2011 - %3, February

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 8, 2011

Tue Feb. 8, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Helicopter repairer Spc. Zachary Provenzano sprays down a Chinook helicopter in preparation for its return from Iraq to the U.S. this month. His unit, D Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is scheduled to redeploy to Fort Riley, Kan., this spring. Provenzano and other Chinook helicopter repairers are charged with breaking down the aircraft so that they can be inspected by customs officials and flown to the states. Photo via US Army.

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Warning: Smurfs Can Be Bad For Your Bank Account

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 1:56 AM EST

The Washington Post reports today on problems with an iPhone game for children called Smurfs' Village, which allows kids to "build a complete Smurfs village from scratch":

Over the winter break from school, 8-year-old Madison worked to dress up her simple mushroom home on the iPhone game Smurfs' Village. In doing so, she also amassed a $1,400 bill from Apple....But like a growing number of parents, Madison's mom, Stephanie Kay, was shocked to find very real charges from iTunes show up in her e-mail box days later.

....The practice is troubling parents and public interest groups, who say $99 for a wagon of Smurfberries or $19 for a bucket of snowflakes doesn't have any business in a children's game. Though a password is needed to make a purchase, critics say that the safeguards aren't strong enough and that there are loopholes.

Loopholes? You've got to be kidding. What possible justification can a game developer (Capcom in this case) have for charging real money for virtual objects under any circumstances? If you can sucker adults into doing this, that's one thing. But these are games for kids. Of course they think the charges are just play money. So would most parents. What person in his right mind would even consider the possibility that a corporation would charge a hundred real dollars for a wagon of virtual Smurfberries?

Come to think of it, this actually sounds fairly predatory even for adult games, though I suppose I'm being hopelessly naive and elderly on that score. But kids? Somebody please tell me I'm not crazy to be genuinely shocked over this.

Bad News for Charter Schools

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 1:26 AM EST

The New York Times reports today that not everyone who graduates from high school in New York is ready for college. That's no surprise. But the news for charter schools was pretty grim:

Statewide, 77 percent of students graduate from high school....A state committee determined last year that a 75 on the English Regents and a 80 on the math Regents roughly predicted that students would get at least a C in a college-level course in the same subject. Scores below that meant students had to often take remediation classes before they could do college-level work. Only 41 percent of New York State graduates in 2009 achieved those scores.

....The data also cast new doubt on the ability of charter schools to outperform their traditional school peers. Statewide, only 10 percent of students at charters graduated in 2009 at college-ready standards, though 49 percent received diplomas.

Statewide in New York, about 50% of high school graduates are college ready. In charter schools, about 20% of graduates are college ready. This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, since we don't know whether the charter schools had the same quality of incoming students as the public schools. Most likely they didn't, as the lower graduation rate shows. Still, that's a helluva gap. It's not good news for the charter school movement.

Gee, I Wonder Why People Think Obama Is a Muslim?

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 12:00 AM EST

A tweet from the editor of National Review:

Wait a second. This can't possibly come as a surprise, can it? Has Lowry watched Fox or listened to some of his, um, less inhibited fellow righties at all lately? Hell, it's a miracle there are still a few conservatives left who don't believe Obama is a Muslim.

Both Lowry and Bill Kristol1 have gone after Glenn Beck for his nutball conspiracy theorizing over the past week about caliphates and the Muslim Brotherhood. That's good news, because someone on the right needs to do this. Now it's time for them to do the same to anyone who helps prolong the maybe-Obama-is-a-Muslim-maybe-he's-not-it's-kinda-hard-to-know meme. Then they can work up to disowning Sarah Palin.

1It was sort of amusing this afternoon to watch Beck take shots at Kristol on his show, immediately followed by a commercial break extolling the virtues of the Weekly Standard.

Record Low Sea Ice

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 9:11 PM EST
Credit: NASA.Credit: NASA.
 
Despite record cold in the US and Europe this winter, the Arctic has experienced unusual warmth. Sea ice has been slow to grow.
 
The red line in the image above shows the average January sea ice extent from 1979 through 2000. The white marks the average Arctic sea ice concentration for January 2011—the lowest measured extent since satellite record keeping began.
 
