July 12, 2009 - July 18, 2009 Archives

18 July 2009 12:16 PM

Video of the Day: "Playing with Space and Light"

18 July 2009 6:01 AM


The Gamemaker

17 July 2009 6:00 PM

Don't Get Napstered

Jack Shafer:

The book publishers are in the process of picking a fight with Amazon and other sellers over the pricing of e-books. If the publishers are lucky, they'll lose.

17 July 2009 5:00 PM

"The Books I Haven't Read"

Freddie confesses -- and asks that you do the same.

17 July 2009 4:00 PM

Business / Economics

The Econ Bubble Burst

The Economist:

OF ALL the economic bubbles that have been pricked, few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself. A few years ago, the dismal science was being acclaimed as a way of explaining ever more forms of human behaviour, from drug-dealing to sumo-wrestling. Wall Street ransacked the best universities for game theorists and options modellers. And on the public stage, economists were seen as far more trustworthy than politicians. John McCain joked that Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, was so indispensable that if he died, the president should "prop him up and put a pair of dark glasses on him."

In the wake of the biggest economic calamity in 80 years that reputation has taken a beating. In the public mind an arrogant profession has been humbled. Though economists are still at the centre of the policy debate--think of Ben Bernanke or Larry Summers in America or Mervyn King in Britain--their pronouncements are viewed with more scepticism than before. The profession itself is suffering from guilt and rancour. In a recent lecture, Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel prize in economics in 2008, argued that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was "spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst." Barry Eichengreen, a prominent American economic historian, says the crisis has "cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics."

17 July 2009 3:00 PM

The Mysteries of Catholicism

Why does the religion appeal to intellectual converts?

17 July 2009 2:00 PM


Kevin Drum wants to forbid credit card companies from charging merchants a fee on every transaction:

...let's kill two birds with one stone and just abolish interchange fees altogether.  Card companies would then be forced to charge higher annual fees to credit card users -- fees that (a) would fall solely on the people actually using credit cards and (b) would make it obvious just how much credit cards actually cost.  That strikes me as an excellent idea.  Credit cards aren't a free lunch, and there's no reason that consumers should be fooled into thinking they are.

And if that means consumers end up using credit cards less -- well, what's wrong with that?  It's the free market in action.

17 July 2009 1:00 PM

Blind Photographers

Wired reports:

When a brain tumor caused professional photographer Alex Dejong to lose his eyesight three years ago, he turned to gadgets to continue making his art.

Carrying around a Nokia N82 cellphone, Dejong used assistive software to translate sounds into visuals in his mind. After stitching together a mental image of his surroundings, he snapped photos with his Canon and Leica digital cameras.

But Dejong's blindness is acute: He can only perceive light and dark. Because Dejong could not see his own photographs, he hired an assistant for editing. Until recently, editing was a part of the creative workflow that he thought he'd lost forever. And then to his surprise, Apple's iPhone 3GS, which launched late June, gave him back the ability to edit photos.

The new iPhone has a feature called VoiceOver, which reads back anything a user places his finger over on the screen: e-mail, web pages, system preferences and so on. Beyond that, photo-editing applications such as CameraBag and Tilt-Shift perform automated editing tasks that blind users like Dejong could not otherwise do on their own.

17 July 2009 12:00 PM

Video of the Day: Aid versus Trade

17 July 2009 11:00 AM

Our Idea of Autism

Tyler Cowen:

A few years ago, Michael L. Ganz, who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health, published an essay titled "Costs of Autism in the United States." Nowhere in the essay does he consider whether autistic people have brought benefits to the human race. Can you imagine a comparable essay titled: "Costs of Native Americans"? Ganz might think that autism is strictly a disease, but he never mentions or rebuts the fact that a great number of autistics reject this view and find it insulting.

17 July 2009 10:37 AM


Steve Brill Wants to Save the Media

17 July 2009 10:00 AM

The Beginning of Memory

The Washington Times:

They weigh less than 3 pounds, usually, and are perhaps 15 inches long. But they can remember.

The unborn have memories, according to medical researchers who used sound and vibration stimulation, combined with sonography, to reveal that the human fetus displays short-term memory from at least 30 weeks gestation - or about two months before they are born.

"In addition, results indicated that 34-week-old fetuses are able to store information and retrieve it four weeks later," said the research, which was released Wednesday.

Scientists from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maastricht University Medical Centre and the University Medical Centre St. Radboud, both in the Netherlands, based their findings on a study of 100 healthy pregnant women and their fetuses with the help of some gentle but precise sensory stimulation.

17 July 2009 9:00 AM

What the Right Needs

E.D. Kain:

Conservatives need more wonks, plain and simple.  But the job of conservative wonks should be to plan out the gradual dismantling of big government without falling prey to all sorts of pitfalls that we've seen in the past - like hiring private contractors to do government work, both domestically and increasingly overseas.  Deregulatory capture is something I'm interested in but don't know much about - though I think I know enough to believe that it's a very real threat.

In any case, not to ramble, but I think a lot of things - from conservative takes on community-building and new urbanism to health care and better schools - all have a need of more in-depth, critical thought from the right of the aisle.  Blaming those damned liberals for everything will simply not do.  I think this is what I was touching on a bit in my post on distrust of government.  Sure, we should distrust it for its inefficiency and the ease with which it is manipulated by special interests, but we should also work to figure out how the bloody clock ticks.  If you can't figure that out, then any attempt at dismantling it will fail.

17 July 2009 8:00 AM

Reconsider the Crab

Trevor Corsen:

In March of this year, a scientific team in the UK released a report indicating, through the use of some novel experiments, that crabs may well feel pain. The study overturned decades of claims that crustaceans can't feel much at all, and garnered worldwide attention. Now, in this week's edition of New Scientist, a researcher in the UK named Peter Fraser, who uses crabs in his experiments, has fought back, writing that crabs feeling pain is about as likely as crabs being able to enjoy a good opera.

So the debate continues, except that, astonishingly, Mr. Fraser may turn out to be on the wrong side. I wouldn't be surprised if there are chefs out there who play opera for their lobsters to ease their final moments. And I can tell you for certain that there is a small army of animal-rights activists in Europe lobbying for new laws for crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and other invertebrates. The idea is to give these charming underwater bugs the same legal protections against cruelty already afforded to pigs, cows, and other mammals. Which, for starters, would mean not boiling them alive.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Let Them Learn Latin!

Studying Latin would do more for underprivileged students than for the prep-school kids who traditionally learn it. More

16 July 2009 4:00 PM

A New Way to Harvest Bone Marrow

16 July 2009 3:00 PM

Perverse Incentives?

