As Iran and the P5+1 resume negotiations at the UN in New York over the country’s nuclear program, Trita Parsi flags a new poll of Iranians that “may shed light on the thinking behind Iran’s negotiating position, but also explain why the Rouhani government may think it can live with a no-deal scenario”:

The poll shows that the Iranian public is resistant on two key matters: rolling back the number of operating centrifuges and limiting Iran’s ability to conduct nuclear research. Demands for strict limitations on these issues by the P5+1, the group of six world powers negotiating with Iran, would essentially be deal breakers for the Iranian public: 70 percent oppose dismantling half of Iran’s existing centrifuges and 75 percent oppose limits on Iran’s research activity.

The public’s position on these matters is likely rooted in both a long-standing narrative of the West seeking to keep Iran weak, dependent, and downtrodden by depriving it of access to advanced science, as well as the government’s own rhetoric about nuclear “red lines” on centrifuges and nuclear research. Regardless, the public’s position on these critical variables poses a major challenge for the Rouhani team. It’s not a coincidence that these are the very issues that have caused a deadlock in the talks.

Mitchell Plitnick considers Rouhani’s motivations, noting the political pressures the Iranian president faces from all sides. He also cautions against assuming that Rouhani will agree to a deal for the sake of his political survival:

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Apple has announced a new feature in iOS 8 that prevents the company from complying with search warrants:

In an open letter posted on Apple’s website last night, CEO Tim Cook said that the company’s redesigned its mobile operating system to make it impossible for Apple to unlock a user’s iPhone data. Starting with iOS8, only the user who locked their phone can unlock it. This is huge. What it means is that even if a foreign government or a US police officer with a warrant tries to legally compel Apple to snoop on someone, they won’t. Because they can’t. It’s a digital Ulysses pact.

Law enforcement has a variety of legal tools it can use to compel a tech company to turn over data on its users. In some cases the tech company is even legally prohibited from talking about those requests publicly. If Apple’s correct and it truly has built an encryption system that they themselves can’t break, then they’ve found a pretty ingenious workaround to the problem tech companies face constantly — of being stuck having to choose between their users and the law.

The Bloomberg View editors argue that this is a bad idea on multiple counts:

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The Climate Movement Marches On

Sep 19 2014 @ 3:00pm

Elizabeth Kolbert previews NYC’s climate march this Sunday:

For next year’s meeting in Paris to produce an agreement that’s meaningful, that agreement is going to have to somehow yield truly significant emissions reductions, and do so quickly. After twenty-two years of failed attempts, it’s hard to be optimistic about this prospect.

But for this very reason, you’ve got to give those who are planning to march on Sunday that much more credit for trying. (It seems that the Secretary-General himself will also attend the march.) There’s a lot of inertia in the climate system, and whatever we do to it now, our descendants are going to have to live with the results for a long, long time. Already, the effects of climate change are painfully apparent—in the shrinking Arctic ice cap, in the death of millions of acres of forest in the Western U.S., in more severe downpours and flooding in the Northeast, and, quite possibly, in the current California drought. As Governor Jay Inslee, of Washington, recently summed up the situation, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

Bill McKibben defended the march against naysayers during his guest-blogging stint:

I’ve come to believe a few basic things.

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Teaching Inside The Panels

Sep 19 2014 @ 2:41pm

Educator David Cutler advocates using comics in the classroom:

As a journalism and history teacher at an independent school near Boston, I’m not too proud to admit that I use comic books Captainamerica1in my classroom. When we cover World War II, my students analyze the inaugural March 1941 cover of Captain America by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, which shows super-soldier Steve Rogers deflecting an attack while knocking out Adolf Hitler. When I teach writing, my students analyze Kingdom Come, in which an aging Superman is distraught over a conflict that wipes out much of the Midwest. The pages come alive with lifelike artwork by Alex Ross, while writer Mark Waid exemplifies clarity and concision by making optimal use of each speech bubble. …

“It always strikes me as supremely odd that high culture venerates the written word on the one hand, and the fine visual arts on the other,” says Jonathan Hennessey, the author of The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. “Yet somehow putting the two together is dismissed as juvenilia. Why is that? Why can’t these forms of art go together like music and dance?” At one Comic-Con panel, where he was a co-presenter, Hennessey projected a page about a Neolithic civilization. “If you look at the image, imagine how much text would be required to establish what you see here,” he pointed out. “The human eye processes images something like 60,000 times faster than it processes text. This isn’t to say that text has no place, but it’s saying that images are very powerful, and if we use them, they could be powerful teaching tools.”

