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2009 I

Too Poor to Make the News

Heads of State. | The New York Times

Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times | THE human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction. | Updated | More >>

Iggy’s feckless battalions | 09.06.17

Thomas Walkom, The Toronto Star | It’s hard to take the federal Liberals seriously. Leader Michael Ignatieff is terminally vague. Who are these ludicrous Liberals? And what exactly is it that they want? | Updated | More >>

CrossOver Chromium: Ain’t Workin’ | 09.06.16

The perils of making Windows software work on Linux are exemplified by non-Linux browsers, like Google’s Chromium. For example, they don’t work on Linux. | Updated | More >>

U.S. Births Hint at Bias for Boys in Some Asians | 09.06.14

Sam Roberts, The New York Times | The trend is buried deep in United States census data: seemingly minute deviations in the proportion of boys and girls born to Americans of Chinese, Indian and Korean descent. | Updated | More >>



Leading The Way

The CBC will be at the cutting edge of journalism because it will have to be.

Former diplomat Jeremy Kinsman says there should be a new, ad-free, better-funded Canadian Broadcast Corporation that does fewer things that private TV networks can do well (hockey, horrible hockey-based dramas, and stupid, stupid hockey-related reality shows) and more to inform Canadians and nurture national cultures.

All Canadians have views about the CBC. Mine are pretty simple: the CBC should deliver programming that is essential to our experience as Canadians and which is otherwise absent from the commercial system.

Excellence in this case doesn’t have to mean elitist or even "worthy," as some CBC execs have derisively described such expectations in the past.

The criteria should be only what Canadians need to foster an intelligent national discussion and a window on our own culture.

So, Kinsman argues, kill the ads so the television network won’t be so marketing driven (or is that marketing drivel?). Then emphasize the things that CBC-TV already does well: Make better documentaries than the BBC and do better news reporting and analysis than anything on American TV. This is crucial to our democracy at a time when commercial news budgets are being slashed.

There are two reasons besides the ones Kinsman mentions that make this a good argument. | Updated | More >>

The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention | 09.06.08

André Aciman, The New York Times | During his address to the Muslim world in Cairo, the president never said a word about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. | Updated | More >> 1

Ironic: Hipsters’ Gravy Train Over | 09.06.07

Christine Haughney, The New York Times | Good news, Brooklyn! The financial backers of America’s most asinine subculture—hipsters’ hedge fund manager parents—are pulling the plug. | Updated | More >>

Full disclosure: The words "hipster," "ironic," "gravy train," "good news," "asinine," "hedge fund manager" and "hobo" are not actually used by the author in this article. Wonderfully, the word "trustafarian" is.

C is for Classy | 09.06.12

One bumbling federal minister (is there any other kind?) gets caught on tape saying the isotope shortage scandal is "sexy" and that she wants credit for fixing it. Because the best word to describe people not getting cancer treatment due to your ineptitude is ‘sexy’.

And then the Prime Minister says he won’t take any Gitmo detainees off of US hands, including former child soldier and actual Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, whose life is some bizarre cross between the work of Franz Kafka and Roald Dahl. (The only ones who care less about Khadr’s well-being are his family.) Most good national leaders wouldn’t be caught dead saying they’ll let a contrived, illegal foreign judicial process decide the fate of a natural-born citizen. But we don’t need a hidden tape recorder to divine Harper’s words—he said that shit on Fox News, of all places.

Keep it classy, Conservative Party!



A New Angle on History

Never before published, Terril Jones’s view of Changan Avenue in Beijing on June 5, 1989, shows "tank man," in the distance at left, framed by two tree trunks, on the verge of his confrontation with the tanks in the distance at right. | Terril Jones/Associated Press via NYT

Patrick Witty, The New York Times | Terril Jones had only shown the photograph to friends.

While working as a reporter in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, he shot many photographs and recorded several hours of video. It wasn’t until weeks afterwards, when he had returned to Japan, that he discovered the magnitude of what he had captured — an iconic moment in history from an entirely unique angle.

His version of the tank man has never been published until now. | Updated | More >>

Photos of Trinidad | 09.06.05

Although they’re not quite as epic as photos of tank man, I put up a few dozen pictures from my family trip to Trinidad. Ironically, I left on Indian Arrival Day. But I guess the theme of new history continues. | Updated | More >>

Court orders Ottawa to bring Abdelrazik to Canada | 09.06.04

Tonda Maccharles, The Toronto Star | The federal government has balked at returning Abdelrazik, saying he remains on a UN no-fly list and represents an unspecified security risk, although both the RCMP and CSIS have cleared Abdelrazik of terrorist ties. | Updated | More >>

The Civic Value of a Bold Statement | 09.06.04

Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times | The new academic building at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is yet more proof that some great art was produced in those self-indulgent times just passed. | Updated | More >>

Rather stunning and across the street from NYU Journalism.