Eric Martin:

While entirely too much has been made of the importance of Afghan safe havens in terms of conducting successful terrorist attacks (just as too little has been made of the ability to replicate similar safe havens elsewhere and our inability to disrupt any such haven from afar now that we are making such interdiction a priority), there is little doubt that Obama would pay a steep political price if he were to withdraw and an attack occurred that had some traceable connection to Afghanistan.  While an attack emanating from hubs in, say, Europe or Yemen may be just as (or more) likely, those connections would not prove as damaging despite the underlying reality of the terrorist threat.

16 July 2009 2:00 PM

Trace Amounts of Cocaine...


LONDON -- Richard Gasquet escaped a lengthy doping ban Wednesday when the International Tennis Federation's tribunal panel ruled that he inadvertently took cocaine by kissing a woman in a nightclub.

The 23-year-old Frenchman, who was cleared to resume playing after completing a 2½-month ban on Wednesday, convinced the independent anti-doping tribunal that he ingested cocaine with the kiss with the woman he had just met.

It gets weirder.

16 July 2009 1:00 PM

Simple It Ain't

New Majority offers an organization chart of health care as proposed by Congressional Democrats.

16 July 2009 12:44 PM


Economic Reality Check

16 July 2009 12:00 PM

Who Does Drudge Talk About?

Gawker reports:

George W. Bush tops the list, naturally, with 4,889 appearances on the report, an average of two per day. Next up is Barack Obama, who made his debut on the Drudge Report in 2006, with 2,387 mentions. Poor John McCain placed third, with half that number. Hillary Clinton is close behind as the top-ranked woman in Drudge's world--no surprise, considering he once said, "I need Hillary Clinton.... That's my bank." Speaking of women, there aren't many--10 out of a total of 56 people who rated 100 mentions--and they almost all share the drama-queen turbulence that Drudge lives to chronicle: Katie Couric, Sarah Palin, Madonna, Martha Stewart, etc.

Also notable is the large number of international leaders, a function both of Drudge's global focus and his tendency to fashion delicious villains out of our enemies. Vladimir Putin beats Rupert Murdoch, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and Yasir Arafat all beat Michael Moore.

One curiosity: The high ranking of arch-conservative journalist and conspirator Robert Novak, who, at 150 mentions, outranks Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and many other higher-profile names. Many of those were likely in reference to the Scooter Libby affair, though Judith Miller just broke 60 mentions.

And where does Matt Drudge, the power broker to rule them all, rank on his own list? Number 38, with 139 mentions. He may be a near-recluse in real life, but in Drudgeworld, he beats even O.J.

16 July 2009 11:00 AM

"Tough on Crime"

Radley Balko:

I think it's safe to say that on criminal justice issues, Sotomayor has given a pretty strong indication that she'll be quite a bit more conservative than the justice she's replacing (though that opinion isn't unanimous). Even if that it isn't the case, she at least realizes that projecting that image will only benefit her in the confirmation process.

All of which says quite a bit about the lack of real national debate on criminal justice issues. Given the flaws in the criminal justice system revealed by DNA testing in recent years, it's unfortunate that liberal interest groups have mostly fallen in line, and avoided raising questions about Sotomayor's record on these issues. The Democrats' party leadership and judiciary committee members aren't interested in defending the idea of protecting the rights of the accused so much as showing that their president's nominee (a former prosecutor, we've been repeatedly reminded) will be just as "tough on crime" as any Republican appointee.

16 July 2009 10:00 AM

When Do You Provoke Rebellion?

Megan McArdle makes astute points about tax hikes on the wealthy:

I confess, I am surprised to find out just how little money you can raise by slapping a 5.4% surtax on incomes above a million.  I also wonder at what point serious political resistance to taxes sets in.  I know, it's common to claim that Americans are tax haters.  But actually, Americans, even the wealthy, pay their taxes at a rate that would shock an Italian.  We grumble, but in the end, we pay.

But at some point, that changes.  In the highest paying zip codes, the effective average combined tax rate (not the marginal rate) on many affluent people is already well over forty percent--I shelled out more than 40% of my really non-lavish journalist's salary when I lived in Manhattan.  The repeal of the Bush tax cuts will push some taxpayers into the 50+percent total tax bracket.  Is America ready?

One thing I think that wonks often overrate is how fiercely the resistance to taxes mounts once you get past a certain point.  Our mental arithmetic is all wrong.  We think of a 5% tax increase as a relatively small amount.  But of course, once you're nearing a 50% average tax rate, a 5% tax increase is something like a 10% cut in the taxpayer's take-home pay.  And the higher the starting tax rate, the larger the percentage of tangible income the tax increase consumes.  Yet because wonks assess tax increases relative to the size of the base rate, an increase from 55% to 60% actually sounds smaller than an increase from 15% to 20%.  Yet from the perspective of the taxpayer, the former represents a much greater encroachment on their disposable income.

16 July 2009 9:00 AM

Our Collective Bookshelf

Noah Millman names the books he'd eliminate from the canon:

Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. I had to spend three weeks marinated in this humorless, self-pitying rant as part of a survey of modern English fiction. We spent only a week on Ulysses. Why? As the professor said, "this is my favorite book." It appears to be a lot of other people's favorite books as well; it's on Time's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Someone needs to save these people from themselves.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Yes, it's historically significant. Yes, you can "study" it until the cows come home. The big intro lit crit class when I was an undergrad read only one primary text before diving into a dozen different literary theoretical approaches thereto, and the one text was Frankenstein. But it's boring! Boring with boring on top! And it has no style! Read Dracula instead - now there's a novel!

The Watchmen, by Alan Moore. I should probably put this in the same category as Kundera, and just say this is a phase some boys have to go through, and leave it at that. And I'll admit, it holds your attention. When the movie came out recently, instead of going to see it, I re-read the graphic novel. And I was certainly able to read through it - it was a breeze. I wasn't bored. But trash isn't generally boring. And that's the problem: this is trash dressed up as something more. And the sensibility behind the book is not actually one that you want anybody taking seriously.

Your own suggestions?

16 July 2009 8:00 AM

"Worst Idea Ever"

Via Matt Frost on Twitter: "Carnivorous robots -- what could go wrong?"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Develop Video Games for the Eldery

The next gamer generation could be geriatric. More

15 July 2009 5:00 PM

Is War Over?


