Archive for the ‘Judson’ Category

Dowd, Kristof, Judson and Rich

August 17, 2008

MoDo says “Russia Is Not Jamaica,” and that the cheerleader in chief was in Beijing with bikini-clad beach volleyball players while the Re-Evil Empire was sending columns of tanks into its former republic.  Mr. Kristof was in China too, and he says “Malcontents Need Not Apply.”  Chinese officials explained that so long as protesters obtained approval in advance, demonstrations would be allowed. So he decided to test the system.  Ms. Judson’s column is titled “Testing Genes, Solving Little,” and she says that despite the hype, the era of personal medicine — where your treatment is tailored for your genes — remains frustratingly far away.  Mr. Rich writes about “The Candidate We Still Don’t Know.”  Heh.  It’s not who you’re thinking it is.  He says that with the exception of John McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of his profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.  Here’s MoDo:

America’s back in the cold war and W.’s back on vacation.

Talk about your fearful symmetry.

After eight years, the president’s gut remains gullible. He’ll go out as he came in — ignoring reality; failing to foresee, prevent or even prepare for disasters; misinterpreting intelligence reports; misreading people; and handling crises in ways that makes them exponentially worse.

He has spent 469 days of his presidency kicking back at his ranch, and 450 days cavorting at Camp David. And there’s still time to mountain-bike through another historic disaster.

As Russian troops continued to manhandle parts of Georgia on Friday, President Bush chastised Russian leaders that “bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century” — and then flew off to Crawford.

His words might have carried more weight if he, Cheney and Rummy had not kicked off the 21st century with a ham-fisted display of global bullying and intimidation modeled after Sherman’s march through the other Georgia.

We knew we could count on the cheerleader in chief to be jumping around like a kid in Beijing with bikini-clad beach volleyball players while the Re-Evil Empire was sending columns of tanks into its former republic. (Georgia made the mistake of baiting the bear.)

If only W. had taken the rest of his presidency as seriously as he’s taken his sports outings.

When I interviewed him at the start of his first presidential run in 1999, he took an obvious shot and told me, “I believe the big issues are going to be China and Russia.”

But after 9/11, he let Cheney, Rummy and the neocons gull him into a destructive obsession with Iraq. While America has been bogged down and bled dry, China and Russia are plumping up. China has bought so much of America that we’d be dead Peking ducks if they pulled their investments out of our market, and Russia has transformed itself from a pauper nation to a land filled with millionaires — all through our addiction to oil.

What was so galling about watching W.’s giddy sightseeing at the Olympics was that it underscored China’s rise as a superpower and, thanks to the administration’s derelict foreign and economic policies, America’s fade-out. It’s as though China has become us and we’ve become Europe. Like Russia, China has also been showing jagged authoritarian ways and ignoring America’s preaching, including W.’s tame criticism as he flew into Beijing to revel in the spectacle of China’s ascension.

Despite his 1999 prediction that Russia and China would be key to security in the world, W. never bothered to study up on them. In 2006, at the Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, a microphone caught some of the inane remarks of W. to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao.

“This is your neighborhood,” W. said. “It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home? Eight hours? Me, too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”

President Bush and his Russian “expert” Condi have played it completely wrong with Russia from the start. W. saw a “trustworthy” soul in a razor-eyed K.G.B. agent who has never been a good guy for a single hour. Now the Bush crowd, which can do nothing about it, is blustering about how Russian aggression “must not go unanswered,” as Cheney put it. (W.’s other Russian expert, Bob Gates, was, as always, the only voice of realism, noting, “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation.”)

The Bush administration may have a sentimental attachment to Georgia because it sent 2,000 troops to Iraq as part of the fig-leaf Coalition of the Willing, and because Poppy Bush and James Baker were close to Georgia’s first president, Eduard Shevardnadze.

But with this country’s military and moral force so depleted, the Bushies can hardly tell Russia to stop doing what they themselves did in Iraq: unilaterally invade a country against the will of the world to scare the bejesus out of some leaders in the region they didn’t like.

W. and Condi are suddenly waking up to how vicious Vladimir is. In a press conference with Condi on Friday, Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, chided the West for enabling Russia to resume its repressive tactics.

“Unfortunately, today we are looking evil directly in the eye,” he said. “And today this evil is very strong, very nasty and very dangerous, for everybody, not only for us.”

As Michael Specter, the New Yorker writer who has written extensively about Russia, observed: “There was a brief five-year period when we could get away with treating Russia like Jamaica — that’s over. Now we have to deal with them like grown-ups who have more nuclear weapons than anybody except us.”

Here’s Mr. Kristof, who’s in Beijing:

To put a smiley face on its image during the Olympics, the Chinese government set aside three “protest zones” in Beijing. Officials explained that so long as protesters obtained approval in advance, demonstrations would be allowed.

So I decided to test the system.

Following government instructions, I showed up at an office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, found Window 12 and declared to the officer, “I’m here to apply to hold a protest.”

What I didn’t realize is that Public Security has arrested at least a half-dozen people who have shown up to apply for protest permits. Public Security is pretty shrewd. In the old days it had to go out and catch protesters in the act. Now it saves itself the bother: would-be protesters show up at Public Security offices to apply for permits and are promptly detained. That’s cost-effective law enforcement for you.

Fortunately, the official at Window 12 didn’t peg me as a counterrevolutionary. He looked at me worriedly and asked for my passport and other ID papers. Discovering that I was a journalist, he asked hopefully, “Wouldn’t you rather conduct an interview about demonstrations?”

“No. I want to apply to hold one.”

His brow furrowed. “What do you want to protest?”

“I want to demonstrate in favor of preserving Beijing’s historic architecture.” It was the least controversial, most insipid topic I could concoct.

“Do you think the government is not doing a good job at this?” he asked sternly.

“There may be room for improvement,” I said delicately.

