2009 - %3, November

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 23, 2009

Mon Nov. 23, 2009 9:30 AM EST

US Army Military Police officers cross a bridge outside Surkhani Village after leaving an Afghan police checkpoint in eastern Kunar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 11, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 49th Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion. US Army Military Police regularly offer assistance and mentorship to their emerging Afghan police partners. (US Army photo by Pfc. Cody A. Thompson.)

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Need To Read: November 23, 2009

Mon Nov. 23, 2009 9:00 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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Music Monday: 15 Minutes With the Dave Rawlings Machine

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 8:00 AM EST

Last week, Nashville-based guitarist Dave Rawlings, best known for his collaboration with Gillian Welch, released his first solo record, titled A Friend of a Friend. Rawlings appears on all of Welch's albums and has become known for his ephemeral voice and intricate guitar picking. His style is a mix of country, old-time, bluegrass, and rockabilly. Mother Jones talked with Rawlings about his first guitar, concert fiascoes, and what it's like to be in Gillian's shadow. Click here to listen to an extended podcast of our interview.

Mother Jones: How did you start playing music?  

Dave Rawlings: When I was probably just about 16, I was walking home from a pizza parlor with one of my best friends, and he said, "Why don't you get a guitar for Christmas and I'll get a harmonica, and we can play 'Heart of Gold,' the Neil Young song, in the talent show." And as soon as I had a guitar I loved it, and I started playing in every spare moment.

MJ: You played in a rock band in the '90s.

DR: When I played with the Esquires, the two of us and our friend David Steal decided to go and play Chuck Berry songs and Tom Waits songs and things like that at a couple local bars in Nashville. That was probably 'round about 1998. But I taped a few of the shows; I know what they sounded like. It was never anything too exciting, but it was fun.

Music Monday: The Things We're Thankful For

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 7:40 AM EST

So this is what happens when you ask a bunch of wise-cracking MoJo editorial staffers, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, to name the artists, albums, and songs for which they would like to give thanks—and why. Feel free to post comments with your own selections.

Big Pun, "100%" — Because as much as I would like to give 110%, I just don't find it viable. Plus: Puerto Rico, baby!

NWA's "Gangsta, Gangsta" — Because journalism, like gangsta rap, is not about a salary, it's all about reality.

Pavement, Crooked Rain — Especially the wonderfully expressed lyric Lame driver, the Force is against you.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, A Larum — I will no doubt wear out my iPod listening to this British singer-songwriter's phenomenal debut as I eagerly await his second album. (Oh, hey! Look!)

Cast rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" from the TV show Glee — Double the cheese = Double the fun.

Roxy Music's Avalon — It's the best album to play when you're really hungover in an apartment with a great view of London. Plus, it got me laid in college.

(Scroll down for more...)

Econundrum: 4 Tips for Less Thanksgiving Waste

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 6:59 AM EST

Thanksgiving is here. Family! Friends! Food! Leftovers! Garbage. This year I'm going to try really hard not to make a trough of stuffing so immense that half of it ends up in the compost bin.

A new study from the British anti-food-waste group Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that the average British household produces 463 pounds of avoidable food and drink waste per year, the packaging, shipping, distribution, and cooking of which creates the equivalent of 1,764 pounds of CO2. That's about the same as all the members of a household flying from NYC to Charleston, South Carolina, or a quarter of the emissions produced by a household's yearly driving miles.

The problem isn't unique to Great Britain. In his book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Tristram Stuart writes that 50 percent of all food in the US is wasted—enough to feed all the hungry people in the world three times over. Stuart aims much of his criticism at industrial food wasters—farms, warehouses, supermarkets, and restaurants. But he has a few smart recommendations for consumers who want to reduce household food waste, too. Lesson #1: Expiration dates are not always what they seem.

When you're doing your thanksgiving shopping, keep in mind Stuart's smart tips for decoding dates:

  1. Understand the difference between "best before" and "use by" dates: "Best" is merely a suggestion, while "use" refers to bacteria growth and safety.

     

  2. "Sell by" dates are "meant to help shop staff manage stock, and should be completely ignored by consumers," Stuart writes.

