Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting to the oil

There are some good pictures out there of the oil spill, but here's Newsweek and Mother Jones on BP and the Coast Guard's attempt to corral journalists.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Videotaping what you see in Maryland could land you in jail

From CATO's blog:
Toward the end of the video, posted on YouTube (warning: violence and language), a police officer approaches the person filming the arrest and says, “Do me a favor and turn that off. It’s illegal to videotape anybody’s voice or anything else, against the law in the state of Maryland.”

Unfortunately, the officer was right.

The Maryland wiretapping law makes it illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved. The Preakness incident sparked a debate about the wisdom of a law that makes it illegal to provide public accountability of police actions.

Cell phones and tumors

Living on Earth has a piece on the complicated results of recently-released Interphone study on possible increased risk of brain tumors from cell phone use.

The segment points out that one of the reasons we don't have very much of an answer yet on the question is that the studies are from a time when people used cell phones much less. Brain tumors take time to happen, so you have to study cell phone users from years ago. So the "high use" category they talk about in this study is people who talk more than 30 minutes per day.

As for everyone who talks much more than that, we're going to need more time to get a decent sense of the effects.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wesleyan President Michael Roth does the awesome

Tent party, 5/22/10:

Update: Video picked up by Wesleying.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Onion covers social networking coverage

The Onion: "New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WashPost changes the fillibuster rules

Here's a news alert just in from the Washington Post about the Democratic leadership in the Senate only getting 57 votes for cloture on financial reform:

Who knew the cloture rules had changed?!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

At New Whole Foods, How Much Fits in a $7.99 Prepared Food Box? The Challenge Begins.

Here's the real news about the opening of the new Whole Foods in Friendship Heights / Chevy Chase: the prepared foods area has a new all-you-can-stuff-into-this-box-for-$7.99 deal.

Scott Crawford, the store's prepared foods coordinator, said at the blogger preview Monday that while some other WF stores may have run some kind of unlimited specials as limited time promos, this was the first time a store had done it for good (let's hope it doesn't go away). Crawford mentioned something about fitting a good two pounds of food, and I took that as a challenge for today's lunch.

You can still buy your food by weight if you want ($7.99/lb). Or you can take one of these containers and see what you can fit. They're not super huge, but they're respectable. The rule is that you have to be able to close the lid.

My first layer was pretty heavy on the meats. I put pulled pork and brisket over mashed potatoes and collards. I put one kind of tofu and two kinds of chicken in the sides, then added some greenery with the asparagus, peas, and bok choy. The pulled pork and brisket didn't look that great at first, but after I put two of the barbecue sauces over them they ended up pretty darn good. Oh, and you can't see it, but there are ribs under there, too. I almost forgot; I haven't eaten down that far yet. Maybe tomorrow.

I moved to the cold section for a while, hitting the obligatory tomato/basil/mozzarella, a giant chunk of tofu (quite good), rice, thai beef salad, and more.

I squeezed some lentils down one side, threw some greens on the top and a third kind of tomato, and then it was time to wind down.

Everything fit. Barely.

But how much would it weigh? The man behind the register kindly took a picture:

That's 3.01 pounds, thank you.

I had tried to stuff in as much as I could, though I hadn't gone to the point of picking just heavy (liquidy) foods and skipping lighter foods that I wanted to eat.

The food is pretty good. Maybe it won't look as good when I eat the leftovers, but I'm not complaining.

Alright bloggers. That's your benchmark, 3.01 pounds. Who's going to top it?!

Previously: New Whole Foods in Friendship Heights Is Nice. Will Rodman's Be Okay?

Monday, May 17, 2010

New Whole Foods in Friendship Heights Is Nice. Will Rodman's Be Okay?

Whole Foods opens its newest DC area store tomorrow morning, just over the border into Maryland beyond the Friendship Heights metro stop (on Willard Ave, in Chevy Chase). It's going to be awfully nice. Will it hurt its local competitor, though?

First, the good stuff. The store, all 49,600 square-feet of it, is as appetizing as you might expect. They did a blogger preview dealie today (pretty groovy, I must say) and I got to check out the scene. How is this WF different from all others, we wondered?