No More Mr. Nice Guy

The Supreme Court’s stealth hard-liner.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in 2007. Photograph by Steve Pyke. The New Yorker

Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker | Chief Justice John Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party. | Updated | More >>

What Do Neocons Want? | 09.05.26

I’m in Trinidad right now, but these two articles were so hilarious I couldn’t help but mock them despite being 4000 km away from my laptop. Here are the original titles of Ross Douthat’s and John Bolton’s pieces in the Times today:

“To Make Women Happier, Mock Their Status As Single Mothers—Just Not Like Before.”

“We Are Dangerously Close To Not Having A Nuclear Arms Race, And Therefore, Not Winning One.”

Damned sensible editors!

Where Have You Gone, Ferdinand Pecora? | 09.04.26

Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Public pressure has built for a Pecora-style probe of the causes of our current economic collapse—an inquiry that will search beyond the hearings that have been held so far, more heat and wasted fire than illumination. People want to know what really happened, and how we can keep it from happening again. | Updated | More >>

Boom, Bust and Heckle | 09.05.18

Breakthrough Institute: Who doesn’t hate Paris Hilton? And: Are Square One’s parking lots just asking for it? | Updated | More >>



Who Shredded Our Safety Net?

What starts with “f,” ends with “k,” and means “screw your workers”? That’s right—401(k).

James Ridgeway, Mother Jones | LIKE MOST PEOPLE whose quality of life depends upon the fluctuations of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other acronym-soup retirement account, I was born long before such things existed. It’s easy to forget, now that more than half of us have been made shareholders, that until well past the middle of the 20th century, most people had nothing to do with the stock market: Wall Street was for the wealthy and the reckless. It was a world most Americans didn’t understand and, after 1929, didn’t trust. Some lucky people had pensions, but few had the privilege of even thinking about retirement. They were too busy trying to survive the present—which in my childhood meant the Great Depression and then World War II.

I spent the war years in Washington, DC, where my father had a minor position in the Roosevelt administration. After school, my brother and I spent most of our time running around the streets, trying to get the air-raid wardens to give us a scrap of nylon parachute, or maybe even one of their cast-off World War I helmets, before the blackout drill began. One evening, my mother called us into the dining room and solemnly presented each of us with a $25 war bond. That was my first contact with the world of investment. Compared to a piece of parachute, it was a real downer.

Sixty-five years later it’s a downer still, as I contemplate my future at a time of deep recession with no pension and a depleted 401(k). And it occurs to me that the very notion of a comfortable, paid retirement may turn out to have been a temporary phenomenon, with a life span almost precisely the same as my own. | Updated | More >>

About $800,000, give or take $200,000 | 09.05.01

Citytv’s Richard Madan gave one of his patented "you won’t believe!" anti-government rants today, and, like the other ones, it didn’t add up. | Updated | More >>

Life Without Cars | 09.05.11

Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times | VAUBAN, Germany — Residents of this upscale community are suburban pioneers, going where few soccer moms or commuting executives have ever gone before: they have given up their cars. | Updated | More >>

Tamil Tigers using electoral list to raise funds | 09.05.06

The Globe and Mail | Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans living in Canada have been funding the Tamil Tigers’ terrorism campaign through a secret strategy of profiling carried out using Canada’s electoral database, the RCMP allege. | Updated | More >>



KDE 4.2: The Desktop, Now Without Idiots

The K Desktop Environment is cutting-edge, Web-savvy, and customizable—and now, thank Tux, it’s stable. The H

KDE 4.0 got off to such a rocky start that within a year, Linus Torvalds, the Finnish brain behind Linux, famously switched to KDE’s main rival: GNOME, the desktop environment he once said was made for idiots. KDE 4 was "a disaster" and "half-baked," Trovalds told Computerworld in January, the product of a "break everything" and rebuild strategy that didn’t work out. Maybe next time, he said.

The K Desktop Environment v.4.2.2 is next time. 4.0 and 4.1 were unstable and unusable, a hideous patchwork of novel but puzzling features coupled with the shitty tendency to crash randomly like a high school computer programming project. My little laptop Dellie II cried out for the devil she knew, WinXP. But 4.2, while not perfect, is showing signs of a maturing and sophisticated desktop that, pound for pound, is better prepared for the new Web frontier than any of its rivals, commercial or not, without all of the the roughness around the edges.

