Friday, February 26, 2010

Ho Hum
Just another normal day on planet Earth
An iceberg about the size of Luxembourg that struck a glacier off Antarctica and dislodged another massive block of ice could lower the levels of oxygen in the world's oceans, Australian and French scientists said Friday.
The new iceberg is 48 miles long and about 24 miles wide and holds roughly the equivalent of a fifth of the world's annual total water usage, Young told The Associated Press.

Experts are concerned about the effect of the massive displacement of ice on the ice-free water next to the glacier, which is important for ocean currents.
"There may be regions of the world's oceans that lose oxygen, and then of course most of the life there will die," said Mario Hoppema, chemical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.
Just to repeat, and then of course most of the life there will die... So, anything important happening today? Tiger Woods screw anyone new?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Summit
Did you watch any? What did you think? From the little bit I saw, one overriding thought: too many politicians lined up with time to talk. Could have done with panels about half the size.

Here's Pearlstein's take on the meeting. "It takes a Republican", he says, to think of some of their crap as a solution.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion
The church-state blog got named in this study's list of the 100 most influential blogs dealing with religion and public policy. Now, I know what you're thinking: how many of those could there really be out there comprising the competition? Is getting in the top 100 much of an accomplishment? Well, if you must know there are I think 105. But still! I really kicked the butts of those 5.
Underused Word of the Day
Cuckolded. Of course, you can find it in articles about philandering Republican lawmakers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scary Freaks
Some Americans just live on another planet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Moments in Twitter
Common Squirrel
Hot Dogs
...might be dangerous to small children, but not (just) for the reasons you think.
The comment system has changed - not through anything I did on purpose. It looks like new comments appear at the top instead of the bottom now, which is a little annoying. Not sure what the deal is - will keep an eye out for spam, which the old system was good at avoiding.
Would I Have Liked Shutter Island as Much if Scorsese's Name Wasn't On It?
I don't know. Hard not to be appreciative of all the careful details though - from camera angles, frames and colors to the striking soundtrack. Also though, hard not to have questions about whether or not, story-wise, it really works as a film experience.

If you've seen it and want to discuss, let's take it to the comments. Warning: My comments will have spoilers! Don't read if you haven't seen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Multiple Choice
David Cay Johnston reports on newly released 2007 tax data. Do you think he found that the wealthiest Americans:
a) saw a decrease in income and paid a slightly higher tax rate in 2007 than in 2006.
b) saw single digit percent increase in income but also paid slightly higher tax rate.
c) saw dramatic increase in income but paid a slightly higher tax rate as well.
d) experienced a dramatic increase in income and paid the lowest tax rate ever for the top bracket.

Any guesses?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roger Ebert
A great Esquire feature. If you either love films, or want to be a great writer, have fought a life-threatening illness, or aren't entirely sure what's most important in your life, it's the must-read of the day.
Map(s) of the Day
Via Ezra Klein, the Food Environment Atlas has some fascinating new maps plotting our amounts of various food consumption and obesity rates. Want to know which areas of the country consume the most sodas? Fast food? fruits and vegetables? Check it out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What the...
It's not just California. Got a notice in the mail that my Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance premium is going up by nearly 30%! I know I'm getting older, but sheesh...

By the way, thanks Congress!
Evan Bayh announces he's not running for re-election. Could 2010 be looking any worse for Dems? Why wait until now? Could he be on the secret John Edwards love tape too?

His reasoning seems to be:
Step 1) The Senate, one of the most essential institutions in American government, is broken and not serving the people.

Step 2) I'm outta here.

Nice leadership!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gay vs. Homosexual
This is a real failing of mine. I think I generally use the term "gay" and rarely if ever the word "homosexual" when referring to gay rights issues or gay people or whatever. But that's probably mostly out of convenience - shorter word and all, and maybe sounds a little nicer and more conversational - not because I have thought of the h-word as a slur. But if I was paying attention I would have, and should have, noticed that it is.
CBS just found that if you ask Americans how they feel about "gay men and lesbians" serving in the military, a large majority support it. But if you ask people whether "homosexuals" should be allowed to serve in the military, support drops.
People simply don't like the word homosexual. And that is why the religious right uses the word every chance it gets.