There's a fresh pasta thing, run by some small business that provides for a few WF stores. The prepared foods area has a shish kabob station. The store creates about 185 jobs.

And the checkout line will be the good kind! Instead of having a dozen separate lines, it will all be two lines (express and regular). No more getting stuck behind that one really slow person. Team WF says it will likely take folks a bit of time to get used to it (the other stores in the area still use the old many-line format), but that people grow to embrace it.

I think the store will do alright with its location, even with some of the residential construction around it struggling to sell. There are a decent number of people who work within a few blocks, and a lot who shop in the area. You shop, you go to store. You work, you go eat lunch there instead of Booeymonger (but instead of Panera? That's tougher).

The two nearby WF locations (River Road and Tenleytown) will surely lose a bit of business (which will be much appreciated by Tenleytown shoppers). But they wouldn't be building the store if it weren't to get new business, and hey, I bet I will start buying some things there that I might have bought at other stores.

So which stores stand to lose business? There are four in the area that jump to mind. There are two nearby Safeways -- the one on Connecticut and the "super secret" one just off Wisconsin -- that don't stand out as superb or particularly busy. And then there's the Giant, literally just a three minute walk from the new WF. It's modern and spacious, but ridiculously empty. Perhaps these stores will lose at least some customers. (In the case of Giant, are there that many to lose?!)

Whole Foods bills itself as a different product from other stores, and presumably that's the right strategy -- the moment other stores convince customers that they too sell enough organics and gluten-frees and what have you, WF has a problem. The good news for the Safeways and Giants, then, is that if they aren't so much direct WF competitors, they ought not worry about the new WF, right?

And then there's Rodman's. It's a local independent chain with three locations, one of which is about 10 minutes walk south of the new store. Rodman's has been around a long time and has a loyal following. My worry is that it is also a 'gourmet' store; it has your usual groceries, yes, but it also packs in some slightly obscure stuff. Which is great. But that puts it in competition with Whole Foods, a battle it would lose -- were it not for that customer loyalty that's built up over decades.

Whole Foods prices on many items are in fact not bad. Almost anything that's store brand -- and that includes an awful lot -- is quite good. But that good fact for consumers could hurt Rodman's, which is never going to sell pecans or bulk dried cranberries as cheaply as WF does.

Rodman's has one last thing going for it, though: it is within the District, and the new WF is in Montgomery county. Rodman's has a very, very impressive beer and wine selection. The Tenleytown WF has beer (expensive!) and wine, but the new store, being in Montgomery, doesn't have any. Team Rodman's should feel lucky about that.

I'll probably be at the new Whole Foods here and there, perhaps a bit more than when I had to walk to Tenleytown. But I'll still go to Rodman's, too.

Tomorrow: One bargain that makes this Whole Foods different from the others.

Update: More on Whole Foods opening, including lots of pictures, from Till It's Done, Always a Northerner, Capitol Bites, Never Turn Down a Cupcake, and I Wanna Be a Domestic Goddess.

Pizza in Northwest

Pete's "New Haven Style Apizza" is coming to upper Northwest, at Wisconsin and Fessenden. At some point.

I passed by last week and found the place getting ready on the outside. Little problem for now: it appears they messed up something in the construction permit; they've got a stop work order. Hmm. Hopefully they didn't do something too terrible. Back in January, they had announced an "early summer" opening.

I've been to the existing location in Columbia Heights once. The slice I had was alright (not something to write home about, though not bad; people say getting a full pie is different) and the spinach salad was excellent (quite large).

Umm, Pete's also gets credit for being nerds, with an extensive thing on their website with the math of 18 inch pizzas and how many 12 inch or whatever pizzas you need to reach the same area.

Photos: Mocon through the years

Wes has posted some cool photos of Mocon from way back. There will be a final goodbye party for the building on Saturday.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Facebook privacy history

Via Laura McGann's "Farewell, Facebook" comes a link to this chart by Matt McKeown showing the evolution of Facebook's default privacy settings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Emu Un-Stopped by Taser is Killed By California Highway Patrol; Sixth Emu-Taser Incident in Two Years

California Highway Patrol officers attempted to subdue a wayward emu Tuesday using a Taser, but shot and killed the bird after the electric shocks failed to stop it.

