February 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Luck plays huge role in Super Bowl (Gregg Easterbrook, 2/07/12, ESPN)

Whenever a football game ends with a margin of less than a touchdown, the contest might have gone either way based on a bounce of the ball. In New England's three Super Bowl victories, the critical bit of luck favored the Patriots. In New England's two Super Bowl loses, the critical bit of luck favored the Giants.


In the 2002 Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, New England was outgained by 160 yards. But Rams quarterback Kurt Warner had an unblocked rusher in his face and short-armed a pass that Ty Law cut in front of and returned for a touchdown. New England went on to a three-point victory.

In the 2004 Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, the Panthers tied the score with 1:08 remaining. But the Panthers' place-kicker honked the kickoff, which went out of bounds. Taking possession on their 40, the Patriots moved into position for the winning field goal just ere the clock struck midnight.

Midway through the 2005 Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, New England safety Eugene Wilson went out injured, which sent a rookie into the game. But the Eagles' coaching staff did not realize there was a backup at safety until about five minutes remained. Then the Eagles, who had only one receiver per side most of the second half, lined up with double wides and ran a deep post at the new defender -- touchdown. The Patriots held on to win by three. Had Philadelphia attacked the novice safety earlier, the outcome could have been different.

In the 2008 Super Bowl versus the Giants, perhaps you have heard about a long catch a Jersey/A player made against his helmet. New England lost by three.

And with four minutes remaining in Sunday's Super Bowl, Wes Welker, among the most reliable receivers in football annals, dropped a pass that would have put New England in position to ice the game. New England went on to lose by four.

In many aspects of life, luck is a bigger factor than we care to admit. We want to think some become rich and others poor based on merit, not luck. We want to think some teams win and others lose because the winner "deserved" laurels. In a 20-point football win, the winner did deserve to win. In games that come down to the final snap, either team might have prevailed: luck calls the ultimate shot. Change a couple bounces of the ball and the best team of the 21st century could be anything from 5-0 to 0-5 in the Super Bowl.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Planet of the Apes: Luckless Lamarck, whose evolution theory preceded Darwin's (Faye Flam, 2/06/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Lamarck's name was in the news recently when Columbia University Medical Center researchers published work they said could be viewed as a partial vindication of so-called Lamarckian evolution - a term that's come to mean the inheritance of acquired traits, no DNA needed.

In this case, flatworms were exposed to viruses; they mounted a defensive mechanism, and then passed that immunity down through several generations of offspring.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Bush Defends Auto Bailouts Amid Growing Political Debate: 'I'd Do It Again' (BRETT LOGIURATO, February 7, 2012, IB Times)

Former U.S. President George W. Bush defended the emergency bailout funds his administration provided to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in a speech to car dealers, saying he would "do it again."

"I didn't want there to be 21 percent unemployment," Bush said Monday in the closing speech at National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas, according to Bloomberg. "I didn't want to gamble. I didn't want history to look back and say, 'Bush could have done something but chose not to do it.' And so I said, 'No depression.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Bob Bradley is standing up as a leader of Egypt (Kristian Dyer, 2/07/12,  Dirty Tackle)

The face of the United States in the Middle East right now isn't President Barack Obama, any elected official or a military leader. It is Bob Bradley.

The 53-year old Bradley, who coached the United States national team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup after they captured their opening round group, took over as national team head coach of Egypt this past September. Now living in a Cairo apartment with his wife, he saw the impact of a riot following a match in Port Said, resulting in 74 dead.

Realizing he was a part of something bigger than himself, Bradley and his coaching staff joined the peace march on the next day.

"We felt it was important to show our respect to the families of the young people who lost their lives; we felt it was important to share that moment with the people there in Sphinx Square," Bradley told Yahoo! Sports.

"When there is a tragedy, it is important that all leaders stand up -- whether that is leaders in the government or in the community. When you are the national team coach in Egypt, you're a leader and you must stand up and help. And I've found that people here, when you do anything at all that they see as good for Egypt, they appreciate it."

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called to account before Iranian parliament (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 2/07/12, guardian.co.uk)

The Iranian parliament has summoned the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to answer a series of questions over the government's handling of the economy and his personal judgments.

The move is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic republic.

