from the conservative blogs and the AIPAC types, but also from an ostensibly-neutral source: Politico.

Politico has been running around trying to determine which members of Congress are attending and which aren't. It's Politico's trademark: the micro-scoop. In other words, is it news that Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas was once on the host committee for the J Street conference but then decided to be removed? No. But to Ben Smith, it is.

To be fair, some of the developments have been bigger -- like Chuck Schumer dropping out. But still.

The real problem comes when Ben Smith and crew think their micro-developments are a big story because... they are covering it like a big story.

And so Smith served up a whopper the other day: "The group J Street has seemed recently at risk of, ACORN-style, entirely losing control of its image."

The thing is, you'd only think that if you were spending your day reading conservative blogs and the Weekly Standard, or maybe reading... Politico. It's a statement that's divorced from reality. Maybe it's Smith's wishful thinking. Or perhaps he just likes to try to drum up controversy. Either way, it's not real.

Politico has done something like this before with the issue, with a piece back in June suggesting that Donna Edwards could be in trouble in her district because her views on Israel were generally in line with J Street's. Alex Isenstadt's "Should Edwards be shvitzing?" fooled me at the time, I'll admit, but then I heard about how it wasn't true. And Eric Fingerhut had a good piece debunking it. We were left with a Politico article that was based on a false premise, trying to create a possible primary challenge where in fact there was none. This wasn't reporting ahead-of-the-curve, it was reporting off-the-reality-curve.

And that's what Ben Smith's and Politico's coverage of J Street has been in recent weeks. What will they come up with next?

"Smart Choices" program sort of suspended

This is good news. The "Smart Choices" label is the thing you see on a bunch of foods at the store, many of which are, of course, not healthy at all (Fruit Loops is the common example). It's not clear exactly what's going to happen now. Here's Marion Nestle's take on the development.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

J Street Preview

There are a number of organizations on the left who are monitored heavily by the right wing, who are looking for any trace of wrongdoing, any distant links to criminal activity, or any quotes that go beyond previous positions in a potentially controversial way. The research is done by right wing bloggers, organizations and in some cases even congressional staffers.

The organizations that get the most scrutiny include the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), ACORN, sometimes the ACLU, and now J Street. That the right spends so much time on these organizations and rarely comes up with anything is notable.

J Street holds its first conference in a few days (Sunday-Wednesday in DC). While the organization is attacked relentlessly by conservatives like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, it has stood its ground. It has had no major controversies, and the criticisms from the neocons and a few others have failed to go mainstream.

Rarely has a conference been so scrutinized. The opposition is researching the background of every listed participant in the conference. And you can be certain that the conference will have plenty of the opposition running around the halls looking for scoops. If they actually understood J Street, they'd know that they won't come up with what they're really looking for from any of the speakers, so they may well rely on conference participants to try to get the quotes they want. We'll see.

Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni has sent J Street her regards, somewhat of a rebuke to Likud.

Update: two artists who were scheduled to perform at the conference but were dropped by J Street after criticisms on the right wing blogs write about it here. It's a questionable strategic choice for J Street in part because once you let one domino fall then sometimes it gets harder to protect the rest. That said, I can see why they did it. Still, I think it sets a bad precedent.

Why are the bees dying?

So you know how honey bees have been dying a lot in the last few years, and it's a big problem for agriculture?

Discover has an article saying that it's been somewhat figure out.
Whatever the proximate cause, it increasingly appears that the bees are succumbing to a long-ignored underlying condition—inbreeding. Decades of agricultural and breeding practices meant to maximize pollinating efficiency have limited honeybees’ genetic diversity at a time when they need it the most.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


As you may have seen, an announcement from Taser International is making big news this afternoon (though various foreign and local press had actually reported this last week). The company recently put out an advisory essentially saying that, where possible, officers should avoid aiming for the chest. And that there may be some possible danger. But it's not saying that hitting the chest must be avoided at all costs, nor admitting outright cause of injury.