That’s because, unlike GNOME and some other desktops we might know, KDE is not made for idiots. The KDE team did not obsess over ease of use, but rather stressed functionality in a new high-productivity, Web-centered era. It is customizable and powerful and, as with all open source projects that have pulled a phoenix and been rebuilt from scratch, increasingly stable. It is the desktop I abandoned years before Torvalds did because I didn’t get it. Now, it’s the one I’m setting up for my sexagenarian parents. And Dellie has never looked back again.

| Link | Licence The Desktop, Now Without Idiots This is my productivity "activity." Widgets are easy to add, place, and resize except for one annoying glitch where things show up randomly. Desktop folders are prominent here. Note there are no desktop icons. (Click on the bottom-right corner to see the next image.)
| Link | Licence Switching activities is like switching desktops, but instead of changing groups of windows, it changes groups of widgets and the screen’s wallpaper. Switching is facilitated on my system by a little two-button widget (bottom-right, left of the clock). Note that this activity has regular old desktop icons.
| Link | Licence The cashew, as it’s called, allows access to the most basic settings, including creating activities and adding widgets and panels to your system. Zooming is still a bit confusing, but once I realized the power of the activities metaphor, the logic became somewhat clearer.
| Link | Licence NetMan is utter shit as always and still needs work. The new graphics are nice, I guess.
| Link | Licence Desktops & Activities This schematic illustrates how KDE allows users to quickly switch between different Desktops (groupings of windows) and different Activities (groupings of widgets with customized wallpapers). The plasma panel and cursor remain constant. Image created with Blender. Cursor image: Wikipedia Commons
| Link | Licence The Zoom Feature Here, zooming out shows one active activity. It’s not clear if there is a limit to how many activities one can use. Either way, it’s not really clear how useful zooming is, other than to add and compare activities.

| Updated | More >>

Colbert Study: Conservatives Don’t Know He’s Joking | 09.04.27

Jason Linkins, The Huffington Post | Joke’s on them. Conservatives apparently don’t get that Stephen Colbert’s shtick is a massive, ongoing satire ... of them. | Updated | More >>

Landover Baptist cites SAG.com | 09.04.27

The good people at Landover Baptist Church—America’s most awesome spoof of the Christian conservative movement—linked to my blog post on ironically named Liberty University’s code of conduct:

Christianly Attire:Click Here For an Invaluable True Christian™ Resource on Proper Womenly Attire

The Ayatollah would be proud!

And like the awesome journalist I am, Iost the original PDF file containing the code of conduct in its entirety. Liberty, for its part, put the document behind a firewall. Nice going, Garib.

Chrysler, the UAW, and a Small Car Named Desire | 09.05.01

James Ridgeway, Mother Jones | The Chrysler deal might return organized labor to the bolder, more progressive approach of the Walter Reuther years. | Updated | More >>



Records show harsh interrogation with no intelligence gain

Abu Zubaydah was subject to harsh interrogation even though interrogators believed he had told them all he knew. | Wonkette

Scott Shane, The New York Times | WASHINGTON — The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.

The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show.

Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said.

Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, the official said, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect.” | Updated | More >>

Related Article: In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Look at Past Use | NYT 09.04.21

Related Article: How ’07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate | NYT 09.04.27

Iran jails journalist as US spy | 09.04.18

BBC News | An Iranian-American journalist branded a US spy has been jailed for eight years by Iran after a brief trial held behind closed doors | Updated | More >>

Kinda Funny: Colbert’s Anti-Gay Marriage Ad | 09.04.18

Alex Leo, The Huffington Post | There’s a giant gay storm gathering, and before long the winds will be blowing each other. | Updated | More >>

What should CSIS do? | 09.04.16

Brian Stewart, CBC News | Since its launch in 1984, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been struggling to set the record straight about itself, with what can only be called limited success. | Updated | More >>



Appeal the Khadr decision? Adding insult to injury

Video images show the Toronto-born Omar Khadr during interrogation in the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. | CBC

OMAR KHADR’S illegal detainment at the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is a legal and ethical farce. And yet here is the Canadian government contemplating an appeal of a federal court decision that requires them to ask for the Canadian citizen’s return.

Both Harper’s Conservatives and the preceding Liberal government have blood on their hands in this case. Our government has allowed Khadr to be the victim of a ruthless Bush administration that put itself above its own laws, and neither Harper nor the Liberals had the sense to demand Khadr’s return when the public realized what disgraces Gitmo and the flimsy evidence against the then-15-year-old were. Today, the CBC reports, Federal Court Justice James O’Reilly ordered the government to demand he be sent home and wrote that Canada’s "ongoing refusal" to do so "offends a principle of fundamental justice" and violates his constitutional rights.

In parliament, Liberal Ralph Goodale (who, it should be mentioned, was a front-bencher during more than three years of Khadr’s detainment) asked the government if they would comply with the court order, and to the applause of the Conservative front bench, Harper said he would consider an appeal first. On what grounds? | Updated | More >>

Pakistan’s Fatal Shore | 09.05.01

Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic | Will Pakistan, a nuclear Yugoslavia-in-the-making, gradually disintegrate before it subjugates the Baluch? The answer to that question, which will also shape the future of Pakistan’s neighbors, is bound up with the future of Gwadar, a port town of 70,000 close to the border with Iran, at the far end of the Makran coast. | Updated | More >>

You’re Fired! | 09.04.22

Dylan Matthews, Campus Progress | The Senate often stands in the way of great progressive reform, so how can we get rid of it? | Updated | More >>

Want to Go Faster? You Need a Trainer | 09.04.22

Gina Kolata, The New York Times | Too few amateur athletes take training seriously and fewer still do it right. Exercise physiologists and coaches say most people who want to run, swim, cycle or row faster or improve in almost any sport do not appreciate what can be accomplished with training nor how to do it. | Updated | More >>



The Island That Time Forgot

A new vision of the lost world that is right under our feet.

