2011 - %3, March

Do Green Cars Just Make People Drive More?

| Mon Mar. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EST
Flickr/chrishammond

Treehugger reports that in Sweden, purchases of fuel-efficient cars are on the rise, but so are emissions. So does this mean that Swedes are actually driving more (and thus creating more emissions) because their new green cars allow them to do so more cheaply?

This question is an example of the Jevons Paradox, which David Owen recently wrote about in the New Yorker: Make something more efficient, and people will use it more. "This effect is usually referred to as 'rebound'—or, in cases where increased consumption more than cancels out any energy savings, as 'backfire,'" he writes. (Owen uses the example of refrigerators and air conditioners in the piece, but the general principle can be applied to anything that consumes energy.)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 7, 2011

Mon Mar. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Engineers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team tie in a time fuse to a detonating-cord firing system during explosives training Feb. 23, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Explosives are a primary tool used by U.S. Army combat engineers. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Wasted Money

| Sun Mar. 6, 2011 1:08 PM EST

I'm curious about something. About a decade ago the LA Community College District floated a series of massive bond issues for building construction. Gale Holland and Michael Finnegan of the LA Times spent 18 months looking into how that money has been spent, and the last of their 6-part series on the building projects is in today's paper. They document boondoggles galore, including some extremely timely questions about the widespread use of politically connected "body shops" who paid the salaries of consultants at seemingly indefensible markups.

But here's what I'm curious about. The district has so far spent $2.6 billion on its construction program. I went through all six parts of the Times series, and if I added things up correctly, they identified about $100 million in wasted money of various kinds. That's about 3.8% of the total.

So is that good or bad? Serious question. If someone told you that a public agency was embarking on a multi-billion dollar building project, and in the end about 96% of the total would end up being used properly and 4% would end up wasted, would you consider that a decent outcome or not? In any big project like this, how much waste should you reasonably expect, once all is said and done?

UPDATE: I added a bit of this in comments, but just to clear up a couple of things.....

Yes, that $100 million is only what the Times uncovered. Maybe there was more. On the other hand, all I did was add up all the numbers in the series, and some of it might not really count as waste. Sometimes construction projects go over budget for perfectly defensible reasons. So that $100 million number could be either high or low.

Oversight of public programs like this is important, and I think the Times series was terrific. I'm glad they were willing to spend the resources on it. Still, whenever I see a piece like this, I automatically think in terms of percentages. Horror stories are worth telling, but I still want to know what the total damage is, and I want to know how that compares to other similar programs. After all, construction projects are famous for running into problems and going over budget, and you'd be foolish not to expect any of that in any big building program. But stories like this never seem to provide that kind of comparison, and it's one that I think is important.

The Week in Sharia: America Dodges a Bullet

| Sat Mar. 5, 2011 3:08 PM EST

What just happened:

  • Nearly 20 states have considered legislation to ban Sharia since the start of 2010—and more than half of those bills were based on the work of one man: Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi. So who is Yerushalmi? And how did his work spread so widely? Read my story here.
  • Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze have your long-read of the week over at Washington Monthly. It's called "How we Train Our Cops to Fear Islam," and it's about exacty that. I have nothing snarky to say about it; just read the piece. While you're at it, check out Justin Elliott's explainer on what Sharia law actually is.
  • This footage from an anti-Islam protest in Orange County is the most disturbing six minutes of video you'll see all week.
  • Congratulations to Missouri and Alabama, which became the 16th and 17th states to consider a ban on Islamic law. When asked to explain his legislation, the sponsor of the Missouri bill referred reporters to Google; the author of the Alabama bill lifted language from Wikipedia. Stay tuned next week, when Iowa considers a bill it found on 4Chan.
  • Florida also got in on the action, introducing a bill to ban the only scary thing that's not actually happening in Florida. A similar effort in the Sunshine State failed last year.
  • Pamela Geller's organization, Stop Islamization of America, was officially designated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Geller, in typically non-linear fashion, responded by posting the divorce papers of the SPLC's founder on her blog, and then called the label a "badge of honor." Geller's group joined the ranks of other illustrious groups like the United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and Independent Skins Southwest.
  • The Muslim Terry Jones, British cleric Anjem Choudary, was supposed to hold a rally in front of the White House this week calling for a global Caliphate under strict Sharia law. Also scheduled to attend: the Christian Anjem Choudary, Orlando pastor Terry Jones, who organized a counter-rally. Choudary ultimately cancelled, much to the dismay of Glenn Beck, who had argued that the event would be "the moment that I've been saying for five years." It wasn't.

