January 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Skull discovery suggests location where humans first had sex with Neanderthals (Ian Sample,  28 January 2015, The Guardian)

An ancient skull found in a cave in northern Israel has cast light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa and the dawn of humanity's colonisation of the world.

For most palaeontologists that might be enough for a single fossil, but the braincase has offered much more: a likely location where the first prehistoric trysts resulted in modern humans having sex with their heavy-browed Neanderthal cousins.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Expands Medicaid Under Obamacare (Jeffrey Young, 01/27/2015, Huffington Post)

GOP governors and legislators in states like Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania have extracted concessions, including increasing the role of private health insurance plans in Medicaid, from President Barack Obama's administration, which is eager to provide Medicaid coverage to as many poor Americans as possible. Including Indiana, 28 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Pence's plan is the biggest departure from traditional, government-run Medicaid yet. The so-called Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, as Pence dubbed it, ties benefits to monthly payments by beneficiaries below the poverty line, a first for Medicaid, and includes other features Pence billed as conservative and market-based.

"We have worked hard to ensure that low-income Hoosiers have access to a health care plan that empowers them to take charge of their health and prepares them to move to private insurance as they improve their lives," Pence said in a press release.

The Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP 2.0, differs greatly from traditional Medicaid, under which people with low incomes and people with disabilities are covered by a government program that pays for their medical care.

Pence's program builds on the state's 7-year-old Healthy Indiana Plan, which currently covers 60,000 people with high-deductible health insurance and health savings accounts. Adults without disabilities who are currently enrolled in traditional Medicaid will be moved to the Healthy Indiana Plan, also known as HIP.

The most novel aspect of the so-called HIP 2.0 is that enrollees will have to make contributions into "POWER accounts," modeled after private-sector health savings accounts. People with incomes above poverty, which is about $11,500 for a single person, must deposit between $3 and $25 into these accounts per month. People who fail to make these payments can get their benefits taken away for six months. These contributions are optional for people making below poverty wages, but if these beneficiaries don't contribute, they receive less generous health coverage. Individuals who use these POWER accounts and receive required preventive health services will pay less for their benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Public supports O-Care subsidies threatened by Supreme Court case (Elise Viebeck, 01/28/15, The Hill)

Most Americans want ObamaCare subsidies to be available to people in all states, regardless of whether the state established its own exchange, a new poll suggests.

The latest tracking survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, released Wednesday, found that 64 percent wants Congress to pass a law guaranteeing subsidies if the Supreme Court invalidates those distributed through federally run exchanges.
The poll underscores the high stakes of the King v. Burwell decision, which could stop billions of dollars in ObamaCare subsidies and create chaos for the fledgling system.

Another 59 percent of people in states with federally run exchanges said their states should establish their own marketplaces if the justices rule for the plaintiffs.

This view is held by majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Democrats Blast Obama's Offshore Drilling Plans (Kate Sheppard, Jan. 28, 2015, Mother Jones)

A group of Senate Democrats from the Northeast is pushing back on the Obama administration's proposal to open new areas of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker called the move "absolutely unacceptable" in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Joining in the press conference were fellow Democrats Ed Markey (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Ben Cardin (Md.).

"If drilling is allowed off the east coast of the United States, it puts our beaches, our fisherman, and our environment in the crosshairs for an oil spill that could devastate our shores," said Markey. "We're going to make it clear we're very unhappy with this plan...You're looking at the beginning of an alliance to put pressure on this administration to withdraw this proposal."

January 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


White House drops 529 college savings proposal (Jim Acosta, 1/27/15, CNN)

The White House is giving up on a costly fight with Congress over the Obama administration's increasingly unpopular proposal to effectively end 529 college savings plans.

