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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Give Janet Yellen a Break

Give Janet Yellen a Break


Give Janet Yellen a Break

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 11:10 AM PDT

The consensus among Fed-watchers is that at Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's first news conference on Wednesday, she made her first gaffe. If you can spot what she did wrong, maybe you have what it takes to be a Fed-watcher.

OK, here's the setup. The Fed had announced that after completing its efforts to buy bonds to juice the economy, it will maintain rock-bottom interest rates to juice the economy for "a considerable period." Yellen was asked what "a considerable period" meant, and that's when she supposedly slipped up.

"It's hard to define, but, you know, it probably means something on the order of around six months or that type of thing," Yellen said. "But, you know, it depends."

Was her mistake being too vague? Was it watering down her answer with six separate qualifiers? Was it general incoherence?

No, sorry, central bankers are supposed to be vague and incoherent. Yellen's alleged error, believe it or not, was excessive specificity. Fed-watchers objected to "six months," no matter how much she qualified it with "hard to define," "probably," "something on the order of," around," "or that type of thing," and "it depends."

At this point, you might think that Fed-watchers are a bit silly. You would not be wrong. Yellen was talking about decisions she won't confront until early 2015 at the earliest. The overwhelming thrust of her remarks was that the Fed is basically staying the course, keeping its foot on the economic gas with extremely loose monetary policy for the foreseeable future. But even aside from her gaffe, markets and market analysts reacted as if she had announced she was tapping the brakes.

Let's just review where things stand. The Fed's key interest rate has been essentially zero for more than five years, and the Fed expects it to stay that way for quite a while. The Fed is providing additional monetary stimulus through "quantitative easing," buying government securities to boost economic activity. In December, the Fed announced it would "taper" its bond-buying, and it has reduced its purchases by $10 billion a month, but it will still blast another $55 billion into the economy in April. It's not tapping the brakes; it's just applying a smidgeon less gas.

Ever since former Chairman Ben Bernanke started talking about the taper almost a year ago, Fed-watchers have been wigging out about the end of easy money. The fear was that the taper would boost long-term interest rates and kill the recovery. But since the taper began, long-term interest rates have not gone up at all. The stock market has done fine. The labor market has improved modestly.

The downside of loose monetary policy is that it can trigger inflation. But after years of extraordinarily loose policy, inflation is still well below the Fed's 2 percent target. It's too low. And 6.7 percent unemployment is still too high. The Fed had suggested last year that it would consider tightening policy after unemployment dropped to 6.5 percent, but Yellen put the kibosh on that on Wednesday. Instead, the Fed will monitor the data and react accordingly, as it always does.

Nevertheless, Fed-watchers seemed to conclude that Yellen was being more hawkish than expected, showing too much confidence in relatively optimistic Fed forecasts that have been overly optimistic in the past. "Yellen Debut Rattles Markets," the Wall Street Journal reported. "Federal Reserve Lays Groundwork For First Interest Rate Hike," the Washington Post concluded.

Well, someday, sure. If you parse her words carefully enough, maybe Yellen's rhetoric was marginally more hawkish than expected. But she was also explicit: Her main concern is jobs, not inflation, and loose money is still appropriate.

"Unemployment is still elevated," she said. "Underemployment and long-term employment remain significant concerns. Inflation is still running significantly below [our] objective. These conditions warrant the continuation of highly accommodative policy."

There weren't any qualifiers in that statement. Yellen just said the Fed is going to keep doing what it's doing. Unless you're playing in the bond markets, or have some other business reason to focus on potential quarter-point differences in 2015 interest rates, that's pretty much all you need to know. But if you think Yellen's clear statement of policy means more than her off-the-cuff, highly-hedged, inscrutable definition of "a considerable time," well, you'll never be a Fed-watcher.

Ex-Navy Footballer Acquitted of Sexual Assault

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 11:09 AM PDT

Drunk parties make for tough military sexual-assault cases. That's the bottom line following a ruling Thursday by a Marine judge who found that a former Naval Academy football player did not sexually assault a female classmate at an alcohol-drenched off-campus party in Annapolis, Md., two years ago.

