2012 - %3, October

Mitt Romney Wants to "Indict" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 9:32 AM EDT

I'm just curious. Has this passage from the debate last night gotten any attention in conservative circles? It's Mitt Romney explaining what he'd do to Iran aside from tightening sanctions further:

Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariahs they are around the world. The same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.

Can you imagine the howls from the Drudge/Rush/Fox axis if Obama — or any other Democrat — had said that? Their contempt for legal proceedings at The Hague is pretty well known, and the idea that a president of the United States would make such impotent action a centerpiece of his Iran strategy would elicit withering scorn. National Review would splash it on its cover, the Weekly Standard would write a hysterical editorial, Drudge would bring out his siren, and Rush would spend hours harping on it. "The Hague" would become yet another in a long line of conservative pet rocks, to go along with Fast & Furious and Obama's removal of the Churchill bust from the White House.

And yet, I didn't notice any conservatives taking issue with this last night. Am I wrong about that? Or is the hack gap every bit as big as I think it is?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Book Review: Sri Lankan Civil War Refracted in "Island of a Thousand Mirrors"

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 5:08 AM EDT
Nayomi Munaweera

It was only one of the many headlines on foreign conflict that file rushed, largely unobserved, through the American news machine: "Sri Lanka frees Tamil Tiger leader," the Daily News announced last week, by way of Agence-France Presse. The last leader of the Tamil Tigers, the separatist group that fought a brutal civil war with the Sri Lankan military in suicide bombings, civilian mutilations, and child soldiers for more than three decades, was to be released without charges.

But where bone-dry agency reports fail, fiction can work to fill in some of the emotional blanks. From this particular war, one marked by 100,000 deaths and countless broken lives in atrocities committed by both sides, first-time author Nayomi Munaweera has published a lush family saga in a Queen's English lilt, told largely from the perspective of a Sinhalese woman who emigrates as a child, mid-conflict, to Los Angeles, and returns to Sri Lanka as an adult.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors reads quickly, though it's unsparing. With the same, rich strokes she uses to evoke exquisiteness in preparation of coconut sambola, Munaweera, who was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Nigeria, describes rape, massacre, and all matters of wartime evisceration in pulsing, sensory detail. In one breath, it's as much a swift inhale of trauma as it is a romantic epic, embracing both pain and nostalgia from earlier times. In the style of García Márquez or Allende, the story traces love lines from 19th century generations—then surfaces in the recent past, when the narrator goes back to Sri Lanka only to encounter new tragedy.

But there's another critical aspect of the novel that saves it, perhaps, from a narrow take on sprawling devastation. Munaweera doesn't just stick to the story of one Sinhalese family—she also writes from the mind and body of a Tamil woman who, after being brutally raped, joins the ranks of the Tamil Tigers. While the transition could be received as abrupt, it's also a welcome narrative in a story that refuses to sum up, or limit impact felt to one side.

Still, it might be the parts of the novel that deal with trauma indirectly that leave the largest impression. I return to one moment when the narrator, driving to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, describes the car moving through a migrating cloud of "a million suicidal butterflies:"

"In the front seat, La holds her head in her hands. Shiva kneads her knee. She says, 'Why are they doing this?' in a thick strangled voice. And we can only shake our heads, struck dumb by the massacre."

In this way, Munaweera's fiction succeeds in flushing life into the numbers—the hundreds of thousands living in diaspora, as well as hundreds dead in suicide bombings—that have come into refracted light.

Mitt Romney, Defender of Spanking?

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 5:08 AM EDT

Mitt Romney is a man of many pledges. He's pledged to sign a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He's pledged to appoint a presidential commission to investigate the intimidation of gay marriage foes. He's pledged to "look at every government program and ask this question: Is this so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" But over the last few weeks, as he's tried to move to the center and reneged on many of his most contentious past promises, there is one pledge he hasn't backed away from. It involves spanking.

In July, the GOP presidential nominee wrote a letter to Virginia conservative activist Michael Farris, an evangelical power broker in the critical swing state, outlining his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits ratifying nations to protect children from discrimination. "My position on that convention is unequivocal: I would oppose Senate approval of the convention, and would not sign the convention for final ratification," Romney wrote. "I believe that the best safeguard for the well-being and protection of children is the family, and that the primary safeguards for the legal rights of children in America is the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the states."