(Image of Captain America Comics #1 via Wikimedia Commons)

Just How Bad Was Nero?

Sep 19 2014 @ 2:22pm

Robert Draper looks into revisionist accounts that suggest history hasn’t been entirely fair to the Roman emperor:

The dead do not write their own history. Nero’s first two biographers, Suetonius and Tacitus, had ties to the elite Senate and would memorialize dish_nerograffiti his reign with lavish contempt. The notion of Nero’s return took on malevolent overtones in Christian literature, with Isaiah’s warning of the coming Antichrist: “He will descend from his firmament in the form of a man, a king of iniquity, a murderer of his mother.” Later would come the melodramatic condemnations: the comic Ettore Petrolini’s Nero as babbling lunatic, Peter Ustinov’s Nero as the cowardly murderer, and the garishly enduring tableau of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. What occurred over time was hardly erasure but instead demonization. A ruler of baffling complexity was now simply a beast.

“Today we condemn his behavior,” says archaeological journalist Marisa Ranieri Panetta. “But look at the great Christian emperor Constantine. He had his first son, his second wife, and his father-in-law all murdered. One can’t be a saint and the other a devil. Look at Augustus, who destroyed a ruling class with his blacklists. Rome ran in rivers of blood, but Augustus was able to launch effective propaganda for everything he did. He understood the media. And so Augustus was great, they say. Not to suggest that Nero was himself a great emperor—but that he was better than they said he was, and no worse than those who came before and after him.”

(Image: Graffiti portrait of Nero, c. 1st century, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Corporations Make Journalism

Sep 19 2014 @ 2:03pm

First, it was sponsored content – advertisements designed to look like articles. Then it was a full-fledged fusion of journalism and advertizing, as sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy actively worked with corporations to create “brand journalism.” Increasingly, however, the middle-man may be by-passed altogether. And you can easily see how this may come to be: why try cooperating with a website to get their “editors” to come up with ideas and concepts to promote a company’s bottom line, when you can simply hire the journalists yourself, pay them more and make your own publication?

Google is on the case, natch:

While Google has yet to formally introduce its native offering, numerous AdExchanger sources with knowledge of its plans say the company is taking a multi-pronged and deliberate approach to the native trend, stitching together multiple native ad offerings geared to different media sellers. Among those solutions are ad-serving support for sponsored posts on premium publisher websites, and a content recommendation engine of the sort pioneered by Outbrain and Taboola, both of which may launch in 2015.

And new research shows that the most common form of “disclosure” used by websites to demarcate paid posts isn’t working:

Sponsored content using disclosure techniques like the home page buyout (used, for example, by The Wall Street Journal) and the persistent disclosure banner (used by Slate) were only identified as ads by readers 29 percent of the time. In contrast, Nudge found that over half of the 100 people it polled were able to to identify ads that featured disclosures within the content itself. In-content disclosures are rare compared to the other techniques, though … It’s easy to understand publishers’ hesitation toward overly disclosing the brands sponsoring their content. A recent poll by content marketing company Contently found that two-thirds of readers felt tricked when they clicked on sponsored content, and over half of readers said that they don’t trust sponsored content at all.

The FT’s US news editor, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, has a must-read on how all these trends are combining to end independent journalism as we’ve known it:

General Electric’s online news site has evolved from a list of press releases to a virtual magazine using animated gifs, professional photography, videos and infographics (“all the different points of entry we used at Forbes”, Tomas Kellner, [a Columbia Journalism School-trained former Forbes journalist] notes) which features tales of innovation, science and technology from around the giant industrial group. Many are engaging and informative, and some – such as a feature on a Japanese indoor lettuce farm powered by 17,500 GE LED lights – get as many as 500,000 readers …

“There have been corporate newsrooms for ever but they were putting out press releases to try and get you guys to cover it,” notes Richard Edelman, whose family firm is the world’s largest PR agency. “Now it’s self-publishing. That’s the big difference.” Every company is now realizing that it can be a media company, he says.

