From Slate, an argument for outlawing driving with even a powered up cell phone. Sound draconian to you? Then I guess you haven't yet had the privilege of a near death experience at the hands of some moron texting at 65 miles per hour. I have.

First there was last year's train crash near Los Angeles, with 25 dead and 130 injured. In three hours of work before the crash, the engineer received 28 text messages and sent 29 more. He sent his last message 22 seconds before impact, just after passing a signal that would have alerted him to the disaster ahead.
Now comes the Boston crash, in which one trolley went through a red light and rear-ended another...Officials say the operator of the second trolley "was text-messaging his girlfriend" and "was looking down at his phone and could not apply the brakes quickly enough when he looked up and saw the trolley in front of him."
If texting can cause crashes on train tracks, which prevent lateral drift, think how much more dangerous it is to text while driving a car.

Duh.

I'd go so far as to argue that the police check the text and call logs of every cell phone at every accident site and charge accordingly.

Slate has an alarming piece on the sordid truth behind international adoption. As we've noted before, it often isn't so much adopting as kidnapping. From Slate:

Who wants to buy a baby? Certainly not most people who are trying to adopt internationally. And yet too often—without their knowledge—that's what happens with their dollars and euros.
Westerners have been sold a myth that poor countries have millions of healthy abandoned infants and toddlers who need homes. But it's not so. In poor countries, as in rich ones, healthy babies are rarely orphaned or given up except in China, where girls have been abandoned as a result of its draconian one-child policy.

The piece includes a haunting and very descriptive slide show of exactly how the families left behind, usually mothers, suffer. And how the brokers get very, very rich. Makes Malawi's dissing of Madonna make a lot more sense. [Read Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption for MoJo's special report on the same subject.]

Up the Academy

In the wake of Gen. David McKiernan's firing yesterday, Tom Ricks points out an interesting trend: the top military guys in the war on terror are now all West Point graduates.  Conversely, the guys who have taken the bulk of the heat for failures are nearly all non-grads.  I'm not sure what, if anything, to make of that, but it's a curious coincidence.

Skin in the Game

What if we got rid of healthcare insurance and made people pay for medical services out of their own pocket?  Put more skin in the game, as it were?  Would it keep costs down and improve the quality of service?  Tyler Cowen takes a look at autism treatment and comes away skeptical.

The Internet and You

Peter Suderman thinks the web isn't making us dumber, it's just making us different:

Reading on the web is almost certainly affecting the way we process information, but it’s not making us stupid. Instead, it’s changing the way we’re smart. Rather than storehouses of in-depth information, the web is turning our brains into indexes. These days, it’s not what you know — it’s what you know you can access, and cross reference.

In other words, books taught us to think like they do — as tools for storing extensive knowledge. Now the web teaches us to think like it does — as a tool for recall and connection. We won’t be so good at memorizing everything there is to know about a particular small-bore topic, but we’ll be a lot better at knowing what there is to be known about the broader category the topic fits into, and what other information might provide insight and context.

I find this an enormously appealing argument.  Unfortunately, I can't think of any evidence at all to suggest it's true.  Understanding "broader categories" — the context into which individual pieces of knowledge fit — requires you to read books.  Full stop.  Maybe someday it won't, but it does now. 

As longtime readers know, I'm generally a scourge of cranky elders who spend a lot of time kvetching about how ill educated kids are today compared to the golden age they used to live in.  Spare me.  But that doesn't mean the opposite is true either.  Kids who grow up on the internet may be great at looking up odd bits of information quickly, but my experience is that they often suck at figuring out what that information means and what conclusions it's reasonable to draw from it.  That's because they don't know the context.  They don't know the rest of the story.  And that's because they don't read enough books.

I'd love to be wrong about this.  But I'm not.  If you want to understand the world, not just collect endless factlets, you still need to read books.  If you do, the internet makes you smarter.  If you don't, it makes you dumber.

