Friday, April 15, 2011

Links of the Day
Andrew Sullivan, touching and passionate as usual, this time about calling a place home.

A new sleep study confirms that only 6 hours of sleep a night, over time, wears on your cognitive ability.

At the other blog, read how a 7th Circuit panel decided that nobody is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer.

Krugman on Paul Ryan's "sick joke."

This is awesome - see where your tax dollars are going. New White House page.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Quote of the Day 2
Justice Alito, dissenting in Snyder v. Phelps
Respondents’ outrageous conduct caused petitionergreat injury, and the Court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered.

In order to have a society in which public issues can beopenly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Quote of the Day
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing in Snyder v. Phelps:
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama Calls Their Bluff
Pres says: Yeah sure, states, let's amend the health-care bill. You are all free to opt out of reform mandates ASAP. If you can....
The legislation would allow states to opt out earlier from a range of requirements, including the mandate, if they could demonstrate that other methods would allow them to cover as many people, with insurance that is as comprehensive and affordable, as provided by the new law. The changes must also not increase the federal deficit.
Good luck with that.
The Myth of the Useless Bureaucrat
Krugman points to a compelling Washington Monthly piece making the case that huge cuts to the government payroll doesn't help us reduce the deficit; it increases it. The Nobel Prize-winning economist adds:
...any private corporation would have no trouble understanding the argument that you need more auditing, more supervision, to keep costs under control. But when it comes to government, the myth of the useless bureaucrat persists.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chart-Fest
See Mother Jones' "Eight Charts that Explain Everything That's Wrong with America."
A Computer is Not in a Situation
Stanley Fish on Watson

Monday, February 21, 2011

Too Quiet
I'm as big an Obama cheerleader as they come, but the administration is being too quiet on this Wisconsin moment. It's time to show unqualified support for organized labor and collective bargaining rights. The President's first statement was strong and got to the point - that it seemed the Governor was attacking unions. Since then, nothing. Protesters in Madison deserve better.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cairo?
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan - the least intelligent nerd since Revenge II - finally agrees with Michael Moore about something: the protests in Wisconsin over the brand-new Governor's plan to end the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including teachers, have brought the spirit of Cairo to America. The thing is, Ryan thinks that's a bad thing....

Whose side was he on in Egypt, anyway? Maybe a reporter could ask him.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quote of the Day
Link
"You guys (Americans) are evil," he says with a laugh. "Canada's the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don't need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you're broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard's baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby's premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home."
Click the link to see who, if you dare.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
Mother Jones offers a cogent, informed, sane analysis. Both the good news and the bad.
Fox Geezer Syndrome
Via Kevin Drum, this is a must-read, if your parents have become batshit conservative crazy in the last 2 years. Luckily, I'm not in that boat, but maybe you are, or someone you know is. Pass it on.
Inspiration
Revolution
It's not every day that you get to watch a successful revolution unfold over the course of a few weeks. And it's only these days that you can watch it from the comfort of a coffee shop as reports stream in over Twitter, as I am doing now, with Bob Dylan in the background, singing "everybody must get stoned". Either appropriate or not, for the moment, not sure.

Considering this new era of revolution, below find some of my favorite celebratory tweets of the morning, instead of the usual clip from some prestigious newspaper.

@NickKristof: Omar Suleiman says that #Mubarak has quit, armed forces in charge! People power wins -- for now....

@theharryshearer: 3 weeks to take down a dictator. Time well spent.

@SultanAlQassemi: I love you Egypt.

@theharryshearer: Dear George W. Bush: this is how the Middle East gets re-made. No invasions necessary.

@davidcorndc: Number of Egyptian civilian deaths during revolution: approx. hundreds. Number of Iraqi civilian deaths during war: 100,000 or more. #Egypt

@AP_Ken_Thomas: CAIRO (AP) _ Egypt's ElBaradei: "This is the greatest day of my life. The country has been liberated."

@davidcorndc: Glenn Beck just ran to the Safeway to buy more canned goods. #Egypt #caliphateacoming

@dcdebbie: Never forget, it took the courage of a 26 year old woman to start this revolution: http://bit.ly/fWeFC8 #Egypt [me: the video this link refers to is now posted above.]

@kagrox: Egyptian people greet selves as liberators.

