Factlet of the Day

According to a recent Pew survey, 55% of scientists are Democrats and only 6% are Republicans.  This is good news for everyone.  Democrats now have quantitative backup for their sneers about Republicans being anti-science.  Likewise, Republicans now have quantitative backup for their sneers about scientists just being a bunch of liberal shills who aren't to be trusted on questions like climate change and evolution.  We all win!

In other science-esque news, scientists now rank third, in between teachers and doctors, as contributors to our collective well-being.  (Business executives rank last, even behind lawyers. So sad.)  And although most people are now aware that aspirin is recommended to prevent heart attacks, the public is still having trouble with the issue of whether electrons are smaller than atoms.  Perhaps a gazillion dollar ad campaign from the electron industry would help here.

Is Anyone Binging?

Responding to a commenter who says Microsoft doesn't really understand branding, E.D. Kain says:

Exactly right. Nor do they understand connectivity and product overlap the way Google does. Google connects your email, chat, documents, search, and even browser now, etc. into basically one product, and with upcoming innovations like Wave and their OS that connectivity and overlap will just become far, far more effective. (Apple has done this fairly well also with hardware added into the mix)

Microsoft has tried with “Windows Live” and all that, but there are just too many gaps, too many brands, etc. I mean “bing” is now part of the whole cadre of Microsoft products, but is it really tied into them well? Why Microsoft hasn’t made their Windows platform more webby is beyond me. And why they make it so difficult to integrate everything is also confusing.

I'm out of touch on this stuff these days, but in fairness to Microsoft, doesn't a lot of this have to do with antitrust rules that don't allow them to integrate everything the way they'd like to?  My understanding has always been that if they could get away with it they'd basically merge every piece of software they own into a single platform and then make it next to impossible to use anything else.  But they can't.

In any case, the motivation for the original post was David Pogue's piece in the New York Times about Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.  Anyone have any opinions they'd like to share on this?  I use it a lot for image searches, but not so much for ordinary text searches.  Partly this is because Bing doesn't seem to have an Advanced Search page, which means I'd have to memorize whatever Boolean concatenation rules they use if I want to do anything more complicated than a search for the latest Michael Jackson news.  Sure, that's lazy of me, but Google works pretty well, so even a small nuisance makes all the difference between using something new and skipping it.

On the other hand, it's sort of interesting to see what Bing comes up with in its "Related Searches" list.  If I type in my name, I get a bunch of expected stuff, but also Maitland Ward.  Huh?  Who's that?  (Says here that she's an actress born in Long Beach who attended the same university as me.  Is that all it takes?)  But even at that I'm lucky.  Matt Yglesias gets paired up with Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter.  Atrios gets Michelle Malkin and Atrio Insurance.  Jane Hamsher gets Bill Clinton.  (She also gets Jane Hamsher Death, which seems kind of ghoulish.)

Oh, and I like the background artwork on the Bing home page.  Very soothing.  Not enough to make me switch from Google on a regular basis, but soothing anyway.

Is the future of agriculture the neglected flower bed on Main Street? The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered all city departments "to conduct an audit of unused land--including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips--that could be turned into community gardens or farms." If the Mayor gets his way, you could just as well get an apple from the corner mart as from a tree growing on the street corner.

The announcement is the latest fruit from an "urban-rural" roundtable of food experts that Newsom convened last year to look for more ways to get locally-grown foods onto the plates of city residents. The effort began last summer with a quarter-acre "victory garden" in front of city hall--a big hit with locals and tourists; Newsom later announced plans to replicate the effort at 15 sites around the city. He also floated the idea of planting fruit trees on street medians, and experimented with a strawberry patch atop a bus shelter--ideas that could catch on under his new food directive.

Newsom's move builds upon a vibrant hyperlocal agriculture movement in the Bay Area and along the West Coast. Detailed in "Inside the Green Zone" in our March/April food issue, the movement encompasses everything from professional farmers who'll sow your backyard to urban fruit foragers who barter blackberries plucked from city parks. The efforts have taken on a timeliness in the midst of the recession as cities look for ways to fill lots that aren't being developed and provide healthy, inexpensive food. Indeed, the original "victory garden" was planted by Eleanor Roosevelt on the White House lawn in the waning years of the Great Depression to serve as a model for rugged self reliance.