The official frowned and summoned two senior colleagues who, after a series of frantic phone calls, led me into the heart of the police building. I was accompanied by a Times videographer, and he and a police videographer busily videoed each other. Then the police explained that under the rules they could video us but we couldn’t video them.

The Public Security Bureau (a fancy name for a police station) gleams like much of the rest of Beijing. It is a lovely, spacious building, and the waiting room we were taken to was beautifully furnished; no folding metal chairs here. It’s a fine metaphor for China’s legal system: The hardware is impeccable, but the software is primitive.

After an hour of waiting, interrupted by periodic frowning examinations of our press credentials, we were ushered into an elegant conference room. I was solemnly directed to a chair marked “applicant.”

Three police officers sat across from me, and the police videographer continued to film us from every angle. The officers were all cordial and professional, although one seemed to be daydreaming about pulling out my fingernails.

Then they spent nearly an hour going over the myriad rules for demonstrations. These were detailed and complex, and, most daunting, I would have to submit a list of every single person attending my demonstration. The list had to include names and identity document numbers.

In addition, any Chinese on a name list would have to go first to the Public Security Bureau in person to be interviewed (arrested?).

“If I go through all this, then will my application at least be granted?” I asked.

“How can we tell?” a policeman responded. “That would prejudge the process.”

“Well, has any application ever been granted?” I asked.

“We can’t answer that, for that matter has no connection to this case.”

The policemen did say that if they approved, they would give me a “Demonstration Permission Document.” Without that, my demonstration would be illegal.

I surrendered. The rules were so monstrously bureaucratic that I couldn’t even apply for a demonstration. My Olympic dreams were dashed. The police asked me to sign their note-taker’s account of the meeting, and we politely said our goodbyes.

Yet even though the process is a charade, it still represents progress in China, in that the law implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of protest. Moreover, a trickle of Chinese have applied to hold protests, even though they know that they are more likely to end up in jail than in a “protest zone.” Fear of the government is ebbing.

My hunch is that in the coming months, perhaps after the Olympics, we will see some approvals granted. China is changing: it is no democracy, but it’s also no longer a totalitarian state.

China today reminds me of Taiwan in the mid-1980s as a rising middle class demanded more freedom. Almost every country around China, from Mongolia to Indonesia, Thailand to South Korea, has become more open and less repressive — not because of the government’s kindness but because of the people’s insistence.

I feel that same process happening here, albeit agonizingly slowly. Someday China’s software will catch up with its hardware.

Here’s Ms. Judson:

It was supposed to be simple. Once it became cheap to scan large numbers of people for large numbers of genetic differences, everyone assumed that it would swiftly become straightforward to convert genetic differences into physical differences — that we’d be able to look at someone’s genome and say, this man is between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2, has black hair, green eyes and a high risk of developing diabetes.

Not so. The age of large-scale screening arrived about five years ago, and a hunt for the genes underlying heritable human differences immediately began. But with a few exceptions — almost all of which predate the large screens — the business of genetic forecasting has turned out to be much more difficult than anyone expected. And despite the hype, the era of personal medicine — where your treatment is tailored for your genes — remains frustratingly far away.

At the heart of this story there is a paradox. We have accumulated huge databases on human genetic differences — but many of the differences appear to be more or less irrelevant.

To see what I mean, suppose you set out to analyze a DNA sample from someone you knew nothing about. What could you discover?

You could discover their sex. That’s easy. You could also discover where they are from, genetically speaking. In the past five years, the genetics of ancestry testing has become excellent. So much so that you can reliably tell the difference between someone descended from Swedes, as against Italians.

The reason this works is that in the past, humans didn’t move around much. As a result, genetic differences accumulated slightly differently in different groups. On average, then, Swedes’ genomes resemble each other more closely than they resemble those of Italians or American Indians.

If you discovered someone’s ancestors were Swedish, you’d infer that they themselves are likely to be tall and blond with pale skin. But that’s only because you already know what other Swedes look like. If you didn’t — and this is the odd thing — you wouldn’t be able to infer much from the genes themselves. This is because, by and large, we don’t know how to translate genetic differences into physical differences.

Consider height. This trait has a strong genetic component: we know that as much as 90 percent of the difference in height between you and me is because of differences in our genes. (The rest is because of differences in things like nutrition.) One recent study, which looked at more than 30,000 people, found 20 genes that influence height. But together, these 20 genes accounted for just 3 percent of the variation. That leaves a whopping 87 percent still to be accounted for.

Not all traits are so intractable. If your mystery individual had a particular form of a gene known as melanocortin receptor 1, you’d know they had red hair. A variant in the control region of another gene has been strongly linked to blue eyes. Having variants of still another gene greatly increases the odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Forms of several genes have been strongly linked to adverse drug reactions — or to a given drug having no effect at all. And then there are the handful of genetic diseases we already knew about, like sickle cell anemia and Huntington’s disease.

But for many traits, including diabetes, the pattern is similar to what we see for height. Large numbers of people have been screened, and impressively large numbers of genes have been implicated — but no single gene seems to be having a particularly big effect by itself. Moreover, and this is the more important point, a lot of the genetic variation underlying each trait has not yet been found.

What does this mean? There are a couple of possibilities. Either, huge numbers of genes affect most traits, with each gene making a tiny contribution. If this is so, our hopes for finding meaningful risk factors for most genetic diseases is poor. Or, variants of a few genes do have a substantial effect but they are too rare to have been discovered yet. (Most of the screens used today capture only the 500,000 most common genetic differences. Rare differences are essentially invisible.) In which case, we need to change the way we are approaching the problem.

Scientifically, this is fascinating. But from a practical point of view, the results are discouraging. If you want to learn your odds of getting different diseases, consult your family history. Or visit a fortune teller. For most traits, genetic testing is — for now, anyway — little better than consulting the tea leaves.

And now here’s Mr. Rich:

As I went on vacation at the end of July, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by three to four percentage points in national polls. When I returned last week he still was. But lo and behold, a whole new plot twist had rolled off the bloviation assembly line in those intervening two weeks: Obama had lost the election!