According to a report from Sacramento's ABC affiliate:

After more than an hour of monitoring and fearing the emu was going to enter the freeway from the onramp and endanger motorists, Dutton said a supervisor granted the officers permission to Taser the bird into submission. However, the emu's thick layer of feathers left the bird feeling little to no effect from the Tasers despite three separate jolts, Dutton said.

As the bird continued to run quickly toward Airport Boulevard and having run out of viable options, Dutton said the bird was "dispatched" by officers with supervisor approval. The body was turned over to Sacramento County Animal Control.

The Sacramento Bee has more.

By my count, this is at least the sixth emu tasering incident in the United States in two years.

(Mississippi, September 2009), (Washington, September 2008) (Pennsylvania, Sept 2008) (Florida, August 2008) (New Hampshire, May 2008)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

WashPost editorial page gets it right on Taser policies

Rare is it that I write something positive about the Washington Post's editorial page. But their piece Monday on Tasers hit many of the right points.

The editorial was hooked to two recent events: a post-Taser death in Arlington, and the guy who ran on the baseball field in Philadelphia who was tased by a police officer.

Team Hiatt writes:
... the Philadelphia police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, who reviewed video of the incident, said his officer had acted within department guidelines. That's the problem.
Exactly. The department policies vary widely across the country on Taser use. Most of them aren't great, and a good chunk -- probably about 20% or so -- are terrible, allowing Taser use on people who aren't physically resisting in any way whatsoever (100% "pain compliance" techniques, which some courts have found un-constitutional vis a vis the 4th amendment).

Often, after an egregious Tasering is in the news after being caught on camera, it turns out a few days later that the officer had acted within the department's policy. That was the case with the Don't Tase Me Bro guy, for example.

It's usually not so much about the individual officer as the rules. Those rules are set department-by-department. That should be the focus. Good for the Post for giving that point some attention.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Michael Gerson, do tell us about your expertise on the news business

Actual pull-quote from Friday's Washington Post op-ed page:
The iPad's breathtaking technology overtook my love of books on paper. Could it also help ensure good journalism's survival?
That's from Michael Gerson, a former GWBush speech-writer with a regular gig on the Post op-ed page (and now there are two of them there!).

Here's Gerson's logic on the matter:
The very elegance of this technology might help to solve a serious challenge for the post-page and post-print information industry. I won't pay a monthly fee for a newspaper subscription on my Kindle because the interface is awkward, the experience flat and pale. I would be willing to pay a monthly fee for access to a great newspaper (like the one you are reading) on the vivid, touchable, multimedia iPad.
Yes, sir, but have you checked if the advertisers are willing to pay the same amount for the ads you read on your ipad as the ads you read in print?

Minor issue there for the business model. If you figure that one out, Mike, then let us know.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Impressive start for new NOLA mayor

From TPM's article:
Just two days after taking office, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a press conference today to announce he has asked the Justice Department to intervene and force a "complete transformation" of the city's troubled police department.

"I have inherited a police force that has been described by many as one of the worst police departments in the country..."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

In failed Times Square bombing attempt, what's the lesson on security cameras?

Fred Kaplan of Slate argued late Monday that while "Very little is known about Saturday's foiled car-bombing attempt," he was sure enough about some things to lay out a thesis that "Security cameras may be OK."

In Tuesday's Post, reporters Joby Warrick, Peter Finn and Ellen Nakashima presented quite a different case ("N.Y. bomb scare reveals limits of video surveillance").

Why is this woman on the front page of the Washington Post?

Tuesday's Washington Post featured a front-page photo of one Frances Howard, accompanying the article "Two teens charged in death of D.C. principal."

Here's the caption:
Frances Howard of Northwest Washington lives next door to the mother of one of the men charged in the slaying of D.C. principal Brian Betts. The woman, Artura Otey Williams, faces credit card charges but is not charged in the homicide.
That's right. They couldn't get, or at least didn't print, a picture of the suspects, or of the mother of the suspect (who police say used the murdered man's credit card). But photographer Linda Davidson got the neighbor to appear in a picture, and they stuck it on A1. News value: 0.

Dear WaPo: if you don't have the shot, you don't have the shot. Not all pictures are worth a thousand words.