That was a pointless bit of self-harm.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Europe: 'Too old for its own truths and victories'? (Rémi Brague, 1/23/15, Clarion Review)

If there was an "old European" culture, what is "new European" culture? What is Modernity? This is a moot question that I can hardly hope to deal with properly here.14 A safe way to take one's bearings is to remind us of two obvious, rock-bottom points. They are geographic and historical in nature: 1) as for geography, be Modernity what it may, it certainly took place in Europe and spread thence all over the world; 2) as for history, regardless of where we draw the dividing-line between Modernity and what came before, the modern name for this period being "Middle Ages", we certainly are after this watershed.

Two consequences can be drawn therefrom: 1) we Europeans or our forebears somehow bear the responsibility for whatever unpleasantness happened in the whole world as a consequence of Modernity; 2) we can't possibly go backwards and simply escape Modernity. The way out that we will have to look for will lead us through modernity itself.

As for the content of our new culture, modern Europe has got rid of any outer reference point. It has learnt to avert its glance from the heavens. We can call this process by the names of secularization, desacralisation, etc.15
Moreover, modern Europe has been taught by Bacon or, in his wake, by Descartes to look down at nature - nay, to look down on it, as a mere thing without any sacred aura, as a field to be subdued, as a pantry of sorts that should cater to our needs.16

Finally, modern Europe has been trained to consider that other cultures can't possibly be our models. Nostalgia for less developed societies and their allegedly unspoiled mores are hardly more than a toy for aesthetes who would hate to live in such societies. As for ancient Greece or Rome, philology does not look at the works it studies as endowed with any special value. On the contrary, almost the first step for a student in "Classics" nowadays consists in debunking the very idea of "classical" education.

Now, we still don't know whether a culture can really give up any reference to external credenda et miranda and survive all the same. Leading thinkers of Modernity were still aware of the risk and emphasized more and more consciously the idea that truth must be an essai, an experiment, a Versuch, from Montaigne to Nietzsche, including John Stuart Mill's "experiments of living".17 We have been for some centuries conducting an experiment, or laying a wager. Now, nothing warrants that the experiment will be successful short of traces of a naïve trust in something like Providence.

Nietzsche is among the few, or perhaps he is the only one, to have considered the possibility of an irretrievable failure and to have honestly acknowledged it. In a passage that remained unpublished, he has his Zarathustra say, "We are making an experiment (Versuch) with Truth! Perhaps mankind will thereby founder! Never mind, go ahead (wohlan)!"18 This is quite a brash formula. We might sober up and ask: What if, in fact, the experiment yields a negative result? What if mankind invents contrivances and/or adopts modes of behaviour that endanger its own survival in the long run? The trouble is that, if the experiment does fail, so that mankind in its entirety walks the plank, who will have another try?

...resides in our rejection and avoidance of Modernity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Patton's Pathetic Pandering : Patton Oswalt tries desperately to regain his fans (ETHAN EPSTEIN, 1/27/15, Weekly Standard)

It's been several weeks since the actor and comedian Patton Oswalt (you may remember him from his star turn as "Toast A Bun Manager" in 2009's Observe and Report) outraged his tens of thousands of Twitter followers with the following suggestion: 

The reaction from Oswalt's apparently overwhelmingly left wing and seemingly humorless fans was swift and merciless. By proposing laughter, Oswalt--a (white straight cis male, don't you know?)--was "victim blaming." His tweet was "problematic."

If they found stuff funny they wouldn't be Leftists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The Cost-Cutting Power of Medicare (Peter R. Orszag, 1/26/15, Bloomberg View)

[A]fter years of slow cost growth, health care is reaching a crucial tipping point. In fiscal year 2014, inflation-adjusted Medicare spending per beneficiary actually declined compared with the previous year. Yet the next year or two will determine whether the recent era of slow cost growth becomes the new normal, or instead is reversed.

The consequences are enormous, for everything from the nation's debt to workers' take-home pay, and the risk of reverting back to faster cost growth is rising. While Medicare spending itself appears to remain subdued, spending outside Medicare may be going up, anecdotal evidence suggests. This isn't shocking: In commercial insurance, the weak economy played a big part in the slowdown, and as the economy picks up, we should expect Americans to spend more on health care.

