2010 - %3, June

Cars, Trucks, and iPads

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 12:29 PM EDT

Here is Steve Jobs on the future of PCs:

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farms.” Cars became more popular as cities rose, and things like power steering and automatic transmission became popular.

“PCs are going to be like trucks,” Jobs said. “They are still going to be around.” However, he said, only “one out of x people will need them.”

I get Jobs's point, and if your definition of "PC" is narrow enough he's probably right.1 But where did this whole truck analogy come from? The first cars were cars, weren't they? And the rise of cities was pretty much unrelated to the rise of cars. What's he talking about here?

1For what it's worth, I think "PC" has a very wide definition indeed. The iPad, for example, is pretty clearly a PC. I get why Jobs wants to pretend otherwise, since he's pretty invested in the whole "magical experience" narrative of iPad ownership, but does anyone else buy this? I mean, it's a free-standing single-user device with a screen, a keyboard, a CPU, connectivity to the internet, and the ability to run lots of different apps. If that's not a PC, what is?

UPDATE: Man, I gotta learn to read to the end of posts. This comes via James Joyner, who makes the exact same point as me about the whole car/truck analogy. He even has links.

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Chart of the Day: Employment by Gender

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 11:59 AM EDT

This comes from Stuart Staniford, and it's an employment map of the United States by county. Dark areas have high employment and light areas have low employment. Bluish area have relatively high male employment and brownish areas have relatively high female employment.

What does it all mean? Beats me. Basically, it's just data geekery. But kind of interesting anyway, no? Stuart has more speculation over at his place.

The Runaway Jury (Selection Process)

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 11:41 AM EDT

In a study that should surprise no one, the Equal Justice Institute reports that jury selection in the South is far from colorblind:

Today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.

....While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.

....“There’s just this tolerance, there’s indifference to excluding people on the basis of race, and prosecutors are doing it with impunity,” [Bryan] Stevenson said. “Unless you’re in the courtroom, unless you’re a lawyer working on these issues, you’re not going to know whether your local prosecutor consistently bars people of color.”

Most racially-inspired problems are hard to solve, but in this case there's a pretty easy solution: just eliminate the voir dire process entirely. Pick 12 people at random, let the judge interview them and eliminate anyone who's obviously unqualified or has a conflict of interest, and that's that. You have your jury. Not only would this eliminate the most obvious source of racial bias, but it would have plenty of other positive effects too. It would reduce the number of jurors that courts need to summon, for example. And it would speed up trials. I sat on a drunk driving case once where the jury selection process took nearly as long as the trial itself because the defense attorney was desperately trying to eliminate anyone who might not be entirely sympathetic to a middle-aged guy who got behind the wheel after he'd had a few too many and started weaving around the road. It was a waste of our time, a waste of the judge's time, and a waste of taxpayer money. (And we convicted the guy anyway.)

This is the way jury selection works in Britain, and guess what? Justice seems to be served just fine. The only downside, I think, is that John Grisham wouldn't have been able to write his best book. I can live with that.

10 Ways Cities Can Kick the Offshore-Oil Habit

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 11:40 AM EDT

This post, first published on Grist, appears here courtesy of the Climate Desk collaboration.

With the Gulf oil spill continuing unabated, powering a 21st century economy on a 19th century fossil fuel looks less and less smart by the day.

Luckily, we've got other options. I described the most promising steps the federal government could take toward reducing oil use in transportation systems last week. But local governments don't have to wait for federal action. Through smart land use, cities, towns, and many rural areas can give residents the option of driving less—a direct way to stem the demand for offshore (and foreign) oil.

I spoke with leaders of the Smart Growth movement, along with advocates for economic justice, to learn about solutions that don't require new technology and, in many cases, pay for themselves. Want to do something in your own community to respond to BP's oil spill? Here are ten changes worth considering:

1. Complete streets. Towns and cities can't rebuild their roadways overnight to make them safe for walkers, bikers, children, and wheelchair users. But they can pass Complete Streets policies that require all renovations and new roads to be designed for a full range of users, not just autos. Places as diverse as Charlotte, N.C., Salt Lake City, and Hernando, Miss. (pop. 6,812), have adopted such plans, which encourage traffic-calming elements like curb extensions, bike lanes, median islands, and pedestrian signals.

Arlington aerialArlington County, Va.’s, most intense development follows its Metrorail line. Wikimedia Commons2. Build near transit. Subway and light rail lines don't come cheap, so cities that have them should make the most of them by surrounding stations with useful services—residential, retail, office, and medical space—rather than parking lots. Development along the Metrorail in Arlington County, Va., (right) is a textbook example. One caveat: New transit stops drive up property values, so it's key to pair transit-oriented development with affordable housing measures to keep from pricing out low-income residents, according to Judith Bell, president of the Oakland equitable development nonprofit Policylink.