The 21st century could represent the end of war as we know it, writes political scientist John Mueller in a new paper for Political Science Quarterly. He notes that there have been no wars between developed nations since 1945, and that other international wars that fit the classic definition -- the violent resolution of a dispute between two or more nations -- have become exceedingly rare. The number of open armed conflicts around the world, on average, has been declining for years. So, too, have the number of combat deaths and war refugees around the world. Is war becoming obsolete? The Monkey Cage has more on Mueller's paper, which isn't yet freely available online.

Unfortunately, the answer is no -- war is not over. Obviously.

15 July 2009 4:00 PM

Why We Are Obese

Ezra on The Cheesecake Factory:

If I had gone to the Cheesecake Factory with the intention of ordering relatively healthfully, it's pretty likely that the miso salmon would have ended up on my plate. A heart-healthy fish with a soy-based glaze? What could be better?

A lot, as it turns out. On first glance, I would have figure the salmon for the lightest entree, followed by the chicken piccata, the carbonara, and the crispy beef. Not so. The salmon weighs in at 1,673 calories -- which is to say, a bit more than 75 percent of the food an adult male should eat in a day. The piccata is a comparably slim 1,385 calories. The crispy beef is 1,528 calories. And the carbonara? 2,191. The answer might be that someone looking for a healthful meal shouldn't go to the Cheesecake Factory. But insofar as you're already there, or your family wants to go there, making a good decision isn't a particularly straightforward proposition.

This is why the obesity crisis is such a tough issue: Calories are delicious. The Cheesecake Factory isn't doing anything wrong, either ethically or culinarily. Human beings are wired to prefer abundance, salt, fat, sugar, and value. The Cheesecake Factory is giving people the whole package. Changing people's eating habits so that type two diabetes don't become the new chubby would be easy if the food was actually repulsive or the value was bad or it was all, in some other way, a trick. But it's not. The food is enjoyable. The value is incredible. The cost is long-term, and remembering that we might get diabetes down the road is pretty hard when eons of evolutionary wiring are telling us to eat this stuff now now now now it's right here now now!

15 July 2009 3:00 PM

The Cycling Gender Gap

Noah Kazis:

There's been an absolutely fantastic debate going on online today about the gender gap in urban cycling. This NYT City Room post started off the debate. It notes that in the U.S., men make 3x as many trips by bike than women do and provides two reasons for this. The first is that women are more concerned about safety and suggests that a better bike infrastructure would solve the problem. The second reason the Times provides is that women are more concerned about fashion than men are, though the article does point out that women in Copenhagen don't seem to have any trouble being stylish and biking.

Streetsblog's featured post for today is a pretty masterful response from Let's Go Ride a Bike. They start by trashing a completely offensive post from Treehugger that claims that the #1 reason to have more women bikers is the "The World Will Be Better Looking." They then point out that any explanation of why women don't ride has to not be true for men as well. Key quote:

"What annoys me is that none of the articles I've read on this topic lately go any deeper into why those things present serious obstacles for women but not men, even though men have the same concerns (no one wants to show up for work disheveled and stinky after all). Why bother, when it's so obvious that men are just much less self-absorbed and a million times braver?"

Right on.

So what is the reason? I think that risk aversion (whether the risk is real or perceived) among women is, as the City Room post claims, a big factor. That separated bike lanes have such success in increasing female biking rates in New York is just very strong evidence for this.

15 July 2009 2:08 PM

The Best Example of Crowdsourcing Yet?

This is a fascinating case study in crowd-sourced journalism:

Okay, question time: Imagine you're a major national newspaper whose crosstown archrivalsomehow obtained two million pages of explosive documents that outed your country's biggest political scandal of the decade. They've had a team of professional journalists on the job for a month, slamming out a string of blockbuster stories as they find them in their huge stack of secrets.

How do you catch up?

If you're the Guardian of London, you wait for the associated public-records dump, shovel it all on your Web site next to a simple feedback interface and enlist more than 20,000 volunteers to help you find the needles in the haystack.

Your cost for the operation? One full week from a software developer, a few days' help from others in his department, and £50 to rent temporary servers.

Journalism has been crowdsourced before, but it's the scale of the Guardian's project -- 170,000 documents reviewed in the first 80 hours, thanks to a visitor participation rate of 56 percent -- that's breathtaking. We wanted the details, so I rang up the developer, Simon Willison, for his tips about deadline-driven software, the future of public records requests, and how a well-placed mugshot can make a blacked-out PDF feel like a detective story.

That Q&A is here.

15 July 2009 2:00 PM

Take the Crime Lab from the Police

The Week in Review:

Do the real-life David Carusos of crime investigation see the world through prosecution-tinted glasses?

That's what Steve Weinberg suggests in Miller-McCune magazine. He looks at case studies fleshing out a congressionally mandated report earlier this year, finding that crime labs -- underfunded, ill-equipped and inadequately staffed -- too often help convict the wrong people because their investigators unintentionally misread evidence or intentionally lie.

"The larger truth seems undeniable: As long as crime laboratories are inside law enforcement agencies, criminalists will try to please their bosses and continue to be especially vulnerable to participating in wrongful convictions," he writes. But prying them away from police departments and district attorneys won't be easy because the latter constitute powerful local and state lobbies.

15 July 2009 1:00 PM


Investing in Community Colleges

Chris Beam:

Community colleges don't get a lot of respect. Except, as of this week, from President Obama. In a speech Tuesday in Warren, Mich., he proposed sinking nearly $12 billion into revamping the country's community-college system. The plan would provide $9 billion in grant money to boost academic programs and raise graduation rates, plus another $2.5 billion to upgrade school facilities. It would also fund open-source online courses so that schools don't have to build more classrooms to admit more students.


The point isn't to turn Harvard on the Highway into actual Harvard. Even if the government gave all $12 billion to one community college, it wouldn't be as rich as the World's Greatest University. Nor is the purpose merely to improve the image of community colleges. And it's not to encourage enrollment: With the economy tanking and tuitions at four-year colleges and universities exploding, community colleges are in the rare position of having to turn people away. "We're bursting at the seams," says Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in New York City, which saw a 25 percent increase in students over last year.


Rather, the plan is designed to correct decades of federal neglect. "Too often, community colleges are treated like an afterthought--if they're thought of at all," Obama said in his speech. Right now, somewhere between one-third and one-half of American undergrads are at community colleges, depending how you count. Yet community colleges receive only 20 percent of federal funding.

15 July 2009 12:00 PM

A University for the Coming Singularity

15 July 2009 11:00 AM

Pornography: A Good or Bad Idea?