Debate Reax - 22 October 2012

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 11:05 PM EDT

Watching Sean Hannity on Fox, I'm sure not feeling much excitement about Romney's performance. He spent five minutes talking to Sarah Palin, and they spent most of the time expressing disappointment about what Romney didn't say. "He just didn't have time to make all the points he needed to," Palin sighed. In the end, they used nearly the entire segment imagining the attacks Romney should have made, rather than defending what he did say. I'm not surprised, since Romney went out of his way to be as un-Foxlike as possible on the warmongering front.

I'm not sure if this will be the line of the night, but Obama was obviously prepared for Romney to repeat his tired talking point that "our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917." I guess Romney just couldn't resist. But Obama zinged back immediately:

Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.

Not only is this a good line, but it made Romney look naive and childish, dishing out puerile talking points without really understanding what they mean.

The CBS snap poll of uncommitted voters gave the debate to Obama, 53%-23%. CNN's poll of all debate viewers (which tilts Republican) showed Obama winning 48%-40%. PPP's poll of swing state voters had Obama winning 53%-42%.

For my money, Obama's best moment came after Romney hauled out his "apology tour" trope. The transcript doesn't do it justice. On paper it sounds good, but his delivery made it great. He sounded just a smidge outraged by the whole thing, which was exactly the right tone.

On MSNBC, Steve Schmidt says he thinks Romney passed the "commander-in-chief test." I'm not so sure about that. I don't think this debate hurt him badly, but I sure don't think he looked especially ready to take over America's foreign policy.

Mark Kleiman: "Obama landed some heavy blows, while Romney maundered; in a sane world, Obama would count as the clear winner. In the actual world, more or less a draw. Romney’s capacity not to notice when he’s had a hole blown in him is astounding." I suspect that's a little too pessimistic. I think most viewers probably noticed Romney's inability to articulate any real policy differences with Obama.

Chuck Todd: Republicans "aren't claiming victory, just saying he passed a bar." That sounds about right. Also, "Foreign policy heavyweights were disappointed, didn't feel like he articulated anything."

Andrew Sprung: "As I expected, Romney brought Moderate Mitt to this debate. Practically the first word out of his mouth was "peace" — and throughout, he stressed that he wanted to foster peace....Now, Mitt is the one pushing economic aid in the Muslim world, using sweet persuasion to defuse extremism, fostering a new ally in Syria, rebuilding a relationship with Pakistan. He even had the chutzpah to suggest that he was the one more likely to bring about a Israeli-Palestinian settlement. He portrayed China as a potential partner, implying they'd just brush off being labeled a currency manipulator."

Andrew Sullivan thinks Romney did better than I did: "For Romney, he made no massive mistakes. No Gerald Ford moments. And since the momentum of this race is now his, if now faltering a little, a defeat on points on foreign policy will be an acceptable result. But this was Obama's debate; and he reminded me again of how extraordinarily lucky this country has been to have had him at the helm in this new millennium."

Hilarious line of the night comes from Sean Hannity: "Marines still use bayonets, so maybe somebody should educate the president about how the military works." Seriously? Apparently so. Later on Hannity was crowing about the Marines using horses in Afghanistan too. This just reeks of desperation.

Republicans are spinning hard to make this sound like an Obama debacle, but if you read between the lines, conservative reaction to the debate hasn't been very positive. Romney decided — probably with good reason — that he needed to be extremely restrained tonight, and this meant that he barely mentioned any of the Republican pet rocks that keep the base so riled up. No Churchill bust. No failure to meet with Netanyahu. No attacks over Benghazi. Only a bare mention of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt. This has left conservatives mostly mooning about what Romney should have said and relitigating Benghazi all over again. They think Obama has proven himself the weakest world leader since Neville Chamberlain, and they just don't understand why Romney didn't mop up the floor with him.

The conventional wisdom, such as it is, is that Romney took this tack because he needs to build support among women, and bellicosity doesn't play well with that demographic. Maybe so. We'll see if that works out for him. But it sure has left a long trail of despondent conservatives behind him.

Debate Liveblogging - 22 October 2012

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 8:00 PM EDT

WRAP-UP: It felt to me like Mitt Romney struggled a lot tonight. His problem was simple: he wanted to draw a clear distinction with Obama on foreign policy, but he just couldn't because he didn't want to seem overly bellicose. As a result, he opened up very few serious, substantive areas of disagreement. This reached almost laughable proportions when Bob Schieffer asked him what he'd do if 2014 rolled around and Afghan troops weren't ready to take over their own security:

Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful and the training program is proceeding apace. There are now a large number of Afghan Security Forces, 350,000 that are ready to step in to provide security, and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014.