Five years ago, I grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend who was then working for the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, the US government's official Nazi-hunting group. Under the leadership of Eli Rosenbaum, the unit had been rooting out ex-Nazis living in the United States since 1979, affecting the deportation of more than 100 people for their involvement in Nazi war crimes. As you might imagine, though, business had been slowing with each passing year. The old Nazis were dying off. As we sipped coffee together, my friend worried that OSI might run out of time to locate all of the alleged Nazi war criminals believed to have slipped quietly into America after the war. (That concern has since prompted the government to reorganize OSI and expand its jurisdiction to include more recent war crimes in places like Haiti, Africa, and South America.)

One of OSI's biggest embarrasments occured in 1986, when it deported John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian-born auto mechanic from Cleveland, to Israel in the belief that he was in fact the notorious Treblinka guard "Ivan the Terrible." He was not. In 1993, when an Israeli court overturned his death sentence on appeal, he returned to Ohio. OSI soon began assembling a new case against Demjanjuk, this time alleging that he served as an SS guard at Majdanek and Sobibor death camps in Poland and at Flossenbuerg in Germany. The case has dragged on and on and on, with Demjanuk's lawyers claiming that the elderly man is suffering from ill health and would not survive the strain of forced relocation and potential prosecution. (The Pinochet defense, let's call it.) Well, the wait now appears to be over: Demjanjuk, a frail, gray man who relies on a respirator, was deported to Munich, Germany, yesterday, where the Germans plan to try him for his alleged complicity in the killing of 29,000 Jews at Sobibor. It could well be the last trial of its kind.

From Rush Limbaugh, commenting on the deteriorating economy:

In the Oval Office of the White House none of this is a problem. This is the objective. The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the nation’s wealth and return to it to the nation’s quote, “rightful owners.” Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on.

The tendency of liberals to shout "racism" a little too often is not one of my side's most attractive qualities.  But it's a damn sight less disturbing than the tendency of conservatives to ignore racism when it comes crawling out from under rocks on their side.  Limbaugh's message could hardly have been more obvious if he'd donned blackface and performed a soft-shoe in his studio.

Sugar, Sugar

Is Congress really considering a tax on sugary sodas as part of the funding mechanism for national healthcare?  Ezra Klein says yes!  The Wall Street Journal, however, which has a big piece about soda taxes in today's paper, doesn't muster up a ton of evidence.  Here it is:

Senior staff members for some Democratic senators at the center of the effort to craft health-care legislation are weighing the idea behind closed doors, Senate aides said.

That's it?  Color me unimpressed so far.

In any case, this whole thing is ridiculous.  The issue here is highly caloric sweeteners, not soda per se.  In other words, high fructose corn syrup, which is what virtually everyone uses to sweeten their drinks these days.  So why on earth would we tax Pepsi at a penny an ounce at the same time that we massively subsidize HFCS?  And even if we got rid of the subsidies, which would be a fine idea in any case, why tax soda?  If this is the direction we want to go, why not just tax sugar and HFCS directly, regardless of what it goes into?

Saberi Released

The LA Times reports on the conviction and subsequent release of freelance reporter Roxana Saberi from an Iranian prison:

A copy of a classified Iranian government report about the U.S. war in Iraq in the possession of journalist Roxana Saberi was a key piece of evidence that led to her conviction on espionage charges, one of the Iranian American journalist's lawyers disclosed Monday.

But a letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for a careful review of the case helped secure her swift release Monday, another of her lawyers said, in an appellate court ruling that surprised Iran watchers and removed a stumbling block in the effort to improve U.S.-Iranian relations.

Iranian intelligence and security officials had argued fiercely for her imprisonment up to the last moment of her lengthy appeals court hearing Sunday, the second attorney said.

Iranian politics is opaque enough that it's probably hopeless to figure out for sure what happened here.  Wheels within wheels.  Still, Ahmadinejad must have had some reason for intervening.  Was it related in some convoluted way to the political jockeying in preparation for next month's election?  It's hard to see how.  Was it meant as a modest olive branch for Barack Obama?  Maybe.  Was it just because Ahmadinejad likes the spotlight and likes to present himself to the world as a compassionate man?  Did it, in fact, have nothing at all to do with Ahmadinejad?  More than likely, your guess is as good as anybody's.

Well, does it?  I, for one, would like to know.  Conservatives, though, apparently don't.  Go figure.  This is yet another reason not to be a conservative these days.