Rod Dreher writes the following about pornography:

The point isn't that every person who develops a porn habit will turn into Greg Goben or Ted Bundy. That's absurd. But it seems inarguable to me that no good can come of pornography, and whatever weaknesses we struggle with in relation to sexual and emotional health will be amplified by porn. Put another way, can anybody imagine that using pornography makes you a better or more emotionally healthy person?
Sure. I have no idea if that's true, but I can certainly imagine circumstances wherein it is true. Take a 28 year old guy given a 30 year jail sentence for tax fraud. Is he better off or worse off if he has a locker full of Playboy magazines at the foot of his cot? Or how about someone whose spouse has recently died. As yet their grief makes them unable and unwilling to begin dating again. But their sexual drive isn't gone. Or again, consider the traveling businessman with a high sexual drive, self-control problems, and a wife he very much never wants to cheat on. Might he make good use of pornography?

I'm actually not arguing that it's clear that pornography makes all these folks more emotionally healthy, but it's at least plausible. And I haven't even gotten to the strongest counterargument to Rod. Steven Landsburg writes in Slate:

Does pornography breed rape? Do violent movies breed violent crime? Quite the opposite, it seems.

First, porn. What happens when more people view more of it? The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments.

The bottom line on these experiments is, "More Net access, less rape." A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that's a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It's hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

If not Wikipedia, then what? Maybe rape is down because former rapists have found their true loves on Match.com. But professor Kendall points out that the effects are strongest among 15-year-old to 19-year-old perpetrators--the group least likely to use such dating services.

Moreover, professor Kendall argues that those teenagers are precisely the group that (presumably) relies most heavily on the Internet for access to porn. When you're living with your parents, it's a lot easier to close your browser in a hurry than to hide a stash of magazines. So, the auxiliary evidence is all consistent with the hypothesis that Net access reduces rape because Net access makes it easy to find porn.

None of this is meant to argue for or against the morality of pornography. It is meant to suggest that on utilitarian grounds there is a good case to be made that society and some individuals are better off for its presence. On the other hand, if anyone is imagining that this issue isn't fraught, check out Rod's followup post.

15 July 2009 10:25 AM


The O'Connor Factor

Flick user the Alieness

15 July 2009 10:00 AM

Making a Nation

David Frum offers a characteristically interesting post on the rise of France:

Like the United States, France is a melting pot. But while on this side of the Atlantic newcomers came to the United States, on the other it was France that came to the newcomers.

For three-quarters of a millennium, the kings of France pursued a policy of determined and generally successful expansionism, engorging their small principality in the Seine basin into a domain stretching to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. Had history taken a slightly different bounce, what is now Burgundy might have been as independent as Belgium.

As slow as the process of expansion was, the process of digestion was even slower. On the eve of the French Revolution, the kingdom was divided by radical differences of law, time zones, tax rules, even by customs barriers. The language of Provence or Languedoc was at least as different from that of Paris as the language of Lisbon was different from that of Madrid. And within the old province, language differed from town to town, from village to village.

The Revolution was a Parisian event imposed on often violently resisting provinces. Nineteenth century French governments - whether royal or republican - ruled the provinces from above like an imperial power, each departement governed by a Paris-appointed prefect accountable to the ministers in the capital, not the population below.

15 July 2009 9:00 AM

Flying Blind on Etiquette

Alex from California writes:

Why isn't there a widely understood set of guidelines surrounding the encounter between seeing and blind people in public places? If I were blind and crossing the street, and someone politely asked me, "Do you need help getting to the other side?" or called out "There's a pole in front of you," rather than watching passively as I walked into it, I think I'd appreciate that. But since there's no "manners repository," I don't know whether (actual) blind people would.

There should be an online repository for manners where people vote on (a) creating heretofore nonexistent manners, (b) removing manners from the "manner lexicon," or (c) altering existing manners. One manner that I'd propose for category (b): saying "Bless you" after someone sneezes. I've opted out of this one for a while since I find it totally inane, but often wonder whether people think me rude for doing so. I'd worry a little less if I could refer them to Section 1 Page 2 of the Manners Repository for the current thinking is on the topic. Of course, given that the Internet isn't the most disability-friendly medium, referring peeved blind people to the Manners Repository could just tick them off more.

15 July 2009 8:27 AM

How to Fix an Umbrella

OutsaPop Trashion:

Many of us use those cheap compact umbrellas on rainy days that unfortunately break down quite quickly in fierce winds. A part of sustainable fashion consumption is to repair and mend our belongings when they break down instead of chucking them. Burda Style How-To´s section has a tutorial on what to do when some pieces of your umbrella come unmoored from their spokes. Easy as sewing a button! Found via Considerate Clothing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let the Past Die

Or at least learn to live in peace with those incriminating Facebook photos, and the snippy e-mail you accidentally sent the entire company. More

14 July 2009 5:00 PM

Anti Anti-Biotics (for livestock)


We need to find a way to promote the development of new antibiotics. In the meantime, however, we should try not to do things that promote antibiotic resistance. Feeding antibiotics to farm animals not to treat diseases, but just to make them grow faster, is one of those things. There are lots of ways of promoting animals' growth that do not put people's lives at risk. We should find them.

14 July 2009 4:00 PM

The Awful Prose of Academia

Will writes:

Among other relics from middle school, my CD case still contains well-worn copies of both Pinkerton and The Blue Album, so I read Jeffrey Rosenberg's undergraduate thesis on Weezer's odd career arc with great interest (via). My interest waned, however, as the piece wore on; not because Rosenberg's ideas were stupid or uninteresting, but because his thesis is written like every other piece of turgid, academic prose.

OK, that's unfair. There are, in fact, accessible academic works floating around out there. And Rosenberg's thesis really isn't that bad. In fact, it's pretty darn interesting - more interesting than anything I wrote as an undergrad (a low bar, to be sure). But it is written in the oddly stilted, formal style of most academic papers (THIS IS MY THESIS STATEMENT), and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I mean, I understand why an undergraduate's writing style would be modeled on other academics'. But a paper on the fall and rise of America's premier geek-rock band needn't be impenetrable to a broader audience.

14 July 2009 3:29 PM

"Worst Idea Ever"


The twenty- to forty-somethings are part of a new fad sweeping Japan: 
"konkatsu" or "marriage-hunting," a word play on "job hunting" that suggests finding Mr or Mrs Right is a matter of good research and thorough planning...

This year Japan has gone konkatsu-crazy, with the trend spawning countless

magazine articles, a weekly TV drama and a best-selling book.

A Tokyo shrine now offers konkatsu prayer services, a Hokkaido baseball team has set up special seats for those looking for mates, and a Tokyo ward office arranges dating excursions to restaurants and aquariums.

