2009 - %3, July

Hollaback: How to Confront Catcallers

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:56 PM EDT

Last week, Jen Phillips discussed five ways to respond to jokes about rape. She chose option #5, wherein you disarm the joke-teller by pointing out just how un-funny these jokes are by reversing the target of the joke. Below, a few options for dealing with that ubiquitous troll of the city sidewalk—the catcaller:

1. Ignore it and keep walking.

2. Use non-verbal cues (involving the middle finger) to indicate your disgust.

3. Attempt to educate harasser through dialogue or a handy business card.

4. Share this gem of human interaction with others online via photo or tweet.

5. Organize a city-wide summit to address gender-based harrassment and assault in public spaces, complete with a gallery exhibition of photographs of area cat-callers caught in the act.

I tend to go with #1, since I prefer not to let the catcaller get the satisfaction of a reaction, though sometimes option #2 happens as a knee-jerk response. Unfortunately, directly responding to, and even ignoring, catcallers is not always a safe option. In April, a woman was left partially blind, and her friend suffered a fractured jaw, after telling someone to leave them alone in a NYC pizzeria. In March, a 29-year-old pregnant woman was run over and killed when she ignored a catcaller.

To bring attention to the prevalence of public harassment, a number of websites have been created under the title Hollaback. These sites offer a space for people who are the target of gender-based harassment to share their experience in specific cities, regions, and countries with a sympathetic community, while publicly shaming the perpetrators. You can also tweet sidewalk utterances to @catcalled so long as it's under 140 characters. Which it probably is, since as any city-dweller knows, these are not eloquent treatises.

However, these sites are not just chronicles of the harassers that make your walk to work less than pleasant. HollabackDC seeks to make public not just catcallers, but all forms of street harrassment and misogyny:

"Gender based sexual harassment is any sexual harassment that occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (man or woman) accost another individual, based on their gender, as they go about their daily life. This can include vulgar remarks, heckling, insults, innuendo, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure and other forms of  public humiliation. Gender based public sexual harassment occurs on a continuum starting with words, stalking, and unwanted touching which can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault, and murder."

That is why they are moving beyond the web and joining other DC-based community activists to stage a summit that will address strategies for responding to—and ending—street harassment. The summit's opening reception will include a photography exhibit of street harassers in the act. If you live in DC and snap a catcaller in the act, you can submit your own photo.

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How to Get to the Hall of Fame

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:47 PM EDT

Today is unsurprising research day.  The Wall Street Journal reports on a computer model that can predict whether a baseball player gets elected to the Hall of Fame:

Using a radial bias function network, a sort of neural net, Dr. Smith and Dr. Downey were able to identify statistical commonalities among Hall of Famers. As it turns out, hits, home runs and on-base plus slugging percentages are what count for hitters, while wins, saves, earned run average and winning percentage are what count for pitchers.

Sounds right to me.  But did we really need a computer to tell us this?

Should Kosher Veggies Be Organic?

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:42 PM EDT

It's a sign of the times when the Orthodox Union starts taking its cues from the Certified Organic crowd. After 2000 years of formalized Jewish dietary law, Israel's top Rabbi has threatened to revoke the kosher status of vegetables deemed excessively sprayed. 

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, the country's top religious authority, said he would yank veggies' blanket kosher seal of approval over "insane quantities" of insecticides. Although even the man with the plan acknowledged that there is no precedent for decertifying fruits and vegetables, he said that health hazards alone make spraying a religious concern. (Kashrut, the body of law dictating what is and isn't kosher, forbids eating any known poison.)

Besides being a good green initiative and probably long overdue, there may be some business sense in this. Only 21 percent of people who buy kosher food do so for religious reasons; the rest choose kosher for its perceived health benefits. Because Jewish law forbids mixing dairy and meat, most desserts and snacks contain neither, making them an easy choice for vegans and vegetarians. Kosher animals aren't fed other animals' parts, and their care and slaughter is strictly supervised. Finally, many buyers simply believe that the religious certifiers do a better job than the government at keeping food clean and safe. The laws are literally so complicated, the main certifying body in America runs a hotline.

Idiocy on the Road

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:07 PM EDT

The New York Times reports today on the results of a recent study that should surprise absolutely no one:

The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

....In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.

Even though trucks take longer to stop and are less maneuverable than cars, the findings generally applied to all drivers, who tend to exhibit the same behaviors as the more than 100 truckers studied, the researchers said.

The controversy about talking on cell phones during driving is at least understandable.  Most people probably figure that talking is talking, and if you can talk to a friend who's sitting beside you in your car, then why shouldn't you be allowed to talk to a friend on the phone too?

But texting?  That's insane.  I'm just naive enough to be surprised that anyone in their right mind would do this in the first place, but given that they do, then of course it should be illegal.  It's astonishing that there are still states that haven't prohibited it.

MoJo Video: United for Iran

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 4:48 PM EDT

Hundreds of activists gathered at San Francisco City Hall Saturday to call attention to human rights violations that followed last month's elections in Iran, which many have criticized as illegitimate. The event, organized by grassroots organization United for Iran, was part of a Global Day of Action taking place in more than 100 cities worldwide, including Oslo, Dublin, and Tokyo. (See our video of the San Francisco rally above.)

Firuzeh Mahmoudi, the Iranian-American who organized the international event, told us that she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of international support that followed the violence in Iran. Though it was formed only a month ago, United For Iran has accumulated thousands of supporters through grassroots activism and social media forums like Facebook and Twitter. High-profile supporters include Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and U2, who each sent videos of support for the July 25 rallies.

