Archive for January 2008

#  Honest Campaign Advertising →

January 31st, 2008 at 23:20 // In Worth Considering 

At Slate, Jeff Greenfield takes an interesting look at why politician don’t speak frankly about politics in advertising, and what it would be like if they did. His ad for John Edwards would have been interesting:

I’m John Edwards. Maybe you’ve noticed there’s something different about me. Of course, I’m talking about geography.

Here’s an unavoidable political fact: Since the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the only Democratic presidential candidates who have won a clear plurality of popular votes have come from the South or the border states—the Red States. Our only victors have come from Georgia and Arkansas (and Tennessee, if you count the victory they stole).

All of us—Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton, and myself—will fight for health care, a fairer tax system, a chance for those who haven’t gotten a chance to live out the American promise. But if we don’t choose a candidate who can compete everywhere, we will never get the chance to do any of these things. Choose me … or lose.

#  Whataboutism →

January 31st, 2008 at 23:15 // In Worth Reading 

I have to admit that half of my affinity for this Europe.view column is that I just love that word. It’s like so many fights held in so many places all over the world. But the column’s also got a few very valuable points about relations between the Kremlin on the West that are worth hearing.

One solution is to use points made by Russian leaders themselves. Guess who said this: “Russia is a country of legal nihilism at the level…that no European country can boast of…Corruption in the official structures has a huge scale”. That sounds as though it came from some opposition politician such as Garry Kasparov—the sort of marginal (or marginalised) figure that Russians often say gains far too much western attention. But the speaker was Dmitri Medvedev, successor-designate to Vladimir Putin.

Another is for outsiders to show a bit more self-criticism. It is worth noting early on in the discussion some outrageous flaws in American (or British, or German, or French) foreign policy, as well as recent scandals involving corruption and abuse of power.

The most powerful western asset during the last cold war was not bigger nukes or higher living standards, but self-criticism. However bad western governments may be, they risk trouble eventually—from the media, the courts or the voters. That is not something that one can say with much confidence about Russia now.

#  Tabloid Excesses of Cable News Websites →

January 31st, 2008 at 11:57 // In Worth Reading 

Jack Shafer says what most visitors to the sites have known for a while:

In their craven pursuit of clicks, the editors at CNN.com, MSNBC.com, and Foxnews.com turn their sites into virtual tabloids by peppering their home pages with the most sordid and bizarre stories that can be culled from the world’s news wires.

#  Rove on the Presidential Campaign →

January 31st, 2008 at 11:49 // In Worth Knowing 

Karl Rove’s Wall Street Journal editorial doesn’t exactly have novel analysis for those following the elections closely, but for anyone not doing so (99% of America) it’s a useful rundown of what’s happened.

- Technology allows a candidate to raise money quickly and inexpensively. The Internet dramatically shortens the gap between political success and raising money. Under the old regime, members of the finance committee would start calling a few days after a successful debate and FedEx’ing the checks. Mail pieces might hit 10 days later. Fundraising required events with weeks of advance notice. Today, if you do well in a debate on Tuesday night you can begin raising large sums of money Wednesday morning. Effective fundraising can be a mouse-click away.

That point was clarified this morning by Barack Obama’s announcement of having raised 32 million in January alone.

#  Fed Has Lowered Rates 1.25 Points in 8 Days →

January 31st, 2008 at 11:44 // In Worth Considering 

The Economist argues that Mr. Bernanke and the Fed are doing their best to satisfy Wall Street. Sound like a “Greenspan put” to anyone else?

But not all indicators point to disaster. Orders for durable goods and a private payroll report were surprisingly good. That suggests the Fed’s boldness is driven more by policymakers’ second rationale, that of reducing the risk of a negative spiral from financial markets to the economy. Hence the decision to slash rates on January 22nd, in response to a global sell-off. Strikingly, the Fed statement on January 30th mentioned “stress” in financial markets before discussing the economy. In a dovish text, the central bankers left no doubt that they were most worried about the downside risks and would act in a “timely manner” to address them.

Judging by the price of Fed fund futures, investors expect the federal funds rate to be as low as 2.25% by the end of the year. That highlights the danger in Mr Bernanke’s new strategy. In trying to prevent financial-market calamity, the Fed may find itself pushed by Wall Street to leave interest rates too low for too long.

#  Fox News Is Flailing →

January 30th, 2008 at 20:40 // In Worth Considering 

Engaging in what is probably a fair measure of premature and gleeful grave-digging and dancing, Eric Boehlert does a good job explaining all that has gone wrong for Fox News recently.

Let’s take an extended multiple choice quiz. Right now, which of the following topics is likely causing the discomfort inside Ailes’ Fox News empire?

