Off-year elections swept across the U.S. this past week and stole headlines for the right and the left. In other news, The Economist analyzes the pros and cons of Google Glass; Newsweek discusses a new element to the Syrian conflict; Rolling Stone exposes Republican gerrymandering.
“Even when menu labels do sway people toward healthier choices, that doesn’t mean those people eat better overall. Making one abstemious choice seems to free some people to indulge on others. In a 2010 study, Yale University researchers found that people who saw menu calorie counts ate fewer calories than people who didn’t. But those who saw calorie listings then went home and ate, on average, nearly 300 calories more, making up for the difference.” – Melinda Wenner on American eating habits in Pacific Standard (November).
“Shortly after President Obama’s first election, the RSLC launched the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) with an explicit strategy to ‘keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on congressional redistricting.’ The logic was simple. Every decade following the census, the task of redrawing federal congressional-district boundaries falls (with some exceptions) to the state legislatures. If Republicans could seize control of statehouses—and, where necessary, have GOP governors in place to rubber-stamp their redistricting maps—the party could lock in new districts that would favor Republican candidates for a decade.” – Tim Dickinson on the GOP’s gerrymandering in Rolling Stone (Nov. 21).
“It’s hard to look at the Democratic Party these days and not feel as if all the energy is behind Warren. Before she was even elected, her fund-raising e-mails would net the party more cash than any Democrat’s besides Obama or Hillary Clinton. According to the Times, Warren’s recent speech at the annual League of Conservation Voters banquet drew the largest crowd in 15 years. Or consider a website called Upworthy, which packages online videos with clever headlines and encourages users to share them. Obama barely registers on the site; Warren’s videos go viral.” – Noam Scheiber on the rise of Senator Elizabeth Warren in The New Republic (Nov. 25).
“The political and media elites obsessed only with Washington intrigue and the next presidential race thought New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s predictable re-election was the big story of the 2013 season. It wasn’t. The big story was a cross-country rejection of austerity and an endorsement of the progressive populism that Democrats must embrace if they hope to prevail in 2014. Bill de Blasio’s 73 percent landslide in the New York mayoral race, in which he ran on a platform of building a more inclusive city by addressing income inequality and taxing the wealthy, was just the topline measure of a national trend.” – The Nation on a progressive wave in American politics (Dec. 2).
“Still, as cameras become smaller, more powerful and ubiquitous, new laws may be needed to preserve liberty. Governments should be granted the right to use face-recognition technology only where there is clear public good (identifying a bank robber for instance). When the would-be identifiers are companies or strangers in the street, the starting-point should be that you have the right not to have your identity automatically revealed. The principle is the same as for personal data. Just as Facebook and Google should be forced to establish high default settings for privacy (which can be reduced at the user’s request), the new cameras and recognition technologies should be regulated so as to let you decide whether you remain anonymous or not.” - The Economist on the potential privacy problems amid invasive technology (Nov. 16).
“Since those early street protests—beginning in the spring of 2011—the tide of the war in Syria has turned. Public sentiment—once on the side of the opposition that modeled itself on Spanish Civil War Republicans or Bosnian freedom fighters—has shifted. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Free Syrian Army has lost ground in many places to jihadists, who are now better armed thanks to generous funding from wealthy Gulf nations. Even if the under-armed FSA wanted to maintain order among rebels, it often cannot.” – Janine di Giovanni on a new layer in the Syrian conflict in Newsweek (Nov. 15).
“Just six months ago, productive talks with Iran—the kind that hold out the possibility of a historic breakthrough—were unthinkable. Now, for the first time in thirty-four years, Iran and the United States are speaking. Yet many in the West remain wary of a diplomatic solution. The nature of diplomacy, after all, is compromise, which means that an agreement with Iran will bring an end to the fantasy of total victory for either side.” – Laura Secor on U.S.-Iran nuclear deliberations in The New Yorker (Nov. 25).
“Internet companies have started giving users greater control over their personal data. But they may start to restrict access as it grows more valuable: after all, they have their sky-high valuations to defend. That would be a loss. Open data is becoming a powerful tool for citizens and activists around the world: it has already been used to hold governments to account, to improve transport, and to make health and police services more effective.” – New Scientist on potential threats to open data (Nov. 16).