Photo by Pink floyd88 a, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Photo by Pink floyd88 a, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
 
From the Earth Observatory page:
The National Snow and Ice Data Center [NSIDC] offered two possible explanations. One reason is the Arctic Oscillation (AO), a seesaw pattern of differences in atmospheric pressure. In "positive" mode, the AO includes high pressure over the mid-latitudes and low pressure over the Arctic, setting up wind patterns that trap cold air in the far North. In "negative" mode, air pressure isn’t quite as low over the Arctic and isn’t quite as high over the mid-latitudes. This enables cold air to creep south and relatively warm air to move north.

Autism Rates Triple in California Schools

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 8:52 PM EST

Joanna Lin over at the CaliforniaWatch.org highlights the latest findings on the rise of autism among California's schools. Nationally, the rates of autism have been on the rise as well, although they vary from state to state. We still don't know what causes autism, but as Kevin Drum has argued here, and here, we do know for sure that vaccines aren't it. Meanwhile, in California, Lin writes:

"Special education students with autism in California have more than tripled in number since 2002, even as overall special education enrollment has remained relatively flat, according to an analysis of state education data.

More than 680,000 students—11 percent of all California public school students—are enrolled in special education. The number of students diagnosed with autism climbed from 17,508 in 2002 to 59,690 in 2010, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health found.

Students with autism represented 8.8 percent of all special education enrollment last year, up from 2.6 percent in 2002. Other health impairments—defined by the state as "limited strength, vitality or alertness, due to chronic or acute health problems," such as a heart condition, asthma, epilepsy or leukemia—are also on the rise, comprising 7.9 percent of disabilities among special education students.

 

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Quote of the Day: Please Cut Someone Else's Earmark

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 7:20 PM EST

From Steve Tribble, the county judge executive of Kentucky's Christian County, where a planned road project is now at risk thanks to the tea party-inspired ban on earmarks:

I do agree we have to cut from somewhere. I am against some earmarks [But] not the good ones. I can promise you this is not a road to nowhere.

Well, yeah, nobody wants their earmarks cut, do they? As the story goes on to explain, "Scores of lawmakers are going to find themselves explaining to the people back home why their bridges will not be finished, their rape victim programs canceled before they started, their federal requirements ignored." Have fun, folks!

Why Do Men Write All the Book Reviews?

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 5:46 PM EST

VIDA informed us last week that most major magazines publish a lot more book reviews by men than by women, as well as a lot more reviews of books by men than by women. Why? Ruth Franklin tallied up the books published by a sample of major publishers and concluded that the problem probably isn't with the magazines themselves:

Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below.

....I speculated that independents—more iconoclastic, publishing more work in translation, and perhaps less focused on the bottom line—would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong....Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent....Melville House came in at 20 percent....Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent.

....Now we can better understand why fewer books by women than men are getting reviewed. In fact, these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published.

I remember a few years ago reading a piece by an op-ed page editor — Gail Collins? — saying that her submissions ran something like 10:1 in favor of men. She wanted to publish more stuff by women, she said, but just didn't have much to choose from. In the case of op-eds, one obvious answer is simply to try harder: solicit pieces from good women and try to improve the balance that way. This has a good chance of success, since op-eds only take a few hours to write. But I don't know enough about the industry to know if that would work in book publishing. Books, after all, need a lot more than a couple of phone calls to solicit. Any publishing pros care to weigh in on this?

Jeb Bush: The GOP's Man in 2012?

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 4:17 PM EST

Forget Tim Pawlenty, or Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin. The best Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential race isn't any of the names being batted around right now. The man the GOP needs is Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the younger brother of George W. Bush.

At least that's the argument laid out today by Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review. Many of Lowry's eight reasons why Jeb should run in 2012—and not in 2016, as Bush has said he would—are well-worn: While Obama appears to be beatable, "there is no true frontrunner in the race to challenge him," Lowry writes. Jeb is "not just another Bush." Loathing of the Bush family, at its peak after George W.'s eight disastrous years in office, has largely subsided since Obama took over. And that there's no "too soon" when it comes to running for the president. (Case in point: Obama and Bill Clinton.)

