Monday, January 31, 2011

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
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

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

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

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

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.