Transcript here. Romney sounded like a cheerleader for the White House in this exchange. He didn't even hint that Obama had mismanaged anything or done anything wrong. This is especially noteworthy since, in fact, it's vanishingly unlikely that Afghan troops will be ready to take over in 2014.

Likewise, Romney didn't open up any real daylight on Israel. Partly this was because Obama was so pro-Israel that he didn't leave Romney much room on the right. But it was also partly because Romney didn't try. Twice he mentioned that a "nuclear capable" Iran was unacceptable, but that's a term of art that's meaningless to most people unless it's explained. However, Romney was content to leave it out there as a dog whistle, and neither Obama nor Schieffer followed up on it. Later, when Schieffer threw Romney a softball question about supporting Benjamin Netanyahu if he launched an attack on Iran, he punted: "Let’s not go into hypotheticals of that nature," he said. Weak! But obviously Romney wanted to distance himself as much as possible from charges of being just another neocon warmonger.

And that wasn't all. On Syria, Romney basically approved of Obama's policies. On Libya, ditto, and he didn't even try to do any political point scoring over Benghazi. (Either Candy Crowley scared him off or else he reads this blog.) He didn't really have a different policy to offer on Egypt. Or Pakistan. Or drones. Or even Iran, though he tried. And when he got a little closer to home and tried to haul out a normally reliable Republican warhorse — Democrats are weakening our military! — Obama jumped all over it. "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets." That was a pretty withering reply.

Overall, Obama did a very nice job of defending his foreign policy, sounding well briefed, confident, and commanding. About ten minutes in, he rattled off a five-point plan for dealing with the Middle East, and although I wasn't especially impressed with this, I'll bet a lot of viewers liked it — just the way they liked Romney's crisp five-point economic plan in the first debate. Tonally, Obama did a very good job of sounding just tough enough while also emphasizing soft power capabilities, and doing it in a way that sounded credible. He even managed at times to make Romney sound almost naive about the realities of foreign policy. And when Romney accused him yet again of taking an "apology tour," Obama had one of his best moments of the night:

If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken — when I was a candidate for office, the first trip I took was to visit our troops. And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself of the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.

And then I went down to the border town of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me there where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.

So that’s how I’ve used my travels, when I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region. And the central question at this point is going to be: Who is going to be credible to all parties involved? And they can look at my track record, whether it’s Iran sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities.

Romney looked almost pained while Obama was saying this, like a kid caught telling a whopper and getting dressed down in front of the whole class.

Romney's main goal tonight was pretty transparent: not to sound like a warmonger. He probably succeeded in that, but at the price of turning every attack into mush and validating nearly everything Obama said. It just didn't seem like a good night for him. I'd give him a C+ and Obama an A-.


Tonight's debate liveblogging is brought to you by an Android tablet. Barely. The Mother Jones back end really, really doesn't want me to do this. But let's try it for a while just for fun. Let the games begin....

7:34 - And that's it.

7:33 - Romney's closing statement is basically a marketing brochure for Moderate Mitt.

7:31 - Romney wants peace. Really. Then he's back to domestic economic policy. He gave foreign policy even less of a nod than Obama did.

7:30 - Closing statements! Romney wants to take us back to a foreign policy that's "wrong and reckless." And that's a wrap on foreign policy. Now we're back to domestic economic policy. Good foreceful wrap-up.

7:29 - Romney loves teachers again. And yet again. Schieffer: "I think we all love teachers."

7:27 - Romney, as usual, is good when he criticizes Obama's economic performance over past four years. Sounds a little tired, though.

7:25 - Obama: "You keep on trying to airbrush history." Good line, but I'm still not sure that arguing about Detroit is worthwhile. I guess it's all about Ohio.

7:24 - Yes, let's have another argument about the Detroit bankruptcy. Please.

7:22 - Obama makes point that Chinese currency has strengthened lately. True. Not sure anyone will really understand the point, though. Would have worked better if Obama had explained a bit more and taken credit for it.

7:21 - Obama: "Well, Governor Romney’s right, you are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas." Ouch.

7:19 - Romney blathering on about China being a currency manipulator. See Krugman on this. Romney is convinced that nothing he does will invite any retaliation. Uh huh.