The poor guy should be winning in a landslide against the despised party of Bush-Cheney, and he’s not. He should be passing the 50 percent mark in polls, and he’s not. He’s been done in by that ad with Britney and Paris and by a new international crisis that allows McCain to again flex his Manchurian Candidate military cred. Let the neocons identify a new battleground for igniting World War III, whether Baghdad or Tehran or Moscow, and McCain gets with the program as if Angela Lansbury has just dealt him the Queen of Hearts.

Obama has also been defeated by racism (again). He can’t connect and “close the deal” with ordinary Americans too doltish to comprehend a multicultural biography that includes what Cokie Roberts of ABC News has damned as the “foreign, exotic place” of Hawaii. As The Economist sums up the received wisdom, “lunch-pail Ohio Democrats” find Obama’s ideas of change “airy-fairy” and are all asking, “Who on earth is this guy?”

It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama’s average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry’s and Al Gore’s leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter’s 46). At Pollster.com, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.

Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.

The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, let’s posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the party’s own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Men’s Room at the Twin Cities airport.

So why isn’t Obama romping? The obvious answer — and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it — is that the public doesn’t know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel they’re “hearing too much” about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. It’s past time for that pressing educational need to be met.

What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president’s response to Katrina; he fought the “agents of intolerance” of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.

With the exception of McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.

McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after “Mission Accomplished.” By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.

McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain’s own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.

Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post’s February report that lobbyists were “essentially running” the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain’s top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.

While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default cliché is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his “independence,” his “maverick image” and his “renegade reputation” — as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is “graded on a curve.”

Most Americans still don’t know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail “McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries’ names wrong, forgets things he’s said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.” Most Americans still don’t know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press’s previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.

To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obama’s Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being “proud” of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about “whitey.” But we still haven’t been inside Cindy McCain’s tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, “lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety,” in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCain’s future role in her beer empire won’t be revealed before the election.

Some of those who know McCain best — Republicans — are tougher on him than the press is. Rita Hauser, who was a Bush financial chairwoman in New York in 2000 and served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the administration’s first term, joined other players in the G.O.P. establishment in forming Republicans for Obama last week. Why? The leadership qualities she admires in Obama — temperament, sustained judgment, the ability to play well with others — are missing in McCain. “He doesn’t listen carefully to people and make reasoned judgments,” Hauser told me. “If John says ‘I’m going with so and so,’ you can’t count on that the next morning,” she complained, adding, “That’s not the man we want for president.”

McCain has even prompted alarms from the right’s own favorite hit man du jour: Jerome Corsi, who Swift-boated John Kerry as co-author of “Unfit to Command” in 2004 and who is trying to do the same to Obama in his newly minted best seller, “The Obama Nation.”

Corsi’s writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsi’s publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her author’s “scholarship.” If Republican warriors like Hannity and Matalin think so highly of Corsi’s research into Obama, then perhaps we should take seriously Corsi’s scholarship about McCain. In recent articles at worldnetdaily.com, Corsi has claimed (among other charges) that the McCain campaign received “strong” financial support from a “group tied to Al Qaeda” and that “McCain’s personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona.”

As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when there’s one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told.

Dowd, Friedman and Judson

August 13, 2008

MoDo says “Yes, She Can,” and tells us Hillary Clinton feels no guilt about encouraging her supporters to mess up Barack Obama’s big moment, thus undermining his odds of beating John McCain. Mr. Friedman’s column is titled “Eight Strikes and You’re Out.” He points out that John McCain has a perfect record on a renewable energy bill. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Of course, the oil execs who shoveled all that money into his campaign are pleased… Ms. Judson writes about “Optimism in Evolution,” and says studying evolution means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, we don’t have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment. Here’s MoDo:

While Obama was spending three hours watching “The Dark Knight” five time zones away, and going to a fund-raiser featuring “Aloha attire” and Hawaiian pupus, Hillary was busy planning her convention.

You can almost hear her mind whirring: She’s amazed at how easy it was to snatch Denver away from the Obama saps. Like taking candy from a baby, except Beanpole Guy doesn’t eat candy. In just a couple of weeks, Bill and Hill were able to drag No Drama Obama into a swamp of Clinton drama.

Now they’ve made Barry’s convention all about them — their dissatisfaction and revisionism and barely disguised desire to see him fail. Whatever insincere words of support the Clintons muster, their primal scream gets louder: He can’t win! He can’t close the deal! We told you so!

Hillary’s orchestrating a play within the play in Denver. Just as Hamlet used the device to show that his stepfather murdered his father, Hillary will try to show the Democrats they chose the wrong savior.

Her former aide Howard Wolfson fanned the divisive flames Monday on ABC News, arguing that Hillary would have beaten Obama in Iowa and become the nominee if John Edwards’s affair had come out last year — an assertion contradicted by a University of Iowa survey showing that far more Edwards supporters had Obama as their second choice.

Hillary feels no guilt about encouraging her supporters to mess up Obama’s big moment, thus undermining his odds of beating John McCain and improving her odds of being the nominee in 2012.

She’s obviously relishing Hillaryworld’s plans to have multiple rallies in Denver, to take out TV and print ads and to hold up signs in the hall that read “Denounce Nobama’s Coronation.”

In a video of a closed California fund-raiser on July 31 that surfaced on YouTube, Hillary was clearly receptive to having her name put in nomination and a roll-call vote.

She said she thought it would be good for party unity if her gals felt “that their voices are heard.” But that’s disingenuous. Hillary was the one who raised the roll-call idea at the end of May with Democrats, who were urging her to face the math. She said she wanted it for Chelsea, oblivious to how such a vote would dim Obama’s star turn. Ever since she stepped aside in June, she’s been telling people privately that there might have to be “a catharsis” at the convention, signaling she wants a Clinton crescendo.