The defendant, Joshua Tate, of Nashville, didn't react as Marine Colonel Daniel Daugherty announced his verdict before a crowded courtroom at the Washington Navy Yard. Tate was one of three former Navy football players charged with sexual assault, but he became the lone defendant after charges were dropped against the other two. That leaves the service 0-for-3 in prosecuting those charged in the high-profile case.

Like the case involving Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair which ended earlier Thursday with Jeffrey receiving no jail time for sexual offenses, the Navy's case against Tate grew weaker as defense attorneys argued the alleged victim was a willing participant. The victim endured brutal questioning last fall during a pre-trail hearing that led to widespread criticism of how the military handles such cases.

Tate, who did not testify, faced up to 30 years imprisonment.

The court martial made clear that the accuser, in the words of one of her attorneys, "was unable to make [a] competent decision to have sex when Tate had sex with her" because she was intoxicated.

Alcohol is often an accomplice to sexual assaults in the military as it is elsewhere. An Army captain, sentenced to six years imprisonment for sexually assaulting a female officer in 2010, recently cited "Affirmative Defense: Voluntary Intoxication" as a reason he should not be found guilty (the Army Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his appeal Feb. 28).

“In many situations, it becomes a ‘he-said, she-said’ case,” says Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel and psychiatrist who dealt with the issue during her 24 years in uniform. "He says consensual sex, she says it was forced, or that she was too drunk to consent. There is often little or no hard evidence to show what actually happened."

Susan Burke, who represented the accuser, said "justice did not prevail" in her case. "Like so many survivors of sex crimes in the military, our client was twice victimized: first by her attacker and then by the failed investigation and prosecution of this case," she said. "She is understandably disappointed today, but hopes legitimate reforms of the military justice system will occur because of her case and those of other survivors.”

Your Nose Can Smell at Least 1 Trillion Scents

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 11:00 AM PDT

Human beings tend to think of themselves as visual first, auditory second, then touch and taste. Down at the bottom of the five senses is smell—at least when it comes to how often we’re aware of it. And while we all know how pungent a bad smell can be, and how memorable a good smell is, we probably don’t think our olfactory sense is all that sensitive, at least compared to the rest of our senses—or to the keen sense of smells exhibited in the animal world (Sharks can’t literally smell fear, but they can distinguish the smell of fish even if they make up only one part for every 10 billion parts in the water).

While scientists estimate that human beings can discriminate between several million different colors and almost half a million different sounds, they have long assumed that we can distinguish perhaps 10,000 different odors. Most of the time humans are barely aware they’re smelling anything at all.

But in reality, our noses are incredibly sensitive—and a new study published in Science provides evidence of just how amazing our sniffers are. Researchers at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) tested volunteers’ sense of smell using precisely crafted mixtures of odor molecules. After extrapolating the results, the researchers estimated that the average human being can distinguish between 1 trillion different odors, if not more, which makes our noses far more sensitive than any other organ in the body.

“The message here is that we have more sensitivity in our sense of smell than for which we give ourselves credit,” said Andreas Keller, a research associate at Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior and the lead author on the Science study, in a statement. “We just don’t pay attention to it and we don’t use it in everyday life.”

The idea that human beings could only distinguish between 10,000 smells has been around since a 1927 study that posited four elementary odors that people are able to distinguish on a nine-point scale. Do the math and you get 6,651 discernible olfactory sensations, a number that was later rounded up to 10,000. Although that value was widely cited, most scientists were skeptical—after all, the human eye uses just three light receptors to see millions of colors, while the typical nose has 400 different olfactory receptors. But as Leslie Vosshall of HHMI and another study co-author noted: “For smell, nobody ever took the time to test.”

Obviously the researchers weren’t going to try to test each smell individually—that would take forever. Instead, they used 128 different odorant molecules to create smell mixtures, using 10, 20 and 30 different components. The molecules themselves evoked familiar smells like cut grass, but when combined in random mixtures of as many as 30 different types, the smells became unfamiliar. That didn’t matter—the study subjects weren’t supposed to identify the smells. Instead, the researchers would present them with three vials of scents—two that were identical, and one that was unique—and asked them to indicate which scent was different than the others. Each of the 26 subjects made 264 comparisons.

