Questions and answers with political blogger (and engineering grad student) Juan Melli

Juan Melli knows all about feedback. "If I write something that a politician doesn't like, I'll hear about it," says Melli, the founder of, a blog devoted to discussing and debating New Jersey politics. Since the Princeton mechanical engineering graduate student from Washington Township, N.J., launched the blog in September 2005, traffic has grown to an average of 1,500 hits per day, and the site has been featured in The New York Times and on ABC News. With New Jersey's legislative elections just a few days away, Melli sat down with The Weekly Blog's Julia Osellame ’09 to discuss blogging and politics.

Where do you find time to keep up with graduate school and the blog?
I read the news all day - in the morning, at night, at lunch. I make the time. But writing the blog is usually something fast. I don't spend hours writing a draft and revising. It may have delayed my graduation a bit, but I don't regret it. It's something I enjoy.
What should voters be looking for in the November election?
This year is legislative, next year presidential. What most students at Princeton don't know is that in New Jersey, every year there are elections; in other states this isn't the case. Usually, turnout is low and we get a lot of the status quo on the ballot sheets. But if all the students in the University voted, they could easily swing [a local] election.
What do you think is the most important political issue in New Jersey right now?
It's not the issue I care the most about, but property taxes are politically significant each year in New Jersey. It's not a hot button issue [for students], but it's always there and never addressed appropriately. Personally, I think the most important issues are ethics and campaign finance reform. When people run for office and they are beholden to someone, policies coming from that arrangement tend to be bad. These aren't really sexy issues, but they affect everything.
What's your take on student involvement in politics on campus?
I was involved three years ago with the Filibuster campaign [at Frist Campus Center]. When that happened, it showed that students did care and participation on campus was huge. Princeton students can and will participate if there is an issue that appeals to them. Overall though, political participation is lackluster. It is disappointing because students should care about their government regardless. Part of this apathy could be because people, the legislative officials or the activists that care about the issue, aren't doing enough to make issues appealing to students.

Culbreath ’10, Princeton outrun Cornell


Football coach Roger Hughes admits that for Princeton's running backs, breakaway speed has been conspicuously absent in the last few seasons. Before the Tigers' Oct. 26 game against Cornell, only quarterback Bill Foran ’08 had made a run of more than 50 yards, and a season and a half had passed since any Tiger had rushed for 100 yards in one game.
Against the Big Red, backup tailback Jordan Culbreath ’10 ended both droughts in the fourth quarter, busting through the defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. The play pushed him over the 100-yard mark (he would finish with 145) and put Princeton ahead for good in a 34-31 victory.
Culbreath had more carries against Cornell (11) than he had in the previous six games combined, and Hughes expects to continue putting the ball in his hands in the remaining three games. "He's certainly earned it," he said.
Until the day before the Cornell game, Culbreath was the third tailback on Princeton's depth chart, but when a foot injury sidelined Kenny Gunter ’10, he moved into the backup role. Culbreath seemed prepared for the opportunity: On his first carry, early in the second quarter, he shrugged off two tacklers and sprinted down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown run.
"He had a great fall camp - he came into the season prepared," senior quarterback Greg Mroz said of Culbreath after the game. "The audience may be surprised, but the players and coaches know what he's capable of, once he gets his chance to shine."
Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

Cross country leads the pack at Ivy meet

At the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships Oct. 26, the runners on Princeton's men's cross country team could not help being distracted from their stretching routine when the Princeton women began crossing the finish line. "We all were kind of craning our necks, just to see how dominant their performance was going to be," said Michael Maag ’09, one of the top runners on the men's team.
The women, ranked No. 4 nationally, entered the race as the clear favorites and did not disappoint. Liz Costello ’10 won the individual championship, running the 5-kilometer women's course in 17:14.4. Christy Johnson ’10 placed second, and three more teammates finished in the top nine - Megan Brandeland ’09 (fifth), Jolee Vanleuven ’09 (eighth), and Ashley Higginson ’11 (ninth).
Princeton's winning total of 25 points was the fourth-lowest in meet history, and the spread between Costello and Princeton's ninth runner, Caitlin McTague ’ 08, was just one minute. "We're that close on our times, which helps us train and helps us stay focused, individually and as a team," Costello said.
In the men's race, Maag was the star, becoming the first Tiger to win the Heps title since 1999, but teammates Ben Sitler ’10 (third) and Dave Nightingale ’08 (sixth) were not far behind. Nightingale was running his second race of the year after an injury kept him off the course in the first half of the season. Princeton's other two scoring runners, Frank Tinney ’08 and James O'Toole ’08, finished 11th and 17th, respectively.
"What I was most excited about was how well everybody, top to bottom, ran," Maag said. "There's still room for improvement, but I feel like people were generally proud of how we performed."
Both Princeton teams will run at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, Nov. 10 in Bethlehem, Pa. The top two women's and men's teams at the regional meet earn automatic bids to the NCAA Championships.

New books: Back story

i-fda93f7d242fede16fb426fb0bc0d0b5-tindel.jpgFor people with back pain, exploring treatment options can be overwhelming, according to Dr. Nathaniel Tindel ’85, and many patients lack the information to ask the right questions. Tindel, a surgeon and an assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has tried to remedy that problem with his new book, I've Got Your Back (New American Library), written with health writer Tamar Haspel. Tindel addresses the basics, including how the spine functions and why back pain is so common, as well as specific treatment options and their risks. In a large majority of cases, he writes, there are alternatives to surgery. Exercise and stress reduction are among the simplest ways to quell back pain, but less intuitive lifestyle changes like quitting smoking can help as well.
For information about other books by alumni and faculty, visit New Books at PAW online.

Princetonians in the news

Emeritus professor and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley ’65, and the late publisher Malcolm Forbes ’41 will join Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, and 10 other notable New Jersey residents in the inaugural class of the New Jersey Hall of Fame next May. Gov. Jon Corzine announced the list of 15 inductees Oct. 25. ... University of Chicago economics professor Gary Becker ’51 will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom Nov. 5, the Chicago Tribune reported. Becker, a Nobel Prize winner in 1992, has written extensively on the economics of human capital and discrimination, among other topics. ... No Country for Old Men, a new film from Ethan Coen ’79 and his brother, Joel, headlined the New York Film Festival Oct. 6. New York Magazine profiled the filmmakers in October.