7:18 - Romney just gratuitously announces that the world's greatest threat is a nuclear Iran. Where did that come from?

7:17 - Romney probably right on the merits of the tire tariffs. But probably wrong on the politics.

7:16 - Obama talking about tough he's been on China. Finally, a chance for Romney to be even tougher. Will he take it?

7:14 - Schieffer is certainly keeping to his schedule. No missing pods for him.

7:11 - Ah, a question about drones. Romney's answer is unsurprising: he's all in favor of using them. Zero daylight between him and Obama. Somewhere Glenn Greenwald is tearing his hair out.

7:10 - Romney: "I don’t blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained." Again, Romney sounds like he's in the spin room defending Obama.

7:04 - WTF? Romney on Afghanistan sounds like he's Obama's Secretary of Defense. Everything is working great, our boys will be home by 2014. Wow.

7:01 - Obama hitting Romney hard tonight. Generally, though, both candidates are less aggressive toward each other than in second debate.

9:59 - Would you support Israel if they bombed Iran? Romney won't answer a hypothetical. This is Moderate2 Mitt. What will Bill Kristol think?

9:57 - Obama hitting it out of the park responding to Romney's apology tour nonsense.

9:54 - Romney trying to sound tougher than Obama while offering nothing that Obama hasn't done. One exception (maybe) is that he wouldn't allow Iran to achieve "nuclear capability." Will Schieffer follow up?

9:53 - Apology tour! Take a drink!

9:53 - Romney: " I think [Iran] looked at that and saw weakness." This is really tired stuff.

9:52 - Obama making point that sanctions only work if everyone agrees to them. This is an important thing to get across. Voters need to understand just how successful and persistent he's been on Iran.

9:51 - Overall, we're mostly seeing Moderate Mitt tonight. He sure sounds like he basically supports everything Obama has done on Iran.

9:50 - Did Romney just say he'd indict Ahmadinejad at the Hague?

9:48 - Romney won't allow a "nuclear capable" Iran. Will Schieffer follow up to make clear what this means?

9:47 - Obama is claiming that the foreign policy differences between him and Romney are pretty small. That's true, actually.

9:45 - Should we say that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States? Obama: "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked." Not formally an answer, but close enough.

9:44 - Obama: "We also have fewer horses and bayonets." Pretty good line. Not sure this exchange can have a winner, though.

9:43 - Romney finally willing to talk about military, but hauls out nonsense about our Navy being smaller than anytime in the past century. Sheesh.

9:42 - Not yet. Romney back on balancing the budget.

9:41 - Finally back on the military budget. Will Romney now be willing to actually talk about the military?

9:40 - Now Obama is attacking Romney's tax plan.

9:39 - Bob Schieffer completely unable to get Romney back onto foreign policy.

9:34 - Romney surely wins an award for inserting teachers union bashing in a foreign policy debate.

9:33 - Oh for God's sake. Can we please stop talking about our domestic economic plans on the pretext that this is really a foreign policy issue?

9:27 - Romney just attacked "sequestration" without explaining what it is. That's how you lose your audience.

9:22 - Romney has a whole lot of goals for Syria but precisely no plans for achieving them.

9:19 - Romney wants to form a "council" in Syria? He's otherwise being very non-belligerent on Syria.

9:17 - So far, Obama pandering to Israel more than Romney.

9:11 - Obama really going after Romney's inconsistencies. Not sure he really made the point convincingly.

9:10 - Romney has now mentioned Mali twice. Is this the latest Republican thing?

9:08 - Romney: "My strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys." Okey dokey.

9:05 - Kinda looks like Moderate Mitt so far. But the night is young.

9:00 - So which Mitt will we get tonight? "Red line" Mitt or Moderate Mitt? Or something in between?

That Time George McGovern Hosted "SNL"...

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 6:34 PM EDT

Early Sunday morning, George S. McGovern, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota, died in a Sioux Falls hospice at the age of 90. In his decades of public service McGovern cultivated a reputation as one of American liberalism's heavy-hitters: A decorated WWII veteran who raged against nuclear "overkill," fought global hunger, and fervently opposed American military intervention in Vietnam. But history has a tendency to reduce figures to single sentences, so he remains best known for his epic, idealistic dud of a presidential run against Richard Nixon in 1972.