Keller and his colleagues found that their study subjects could generally tell the difference between mixtures containing as much as 51.17% of the same components. Much higher than that, and they were unable to distinguish the smells—though it’s worth noting that some subjects could distinguish between smell mixtures that were as much as 90% similar. The researchers then extrapolated the total number of mixtures possible in each of their three categories. Since the majority of their study subjects could distinguish between mixtures that were 51.17% similar or less, they estimate that the average human can discriminate more than 1 trillion separate smells.

That is a vast number of scents, and it’s almost certainly too low, because there are many more odor molecules in the real world that could be mixed in nearly uncountable ways. So it’s not just that human beings have sensitive olfactory systems—though not that sensitive, otherwise more people would be able to distinguish smells that were more than 50% similar. It’s that the world offers a near infinite variety of smells. If human beings think their sense of smell isn’t that important, it has more to do with the fact that we’ve done our best to eliminate smells through refrigeration, air filtration, and yes, daily showers. As Vosshall put it:

The world is always changing. Plants are evolving new smells. Perfume companies are making new scents. You might move to some part of the world where you’ve never encountered the fruits and vegetables and flowers that grow there. But your nose is ready. With a sensory system that is that complex, we are fully ready for anything.

The nose, as it turns out, really does know.

S&P Cuts Russian Credit Outlook Amid Crimea Crisis

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:56 AM PDT

(LONDON) — Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has lowered its outlook for Russia, citing the risk of U.S. and European economic sanctions.

S&P said that Russia’s move to annex Crimea could also reduce investment, cause investors to pull money out of the country, and reduce overall economic performance.

It cut the outlook to negative on Thursday, meaning it could cut the country’s credit rating within the next 24 months.

Spring Is Here! Too Bad You’re Still Paying for a Bitterly Cold, Costly Winter

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:55 AM PDT

The brutal winter of 2013-2014 wreaked havoc on roads, homes, and most likely, your finances. It’s been a horrendously awful winter for many businesses as well.

There was reason for some to welcome the stormy, bitterly cold weather that descended on much of the nation in early 2014. Supermarkets thrived during the peak (nadir?) days of polar vortex frigidity as shoppers stocked up on staples in anticipation of waiting out the storms, and businesses selling plows and snowblowers understandably made a killing as the snow and ice piled up week after week.

Then there’s the rest of us, who will remember the winter that’s just passed as one chock full of tire-busting potholes, frozen pipes, roof collapses, and monster heating bills. Restaurants, retailers, car dealerships, delivery services, and other businesses have also suffered. Even some businesses that normally cash in when cold and snow arrive fared poorly because this winter brought just too much, well, winter. Travel Michigan noted that the ski and snowmobile business dipped in recent months because the weather has caused tourists cancel trips. Yes, people have been deciding it’s too cold and snowy to go … snowmobiling.

(MORE: Springtime Is Finally Here as the Vernal Equinox Arrives)

Here’s a look at a few of the groups that have gotten hammered by the winter of 2013-2014, and that are likely to bear the costs of the season for quite some time:

Drivers
By late January, it was clear that the winter was shaping up as an epically bad season for potholes. The mix of heavy precipitation with rapid freeze-thaw cycles has resulted in an inordinately large number of potholes on roads, and dangerous, tire-wrecking conditions have arrived much earlier than usual in the season. Drivers shouldn’t expect the pothole plague to disappear anytime soon, as local public works crews have been overwhelmed by requests to fix damaged roads. Cities like Des Moines, Iowa, have received more than 600 calls since December from citizens reporting potholes, for instance, while greater Indianapolis has fielded more than 10,000 pothole service requests this season.

Every day, it seems, there are more reports of potholes causing chaos for drivers—for instance, a huge pothole on I-75 in Detroit this week, which caused traffic to slow to a crawl as two lanes were closed so that crews could do a quick patch job. "It's the worst we've seen it in decades," a West Virginia DOT spokesman, speaking of this winter’s potholes and road conditions, told the MetroNews recently. "It's unbelievable."

Last fall, a transportation research group known as TRIP released a report on bumpy roads, indicating that during a normal year, drivers fork over the equivalent of $277 per year due to vehicle repairs, tire wear, and depreciation thanks to potholes and generally poor road conditions. This year, drivers should anticipating paying a lot more than that.

