2012 - %3, July

Needed: An Econobox With a Nice Stick Shift

| Sun Jul. 8, 2012 11:41 AM EDT

Here's a Sunday question for y'all. A bit of a long shot, maybe, but here goes.

I'm thinking it's time for a new car. The repair bills on my current one are starting to piss me off. But here's the thing: my current car has an automatic transmission, the first one I've ever had, and I'm thinking I'd like to go back to a stick. It's just more fun to drive. However, I'm also planning to get a basic high-mileage econobox, and there's nothing more annoying than a mushy, vague stick. Or an overly touchy one. So here's the question: does anyone have advice on an econobox with a good manual transmission? Nice clutch, short-throw on the stick, finds gears easily, etc.? Help me out, hivemind.

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Dog Groomers on California Occupational Licensing Radar

| Sat Jul. 7, 2012 9:35 AM EDT

Here is today's Yglesias bait:

California already licenses furniture upholsterers, private investigators and recreation guides. Now it wants to regulate pet groomers.

In a state that leads the country in the number of professions requiring a license, a bill moving through the Legislature has struck a nerve among those who clip Fido and Fluffy. Sen. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), author of the proposed legislation....says the measure, known as SB 969, is intended to protect pets from untrained groomers. He said he drafted the bill after learning about lacerations, broken bones — and in one case, death — that some animals suffered during trips to their barbers.

"The pets really are the silent victims," Vargas said. "They can't tell you what happens."

What's unfortunate, I guess, is that this would all be unobjectionable if it were a voluntary certification program. If you want to pay more to take Fido to a certified groomer, go right ahead. If you want to save money, then don't. But critics are almost certainly right that a voluntary license would become a required license in pretty short order. After all, Vargas's proposal may be for a voluntary license right now, but that's only because he's failed to get support for a required license in the past.

What's more, if the program were voluntary I'm not sure why you'd need the state involved in the first place. If there's really a demand for this kind of certification, it seems likely that a trade association of some kind would set something up. And if there isn't, then why bother?

Quick Read: "Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?" by Jesse Bering

| Sat Jul. 7, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?...and Other Reflections on Being Human

By Jesse Bering

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

I don't buy the notion that couples have especially vigorous sex following a woman's infidelity so that the guy's penis can scoop out his reproductive rival's sperm. Then again, author-psychologist Jesse Bering predicted I wouldn't. But even skeptics of evolutionary psychology will find much to appreciate in this collection of Bering's Scientific American and Slate essays on human behavior. With a frank, funny, and open-minded approach, he asks burning questions: Why do we grow pubic hair? Can a person have a genuine sexual preference for animals? If nothing else, they make great cocktail-party icebreakers: "So, did you know semen might have antidepressant qualities?"

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

Bill Burton Explains Why Super PACs Have Such Lame Names

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 4:37 PM EDT

When I read Robert Draper's piece this morning about Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC, the first thought that popped into my head was, "Why do all these super PACs have such lame names?" As it turns out, though, PUSAA founder Bill Burton answered my question about halfway through:

It took several weeks for Burton and Sweeney to come up with a name for their start-up. To their irritation, every slogan they considered had already been trademarked by Republicans. “We gave our lawyer 10 more names,” Burton recalls. “Then like 50. We’re literally trying every combination of whatever. You can’t come up with a name that has the word ‘future’ in it that the Republicans don’t control. Romney’s Restore Our Future — that doesn’t even make sense, and that’s probably why they were able to get it.

So there you go.

Friday Cat Blogging - 6 July 2012

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 2:23 PM EDT

On the left, Inkblot is entranced by a paper bag. Why? Is it because it was once full of takeout food from El Cholo, so it smelled inviting?

No. It's because Domino had taken up residence in its lovely, aromatic interior. This all went pear shaped a few minutes after I took this picture, and I really wish I'd still had the camera handy so I could have shot a video for you all. Basically, Inkblot kept inching closer to the bag until Domino had had enough, at which point she started hissing and batting at the bag. Every time she did, the bag made a sudden crinkling sound and Inkblot jumped out of skin. This continued for quite a while, with Inkblot never quite working up the courage to take a swat at Domino. He just kept poking his nose forward, and then suddenly jumping back, over and over and over. Words don't do it justice, but it probably wouldn't have played well on the campaign trail anyway. It was not his finest moment.