From left: courtesy of Stephen Amiaga; courtesy of Markley Boyer/the Mannahatta Project/Wildlife Conservation Society / New York mag

New York | For the last 400 years, since Henry Hudson arrived on these shores, Manhattan has been a place where people have seen what they wanted to see, and then remade it in that image. It’s been a Rauschenberg canvas, built out, cut away, layered thick with new visions, with little thought to what was there before, after which the new visions are torn away themselves. But before the towers and brownstones, before the street grid and infill, before Bloomingdale Road, before Broadway, before the farms, before the British, before the Dutch, before Henry Hudson himself, was a place called Mannahatta, island of many hills. New research by Eric W. Sanderson, a landscape ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo, augmented by digital re-creations by Markley Boyer—their work is the basis of an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York opening May 20 and a new book, Mannahatta, published by Abrams next month—has opened a window onto what New York City was like before Europeans arrived. The window has remarkable resolution—the height of the hills, the species of trees, the wandering paths of the creeks—geo-referenced to the current street grid. | Updated | More >>

Gotcha TV: Crews Stalk Bill O’Reilly’s Targets | 09.04.15

Brian Stelter, The New York Times | Ambush interviews have become a distinguishing feature of Mr. O’Reilly’s program on the Fox News Channel. | Updated | More >>

Colbert Torches Obama On Bagram Decision | 09.04.16

Jason Linkins, The Huffington Post | While he only dedicated the first two minutes of his show to the issue, Stephen Colbert’s mini-segment on President Barack Obama’s decision to preserve the habeas corpus-free detainee policy at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan was a brutal, bitter, and important piece of comedy.

"It’s essentially the same stance taken by George Bush," Colbert said, "with one important difference: Obama makes the kids like it." | Updated | More >>

It’s all Obama, all the time | 09.04.16

Roger Simon, The Politico | If it’s Thursday, it must be Obama. Or Friday. Or Saturday. Or just about any day.

Barack Obama has gone from being historic to being ubiquitous. He doesn’t just control the news cycle, he is the news cycle. | Updated | More >>

Kinda Funny: A New Form Of Writing | 09.04.10

Matt Bors, Campus Progress

| Updated | More >>



U.S. red tape forces gifted workers north

Google engineer is living in Toronto despite job in U.S.

Sanjay Mavinkurve and Samvita Padukone live in Toronto so they can both work. (April 12, 2009) | Steve Russell / Toronto Star

Iain Marlow, The Toronto Star | Canada should, perhaps, praise the H-1B.

Among others, the American work visa has brought this country Sanjay Mavinkurve, a brilliant Google engineer born in India who helped create the foundation for Facebook while studying at Harvard – and owned Google stock before the company went public.

Mavinkurve, 28, of course, feels slightly different about the visa, whose number-letter combination is seared into the minds of foreign-born professionals who want to work south of the border.

It is why he finds himself in Toronto: The H-1B’s spousal complement, the dreaded H-4 or "dependent" visa, means if he wants to stay and work in America, his brilliant, cheerful and pregnant wife Samvita Padukone, 27, would be chained at home by work restrictions. | Updated | More >>

Is Robert Gates A Genius? | 09.04.11

Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek | "When a true genius appears," the English satirist Jonathan Swift wrote, "you may know him by this sign; that all the dunces are in confederacy against him." Genius might be a bit much as a description of the secretary of defense, but Robert Gates’s budget proposal has certainly gathered all the right opponents. | Updated | More >>

Hack Bluefish please, and stop being a hack | 09.04.14

Bluefish would be perfect if it had ftp upload built in; I hate installing software by line commands in Linux; and Mercedes Stephenson on CBC Newsworld should stop being such a... | Updated | More >>

Tea Parties Forever | 09.04.12

Paul Krugman, The New York Times | The G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble. So it behooves us to look closely at the state of what is, after all, one of our nation’s two great political parties. | Updated | More >>



Inside Swat, Pakistan’s violent valley

Pakistani boys study atop the rubble of their school in Mingora, capital of the troubled Swat region in Pakistan, in March 2009. The school had been blown up by Taliban militants. | Sherin Zada/Associated Press/CBC

Adrienne Arsenault, CBC News | The Pakistani government and the Taliban were both very clear. There was NO permission for us to go to the Swat valley in northwestern Pakistan. It was said to be too dangerous to even try.