3. Let the market lead. Consumer demand for compact, transit-friendly development has been rising—a recent study of construction trends found that urban neighborhoods have more than doubled their share of home construction in most metro areas. But many zoning codes make new compact neighborhoods illegal by requiring minimum lot sizes, street widths, street setbacks, and parking space. Removing these restrictions—something small-government libertarians should support—would address the problem of mandated sprawl.

What Tea Partiers Think

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 10:52 AM EDT

Bruce Bartlett passes along the results of a recent poll in Washington state that asks for the views of hardcore tea party members, not just those who are generally sympathetic toward tea party goals:

What I think this poll shows is that taxes and spending are not by any means the only issues that define TPM members; they are largely united in being unsympathetic to African Americans, militant in their hostility toward illegal immigrants, and very conservative socially. At a minimum, these data throw cold water on the view that the TPM is essentially libertarian. Based on these data, I would say that TPM members have much more in common with social conservatives that welcome government intervention as long as it’s in support of their agenda.

The serious tea partiers don't think it's the government's job to guarantee equality of opportunity, strongly approve of Arizona's new immigration law, don't like Obama's outreach to Muslims, and believe that gay and lesbian groups have too much political power.

More Bad Climate News

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 10:46 AM EDT

Tired of all the bad news from the Gulf of Mexico? Well, let's change the channel and look at what's happening in Bonn, where the UN is holding its latest climate change meeting. This is a follow-up session to last December's Copenhagen gathering, where the United States, China, and other major emitters of global warming gases banged out a last-minute accord separate from the UN proceedings. Under that deal, these nations (developed and developing) pledged to make voluntary emissions cuts in line with keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Throughout the Copenhagen negotiations, island nations and many countries in the developing world, particularly African states, had called for binding cuts with a 1.5-degrees Celsius target, contending that anything above that would mean catastrophe for them. But the major polluters ignored their demand, saying essentially, "we'll cut what we can to reach 2 degrees." And they came up with an international registry, where nations would state their reductions pledges.

No surprise, this may not work. Research released today by three climate groups—the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ecofys, and Climate Analytics—suggest, as they put it, that "current pledges by countries around the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficient to keep global temperature rises below the 2°C agreed in the Copenhagen Accord." These research outfits note that

even if Nations go further than they did in Copenhagen and agree to halve emissions by 2050, there would still be about a 50% chance that warming exceeds 2°C and it would almost certainly exceed 1.5°C, which is the target set by the Small Island States and Least Developed countries. This is a stark finding given that it is probable that nations will only meet the lower ends of their emissions pledges.

In other words, oh boy. Such research only sets up a bigger fight to come in Cancun at the end of the year, when the nations of the world are supposed to complete the unfinished work of Copenhagen.

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The Rise of the Anti-Amnesty Hispanic Republican

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 10:40 AM EDT

New Mexico District Attorney Susana Martinez has become the country’s first Hispanic woman to be nominated for governor by either Democrats or Republicans—and she triumphed in Tuesday’s GOP primary by taking a hard-right stance on immigration. During the contest, Martinez attacked her leading opponent, former state GOP chair Allen Weh, for being soft on the issue. Martinez seized upon Weh’s support for George W. Bush’s guest worker proposal for non-citizens as proof that he backed “amnesty.” Weh, who received Karl Rove’s backing in the race, dismissed the attack, saying that he opposed any pathway to legalization. But Martinez, who picked up Sarah Palin’s endorsement, continued to hammer away at Weh on immigration in television attack ads to bolster her hardline credentials.

Martinez’s right-wing views on immigration and other social issues mirror those of another ascendant Hispanic Republican and Tea Party favorite—Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who’s aired similar criticisms of “amnesty” and also supports Arizona’s harsh immigration law. Though most Latino voters strongly disagree with such views, the conservative base has rallied behind both candidates. Backers include a donor behind the “Swift Boat” campaign against Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential run, who made a hefty contribution to Martinez.

Obama's Spill Commission Co-chair has Ties to Oil

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Rachel Maddow makes an excellent point here. With all the people in the US to lead the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, why did President Obama pick a Republican with ties to the oil industry?

William K. Reilly was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1989 through 1992. But now he's on the board of ConocoPhillips, DuPont (which creates products for the oil industry, among other things), and the Texas-based electric utility company, Energy Future Holdings.

ConocoPhillips in particular is not without a stake in this investigation. The company has a partnership with BP on exploration in another region of the Gulf, as well as joint venture with BP on the Alaska natural gas pipeline. It also has leases for exploration in the arctic, in a region whose fate will likely be decided by this panel.

Reilly is also the former president of World Wildlife Fund. But still—couldn't Obama, who just yesterday criticized the "far too cozy" relationship oil companies have enjoyed with the government, find a Republican who didn't have ties to the industry for this key post?