Homeowners
Unusually cold temperatures make for unusually high heating bills. This is especially the case for homes heated by propane, thanks in part to a propane shortage that hit several states early this year. Citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, USA Today reported last week that the average homeowner will pay 54% more this year for heating a home with propane. Homes in the Midwest heated by propane will see their bills soar the highest, from an average of $1,333 last year to $2,212 for this season. Homes heated with electricity, natural gas, or coal, meanwhile, are projected to face bills that are 5% to 10% higher than last year.

(MORE: Meet the Low-Key, Low-Cost Grocery Chain Being Called ‘Walmart’s Worst Nightmare’)

Beyond budget-busting heating bills, homeowners around the country have been hit with plenty of other costs related to the brutally cold winter. The list of headaches—and hefty expenses—includes a heaping share of frozen pipes, roof collapses, and ice dams. Oh, and soon, flooded basements are probably inevitable. As one insurance agent told the Detroit News, as spring arrives, “The warmer temperatures will exaggerate and accelerate the melt, and then we're going to have basement issues."

State and Local Governments
Around the nation, many towns have already exhausted the budgets they allocated to clearing and salting roads and fixing potholes. In many cases, local authorities have been forced to use emergency funds to keep roads open and safe. West Virginia, for instance, just announced it was increasing the spring pothole-patching budget to $30 million, up from $18 million.

In recent weeks, states have been scrambling to round up precious road salt to cope with storm after storm. Things were so bad in New Jersey that the transportation department warned the state might be forced to close down major roads—even interstates—because crews didn’t have enough salt. Inevitably, the combination of high demand and insufficient supply of salt led to soaring prices; in some cases, the cost of road salt rose by a factor of four. The Washington Times noted that some salt supply companies have seen shippings triple in recent months and net four-quarter earnings rise by as much as 94%.

Businesses
Abnormally cold weather has caused people to stay inside rather than go out and spend money. That’s the basic explanation used by car dealerships, fast food, and other business categories for months of underwhelming sales tallies. The list of businesses blaming Mother Nature for subpar earnings and sales reports also extends to the likes of Federal Express, which said all the storms resulted in it losing $125 million in profits last quarter, and Walmart, which pointed to snow and cold weather as a reason for slumping sales in January and early February.

(MORE: The Government Is a Hitman, and Uber, Tesla, and Airbnb Are in Its Crosshairs)

Speaking of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart just announced a huge lawn and garden sale that plays off homeowner desires to shake off winter. "Given the extreme winter many of our customers experienced, we know they are preparing to restore their gardens and outdoor living spaces,” Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of home, Walmart U.S., said via press release.

Of course, Walmart also helps the sale, featuring $1.97 bags of mulch, discounts on grills, mowers, and the like, will help the company recover from the brutal winter and kick off a big spring.

The bad news for consumer, homeowner, driver, and retailer alike may be that, despite what the calendar says, winter—meaning cold and snow—hasn’t necessarily disappeared. The latest extended forecasts from the National Weather Service, appropriately published in angry CAPS, offers the following predictions for the days and weeks ahead:

THE FCST REMAINS FAIRLY CONSISTENT FOR AN UNUSUALLY WINTRY PATTERN OVER THE CNTRL-ERN STATES DURING MOST OF THE PERIOD WITH A BROAD AREA OF TEMPERATURE ANOMALIES REACHING 10-25F BELOW NORMAL BEFORE MODERATING BY DAY 7 THU. AT SOME LOCATIONS EXPECTED TEMPS WOULD BE CLOSER TO MID-JANUARY NORMALS… THIS COLD AIR WILL SUPPORT A PERIOD OF WINTRY PCPN POTENTIAL FROM THE NRN/N-CNTRL PLAINS INTO THE MID ATLC/NORTHEAST.

Knock Back a Few Rounds With The Uncles of March Madness

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery love to tell stories.

When Lundquist—the avuncular CBS broadcaster who has called some of the most iconic moments in sports over the last 30 years—and his longtime college hoops partner Raftery get together, the anecdotes flow like the best beer on tap. And they often acknowledge on the air, wink-wink, that once the game is over they’ll get together and hail the bartender, to share a few more laughs. They’re back together again Thursday for the start of the NCAA Tournament; they’re calling six games through two rounds over the next few days.