A) CNN’s resurgence as the go-to cable destination for election coverage.
B) The unmistakably sunken candidacy of Fox News’ favored son, Rudy Giuliani.
C) The still-standing candidacy of Fox News nemesis and well-funded antiwar GOP candidate Rep. Ron Paul.
D) The Democratic candidates’ blanket refusal to debate on Fox News during the primary season.
E) Host Bill O’Reilly being so desperate for an interview from a Democratic contender that he had to schlep all the way to New Hampshire, where he shoved an aide to Sen. Barack Obama and then had to be calmed down by Secret Service agents.
F) Former Fox News architect and Ailes confidant Dan Cooper posting chapters from his wildly unflattering tell-all book about his old boss. (“The best thing that ever happened to Roger Ailes was 9/11.”)
G) The fledgling Fox Business Network, whose anemic ratings are in danger of being surpassed by some large city public access channels.
H) Host John Gibson’s recent heartless attacks on Heath Ledger, just hours after the young actor was found dead.
I) Fox News reporter Major Garrett botching his “exclusive” that Paul Begala and James Carville were going to join Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, and then refusing to correct the record.

I’d say it’s A, B, C, D, E, F and G. (I doubt Gibson’s grave-dancing or Garrett’s whopper caused Ailes a moment’s concern.)

#  A Playground for Grownups →

January 30th, 2008 at 17:26 // In Worth Knowing 

I’ve long thought this would be a great idea, but I think designing it especially for people over 60 was a mistake. You got it half right, Manchester.

Instead of slides and roundabouts, it is equipped with machines specially designed to provide gentle exercise for different parts of the body such as hips, legs and torso.

The Massage offers upper body exercise, the Skate trains leg muscles, the Ski works the hips, while the Press tones the stomach and legs.

There are also stations for pull-ups, push-ups and pedalling and, to stretch the mind as well as the body, engravings of quotes from famous philosophers dotted around the park.

(via Neatorama)

#  Seth MacFarlane Interviewed →

January 30th, 2008 at 17:04 // In Worth Reading 

The Advocate interviews Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane with amazing results. Warning, profanity ahead.

The Parents Television Council voted the episode, along with many others, “Worst TV Show of the Week.” Do you appreciate that honor?
Oh, yeah. That’s like getting hate mail from Hitler. They’re literally terrible human beings. I’ve read their newsletter, I’ve visited their website, and they’re just rotten to the core. For an organization that prides itself on Christian values—I mean, I’m an atheist, so what do I know?—they spend their entire day hating people. They can all suck my dick as far as I’m concerned.

(via Vulture)

#  Meta “Be Kind Rewind” Trailer →

January 30th, 2008 at 16:45 // In Worth Seeing 

You’ll probably either find this unbelievably dumb or unbelievably awesome. Michel Gondry, director of Be Kind Rewind and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, remade the Be Kind Rewind preview as other movies are remade in Be Kind Rewind.

(via Vulture)

#  An Update from Kenya →

January 30th, 2008 at 13:43 // In Worth Reading 

The Economist has a good update on the situation in Kenya, and the slow effort to make peace. I kind of wish I’d read it before writing this, but I don’t know how much it would have helped.

…this week they started talking to each other. A former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who is the leading mediator, has persuaded President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, to enter into negotiations with Raila Odinga, a Luo, who leads the opposition Orange Democratic Movement. Both leaders have appointed representatives to resolve what Mr Annan calls “immediate political issues” and break the impasse, but he gave warning that it may take much longer, even a year, to forge a solid and comprehensive agreement.

#  Singing in Myanmar →

January 30th, 2008 at 13:39 // In Worth Knowing 

Paul Watson offers a pathos-laden look into a music school in Burma. It’s interesting, even if not revelatory.

You can feel it walking up the front path, in the breeze of notes from four upright pianos, a baby grand, guitars and traditional instruments that drifts from the rehearsal rooms, where jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie look down from photocopied portraits taped to the walls.

When the school opened, neighbors told the students they wouldn’t last long. They were still going strong last year, and a few foreign visitors began dropping by, so intelligence agents started showing up. They reminded the students that Myanmar’s security laws hold them responsible for anything their foreign guests do, and if the outsiders strayed into politics, the locals would go to jail.

(via brijit)

#  How to make real, juggle-able fireballs →

January 30th, 2008 at 13:13 // In Worth Distraction 

In the field of “unbelievably cool and most certainly dangerous” how-tos comes this short video about how to make fireballs you can hold in your hand.

(via kottke)

#  Restoring Civil Rights →

January 30th, 2008 at 10:53 // In Worth Considering 

I don’t often read — never mind like — the editorials of newspaper’s editorial boards. But the New York Time’s argument for Senator Kennedy’s civil rights bills made an interesting and troubling argument that the right’s distaste for “judicial activism” only applies to decision they dislike.