Bill continues to howl at the moon — and any reporters in the vicinity — about Obama; he’s starting to make King Lear look like Ryan Seacrest.

The way the Clintons see it, there’s nothing wrong with a couple making plans for their future, is there? That’s the American way and, as their pal Mark Penn pointed out, they have American roots while Obama “is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

The Clintons know that a lot of Democrats are muttering that their solipsistic behavior is “disgusting.” But they’re too filled with delicious schadenfreude at the wave of buyer’s remorse that has swept the Democratic Party; many Democrats are questioning whether Obama is fighting back hard enough against McCain, and many are wondering, given his inability to open up a lead in a country fed up with Republicans, if race will be an insurmountable factor.

Some Democrats wish that Obama had told the Clintons to “get in the box” or get lost if they can’t show more loyalty, rather than giving them back-to-back, prime-time speaking gigs at the convention on Tuesday and Wednesday. Al Gore clipped their wings in 2000, triggering their wrath by squeezing both the president and New York Senate candidate into speaking slots the first night and then ushering them out of L.A.

Wednesday will be all Bill. The networks will rerun his churlish comments from Africa about Obama’s readiness to lead and his South Carolina meltdowns. TV will have more interest in a volcanic ex-president than a genteel veep choice.

Obama also allowed Hillary supporters to insert an absurd statement into the platform suggesting that media sexism spurred her loss and that “demeaning portrayals of women … dampen the dreams of our daughters.” This, even though postmortems, including the new raft of campaign memos leaked by Clintonistas to The Atlantic — another move that undercuts Obama — finger Hillary’s horrendous management skills.

Besides the crashing egos and screeching factions working at cross purposes, Joshua Green writes in the magazine, Hillary’s “hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.”

It would have been better to put this language in the platform: “A woman who wildly mismanages and bankrupts a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar campaign operation, and then blames sexism in society, will dampen the dreams of our daughters.”

Here’s Mr. Friedman:

John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.

Sorry, but I can’t let that one go by. McCain knows why.

It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

“McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either — which is equally inexcusable in my book — but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.

The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don’t want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don’t believe in renewable energy.

What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 — when the credits expire — and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain’s home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.

But because of the Senate’s refusal to extend the solar tax credits, “we cannot get our bank financing,” said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. “Without the credits, the numbers don’t work.” Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.

Roger Efird is president of Suntech America — a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They’ve been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: “Don’t set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don’t have stability in the incentive programs.”

One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, “Sure, we’ll need wind and solar energy, but it’s just not cost effective yet.” They’ve been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil — which is why some people are trying to block them.

As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have — perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”

This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive — and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency — we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.

That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t.

Here’s Ms. Judson:

When the dog days of summer come to an end, one thing we can be sure of is that the school year that follows will see more fights over the teaching of evolution and whether intelligent design, or even Biblical accounts of creation, have a place in America’s science classrooms.

In these arguments, evolution is treated as an abstract subject that deals with the age of the earth or how fish first flopped onto land. It’s discussed as though it were an optional, quaint and largely irrelevant part of biology. And a common consequence of the arguments is that evolution gets dropped from the curriculum entirely.

This is a travesty.

It is also dangerous.

Evolution should be taught — indeed, it should be central to beginning biology classes — for at least three reasons.

First, it provides a powerful framework for investigating the world we live in. Without evolution, biology is merely a collection of disconnected facts, a set of descriptions. The astonishing variety of nature, from the tree shrew that guzzles vast quantities of alcohol every night to the lichens that grow in the Antarctic wastes, cannot be probed and understood. Add evolution — and it becomes possible to make inferences and predictions and (sometimes) to do experiments to test those predictions. All of a sudden patterns emerge everywhere, and apparently trivial details become interesting.

The second reason for teaching evolution is that the subject is immediately relevant here and now. The impact we are having on the planet is causing other organisms to evolve — and fast. And I’m not talking just about the obvious examples: widespread resistance to pesticides among insects; the evolution of drug resistance in the agents of disease, from malaria to tuberculosis; the possibility that, say, the virus that causes bird flu will evolve into a form that spreads easily from person to person. The impact we are having is much broader.

For instance, we are causing animals to evolve just by hunting them. The North Atlantic cod fishery has caused the evolution of cod that mature smaller and younger than they did 40 years ago. Fishing for grayling in Norwegian lakes has caused a similar pattern in these fish. Human trophy hunting for bighorn rams has caused the population to evolve into one of smaller-horn rams. (All of which, incidentally, is in line with evolutionary predictions.)

Conversely, hunting animals to extinction may cause evolution in their former prey species. Experiments on guppies have shown that, without predators, these fish evolve more brightly colored scales, mature later, bunch together in shoals less and lose their ability to suddenly swim away from something. Such changes can happen in fewer than five generations. If you then reintroduce some predators, the population typically goes extinct.

Thus, a failure to consider the evolution of other species may result in a failure of our efforts to preserve them. And, perhaps, to preserve ourselves from diseases, pests and food shortages. In short, evolution is far from being a remote and abstract subject. A failure to teach it may leave us unprepared for the challenges ahead.

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, “The Republican War on Science,” the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration’s policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

Moreover, since the science classroom is where a contempt for evidence is often first encountered, it is also arguably where it first begins to be cultivated. A society where ideology is a substitute for evidence can go badly awry. (This is not to suggest that science is never distorted by the ideological left; it sometimes is, and the results are no better.)

But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It’s that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don’t have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.

Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore. To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.

Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Judson

August 10, 2008

MoDo typed “Keeping it Rielle,” and says the most stunning admission John Edwards made was that he’s a narcissist.  Mr. Friedman, in “Flush With Energy,” says America needs to learn from Denmark, which responded to the 1973 Arab oil embargo in such a way that today it is energy independent.  Mr. Kristof suggests we “Make Diplomacy, Not War,” and says the United States is overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools.  Ms. Judson’s column is titled “Honey, I Plumped the Kids,” and she suggests that reversing the obesity epidemic may rest on helping women lose weight before they conceive and helping them eat a balanced diet while they are pregnant.  Here’s MoDo:

John Edwards’s confession was a little bit breathtaking.