Then they both made the claim that everyday life in the much fought over Swat is better now. Really. It’s much safer.

Pakistan has often been a place where leaders stare up at bright blue skies and declare them green, or red, or anything but blue. But the spin on Swat, from all sides, is particularly dizzying.

What is clear is that the place of the picturesque postcards is no more.

The Swat valley used to be the country’s top tourist attraction. The "Switzerland of Pakistan" was the boast: good skiing, clear lakes, luxury hotels and an open embrace of visitors.

Then the Taliban began arriving in ever larger numbers — attacking police, kidnapping foreigners and destroying schools — and everything changed. | Updated | More >>

“Freedom fighters” and the pols that love them (sometimes) | 09.04.10

You have to give it to anyone who calls a spade a spade. Tamil Tiger flags all over the place? Not cool, says Jason Kenney. | Updated | More >>

Don’t believe the reports of Toronto’s demise | 09.04.10

Christopher Hume, The Toronto Star | Okay everyone, take a Valium. Reports that Toronto is about to become a suburb needn’t be taken seriously. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: Toronto a suburb? It’s begun (The Toronto Star | 09.04.08)

Spencer Bachus’s List Of 17 Socialists In Congress | 09.04.09

Jason Linkins, The Huffington Post | Not too long ago, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was on Hardball, calling for the media to investigate her Congressional colleagues to "find out if they are pro-America or anti-America." Well, it turns out that someone has taken up Bachmann’s call on a proactive basis! | Updated | More >>



Voice of the Century

Celebrating Marian Anderson.

In 1939, at the Lincoln Memorial, Anderson became a figure of quasi-political power. The New Yorker

Alex Ross, The New Yorker | On Easter Sunday, 1939, the contralto Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her appear at Constitution Hall, Washington’s largest concert venue, because of the color of her skin. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R., and President Roosevelt gave permission for a concert on the Mall. Seventy-five thousand people gathered to watch Anderson perform. Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, introduced her with the words “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free.”

The impact was immediate and immense; one newsreel carried the legend “Nation’s Capital Gets Lesson in Tolerance.” But Anderson herself made no obvious statement. She presented, as she had done countless times before, a mixture of classical selections—“O mio Fernando,” from Donizetti’s “La Favorita,” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria”—and African-American spirituals. Perhaps there was a hint of defiance in her rendition of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”; perhaps a message of solidarity when she changed the line “Of thee I sing” to “Of thee we sing.” Principally, though, her protest came in the unfurling of her voice—that gently majestic instrument, vast in range and warm in tone. In her early years, Anderson was known as “the colored contralto,” but, by the late thirties, she was the contralto, the supreme representative of her voice category. Arturo Toscanini said that she was the kind of singer who comes along once every hundred years; Jean Sibelius welcomed her to his home saying, “My roof is too low for you.” There was no rational reason for a serious venue to refuse entry to such a phenomenon. No clearer demonstration of prejudice could be found.

One person who appreciated the significance of the occasion was the ten-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Five years later, King entered a speaking contest on the topic “The Negro and the Constitution,” and he mentioned Anderson’s performance in his oration: “She sang as never before, with tears in her eyes. When the words of ‘America’ and ‘Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen’ rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality, and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America.” When, two decades later, King stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, he surely had Anderson in mind. In his improvised peroration, he recited the first verse of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” then imagined freedom ringing from every mountainside in the land.

Ickes, in 1939, bestowed on Anderson a word that put her in the company of Bach and Beethoven: “Genius, like justice, is blind. . . . Genius draws no color line.” With the massive stone image of Lincoln gazing out over her, with a host of powerful white men seated at her feet—senators, Cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices—and with a bank of microphones arrayed in front of her, Anderson attained something greater than fame: for an instant, she became a figure of quasi-political power. In Richard Powers’s novel “The Time of Our Singing” (2003), a magisterial fantasia on race and music, the concert becomes nothing less than the evocation of a new America—“a nation that, for a few measures, in song at least, is everything it claims to be.” Fittingly, when Barack Obama became President, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” floated out over the Mall once more, from the mouth of Aretha Franklin to a crowd of two million. | Updated | More >>

Obamaism | 09.04.13

George Packer, The New Yorker | Well short of Obama’s first hundred days, the dominant characteristic of his Presidency is clear: activist government, on every front. It’s harder to make out the contours of the philosophy at the core of this dazzling blur of action. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: Hints of Obama’s Strategy in a Telling 8 Days (09.04.07 | NYT)

Obama’s Shock Troops | 09.04.08

Ben Smith, The Politico | The latest in a series of new, low-profile efforts to coordinate the unusually focused progressive coalition backing the White House’s goals is a quiet weekly meeting run by a new group called the Common Purpose Project. | Updated | More >>



China’s Tunnel Vision

Mass Transit and a Soaring Car Culture Clash

Digging for the subway expansion in Guangzhou, China, proceeds around the clock, every day. Timothy O’Rourke / The New York Times

Keith Bradsher, The New York Times | GUANGZHOU, China—Chan Shao Zhang is in the race of his life.