(MORE: March Madness: Make Sure to Watch These Five Games)

Verne first met Billy over 30 years ago, when they did a few college games together for CBS. They hit it off right away. But they were never regular broadcasting partners. One night in the ’80s, Verne was in New York City, and he called Raf—as everyone calls him—to see what he was up to. Raftery was working some games at Madison Square Garden, but he had a plan. “He said, ‘well, good, come on down here, I’ll get you a credential,’” Lundquist recalls. “‘We’re doing a double header then we’re going to dinner.’ I said, ‘Bill, dinner’s not going to start until 11:30.’ And he says, ‘your point?’”

They went over to Runyon’s, the legendary New York watering hole where athletes and writers and other media types could actually co-exist in a normal setting, rather than the stilted press conference rooms of today. “So we walk in,” Lundquist says. “And it’s not that we’re going to sit down and have dinner right away. We’re going to have a libation or two. Or pretty soon we’re counting on our hands.

(PHOTOS: 11 Players You Need to Watch in the NCAA Tournament)

“And we finally ordered dinner. Then it gets to be 2:00. I’ve got an 8:00 a.m. flight out of LaGuardia. Now it gets to be 3:00. I said, ‘Bill, I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to catch a cab.’ Bout 3:30, 3:45, he said, ‘Nah, I’ve got a car coming for me to take me to New Jersey. Let me just make a phone call. And then we’ll go. And then I’ll drop you at your hotel.’”

Raftery interjects—they often finish, or amplify, one another’s sentences: “There’s a phone at the bar, you’ll remember. There’s no cell phones.”

Lundquist: “So here’s what I hear. Ring. Ring. Ring. Joanie [Raftery's wife]. ‘Hi. I just wanted to call and let you know. I’m going to be home a little late.’”

Verne almost fell over. “My God,” he says. “He’s my kind of guy.”

(MORE: The Game That Saved March Madness)

While Raftery is a legendary barfly, he admits to slightly overplaying that image, because he knows it entertains his fans. And after all, if Raftery was overindulging, he wouldn’t be so good. Raftery, who used to coach at Seton Hall, breaks the game down like a surgeon, but in a layman’s language. For years, he’s been known as one of the hardest working, most prepared broadcasters in the business.

But he’s also the nutty uncle you want to hang out with, shouting “onions” when a player takes a charge (translation for those not fluent in Raf-speak: that guy has some balls on him), or “with a kiss!” after a bank shot. Or his signature exhortation: At the beginning of the game, right after the tip, Raf religiously notes that the defense is in “man-to-man!”—March has no sweeter sound.

The players are the stars of March Madness. But as fans consume dozens of games over the next three weeks, the announcers become part of the bloodstream. Verne and Billy, who were finally paired together by CBS Sports boss Sean McManus for the 2000 tournament—you’d think they’ve worked together much longer—just click. What’s better than two older gentleman—Verne is 73, Raf is 70—who have built a comfort level with each other that translates into the living room, calling a do-or-die March Madness game? Who’s playing in the Sweet Sixteen tonight? It’s a Verne-and-Billy game? Nice.

(MORE: 5 Research-Backed Ways To Improve Your 'March Madness' Bracket)

Sorry, CBS: Jim Nantz and Billy Packer never gave me that happy feeling.

So what’s the secret? Ian Eagle, a rising CBS play-by-play star who worked with Raftery for years on New Jersey Nets games, has studied Verne and Billy. He joins the table.

“It’s about camaraderie, chemistry, they genuinely like each other,” Eagle says. “And that shows up on the air. Verne is fully engaged in the event that he’s covering. It’s not artificial. It’s real. Bill is the person, on the air, who he is off the air. He’s not playing a role. There are a lot of guys out there that are. He’s not. I think fans figure out if the essence of you is coming through. When it’s not contrived. And I learned it from both of them. Because, ultimately, if the essence of you isn’t coming through, it’s going to come back and bite you at some point.