@SCClemons: Feels odd to be cheering for a military government in #Egypt w/total power. Actually, I am not cheering for that. Lots could still go wrong

@LaraABCNews: Chants in Tahrir: 'Muslims, Christians, We are One.' This is the rebirth of a country, with a feeling that anything is possible #Egypt

@brianbeutler: McCain conflicted. Happy Mubarak's gone, but furious about all the gay high-fiving in the salons of Georgetown.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Whose Turn Is It?
Monopoly Live is a new version of the same old game, with one big difference - a big-brotherish electronic monitor towering over the board to tell you whose turn it is, which space you should occupy, how much money you have, basically squeezing the last drops of fun out of it.
The tower, powered by 4 AA batteries, bathes the board in infrared light, and a camera can see reflectors placed on each game piece. To roll the die, you hide your game piece from the camera by cupping your hand over it, and the computer rolls, complete with fake dice sounds. It then watches to make sure you land on the right property. There are new random events like a horse race, auctions, or a gas tax, and there’s an option to pay a bit more to upgrade your utilities so they are green.
What's the point of being an actual big brother now, if some electronic gizmo is going to eliminate all opportunities for bullying, pointing out mistakes, running the game as we see fit, etc?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Don't Buy the Smurfberries
How can this possibly be legal?
Over the winter break from school, 8-year-old Madison worked to dress up her simple mushroom home on the iPhone game Smurfs' Village. In doing so, she also amassed a $1,400 bill from Apple....But like a growing number of parents, Madison's mom, Stephanie Kay, was shocked to find very real charges from iTunes show up in her e-mail box days later.
The app can cost money to download of course, and most of them do, but I didn't know iPhone apps could subsequently charge money to your iTunes account. But more basic than that, you can charge real money for imaginary fruit?

Friday, February 04, 2011

We Are All Egyptians
That's the title of Nick Kristof's op-ed in today's NYTimes
At Tahrir Square’s field hospital (a mosque in normal times), 150 doctors have volunteered their services, despite the risk to themselves. Maged, a 64-year-old doctor who relies upon a cane to walk, told me that he hadn’t been previously involved in the protests, but that when he heard about the government’s assault on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, something snapped.

So early Thursday morning, he prepared a will and then drove 125 miles to Tahrir Square to volunteer to treat the injured. “I don’t care if I don’t go back,” he told me. “I decided I had to be part of this.”

“If I die,” he added, “this is for my country.”
What Mubarak's disgraceful end has done is bind up all peace-loving, freedom-loving citizens of the world in unity with the protests. Any hesitations that were there before - he has at least been a helpful US ally, and maintained a peaceful border with Israel - have fallen away with the brutality of his hired hands.

Rooting for a movement like this, from the safety of America, is tricky. The people could be crushed; the resulting government could be no better. Something indeed worse may come of it for the people of Egypt and the world - some ruler even more oppressive and more dangerous. But that caution hardly seems to matter now. Hundreds of thousands have stood up to their dictator in peaceful rebellion. Greeted with a downpour of rocks and nail-studded clubs, firebombs and razors, they stand there still. What other choice do we have than to believe in and hope for them?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Removing the Witnesses
It's getting ugly.
The concerted effort to remove journalists lent a sense of foreboding to events in the square, where battles continued between the protesters and the Mubarak supporters, who human rights workers and protesters say are being paid and organized by the government.
Shameful and sad, not just because of the horrifying violence and brutal thuggery of the moment, but because of its certain long-lasting impact: hatred, division, and mistrust among the Egyptian people. That's no way to start a new government. Violence is no way to eliminate opposition, it's a way to ensure it, likely for generations.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Food: Eat Less, Make it Yourself
The new USDA Dietary Guidelines are out, including some shockingly good advice. The NYTimes reports:
As the nation’s obesity crisis continues unabated, federal regulators on Monday issued their bluntest nutrition advice to date: drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods filled with sodium, fat or sugar.