After four decades of false starts, Mr. Chan, a 67-year-old engineer, is supervising an army of workers operating 60 gargantuan tunneling machines beneath this metropolis in southeastern China. They are building one of the world’s largest and most advanced subway systems.

The question is whether the burrowing machines can outrace China’s growing love affair with the automobile — car sales have soared ninefold since 2000. Or are a hundred Los Angeleses destined to bloom?

And even as Mr. Chan labors to bind Guangzhou together with an underground web of steel, the city is spreading out rapidly above ground, like a drop of ink on a paper towel.

The Guangzhou Metro is just part of a much broader surge in mass transit construction across China.

At least 15 cities are building subway lines and a dozen more are planning them. The pace of construction will only accelerate now that Beijing is pushing local and provincial governments to step up their infrastructure spending to offset lost revenue from slumping exports.

“Nobody is building like they are,” said Shomik Mehndiratta, a World Bank specialist in urban transport. “The center of construction is really China.” | Updated | More >>

Related Article: China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars (NYT | 09.04.01)

Dubai: How not to build a city | 09.04.05

Christopher Hume, The Toronto Star | If this really is a city and not some sheikh’s mad idea of what a metropolis should be, it’s a city despite itself. | Updated | More >>

How not to build a Web site | 09.04.06

Web style overhauling has begun; Will Inkscape be all the Fireworks I dream it will be?; Where the fuck is a decent GNU/Linux Flash developer?; PLUS A comment spam arms race | Updated | More >>



An Immigrant Detainee Dies, and Vanishes From the Records

Jean Blum, at the Monmouth County Correctional Institute, was among those who tried to find out how Ahmad Tanveer died. Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Nina Bernstein, The New York Times | The hand-scrawled letter from a New Jersey jail was urgent. An immigration detainee had died that day, Sept. 9, 2005, a fellow inmate wrote in broken English, describing chest pains and pleas for medical attention that went unheeded until too late.

“Death ... need to be investigated,” he urged a local group that corresponded with foreigners held for deportation at the jail, the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold. “We care very much because that can happen to anyone of us.”

Yet like a message in a bottle tossed from a distant shore, even the fact of the detainee’s death was soon swept away.

Inquiries by the local group were rebuffed by jail officials. Complaints forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security were logged, then forgotten. And when pressure from Congress and the news media compelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement to produce the first list of people who had died in their custody, the Freehold case was not on it. | Updated | More >>

Inside the CIA’s (Sort of) Secret Document Stash | 09.04.03

Bruce Falconer, Mother Jones | In a quiet, fluorescently lit room in the National Archives’ auxiliary campus in suburban College Park, Maryland, 10 miles outside of Washington, are four computer terminals, each providing instant access to the more than 10 million pages of documents the CIA has declassified since 1995. There’s only one problem: these are the only publicly available computers in the world that do so. | Updated | More >>

“No” Worries | 09.04.01

Christopher Beam, Slate | Watching congressional Republicans elaborately introduce their second alternative budget—this time with numbers—it was hard not to see them as victims of a cruel prank. | Updated | More >>

Obama’s Ersatz Capitalism | 09.03.31

Joseph E. Stiglitz, The New York Times | THE Obama administration’s $500 billion or more proposal to deal with America’s ailing banks has been described by some in the financial markets as a win-win-win proposal. Actually, it is a win-win-lose proposal: the banks win, investors win — and taxpayers lose. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: The Geithner-Summers Plan is Even Worse Than We Thought (HuffPo | 09.04.08)

Kinda Funny: Death Star Bonuses | 09.03.30

Matt Bors, Campus Progress

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The Real Republican Road to Recovery

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight | The Republican "Road to Recovery" budget alternative, rolled out today by John Boehner, has been criticized by left and right for its lack of specificity and its promise to eliminate the national debt while significantly cutting taxes. FiveThirtyEight.com, however, has received an advance copy of additional details prepared by the Minority Leader’s office. | Updated | More >>

GM’s Problems are 50 Years in the Making | 09.03.31

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight | If I were an alien beaming down from Rigel-3 looking at this pattern — an alien with an MBA degree — my first guess is that it would reflect some sort of systemic problem, some chronic imbalance that magnified over time. Something, in other words, like the costs of GM’s retiree pension and health care programs. | Updated | More >>


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A region stuck in traffic | 09.03.23

Michael Warren, The Toronto Star | Sixty minutes each way: That’s the average commute to and from work in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). It is equivalent to three full work-months a year. No wonder there is growing anger and frustration among those who try to move around this region. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: GTA transit gets $9B jump-start (Toronto Star | 09.04.02)