The largest hospital system in the nation, for example, reports that admissions are ticking up. Employment growth in the sector has also risen, and that's a useful indicator because labor accounts for such a large part of health-care costs. In 2007 and again in 2008, health-care jobs increased by 2.7 percent. From 2009 to the first half of 2014, they grew just 1.7 percent per year. But in the past three months, the increase jumped back up to 2.8 percent.

Containing these pressures requires sending a strong signal to health-care executives that the era of fee-for-service payment really is over. After all, when we pay for quantity, that's what we get. And Medicare, the gorilla of health care, is the place to send that message; it's large enough to set norms throughout the sector.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Why Physician Self-Referrals Have To Stop Now (Dan Munro, 1/26/15, Forbes)

Financial reasons aside, there are other reasons to end this practice as well. Here are two of the biggest.

The first is based on the idea that we don't always know what works. H. Gilbert Welch referenced this when he wrote about two of the more prevalent methods of cancer screening ‒ the PSA test for prostate cancer and mammography's for breast cancer.

How would you have felt ‒ after over a decade of following your doctor's advice ‒ to learn that high-quality randomized trials of these standard practices had only just been completed? And that they showed that both did more harm than good? Justifiably furious, I'd say. Because these practices affected millions of Americans, they are locked in a tight competition for the greatest medical error on record. The problem goes far beyond these two. The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Testing What We Think We Know ‒ H. Gilbert Welch, MD and professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice

Those last two sentences are worth repeating. "The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway."

The second argument against self‒referrals is a variation in medical mistakes called the silent misdiagnosis. Obviously a misdiagnosis can be direct and overt (affecting as many as 12 million Americans each year), but often it's more subtle and favors the clinical over the patient preference. This is referred to as a silent misdiagnosis and was summarized in this article in the U.K. for The Kings Fund (2012).

For example, doctors believe that 71 per cent of patients with breast cancer rate keeping their breast as a top priority. But what is the actual figure reported by patients? 7%. Furthermore, doctors believe that 96% of breast cancer patients considering chemotherapy rate living as long as possible a top priority. But what is the actual figure reported by patients? 59%. Patient's Preferences Matter ‒ Stop The Silent Misdiagnosis, by Al Mulley ‒ MD, Glyn Elwyn ‒ MD and Chris Trimble

Both of these reasons speak directly to the general practice of all referrals, so the issue is much larger than just a financial one ‒ often it's simply the authoritative (and wrong) clinical preference.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Obama signals opening up Atlantic Ocean to drilling for first time, removes areas off Alaska (DINA CAPPIELLO, 1/27/15, Associated Press)

The proposal envisions auctioning areas located more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil companies no earlier than 2021, long after President Barack Obama leaves office. For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place up until 2008.

The plan also calls for leasing 10 areas in the Gulf of Mexico, long the epicenter of U.S. offshore oil production, and three off the Alaska coast.

"This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. "The areas off the table are very small in comparison to areas on the table."

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Bending the Cost Curve (Carl Straumsheim, 1/27/15, Inside Higher Ed)

Between 2006 and 2013 -- the latest round of IPEDS data available -- fully online bachelor's degrees got a price cut, the researchers write. Weighted for enrollment, the median cost (in 2014 dollars) of a full-time online undergraduate degree dropped by 34 percent, while an equivalent face-to-face education at a nonselective public institution rose 9.2 percent. Tuition for traditional programs at large for-profit and nonprofit institutions, meanwhile, posted a more modest decline of about 8 percent.

The researchers also found "modest evidence" that colleges and universities that grew their fully online student populations cut the cost of tuition. Between 2006 and 2013, they found, a 10 percent growth in an institution's online student population lowered the cost of tuition for all students by 1.5 percent. That finding only applied to the for-profit and public sectors of higher education, however -- the researchers found "no detectable impact" at private colleges and universities.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Critical of Obama's past actions, GOP now wants to give him more power on trade (David Nakamura January 27, 2015, Washington Post)

GOP leaders in both chambers are close to introducing legislation that would grant the administration broad authority to finalize one of the largest free-trade pacts in the nation's history. Lawmakers would not be allowed to amend the terms, and Congress would be required to hold a relatively quick up-or-down vote that could not be filibustered.

