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Is It Fair to Keep Peppering Scott Walker With Gotcha Questions?

| Mon Feb. 23, 2015 12:56 PM EST

Lately Scott Walker has been asked:

  • Whether he agrees with Rudy Giuliani's comment that President Obama doesn't love America.
  • Whether he believes in evolution.
  • Whether he believes that Obama is a Christian.

Is this fair? Why is Walker being peppered with gotcha questions like this? Are Democrats getting the same treatment?

There are no Democrats running for president yet, so it's hard to say what kind of questions they're going to be asked. But if Hillary Clinton attends a fundraising dinner where, say, Michael Moore suggests that Dick Cheney should be tried as a war criminal, I'm pretty sure Hillary will be asked if she agrees. And asked and asked and asked.

As for the other stuff Walker is being asked about—evolution, climate change, Obama's religion, etc.—there really is a good reason for getting someone like Walker on the record. He's basically a tea party guy who's trying to appear more mainstream than the other tea party guys, and everyone knows that there are certain issues that are tea party hot buttons. So you have to ask about them to take the measure of the man. Sure, they're gotcha questions, but they have a legitimate purpose: to find out if Walker is a pure tea party creature or not. That's a matter of real public interest.

Conservatives are complaining that Walker is facing a double standard. Maybe. We'll find out when Hillary and the rest of the Democratic field start campaigning in earnest. But I'm curious. What kinds of similar questions would be gotchas for Democrats? Drivers licenses for undocumented workers? Support for single-payer healthcare? Those aren't really the same, but I can't come up with anything that is. It needs to be something that's either conspiracy-theorish or else something where the liberal base conflicts with the scientific consensus, and I'm not sure what that is. GMO foods? Heritability of IQ? Whether George Bush stole the 2004 election by tampering with voting machines? I'm stretching here, but that's because nothing really comes to mind.

Help me out. What kinds of Scott-Walkerish gotcha questions should reporters be saving up for Hillary?

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Sonny Smith's Low-Key Garage Pop is Deceptively Smart

| Mon Feb. 23, 2015 12:52 PM EST

Sonny and the Sunsets
Talent Night at the Ashram
Polyvinyl

Seemingly adrift in a drowsy haze, the always-engaging Sonny Smith would make a fine magician, so adept is he at the art of misdirection. Like its predecessors, Antenna to the Afterworld and Longtime Companion, the winning Talent Night at the Ashram projects a laid-back, even apathetic vibe, but Smith's low-key garage pop (brightened this time by thrift-shop synths) and aw-shucks singing are just the beginning of the story. This down-home philosopher is a thoughtful and compassionate observer of ordinary folks looking to make sense of life, as shown in such deceptively smart songs as "Alice Leaves for the Mountains"and "Icelene's Loss." While the seven-minute "Happy Carrot Health Food Store" will strain the patience of all but the most devoted fans, it's a rare lapse for this charming man.

Factlet of the Day: Office Workers Will Soon Have Less Space Than Supermax Prisoners

| Mon Feb. 23, 2015 12:31 PM EST

The open plan revolution has wrought its havoc:

The average amount of space per office worker in North America dropped to 176 square feet in 2012, from 225 in 2010, according to CoreNet Global, a commercial real estate association.

Here's the "explanation":

Bosses — and the designers and architects they hire — are betting that most employees will not notice the difference. “The balance between individual spaces and community spaces has changed drastically,” said David Bright, a senior vice president of Knoll, the office furnishing manufacturer, “with shared and community spaces taking up a greater proportion of space than they once did.”

....The argument for more communal space is that open offices foster communication and accidental creativity — that serendipity is a plus, if serendipity is defined as bumping into co-workers and chatting about projects they may not necessarily be assigned to.

Oh, I'm willing to bet that employees have noticed the difference. Maybe not the 20-somethings who have never been treated like anything but cattle in their lives, but everyone else feels the squeeze. They'll shut up about it, because who wants to be the old dinosaur opposed to "communication and accidental creativity"? But believe me, they've all noticed.

Exploding Oil Trains Could Become a Horrifying New Normal

| Mon Feb. 23, 2015 12:11 PM EST
An oil train smolders after it derailed and exploded in West Virginia last week.