It is unclear what effect the worldwide demonstrations had on internal Iranian affairs or international attitudes toward the Middle Eastern political pariah. Some claimed that the protests marked a watershed moment in Iranian history comparable to the death of  Martin Luther King Jr in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India. But with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his second term despite widespread allegations that last month's election was fraudulent, the voices of protestors may fall on deaf ears rather than achieve substantive change.

Event speakers included 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, CA senator Mark Leno, and former captain of Iran's national soccer team Parviz Ghelichkhani. Also present were notorious activists Code Pink and tents representing oppressed Tibetans and Chinese Uighurs, whose mission sometimes muddled the messages coming from the main stage.

Though demonstrations in Iran have calmed and Ahmadinejad is now forming a new cabinet, his political capital remains tenuous at best. Last week, he drew fire from conservative nationalists for promoting the controversial Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a reported friend to Israel, as his chief of staff. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei actively opposed the appointment, which led Ahmadinejad to back down. He is also unpopular among liberals, who despise the violence that he endorsed to quell last month's protests. The opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who challenged Ahmadinejad in the election, vowed Monday to keep fighting for change. "People made the [1979] revolution for freedom. Where is that freedom now?" Mousavi asked in a statement on his website. "This situation will destroy everyone and will harm the system."
 
Despite the international protests, it could be years before we know whether Iran will listen.

Video produced by Taylor Wiles.

Accused Killer of Abortion Doctor Could Be Down By Law With a Kansas Jury

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 4:21 PM EDT

As he prepares for a court hearing Tuesday, Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church in June, says he’s full of “relief and joy” over the murder of the Wichita abortion provider. In interviews with the Kansas City Star, Roeder, who is in a Sedgwick County, Kansas, lockup, said he’d been thinking about killing abortion doctors since 1992. He praised Paul Hill, who shot and killed an abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994 and was executed for the murder in 2003, and he described several visits to Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller back in 1993 and is currently serving 20 years for a series of abortion clinic bombings and arsons.

Roeder believes that these acts qualify as justifiable homicide, explaining to Star reporter Judy Thomas: “When a policeman shoots somebody on the street, for example, and stops somebody from taking the life of innocent people, that’s violence, and everybody’s fine with that,” he said. Since the murder of Dr. Tiller, he said, “I’ve heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there’s no availability here,” he said. “Wichita has been abortion-free since that time." He added, “That’s total elation.”

Scott Roeder stops short of stating that he is the man responsible for what he considers the heroic act of killing Dr. Tiller, instead saying that “For the man accused of this, things fell together for that day,” and the shooting “would have been earlier if things had panned out.” Such almost coyly circumspect statements can hardly help Roeder’s case, and his attorney, Steve Osburn, would make no comment on his client’s defense strategy. But Roeder himself raised the possibility of introducing “jury nullification,” which holds that if a jury concludes the law is wrong, it can take matters into its own hands, overriding instructions from the judge, to deliver its own version of justice.
 

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Video: Bailout Madness With Air America, MoJo

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 3:39 PM EDT

Always one to talk bailout madness, Mike Papantonio, co-host of Air America's lively "Ring of Fire" weekly program, invited me back recently (see the first interview here) onto his show. We talked about Mother Jones' coverage of the latest debacle surrounding the government's more than $20 trillion financial rescue—the TARP repayment process and the controversy over the government's warrant firesales.

Watch the interview below.

American Economic History

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 3:16 PM EDT

This videographic from the Economist is well worth watching.

Governor Springsteen

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's Community Affairs Commissioner, Joe Doria, had to step down Friday after his house was raided as part of a massive FBI sweep of the state. Zack Roth aptly sums up the details here, but suffice to say that any tie to the corruption and money-laundering investigation is terrible news for the already beleaguered Corzine.

It is, however, further support for my argument that President Obama should ask Bruce Springsteen to run for governor of New Jersey.

More broadly, I don't understand why parties stand by deeply unpopular incumbents like Corzine and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) when it becomes fairly clear that those incumbents are going to lose. Obviously losing the Connecticut Senate seat to the Republicans would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats on the level of Ted Steven's loss of an otherwise-safe Alaska Senate seat for the Republicans last cycle. But the Democrats have an easy out in Connecticut: if Dodd will get out of the way, the extremely popular state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, could run in his place. Blumenthal would win going away.

UPDATE: Maybe it's just the Democrats who have this problem: Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), perhaps the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent, has been forced to retire because GOP officials did everything in their power to cut off his access to funds. Meanwhile, the AP reports that despite his denials, Chris Dodd knew he was getting a special deal back in 2003 when he got two home loans under Countrywide's "Friends of Angelo" program. (This according to secret testimony before the Senate Ethics Committee.) Is that really the horse you want to back, CT Dems?

The Problem With Private Health Insurance

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 1:15 PM EDT

Paul Krugman says that in a private insurance market, insurance companies will do their best to avoid taking on sick people as customers.  Alex Tabarrok disagrees:

If insurance companies do avoid covering people who are "likely to need care," this suggests that the uninsured are unhealthy.  But 60% of the uninsured are in excellent health (Table 10)....

To be sure, this doesn't mean that being uninsured is not a problem but, contra Paul, it does mean that insurance companies would be willing to cover most of the uninsured at the same rates as the insured if the uninsured could or would pay those rates.

Color me perplexed.  That first sentence doesn't compute at all, and the rest doesn't make sense either.  Sure, insurance companies are willing to cover "most" of the uninsured.  That was Krugman's point.  The problem is that they won't cover the 40% who aren't in excellent health, and those 40% account for most of our healthcare expenses. That's perfectly reasonable behavior on their part, but it's also a pretty big problem for anyone who wants a solution to more than a fraction of the problem.