Bradley Manning

| Sat Mar. 5, 2011 3:00 PM EST

No blogging for me this weekend, but I'd just like to second Jane Hamsher, Mark Kleiman, Glenn Greenwald, and everyone else who's appalled at the way we're treating Bradley Manning. If he's guilty of a crime, then try him and sentence him. Until then, as Mark says, "This is a total disgrace. It shouldn’t be happening in this country. You can’t be unaware of this, Mr. President. Silence gives consent."

How To Keep Your Kids Safe Online

| Sat Mar. 5, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Terry/Flickr

As a parent, I worry a lot about what my kid is doing in the real world, but now I find I'm having to navigate the reality of him having an "online presence," which makes me shudder even to write. Aside from watching him like a hawk, how can I teach him how to have good web etiquette, and make sure he's safe, especially when it's hard for me to keep up with technology as it is!?

~Needs e-ducation

I was browsing Facebook about a month ago, when I noticed the suggestion that I friend my 7-year-old niece. I thought, there's no way that's actually her, especially because the Facebook age limit to join is 14. But it was! She was posing as a 17-year-old, and that alone was creepy enough for me to passive-aggressively report her to Facebook, which didn't do any good, much to my chagrin. But I pressed a button! What more do you want from me?

This is, perhaps, why I shouldn't have kids. Thankfully, I talked to some folks who have, and they had far more useful knowledge to impart than, "Panic! Then mope."

Walk the Walk

Don't want your kid playing Angry Birds at the dinner table? Then don't do it yourself. The same goes for texting or checking your e-mail obsessively. As my friend Julie put it, "Kids do what we do, and not what we say -- so we try to set good examples of being people who prefer face-time to screen-time, but we usually fail. Alas."

Pay Attention

Friend your kids on social networks if they're on them. You don't have to go all Sherlock Holmes on them, but keep an eye on their activities. A friend of mine's 9-year-old daughter is on Facebook, and before I could panic about that, my friend told me how she monitors all of her daughter's activities. "She doesn't use her full name or any info, or a real profile pic. She also rarely checks it, and when she does she posts passive aggressive Farmville messages like, If you care anything about animals AT ALL, please give this panther a home!"

Read the rest of my online etiquette column at SF Weekly

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Corn on "Hardball": Will Birther Lies Hurt Huckabee?

Fri Mar. 4, 2011 8:19 PM EST

David Corn and Ron Reagan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the political ramifications of Mike Huckabee's lies regarding President Obama's childhood.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [5]

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 6:33 PM EST

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Do Liberal Viewers Keep Glenn Beck on the Air?

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 5:52 PM EST

[Update: Friday afternoon, I spoke with Angelo Carusone of the @StopBeck effort, who has serious misgivings about some of this post. Click here to read the excellent points he made.]

Over at his corner of the site, Kevin Drum today discusses what he calls the "Glenn Beck Vortex," which has a couple of premises: that America's favorite bonkers TV entertainer has seen his day come and go; that he's scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of producing Byzantine conspiracy theories; and that journalists who cover him do so at the risk of their own sanity. Can't argue with any of that. But coming on the heels of Beck's latest abysmal ratings report, it got me thinking: Is it actually concerned liberals who are keeping the Beckapalooza afloat? The numbers suggest it may be so.

Consider this:

In January, [Beck's] FNC show averaged 1.76 million total viewers during the 5 p.m. hour, according to Nielsen estimates—down 39 percent compared to January 2010.

And he scored just 397,000 viewers in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, a 48 percent slide.

February did not show much improvement. Through Feb. 27 his Fox show is down 26 percent in total viewers for the year (2.06 million compared to 2.89 million last year) and off 30 percent in the demo, averaging 501,000 25-to-54-year-olds vs. 760,000 last year.

Here's the salient fact: Less than one-quarter of Beck's viewers are ages 25 to 54. Assuming the number of youngs who watch him is negligible—a pretty safe assumption, I think—that means that dang near to 80 percent of his viewership is in or around senior-citizen territory. Perhaps it's no surprise that the olds like Beck. But it gets me wondering: Who exactly makes up that 25 to 54 demographic?

Friday Cat Blogging - 4 March 2011

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 4:13 PM EST

Today's catblogging is dedicated to that traditional favorite, cats inside of things. On the left, Inkblot is peering out of the box my new desk chair came in. It's a drafting stool, which allows me to sit higher and hopefully ease the strain on my arm and shoulders caused by typing and mousing too much. On the right, Domino is staring suspiciously outside her grocery bag because she's attracted a visitor. This means everyone gets a double dose of Inkblot this week, but who'd complain about that?