Here's a round-up of footage and photos taken during the late progressive icon's long career:

The campaign ads

This video compiles some pro-McGovern ads from his 1972 campaign, and a couple from his 1984 run in the Democratic primaries. In his longshot (and mostly symbolic) '84 campaign, he implored liberal voters not to "throw away [their] conscience," and to reaffirm commitment to center-left values in the Reagan era. Click here to watch a Nixon attack ad that uses children's toys to illustrate how a President McGovern would slash the defense budget and cut "into the very security of [America]."

The concession speech

In which he cites Adlai Stevenson, the poet W. B. Yeats, and Isaiah 40:31.

"Saturday Night Live" hosting gig

A month after he ended his '84 presidential campaign, McGovern showed up at Studio 8H to host an episode of Saturday Night Live. (This was back when Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were still cast members.)

Hanging With JFK

Served as  /Na McGovern served as the first director of the Food for Peace program, earning major props from President Kennedy, before hitting the Senatorial campaign trail in 1962. National Archives

In vietnam

In Vietnam /wikiThis photo was snapped during Sen. McGovern's first trip to South Vietnam, in November 1965. After three weeks in the war zone, he returned to the US more devoted to peace efforts than ever before. Ending the war would become his signature issue.  USOM

Debating Barry Goldwater

Just weeks before Election Day 1988, McGovern sat down with Barry Goldwater (another ex-senator and party icon who lost a presidential election in a historic landslide) on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour to discuss the state of both their parties, as well as what it means to be a "liberal."

Chilling With Gore VIDAL

Gore Vidal /FlickrThe controversial, iconoclastic author joined McGovern for a panel discussion at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Museum during the ex-senator's 2009 book tour. Scott Clarkson/Wikimedia Commons

When Hillary Lost George

In May 2008, McGovern withdrew the endorsement he had given then Senator Hillary Clinton in October 2007, and switched over to team Obama. He believed the Clinton campaign was doomed, and said he did not want to see the Democratic Party go through a "repeat of what happened to [him] in 1972" when a protracted primary battle left him bloodied for his general election contest with Nixon. If Clinton held a grudge for this pragmatic move, it didn't show when she shared the stage with him during her acceptance of the George McGovern Leadership Award from the World Food Program in October 2010.

Mcgovern's advice to obama

From May 2009: "I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Scientists Convicted of Not Predicting Earthquake

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 5:41 PM EDT

The infamous L'Aquila earthquake trial is over, and it turns out that in Italy you can be convicted of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake:

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L'Aquila. A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.

Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes. It took Judge Marco Billi slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.

As bad as this sounds, it's actually even worse. Prior to the L'Aquila quake, there had been a series of small tremors, prompting a local lab technician to issue several incorrect predictions of a large earthquake on Italian television. Residents were nervous, so a committee of seismologists was convened to assess the risk of a bigger quake. Here's what they concluded:

The minutes of the 31 March meeting [] reveal that at no point did any of the scientists say that there was "no danger" of a big quake. "A major earthquake in the area is unlikely but cannot be ruled out," Boschi said. Selvaggi is quoted as saying that "in recent times some recent earthquakes have been preceded by minor shocks days or weeks beforehand, but on the other hand many seismic swarms did not result in a major event". Eva added that "because L'Aquila is in a high-risk zone it is impossible to say with certainty that there will be no large earthquake". Summing up the meeting, Barberi said, "there is no reason to believe that a swarm of minor events is a sure predictor of a major shock". All the participants agreed that buildings in the area should be monitored urgently, to assess their capacity to sustain a major shock.

So what's the conviction based on? This:

The prosecution has focused on a statement made at the press conference by accused committee member Bernardo De Bernardinis, who was then deputy technical head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency. "The scientific community tells me there is no danger," he said at the time, "because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable."

Many seismologists — including one of the accused, Enzo Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome — have since criticized the statement as scientifically unfounded. The statement does not appear in the minutes of the committee meeting itself, and the accused seismologists say they cannot be blamed for it. De Bernardinis's advocate insists that his client merely summarized what the scientists had told him. The prosecutor claims that because none of the other committee members immediately corrected De Bernardinis, they are all equally culpable.

Even if you think De Bernardinis was culpable in some way, it's beyond belief that six scientists were convicted merely for not immediately disagreeing with him. This is a sad day in Italian justice, and it's going to be a long time before any qualified scientist is willing to say anything ever again about earthquake safety.

