March 01, 2010

Moving Day--Off to Big Think--Update your RSS feeds

Today's the day. I'm off to Big Think. Here comes Focal Point.

Update your bookmarks and RSS feeds. The Majikthise URL should start redirecting to Big Think automatically.

February 27, 2010

Great moments in projection: Olympic edition

Did you know that women are ostensibly banned from Olympic ski jumping due to the governing body's concerns about the well-being of their ovaries?

Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation, had a pretty explanatory answer:

"Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women. Don't forget, [the landing] it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters to the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

And it only gets worse. The reasons given to Alissa were a bit more in detail:

"So far, we've been told every excuse in the book. That it's too 'dangerous' for girls. That there aren't enough of us. That we're not good enough. That it would damage our ovaries and uterus and we won't be able to have children, even though that's not true. It's so outdated, it's kind of funny in a way. And then it's not." [feministing, via Pandagon]

It’s touching that the gender that totes its gonads around in little bags outside of the body is so solicitous of the gender that keeps its family jewels stowed safely inside the abdomen.

Hockey players act like hockey players, world aghast

If you win an Olympic gold medal in hockey, you get to drink beer, smoke cigars, and drive the Zamboni. It's that simple.  It's probably in the Canadian constitution somewhere.

Yet suddenly, people couldn't recognize a Zamboni have taken it upon themselves to chide the Canadian women's hockey team for celebrating their 2-0 Olympic gold medal victory over the U.S. on the ice--after the fans had left the arena.

Some players wearing their gold medals were chewing on them. Some were drinking champagne. Some were drinking beer or pouring it into teammates' mouths. Some were doing their drinking while smoking cigars, or reclining on the ice and kicking their feet into the air, or honking the Zamboni's horn, or even attempting to drive the ice-resurfacing vehicle.

Canadians seemed to think this was great, an appropriate response to an emotional triumph. But when a reporter asked someone from the International Olympic Committee - an organization renowned for its stuffiness - that official did not. [...]

Steve Keough, a Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) spokesman, said the celebration was "not something uncommon in Canada." [PI]

You know why Canadians thought it was great? Because we see these women as athletes, not novelty fetish items. Athletes do this sort of thing. These particular athletes had just won a gold medal in Canada's favorite sport.

They were entitled to celebrate. The woman who scored both goals, Marie-Philip Poulin, was photographed drinking a beer. Scolds feigned outrage because she's 18 and the drinking age in British Columbia is 19. A guy who scored two goals in a gold medal game would be allowed to savor a beer in peace. The hockey etiquette police are probably unaware that it's traditional to for the winning team to guzzle champagne from the Stanley Cup.

The women didn't set out to cause a scene. They'd been partying in the locker room and they were invited back out onto the ice by photographers who wanted what should have read as cliches: Victorious athletes celebrating. The New York Times blog suggests that the women were posing for personal souvenir shots and didn't even realize that an AP photographer was still in the building.

But because the winners were women, the rest of the world was scandalized by their harmless exuberance. 

And the winner is... (New blog name)

The name of the new blog is "Focal Point," as suggested by Windy Pundit. It's professional-sounding, easy to spell, devoid of unwanted psychosexual undertones, and brands both the photography and the writing. I love it.

My first post on The Big Think will go live on Monday morning.

February 24, 2010

The White House and Stupak

Amy Sullivan writes:

The President's proposal has, by virtue of not altering the Senate language on abortion coverage, opted for Ben Nelson's formulation rather than Bart Stupak's stricter standard. The Stupak amendment, you'll remember, was deemed necessary back in November to break the logjam in the House and get enough pro-life Democratic votes to pass health reform.

This post is part of a strange emerging conventional wisdom that it's significant that the White House didn't address abortion in its health care proposal.

The thing is, the White House never had the option of altering the Senate's language on abortion coverage. I mean, the president could have proposed whatever he wanted, but there would have been no way to make that alternate proposal into law without scrapping health reform and starting over.