“There’s incredible balance to the relationship,” Eagle goes on. “If you go out to have dinner with them, it’s the same feeling. You can lead one into the other story wise, they can finish each other’s sentences. That’s real. You can’t make that up. Look, Bill’s worked with many different partners over the years. Vern’s worked with many different partners. And the reason they are so good is that they do make the people around them better. Now take these two broadcasters, put them together, and you’re talking about the industry standard.”

Raftery reaches into his pockets. “I don’t have any money on me.”

Eagle: “I’m going to have to shower.” Lundquist bellies out a loud, slow “Ha! Ha! Ha!” It seriously sounds like your grandpa’s guffaw.

Eagle is not allowed to leave this conversation without doing his Raf impression. During one Nets game back in the late ’90s or early 2000s, Eagle yelled “Jambalaya!” in Raftery’s voice after Kerry Kittles, a New Orleans native, sank a nice shot. It was just a natural Raftery line: spontaneous, silly, but it hit the spot. The producer gave an oblivious Raf kudos on the call.

For Eagle, picturing a setting for his impression is easy. It’s late, at some hotel bar after a game, and Eagle, 25 years younger than Raftery, wants to head up to bed. “Bird, where the f–k are you going?” Eagle says in Raf’s familiar vocal twinge. “You know how to ruin a good party, Bird. Little d–k.”

Now, it’s Raf’s turn for a story, about the subtle way Verne can tweak him on the air, giving the audience a nice payoff. The pair was doing a Louisville game a few weeks back, and during the opening clips before the tip, footage of Cardinals sharpshooter Luke Hancock came on the screen. “And like, out of the blue, I went ‘Luuuuuke. Luuuuke.’ I never rehearsed it, never even thought about it, until I saw the video. Like, stupid.

“And he said, ‘Folks, you’re going to be hearing a lot more of that later. We’ll be back after these words.’ The way he handled it was perfect. Like, I’m stuck with this asshole for a couple of more hours.”

Verne: “HA! (slow) HA! (slow) HA!”

Hopefully, Verne and Billy will be stuck with each other for a couple of more years, at least. “I soon will enter the final year of a three-year contract,” Lundquist says. “I do know you never want to assume a thing.” Lundquist’s critics feel he’s lost a step, especially when calling SEC football games for CBS in the fall. And SEC football fans, you may have heard, are somewhat rabid. “I’m quite aware that we have sometimes vitriolic responses to what we say on the air,” Lundquist says. “It kind of comes with the territory. And I’d be less than human if I said it didn’t bother me. I try not to let if affect me. I don’t read it. I’ll read some of the blogs. But I’ve learned, over the years, I think, to not go beyond the last sentence.” That is, into the anonymous comments section: “Because then it get treacherous.”

Criticizing Lundquist is fair. But without question, his call of last year’s Iron Bowl miracle, when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal from the back of the end zone for a 109-yard score to give the Tigers that shocking win over Alabama, was pitch perfect: “Chris! Davis! No flags! Touchdown, Auburn! An answered prayer!”

As a career capstone, how about giving Verne and Billy a crack at calling a Final Four on TV? McManus, the CBS president, answers the question as you’d expect: He’s happy with the team he has in place—Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, and Steve Kerr get the assignment this year—and foresees no changes. But McManus did leave the classic political opening: You can’t guarantee anything this business.

Verne and Billy on the title game? Come on, that’s an easy one. The fans would celebrate it.

That move wouldn’t take any onions.

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30-Second Tech Trick: Use the Konami Code for Free (!!!) Google Searches

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Turkey’s Erdogan Now Says He’ll Shut Down Twitter, Too

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:44 AM PDT

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted Thursday as saying he’ll shut down Twitter in the country, two weeks after he backpedaled on threats to ban Facebook and YouTube.

"We now have a court order. We'll eradicate Twitter, " he said at a campaign rally in the western city of Bursa ahead of local elections, Hurriyet Daily News reports. "I don't care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic."

The prime minister's feud with the popular social media sites was sparked earlier this month after audio recordings that purportedly implicated him in a recent corruption scandal surfaced online. Erdogan has denied involvement and said the recordings were fabricated.