A lingerie maker has even come up with a konkatsu bra with a ticking clock
that can be stopped by inserting an engagement ring

I am finding it difficult to picture that proposal. In any case, the tic tic tic of a telltale heart style bra certainly brings "marriage pressure" to a new level.

14 July 2009 3:00 PM

Health Care

Health Care and Innovation, Cont'd

Glenn Reynolds writes:

President Obama talks about the importance of prevention in a way that suggests that when people have heart attacks it's their own fault. But my wife, a longtime vegetarian and marathon runner, had a freak heart attack at the age of 37.

It wasn't from too many Big Macs. After some rough patches, she's now doing well, thanks to an obscure and expensive anti-arrhythmic drug called Tikosyn, and an implantable cardioverter/defibrillator. Not too long ago, she'd have been largely bedridden. These medical innovations made the difference between the life of a near-invalid and a life that's close to normal.

My mother had a hip replacement. Her hip didn't break - she basically wore it out with exercise. When the pain got too bad, she got it replaced, and now she's moving around like before, only painlessly. Not too long ago, she would have been chairbound.

My father had prostate cancer; his doctor suggested waiting but on biopsy it turned out to be pretty aggressive. It was treated with radioactive "seed" implants. He's now been cancer-free for several years, without the side effects of earlier treatments -- or, worse, of cancer.

My daughter had endoscopic sinus surgery this spring. She had been sickly and listless, complaining of constant migraine headaches, missing a lot of school, and generally looking more like a zombie than a teenager. Several doctors dismissed her problems, or prescribed antibiotics that didn't help much, until we found one who took the extra step.

A head CT scan done on a fancy new in-office machine showed a nasty festering infection, the surgeon cleaned it out, and now she's like a normal kid again. Before laparoscopy, her condition

would probably have remained untreated, and she would have been another "sickly" kid. Better to be well.

The normal critique of socialized medicine is to point out that people have to wait a long time for these kinds of treatments in places like Britain. And that's certainly a valid critique. I'm sure my mom and daughter would still be waiting for their treatments, while my father and wife would probably be dead.

The key point, though, is that these treatments didn't just come out out of the blue. They were developed by drug companies and device makers who thought they had a good market for things that would make people feel better.

14 July 2009 1:30 PM

Will America Continue to Lead?

Robert Atkinson:

Investment literature warns that "past performance is no guarantee of future results." This advice should be attached to anything written about the innovation position of the United States vis-à-vis Asia. All too often, defenders of the status quo dismiss Asia's prospects as an innovation leader because the United States has been the leader for so long--and they assume it will continue to be. But past performance in innovation is no guarantee of future performance, as we have seen with one-time leaders that have lost their advantage, such as Germany and Great Britain. In fact, while the United States once led the world, it no longer does by many measures, and absent significant changes to public policy, it won't in the future. Asia will.

14 July 2009 12:36 PM

How to Disappear

Frank Ahearn:

There are three key steps to disappearing. First, destroy old information about yourself. Call your video store or electricity company and replace your old, correct phone number with a new, invented one. Introduce spelling mistakes into your utility bills. Create a PO Box for your mail. Don't use your credit cards and the like.

Then, create bogus information to fool private investigators who might be looking for you. Go to one city and apply for an apartment. Rent a car in another one.

The next, final step is the most important one. Move from point A to point B. Create a dummy company to pay your bills. Only use prepaid mobile phones and change them every month. It is nearly impossible to find out where you are unless you make a mistake.

14 July 2009 12:30 PM

How News Spreads

This is one of those impossible to excerpt posts that is nevertheless worth reading. It describes the relationship between mainstream press outlets and blogs -- where information appears first, how it spreads, etc.

14 July 2009 11:30 AM

Energy / Environment

"Four Environmental Heresies"

14 July 2009 10:50 AM


Beyond Reagan

14 July 2009 10:30 AM


Suddenly My Own Education Feels Lacking...

Alan Jacobs asks for help educating his kid:

As some of you know, my wife and I teach our son Wes at home, mostly, which means that each summer we have to spend a good deal of time planning what we're going to do in the coming year. He's headed into the eleventh grade, and while his education so far has given him a sound overview of Western cultural history, we're concerned that he hasn't had enough experience digging deeply into particular issues, doing wide-ranging research and coming up with sophisticated theses based on what he has learned. So we've decided to organize the coming school year around particular topics with interdisciplinary facets to them, starting in each case with one or two books that will in different ways orient him to the issues. Our focus will be on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West, though any non-Western topics could reach back farther.

So, for instance, one topic will start with Voltaire's Candide and, probably, Nicholas Shrady's book on the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, The Last Day, and will involve philosophical optimism, the "problem of evil" for Christians and other religious believers, and associated topics.

Another unit will involve sanitation and social class in Victorian England. Wes will start by reading Dickens's Bleak House and Stephen Johnson's The Ghost Map, and will expand his research from there.

On this side of the Atlantic, we might have Wes read Ellis's Founding Brothers and Garry Wills's Cincinnatus -- he has already read the Federalist Papers, so it would be interesting to have that in the background.

Or -- and? -- Uncle Tom's Cabin coupled with Ann Douglas's The Feminization of American Culture. Slavery, early feminism -- lots of good stuff there.

Ranging further abroad, I am thinking about Simon Winchester's The Man Who Loved China as an accessible way into both Chinese history and the history of technology, maybe following that up with something on the history of printing and printmaking in China.

All this to say: any thoughts? Recommendations?

14 July 2009 9:30 AM

Health Care

Can a Public Plan Innovate?

Will Wilkinson wants to know if health care innovation can survive Obamacare:

I have the sense that many defenders of an even-more-fully-government-run health care system have a hard time taking this question seriously. But they should. It's just a fact that much of the world's medical innovation comes from the U.S. This goes a good way toward explaining with why survival rates for many potentially mortal health problems are highest in the U.S., and also partly explains why U.S. costs are so high. Indeed, that a certain strata of Americans spend so much, often on stuff that makes no difference, also partly explains the high U.S. level of innovation.

14 July 2009 8:30 AM

Business / Economics

The End of Generic Pickup Lines?