After a year of internal debate and unsuccessful attempts to question or impeach the president, MPs secured enough signatures for an attempt to summon Ahmadinejad. They succeeded in persuading the parliament's presiding board to read the motion during Tuesday's open session.

The move comes at a time of discontent at home owing to western economic sanctions and growing international isolation over Iran's nuclear programme. In recent weeks, fears of a major confrontation between Iran and the west have grown.

Within a month of receiving the summons, Ahmadinejad is required by law to appear in the parliament. Otherwise, MPs may impeach him. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Tortuous Conservative History of the Individual Mandate (Avik Roy, 2/07/2012, Forbes)

It all started with a piece of legislation passed in 1986 by a Democratic House and a Republican Senate and signed by Ronald Reagan, called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA. [...]
EMTALA, one of the great unfunded mandates in American history, required any hospital participating in Medicare--that is to say, nearly all of them--to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, including illegal immigrants, regardless of ability to pay. Indeed, EMTALA can be accurately said to have established universal health care in America--with nary a whimper from conservative activists. [...]

[S]ome conservatives, seeking a more market-oriented path to universal coverage, began endorsing an individual mandate over an employer mandate. An individual mandate would address the "free rider" problem caused by EMTALA, by requiring people to buy their own insurance. In addition, moving to a more individual-based system from the employer-based one would significantly increase the efficiency of the health-insurance market.

With these considerations in mind, in 1989, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation proposed a plan he called "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans." Stuart's plan included a provision to "mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance," which he framed explicitly as a way to address the "free rider" problem and employer mandates (emphasis added):

Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.

This mandate is based on two important principles. First, that health care protection is a responsibility of individuals, not businesses. Thus to the extent that anybody should be required to provide coverage to a family, the household mandate assumes that it is the family that carries the first responsibility. Second, it assumes that there is an implicit contract between households and society, based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection. If a young man wrecks his Porsche and has not had the foresight to obtain insurance, we may commiserate but society feels no obligation to repair his car. But health care is different. If a man is struck down by a heart attack in the street, Americans will care for him whether or not he has insurance. If we find that he has spent his money on other things rather than insurance, we may be angry but we will not deny him services--even if that means more prudent citizens end up paying the tab.

A mandate on individuals recognizes this implicit contract. Society does feel a moral obligation to insure that its citizens do not suffer from the unavailability of health care. But on the other hand, each household has the obligation, to the extent it is able, to avoid placing demands on society by protecting itself...

A mandate on households certainly would force those with adequate means to obtain insurance protection, which would end the problem of middle-class "free riders" on society's sense of obligation. [...]

In 1992 and 1993, some Republicans in Congress, seeking an alternative to Hillarycare, used these ideas as a foundation for their own health-reform proposals. One such bill, the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993, or HEART, was introduced in the Senate by John Chafee (R., R.I.) and co-sponsored by 19 other Senate Republicans, including Christopher Bond, Bob Dole, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, Alan Simpson, and Arlen Specter. Given that there were 43 Republicans in the Senate of the 103rd Congress, these 20 comprised nearly half of the Republican Senate Caucus at that time. The HEART Act proposed health insurance vouchers for low-income individuals, along with an individual mandate.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who were both House backbenchers in 1993, were also in favor of an individual mandate in those days. (Gingrich continued to support a federal individual mandate as recently as May of last year. We don't know much about the timing of Santorum's change of heart.)

It would seem that 1990s conservatives weren't concerned with the constitutional implications of allowing Congress to force people to buy a private product. "I don't remember that being raised at all," Mark Pauly told Ezra Klein last year. "The way it was viewed by the Congressional Budget Office in 1994 was, effectively, as a tax...So I've been surprised by that argument."

The UR can never be forgiven making a conservative health care plan the centerpiece of his presidency.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


BLACKBERRY SEASON (James Surowiecki, FEBRUARY 13, 2012, The New Yorker)

[E]ven as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what's inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device. In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way--from consumers to businesses. Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work. Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers. So, too, with the iPhone and Androids. They've always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps. Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly). As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.

Consumerization has been disastrous for R.I.M., because the company has seemed clueless about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn't bring out a touch-screen phone until long after Apple, and the device that it eventually launched was a pale imitation of the iPhone. Although the BlackBerry brand name was once seen as a revolutionary success, over time R.I.M.'s product line became bewilderingly large, with inscrutable model names. If you're a consumer, do you want the 8300 or the seemingly identical 8330? And the BlackBerry's closed system has left R.I.M. ill equipped for a world in which phones and tablets are platforms for the whole app ecosystem.