Smart Kids Have All the Fun

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 5:10 PM EDT

Here's a headline from Sarah Kliff in the Washington Post today:

Sorry, nerds: Popular kids earn more in the long run

This is a description of a study that followed high school seniors from the class of 1957 and, among other things, looked at whether popularity correlated with later success in life. And it did. Students were all asked to name their three best friends, and those who were named most often ended up earning more as adults. This isn't surprising. But it's worth noting that smart kids didn't actually do poorly. Here's what the study says:

We find a tendency for high-IQ students to nominate more friends and to be popular in turn, suggesting that high ability students might be more attractive as peers and better understand the opportunities arising from social interactions.

Social scientists have known for a long time that the usual stereotype of smart kids as socially maladjusted outcasts is wrong. Some of them are, but then again, so are some average kids. Popularity is independent of smarts, and on average, it turns out that smart kids are actually a little more sociable than the mean. This new study confirms that.

Will the Candidates End the "Climate Silence" Tonight?

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 2:56 PM EDT

The final debate before the presidential election will take place tonight in Boca Raton, Florida. Since it's focused on foreign policy, might the candidates finally be asked directly about climate change—arguably the biggest foreign policy challenge issue for the future?

A lot of people are hoping so. After last week's debate, moderator Candy Crowley said she had a question "for all you climate people," but she didn't get to it before the debate wrapped up. So far, all the talk has been about "energy independence," while "climate change" is the issue that shall not be named.

Maybe Florida will be different. It is, after all, a state surrounded by water and highly vulnerable to sea level rise. The state includes eight of the ten cities most likely to be affected by rising seas and increased storm surges, putting 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes at risk, according to a report from Climate Central earlier this year.

This is why more than 120 scientists and public officials in Florida have signed a letter asking President Obama and Governor Romney to address sea level rise at this week's debate. The letter asks the candidates to discuss three questions that are of great importance for Florida and other states facing similar challenges:

- What will be the federal government's planning and policy priorities in order to reduce the risks of future sea level rise?
- What will be the polices for adaptive measures to respond to current and future impacts of sea level rise?
- How would you work with the rest of the world to address rising sea levels and other effects of climate change?

Meanwhile, Forecast the Facts and Friends of the Earth Action have started an online petition and campaign asking the candidates to stop the "climate silence." " "National elections should be a time when our nation considers the great challenges and opportunities the next President will face," the groups write. "But the climate conversation of 2012 has been defined by a deafening silence."

Where's the Ice?: Arctic Ocean Diaries No. 9

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 2:18 PM EDT

Editor's note: Julia Whitty is on a three-week-long journey aboard the the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, following a team of scientists who are investigating how a changing climate might be affecting the chemistry of ocean and atmosphere in the Arctic.

Sea ice in the Western Arctic on 03 October 2012.  Steve Roberts / National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Sea ice in the Western Arctic on 03 October 2012. Steve Roberts / National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

The big story of this cruise is sea ice. As in, there isn't any. At least not in our part of the Arctic Ocean. This year set a new record for lowest Arctic sea ice extant. So our odds of seeing any at this time of year weren't good to begin with.

Still, almost everyone who set foot on the icebreaker Healy was hoping to encounter some. Sadly we haven't seen any ice aside from what's frozen on the decks and windows of the ship.

But the sea ice is growing fast now. The top map shows sea ice extent in this part of the Arctic on 03 October, the day I arrived in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. This analysis comes from the National Ice Center (NIC). Pink areas suggest ice cover of 80 percent or greater. Yellow marks marginal ice formation.

If you measure from due north of Point Barrow, Alaska, the ice front was roughly 440 nautical miles (506 miles / 815 kilometers) from land on 03 October.

Sea ice extent in the western Arctic as of 20 October 2012. Steve Roberts / National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)Sea ice extent in the western Arctic as of 20 October 2012. Steve Roberts / National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

This next map shows the sea ice extent as of yesterday, 20 Oct 2012. On that day, according to the NIC analysis, the ice front reached to within ~133 nautical miles (153 miles / 246 kilometers) of Point Barrow.

Averaged out, that out a growth rate of 18 nautical miles (20 miles / 33 kilometers) a day. Though in reality the sea ice advanced more slowly in the early part of the month and is galloping faster now.

The red track line marks Healy's meandering for the past two-plus weeks as we visit mooring stations and CTD lines across the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.