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In today's pages: Russia, McNamara and M.J.

July 7, 2009 | 10:21 am

Potato Today's memorial service for Michael Jackson at the privately owned Staples Center reminds The Times editorial board of a sad fact of life in Los Angeles: It's a city without a public square. Though the backers of LA Live once promised that the downtown entertainment mall would become L.A.'s version of Times Square, the fact remains that it's a private space whose owners can bar the public anytime they choose.

We also weigh in on President Obama's trip to Russia, which isn't expected to accomplish much -- but even a small thaw in relations between the two countries, and the modest improvement represented by the nuclear weapons pact concluded Monday, is better than the chilly status quo.

And we ponder the lessons to be learned from the example of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who died Monday at 93. Though many see parallels between the mistakes made in Iraq and the mistakes made by McNamara in Vietnam, we think the larger lesson is that using yesterday's solutions to today's problems is often the pathway to failure.

Over on the opposite page, columnist Jonah Goldberg thinks all the sturm und drang over the canceled "salons" by the Washington Post, in which lobbyists were invited to pay heavily to attend get-togethers with the newspaper's journalists and top politicians, amounts to little more than posing. After all, many publications offer similar meet-and-greet opportunities, Goldberg says.

The hand-wringing over genetically modified foods, meanwhile, reminds author Tom Standage of another food-related hysteria from a few centuries ago -- over the potato. When the tubers were first discovered in the New World, Europeans feared they were a dangerous, unholy poison. They got over it, just as they'll probably eventually get over their irrational fears about improved crops.

And psychiatry professor Sander L. Gilman cautions against jumping to conclusions about Michael Jackson's cosmetic surgery. True, the King of Pop clearly was fond of surgical reshaping, but that doesn't necessarily indicate self-loathing.

* Illustration by Bob Daly / For the Times

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