Kentucky Politicos Rip Rand Paul

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

Add this notable group to the growing list of Rand Paul critics and opponents: the Kentucky Senate. On Friday, the lawmakers in that state's Senate passed a resolution rebuking Rand Paul, the GOP candidate for Kentucky's open US Senate seat, for his questioning of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while expressing their full support for the landmark piece of legislation. The resolution said in part, "Suggestions have appeared recently that we retreat from the core values of the protection of equal rights of the citizens of the United States"; the resolution characterizes these suggestions as "outside the mainstream of American values" and believed by only an "extreme minority of persons in the United States."

The resolution attacks Paul for his remarks last month in which he blanched when asked whether he fully supported the Civil Rights Act, which banned segregation. Paul's wavering caused a firestorm in political circles and in the media, and likely led to a recent shake-up on Paul's campaign staff, with the replacement of his campaign manager. While a little behind the news cycle, the Kentucky Senate's resolution further compounds the fallout from Paul's gaffes, which appear to have taken a toll on Paul's support. Yesterday, a Rasumussen survey in Kentucky reported that Paul's lead over Democratic opponent Jack Conway had shrunk to 8 points, with Paul earning 49 percent and Conway 41 percent. That's a precipitous drop from a few weeks ago, before Paul's civil rights comment, when he led Conway by 25 percent.

Here's more from McClatchy on the Kentucky resolution:

In interviews with national media outlets, Paul has cited this part of the law as an example of the government overreaching, although he also has said that he would have voted for the law if he were in the U.S. Senate at the time.

“Here is an individual from Kentucky speaking nationally on a fundamental value, a fundamental right enshrined in our laws, and there had been no official response on behalf of Kentucky,” Neal said. “I felt it was important for our institution to say that not everybody here agrees with the ideological positions put forward by Mr. Rand Paul.”

Neal said he filed his resolution last Wednesday under a procedure that listed all senators present as co-sponsors unless they objected. Nobody objected over the next two days, he said.

“Senate leadership clearly knew what was going on, they were paying attention,” Neal said. “I talked to the majority floor leader. There was no opposition.”

Williams, the top Republican in Frankfort, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. Williams last week said Paul is not a racist, but he is too young to remember the history that made the Civil Rights Act necessary.

“When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Rand Paul was 2 years old,” Williams said. “Those of us who lived during that time period — I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to know that some things in the United States had to be changed.”

BP's 10 Biggest Screw-Ups

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The BP oil disaster is now at day 43, and it's still not known how much longer this gusher will continue hemorrhaging oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But one fact has become clear beyond a doubt, and that's BP's incompetence and irresponsibility—both before and after the spill. Because it's getting hard to keep track of the company's screw-ups, here's a list of the top ten:

1. From the top hat to the top kill: In the past six weeks, it's become obvious that BP has no idea how to fix a hole a mile below the sea. First there was the failure of the containment dome (a contraption that had to be constructed after the blast, since BP didn't think to have one ready ahead of time). We waited for the second, smaller dome (the top-hat), which BP decided wouldn't work either. Next came "junk shots," in which BP unsuccessfully attempted to plug the hole with golf balls, chunks of rubber and other detritus. Then BP promised the so-called "top-kill" would be the best fix. That failed last weekend, and now BP is moving on to its next trick, another containment dome option that looks much like the others, except this method could actually increase the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf by 20 percent. And if that doesn't work, the spill will likely continue at least through August, until a relief well can be completed.

2. Tony Hayward, PR genius: BP's tousle-haired CEO has a remarkable penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. First, he attempted to argue that the spill was "tiny" compared to the "very big ocean." Last week, he said he wants the spill to end because, "I would like my life back." (Probably not as much as the 11 workers who died in the blast.) How long until this guy gets canned?

3. Dirty dispersants: In a desperate attempt to contain the growing disaster it has created in the Gulf, BP has been spreading chemical dispersants on the sea and at the spill site a mile below the surface. But BP's dispersant of choice, Corexit, has raised concerns at the Environmental Protection Agency about its potential harmful effects on marine life—and it's now being dumped in the Gulf in record volumes. The EPA ordered BP to find a safer option. But BP is sticking with Corexit, despite the fact that the EPA has a long list of approved, less harmful alternatives. 

4. Oil? What oil?  The dispersants that BP has pumped into the Gulf prevent the oil from hitting land, where it can cover coastal critters and sensitive wetlands—not to mention cause a massive PR crisis for the oil firm. But by driving the oil under water, the dispersants are creating a different kind of environmental disaster in the sea. Independent scientists have discovered massive plumes of dispersed oil forming under the water, extending up to 22 miles long. Nevertheless, Hayward is doing his best to convince us that if we can't see the plumes on the ocean's surface, they can't possibly be real.