Not the sex stuff. That happens here all the time.

And certainly not covering up the sex stuff. That happens here all the time, too. First people uncover; then they cover up. Nobody’s ever had sex with that woman until, suddenly, they have.

The stunning admission Edwards made to ABC’s Bob Woodruff, and in a written statement from Chapel Hill on Friday afternoon, was that he’s a narcissist.

He admitted that wallowing in “self-focus” out on the trail and thinking you’re “special” can result in a solipsism that “leads you to believe you can do whatever you want, you’re invincible and there’ll be no consequences.”

Auto-psychoanalysis by the perp. That’s really rich. When Bill Clinton acknowledged an affair, after equally adamant denials, he simply went into an old-fashioned spiral of penitence, his allegedly long, dark night of his alleged soul.

Even in confessing to preening, Edwards was preening. His diagnosis of narcissism was weirdly narcissistic, or was it self-narcissistic? Given his diagnosis, I’m sure his H.M.O. would pay.

The creepiest part of his creepy confession was when he stressed to Woodruff that he cheated on Elizabeth in 2006 when her cancer was in remission. His infidelity was oncologically correct.

So narcissist walks into a New York bar and meets a legendarily wacky former Gotham party girl — whose ’80s exploits were chronicled in a novel by her former boyfriend Jay McInerney because the behavior of her and her friends “intrigued and appalled me.” When you appall Jay McInerney, you know you’re in trouble.

The president manqué gives Rielle Hunter, formerly Lisa Druck, more than $114,000 to shoot vain little videos for his Web site (even though she’s a neophyte), one of which is scored with the song “True Reflections” about the Narcissus pool, which goes: “When you look into a mirror, do you like what’s looking at you? Now that you’ve seen your true reflections, what on earth are you gonna do?”

He has an affair with Hunter, while he’s honing his speech on the imperative to “live in a moral, honest, just America.” A married former aide says he’s the father when she gets pregnant, even though she’s telling people Edwards is the dad. And one of his campaign donors pays off Hunter to get her resettled with the baby out of North Carolina.

But the Breck Girl wants a gold star for the fact that he sent his marriage into remission when his wife was in remission. That’s special.

In his statement, he bleats: “You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare.” Isn’t stripping bare how he got into this mess?

It isn’t like we didn’t know that the son of a millworker was a little enraptured by himself, radiating self-love from his smile and his man-in-a-hurry airs and the notorious $800 bill for a pair of haircuts and his two-minute YouTube hair primping to the tune of “I Feel Pretty.”

Certain men assume that power confers sexual privilege. And in American politics, there is an eternal disjunction between character and achievement. Sinners do good things, saints do bad things.

Still, it’s bizarre the way these pols spend millions getting their faces plastered everywhere and then think they can do something in secret. “Yeah, I didn’t think anyone would ever know about it, I didn’t,” Edwards said.

In one of the Web films Hunter directed, he actually flirts with the blonde, laughingly telling her that his address on morality is “a great speech” and complaining, “Why don’t you hear me give it live?”

For some reason, super-strivers have a need to sell what is secretly weakest about themselves, as if they yearn for unmasking. Edwards’s decency and concern for the weak in society — except for his own wife. Bill Clinton’s intellect and love of community — except for his stupidity and destructiveness about Monica. Bush the Younger’s jocular, I’m-in-charge self-confidence — except for turning over his presidency, as no president ever has, to his Veep. Eliot Spitzer’s crusade for truth, justice and the American way — except at home.

In the Hunter video titled “Plane Truths,” Edwards is relaxing on his plane, telling the out-of-frame director: “I’ve come to the personal conclusion that I actually want the country to see who I am, who I really am, but I don’t know what the result of that will be. But for me personally, I’d rather be successful or unsuccessful based on who I really am, not based on some plastic Ken doll that you put up in front of audiences.” Ken couldn’t have said it better.

Back in 2002, Edwards sent me a Ken doll dressed in bathing trunks, Rio de Janeiro Ken, with a teasing note, because he didn’t like my reference to him as a Ken doll in a column.

In retrospect, the comparison was not fair — to Ken.

Here’s Mr. Friedman, writing from Copenhagen:

The Arctic Hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland, is a charming little place on the West Coast, but no one would ever confuse it for a Four Seasons — maybe a One Seasons. But when my wife and I walked back to our room after dinner the other night and turned down our dim hallway, the hall light went on. It was triggered by an energy-saving motion detector. Our toilet even had two different flushing powers depending on — how do I say this delicately — what exactly you’re flushing. A two-gear toilet! I’ve never found any of this at an American hotel. Oh, if only we could be as energy efficient as Greenland!

A day later, I flew back to Denmark. After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I’d go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark!

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy: “No.” It just forced them to innovate more — like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

There is little whining here about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had “a positive impact on job creation,” added Hedegaard. “For example, the wind industry — it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark.” In the last 10 years, Denmark’s exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

“It is one of our fastest-growing export areas,” said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, “we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.”

Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock and how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.

“I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy.”

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Iraq and Afghanistan are the messes getting attention today, but they are only symptoms of a much broader cancer in American foreign policy.

A few glimpses of this larger affliction:

¶The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.

¶This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.

¶More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.

In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.

After all, you can’t bomb global warming.

Incredibly, the most eloquent spokesman for more balance between “hard power” and “soft power” is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Mr. Gates, who is superb in repairing the catastrophe left behind by Donald Rumsfeld, has given a series of astonishing speeches in which he calls for more resources for the State Department and aid agencies.

“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Mr. Gates said. He noted that the entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group, yet Congress isn’t interested in paying for a larger Foreign Service.