Notice the pedigree of the dude running the corporate p.r. show: a Columbia J School alum from the mainstream media. The financial incentives for younger journalists to become PR purveyors could not be starker:

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Beard Of The Week

Sep 19 2014 @ 1:41pm

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It’s from Tindafella’s Tumblr, wherein the bearded jokester has a hell of a lot of social media parody fun.

Biden Trails Clinton By 44 Points

Sep 19 2014 @ 1:25pm

Ezra blames all the gaffes:

[This week], Biden angered Jewish groups by referring to shady lenders as “shylocks.” Then he called Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew “the wisest man in the Orient.” Biden has history of this kind of thing. In 2006, he said, “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” In 2007, he called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Biden, New York Magazine snarked, “is your accidentally racist grandma.” …

[T]hese comments keep exposing a cultural gulf between Biden and the party he seeks to lead. Biden is an old-school, white, male politician in a party that’s increasingly young, multicultural, and female. One of the biggest frustration for Team Biden is that their boss has become something of a joke on the internet — and that’s partly because the people driving opinion online are young and very sensitive to the particular kind of gaffes Biden keeps making.

The latest:

In the middle of a Friday morning speech championing women’s issues, Vice President Joe Biden offered warm words for a senator who resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal [Bob Packwood].

Now: England’s Turn?

Sep 19 2014 @ 12:57pm

Reactions To The Scottish Referendum Decision

It’s been a tumultuous day in British politics. Alex Salmond, the charismatic Scottish Nationalist leader who galvanized the independence referendum has resigned as First Minister of Scotland. From his statement:

The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows. “For me right now , therefore there is a decision as to who is best placed to lead this process forward politically. “I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, Party, Parliament and country would benefit from new leadership.

The promises of devo-max for Scotland – made as a panicked last ditch attempt to preserve the union – are now, however, provoking a backlash in England, especially the Tory parts:

In his speech [after the results], Cameron made clear that the constitutional reforms, including in Scotland, would not be delivered until after the general election, and that Scottish measures would proceed in tandem with changes in England. “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must be heard,” he said.

Cameron threw down a challenge to the Labour opposition to say whether it would agree to the introduction of English votes for English MPs, and announced that William Hague, leader of the House of Commons, would advance the issue in a special cabinet committee.

You can see the point: if Scotland gets to determine its own policies in Holyrood, then why should it also get full representation in Westminster with respect to English laws and English policy? The constitutional complexities are enormous, but figures as disparate as the former prime minister John Major and the Liberal Democratic leader, Nick Clegg, are in favor of devolution to England as well:

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Thirteen Years Of Strategery

Sep 19 2014 @ 12:42pm


Micah Zenko calls out Obama’s strategy against ISIS as another example of “political leaders presenting totally unrealistic and implausible end states”, which has been a hallmark of US counterterrorism since 9/11:

Given that two administrations have failed to achieve their end states of defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations, we should be extremely doubtful of the Obama administration’s strategic objective of destroying IS or its ability to threaten the United States or any of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain what the Obama administration has learned from the total failure to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda and all affiliates. Based upon White House statements, it appears that its sole lesson from the post-9/11 era is to avoid massive ground invasions, and to emulate the policies from Yemen and Somalia, which again, according to U.S. government data, have not worked.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby was asked how IS would be destroyed, beyond airstrikes and supporting partners on the ground. He replied: “It also is going to take the ultimate destruction of their ideology.” If this is truly the ultimate pathway for IS’s destruction, then it was strange that it did not appear anywhere in President Obama’s strategy speech. Furthermore, altering the interpretation that others hold of a religious ideology is something that governments are really bad at.

A million amens to that. Meanwhile, Allahpundit responds to the CIA’s pessimism about arming the Syrian rebels:

Increasingly, I think this whole arm-the-rebels plan is just a perfunctory mad-libs answer to an obvious question about O’s ISIS strategy.

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