12/30/2009 1:06:04 PM
Barack Obama’s “hope” and “change” campaign slogans meant many things to many people. For some UFO fanatics, Obama’s election represents the hope that the government will finally come clean about its “truth embargo” on the existence of extraterrestrials on Earth. The latest issue of The Washington Monthly profiles Stephen Bassett, Washington’s only registered UFO lobbyist. Basset and other UFO enthusiasts believe that Obama’s commitment to transparency and disclosure will lead to a formal admission that aliens have been on Earth for some time. Then the government can finally release all that alien technology—including the cures for cancer, global warming, and the engergy crisis—that it’s been sitting on for so long. Summing up the change that UFO enthusiasts have been waiting for, the Washington Monthly reports, “If Obama doesn’t announce the existence of aliens in early 2010, they say, he certainly will in the next few years.”
Source: The Washington Monthly (Article not yet available online)
12/28/2009 12:22:41 PM
It's beautiful, durable, and illegal. It shouldn't be possible for an American to purchase Burmese Teak—U.S. sanctions against the military junta there prohibit it. It's out there just the same, available online to anybody who can afford it. Global Post examins the "conflict timber" problem, highloghting the fact that, "In 2007-08, timber was the junta-run government’s fourth largest export."
So who sells this wood? According to Global Post, "As of December 2009, many U.S. companies were openly selling wood labeled as 'Burmese' online. They include Floors To Go’s line of 'Ulysses Burmese Teak,' CanTrust Hardwood's 'Solid Burmese Teak' and Corona Hardwood’s 'Burma Mahogany.'"
Can you buy teak without sending money to a repressive regime? Again, Global Post: "Yes. Harsh laws and a dwindling teak supply have given rise to “plantation” teak, often grown in tropical climes around Central and South America. Though this teak is considered more sustainable and eco-friendly, some boat makers and furniture dealers say it just can’t match the quality of old-growth Burmese teak."
Source: Global Post
Image by Omni1, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/20/2009 9:38:40 PM
“How could anyone be against transparency?” Lawrence Lessig asks in The New Republic. “Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious.” Yet the law and technology expert proposes one provocative downside—that “the naked transparency movement . . . will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.” While speaking positively about the majority of transparency initiatives, Lessig sees trouble brewing with those intended to reveal influence and corruption, on account of “the problem of attention-span”:
“To understand something—an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence—requires a certain amount of attention,” he writes. “But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding—at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context.”
In other words: Bits and pieces of data make insinuations: smudges that will stick whether or not they accurately reflect the whole story, whether or not they’re refuted down the line. The alternative, of course, is not a return to obfuscation—but the issue does present an intriguing challenge for transparency advocates.
Source: The New Republic
Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/17/2009 2:58:50 PM
The newest creation from the man who brought the world Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle, Mat Honan has just released Joe Lieberman Wants You Dead. The single-serving site directed at the health-care reform opponent is more embittered than the New Bicycle, but has some very funny moments.
Here are some favorites:
Joe Lieberman wipes his boogers under your desk
Joe Lieberman retweets every fucking thing he reads
Joe Lieberman reposts his Twitter feed on Facebook
Joe Lieberman shit in your kitchen
Joe Lieberman gave your email to spammers
Joe Lieberman dealt it
Joe Lieberman Wants You Dead
12/11/2009 2:27:06 PM
A helmet protects your noggin while bicycling, but helmet laws can make cycling more dangerous, according to Next American City. Safety in numbers explains the paradox: “One of the biggest determining factors of bicycle safety is not protective wear, but the number of other cyclists out on the road,” Justin Glick writes. Helmet laws—because they imply cycling is dangerous—tend to depress ridership, sometimes dramatically.
“Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has strongly opposed mandatory helmet laws in New York City on multiple occasions for just this reason,” Glick writes. “Their spokesperson . . . explains how it’s an issue when cycling morphs from a ‘spontaneous activity, as commonplace as going for a walk,’ into something seen as ‘more cumbersome, less safe.’ ” Yet studies have shown that cycling is no more dangerous than driving or going for a walk.