The consumerization of I.T. has deep economic and social roots and is unlikely to go away. Technological innovation has dramatically lowered the cost of computing, making it possible for large numbers of consumers to own powerful new technologies at reasonably low prices. (Apple's products seem pricey, but despite the weak economy it has sold more than a hundred million iPhones and more than forty million iPads.) The workplace is changing, too. The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones. Companies have quickly come to love consumerization, too: a recent study by the consulting firm Avanade found that executives like the way it keeps workers plugged in all day long. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It's a brave new world. It's just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.

Demand drives evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Meet Li-Fi, the LED-based alternative to household Wi-Fi (Michael Watts, February 2012, Wired )

Using off-the-shelf electronics, he can stream videos using an ordinary light bulb fitted with signal-processing technology of his own design. The lamp shines directly on to a hole cut into the oblong box on which it sits. Inside this box is a receiver that converts the light signal into a high-speed data stream, and a transmitter that projects the data on to a screen as a short video. If Haas puts his hand in front of the lamp, excluding the light, the video stops.

Haas, 43, holds the chair of mobile communications at Edinburgh University's Institute for Digital Communications. His demo is scientifically groundbreaking: it proves that large amounts of data, in multiple parallel streams, can be transferred using various forms of light (infrared, ultraviolet and visible). The technology, he says, has huge commercial potential. His device can be used with regular lighting and electronics -- albeit reconfigured -- and could transform the way we access everything from video to games, accelerating the speed of internet access by many hundreds of megabits. It could let us download movies from the lamps in our homes, read maps from streetlights and listen to music from illuminated billboards in the street.

Haas's discovery is based on a subset of optical technology called visible light communication (VLC), or Li-Fi, as it has been dubbed. VLC exploits a hack of human perception: light-emitting diodes can be switched on and off faster than the naked eye can detect, causing the light source to appear to be on continuously. Rapid on-off keying enables data transmission using binary code: switching on an LED is a logical "1", switching it off is a logical "0". Thereby flows the data.

The potential applications are enormous: divers working at depths could use light to communicate; air passengers could connect to the internet through the LEDs inside the aircraft. Haas sees the technology potentially disrupting industries from telecoms to advertising.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Experts Divided Over Recommendation To Screen Children For Cholesterol (Michelle Andrews, FEB 07, 2012, Kaiser Health News)

Working with these kids to eat more healthfully and to exercise more may reduce the cumulative negative effect of high cholesterol on their cardiovascular systems and lead to fewer heart attacks and strokes later in life, the experts say.

Others, including clinicians who authored a pair of articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month, express concerns that screening may do more harm than good. To identify the relatively small number of kids who really need medical treatment, doctors cast a wide and expensive net that identifies many children as at risk who will never develop  premature cardiovascular disease, says Matthew Gillman, director of the obesity prevention program at Harvard Medical School, who co-authored one of the articles. Some of those children will probably be needlessly put on cholesterol-lowering medications, he says. [[...]

"[I]f you're going to test every child, it's a sure bet you're going to be medicating more kids," says H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who has written extensively on the problems created by aggressive screening.

Meanwhile, you're effectively telling the other parents that their kids don't need to eat healthy or exercise either because the screening doesn't reveal the "condition" or because you'll give them drugs instead.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Government expects lending fund to turn taxpayers a profit (Jose Pagliery, 2/07/12, CNNMoney) 

An Obama administration lending program set up to funnel cash to small banks was expected to cost taxpayers $1.3 billion. Instead, it will turn a profit of $80 million.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Asperger's, Overdiagnosed, Ill Defined, May Not Be a Syndrome Much Longer: Psychiatrists working on the latest edition of their profession's diagnostic manual are thought to be tightening the definition of autism and dispensing with Asperger's completely. (Casey Schwartz, 2/07/12, Daily Beast)

It wasn't until the 1980s, when British psychiatrist Lorna Wing translated Asperger's original paper into English, that the idea of this syndrome took hold in the United States.

Wing's phrase for describing the essence of the syndrome has become famous: Asperger's kids, she wrote, are "active but odd." [...]