More important, perhaps, the government told Americans, “Enjoy your food, but eat less.” Many Americans eat too many calories every day, expanding their waistlines and imperiling their health.
A great site I just found - Food Politics - breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly in the report. There, Marion Nestle notes:
The report translates its advice (pages 62-68). It translates “Cut back on foods and drinks with added sugars,” a nutrition euphemism, as:
Drink few or no regular sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks. Eat less cake, cookies, ice cream, other desserts, and candy. If you do have these foods and drinks, have a small portion.
But it translates “Cut back on solid fats” in yet another euphemism: “Select lean meats and poultry, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.” This, no doubt, is to avoid the politically impossible “eat less meat.”
In related news, here's some free advice: follow Michael Pollan on Twitter!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt-Blogging
Want to keep up with the goings-on in Egypt? You could do worse than follow The Lede, Robert Mackey's NYTimes blog. Lots and lots of great info and other stuff there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations
See the whole list here. Below are the nominees for Best Picture:
* Black Swan
* The Fighter
* Inception
* The Kids Are All Right
* The King's Speech
* 127 Hours
* The Social Network
* Toy Story 3
* True Grit
* Winter's Bone
I expect The King's Speech to win - saw it over the weekend. It's really good but also classic Oscar material, which is why I see it overtaking The Social Network. With 10 nominees, though, is this the year an underdog with a loyal following makes it? Inception? Black Swan? Probably not.

See Ebert's take here. He thinks True Grit has a real shot.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aww, Boo-Hoo
Link
In boom times, yacht enthusiasts would order a new dream boat and keep their old one for the two or three years the builder needed to complete the new boat. Then, they would quickly sell the older yacht to impatient new millionaires and billionaires eager for their requisite status symbols.

But that equation changed with the financial crisis two years ago and took the superyacht market down with it.

Some of the wealthy have ended up like Peter A. Hochfelder, the principal and founder of Brahman Capital Management, a private investment firm in Manhattan. Mr. Hochfelder already owned a 134-foot L├╝rssen, named Blind Date, that was built in 1995. He commissioned a second boat in 2007, a 161-foot Trinity yacht, that he christened with the same name. It was completed in 2009.

Now, Mr. Hochfelder, who declined to be interviewed, has put both on the market, in the hope that he can sell at least one.
It just really really stinks that the yacht market has slowed. (It's also hard out there to be a pimp, or so I have heard.).

Here is a brief reminder though: According to the most recent census data, 14.3% of Americans live in poverty, that's about 1 out of every 7. That includes *more than a quarter of all African-Americans* and 1 out of every 5 children.

Don't get me wrong - millionaires are people too. They laugh and cry and suffer and help people and experience heart-break and joy and are deserving of all the same empathy the whole human race is. Money doesn't solve life problems, and it probably even creates some. But not being able to sell your yacht is not really one of them, not one that will generate much concern from me, anyway.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Expectations
A new poll shows the very reasonable ideas Americans have for how to address the budget deficit.
[W]hen given a straight-up choice between broad spending cuts and tax increases, Americans say they would prefer to reduce the deficit mostly through less spending. It’s not even close: 62 percent for spending cuts, 29 percent for tax increases.

A few questions later, though, our pollsters offered a different choice. Would people rather eliminate Medicare’s shortfall through reduced Medicare benefits or higher taxes?

The percentages then switch, becoming nearly a mirror image of what they had been. Some 64 percent of respondents preferred tax increases, while 24 percent chose Medicare cuts. The same is true of Social Security: 63 percent for higher taxes, 25 percent for reduced benefits.
So, we think the deficit is a serious problem (70%); we want it solved through spending cuts (62%), unless you're talking about spending we care about (64%); Then you should raise taxes, but not ours - go for spending cuts instead. Got that, Congress?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beating the System
An inspiring example of problem-solving in education: A Florida law mandates that classroom sizes in K-12 be reduced. But hey that would require spending money on, you know, teachers and buildings and such, so school systems there did what any honorable institution devoted to children would do: they found a loophole, and shoved the kids right through.
[V]irtual classrooms, called e-learning labs, were put in place last August as a result of Florida’s Class Size Reduction Amendment, passed in 2002. The amendment limits the number of students allowed in classrooms, but not in virtual labs.
...
Alix Braun, 15, a sophomore at Miami Beach High, takes Advanced Placement macroeconomics in an e-learning lab with 35 to 40 other students. There are 445 students enrolled in the online courses at her school...