The aim of such fast-track legislation, formally known as trade-promotion authority (TPA), is to give U.S. negotiators more leverage to complete a deal by assuring their international counterparts that changes could not be made after the fact. Obama called for the powers in his State of the Union address, and his push represents a rare area of common cause with Republicans.

Though the GOP has spent the past several months accusing the president of abusing his powers by sidestepping Congress on a number of issues, only a small number of conservative lawmakers has lobbied against granting Obama the additional authority on trade. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Al-Shabab leader says he has quit al-Qaida-linked terror group and renounces violence (ABDI GULED, 1/27/15, Associated Press) 

A leader of Somalia's Islamic extremist group al-Shabab with a $3 million bounty on his head announced Tuesday he has quit the insurgency and renounced violence perpetrated by the al Qaida-linked group.

Zakariya Ismail Hersi, who was al-Shabab's intelligence chief, called for reconciliation while speaking to the media for the first time since his surrender to Somali authorities in late December.

"I can confirm that as of today I am no longer a member of Al-Shabaab and I have renounced violence as a means of resolving conflict and I will aim to achieve my goals towards peaceful means, and through reconciliation and understanding," Hersi said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Everybody Hates Chris Christie (HARRY ENTEN, 1/26/15, 538)

Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn't running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked.

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known but not particularly well liked. [...]

Some nominees, such as Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, weren't well known at this point in the campaign. Some, such as Republicans Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, were very well known and popular. There was George W. Bush in 1999, who was particularly well liked, even if he wasn't universally known. But no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you'd expect given his name recognition.

Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace. His net favorable rating among Republicans in an average of YouGov polls so far this year, a December Monmouth University poll and a late November Quinnipiac University poll is just +19 percentage points. That was despite 77 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him. Given his high name recognition, you would expect him to have a net favorable rating of +45 percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


CBO projects that ObamaCare will cost 20 percent less than expected (Peter Weber, 1/27/15, The Week)

On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest update on the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. The report is mostly good news for supporters of the law. Over the next 10 years, the law will cost the federal government 20 percent less than the last projections, the CBO said, and by the end of President Obama's second term, 24 million fewer Americans will lack health insurance, adding to the 12 million drop in the uninsured so far. That would leave only 8 percent of eligible Americans without insurance by the end of 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Russia's Preemptive Counter-Revolution (Alexander Etkind, JAN 27, 2015, Project Syndicate)

In any case, though portrayed as a powerful leader, Putin cannot be said to be following Russia's ultimate strongman, Stalin, in any meaningful respect. Under Stalin, enthusiastic self-sacrifice and scientific rationality were promoted as ideals. Industrial development and military victories, though coming at an intolerable human cost, were real. The regime depended on show trials and gulag labor, and used unprecedented violence to consolidate the power of dogmatic, ascetic bureaucrats. Corruption was a crime that was punished.

Today, corruption is the norm, and show trials, though still occurring, do not happen on Stalin's industrial scale. Putin and his circle are mainly concerned with survival and enrichment. He fears Ukraine's 2014 uprising as a "revolutionary plague" only because it might erupt in Moscow's own squares. Putin's desire to preempt such an outcome explains the Kremlin's brutal response.

Putin's regime is simply a Russian version of clientelism, with wealth and economic opportunity distributed on the basis of political fealty. The system's crimes have been evident for years, and it is tragic that no international power has been able to punish it. Westerners who think otherwise and have acquiesced in Russia's actions in Ukraine do so for no other reason than their own greed, fear, or self-deception.