One of the most troubling rulings was in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant who was paid less than her male colleagues after she was given smaller raises over several years. The court’s conservative majority ruled that Ms. Ledbetter had not met the 180-day deadline to file her complaint. It insisted that the 180 days ran from the day the company had made the original decision to give her a smaller raise than the men.

The ruling made no sense, since Ms. Ledbetter was being discriminated against when she made her complaint. As a practical matter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a strongly worded dissent, it would have been exceptionally difficult for Ms. Ledbetter to complain when she was first given a lower raise than the male supervisors because Goodyear, like many employers, kept salaries and raises confidential. […]

Conservatives like to say that the court’s conservative justices believe in applying the law, not making it. But in recent years, the court’s majority has been reading federal anti-discrimination laws far more narrowly than Congress intended — not applying the law, but unmaking it.

#  Searching For Hope in North Korea →

January 30th, 2008 at 10:47 // In Worth Reading 

The Economist’s Asia.view column does a good job profiling America’s recent history of human rights advocacy in North Korea, as well as assessing China’s push for “corporate social responsibility” within its factories there. My favorite part, if only because I share the mentioned speakers feelings, was this bit:

And a documentary film which shows two ragged young men singing a song called “Our Father, Kim Jong Il”, in praise of the country’s dictator, hears one of them comment “Pretty lousy father”—a rare crack in the facade of national devotion.

None of this gives much cause for hope. But as one conference speaker put it, it is better to be an optimist and wrong than a pessimist and right. In North Korea, it is also harder.

#  John McCain Wins Florida, Nomination? →

January 29th, 2008 at 22:17 // In Worth Knowing 

I wasn’t going to link to anything about Florida, as it’s a pretty straightforward story: Giuliani’s done and McCain’s win (and possible Giuliani endorsement) gives him a rather clear path to the Republican nomination. But then John Dickerson’s first sentence was an odd anecdote which became a useful — if still decidedly odd — analogy:

As a fighter pilot in Pensacola, Fla., 30 years ago, McCain and his exotic-dancer girlfriend dropped by the dinner party of some married ensigns and were greeted with “disbelief and alarm.” They left quickly. This week as he tried to crash his way into the nomination of a party from which he has often broken, his mother predicted Republicans would have to “hold their nose” to vote for her son.

#  Why Security Questions Suck →

January 29th, 2008 at 22:04 // In Worth Knowing 

Josh Levin answers a question that I know has crossed my mind at least a few time: why are my bank’s security questions so bad? But his explanation of the problem gets it exactly.

My favorite type of ice cream is probably cookie dough, but because of the vexing onset of lactose intolerance, I don’t have any preferred flavors these days. I don’t generally carry my library card and have no favorite entertainer, unless baseball players count. (Howard Johnson!) I’m not married, and I didn’t especially care for any of my elementary school teachers. Favorite cartoon character? It’s a different Simpson every day of the week.

But here’s the short answer:

The problem isn’t a failure of imagination on the part of the question-conjurers. It’s the impossibility of coming up with a question that’s easy to answer but hard to guess.

#  The Highlights of Davos →

January 29th, 2008 at 22:03 // In Worth Knowing 

The captains of the business world (perhaps that’s just “the world”) met in Davos, Switzerland. The Economist’s Business.view column highlight’s what’s worth knowing from it, but the basic answer is not much you couldn’t have guessed.

Mood of the meeting: Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we must die. “The mood was moderately optimistic,” said Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF, but he was not at the same parties as The Economist, where Davos Man and Woman found escape from their economic gloom in boozing, dancing and singing.

The column has some interesting tidbits though. Perhaps this:

From realpolitik to virtualpolitik: Henry Kissinger. The venerable statesman, one of the co-chairs of this year’s WEF, was said to be considering becoming an avatar in the online fantasy world, Second Life.

What value a man like Kissenger — or any man or woman or child — would get out of Second Life is truly beyond me.

#  Trying “Uncle Oinker’s Bacon Mints” →

January 29th, 2008 at 12:05 // In Worth Distraction 

You’re bound to create something funny and interesting when you set out to try bacon-flavored breath mints, as The Onion’s A.V. Club has.

The smell released when the tin is opened is pervasive and suffocating. It isn’t minty at all; it resembles a blend of rotting bacon and hot plastic, like raw bacon draped across a traffic cone and left outside in Arizona-summer heat for a couple of days. The taste is sour and richly meaty, like jerky gone bad; there’s definitely some mint in there, poking through the overwhelming semi-rotten-bacon taste at odd intervals, but mostly, it’s artificial bacon, and a whole lot of it.