Any time you hear or read someone using the word homosexual, correct them on the spot. If it's a reporter or a politician or a TV personality, send them an email or a letter. Treat it like it's a slur. Because it is.
Depending on how you ask the question, support jumps by 11-14 percentage points. How strange is that? More than a tenth of this country thinks that "gay men and lesbians" should be allowed to serve in the military, but that "homosexuals" should not.

Sadly, this is the much-revered middle America, the supposedly independent thinker that politicians are always trying to convince. They don't really think things through or have opinions on important issues beyond the most shallow reaction. They change their minds for no good reason, based on the shiniest words or attitudes they come across. And they essentially run this country, with their whims and uncertainty and unconscious biases the focus of every asshole political consultant.
Bipartisanship Deep Thought
The Senate minority is the new Senate majority. Looking forward to Democrats being back below 50 members so we can be in charge of legislation for a change.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If you're like me, you are in uncomfortable proximity to morons who have been crowing for a week or 2 about how all this snow questions global warming science. I suppose they also believe trampolines question the science of gravity. You already understand this, of course, but in case you want to hear it from an actual weather man, here's meteorologist Jeff Masters, who notes that all you need for snow are temperatures that are cold enough, and plenty of moisture in the air (my emph.):
It's not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow.... The more difficult ingredient for producing a record snowstorm is the requirement of near-record levels of moisture. Global warming theory predicts that global precipitation will increase, and that heavy precipitation events--the ones most likely to cause flash flooding--will also increase. This occurs because as the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. This extra moisture in the air will tend to produce heavier snowstorms, assuming it is cold enough to snow.
Trampolines confirm the theory of gravity, and heavy snowstorms do the same for global warming theory.
Still making shit up.
Newt Gingrich explained that it was okay to mirandize "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and not Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab because Reid, unlike Abdulmutallab, is a US citizen.

Only, of course, Reid is a British citizen.
Republicans have only one playbook. For the economy, it says "cut taxes for the wealthy and deregulate business"; for foreign policy, it says "paint Democrats as weak." I guess it's not so much a playbook as an index card. As we saw in the case of Dr. Koop, things that don't matter? 1) Any of the real-life consequences. 2) Facts.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Health Care Summit
Will it do any good? Any harm? No idea. But I think the invitation Obama sent to Republican leaders, to discuss health care reform on teevee, is being seriously underestimated for its potential impact. It seems to me a central moment not just in the health debate, but in Americans' understanding and expectation of the process of governing. It could do for legislating what debates now do for campaigning: turn the public eye on elected officials' ability to be serious and reasonable, knowledgable and practical.

Jon Chait says it's also clearly part of the Obama Method:
Obama uses a similar approach toward Republicans as foreign enemies like the Iranian regime: take them up on their claim to some shared goal (nuclear disarmament, health care reform), elide their preferred red herrings, engage them seriously, and then expose their disingenuousness.
Obama knows perfectly well that the Republicans have no serious proposals to address the main problems of the health care system and have no interest (or political room, given their crazy base) in handing him a victory of any substance. Obama is bringing them in to discuss health care so he can expose this reality.
The truth is, we can no longer depend on our mainstream media to accurately report the substance and import of what our government is up to - the good or the bad. If this works, not only will health care reform have a chance, but smart politicians may have found a way to finally and helpfully bypass media spin and sensationalism - if only for 60 minutes or so - and speak directly to the public about their ideas.

What if events like this over major issues facing America become must-watch-tv for the general public the way campaign debates are? Even if Obama ends up losing this battle, that development could be a silver lining. What both sides surely realize is: nobody has done this before. They don't *really* know how to prepare, how it will look, what they have to do to win, etc. Along with answering Republican questions last week, this really could be a game-changer in getting Americans to demand our leaders talk to each other, about important issues, in front of us.