Indeed, after sucking resources and money from Russia and its citizens, Putin and his obedient oligarchs have been allowed to invest their ill-gotten gains in European and US banks and real estate, paying fat fees that have fueled profit growth for Western firms.

The West's gain, however, continues to cause enormous discomfort for ordinary Russians. After almost a quarter-century of so-called "liberal" economic policy, everything from imported goods to bank mortgages are still far more expensive than in the West. And recent sanctions have only worsened conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Yeti braves blizzard to lurk around Boston (The Week, 1/27/15)

Yes, someone wearing an abominable snowman outfit is wandering the cold streets and tweeting about it, using the handle @BostonYeti2015.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Romney, ahead of 2016 run, now calls Utah home, talks openly about Mormon influence (Philip Rucker, January 2, 2015, Washington Post)

If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to re-brand himself as authentic...

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:43 AM


Phil Woods: Songs for Sisyphus

Video (from a live concert): 

I don't even know where to start writing a post about Phil Woods.  I've been listening to him for almost as long as I've been listening to jazz; he was one of my favorite sax players when I was in high school in the late 70's and remains on the short list of my all-time guys.   The first time I snuck (under age) into a club to hear live jazz it was to hear Phil.  And the second time.  And the third. (Houston Person would have been the fourth, but I finally turned 18.)

Born in 1931, Woods came along on the alto sax in the early 50's as Charlie Parker was revolutionizing that instrument and all of jazz.  As a young man, Woods was certainly a hard-core bebopper, and that led to him being dubbed "the new Bird" and dismissed by some as a Parker imitator.  (The fact that he was, for a time, married to Parker's widow, probably didn't help quell the comparisons.)  Woods's influences, however, also reached back to the pre-Bird giants of the alto, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter.

Although Woods is a thoroughly unique jazz voice, as I've learned more about the music I've come recognize individual traits in his playing that remind me of so many other jazz greats: Louis Armstrong's joy and sheer love of the music, Coleman Hawkins's swagger, Dizzy Gillespie's quicksilver technique, Johnny Hodges's passion when playing a ballad, Sonny Rollins's penchant for plucking obscure tunes from the Great American Songbook, Dexter Gordon's affinity for the well-placed musical quotation, and Benny Carter's arranger's sensibility and self-control (like Carter, Woods rarely takes more than two or three choruses for his solos).  And here's one more thing about Woods...other than Louis Armstrong and Toots Thielmans, he is likely to be the only musician prominently mentioned in these posts that you've all heard as he's the sax player on the Billy Joel hit "Just the Way You Are."

Songs for Sisyphus, recorded in 1977, is a terrific introduction to Phil's playing and composing (he wrote the title track and the quirky, Thelonious-inspired "Monking Business").  He also generously provides solo showcases for his sidemen, guitarist Harry Leahy on Django Reinhart's lovely and haunting "Nuages" and pianist Mike Melillo with a Gershwin-esque take on Irving Berlin's "When My Dreams Come True" (a tune that probably hadn't been recorded since it was the theme song for the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts, in 1929).  Three numbers in particular capture Woods at his best.  Phil brings intense passion to the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg ballad "Last Night When We Were Young," moving into double time on the bridge and building into an ecstatic frenzy before relaxing back into the last eight bars of the tune and ending with a satisfied sigh.  "Change Partners" is another Berlin song, this one written for Fred Astaire, and Phil deftly dances his way through the melody before launching into a single chorus solo that is a fiery and hard-swinging race over the changes, enlivened with shouts, growls, smears, one-note rides and even a song quote ("Chattanooga Choo Choo"?).  After Melillo solos, the band returns for a counterpoint episode that has all of the instruments playing independent lines leading up to a final statement of the tune.  Finally, the album ends with a reminder of Woods's bebop roots as he leads the band on a romp through the Gillespie-Parker classic "Shaw Nuff."