Newsom plans to go a step further by also requiring the city departments serve only high-quality food. Within two months, he'll send an ordinance to the city's Board of Supervisors mandating that all food served in city jails, hospitals, homeless shelters, and community centers be safe, healthy, and sustainable. Of course, the switch will be much easier in San Francisco, which consumes a million tons of food a year but has 20 tons available within a 200 mile raidius, than it would in say, New York. Still, there's no reason an apple tree couldn't also thrive on a sidewalk in Brooklyn.

The Washington Post reports on the drug war south of the border:

The Mexican army has carried out forced disappearances, acts of torture and illegal raids in pursuit of drug traffickers, according to documents and interviews with victims, their families, political leaders and human rights monitors.

....Mexican officials acknowledged that abuses have occurred in the fight against traffickers but described the cases as isolated...."I know that the armed forces are not acting inappropriately, although there have been some cases," said Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont, who is responsible for coordinating security operations across Mexico. "The government honestly believes that. There is no incentive for abuse."

No incentive? How about money?

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.

It does not exist.

There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.

Read the rest in "We Bring Fear," part of our cover package on the drug war in the current issue of MoJo.  The Mexican army's incentives should become pretty clear.

In a classic example of newsmagazine overthink, Time profiles Sarah Palin with a cover story that practically celebrates her thin résumé and essentially makes the case that know-nothingism could be good for America. Seriously:

Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand. Résumés ain't what they used to be; they count only with people who trust credentials — a dwindling breed. The mathematics Ph.D.s who dreamed up economy-killing derivatives have pretty impressive résumés. The leaders of congressional committees and executive agencies have decades of experience — at wallowing in red ink, mismanaging economic bubbles and botching covert intelligence.

If ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it. "We have so little trust in the character of the people we elected that most of us wouldn't invite them into our homes for dinner, let alone leave our children alone in their care," writes talk-show host Glenn Beck in his book Glenn Beck's Common Sense, a pox-on-all-their-houses fusillade at Washington. Dashed off in a fever of disillusionment with those in power, Beck's book is selling like vampire lit, with more than 1 million copies in print.

Citing Glenn Beck as proof that many Americans are eager to turn to a pol with little expertise in national policy? But didn't the country just have an election? And didn't a significant majority vote for the guy with two Ivy League degrees who talked about bringing professionalism, science, and expertise back to policymaking in Washington? (Anyone remember Palin's climate change denialism? Not the Time people.)

The Time crew obviously was punching up the subject matter so it could punch up the copy—and sell magazines. One dramatic theme in the piece is that Palin is pure Alaska and that to know her—really know her—you have to know Alaska and the rugged individualism and practical fatalism this far-away land breeds in its denizens:

Palin's breakneck trajectory from rising star to former officeholder — with more twists sure to come — has everything to do with her Alaskan context.

Only to a degree. The sole reason most Americans know anything about Palin is that a fellow from Arizona picked her to be his running mate. Without that, she would still be the answer to a political trivia question. So, obviously, it was the unique and rough-hewn libertarian frontier spirit of the American Southwest, where lone riders settled on arid plains to escape the confining conventions of back-East civilization, that was responsible for Palin's comet-like ascent to public prominence. Or maybe not. Perhaps it was just John McCain's bad judgment.

Without breathlessness and a contrary-for contrary's-sake thesis, Time would not have much to add to all the words spilled and spewed about the Palin pull-out. But give the newsmagazine credit. Through the efforts of five of its talented journalists, Time has managed to craft a more coherent depiction of Palin and her decision to resign than she has herself. So what's her beef with the media?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Residents of Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia have voted to ban the sale of bottled water in their rural town—probably the first in the world to do so. Only two voters opposed the ban. Why?

Bundanoon's battle against the bottle has been brewing for years, ever since a Sydney-based beverage company announced plans to build a water extraction plant in the town. Residents were furious over the prospect of an outsider taking their water, trucking it up to Sydney for processing and then selling it back to them. The town is still fighting the company's proposal in court.

In other words, bottling water wastes an incredible amount of resources—natural and capital. (Producing the bottles for the American market requires 17 million barrels of oil; three liter of water are needed to produce a liter of bottled water.) So officials in Bundanoon will install more drinking fountains and encourage residents to use them to fill reusable water bottles for free.

I hope something like this catches on elsewhere. It's certainly possible. When San Francisco announced it would ban businesses from giving out plastic bags for free, some store owners griped it would hurt their bottom lines because paper bags are more expensive than plastic. But walk in to any Trader Joe's or Walgreens and you'll see a majority customers bringing their own bags or reusing them from previous trips.