I think some of the headlines today are simplifying this a bit, making it sound more extreme. But that said, I do think the news if huge. It will take some time for the legal community to figure out the potential liability implications (if there are any -- I'm not sure there necessarily are) for Taser International and/or for local police departments. Surely TI thought long and hard before making this decision, and they've also always been careful to try to show to PD's that they will be safe in terms of liability.

It's huge news in part because it is a dramatic shift for the company, which has tried so hard to argue that its product can do little wrong.

I'm linking to Robert Anglen's article from this morning because he has been covering this for years so I trust his assessment more than others. He also posts this new training advisory itself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Burj Dubai opens in December. It's way tall.

How tall compared to other tall buildings? Someone put this handy comparison chart up on Wikipedia:

Bernstein's attack on Human Rights Watch is a lot of talk, with little evidence

The attack on HRW by HRW founder Robert Bernstein in today's NYT op-ed page is pretty thin. He says that recently the organization "has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state."

Yes, it's true that HRW has put out more research on Israel than it has on other countries in the region. It's hard to imagine that Bernstein really doesn't know the basics of how this works. There's not as much research you can put out about the most closed countries. You can't just send someone to North Korea and have them bop around. And so, yes, Israel and other open countries end up being 'penalized' for being open, as more specific research on their actions can be conducted and released.

This is not a new point. And it's mitigated by HRW's repeated statements that the amount of paper it puts out on a country does not reflect an assessment of the total wrong a country commits. It never has been and probably never will be. It's hard to imagine Bernstein doesn't actually get this.

If anything, the amount of research that HRW has been able to accomplish in non-Democratic and/or semi-closed states in the Middle East is extremely impressive. Their library of recent docs on the region is here. Surely Bernstein is familiar with some of the organization's work on Libya and Egypt.

As for what exactly Bernstein finds wrong in HRW's reporting on Israel of late, he offers this:
In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers. Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
That's it? Not a single specific fact that HRW reported that Bernstein even wants to question?

Of course there's no access to the battlefield. There never is. The way Human Rights Watch conducts its research in Israel is... the way Human Rights Watch conducts its research everywhere. Which is, to say, using witness testimonies and physical evidence. Can you trust a single witness? Of course not. That's why you talk to a lot of them, and assess their credibility.

Bernstein suggests that absent access to the battlefield and to senior leaders of the country in question, it is "extremely difficult" to make a determination that war crimes were committed. This is absurd. By that logic, we can't tell that the Sudanese government has killed a few hundred thousand people in Darfur, because HRW researchers weren't there to see the killing with their own eyes, and haven't (I'm assuming) interviewed top Sudanese officials.

As for Col. Kemp, good for him. But that's not how we judge the evidence of the case -- quoting a secondary source. If Kemp actually has any specific refutations of HRW's research, I'd be interested to hear them. I don't know if he does. Bernstein certainly doesn't provide them.

What we're left with is a flashy op-ed with broad claims and little evidence.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How the White House runs its politics

Good post from FDL: "White House ‘Official’ Bad Mouths Labor Leader For Expecting Obama To Keep His Promises."

The point: Obama promised many positive things on health care in his campaign. The bills on the table don't deliver many of those things. Unions and others are criticizing Obama for not keeping his promises. White House goes after critics for daring to say that Obama should in fact keep his promises.

Reactions to Administration's announcement on Sudan Policy

Enough Project / Sudan Now campaign: "The Sudan Now campaign, which comprises several human rights and anti-genocide groups, commends the Obama Administration for constructing a clear statement of U.S. policy in support of a sustainable peace in Sudan. However, the Administration’s diplomatic efforts to date have led member organizations to question whether the policy, as articulated today, will be fully implemented in the days ahead. Success will require President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton to live up to campaign promises and ensure that consequences are put into practice now for committing mass atrocities and undermining peace efforts."

John Prendergast op-ed (published Monday, before the strategy was released):
"The essential problem with such a policy and with the envoy's diplomacy is that neither takes on today's fundamental challenge: how to deal with a regime bent on blocking southern Sudan's independence referendum and militarily defeating Darfurian rebels, and that does so by attacking civilians and burning villages. Instead, the envoy is floating alternatives to the southern referendum and pursuing other diplomatic approaches that are damaging to peace efforts.
At five minutes till midnight, the only variable that can prevent a descent into all-out war in Sudan is U.S. global leadership in negotiating a deal for Darfur and ensuring implementation of the referendum for the south. President Obama must be willing to construct and then utilize the multilateral pressures necessary to achieve these objectives, or Sudan will continue to burn."

Save Darfur Coalition
: "The Save Darfur Coalition cautiously welcomed the release today of the long awaited results of the Obama Administration’s Sudan policy review, but emphasized that its success will depend on implementation backed by sustained presidential leadership. The policy is built around a balance of incentives and pressures similar to what Save Darfur and its partners have been calling for."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

White House rolls out official Sudan policy

The Times and Post both fronted previews Saturday of the administration's official new Sudan policy, which is to be released Monday.

The backstory, as I've chronicled previously, is that Obama had a very hard-line position against the Khartoum government while he was a senator and during the campaign, but then appointed retired general J Scott. Gration as his envoy, and Gration has taken a very conciliatory approach. That angered a lot of the Darfur lobby, and Susan Rice, the ambassor to the UN.

The Post's lede has the news as:
After lengthy debate, the Obama administration has settled on a policy toward Sudan that offers a dramatically softer approach than the president had advocated on the campaign trail -- but steers clear of the conciliatory tone advocated by his special envoy to the country.
It's hard to tell, at least yet, exactly what this new policy is going to be in practice. It sure sounds, though, closer to the Gration end of the spectrum than the Rice end. I'm not sure the Darfur lobby is going to be so happy with this. I think it's pretty clear their public criticisms have had some effect in the past months -- I mean, this announcement Monday is damage control. The WH is saying "ok, we'll be tougher than what Gration has been doing."

Many of the Darfuri expatriate groups in the US say they want Gration out, period. So I imagine they're going to continue to be pretty skeptical after Monday's announcement. Which is good. No one should be placated by the announcement. We should all see what the Administration does now. Maybe it will be good, maybe not.

On Sunday, the Times already had a follow-up article on the not-yet-announced policy, reporting:
A day after the first details began to emerge of the Obama administration’s long-awaited policy for Sudan — one that proposes working with the government rather than isolating it — advocates of a tougher approach toward Khartoum said they wished the administration had been stronger.

But they also expressed relief at what has been released so far, saying they had feared the White House would take an even more conciliatory line toward the government, whose leader has been charged with crimes against humanity.
The article only has one source actually saying that, though (Rep. Frank Wolf). And in fact, the person from the Enough Project is pretty skeptical:
“It raises some real philosophical problems,” he said, referring to administration assertions that Sudan has provided important support for the United States’ fight against terrorism. “In exchange for some cooperation on terrorism issues, are we not going to hold Khartoum accountable for the displacement of millions of people?”
Last thing: for the view that Gration has done nothing but bad, see this op-ed from August by Eric Reeves. I'm not sure how much I agree, but I think he's probably right on at least some of it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

That was the PPP that was

Friday, October 16, 2009

More from Noami Klein on the Nobel

Naomi Klein argues that the other rich countries being buddies with Obama is largely bad: "a clear pattern has emerged: in areas where other rich nations were teetering between principled action and negligence, US interventions have tilted them toward negligence." Whereas they couldn't do the bad things Bush did, they have no problem going along with bad things Obama does. She makes a good case.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sometimes TPM just goes way nice on the Obama Administration

See TPM's Christina Bellantoni on MSNBC today.

I guess I just expect something more different and interesting from them, more independent. This was a segment about Obama's trip to New Orleans. The intro mentioned criticisms that the visit is extremely brief, and also mentions the WH rebuttal that many Obama Cabinet members have already been there a lot. The host asks Bellantoni about it, and she repeats the Obama administration's rebuttal and then sounds like she's a WH spokeswoman for the trip.