Last week, a train carrying oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia, spilled oil into a river, and sent a horrifying fireball shooting into the sky. The incident came only a few days after another oil train spill in Ontario. In fact, in the last few years the number of oil train accidents has skyrocketed, thanks to booming production in the northern US and Canada that has overwhelmed the existing pipeline network.

Oil train accidents like those could become a regular fixture in headlines across the US, according to a Department of Transportation analysis uncovered by the Associated Press over the weekend:

The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.…

If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

The report blamed the projections on the drastic uptick in oil-by-rail traffic, as well as on severely lagging safety standards for rail cars (check out our in-depth multimedia story on the latter here).

"Selma Is Now": John Legend and Common Just Gave An Amazing Oscar Speech

| Sun Feb. 22, 2015 11:35 PM EST

John Legend and Common's "Glory" from Selma just won an Oscar for Best Original Song. Legend and Common gave a wonderful, heartfelt, important speech.

"Selma is now," Legend began. "The struggle for justice is now. The Voting Rights Act that they fought for fifty years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. Right now the struggle for justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people march with our song, we want to tell you: we see you, we are with you, we love you, and march on."

Earlier they delivered an amazing performance of the song. Everyone was in tears.

One Perfect Tweet Shows Just How Ridiculous Everything Is

| Sun Feb. 22, 2015 10:24 PM EST

This is perfect and true and sad and it made me sad.

 

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Patricia Arquette Just Told Hollywood Exactly What It Needed To Hear

| Sun Feb. 22, 2015 10:08 PM EST

"To every woman who gave birth to every tax payer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

Former CBS Colleagues Refute Bill O'Reilly's "Combat" Reporting Claims

| Sun Feb. 22, 2015 3:40 PM EST

On Sunday, a former CBS correspondent spoke to CNN's Reliable Sources to refute Bill O'Reilly's claims he reported in a "war zone" during the Falklands war–the subject of a Mother Jones investigation published last Thursday. CNN's Brian Stelter also reported that he has talked to several other former CBS News journalists who disputed O'Reilly's account. 

"I don't know of any American foreign correspondent who had a weapon pointed at him," Engberg told Stelter. "I didn’t hear any gunfire. And not only did I not hear any gunfire, as I say, I didn’t hear any sirens." 

On the show, Stelter played a video of O'Reilly claiming he witnessed Argentine soldiers gunning down civilians at a protest he covered–a video that echoes footage that the Mother Jones article included. Yet Engberg and other correspondents who were in Buenos Aires and who covered the same protest say no such thing happened.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Engberg said the Fox New host largely fabricated his account of his stint in Argentina. "It was not a war zone or even close," Engberg wrote. "It was an 'expense account zone.'" O'Reilly has since slammed his ex-colleague, saying Engberg "never left the hotel." 

Climate Change Deniers Take Yet Another Hit

| Sun Feb. 22, 2015 11:31 AM EST

Climate change deniers don't have a lot of credible scientists who support their view. But they have a few, and one of the busiest and most prolific is Wei-Hock Soon, who insists that global warming is caused by variations in the sun's output, not by anything humans are doing. Soon's doctorate is in aerospace engineering, not atmospheric science or geophysics or some more relevant discipline, but he's nonetheless an actual scientist and a reliable ally for the climate deniers.

Unfortunately, the New York Times reports a wee problem with Soon's work:

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

Oops. But a friend of mine suggests that the real news is the way climate change was treated by the Times reporters who wrote the story. Here are a few snippets:

The documents shed light on the role of scientists like Dr. Soon in fostering public debate over whether human activity is causing global warming. The vast majority of experts have concluded that it is and that greenhouse emissions pose long-term risks to civilization.

....Many experts in the field say that Dr. Soon uses out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change....“The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless,” [said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan].

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose scientists focus largely on understanding distant stars and galaxies, routinely distances itself from Dr. Soon’s findings. The Smithsonian has also published a statement accepting the scientific consensus on climate change.

Etc.

There's no he-said-she-said in this piece. No critics are quoted suggesting that there's an honest controversy about human contributions to climate change. There's no weaseling. It's simply assumed that climate change is real and humans are a primary cause—the same way a similar article might assume that evolution or general relativity are true.

I haven't followed the Times' coverage of climate change in close enough detail to know if this represents an editorial change of direction or not. But whether it's new or not, it's nice to see. More please.