     

  3. Be very, very wary of dates on packaged produce. "Anyone can tell when a piece of fruit has started to go wrinkly, and decide for themselves whether it is fit to eat."

     

  4. Keep your house cool. In addition to saving on your heating bill and reducing your energy use, some foods stored outside the fridge (especially fats like butter and oil) will last longer.

 

Eating Their Own Dog Food

| Sun Nov. 22, 2009 6:53 PM EST

Last week I found myself talking about healthcare for a few minutes with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and at one point she remarked sarcastically that if healthcare reform was such a great idea, why didn't Congress give itself whatever deal it was foisting on the rest of us?  I mumbled some kind of lame reply, but little did I know that the Senate bill actually does this.  Joe Klein explains:

My favorite provision requires that all members of Congress give up their federally-funded health care benefits and join the health care exchanges that will be set up by this bill. This is brilliant politics, addressing the tide of populist anger and fears of incipient socialism. But it also makes an important substantive point. The future of health care reform in this country will depend on how effectively the exchanges — health insurance super-stores — are working. If members of Congress have to participate in this system, you can bet they'll insist on a array of choices, similar to the system they currently use, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

There are actually a couple of ways you can look at this, and the pessimistic way is that if you make Congress buy insurance from the exchange then we'll never get any cost controls in place — because members of congress will never approve of anything that might infringe on their own perks of office.

But even I'm not quite that pessimistic.  I think Klein is right: if this survives the conference report, and gets the publicity it deserves (why is this the first time I'm hearing about it?), it will actually go a long way toward assuaging public cynicism about both Congress and healthcare reform.

(And hey — why is this the first time I've heard about this?  It's not as if I don't follow this stuff pretty closely.  Was it added in by Harry Reid at the last second?  Or what?)

UPDATE: Answer here!

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Tricked Out

| Sun Nov. 22, 2009 2:46 PM EST

Compare and contrast.  Here is a math teacher describing a technique in algebra:

The trick to deriving the quadratic equation is remembering to complete the square.

You probably remember that from junior high school.  Now, here is climate scientist Phil Jones describing a statistical technique in an email to another climate scientist that was recently hacked and stolen from the University of East Anglia webmail server:

I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.

Climate skeptics have gone gaga over this, of course, insisting that the word "trick" means something nefarious designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the world.  But it's not.  RealClimate explains:

The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

This won't slow down the skeptics for a millisecond, of course, but there you have it.  The rest of the email stash contains plenty of examples of scientists being annoyed with skeptics and wishing them ill, but that's about it.  For the record, though, I also find skeptics annoying and wish them ill, so the only surprise to me is that the scientists managed to restrain themselves so well even in private.  I don't think I could have kept things so civil.

Dissent of the Day

| Sat Nov. 21, 2009 6:26 PM EST

A regular reader emails to tell me to wake up and smell the mooseburgers:

It's easy as hell to laugh at Palin but I think Democrats are making a big mistake if they don't start taking her much more seriously as a credible challenger to Obama. People are in a sour-as-hell mood and if the economy doesn't pick up dramatically by 2012, Obama is going to be toast. Heaven help our Congressional majority next year.

Yes, Palin speaks in trite, childish platitudes but so do most Americans. Face it, the vast majority of our voters are not exactly rocket scientists and for many of them she will be a perfectly fine alternative to Obama.

Listen, I'm the guy who was convinced the American people would never choose the "amiable dunce" Reagan or the stupendously stupid Bush over Democrats who had IQ scores that couldn't possibly be any less than 30 or 40 points above their opponents'.

Given the state of today's Republican Party, I'd say Palin has an excellent shot at the nomination and if our economy still sucks in 2012 she'll have an excellent shot at beating Obama. So, let's take her for the more serious threat that she actually is and not as some poor joke. Remember, the dullest knife in the drawer is often the quickest to cut us.

I'm pretty sure I disagree.  But let's open up the floor for discussion.  Sarah Palin: joke or serious threat?  Vote in comments.