At this point, any changes to the Senate health bill will have to be made through budget reconciliation. With his proposal, the president is telling the Senate what he wants them to try to pass through reconciliation.

Under the Byrd Rule, budget reconciliation is only for provisions that affect outlays and revenues. The Stupak amendment disqualifies private insurers from receiving subsidies if they offer abortion coverage that customers pay for with their own money. It doesn't materially affect the federal budget. So, there's no way to slip it into the Senate bill through reconciliation.

I don't think the White House wants to change the abortion language in the Senate bill anyway, but it's a moot point.

The Weathermen were terrorists

Ta-Nehesi Coates writes:

All jokes aside, again, I think the problem here is defining terrorist strictly as the work of "foreign attackers" is really dubious. Newsweek certainly had no problem identifying Bill Ayers as a "former terrorist" in its subhed back in 08. I'm not in their newsroom. But I'd be very interested to see whether they debated this.

The Weathermen were definitely terrorists. Just because they operated domestically doesn't make them any less terroristic. The IRA, the UDL, and the ETA are terrorist organizations that operate on home turf.

Terrorism is a tactic. It can be perpetrated by a group of people, or by a lone individual, at home or abroad. The essence of terrorism is using spectacular violence for psychological leverage in the service of ideology.

A terrorist attack is designed to spark fear out of all proportion to the person/group's operational capacity to inflict casualties, and therefore to give the terrorists disproportionate influence--either to coerce a population or a government directly, or to provoke their adversaries into an overreaction that will set off a backlash.

Terrorists hope to distort our perception of risk by committing memorable, dramatic, "telegenic" atrocities.

I can see some justification for reserving the term terrorist for those who are part of organized groups. If if an attack is obviously a suicide mission by a lone assailant, that kind of defeats the purpose of a terror attack. The attacker loses a lot of leverage by dying and thereby removing further credible threats.

On the other hand, not all terrorists are suicide bombers. Tim McVeigh was clearly a terrorist. He didn't team up with an organization to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City--but he had enough ties to the right-wing, anti-government movement to make us wonder. If he hadn't been caught, he probably would have committed more attacks. Years after McVeigh's execution, you still see Teabaggers showing up at rallies in "Tree of Liberty" t-shirts, an homage to McVeigh.

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, waged a 17-year terror campaign against scientists, mathematicians, lobbyists, and other symbols of technological society. Early in his career, he nearly brought down an American Airlines flight with a bomb in the cargo hold. At one point, Kaczynski wrote a letter to the New York Times falsely claiming to be part of a group called the FC, or the Freedom Club. Was Kaczynski really any less of a terrorist because he turned out to be the FC's only member?

The lone wolf vs. group divide is looking increasingly arbitrary the era of networked organizations and virtual social movements. Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan acted alone, but he saw himself as being part of a much larger project.

In an age of mass communication and media, even a suicide bomber can hope to kindle a chain reaction that will continue long after he's gone. IRS bomber Joe Stack hoped that his attack would inspire others to rise up against the government, and sure enough, within minutes of the crash online shrines were popping up all over the web.

Weekly Pulse: Obama gives GOP rope to hang itself at health care summit

Tomorrow, President Obama will gather with Republicans for the long-awaited televised health care summit. Obama will promote his health care proposal, the Republicans will demand that we start over.

Even House Minority Leader John Boehner dimly senses that the GOP is walking into a trap. The public is thoroughly sick of the health reform process, but people still like the idea of health care reform. So, the GOP can't just say "kill the bill" in public. Instead, Republicans have to make disingenuous speeches about "starting over," knowing full well that if health care reform dies now, it'll stay dead.

Boehner must realize that starting over is about as appealing as National Root Canal Week at the DMV. But what can he do? The Republicans have no ideas beyond "tax cuts cure cancer." And they can't boycott the summit, or they'll lose the "bipartisan" blinking contest.