Post script: I hadn't planned on writing about Woods until I could better organize my thoughts...in fact, I had been working on a review of an Art Blakey album that OJ dug up at the thrift store a couple of weeks ago.  But early last week I heard on the radio that Phil would be performing last Friday night as part of a local jazz festival.  Well, I couldn't pass that up.  Phil is 83 and suffering from emphysema.  His wife wheels an oxygen tank on stage with him, and he hooks up to it before lifting his horn.  He plays seated, his solos were even shorter than I remember 30+ years ago (when I always left his shows wishing he had played more), and he laid out on 2 of the 6 songs during the 1-hour set.  But when he played, oh my, he still SOUNDED like Phil Woods.  So, on the drive home I decided that my next post had to be about Phil.

In the lyric to his tune, "My Man Phil," Benny Carter summed it up pretty well:
Adolphe Sax, before he made that horn,
Must have known someday a Phil Woods would be born.
Jack or John, Bob or Bill,
Let them say what they will.
But goodness knows nobody blows like,
My man, Phil.

January 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


How Obama's $3 Trillion Health-Care Overhaul Would Work (John Tozzi January 26, 2015, Businessweek)

The Obama administration has announced plans to accelerate a shift in how the U.S. pays its $2.9 trillion annual health-care bill. Officials at Medicare, which covers one in six Americans, want to stop paying doctors and hospitals by the number of tests and treatments they do. Instead, the government wants to link payments to how well providers take care of patients, not just how much care they provide.

This transition is already under way. Millions of Americans are now covered in experimental programs created by the Affordable Care Act designed to reduce unnecessary care and incentivize doctors to focus on quality, not quantity. The administration wants to vastly expand such programs to include half of all Medicare payments by the end of 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Teachers Take Union Dues to Supreme Court (Allie Bidwell, Jan. 26, 2015, US News)

A group of public schoolteachers on Monday petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to laws allowing teachers unions to require dues from nonmembers who disagree with union positions and policies.

A decision in the teachers' favor could change how public employee unions operate nationwide.

The lawsuit, first filed in April 2013, takes aim at the 300,000-member California Teachers Association and the affiliated National Education Association. The plaintiffs - 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International - claim California's "agency shop" law is unconstitutional and violates teachers' First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay union dues regardless of whether they support or are a member of the union. Twenty-six states currently have such laws in place.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


The liberation of Kobane and other signs of trouble for the Islamic State (Dan Murphy, JANUARY 26, 2015, CS Monitor)

Is the Islamic State, the jihadi group that's become notorious for beheading and enslaving captives, in trouble? Recent news - from the murder of a Japanese hostage to reports that the group has been mostly driven out of the Syrian border city of Kobane - point in that direction.

The IS siege of Kobane began four months ago, putting to work a lot of the heavy weaponry IS fighters seized when the Iraqi military collapsed in the north of that country over the summer. The ethnic-Kurdish town ultimately drew military support from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish enclave and a coalition of international powers led by the United States. The coalition conducted dozens of airstrikes around the city, coordinating its efforts with its defenders, in an attempt to drive back the militants.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Cuban youth build secret computer network that allows 1000s to play games, chat, share media (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press) 

Cut off from the Internet, young Cubans have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can't access.

Home Internet connections are banned for all but a handful of Cubans, and the government charges nearly a quarter of a month's salary for an hour online in government-run hotels and Internet centers. As a result, most people on the island live offline, complaining about their lack of access to information and contact with friends and family abroad.

A small minority have covertly engineered a partial solution by pooling funds to create a private network of more than 9,000 computers with small, inexpensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city. Disconnected from the real Internet, the network is limited, local and built with equipment commercially available around the world, with no help from any outside government, organizers say.

Hundreds are online at any moment pretending to be orcs or U.S. soldiers in multiplayer online games such as "World of Warcraft" or "Call of Duty." They trade jokes and photos in chat rooms and organize real-world events like house parties or trips to the beach.

"We really need Internet because there's so much information online, but at least this satisfies you a little bit because you feel like, 'I'm connected with a bunch of people, talking to them, sharing files," said Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno, a 22-year-old electrical engineer who helped build the network known as SNet, short for streetnet.