[Hurriyet Daily News]

It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:43 AM PDT

“Rape is as American as apple pie,” says blogger Jessica Valenti. She and her sisters-in-arms describe our society as a "rape culture” where violence against women is so normal, it's almost invisible. Films, magazines, fashion, books, music, humor, even Barbie — according to the activists — cooperate in conveying the message that women are there to be used, abused, and exploited. Recently, rape culture theory has migrated from the lonely corners of the feminist blogosphere into the mainstream. In January, the White House asserted that we need to combat campus rape by "[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist."

Tolerance for rape? Rape is a horrific crime and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there's no evidence that it's considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path. Rape culture theory is doing little to help victims, but its power to poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males is immense.

On college campuses, obsession with eliminating "rape culture" has led to censorship and hysteria. At Boston University, student activists launched a petition demanding the cancellation of a Robin Thicke concert, because the lyrics of his hit song "Blurred Lines" allegedly celebrate "systemic patriarchy and sexual oppression." (The lyrics may not exactly be pleasant to many women, but song lyrics don’t turn men into rapists. Yet, ludicrously, the song has already been banned at more than 20 British universities.) Activists at Wellesley recently demanded that administrators remove a statue of a sleepwalking man: The image of a nearly naked male could "trigger" memories of sexual assault for victims. Meanwhile, a growing number of young men find themselves charged with rape, named publicly, and brought before campus judicial panels informed by rape culture theory. In such courts, due process is practically non-existent: Guilty because accused.

Rape culture theorists dismiss critics who bring up examples of hysteria and false accusations as "rape denialists" and "rape apologists." To even suggest that false accusations occur, according to activists, is to engage in "victim blaming." But now, rape culturalists are confronting a formidable critic that even they will find hard to dismiss.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America's largest and most influential anti-sexual violence organization. It's the leading voice for sexual assault victim advocacy. Indeed, rape culture activists routinely cite the authority of RAINN to make their case. But in RAINN's recent recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, it repudiates the rhetoric of the anti “rape culture” movement:

In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming "rape culture" for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campus. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.

RAINN urges the White House to "remain focused on the true cause of the problem" and suggests a three-pronged approach for combating rape: empowering community members through bystander intervention education, using "risk-reduction messaging" to encourage students to increase their personal safety, and promoting clearer education on "where the 'consent line' is." It also asserts that we should treat rape like the serious crime it is by giving power to trained law enforcement rather than internal campus judicial boards.

RAINN is especially critical of the idea that we need to focus on teaching men not to rape — the hallmark of rape culture activism. Since rape exists because our culture condones and normalizes it, activists say, we can end the epidemic of sexual violence only by teaching boys not to rape.

No one would deny that we should teach boys to respect women. But by and large, this is already happening. By the time men reach college, RAINN explains, "most students have been exposed to 18 years of prevention messages, in one form or another." The vast majority of men absorbs these messages and views rape as the horrific crime that it is. So efforts to address rape need to focus on the very small portion of the population that "has proven itself immune to years of prevention messages." They should not vilify the average guy.

By blaming so-called rape culture, we implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence. RAINN explains that the trend of focusing on rape culture “has the paradoxical effect of making it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates personal responsibility for his or her own actions.”

Moral panic over "rape culture" helps no one — least of all, survivors of sexual assault. College leaders, women's groups, and the White House have a choice. They can side with the thought police of the feminist blogosphere who are declaring war on Robin Thicke, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, male statues, and Barbie. Or, they can listen to the sane counsel of RAINN.

Caroline Kitchens is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ikea Recalls Cot Canopies for Strangulation Risk

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 10:26 AM PDT

(STOCKHOLM) — Swedish furniture retailer Ikea is recalling children’s bed canopies because of a strangulation risk.

The company says that after receiving complaints from customers it has identified the risk of potential harm in canopies used to cover cots in the models: Legendarisk, Minnen bed canopy set, Barnslig Boll, Minnen Brodyr, Himmel, Fabler, Tissla and Klammig. About 2.7 million canopies have been sold in all Ikea markets since 1996.

Ikea said Thursday it was not aware of any reports of “permanent injury,” but that customers had complained of canopy nets being pulled into cots and becoming entangled around infants’ necks.

The furniture giant said it will fully refund customers for the canopy purchases when returned to the retailer.

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