Hooverville, 2009? | 09.03.26

Taylor Wiles and Sam Baldwin, Mother Jones | You may have seen Oprah’s version of the Sacramento "tent city" story recently, which involves a sensationalist video (preview below, full report here) of reporter Lisa Ling talking to Dorothea Lange-styled Great Recession refugees. Here’s the factchecked reality of what’s going down at California’s "new" Hooverville. | Updated | More >>



Gary Goodyear’s Loyal Opposition

At least two scientists should be more skeptical about the science minister’s purported beliefs

Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology—and culture warriror? Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail

If you weren’t shocked by the comments made by the minister for science and technology about the theory of evolution, you should be floored by what some scientists said in response according to this CBC.ca article.

When asked if he believed in evolution, Gary Goodyear, a self-professed Christian, said he didn’t think that "asking a question about my religion is appropriate." (Did you get that? A minister of state with a science portfolio was asked about his views on a scientific matter, and he used his religion to dodge the question. It’s starting to feel like Kansas in the House of Commons.)

But when Goodyear tried to pull back from his image as a Christian fundamentalist, a couple of scientists fell for the deception. They shouldn’t be so naive. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: Is This The Real Stephen Harper? (The Toronto Star | 09.03.17)

Banning British MP a clumsy, dangerous move | 09.03.21

Thomas Walkom, The Toronto Star | Jason Kenney has gone over the edge. The increasingly erratic immigration minister made headlines last week when, in a fit of pique, he cut off funding to an Arab organization that helps newcomers learn English. Now, Kenney has banned British MP George Galloway from entering Canada, on the spurious grounds that he supports Middle East terrorism.

It’s a clumsy move, designed presumably to bolster the Conservative government’s support among voters who ardently back Israel.

But in a roundabout way it does illustrate how absurdly broad Canada’s new anti-terror laws are and how dangerous they can be in the wrong hands. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: Kenney: Immigrants with poor French or English should be denied citizenship (Toronto Star | 09.03.21)

A Nation Neither United Nor Divided | 09.03.11

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight | The Center For American Progress has a terrific new survey out on political ideology. The material in the survey is right up our alley, and is probably deserving of several posts, but I want to start with a relatively quick, 30,000-foot question: ideologically speaking, is there more that unites us as Americans or divides us? | Updated | More >>



The Man Who Felled Wall Street

Math whiz proposed applying this statistical formula to credit risk, and financial meltdown ensued

University of Waterloo statistician David Li is shown in this handout photo, along with his statistical formula for modeling the behaviour of several correlated risks at once. Toronto Star

Cathal Kelly, The Toronto Star | Former University of Waterloo statistician David X. Li didn’t burn down the American economy. He just supplied the matches.

As economists and market watchers cast about for people to blame for the U.S. market meltdown, Li has surfaced as a scapegoat. Recently, Wired magazine ran an article on Li’s work subtitled, "The Formula That Killed Wall Street."

The formula in question is the so-called Gaussian copula function. On the most basic level, the formula allows statisticians to model the behaviour of several correlated risks at once.

In a scholarly paper published in 2000, Li proposed the theorem be applied to credit risks, encompassing everything from bonds to mortgages. This particular copula was not new, but the financial application Li proposed for it was.

Disastrously, it was just simple enough for untrained financial analysts to use, but too complex for them to properly understand. It appeared to allow them to definitively determine risk, effectively eliminating it. The result was an orgy of misspending that sent the U.S. banking system over a cliff. | Updated | More >>

Off With the Bankers | 09.03.19

Simon Johnson and James Kwak, The New York Times | A.I.G. can hardly claim that its generous bonuses attract the best and the brightest. So instead, it defends the payments by arguing they’re needed to retain employees who are crucial for winding down transactions that are “difficult to understand and manage.” In other words, only the people who stuck the knife into the American International Group can neatly extract it for a decent burial.

There is no reason to believe this. | Updated | More >>

Related Article: Paying Workers More to Fix Their Own Mess (NYT | 09.03.17)

Bush to write “Authoritarian” memoir | 09.03.17

Rob Gillies, The Huffington Post | Former President George W. Bush said that he doesn’t know what he will do in the long term but that he will write a book that will ask people to consider what they would do if they had to protect the United States as president.

He said it will be fun to write and that "it’s going to be (about) the 12 toughest decisions I had to make." | Updated | More >>

It’s About the Journalism | 09.03.16

Steve Coll, The New Yorker | There is no danger to the prospect of big, innovative, American-based businesses trafficking in widely disseminated, highly profitable media and information—just ask Google, Yahoo, Bloomberg and many others about that. The threat, instead, is to the values and practice of independent, professional journalism. | Updated | More >>



The Destructive Center

(L to R) Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Susan Collins (R-R.I.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Reuters

Paul Krugman, The New York Times | What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?