Reining in Healthcare Costs

| Sat Nov. 21, 2009 4:22 PM EST

Ronald Brownstein on the cost-control measures in the Senate healthcare reform bill:

[Jonathan] Gruber is a leading health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulted by politicians in both parties. He was one of almost two dozen top economists who sent President Obama a letter earlier this month insisting that reform won't succeed unless it "bends the curve" in the long-term growth of health care costs. And, on that front, Gruber likes what he sees in the Reid proposal. Actually he likes it a lot.

"I'm sort of a known skeptic on this stuff," Gruber told me. "My summary is it's really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can't think of a thing to try that they didn't try. They really make the best effort anyone has ever made. Everything is in here....I can't think of anything I'd do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn't have done better than they are doing."

....In their November 17 letter to Obama, the group of economists led by Dr. Alan Garber of Stanford University, identified four pillars of fiscally-responsible health care reform....[Mark] McClellan, the former Bush official and current director of the Engleberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution, was one of the economists who signed the November letter. McClellan has some very practical ideas for improving the Reid bill (more on those below), but generally he echoes Orszag's assessment of it. "It has got all four of those elements in it," McClellan said in an interview. "They kept a lot of the key elements of the Finance bill that I like. It would be good if more could be done, but this is the right direction to go."

McClellan is being honest here: it would be nice if more could be done to rein in costs (it would always be nice if more could be done, wouldn't it?), but the Senate bill is still pretty good.  It includes all the primary elements of healthcare cost control and gets us moving in the right direction.

It's noteworthy how much support healthcare reform has from retired Republicans compared to the zero support it has from active Republicans.  The Senate measure is basically a pretty good bill considering the political environment it's being built in, and lots of Republicans who aren't running for office see that.  But Republicans who are running for office aren't allowed to admit any of this.  Not because the bill is bad, but because their political careers would be ruined by taking any of this stuff seriously.  Sad.

Via Ezra.  As he says, it's a very good, detailed column.  Worth a full read if you want to understand more about how the Senate bill gets the ball rolling on healthcare cost control.

Quote of the Day

| Sat Nov. 21, 2009 1:32 PM EST

From Sarah Palin, after Bill O'Reilly asked her if she thinks she's qualified to handle "the most powerful job in the world":

I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that has to be me.

I've been waiting for this transcript to appear ever since I heard this segment last night.  I started laughing halfway through and couldn't stop, which probably just proves that I'm one of those sneering coastal libertines Palin is talking about.  But there you have it: Palin is qualified to be president because she's got American values and she isn't a spineless elitist.

And yes, I know that I should probably pay less attention to Palin.  Sorry.  I can't help myself.  Her word-salad-straight-from-the-limbic-system approach to life is just too fascinating.  But as long as we're on the subject of elitist condescension toward Palin, check out this part of the O'Reilly interview about Iran:

PALIN: Let's start considering the sanctions that we should have been applying already, especially in this past year. Let's start looking at cutting off their imports of refined petroleum products.

O'REILLY: Does that mean a blockade, a naval blockade?

PALIN: We need to at least be willing to do such a thing and discuss it with our allies. And we need to be working closely with France and Britain, or other allies whom we can count on even.

O'REILLY: But they're already onboard. The primary...

PALIN: They're on board with what though? What were...

O'REILLY: They're onboard with economic sanctions against Iran. Do you know the country that isn't onboard, that's causing all the trouble here?

PALIN: Well, we have to question Russia's commitment to all this also.

O'REILLY: Excellent. Russia is the problem.

Palin was apparently unaware that Britain and France are already on board within beefing up sanctions on Iran, but that's par for the course with her.  Hardly worth mentioning.  But notice O'Reilly's reaction: he starts quizzing her like a big brother.  When she manages to pluck the right answer out her mental note file, he beams and almost pats her on the knee.  "Excellent.  Russia is the problem."

If Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric had pulled something like that, the conservosphere would be apoplectic with rage over their patronizing, elitist treatment of Palin.  Do you think O'Reilly will get the same treatment?  Me neither.

(BTW, I actually give O'Reilly some points for the way he conducted the interview.  Sure, it was basically friendly, but it wasn't fawning, and he did ask some tough questions and then fight back a bit when she delivered mangled platitudes instead of answers.  Overall, pretty good for a Fox host.)