Cuba's status as one of the world's least-wired countries is central to the new relationship Washington is trying to forge with Havana. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Harry V. Jaffa, RIP (ROBERT R. REILLY, Winter 2015, University Bookman)

Jaffa's great project was the resuscitation of natural law through his explication of Lincoln's thought and actions, going back to their roots in the Founding (and further to Aristotle). He knew that the "self-evident" truths of the Declaration were only intelligible in the natural-law context in which they were spoken and from which they arose. Lose that standard of rightness and all is lost. Jaffa knew exactly the game that is being played with the rhetoric of human rights. Today, he said, "individual rights become individual preferences." He strove mightily against this tendency by always speaking of "natural rights subject to natural law."

In the short space here, my purpose is to give a personal reminiscence of Jaffa and of what I learned from him. For four years in the mid-1970s, I was in Claremont, California as the Western director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. During this time I also attended Claremont Graduate School. Jaffa generated considerable enthusiasm from his students because it was clear he was no ordinary teacher, but a political philosopher who was Socratically reaching for the truth and endeavoring to instill in his students the pursuit of the noble and the good.

Apparently, some East Coast Straussians thought that Jaffa was cheerleading for the American regime and that this was an unworthy endeavor. He was supposed to be making skeptical political philosophers, not loyal citizens. (In our relationship, I think one of the things that pleased Jaffa most was when I sent him one of my publications with an inscription thanking him for "teaching me how to love my country.") Some Jaffa critics, who were supposedly searching for truth, but based upon an epistemology that made it impossible to find, were really dogmatic skeptics who considered the American regime worthy only to the extent that it maintained the conditions for them to pursue their skepticism.

Jaffa knew better. In his great book, A New Birth of Freedom, he wrote: "'We hold these truths to be self-evident' is an assertion at once of a necessity and of a freedom inherent in reason and nature. It implies a freedom in the mind to apprehend truth, and a necessity in nature, a necessity external to the mind, that determines what the truth is. In the last analysis, freedom is the ability to be determined by the truth." To be determined by the truth, one must first know it.

Jaffa had something to fight for, and fight he did. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


How the Patriots Built a Offense With NFL Scraps (MICHAEL SALFINO, Jan. 26, 2015, WSJ)

The New England Patriots once again possess one of the league's most electric and intimidating offenses--one that has carried them to a matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this offense is that it is filled with players who were once NFL afterthoughts. Quarterback Tom Brady is famous for being an unheralded sixth-round draft pick who rose to stardom, but most of his offensive teammates were equally obscure when they first entered the league.

The Patriots will line up against Seattle on Sunday with only one offensive player who was a first-round pick: tackle Nate Solder. In fact, Solder is the only first-round pick among all of the Patriots offensive players who will be in uniform. According to Stats LLC, of the 98 Super Bowl teams including this season, the Patriots are just the fifth team with only one first-round player on offense. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Autism genomes add to disorder's mystery (GEOFFREY MOHAN, 1/26/15, LA Times)

Less than a third of siblings with autism shared the same DNA mutations in genes associated with the disorder, according to a new study that is the largest whole-genome sequencing for autism to date.

Canadian researchers sequenced whole genomes from 170 siblings with autism spectrum disorder and both their parents. They found that these sibling pairs shared the same autism-relevant gene variations only about 31% of the time, according to the study published online Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

More than a third of the mutations believed to be relevant to autism arose in a seemingly random way, the study also found.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Russia downgraded to junk status for first time in decade (Jill Treanor, 26 January 2015, The Guardian)

Russia has been downgraded to junk status for the first time in a decade due to the collapsing oil price, the tumbling value of the rouble and sanctions imposed because of its intervention in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


CBO: Federal deficit will drop to lowest level since Obama took office (The Week, 1/26/15)

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the budget deficit should this year shrink to its lowest level as a percentage of the economy since 2007.

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