5 Best Wednesday Columns

On Mexico's tortilla shortage, the myth of CSI, and the GOP's softening stance on gay marriage

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  • Farhad Manjoo on Texting in Self-Driving Cars  Following Google's announcement that they are developing self-driving, robotic cars, the Slate columnist examines the possibilities for such technology. Google's cars are still much in the experimental stage (they can't recognize, for instance, traffic cop's hand signals), but they could eventually be a boon to overworked American commuters, he writes. In particular, if most of driving's hassles were handled by a computer, texting while driving and other tasks could become less dangerous. Manjoo concludes: "Perhaps this explains Google's motivation for looking into robotic cars: If you're not driving, you'll have much more time to surf the Web."
  • Jon Cowan and Evan Wolfson on the GOP's Softening Stance on Gay Marriage  In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, the Third Way think-tank president and executive director of Freedom to Marry contend that a "quiet revolution" is occurring in the Republican party regarding gay marriage. They note that the "Pledge to America" makes scant reference to "traditional marriage" and that the usual "anti-gay election-year demagoguery" isn't on display this year. Furthermore, "no state is facing an anti-gay initiative on the ballot, and marriage has not been a focus of the national conservative agenda." What's the reason for this shift? "Perhaps a sense that a libertarian-leaning belief in fully extending the freedom to marry to all Americans does not, in fact, clash with a conservative commitment to holding together the social fabric," they write. Or, they continue, it could just be that "GOP leaders" are finally taking note of the polls, which show "a majority of Americans nationwide now support marriage for gay and lesbian couples."
  • Douglas Starr on the Myth of CSI   Rather than being a model of "ultra-modern efficiency," the quality of real-life crime scene forensics labs are "wildly inconsistent," argues the Boston University professor in a Boston Globe opinion column. To bolster his case, he list four examples of recent cases that were marred by poorly trained employees, antiquated equipment, and corrupt investigators who "purposely alter" test results. To address these glaring inadequacies, Starr suggests "re-inventing the nation's forensic labs--not as arms of the police force but as independent scientific entities, with ties to universities and the research community." This way, "traditional forensic methods, such as fingerprinting and hair analysis, would need to be reevaluated for scientific accuracy, and technicians would need to meet national educational standards."
  • Adam Thomson on Mexico's Looming Tortilla Shortage  The recent surge in grain prices prompts the Financial Times scribe to recollect the so-called "tortilla riots" that followed a similar price increase in 2006. In Mexico, people took to the streets when the price for a kilo of corn tortillas--"a pillar of the Mexican diet"--rose from 8 pesos to 10 pesos. Explains Thomson: "The Mexican tortilla crisis came after a rise in the cost of corn ... Although Mexico was more or less self-sufficient in white maize, used for tortillas, it also imported a large amount of yellow corn for animal feed." In subsequent years the Mexican government has imposed measures designed to keep the price of tortillas down, something that might not matter if the cost of grain continues to soar. Still, Thomson concludes, Mexico is better equipped to face a tortilla shortage today than they were four years ago. Import quotas are in place to deter large-scale corn buyers from holding back stocks, as they were an "inflationary factor" in the last tortilla crunch. The country is also allowing more corn imports from the United States and other countries to keep the market flush.
  • Ann Friedman on the Experience Gap  Voters--especially young voters--are crying out for a political experience they can get excited about. The American Prospect columnist notes Barack Obama provided this "thrilling collective experience" at his campaign rallies in 2008. With the president's luster severely diminished, voters are looking elsewhere to tap into this collective experience (which the Tea Party offers in abundance). Hence the excitement over Jon Stewart's forthcoming National Mall rally. Democratic leaders, Friedman believes, should study the event closely. They'll see that the "fundamental error that Democratic strategists make ... is that they think this kind of engagement is exclusive--that the young people who attend the Jon Stewart rally won't remember to vote or encourage their friends to do the same." This is not the case. "What the Obama campaign figured out," notes Friedman, "is that engagement is cumulative--every little thing that draws people in makes it possible for them to get involved further." Democrats, she concludes, should not be distancing themselves from anyone who gets young voters behind the progressive cause.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.