Lowry's also right in pointing out that this year's batch of GOP candidates is a weak one. But in four years, Republican Party starlets such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie will have much-needed experience under their belts and, provided they avoid major controversy between now and then, could pose a serious threat to any Democratic candidate no matter how popular he or she is.

But then there's Lowry's assessment of Jeb Bush on the issue of immigration, a hot-button subject in Jeb's home state of Florida. Lowry jabs Bush on immigration, writing, "Jeb will take his lumps on immigration (at NR, we'll look forward to administering some of them, and trying to change his mind)." That's because Bush's position on immigration reform—which includes a path to US citizenship for illegal immigrations, or "amnesty"—is significantly more centrist than the National Review's, which centers more around ideas like better border fencing, or a national ID card, or even a draconian Arizona-style immigration crackdown.

On the other hand, Jeb Bush's reasons for demanding the kind of immigration reform that makes conservatives squirm is obvious. As recent Census data showed, the Latino electorate in this country continues to grow not only in places like Florida, but also in North Carolina and Virginia. Courting Latino voters is more crucial than ever before. Jeb gets this. As he wrote in a recent Miami Herald op-ed, the 38 percent of Latino voters who chose Republicans in the 2010 midterms is not enough for the GOP to win going forward. "Conservatives have to commit to serious and sustained engagement" with the Latino community, Bush argued. He added: "The level of investment in outreach today is inextricably linked to the continued success of the center-right movement."

Whether Americans would be ready to elect a third Bush in 2012 remains to be seen. But make no mistake: If he does enter the race, Bush will be a candidate to be reckoned with.

Chrysler's Deplorable "Detroit" Super Bowl Ad

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 4:10 PM EST

[UPDATE: The AP reports that Chrysler's allegedly heartfelt ode to Detroit was the brainchild of a Portland, Oregon, ad agency whose other major client is Nike. The automaker shifted its ad accounts to the Portland shop after its previous PR firm, the storied BBDO, ended its Detroit operations. Which probably had something to do with the car manufacturer's stiffing BBDO to the tune of $58 million.]

In case you missed it, Chrysler—a car corporation that's better known for bailouts, buyouts, and management shuffles than reliable cars—somehow succeeded in winning hearts and minds last night with its two-minute Super Bowl ad buy, the longest and most expensive in the Big Game's marketing history. "Imported From Detroit," the $9 million ad, starred not a car but the beleaguered Michigan burg, its troubles, and its market-anointed favorite son, rapper Eminem, declaring: "This is Motor City, and this is what we do." The attempt to jumble Detroit's urban problems and its big-name corporate overseers into one orgasmic pulse of hip-hop-infused Americanism apparently succeeded. "Did you see it? Or, if you're a Detroiter, did you feel it?" genuflected one columnist for the city's dead-tree media. That made Ad Age's gushing sound downright subtle: "What starts out as a down-on-our-luck tribute to a broken city morphs into a defiant, we're-back rallying cry."

But there's a lot to dislike here: the fact that a major bailout recipient is dishing beaucoup bucks for a one-off ad to boost its image; the cynical racism (or at least colonialism) of positioning Chrysler as a tough, gritty, 8 Mile-style brand that's perfect for what marketers call the "urban core" demographic; and using Detroit poverty porn to hawk your product while simultaneously trying to deride the media's recent Detroit poverty porn. (To be fair, maybe Chrysler ended up with a crappy commercial because the word's out on Madison Avenue that Chrysler also counts its advertising firms among the many parties it screws over. One of its previous ad execs complained that Chrysler "makes cars which no one wants and continues to throw money at them...and now, they want us to bail them out.)

But most appalling is the idea that Chrysler is one of the great things about gritty Detroit and America, when in fact it's one of the corporate locusts that choked the city and nation purple with its credit-backed gobbling of skilled labor and its excretion of abandoned worker plants. It's as if some Wall Street marketer hired by Chrysler was stuck at his social-worker sister's apartment in West Harlem and skimmed her copy of the November/December Mother Jones while she was preparing two cups of kombucha in the kitchen. Because, clearly, the creators of this ad read Charlie LeDuff's amazing elegy for his hometown...and, clearly, they didn't get it at all.