Then on to healthcare, and a question about Organizing for America mobilizing on it. Bellantoni just repeats the basics of what OFA is, missing the basic backstory others have rightly reported: that OFA has yet to be particularly successful. The overwhelming majority of people who volunteered with the Obama campaign are not doing much with OFA; the organization has not had any major victories. So if it's news that OFA is mobilizing, it really ought to be reported with that context. The coming weeks are a test for OFA; if it does indeed have a significant positive effect on passing healthcare, then that will be a big story indeed. That hasn't happened yet.

Arbitrary numbers

The Dow crossing 10,000 is news because...?

Post fronts Facebook for 15th time

Here we go again. The Washington Post today put a Facebook-focused article on the front page, marking the fifteenth time the Post has gone A1 on the subject, and the third time in three months.

The story is "In a Generation That Friends and Tweets, They Don't" by Ian Shapira, who covers young folks for the Metro section. It's alright, though I don't see exactly what it adds -- I don't leave the story having learned much I didn't already know. It belongs inside, not on Page 1.

As usual, there is plenty of other, more important news that could have gone on A1, such as Juliet Eilperin's "Use of Forests as Carbon Offsets Fails to Impress In first Big Trial," not to mention interesting dispatches from Kabul, Ramallah, and Moscow.

Here's the updated list of the Post's front pagers on Facebook:
Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008, March 2009, April 2009, Aug 2009, Aug 2009, Oct 2009.

Update: Thank you DCist for the link!
Update 2: And thank you City Paper and CJR!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NYTimes gets there on Honduras

The NYT has had two good stories on Honduras recently. They're arguably a bit late, but they get the point.

There's "Honduran Security Forces Accused of Abuse," followed by the page 1 "Leader Ousted, Honduras Hires U.S. Lobbyists."

In which the Bergen Record takes on the mafia

You know it's going to be fun when a paper, especially a New Jersey paper, has the headline "Troubled tech recycler has political ties."

NYT plays catch-up on quiet hybrid cars story

The NYTimes goes A1 today with "Hybrid Cars May Include Fake Vroom for Safety." The problem is that this is old news. If the Times is going to catch-up on a not-that-major story like this, it should do so inside. Adding to the oddity, this wasn't even a staff piece; it was by a freelancer, Jim Motavalli.

The basic issue of hybrids being too quiet has been around for years. Many hybrid owners and pedestrians knew about this a long time ago. And the media got to the story a few years ago. The East Bay Express and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had it in 2005. Knight Ridder had an article in 2006. The story grew in 2007, with articles from the likes of the WSJ and the AP. (As for how much of a safety problem there actually is, it's a bit murky; that'd be a good subject for further examination).

As for the newer news -- that there is indeed a move toward putting speakers on the cars to make them safer for pedestrians -- that was last month's story. There was a batch of articles in September, from Bloomberg,, CNET, and others, after Nissan announced that it would be putting speakers on one of its cars.

And it was back in April that Senators Kerry and Specter introduced legislation looking to address the issue.

So what we're left with is the NYT trying to put a cute story on the front page, but actually rehashing old news.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eugene Robinson jumps on DNC's ugly bandwagon

Really? He writes:
Somebody explain this to me: The president of the United States wins the Nobel Peace Prize and Rush Limbaugh joins with the Taliban in bitterly denouncing the award?

Actually, banning calling while driving does have a huge positive effect

The Post today points to new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on how much DC's law against calling while driving stops people from doing it. They found that use of cell phones would be 43 percent higher than it is if it weren't for the law banning it.

And this fits with survey research (see page 12) suggesting (for what surveying such a question is worth) that a portion of cell phone drivers would stop doing it if it were illegalized in their state.