Obama is Already Doing What Everyone Wants Obama To Do

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 1:46 PM EDT

Last night I read an op-ed by Jonathan Rauch suggesting that President Obama should (a) adopt the Simpson-Bowles long-term deficit reduction plan, (b) propose some short-term fiscal stimulus, and (c) ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling for at least two years, so we don't go through last year's idiocy again for a while.

I thought about writing a response, mainly wondering why so many people fetishize Simpson-Bowles even though there are plenty of better plans out there, but I got lazy and didn't. And a good thing! Today Ezra Klein makes what's really the most obvious point of all:

Here’s the thing: The White House already released this plan. It was called “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future: The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction.”

They sent it to the Special Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — better known as ‘the Supercommittee’ — back in September 2011. It included a large short-term stimulus in the form of the American Jobs Act, a longer-term fiscal retrenchment component based loosely on Simpson-Bowles, and, because the ‘Supercommittee’ was empowered to raise the debt ceiling when it greenlighted a plan, an end to further debt-ceiling shenanigans. You can read the whole thing here (pdf). The White House continued to push this proposal in its 2013 budget, which included most of the stimulus and deficit-reduction proposals included in this plan.

I don't think this kind of plan is the political winner Rauch thinks it is. I suspect he's mistaking Beltway conventional wisdom (and his own preferences) for the preferences of the rest of the country. But that's arguable. What's not really arguable is that Ezra is right: Obama has basically already done what Rauch wants him to do. We can quibble over the details — Is the AJA a big enough stimulus? Does Obama's plan reduce long-term spending enough? — but any way you look at it, Obama's plan is roughly what Rauch says he wants to see.

So why doesn't he know about it? Probably because it never got any love from the pundit class and it died as soon as Obama sent it to Congress. Nonetheless, Beltway centrists continue to think that if only Obama proposed another plan just like the one that already sank like a stone, this time it would really catch fire. But we never learn why.

In any case, here's my guess. The Rauch/Obama/Simpson/Bowles plan is going nowhere because (a) spending cuts are unpopular, (b) the masses don't really believe in Keynesian stimulus, and (c) the masses also don't really believe in promises to reduce the deficit "a few years down the road." That makes plans like this a very heavy lift. Whatever it is that voters are looking for, this isn't it.

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"Savages": Oliver Stone Gets His Groove Back

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 1:37 PM EDT
"Savages" (2012).

Savages
Universal Pictures
127 minutes

Let's be real for a minute: Oliver Stone has been going through a rough dry-spell that began in the late '90s. Since his foray into neo-noir with 1997's U-Turn, his work has reflected a severe shortfall of mojo. Any Given Sunday was a letdown. World Trade Center was a passionless ode. W., though unfairly maligned, couldn't hold a glim to Stone's past political offerings. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was a solid "meh." And Alexander—along with its two director's cuts—was maybe one of the worst things to happen to anyone, anywhere, ever. And when he wasn't helming regrettable dramas, Stone could be found crafting facepalm-worthy love letters to Hugo Chavez, and working on a 10-hour, $5 million documentary for Showtime. (The documentary, titled The Untold History of the United States, will take an empathetic look at Mao, Stalin, and Hitler—and it all sounds so gruelingly Oliver Stone-y.)

But with Savages, Stone snaps out of his slump, long enough to make one intoxicating, gory, gut-punch of a movie.

The film, an adaptation of Don Winslow's best-selling novel of the same name, takes place in the medicinal-marijuana haven of Southern California, against a backdrop of seductive indolence. The plot is your average love story: Boy meets girl. Boy's best friend, too, meets girl. Boys and girl enter into a luscious three-way relationship, while boys operate a popular cannabis outlet under the protection of a crooked DEA agent. Powerful Mexican drug lords get angry with boys, kidnap girl, abscond with girl across the border. Boys go after cartel with assault rifles blazing, aiming to rescue girl so that they may return to the normalcy of their loving, polyandrous freakshow. Sadistic bloodletting ensues.

Watch: Reason's Nick Gillespie Questions James Ridgeway About Solitary Confinement

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 1:36 PM EDT
A mock solitary cell erected for a recent Senate hearing on the subject.

Fans of James Ridgeway, our stalwart senior correspondent, already know of his deep interest in a topic that most Americans prefer not to think about: America's routine use of long-term solitary confinement in its jails and prisons. An estimated 80,000 Americans are held in some form of solitary, he reports, despite evidence that it has profound negative physical and psychological effects on people and does nothing to make prisons safer—one of the primary rationales for its continuing use.