That's the power of a collective mindset, albeit one driven in part by a law. Of course, there are other benefits to reusable bags, the least of which is not having to dedicate a cupboard to a heap of plastic stamped with CVS's logo.

But there are more potent incentives to banning bottled water. For one, the environmental benefit is greater (Americans recycle less than seven percent of their plastic, compared to 55 percent of the paper they use.) To me, though, the most potent incentive is purely economic: Part of the reason we pay taxes is so that we have clean drinking water. Whenever I buy a bottle of water, I feel like I'm doing something incredibly irrational, spending money on something for which there exists a free and arguably better substitute—tap water.

Blue Marblish stories from our other blogs you might have missed.

Healthcare Pitfalls: A public plan might mean cuts for those with severe health problems.

411 on G8: World leaders at G8 summit fail to agree on climate change goals.

Placebo Effect: There are lots of treatments for cancer, but not a lot of data on results.

Justice, Iranian Style: Torture and interrogations are now common, say sources.

You Can't Catch Black: Inner-city kids booted out of pool because white guests were scared.

Numerical Oddity: Today the clock will strike 12:34:56... on 7/8/9.

One of the most alarming aspects of climate change is the existence of positive feedback loops.  For example, as polar ice melts, less sunlight is reflected back into space, thus heating up the ocean and causing more ice to melt.  Rinse and repeat.  Another one: warming causes the permafrost in the Siberian tundra to melt, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, thus warming the earth and causing yet more tundra to melt.

Here's still another, from the latest issue of the Washington Monthly.  Oliver Phillips, a professor of geography at the University of Leeds, has studied a 2005 drought in the Amazon rainforest and come to a frightening conclusion:

In normal years the Amazon alone absorbs three billion tons of carbon....But during the 2005 drought, this process was reversed, and the Amazon gave off two billion tons of carbon instead, creating an additional five billion tons of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. That’s more than the total annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined.

....Significantly, Phillips [] found that the 2005 drought was not the result of El Niño, the cause of previous smaller episodes, but of a regional rise in sea temperatures — one of the expected early signs of global warming. Taken together, these findings suggest that climate change could trigger the worst kind of vicious cycle, with climbing temperatures causing the rainforests to dry out and give off massive quantities of greenhouse gases, which in turn causes the planet to warm more rapidly — a dynamic with harrowing implications.

Read the whole thing for more.  The Monthly's entire special package on tropical deforestation is here.

Lying to Congress

Congressional Quarterly reports:

CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Intelligence Committee [on June 24] that the agency had misled and “concealed significant actions from all members of Congress” dating back to 2001 and continuing until late June, according to a letter from seven Democrats on the panel.

Continuing until late June?  As in, two weeks ago?  As in, right up to the time that Panetta testified before the committee?

Wow.  You'd think even Republicans might be a wee bit upset about this.  But no.  You see, a couple of months ago Nancy Pelosi said the CIA misled her about waterboarding, and if Republicans admit the CIA has lied to Congress it might hinder their efforts to attack her:

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes , D-Texas, this week sent to the panel’s top Republican, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, a letter saying new information led him to conclude that the CIA has misled and at least once “affirmatively lied to” the committee. Republicans disputed its contents and have said that the Democrats were trying to protect Pelosi.

....Republicans said it was true, as Reyes wrote in his letter, that the classified subject about which the committee was notified was a subject of bipartisan concern. But they did not endorse Reyes’ conclusions that the CIA had lied....[Hoekstra] said Democrats wanted to help validate Pelosi’s prior claims by establishing other occasions in which the CIA may have misled Congress.

....Reyes expressed surprise at the Republicans’ remarks about whether the controversy was legitimate and whether Democrats were trying to protect their leader, saying simply, “They know better.”

Sure, they know better.  But what's that compared to the opportunity to keep a minor partisan squabble alive?

If you're a MoJo reader, you're already aware that the Mexican army is committing gross human-rights abuses under the guise of fighting the cartels. Chuck Bowden's amazing profile of a Mexican journalist forced to flee to the US and seek asylum put it best:

There are two Mexicos.

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.

It does not exist.

There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.

Today, Steve Fainaru and William Booth of the Washington Post have come out with a fine piece rounding up other stories of horrific treatment at the hands of the Mexican Army: