Retired Justice John Paul Stevens made some news in an interview with NPR's Scott Simon on Thursday.
Scott asked him if the federal government should legalize marijuana.
"Yes," Stevens replied. "I really think that that's another instance of public opinion [that's] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction. Alcohol, the prohibition against selling and dispensing alcoholic beverages has I think been generally, there's a general consensus that it was not worth the cost. And I think really in time that will be the general consensus with respect to this particular drug."
Stevens' comments are perhaps not particularly surprising. Stevens was, after all, considered part of the court's liberal wing.
But he was appointed by President Gerald Ford and he considers himself a conservative. Also, just years ago a pronouncement of this kind would have been a bombshell.
Just think back to 1987, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg to the high court.
Nine days later, after Ginsburg admitted that he had smoked marijuana, he asked Reagan to withdraw his nomination.
The 94-year-old Stevens has been making waves recently with a new book, Six Amendments, in which he proposes six changes to the U.S. Constitution.
Among them: the banishment of capital punishment, a limit on the amount of corporate money that can be pumped into elections and a curb on the individual right to bear arms.
Scott also asked Stevens about gay marriage. Stevens says that the dramatic shift in public opinion on that issue gives him confidence that "in due course when people actually think through the issues they will be able accept merits of my arguments."
Much more of Scott's conversation with Stevens will air on Weekend Edition Saturday. Click here to find your NPR member station. We'll add the as-aired interview to the top of this post on Saturday.
For political junkies reading the 2016 tea leaves, Jeb Bush offers this newly emptied cup: "I'm thinking about running for president."
That's the report from an attendee of Wednesday's closed-door Catholic Charities fundraiser in New York to Fox News, who said this was in response to a question about the former Florida governor's immediate plans.
No, this isn't terribly different from things he's said in recent months: "I'm going to think about it later," and "There's a time to make a decision. You shouldn't make it too early, you shouldn't make it too late." But from the point of view of tone and nuance, Wednesday's remarks are clearly the most direct - the first-person pronoun coupled with the present-participle verb. No subjunctive "would" — or any other qualifier.
For more than a year, Bush and his team did their utmost to tamp down talk about 2016. (This continues, to a lesser extent, even now. Here is Bush's closest confidante, former chief of staff Sally Bradshaw, in a tweet yesterday: "Breaking: @JebBush also thinking about not running for President.")
There are plenty of good reasons for this. The vast majority of actual voters, even those in early primary states, are not paying much attention to the 2016 presidential contest. They don't much care who is or is not running, at least not yet.
But for lesser known hopefuls, every single day before the Iowa caucuses is an opportunity to improve name ID and line up potential donors. They have to start the rubber chicken circuit — yesterday, if not sooner.
Bush is in a different situation. As the brother of the last Republican president and the son of the one before that, he already has plenty of name ID. So for him, every single day between now and the Iowa caucuses is an opportunity for all those who might oppose him to dig up dirt and figure out how to disseminate it. The day he's officially in the race is the day the bull's-eye is officially pinned to his back.
Hence the balancing act. A lot of the party's biggest donors and bundlers are waiting for him to say the word. If he plays coy too long, they'll get antsy and start considering their options. So perhaps that's the best way of looking at Wednesday's comment - a little assurance for those writing the checks to hold fast.
In any event, now that he's gone this far, don't look for anything more definitive from Bush regarding his plans in the coming months. In fact, if history is a guide, Bush will hold his decision close to the vest until he's ready to jump in at full throttle.
In late October 1992, Bush was asked directly at an Orlando, Florida, political gathering if was going to run for governor in 1994. Bush held up his plastic beer cup for reporters and laughed: "Do you think I'd be doing this if I was running?"
Four months later, Bush told CNN: "I have every intention of doing it."
S.V. Dáte edits congressional and campaign finance coverage for NPR's Washington Desk.
Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director
For her sixth album Food, R&B singer Kelis once again explores a new style with the help of a talented producer. This time, it's TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, who eased her transition from dance diva to a sound more rooted in funk, soul and gospel. On a recent night in Santa Monica, Kelis packed a 12-member soul band onto the small stage at Apogee Studio to showcase her new songs, including "Friday Fish Fry."
On a Wisconsin street, a woman in a white hoodie stands frozen in place, stepping out of the road and onto the curb, her left hand reaching behind her. As part of a public service announcement, she explains why she's there as string music slowly plays under her voice.
"I had my brother in my hand and all of a sudden my hand was empty," Aurie says as a car drives past. Her little brother, 8 years old at the time of PSA, was left paralyzed after being hit by a car driven by a texting driver.
Movie director Werner Herzog and AT&T made this PSA as an emotional appeal, part of the "It Can Wait" campaign. But emotional appeals only go so far. Where the pleading fades, parents, cities and software companies try to pick up the slack with a technological approach.
A patent from Apple could play a big role in helping teens — and adults — avoid accidents. The proposed feature, which would lock out certain features such as texts and calls, is not the first of its kind. There's DriveAssistT, created in 2008, and TEXTL8R, both developed by Aegis Mobility to block calls and texts. There're other devices that try to make young drivers safer beyond the texting angle, such as by using MyKey, a chip in the car key that you program to limit radio volume or sound a continuous alert if the driver doesn't wear a seatbelt. And Drive Pulse, which tracks the location of the car, as well as things like driving at high speeds or slamming on the breaks.
As NPR's Steve Henn reported last year, there are options:
"Parents today are raising digital natives. Many toddlers are as likely to amuse themselves with a touch screen as a set of blocks. Texts, mobile phones, video games and gadgets have surrounded teens their entire lives.
"Today's parents may not have grown up in a tech-saturated world, but almost every day new technologies come to market that give them more options when it comes to keeping tabs on their kids."
The Apple patent would lock out certain phone functions in one of three ways: by using a motion sensor that knows when the phone is moving at driving speeds; by using a "scenery analyzer" that can tell whether the phone is in a safe place in the car; and a lock-out mechanism that automatically disables things like texting for a period of time.
Attempts by other products to work around looking at a screen have proven more dangerous than texting. In a study by AAA, researcher David Strayer measured the level of distraction of various activities, including listening to the radio (low distraction), to using a speech-to-text device so you are not looking at a screen (high distraction). Replacing texting with this speech-to-text device makes things worse. In an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, Strayer explains.
"People who are talking on a cellphone, either handheld or hands-free, we found that they had a category two level of impairment. [A category five is the highest level of distraction.] That's a significant notch up from what we saw from the undistracted driver.
"But I think one of the things that was a red flag in our study was that when people were starting to send and receive emails with a pure voice-based system — where they can just listen to the messages and then read, reply, delete or whatever, but their hands are on the steering wheel and their eyes are on the road — we found that that was a category three level of impairment."
Even though Apple's patent is not brand new, it could have a greater impact than devices or apps before it, as the Guardian points out:
"As a market leader, Apple could have the power to change the culture behind texting and driving, if it works and is intuitive; that would be a very good step," said Paul Watters, head of motoring policy for the AA [a motoring organization in the U.K.].
"What we find in our research is that there's an addiction here, to texting and using smartphones, it's an addiction that is very hard to break even when in the car — it will take some system to help people break that addiction."
That's what it all comes down to: breaking the addiction. It's hard to ignore the ping of a text message coming in or the pull of work emails piling up when you can check them in seconds. How hard will it be to turn off the new Apple function? How much will it rely on the driver's discipline? Apple could make the difference. In the meantime, emotional appeals and apps that parents use to keep track of their teen drivers will have to do.
It is never not awkward to talk about a film after one of the stars has died. That's perhaps never any more true than it is in the case of Brick Mansions, one of the last films of Paul Walker. Walker died in November of last year after a career that included a lot of movies like this one: silly, hyper action thrillers that often included, as this one does, moments in which everybody in the theater chortled at their insane, cartoonish brutality.
There is no way to make there be anything elegiac about Brick Mansions, or out of the experience of seeing it. To try to make it a celebration of life or to find in it any lessons whatsoever would be absurd and, in its way, disrespectful to the 50 percent serious (plus or minus one percent) way in which it's made.
Brick Mansions is a remake of the 2004 French film Banlieue 13, which you can find for rent in the United States as District B13 — a film for which the dialogue is so relatively insignificant that they serve it up dubbed rather than subtitled. District B13 came from screenwriters Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, who also wrote Brick Mansions. What's more, the original and this remake share a star: French actor and stunt coordinator David Belle, one of the originators of Parkour, a discipline that sends guys running through the streets, flipping and climbing walls for the benefit of, very often, YouTube.
In this version, Belle plays Lino, the honest man who happens to be the only person left who really cares about Brick Mansions, a Detroit housing project that's been walled off by the police and left to rot. The place is run by Tremaine (RZA), who you know is the ringleader because at the police station, it says "RING LEADER" next to his picture. Lino takes some of Tremaine's drugs and destroys them, Tremaine kidnaps Lino's girlfriend, and Lino teams up with cop Damien — played by Paul Walker — who also wants to bring down Tremaine and save the girl.
Fighting ensues. Running ensues. Jumping ensues. There's a bomb with a prominent readout. Back flips ensue. Bonking each other with props ensues. And at the end, there's an intriguing little twist that's intended to inject a little social commentary.
But mostly, it's a fighting movie. If you've always wondered why more guys don't beat each other with steering wheels, this is your movie! If you've always wondered how you could gruesomely kill someone from inside a cell, this is your movie! If you've always wondered how two smaller guys might defeat a huge guy, this is your movie!
There's a sort of good-natured goofiness to Brick Mansions, and particularly to how ill-equipped Walker really is to keep pace with Belle (who, himself, may be ill-equipped to keep pace with himself from ten years ago). There are a couple of nice references to the fact that Lino's way of navigating Fake Detroit is pretty intimidating, even to a cop who earlier pulls off a rousingly entertaining unauthorized entry into a speeding car.
Parkour is really fun to watch; that's why YouTube likes it. The guys who do it are crazily, anti-gravitationally athletic, and it doesn't need a lot of kinetic editing to look kinetic. It is kinetic already, and in the original District B13, while there's still more editing than it probably needs, the camera does sometimes pause long enough to watch Belle do his thing, which is why the people are there.
Of course, that was 2004. We are now in 2014, and chaos cinema — as a fine video essay by Matthias Stork called it — is dominant. Post-Bourne, post-Michael-Bay, and, yes, post-six Fast-And-Furious movies, action sequences are typically shot with such a manic camera that you can barely keep track of what's happening. When all you're missing out on is cars flipping and regular actors having a fight, it's one thing. But when you're missing out on David Belle doing Parkour, it's hugely frustrating, because — again — it's the best reason to see the movie.
Furthermore, Brick Mansions suffers from another weird tic of action directors and cinematographers, which is that weird, jumpy, sticky effect that I have long recognized but only recently came to know by the apt name "staccato shutter." It's the camera effect Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski used to get a sort of ultra-real look at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, and it's also often associated with Gladiator. It creates stuttery-looking action scenes, and Brick Mansions uses it a lot. Not only that, but they use a more extreme version of it than I can remember seeing in the past, so that you're getting a very disorienting shutter effect combined with the crazy-fast editing that's disorienting already. (You can see it in this clip. Spoiler alert: there's punching.)
And all of this has the effect of dampening the impact of what Belle is bringing to this movie that's legitimately different from what you get in most action movies. It's too bad, though the movie still has some enjoyably over the top sequences and some funny moments between Walker and Belle. It feels like it was fun to make. It feels like, despite being a remake, it was made with some zazz and with, at the least, some desire that it be a hoot to watch. And it is a hoot to watch, even if, to be honest, there's little reason for it to exist.