Julian Sanchez:

We're at most a few years off from broad adoption of augmented reality applications in widely-used smartphones, which will have all of us radiating reams of data to anyone in our physical proximity who actually cares. Your Facebook profile will dog you like one of those floating Sims icons. You won't just know what the girl sitting across the coffee shop is blasting on her iPod, you'll be able to listen in. All the tech is actually here already, if not in quite the fancy form it's implemented at the link above. All it would take is for someone to integrate the location-sensitive functions of an app like Loopt into the apps for Facebook or Last.fm, and you've got a point-and-profile system. The real question is whether people actually want to signal that much in the physical context. Some of us are chary of giving every stranger in ping-shot a pretext for striking up a conversation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Give Manual Labor Respect and Emphasis in Schools

More students could end up getting a better education. More

14 July 2009 7:30 AM

Business / Economics

The IOU Rush

Matt Yglesias:

This story is five days old, but it strikes me as something that deserves more attention--there's a bill being considered in the California Assembly that would have the state accept state-issued IOUs as payment for taxes. That would, of course, give the IOUs some real value to anyone who owes taxes. And that, in turn, means that all kinds of business owners and others would have reason to offer to buy IOUs from IOU-recipients provided they could get some kind of discount. Which is another way of saying that California would be essentially creating a new currency, which James Galbraith suggests over email that we call the "CAIOU" pronounced like "cailloux" (French for pebble), and the discount would be the exchange rate.

In most places I think this would be totally non-viable. But California is very large and California metro areas don't tend to involve inter-state commuters (it's not like New York or Philly or DC, in other words) so you could actually imagine this working. And monetizing the state's debt is something that could look very appealing to legislators once they realize it might be doable. Which doesn't mean it's a good idea. For one thing, what California's already done with the IOUs arguably violates the Constitution's ban on states creating currency. Thus far, nobody's inclined to try to do anything about it, but pushing the envelop might force the federal government to try to do something in order to maintain the credibility of its own debts.

13 July 2009 4:45 PM


Teachers Unions: Where Ideas for Education Reform Die

The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights:

On many issues of policy the record of national teachers' unions has been clear. They have a long and honorable history of supporting an end to discrimination in education, they have argued for an end to segregation, for measures to provide equal treatment for women and girls and for assistance to students with disabilities.
But in one major area - public school reform - the record of unions is far less clear. At times, union leaders have treated the measures advocated by others to close the gaps between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers as inimical to the interests of teachers.

While union efforts are not the only obstacle to implementing sensible education reform with broad political support, they have been an important part of the active resistance to efforts they once supported.
Much of the criticism of teachers' unions has come from the political right. However, more telling, instructive, and powerful are the criticisms of the NEA and the AFT that have come from within. As early as 1994, Billy Boyton and John Lloyd, former top officers respectively of the Nebraska and Kansas NEA affiliates spoke out: "The NEA has been the single biggest obstacle to education reform in this country. We know because we worked for the NEA."
Not to mention:

...teachers' unions profess to put students first - but often act in ways that subordinate their interests. While the unions state agreement with the goals, they work to oppose specific reform in the political process and the classroom. According to David Kilpatrick, who spent more than a dozen years as a top officer and staffer of affiliates of the NEA and the AFT,
"The unions do everything possible to maintain [the status quo]...They invariably call for variations of the status quo, more of the same, rather than reforms that mean real changes. Not coincidentally they also almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power."
If nothing else, everyone should take from this that the interests of teachers unions and the interests of American students are not the same.

13 July 2009 4:15 PM

Advising the Senate

Randy Barnett:

Supreme Court confirmation hearings do not have to be about either results or nothing. They could be about clauses, not cases. Instead of asking nominees how they would decide particular cases, ask them to explain what they think the various clauses of the Constitution mean. Does the Second Amendment protect an individual right to arms? What was the original meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment? (Hint: It included an individual right to arms.) Does the 14th Amendment "incorporate" the Bill of Rights and, if so, how and why? Does the Ninth Amendment protect judicially enforceable unenumerated rights? Does the Necessary and Proper Clause delegate unlimited discretion to Congress? Where in the text of the Constitution is the so-called Spending Power (by which Congress claims the power to spend tax revenue on anything it wants) and does it have any enforceable limits?

Don't ask how the meaning of these clauses should be applied in particular circumstances. Just ask about the meaning itself and how it should be ascertained. Do nominees think they are bound by the original public meaning of the text? Even those who deny this still typically claim that original meaning is a "factor" or starting point. If so, what other factors do they think a justice should rely on to "interpret" the meaning of the text? Even asking whether "We the People" in the U.S. Constitution originally included blacks and slaves -- as abolitionists like Lysander Spooner and Frederick Douglass contended, or not as Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed in Dred Scott v. Sandford -- will tell us much about a nominee's approach to constitutional interpretation. Given that this is hardly a case that will come before them, on what grounds could nominees refuse to answer such questions?

13 July 2009 3:30 PM

How Many Stars?


According to Bowker, "275,232 new titles and editions" were published in the United States in 2008. That's far more books than can be reviewed by all publications, blogs, and other forms of media. And so the challenge for book-review outlets is to sort through the mass of unsolicited books that arrives every day, the e-mails from authors and PR reps, and the various other articles and notifications announcing the publication of new and interesting titles. (VQR, I'm told, receives about twenty unsolicited books a week.) Of course, the large publishing houses have an advantage in getting their books into the hands of reviewers and assigning editors, but even they struggle to get their authors the attention they very likely deserve.  With that in mind, what is the best way to connect editors and writers with the books that interest them? And does every book deserve a review?

13 July 2009 2:45 PM


Teaching Kids With Computer Games

Chris Wilson:

Logo is the most memorable in a lineage of games that have tried to make programming fun and intuitive. I was reminded of it recently when I saw a demonstration of Kodu, a newly released video game from Microsoft aimed at the 9-and-over crowd. Kodu is light years beyond Logo, with modern 3-D graphics, a world players can landscape to their liking, and a cast of characters that isn't limited to the Terrapene genus. But the mission is pretty much the same: to place kids in an open-ended environment and arm them with a simple language that lets them build things. At the risk of blaspheming my youth, I dare say that Kodu is more fun than Logo. It's also a reminder that the mission of games like these is not actually to teach kids how to write code. It's to teach them how to think like programmers.

13 July 2009 2:00 PM

The Culture of Science

13 July 2009 1:15 PM

Watered Down Christianity

Rod Dreher:

One of my friends, a high school teacher in a private (non-religious) institution, said a philosophical discussion in one of his classes recently turned into a conversation about Christian beliefs. These kids -- who are mostly from privileged families -- had no idea that Christianity taught that Jesus was God ("Isn't that something Mormons believe?" said one). He went on recalling how gobsmacked he was by the sheer ignorance of basic Christianity these kids had -- and this, in a culture that purports to be Christian. They didn't even know enough about Christianity to reject it.