Could that be an even more awful thing for the legislation to come from it? I can imagine that as well...but feeling optimistic today. Am I wrong? Is this a one-time thing? Disaster in the making? Much ado about nothing?
When Parties Dream
Just a thought, reviewing the news of the last couple of days, because it's brought into very clear relief how fundamentally different the 2 parties really are: Democrats dream of being in the majority so we can finally bring universal health coverage to all Americans and finally bring an end to foolish wars. Republicans dream of being in the majority so they can privatize social security and finally bring an end to Medicare and Medicaid.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Getting Obvious
If you've been following any of the particulars of the health care bill debate, you may be shocked to see details of the Republicans' "solutions". That's because out of the four main points they'd like to see included in health care reform, the current Senate bill already includes at least 3 of them. Ezra Klein has more. Republicans don't want a bill at all.
Rooting for USA Olympic hockey; partly because they will be big underdogs (I think any medal would be a good outcome, given how strong Canada and Russia will be), and partly because of this.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Poster Boy for Senate Obstructionism Found
Basically, Senator Richard Shelby won't let Senators even think about doing anything until his state gets the defense pork he wants.

Now can we please demonize him the way Republicans would, and beat the living daylights out of this issue? Pretty please?

[UPDATE: Good start.]

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Lunkhead of the Week
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who falsely claims in a TV ad that Britain's National Health Service would have denied him the pacemakers, stents and artificial joints he received in the U.S. because they would have deemed him too old to treat. Just completely made up lies. debunks at link above.
Dow Jones Deep Thought
Maybe somebody can tell me why I don't just have my money in a jar somewhere?

[Glass Half Full Update: At least I don't own shares of Toyota.]

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Autism may still be a mystery (see post below), but looks like researchers have made an important discovery regarding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Vaccines and Autism Revisited
Thanks to Stevie T for sending this link:
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the lead investigator, brought international attention to the paper by saying he thought the MMR vaccinations were to blame. The assertions chipped away at confidence in vaccination.

It later emerged that Wakefield had been taking money from a lawyer suing vaccine makers. The results of his study couldn't be replicated. Most of Wakefield's co-authors later retracted the paper's interpretation of the data. The Lancet backed away from the paper in 2004, but defended its publication on the grounds it helped "raise new ideas."

In the retraction today, the Lancet editors wrote that it became clear parts of the paper are "incorrect."

What was the last straw for the Lancet? An investigation by the U.K.'s General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, found that Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Could Have Done *This* a Year Ago
Annoying (my emphasis)
Launching a formal process to change the long-standing [Don't Ask Don't Tell] policy, the Pentagon also announced a review that will examine the effects of a policy change along with alterations in military benefits, rules and facilities that might be needed to allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

The review could take up to a year and will fuel concerns among advocates for gay service members that any change will be slow in coming about.
So, figuring out how to stop discriminating is as complex and will take as long as figuring out how to close Gitmo? Ridiculous. The good news is that the highest ranking military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, is on the right side. In a sign of the times, he even tweeted so:
Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.
I may be over-simplifying this, and a bit naive about the ways of the military, but this doesn't sound like the kind of thing that should take a year to figure out how to make work. As far as I can see, it's like this: stop firing people when you find out they're gay. Take out of the manual the part that says you will. Voila. What am I missing?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Senate holds. Much more egregious even than the filibuster. Why don't Dems make more noise?
Education Reform: Is Your State Racing or Ambling?
With all the talk of deficits, health care reform, and Afghanistan, there has been precious little news on one of the largest and boldest areas of reform the Obama Administration has enacted: the "Race to the Top" education initiative. States seeking significant infusions of federal education money have only to make changes in education policy consistent with administration ideals, submit an application, and hope for the best.

What are those ideals? increased experimentation with charter schools, and test-score-driven teacher evaluation, to name a couple. If your state - like Tennessee - had tight rules limiting charter school creation, you had better change that law (we did) if you want the federal education money. If you won't base teacher evaluations on student performance, or won't spend the resources to implement comprehensive, coordinated data analysis, Secretary Duncan promises he will turn down your application. Some states like Texas have refused to play at all. Others, like apparently New Jersey and New York, might think they are getting money, but look like they may not, if Duncan lives up to his promised standards of review. Which state's application seems to look the best from the Obama Adminstration's point of view? Check out the Washington Post's (pundit contest winner) Kevin Huffman for the answer. Meanwhile, stay tuned. The NYTimes reports that President Obama is poised to unveil sweeping changes to current education law (No Child Left Behind), once Race to the Top funding is established. (via Ezra Klein)