School administrators said that they had to find a way to meet class-size limits. Jodi Robins, the assistant principal of curriculum at Miami Beach High, said that even if students struggled in certain subjects, the virtual labs were necessary because “there’s no way to beat the class-size mandate without it.”
E-learning labs bring the additional virtue of not having a pesky teacher running around trying to get kids to understand things. There is merely a "facilitator" keeping them on task and making sure the equipment works properly. Many of the schools gave parents and students no option and no notice. They just showed up for pre-calculus and there was just a room with a bunch of computers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 Tied For the Hottest Year Ever
Link

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Case You Missed It
Read President Obama's powerful, moving remarks at the Memorial service in Tucson.
And More...
from George Packer (via Kevin Drum)
In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Horrifying
Thank you, small government!
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) advocated for and passed budget cuts last year that cut off urgent transplant funding that was previously promised to 98 Arizonans. In late November, Mark Price, an Arizona father who had been battling leukemia for a year, died due to complications related to chemotherapy treatment he was receiving. Price was awaiting an organ transplant that could’ve saved his life, but he was unable to receive one in time due to Brewer’s budget cuts.

Now, the University of Arizona Medical Center has told the press that another patient passed away in late December because they were unable to get their organ transplant funded. Although the attending physicians declined to release the name of the patient out of respect for the family’s privacy, they confirmed that the patient that passed away was one of the 98 Arizonans cut off from organ transplants by Brewer and the GOP-controlled state legislature.
Gotta make cuts! Gotta keep taxes low!
Conjunction Junction
So this is what it's come to in the world of Obama Derangement Syndrome: the President's use of the word "or" yesterday is evidence of his religious phonyism.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Krugman
Link
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.
Ruh Roh
News of Tom Delay being sentenced to 3 years in prison is threatening my resolve to tone down the partisan rhetoric.
Thoughts on Tucson
What remains to be seen is the extent of the suspect's mental illness - which seems to be the biggest factor in this incident (not exposure to video games or extremist political rhetoric). Is he more John Hinckley, Jr. (completely delusional) or Timothy McVeigh (angry and motivated by anti-government ideology)? So far, Loughner seems somewhere in between. Where he falls on that spectrum will not only determine his fate, it will tell us whether anything - from reasonable gun control restrictions to a more civilized political climate - could have had an effect on his actions.

I of course agree with all the criticisms of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party's gun-laced, revolution-themed political rhetoric, not to mention Glenn Beck's offensive conspiracy theories of some coming Democrat/Obama-fueled American apocalypse. Those things are disgusting and dangerous. And they may have helped inspire Loughner to continue his quest - who knows. But he apparently set his sights on Rep. Giffords before the Tea Party existed, and before Sarah Palin was known to anyone outside of Alaska.

This sounds for now more tin-foil-hat than Tea-Party driven. If so, it's a shame nobody from family to friends to teachers found a way to get him into the mental health system where he might have found treatment that could help. All of the above seem to have at least recognized it was warranted.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Golden Globe Nominations
Here. Best Picture Drama - Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King's Speech, Social Network. Best Picture Musical or Comedy - Alice in Wonderland, Burlesque, The Kids are Alright, Red, The Tourist.

Wait, The Tourist is a comedy?

Which ones have you seen? What do you think? (I've only seen The Black Swan and Inception. Loved them both; two completely different films, super difficult to compare)
Is ESP Real?
A well-respected psychology journal will soon publish evidence for the existence of ESP. The author of the paper conducted well-known memory experiments, but in reverse time.

In one classic memory experiment, for example, participants study 48 words and then divide a subset of 24 of them into categories, like food or animal. The act of categorizing reinforces memory, and on subsequent tests people are more likely to remember the words they practiced than those they did not.

In his version, Dr. Bem gave 100 college students a memory test before they did the categorizing — and found they were significantly more likely to remember words that they practiced later. “The results show that practicing a set of words after the recall test does, in fact, reach back in time to facilitate the recall of those words,” the paper concludes.
Who could argue with that?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Very Cool
Newman's Own hits $300 million in charitable giving.
More Health Care Reform Becomes Law
Not that you would know it by watching the news, but January 1 brought a new round of health care reform bill provisions into effect. Among them are rules requiring insurance companies to spend at least 80% of their premium revenues on actual health care (as opposed to overhead and advertising), and the beginning of the process to close the prescription drug "donut hole" for seniors in medicare Part D.

Doctors who practice general medicine and surgeons willing to work in high-need areas will get a 10% bump in Medicare payments, and preventive measures deemed important by the Preventive Services Task Force will be free for Medicare recipients.

On the other side of the ledger, more Medicare Part B participants will have to start paying premiums for the service as the income threshold will be frozen at 2010 levels for the next 10 years. As incomes rise, a greater number of those seniors will fall into that category. In addition, the Part D subsidy will be slightly reduced for individuals making more than $85,000/year or couples making in excess of $170,000.

There's more stuff too! Check out the whole list here.