His whole post is worth reading.

13 July 2009 12:30 PM

What Is Right?

Alexander Waugh thinks Americans have blinkered views about what ideology means:

In Britain, we think it odd that the Americans are prepared to devote acres of print to a seemingly trivial question like whether Christopher Hitchens has shifted an inch to the Right or the Left in his most recent statement on Iraq. This sort of thing means nothing to us, but it remains relevant to Americans who tend to view "Left" and "Right" not as hypostatic theoretical concepts but as measures of the exact position taken by prominent intellectuals on important issues of the day. It is this attitude that allows for the sort of statements that appear on William F. Buckley's Wikipedia entry extolling him as "the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century" or "the first great ecumenical figure of American conservatism."

13 July 2009 11:45 AM

The Other Sotomayor

Jeffrey Rosen writes that many observers are looking in the wrong place if they want to understand her ideas about the law:

...reviews of Sotomayor's appellate opinions have found them dry and technocratic. "[T]hey reveal no larger vision, seldom appeal to history and consistently avoid quotable language. Judge Sotomayor's decisions are, instead, almost always technical, incremental, and exhaustive," wrote Adam Liptak in The New York Times. After an initial reading of her majority opinions, I came to a similar conclusion.

But Sotomayor's dissenting opinion in the Gori case doesn't fit this characterization at all. It is filled with blistering language. She called the majority's holding "unprecedented" and "extraordinary." Ridiculing the majority's characterization of the officers' behavior as a polite request to step outside for the purpose of a "limited investigation," she chastised her colleagues for failing to recognize the "obvious element of coercion" that reasonable people would feel in being confronted in their homes by officers pointing guns at them through an open door. And Sotomayor was persuasive on the substance as well. In 2004, in an opinion written by Judge Richard Posner and joined by one of Obama's Supreme Court runners-up, Diane Wood, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed with Sotomayor's dissenting position that allowing the cops to seize anything they see through a door that opens in response to their knock would undermine the constitutional protections for the home.

If Sotomayor's majority opinions are often hard to distinguish from those of her fellow appellate judges, perhaps that's not surprising in a genre so heavily constrained by legal precedents. It's often in dissents that appellate judges can express their true selves--their passions, judicial philosophies, and unique views of the law. And Sotomayor's little-noticed dissents are clearly the opinions in which she has the greatest personal investment. Unlike her majority opinions, her dissents sometimes show flashes of civil-libertarian passion or indignation, even as they remain closely grounded in facts and precedents. Most important, they are substantively bold, staking out unequivocal liberal positions--from a broad reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act to sympathy for the due-process rights of a mentally ill defendant.

13 July 2009 11:31 AM


"Answer the Question"

13 July 2009 11:00 AM

Energy / Environment

Shhh. You'll Bother the Whales

The New York Times Magazine:

It might sound like something out of a bad sci-fi film: whales sent into suicidal dashes toward the ocean's surface to escape the madness-inducing echo chamber that we humans have made of their sound-sensitive habitat. But since the Canary Islands stranding in 2002, similar necropsy results have turned up with a number of beached whales, and the deleterious effects of sonar and other human-generated sounds on ocean ecosystems have been firmly established.

As described in a 2005 report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Sounding the Depths II: The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life," oceans that as recently as 100 years ago had been one vast, ongoing whale and piscine chorus have now essentially become senses-wilting miasmas of human-made noise. At a 2004 International Whaling Commission symposium, more than 100 scientists signed a statement asserting that the association between sonar and whale deaths "is very convincing and appears overwhelming."
This is unfortunate. Whales are singularly majestic creatures -- and I suspect that if we fully understood how intelligent they are, we'd be even more uncomfortable with this than is already the case.


13 July 2009 10:30 AM

Baseball vs. Cricket

Roger Bate compares the two sports:

There are many similarities between baseball and cricket. They are duels of batter (batsman) and pitcher (bowler). They showcase highly individualized, skillful players striving for a collective goal. They are slow, staccato games with plenty of pauses for the audience (and indeed players) to consider what could happen next. Both can move from the seemingly pedestrian to vibrant excitement in less than a second.

They are sports with tremendous history and fabulous rivalries. While there is no love lost between Red Sox Nation and Yankees fans, India and Pakistan almost went to war over cricket (and who knows, they still might). Both sports boast legendary players who elevated the game to new heights. Born at roughly the same time as Babe Ruth, Australian great Don Bradman dominated cricket for nearly 20 years. When Bradman told Ruth that a batter did not have to run on contact in cricket the Babe barked "Just too easy!" Yet Babe Ruth eventually became fascinated by cricket.

Good sports can be enjoyed at many levels. The casual observer enjoys soaking up the atmosphere and beer; the serious fans obsess over the minutiae. Both sports are adored and enriched by lovers and users of data. When Bradman, by then Sir Donald, died in February 2001, the New York Times estimated that were he to have been as far ahead of the crowd in baseball stats as he was at cricket, his lifetime batting average would be an astonishing .392 (in cricket his average was 99.94, the next best is roughly 61).

The differences between the two games are in some respects more interesting.
Click through to read about those.

13 July 2009 10:30 AM

Webby Style

An Economist blog interviews the editor of Slate:

DIA: Do you feel people write differently for the web than they do for print?

Mr Weisberg: If they don't, they don't succeed online. Writing that's native to the web is different in ways that are crucial but subtle enough that you can miss them if you conceive of your audience as reading a printed product. The tone of good web writing grows out of email. It's more direct, personal, colloquial, urgent, witty, efficient. It doesn't waste your time. It reflects that engagement, responsiveness and haste of web surfers, as opposed to the more general passivity of print readers. It integrates the use of links into the creative and intellectual process as opposed to tacking them on afterwards. And it uses multimedia in an organic rather than an ornamental way.

13 July 2009 10:00 AM

Offbeat Ideas

Alan Jacobs encourages everyone to pursue them -- though he warns you might wind up living underneath the freeway if you do. 

13 July 2009 9:40 AM

Should Obama Investigate Bush Era Crimes?

The New York Times:

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on "Meet the Press" on NBC that despite his dismay at the Central Intelligence Agency's past interrogation methods, including waterboarding, he opposed a criminal inquiry into torture, which he said would "harm our image throughout the world."

I think that is exactly wrong. People around the world are not under any illusions about whether or not we tortured people. They know that we did, and that fact has already, and rightly, done enormous damage to our image. 