Source: Next American City
Image by Dan4th, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/10/2009 5:28:51 PM
The debate over legal adulthood is never-ending, clouded by widely varying laws and regulations that entrust young people with certain responsibilities and burdens at a young age—in most states, 10-year-olds may be tried as adults for murder, and 16-year-olds can drive or get married—while withholding others, such as drinking or renting a car, until the early or mid-20s.
“Practically from puberty, young people are bombarded with mixed signals about the scope of their rights and the depth of their responsibilities,” writes Alan Greenblatt for Governing. Greenblatt demonstrates that many of the laws governing young people’s behavior—which, by the way, have more than tripled since the 1950s—are based on arbitrary reasoning and dodgy social science. So while politicians and parents continue to argue over such “compass points” to adulthood as the drinking age or voting age (or, incredibly, the “sexting” age), Greenblatt looks to the one realm in which many states recognize that “growing up is a process, not a birthday”: the driving age.
“The driving age is more rooted in practical experience than the arbitrary conventions that define the drinking age and most other adult responsibilities,” he writes. That’s why most states have adopted “graduated driver licensing” (GDL), which grants a license (after the requisite classes, hours, and experience), but only on a probationary basis: For a number of months (or even a year), the new driver might not be allowed to drive with friends or at night.
Greenblatt suggests that such an approach could work in other policy areas, too. “A right such as drinking,” for example, “could be made more contingent on one’s ability to handle it responsibly and less a function of merely reaching a milestone age.” In any case, he argues, “it would be useful . . . for states to think more broadly when it comes to the age of responsibility. States have been acting in ever-more-punitive ways toward teens. Yet the point of laws regulating the behavior of young people should not be to restrict them. It’s to begin educating them in the ways of responsible adulthood. What’s important, after all, is not passing a test or meeting an arbitrary age requirement, but learning lessons and applying them to real life.”
Image by Kiwi Morado, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/10/2009 10:43:27 AM
The United States government is addicted to private contractors. According to Allison Stanger in Foreign Policy, “contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan outnumber American men and women in uniform.” Contractors provide security, food, clothing, shelter, and training for US forces. The use of private contractors not only invites extreme waste and corruption, there is also an extreme lack of transparency from the federal government. Stanger writes, “Obama is now leading a war in Afghanistan whose funding is effectively a black hole.” Stanger tries to cut through the opacity with charts and graphs showing how the federal government has increasingly contracted out its foreign policy.
Image by jamesdale10, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/9/2009 2:08:58 PM
England used to deport criminals to Australia, and that seems to have worked out well for everyone. And since the money supply in the United States is running low, the government should just deport poor people until everyone’s employed. In a Jonathan Swift-like satire, Marshall Auerback suggests in New Deal 2.0 that deporting poor people could solve the U.S. government’s money problems. “We can start with the long-term unemployed. Then the orphans. And maybe empty our prisons, if need be, to create huge savings in our criminal justice system.” Or, on the other hand, the government could also try helping poor people. That could work, too.
New Deal 2.0
12/4/2009 1:38:32 PM
Thought you heard the last of the subprime mess? What do you know about the subprime student loan racket? Washington Monthly has a damning report on the for-profit college industry. Don't miss it:
Each year, more than two million Americans enroll in for-profit colleges, also known as proprietary schools, and their popularity has only grown since the financial crisis. While traditional four-year colleges are struggling with dwindling student bodies and budget gaps, proprietary schools are reporting record enrollments as the newly unemployed try to retool their skills so they can wade back into the job market. Some of the largest for-profit chains say their numbers have doubled over the last year.
The students who are flocking to these schools are mostly poor and working class, and they rely heavily on student loans to cover tuition. According to a College Board analysis of Department of Education data, 60 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients at for-profit colleges graduate with $30,000 or more in student loans—one and a half times the percentage of those at traditional private colleges and three times more than those at four-year public colleges and universities. Similarly, those who earn two-year degrees from proprietary schools rack up nearly three times as much debt as those at community colleges, which serve a similar student population. Proprietary school students are also much more likely to take on private student loans, which, unlike their federal counterparts, are not guaranteed by the federal government, offer scant consumer protections, and tend to charge astronomical interest—in some cases as high as 20 percent.
These figures are all the more troubling in light of these schools’ spotty record of graduating students; the median graduation rate for proprietary schools is only 38 percent—by far the lowest rate in the higher education sector.
Source: Washington Monthly
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