Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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My Park(ing) Day

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 6:57 PM EDT

Lunch in a parking spot is never much fun, unless it's Park(ing) Day in San Francisco. Seizing the moment this afternoon, I packed a bowl of curry and headed two blocks down Sutter Street to a metered spot in front of the Charles Schwab building. I entered the space from the curb, ambled along an extremely short yet artfully snaking pathway lined with potted salt rush, blue squirrel tail and California lilac, and took a seat on a wooden park bench. Three park attendants watched eagerly. "Welcome to our park!" one of them said. They snapped photos as I stirred my rice. A bus blew by frighteningly close.

In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, laid a parking space with sod, a bench and a large potted tree, creating the first of what would become many guerrilla parks. The event has grown into an international phenomenon, with participants this year in more than ten cities worldwide. The mission is "To rethink the way streets are used, call attention to the need for urban parks and improve the quality of urban human habitat. . .at least until the meter runs out!"

While I ate my chicken korma on the park bench, a park(ing) attendant handed a complimentary packet of poppy seeds to a businessman who'd stopped by. The businessman said, "Do they grow indoors? Or. . ."

"No, but you can try if you want, as long as you soak them first. . ."

My cell phone rang. It was a friend calling from Boston. "I'm at a guerrilla park," I told him.

"That sounds awesome," he said. "A very San Francisco day."

A bit too San Francisco, perhaps. It was 3:00, and the inevitable, frigid Pacific gale was nearly toppling the shrubbery. Then the meter ran out: I still hadn't finished my lunch when a woman arrived in a Volvo to haul the bench away. "I'm sorry, but we have got to take this," she said. A park(ing) attendant quickly added: "Thank you!" I probably would have fared better in the Presidio, but the fact that other people had actually been excited to see me take up a parking spot--instead of scowling or writing me a ticket--made the trip well worth it.

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Ignite! Sparks More Controversy

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 6:58 PM EDT

Ignite!, Neil Bush's educational company, has received thousands of dollars from school districts through the federal No Child Left Behind program even though it doesn't meet the program's standards, a DC watchdog group reported today.

"NCLB requires any kind of educational products to have been scientifically peer-reviewed, and Ignite! has not," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. Today CREW sent a letter to the Dept. of Ed Inspector General asking him to investigate the company. "NCLB is really benefiting cronies rather than kids," Sloan added. "I frankly don't understand why so many Democratic senators and congressmen, like George Miller and Kennedy are being so supportive [of NCLB] in the face of these problems."

Ignite! did not return a call from Mother Jones.

Neil Bush, the family's ne'er do well, is best known for his adventures in the savings and loan industry, which led to a taxpayer-funded bailout of $1.3 billion and a lifetime ban from the banking industry. In 1999, with no educational experience, he founded Ignite! with money from his family and international investors. For years Ignite has been dogged by questions about its effectiveness, and its reliance on donations from foundations to fund its purchase in schools. Last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that a donation from Barbara Bush to a Katrina relief fund was earmarked to Ignite! None of this has really slowed the company down of course. As of late it has been working in Russia and China, where I'd expect business will soon be booming.

Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:33 AM EDT

Ok, so not proof exactly, but man we are really smart. And I'm not talking about knowing geography or spelling or history. I'm talking about the alphabet. We know it, while conservatives are apparently blinded by ideology. In certain situations their rigid brains cannot distinguish among different letters of the alphabet, a major study has found, and this explains why they can't tolerate ambiguity and conflict as well as liberals.

"Political orientation is related to how the brain processes information," reports the UCLA and NYU study, as detailed in the LA Times:

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative. They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

And conservatives were by far the worst knee-jerkers, routinely mistaking a W for an M, or vice versa when the weightings were changed. This has happened before. Mole hill or WMD? Morass or winnable? Melting ice or wacko science? In all seriousness, Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research, told the Times that the results could explain why Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq War and why "liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas."

This study is by no means the first to suggest that one political persuasion or another is more fit for duty in the battle of ideas. A few years ago I wrote about a University of Texas study that found residents of Houston suffer from a quasi-clinical condition known as "war fever." But this newest study at least takes the political debate back to the ABCs. Now if only conservatives could go back to kindergarten. . .

Chevron Releases Video Game

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

Energyville is like Sim City where the laws are written by Chevron. You must power your city with a mix of energy sources, and, of course, you can't win without oil. The game is part of Chevron's "Will you join us?" campaign, a dubious effort to spark dialogue about energy and the environment. I can't imagine who Chevron sees as its target audience—kids will find the game all too 1997; any adult who buys the pitch might also be interested in a REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS ASSISTANCE from Nigeria. Still, the game is getting lots of press.

Driven by novelty and interactivity--never underestimate the interest of bored office workers--advergames are becoming hot marketing tools in the political realm. The outfit Persuasive Games will whip one up for $40,000, complete with Sim City street grids or flash-animated conveyor belts. My favorite is Airport Security, a game in which you're a TSA baggage screener. (Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping.") For other examples, see page 86 of the Sept/Oct issue of Mother Jones.

Breaking: Republican Congressman Dies

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:54 PM EDT

Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor was found dead in his apartment today. There's still no word on the cause of death.

Given the recent carnage--corruption scandals, a resignation, and now a death--you could almost say the Republicans are in solidarity with the harried legislators of Iraq.

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