“It simply does not have the built-in, domestic constituency of defense programs,” Mr. Gates said. “As an example, the F-22 aircraft is produced by companies in 44 states; that’s 88 senators.”

With the Olympics unfolding in China now, the Navy and the Air Force are seizing upon China’s rise as an excuse to grab tens of billions of dollars for the F-22, for an advanced destroyer, for new attack submarines. But we’re failing to invest minuscule sums to build good will among Chinese.

For the price of one F-22, we could — for 25 years — operate American libraries in each Chinese province, pay for more Chinese-American exchanges, and hire more diplomats prepared to appear on Chinese television and explain in fluent Chinese what American policy is. And for the price of one M.R.E. lunch for one soldier, the State Department could make a few phone calls to push the Chinese leadership to respond to the Dalai Lama’s olive branch a few days ago, helping to eliminate a long-term irritant in U.S.-China relations.

Then there’s the Middle East. Dennis Ross, the longtime Middle East peace negotiator, says he has been frustrated “beyond belief” to see resources showered on the military while diplomacy has to fight for scraps. Mr. Ross argues that an investment of just $1 billion — financing job creation and other grass-roots programs in the West Bank — could significantly increase the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that money isn’t forthcoming.

Our intuitive approach to fighting terrorists and insurgents is to blow things up. But one of the most cost-effective counterterrorism methods in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan may be to build things up, like schooling and microfinance. Girls’ education sometimes gets more bang for the buck than a missile.

A new study from the RAND Corporation examined how 648 terror groups around the world ended between 1968 and 2006. It found that by far the most common way for them to disappear was to be absorbed by the political process. The second most common way was to be defeated by police work. In contrast, in only 7 percent of cases did military force destroy the terrorist group.

“There is no battlefield solution to terrorism,” the report declares. “Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended.”

The next president should absorb that lesson and revalidate diplomacy as the primary tool of foreign policy — even if that means talking to ogres. Take Iran. Until recently, the American officials in charge of solving the Iranian problem were not even allowed to meet Iranians.

“We need to believe in the power of American diplomacy, and we should not believe a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” said Nicholas Burns, until recently the under secretary of state for political affairs and for three years the government’s point person on Iran. “Our first impulse should be a serious and patient and persistent diplomatic effort. Too often in our national debate we focus on the military option and give short shrift to the diplomatic option.”

So here’s a first step: Let’s agree that diplomats should be every bit as much of an American priority as musicians in military bands.

And here’s Ms. Judson:

Suppose you have two groups of pregnant female rats. Rats in the first group can either eat as much regular lab-rat chow as they like, or they can eat their fill of human junk food — cookies, doughnuts, marshmallows, potato chips, muffins, chocolate. Rats in the second group only get chow, but again, can eat as much as they like. After the rats have given birth, continue the different regimens while the pups are suckling. Then give both groups of pups access to the chow and the junk food.

Experiments like this have found that pregnant females with access to junk food ate, on a daily basis, roughly 40 percent more food (by weight) and 56 percent more calories than rats that just had chow. Moreover — and this is the interesting bit — pups whose mothers ate junk food while pregnant and lactating had a greater taste for food high in fat and sugar than those whose mothers did not. The junk-food pups ate more calories and were more prone to gaining weight.

What goes for rats does not necessarily go for humans. Nonetheless, such results are thought-provoking. As everyone knows, humans are getting fatter and fatter. According to the World Health Organization, 400 million adults around the world weighed in as obese in 2005. In the United States, more than a third of women between 20 and 39 are obese, some of them extremely so. For the first time in history, large numbers of obese women are having children.

Being obese during pregnancy is dangerous for the mother and expensive for the health care system. But does it affect the babies?

There are reasons to think it might. The period between conception and birth is crucial — after all, you’re growing from a single cell into a baby. Your heart is being built; your brain is being wired. Exposure to alcohol during this time can disrupt brain development; lack of iodine may permanently stunt growth. Being starved in the womb can lead to health problems such as heart disease later in life, especially if food becomes abundant. So what about overnourishment? Does an “obese” environment in the womb somehow predispose babies to obesity later on?

At the moment, such questions are difficult to answer. Humans are much harder to study than rats, and the phenomenon of obesity in pregnancy is relatively new, so we don’t know much about it yet. Moreover, many factors contribute to someone’s becoming obese, and picking them apart is tricky. Added to that, an “obese” environment in the womb has two separate elements: the nutrients provided by the mother via the food she eats, and the hormonal environment of someone who is overweight. (Being obese can profoundly alter a woman’s hormonal profile.) Again, picking these apart is hard.

But the results of several studies suggest that the very fact of a woman being obese during pregnancy may predispose her children to obesity. For example, one study found that children born to women who have lost weight after radical anti-obesity surgery are less likely to be obese than siblings born before their mother lost weight. Another study looked at women who gained weight between pregnancies; the results showed that babies born after their mothers put on weight tended to be heavier at birth than siblings born beforehand. Since the mother’s genes haven’t changed, the “fat” environment seems likely to be responsible for the effect.

Why might this happen? Perhaps an “obese” environment in the womb alters the wiring of the developing brain so as to interfere with normal appetite control, fat deposition, taste in food, or metabolism. Studies on other animals suggest that parts of the brain that control appetite develop differently under “obese” conditions. And in humans, one study has found that babies born to obese mothers have lower resting metabolic rates than babies whose mothers are of normal weight.

For most of our evolutionary past, the problem has been avoiding starvation. An environment awash with sugars and fats is, therefore, an evolutionary novelty: in hundreds of millions of years of evolution, this is the first time such foods have been abundant. Giant quantities of fats and sugars have not, historically, been available to a developing fetus, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they do have a harmful impact.