This all may sound unimpressive, but we're talking about, you know, lives saved. So all the talk about "we need to address this problem by technology, not with laws" (like that op-ed in the NYT last week) seems, to me, off the mark. If we figure out a technological solution to this problem down the line, that's great, but for now, the law is the way to save some lives.

One last point: the criminology types generally say that what makes people break the law is whether they think they will be caught or not -- not the severity of the penalty. So, let's focus on improving the enforcement.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We have a winner

Congrats to Naomi Goldenson for being a winner in's essay contest ("What keeps you hopeful and/or invested in a two-state solution for the future of Israel and Palestine?"). She wins a registration to the J Street conference later this month, where the cool kids will be.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reaction to the Nobel Prize

I think the Naomi Klein interview on DN is very useful.

Also, in another direction, DNC and Media Matters both say that some GOPers, in criticizing the Nobel decision, are taking the same position as the terrorists! Oh my. Alex Koppelman has the story.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Update on Mississippi emu tasering

So whatever happened to that emu that was tasered in central Mississippi last month? The Scott County Times has an update this week:
FOREST — A runaway emu that was tased and handcuffed late last month has found a new home after only a few days in custody following its capture that brought state and national attention over the Internet.

Police Chief Robert Roncali said Friday that a local resident adopted the emu which police had affectionately nicknamed “George” during his week-long stay at the Scott County-Forest Coliseum.

“He just looked like a ‘George’ to us. We are happy that things worked out for him and everyone involved. It has certainly been an interesting experience,” Roncali said. The identity of the person adopting the animal was not disclosed, but Roncali said that the person lives in Scott County.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009


The Post had an interesting article today on the end of Gourmet magazine. Conde Nast was planning on cutting something, and Gourmet was arguably the biggest name it announced it would drop. And that's even though its "circulation had held, dropping only 1 percent in the first half of the year, to 978,038." But: "It's ad pages fell 34.5 percent in the first half of 2009." The article makes the case that Gourmet was doing a lot of things right to hold those readers, but that in today's world, as Bob Garfield puts it to them, "Your content can be flawless and you can still fail."

Update: the Boston Globe editorial page sees it the opposite way, weighing in with a snarky piece ("Gourmet Magazine, 1941-2009: A recipe for obsolescence").

In which I link to George Will, favorably

Barack and Michelle Obama's speeches at the IOC were pretty weird. Is that really the best strategy -- to talk about how much you love sports and how the Olympics were important to you as a kid, etc? George Will has a good column capturing how silly the whole thing was, and also rightly catches some ridiculousness from Obama's speech at the U.N. the other week.

Update: let me add that the NYTimes editorial page totally missed the boat on this one. They published an editorial on Saturday criticizing Obama for going to Copenhagen. Well, say whatever you want on Obama making the trip, the NYT is doing Monday morning quarterbacking here. If they wanted to weigh in on Obama going, they should have done it back a month ago, before the trip was decided, or at least before the winning city was picked. The way they did it, waiting till after the decision, is just cheating.

About that whole Cory Booker / Conan thing

Forgive me for being a few days behind here. I'm catching up on this Cory Booker / Conan O'Brien tiff from last week, and the whole thing strikes me as, I don't know, awkward. The NYPost has the various videos up here.

Not to take this too seriously, but I think a government official joking about "banning" someone from an area isn't that funny. I know, it's all just a little publicity fun back and forth. But they could have found a way to do that other than to say they were "banning" him.

The AP had an article Sunday, "NJ comedic 'feud' illustrates new media landscape." Reporter Victor Eppstein points out that:
Booker's got more than 789,000 followers on Twitter and 14,000 supporters on Facebook. His first video response to Conan has been viewed more than 118,000 times on YouTube.
Wow, that is a ridiculously large number of followers. And now he's over 805k (Mike Bloomberg, by comparison, has about 12,000; the mayor of, say, Boston has about 2,000). Booker also refers to himself as a "mashuga mayor" which is cute and all, though a pretty unusual spelling of the Yiddish word, more commonly written as meshuga or meshugge. But an A for effort.