So, when Obama gets on TV and lays out his reasonable-sounding plan, complete with protections against private insurers who want to hike your premiums 39% overnight, he's going to sound good and the Republicans are going to sound crazy.

Brilliant tactician Boehner is now exhorting Republicans to "crash the party" they've already been invited to.

It's a trap, alright.

February 23, 2010

Hivemind: Help me name my new Big Think blog

I'm very excited to announce that I will be moving to my new blog home at Big Think on March 1.

The new blog will be like Majikthise, just on a new site, and a new name. Starting next month the Majikthise URL will redirect automatically to Big Think.

Now, all we need is a new name for the blog. Suggestions? I need to let them know by Friday afternoon. 

Examples of other Big Think blog names include: Brave Green World (Tobin Hack); Think, See, Feel (Lea Carpenter); Novel Copy (Orion Jones); Picture This (Bob Duggan); and Mind Matters (David Berreby).

February 22, 2010

Scientology hires Pulitzer and Emmy winners

Via Gawker:

Howard Kurtz, in the Washington Post, reports that the cult hired Steve Weinberg, the former executive director of non-profit Investigative Reporters and Editors, Russell Carollo, who won a Pulitzer in 1998 for a series on medical malpractice that appeared in the Daily News of Dayton, Ohio, and Christopher Szechenyi, an Emmy-winning former TV producer. (They possibly saw this job advertisement.)

I am so disappointed that a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors associated himself with Scientology.

IRE is the premiere professional organization for investigative journalism. (I'm a proud member.)

The defining moment in IRE's history was the 1976 murder Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic. After Bolles' death, his IRE colleagues threw themselves into the Arizona Project, a massive collaborative investigation to expose organized crime in Arizona. I mention this because it exemplifies core values of IRE: investigative journalists working together for justice. 

Obviously, it's no reflection on IRE that its former executive director went on to work with Scientology.

It's just sad and ironic that Steve Weinberg chose to help Scientology investigate other journalists, namely reporters at the St. Petersberg Times. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its critical coverage of Scientology. 

Weinberg told Howie Kurtz that the Scientology gig was just a job like any other.

Steve Weinberg, the former IRE executive, who has taught at the University of Missouri's journalism school for a quarter-century, says he was paid $5,000 to edit the study and "tried to make sure it's a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I've written a gazillion times. . . . For me it's kind of like editing a Columbia Journalism Review piece."

He says their agreement requires that the church publish the study in full, if it decides to make it public, but that "the contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer." That means Scientology leaders have an out if the recently completed study isn't to their liking. [WaPo]

This report is nothing like a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review. It's a weapon in Scientology's war against its critics, and it's naive or disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Now, Scientology can spin the report any way it wants, or bury it, and say that prize-winning investigative journalists signed off on it. They bought Weinberg's seal of approval for a mere $5000.

Scientology is taking a page out of the corporate playbook: loosely associating itself with independent experts in order to piggyback on their prestige. Big Pharma loves to recruit famous doctors and researches to give this kind of "independent" advice. Nobody tells the doctors what to say, but the company always gets the final cut. Whatever the advisers say can and will be used to hype the drug. If a doctor believes this is a great drug that will help lots of people, she may not mind being used in a commercial. That excuse doesn't work for Scientology.

IRE stands for transparency and the search for truth. Scientology is the anti-IRE.

The "church" is notorious for digging up dirt on its critics and hounding them mercilessly. There's a reason why the Anonymous anti-Scientology protesters won't show their faces.

Scientology wants to destroy these reporters and Weinberg is helping them do it. 

February 20, 2010

John Mayer gets told

From the creator of the Tiger Woods Apology Flowchart, Brokey McPoverty, the single best response to John "David Duke Dick" Mayer's infamous Playboy interview: Dear John...

Also, somebody needs to get Sally Quinn a twitter feed. Doesn't she know that it's de rigeur for wannabe celebrities to hash out the petty details of their social lives on twitter, as opposed to, say, the Washington Post? Tila Tequila would be appalled.