If this is right, it raises the alarming possibility that the obesity epidemic has a built-in snowball effect. If children born to obese mothers are, owing to the environment in the womb, predisposed to obesity, they may find staying thin especially hard. Reversing the epidemic may thus rest on helping women to lose weight before they conceive and helping them to eat a balanced, non-junk-food diet while they are pregnant. The well-being of the next generation may depend on it.

Dowd, Friedman and Judson

August 3, 2008

MoDo has produced an unspeakable piece of crap titled “Mr. Darcy Comes Courting,” in which she snarls that Barack Obama is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy, cherished hero of chick-lit.  Mr. Friedman says “The Iceman Cometh,” and writes about climatologists in a research center in the Arctic Circle, building a picture of the Greenland climate from the ice age through the present warming period.  Olivia Judson, from London, gives us “Feel the Eyes Upon You,” and asks a question:  If you sensed someone was watching you, would you do it?  Here’s MoDo’s little offering, floating like a turd in a punchbowl:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Barack Obama must continue to grovel to Hillary Clinton’s dead-enders, some of whom mutter darkly that they will not only not vote for him, they will never vote for a man again.

Obama met for an hour Tuesday with three dozen top Hillaryites at a hotel here, seeking their endorsement and beguiling their begrudging. He opened the session by saying that he knew there had been frustration about what they saw as sexism during the primary.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Hillary die-hards want to enshrine a whine in the Democratic platform about how the primaries “exposed pervasive gender bias in the media” and call on party leaders to take “immediate and public steps” to denounce any perceived bias in the future. That is one nutty idea.

Perhaps it is because feminists are still so busy cataloging past slights to Hillary that they have failed to mount a vivid defense of Michelle Obama, who has taken over from Hillary as the one conservatives like to paint as a harridan.

Before the Obama campaign even had a chance to denounce Ludacris, one of the rappers on the senator’s iPod, Hillary Inc. started to mobilize. Susie Tompkins Buell, a former Clinton bundler, told The New York Observer that Obama had to distance himself, given Ludacris’s new song rooting for Obama to “paint the White House black” and calling Hillary the b-word.

Despite Obama’s wooing, some women aren’t warming. As Carol Marin wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Lanky One is like an Alice Waters organic chicken — “sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool” — when what many working-class women are craving is mac and cheese.

In The Wall Street Journal, Amy Chozick wrote that Hillary supporters — who loved their heroine’s admission that she was on Weight Watchers — were put off by Obama’s svelte, zero-body-fat figure.

“He needs to put some meat on his bones,” said Diana Koenig, a 42-year-old Texas housewife. Another Clinton voter sniffed on a Yahoo message board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

The odd thing is that Obama bears a distinct resemblance to the most cherished hero in chick-lit history. The senator is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy.

Like the leading man of Jane Austen and Bridget Jones, Obama can, as Austen wrote, draw “the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien. …he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.”

The master of Pemberley “had yet to learn to be laught at,” and this sometimes caused “a deeper shade of hauteur” to “overspread his features.”

The New Hampshire debate incident in which Obama condescendingly said, “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” was reminiscent of that early scene in “Pride and Prejudice” when Darcy coldly refuses to dance with Elizabeth Bennet, noting, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Indeed, when Obama left a prayer to the Lord at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a note that was snatched out and published, part of his plea was to “help me guard against pride.”

If Obama is Mr. Darcy, with “his pride, his abominable pride,” then America is Elizabeth Bennet, spirited, playful, democratic, financially strained, and caught up in certain prejudices. (McCain must be cast as Wickham, the rival for Elizabeth’s affections, the engaging military scamp who casts false aspersions on Darcy’s character.)

In this political version of “Pride and Prejudice,” the prejudice is racial, with only 31 percent of white voters telling The New York Times in a survey that they had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with 83 percent of blacks.

And the prejudice is visceral: many Americans, especially blue collar, still feel uneasy about the Senate’s exotic shooting star, and he is surrounded by a miasma of ill-founded and mistaken premises.

So the novelistic tension of the 2008 race is this: Can Obama overcome his pride and Hyde Park hauteur and win America over?

Can America overcome its prejudice to elect the first black president? And can it move past its biases to figure out if Obama’s supposed conceit is really just the protective shield and defense mechanism of someone who grew up half white and half black, a perpetual outsider whose father deserted him and whose mother, while loving, sometimes did so as well?

Can Miss Bennet teach Mr. Darcy to let down his guard, be more sportive, and laugh at himself?

If you have the stomach for it, the Times is soliciting comments on this thing here, although you have to register to do so.  Here’s Mr. Friedman:

77 degrees 45 minutes N. latitude,

51 degrees 6 minutes W. longitude

Jorgen Peder Steffensen made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “If you come to Copenhagen, I will show you a Christmas snow — a real Christmas snow, the snow that fell between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D.”

Now that’s an offer you don’t get every day! But then I don’t go to the Arctic Circle every day. “I can also show you a sample of the very last snow that fell right at the end of the last ice age, which was 11,700 years ago,” said Steffensen. Or, he asked me, “How would you like to see the air samples that contain the sulfuric traces of the Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption” that buried Pompeii in A.D. 79?

Steffensen is an ice specialist and curator of the world’s most comprehensive collection of ice core samples, a kind of atmospheric DNA drilled out of the glaciers of Greenland and now preserved in refrigerated vaults in the Danish capital. The more and deeper scientists can drill the ice, the better the picture they can give of the climate in previous eras — and therefore the more we will understand about climate change.

Each layer of ice contains water and air bubbles that were trapped in the snow, which, when analyzed by expert scientists, reveal in great detail the temperature, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the amount and origins of volcanic dust, and even the amount of sea salt in the air and therefore how close the glacier was to the ocean.

Imagine for a moment a freezer filled with such revealing ice cubes. Each ice cube represents one year’s atmospheric data beginning 150,000 years ago, which is how far back the current Greenland icecap dates. Well, Steffensen, his wife, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, both of the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, and a team of international experts are assembling precisely that kind of freezer from ice cores drilled here in the far north of Greenland in the Arctic Circle.