Among Ridgeway's Mother Jones articles and posts on the topic is the story of Troy Anderson, a mentally ill prisoner who has spent years in solitary with no end in sight; this recent check-in on the two remaining members of the so-called Angola 3—men who have spent 40 years in solitary because Burl Cain, Angola Prison's notorious leader (whom Ridgeway profiles in "God's Own Warden"), was angered by their political rabble-rousing; and a Q&A with Sarah Shourd, one of three American hikers who were captured by Iranian soldiers in 2008, accused of spying, and put in solitary for 14 months. You can browse all of Jim's articles on his author page.

In this clip, Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.com and Reason.TV speaks with Ridgeway about his reporting for us and for the specialty blog Solitary Watch.

New Record Low Snow and Ice in Arctic

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

Hudson Bay melting ice and snow. Left: 06 April 2012. Right: 05 June 2012:eft NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen using data obtained from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE). Hudson Bay melting ice and snow: (left) 06 April 2012; (right) 05 June 2012: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen using data obtained from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE). The latest Arctic report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is out and it's a sobering read. Records were broken in the month of June on two fronts:

  1. The largest ice loss in the satellite record for the month of June: of 1.10 million square miles (2.86 million square kilometers)
  2. The lowest June snow cover on the ground in the Northern Hemisphere: falling 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) below the previous record low set in 2010

 Monthly June ice extent for 1979 to 2012 shows a decline of 3.7 percent per decade: National Snow and Ice Data CenterMonthly June ice extent for 1979 to 2012 shows a decline of 3.7 percent per decade: National Snow and Ice Data Center

On the sea ice front, the June loss was especially rapid (I wrote more about that here).

It was facilitated in part by remarkably high atmospheric temperatures—up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) above the 1981-2000 average over northern Eurasia and southern Baffin Bay. These temperatures were measured ~3,000 (914 meters) feet above the ocean's surface.

That made the June 2012 ice extent the second lowest in the satellite record; 2010 is still the record holder.

This year's rapid ice loss contributed to a linear rate of decline for June Arctic ice at 3.7 percent per decade since the satellite record began (graph above).

June 2012 set a record low for Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent. Map shows snow cover anomalies in the Northern Hemisphere. National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy Rutgers University Snow Lab.Record low snow-cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere June 2012 compared to 1971-2000 average. National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy Rutgers University Snow Lab.

Snow cover over the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere also retreated rapidly to the lowest levels ever recorded for the date by the end of June.

By then the shores of the entire Arctic Ocean coastline were basically snow free (map above). From the NSIDC report:

This rapid and early retreat of snow cover exposes large, darker underlying surfaces to the sun early in the season, fostering higher air temperatures and warmer soils.

 

Annual global temperature anomalies, combined for land and ocea, from 1901 to 2000: NASA | National Climatic Data CenterAnnual global temperature anomalies combined for land and ocean from 1901 to 2000: NOAA | National Climatic Data CenterThat positive feedback loop between warming/melting landmasses and warming/melting sea ice will contribute to the trend in the graph above (shown in degrees C).

You can see how the global mean combined temperature over land and ocean has risen a whopping ~1 degree Fahrenheit in a century. And that only includes up to the year 2000. The biggest records continue to be serially broken after 2000.

Nobody Takes Conservative Wingnuttery at Face Value

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

Jon Chait calls our attention to Robert Draper's piece in the New York Times Magazine this week about Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC run by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Here's a lovely little excerpt:

Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.

So there you have it. Voters simply refused to believe that the bare facts about the Ryan plan could possibly be true. Chait is cautious about what this means: "I wouldn’t overread this and assume that the Republicans have found the ultimate wormhole, advocating policies so outlandishly unpopular that opponents can’t persuade voters they’re real."

I agree. Sort of. But I do think that it points to something real: Over the past couple of decades, Republican leaders have become such stone ideologues, and have made outrageous proposals such a standard part of their stump speeches, that a lot of voters just don't take them seriously anymore. They view these things less as actual plans than as statements meant to show group affiliation. As the bar gets raised year after year, Republicans have to say ever more outrageous things to demonstrate that they're real conservatives, but it's still just blather. They don't actually intend to do any of this stuff if they get elected.

Independents might discover — too late — that they're wrong about this. But I suspect that's how they treat a lot of this stuff: as mere rote catechisms, professions of faith not meant to be taken literally.