A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished. | Updated | More >>

Don’t Apologize, Michael! | 09.02.02

Jesse Singal, Campus Progress | By apologizing for smoking pot, Phelps did two things: He became the umpteenth athlete to legitimize our country’s bizarre, destructive war on pot, and he confirmed his status as one of the tooliest superstar athletes in recent memory. | Updated | More >>

Lightning, Thunderbird’s Miss Moneypenny | 09.02.10

Since I chafe at the commitment required to use fully-integrated personal information managers, like KDE’s PIM suite, I took at look at Mozilla’s Lightning project. Lightning is a calendering add-on to the unequaled Thunderbird e-mail client. It’s a great first step. Here are some things that would make it as powerful as Mozilla’s sophisticated stalwarts. | Updated | More >>

Japan’s Big-Works Stimulus Is Lesson | 09.02.05

Martin Fackler, The New York Times | Japan’s experience suggests that infrastructure spending, while a blunt instrument, can help revive a developed economy, say many economists including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. One lesson Mr. Geithner has said he took away from Japan is that spending must come in quick, massive doses, and be continued until recovery takes firm root. | Updated | More >>

Karma, Baby: Slumdog Millionaire, an Oscar Favorite, Is No Hit in India | 09.01.26

Madhur Singh, Time | On Friday, a day after Slumdog Millionaire was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the movie filled just 25% of the seats for its debut in theaters across India, the country of its setting. | Updated | More >>



The End of the Culture Wars

Barack Obama’s greatest feat may be ending the ruinous, decades-long battle over race and religion that has plagued the Democratic Party.

Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast | For several decades now, analysts have divided American politics into three categories: economics, foreign policy, and culture. About categories one and two, Obama is voluble. On economics, he wants to stimulate short-term economic recovery while laying the foundation for greater long-term stability and equity. On foreign policy, he wants to restore America’s diplomatic capacity so we don’t have to rely so heavily on the military, and restore our good name, so we can help solve common global problems like climate change. But on culture? Here Obama goes mute. When was the last time you heard him speak unprompted about abortion or gay rights or gun control? He has positions on those issues, to be sure. But he’s determined not to be too publicly associated with them. That’s why he chose Rick Warren, who disagrees with him on abortion and gay marriage, to give the invocation at his inauguration. It’s why he chose not to repeal the Bush administration’s ban on U.S. aid to international organizations that provide abortions on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. He did so the day after instead, so his decision would garner less attention. “It’s time,” he declared, “that we end the politicization of this issue.”

When it comes to culture, Obama doesn’t have a public agenda; he has a public anti-agenda. He wants to remove culture from the political debate. He wants to cut our three-sided political game back down to two. | Updated | More >>

I get the Network part, but Manager? | 09.01.27

Slim pickings for KDE users in the wireless network client department mean we’re stuck with the ever-shitty Network Manager. | Updated | More >>

Obama’s Reagan Transformation? | 09.01.27

Lou Cannon, The New York Times | The presidential exemplar that may be most useful to President Obama as he seeks to jump start the economy is Republican icon Ronald Reagan. | Updated | More >>

How should Obama reform health care? | 09.01.26

Atul Gawande, The New Yorker | Pro-reform idealists argue reform requires transformation at a stroke. But is this really the way it has occurred in other countries? The answer is no. And the reality of how health reform has come about elsewhere is both surprising and instructive. | Updated | More >>



Why the Auto Bailout’s a Dead End

Detroit’s primary moneymaking vehicle has been selling credit, not cars. The Big Three may have finally run out of road.

flickr user the toe stubber used under a Creative Commons license via Mother Jones

Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones | If the federal government bails out the Big Three, who’s going to buy their cars? Like those homeowners around the country who have found they owe more money than their homes are worth, millions of Americans are similarly underwater on their car loans. That debt burden will make it virtually impossible for millions of potential consumers to buy a car for years to come. This factor will severely blunt any good that a cash infusion might do for Detroit. For this, the auto industry has no one to blame but itself. | Updated | More >>

Back Issues | 09.01.26

Jill Lepore, The New Yorker | The end, apparently, really is near for newspapers. That makes this a good time to ask: what was the beginning about? | Updated | More >>

Death of Satire Watch: GYWO, R.I.P. | 09.01.21

Dave Gilson, Mother Jones | With George W. Bush gone and Obama still in his 100-hour honeymoon, there’s been much hand-wringing about the fate of lefty political satire. And the post-ironic era has already taken a victim. | Updated | More >>

The Moustache Of Greenderstanding | 09.01.15

“Good ol’ Matt Taibbi wrote a review of Thomas Friedman’s new book, ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’. I made the accompanying illustration.” | David Rees/GYWO

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Created: 05.12.04 | Last Updated: 10.03.03 | RSS | Under Creative Commons Licence | About Whis Website