What they don't know is whether we are prepared to do anything about it. Do we just lecture other people about their shortcomings, or are we ready to face up to our own? Most of the people I've met abroad assume that we will do nothing. They don't think this because of any particular dislike of the United States; they just assume that that is the way things work. If we do not hold anyone to account for any of the crimes that were committed under the last administration, they will not be surprised.

If we do hold people to account, on the other hand, that will make an impression.
I suspect that she is correct, with the caveat that were new incendiary videos, photographs or even audio files exposed over the course of a trial, it could do further damage to our image. Visual media in particular is just so powerful. On balance I remain convinced that it is necessary to punish official lawbreakers if we hope to maintain a republic of laws.

13 July 2009 9:30 AM

Energy / Environment

Everyone a Taxi, Cont'd

In reference to my post titled "How to End Traffic in Los Angeles," I received the following e-mail:

My name is Andrew Amey, I'm a graduate student at MIT doing research on the potential of real-time, or dynamic, ridesharing. We've called our project MIT's Real-Time Rides project. I saw your article in the June 2009 edition of the Atlantic titled "How to End Traffic in Los Angeles" and thought I would contact you. It may surprise you, but the idea of "dynamic carpooling" is alive and well and other notable authors have dreamt up similar ideas to your own...Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, published a very similar idea on his blog a while back (http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/06/how_i_solved_th.html).

Over the past year, myself and a small group at MIT have gathered data on the range of firms offering new, technology driven services much like the one you described. This past April, we held a workshop at MIT to discuss various ideas and major hurdles to be overcome. We had over 40 participants from 5 countries join us for the event. I encourage you to take a look at our website (http://www.realtimerides.org/), we have a reasonably complete database of rideshare providers including some very innovative services, background on ridesharing/carpooling, a list of resources, and presentations and outcomes from the April workshop.

13 July 2009 9:00 AM

Invasion of Privacy

The Bush Administration apparently overstepped its authority in heretofore unreported ways, most of them still secret:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they're still too secret to reveal.

The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to "unprecedented collection activities" by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Just what those activities involved remains classified, but the IGs pointedly say that any continued use of the secret programs must be "carefully monitored."

The report says too few relevant officials knew of the size and depth of the program, let alone signed off on it. They particularly criticize John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general who wrote legal memos undergirding the policy. His boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, was not aware until March 2004 of the exact nature of the intelligence operations beyond wiretapping that he had been approving for the previous two and a half years, the report says.

Most of the intelligence leads generated under what was known as the "President's Surveillance Program" did not have any connection to terrorism, the report said. But FBI agents told the authors that the "mere possibility of the leads producing useful information made investigating the leads worthwhile."

Though cast as a villain by many, John Ashcroft is really turning out to be far less culpable for abuses of power than many other Bush Administration officials, including some of his subordinates.

13 July 2009 8:30 AM

The Idea of Fairness in Rome

Visit Italy lately? Turns out you weren't being paranoid:

ROME, Aug. 8 -- Any tourist here knows the sensation: that gnawing feeling that Italians do not pay $3 for a tiny cappuccino or $4 for an unordered basket of bread.

To no one's surprise the suspicion often reflects reality, as restaurateurs will admit in candid moments. It might be an extra 30 cents for an espresso, or a $5 tithe tacked onto a bottle of wine. It may even mean the substitution of lower grade ingredients. But the practice of charging tourists more does exist and is committed daily, even hourly. If executed properly, the turista will be none the wiser.

"You think you are being taken care of," said Christian Boyle, a Londoner who has spent some months in Rome. Soon after arriving, she and some friends displayed fatal naïveté, when they were not sure what to order at a restaurant just off the Piazza del Popolo. "We couldn't decide,'' she said, "so the waiter said he would bring us some things to try.''

"One thing kept arriving after another," she said. Things were fine until "he charged us full price for all these little dishes that we thought we were just trying."

Exploiting a tourist is not surprising anywhere, but some residents say the Romans have their own flair.

"They don't see it as a crime but as a kind of justification," said Tegan Shioler, a Canadian chef and sommelier who has worked in restaurants and hotels around Rome for several years. "It is part of the Italian psyche, and I don't think it is done without humor. Italians are very possessive of their culture, which makes them beautiful. But some Romans disdain visitors, so they humorously justify the fact that to be served is some sort of privilege."

Ah well. As long as they're good-humored about cheating me how can I complain?

13 July 2009 8:00 AM

Best "Worst Idea" of the Day

Mark Gimein:

Imagine for a second that you set out to come up with an online shopping site that would take advantage of everything we've come to know about consumer behavior to separate people from their money in as efficient a way as possible. What would you do? Well, you'd probably try to draw buyers in with bargain prices. You'd pit them against one another in an auction. You'd ask them to make snap decisions without taking much time to figure out just how much money they're spending. On top of that, you'd ask them for only very small amounts of money at any one time, letting payments of a few cents build up to hundreds of dollars.


Still trying to figure out how you'd put all that together? You can relax. Someone's already beaten you to it: the folks at Swoopo.com. It's an online auction site that fiendishly plays on every irrational impulse buyers have to draw them in to what might be the crack cocaine of online shopping sites.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Embrace the Coverage of Celebrity Turmoil

Sometimes it takes a public figure getting into trouble for us to openly discuss touchy issues that affect our own lives More

13 July 2009 7:30 AM

The Next Right

The Atlantic's Megan McArdle, a libertarian, is profiled in the Boston Globe ideas section as a young thought leader with ideas to offer conservatives.

One way that the postwar conservative movement acted most like a movement was in the nurturing of its young. The careers of prominent conservative thinkers usually went, at one point or another, through magazines such as the National Review, think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, or one of a few Congressional offices.

This tendency helped mold a firm ideological unity, but it also shut out those of less orthodox sensibility - exactly those who might be needed now to forge a new kind of conservative thinking. In recent years those voices have gained a hearing, and in some cases even a following, in blogs.

"[Blogging] is decreasing the power of being part of the feeder system and feeder schools, and of being part of the ecosystem, which I certainly wasn't," says Megan McArdle.

I'd say it's to everyone's benefit that a mechanism now exists for unorthodox political thinkers to get their ideas out -- and despite the fact that she self-identifies as a libertarian, it reflects poorly on the conservative movement that one can't think of a publication within it where Ms. McArdle would fit. (Full disclosure: Megan, her fiance Peter, and her dog Bartleby are all friends, though I began admiring all their work -- the dog excepted -- before I knew them personally. Insofar as I can tell, Bartleby subscribes to this political philosophy.)

12 July 2009 2:23 PM

Video of the Day: Curing Killer Infections