I traveled to their newest camp with a group of experts led by Denmark’s minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard, and including Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. We flew in on a U.S. Air Force National Guard C-130, which landed on skis — not wheels — since the landing strip was just a plowed strip of ice and snow.

This is surely one of the most remarkable and isolated research stations in the world. Everywhere you look, you see a perfectly flat expanse of snow and ice stretching to the horizon. In fact, you can see so far in every direction that it feels as though you can see the curvature of the earth. The camp consists of a heated geodesic dome where the scientists eat, a dozen barely heated tents where they (and guests) sleep in insulated sleeping bags and an underground research laboratory, carved out of the ice, where they are installing the drill and ice lab equipment. Over the next three “summers,” they will unearth ice core samples all the way down to Greenland’s bedrock — roughly 1.5 miles, or the equivalent of 150,000 years of accumulated ice layers.

Their objective is to do something never done before: project a complete picture of the Greenland climate, from the ice age that lasted from 200,000 to 130,000 years ago, through the warming period known as the Eemian that lasted from 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, through the last ice age from 115,000 to 11,703 years ago, right up to the present warming period we’ve been in since. (Remember: the Earth is usually an ice ball; the warm interglacial periods are the exceptions.)

Their last drilling project here, which was completed in 2004, focused on the layers 14,500 to 11,000 years ago. That project is already causing a stir in the climate community. In an article just published in the journal Science Express, Dahl-Jensen’s team wrote about how it had discovered from the ice cores that the atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere over Greenland “changed abruptly” just as the last ice age ended around 11,700 years ago.

It seems to have been driven by a sudden change in monsoons in the tropics. The change was so abrupt that it warmed the Northern Hemisphere over Greenland by 10 degrees Celsius in just 50 years — a dramatic increase.

“It shows that our climate system has the ability to make very abrupt changes all by itself,” said Dahl-Jensen.

Some climate-change deniers would say that this proves that mankind is not important in changing the climate. Climate change experts, like Dahl-Jensen, say it’s not so simple: The climate is always changing, sometimes very abruptly, so the last thing that mankind should be doing is adding its own forcing actions — like pumping unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Because you never know — you never know — what will tip the balance and send us hurdling into another abrupt change … and into another era.

Here’s Ms. Judson:

Imagine a photograph of the London skyline — the houses of Parliament, the clock tower of Big Ben. Now add, floating in the sky above, a large pair of eyes looking at you.

This image used to grace the inside walls of a bus I used to ride. It also had a caption: “Secure beneath the watchful eyes.”

Brrrr.

It wasn’t an advertisement for a creepy Orwellian film, but an effort to draw attention to the presence of closed-circuit television cameras.

But looking back, it seems to me that the designer of the poster may have been onto something. Several recent experiments have shown that people respond to pictures of eyes by altering their behavior in subtle ways, even when they haven’t consciously noticed the eyes are there.

For example, take a game beloved of economists, the dictator game. In its simplest form, you have two players. Player A (the dictator) is issued a sum of money; he or she gets to decide whether to share the money with player B, and if so, how much to give. The dictator gets to keep whatever’s left … and that’s it. Game over. (What fun economists have!)

In anonymous versions of the game — played over the computer, so dictators and recipients can’t identify each other — most dictators don’t share. In one series of experiments, though the players were anonymous, the background computer screen was modified so that it sometimes included two eyespots. The results showed that dictators were much more likely to give money when the eyes were present. In a different set of experiments (using a more complicated economic game), the background screen sometimes included a picture of a robot with human-like eyes; here, too, players were more generous when the eyes were there.

Such effects aren’t restricted to these artificial situations. A couple of years ago, scientists at a university in the north of England did an experiment in their staff common room where people are supposed to pay for coffee by putting money into a box — an honor system. Above the notice reminding everyone to pay, the scientists put a picture of eyes during some weeks and a picture of flowers in other weeks. In the weeks with eyes, people paid more often than they did in the weeks with flowers.

It’s not surprising that such cues could affect behavior without our being aware of it. We constantly respond to things that the conscious brain hasn’t registered. For instance, suppose you are asked to sniff a scent before looking at a photograph of a stranger. The scent is too faint for the conscious part of your brain to detect — so you sniff and think you smell nothing — yet it will affect your response. Unpleasant smells increase the chance that you’ll take a dislike to the photograph.

And when it comes to eyes, humans are especially sensitive. Our eyes have a large “white.” This makes it easy to see where someone is looking. Moreover, certain neurons in the human brain respond strongly to eyes; a number of researchers believe that humans have neural circuits dedicated to perceiving eyes and the direction they’re looking.

Why might this have evolved? Many animals respond to eyes and alter their behavior when they sense they are being observed. For instance, birds like starlings are sensitive to whether a predator is looking at them. On coral reefs, fish that clean other fish for a living are more likely to do a good job at removing parasites, and less likely to take a bite of their customer, when other fish are watching. Another example: ravens, which store food to eat later. But they have a problem: thieves. Ravens steal from each other. So if a raven notices it’s being watched while storing, it will often remove the food and hide it elsewhere.

Humans are a highly social species; perhaps we’ve evolved to be sensitive to being watched because what other people see you doing may alter the way they treat you. In our evolutionary past, individuals seen to be selfish or greedy may have found themselves ostracized — or even killed.

To my mind, all this raises a slew of questions. Our cities are plastered with images of faces — do these influence our behavior? What about countries that have real dictators, whose photographs are ubiquitous — does that have an effect? Moreover, to date, experiments have looked at the effects of eyes on generosity and honesty. But can images of eyes modulate other aspects of our behavior — a tendency for vandalism, say? Instead of signs announcing, in words, the presence of surveillance systems, would pictures of pairs of eyes be more effective?

Perhaps we should do some experiments.

Olivia Judson, a contributing columnist for The Times, writes The Wild Side at nytimes.com/opinion.