Many doctors believe Asperger's is significantly overdiagnosed--so much so that it might singlehandedly account for why there has been such a dramatic uptick in the total number of autism-spectrum diagnoses handed out each year.

Bryna Siegel, a child psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, was a member of the DSM IV working group. She says she "undiagnoses" Asperger's far more frequently than she diagnoses it. For every 10 children who come to see her with a diagnosis of Asperger's, she "undiagnoses" nine.

Siegel believes that one reason why Asperger's has become so widely applied is the appealing meaninglessness of its name. 

"I think part of the proliferation of the Asperger's diagnosis is that if you say that a kid has oppositional defiant disorder, and especially if you say that about a normally intelligent upper-middle-class kid, parents don't like to use the word 'oppositional' and they don't like to use the word 'defiant' and they don't like to use the word 'disorder.' And 'Asperger's' just sounds so much more neutral. It doesn't have any connotations ... It's a name, it's not a descriptive term." [...]

The confusion extends outside of patient-doctor conversations. At the height of the Silicon Valley tech bubble, Wired magazine published a questionnaire developed by autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen, a self-report test for Asperger's syndrome.

Siegel, whose office is in San Francisco, recalls that the questionnaire caused such a stir among the techie set that she was flooded with responses.

...what's not to like about a justification to medicate boys who are active and/or socially awkward?  When we posted the Wired test here (I think it was that one), nearly every male was "diagnosed" as being on the autism sepctrum.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


The Heartland Tax Rebellion: More states want to repeal their income taxes. (WSJ, 2/06/12)

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is starting to feel surrounded. On her state's southern border, Texas has no income tax. Now two of its other neighbors, Missouri and Kansas, are considering plans to cut and eventually abolish their income taxes. "Oklahoma doesn't want to end up an income-tax sandwich," she quips.

On Monday she announced her new tax plan, which calls for lowering the state income-tax rate to 3.5% next year from 5.25%, and an ambition to phase out the income tax over 10 years. "We're going to have the most pro-growth tax system in the region," she says.

She's going to have competition. In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback is also proposing to cut income taxes this year to 4.9% from 6.45%, offset by a slight increase in the sales tax rate and a broadening of the tax base. He also wants a 10-year phase out. In Missouri, a voter initiative that is expected to qualify for the November ballot would abolish the income tax and shift toward greater reliance on sales taxes.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Left in the Past (Roy M. Brewer, February 2012, LA Times Magazine)

I first became aware of the collection a decade ago, when I was a Washington, D.C., reporter researching Reagan. I was fascinated with this Roy Brewer character. In Hollywood lore, he is almost universally despised because of his alleged Red-baiting. However, in newspapers published during the 1940s and '50s, when he was a representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, he was covered as an influential liberal. But I hadn't read any recent interviews with Brewer and, frankly, thought he was dead.

When I rang Brewer's son to get some background on his father, Roy Jr. agreed to cooperate but suggested, "You could just as easily talk to my dad. He'd love that." [...]

Figures like Brewer are the reason people go into journalism. They are the keepers of the past. A gritty, often misunderstood character, Brewer was a tough union man, yet he would almost weep when quoting Scarlett O'Hara's "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again" line from Gone with the Wind. The line spoke to his personal determination, New Deal loyalties and socialist leanings. A portrait of FDR hung on his wall. He regarded Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue. (In the archive, I found far-right McCarthyite propaganda smearing Brewer as soft on Communism and castigating Reagan as a "flagrant Red.") Politically, Brewer supported Reagan in all his campaigns, but in the Florida recounts, he backed Al Gore. He didn't like George W. Bush.

After meeting Brewer, I spent the next five years traveling between Washington and L.A. and building our relationship. We had suppers at Musso & Frank, milkshakes at the Polo Lounge ("I used to live here," he'd tell the maƮtre d') and pancake-and-egg breakfasts at Jerry's Deli and Carrows, often at all hours of the night. He revealed the archive to me piecemeal, then once he trusted me, I was allowed to go through it on my own. When his daughter and her husband sold their house in 2005, I was given exclusive, unfettered access to the collection.

The archive showcases Reagan the liberal before liberal became a dirty word. While the broad strokes of his Hollywood years are familiar--Warner Bros. star, SAG president, host of the hit CBS anthology series General Electric Theater--what specifically happened during that time is part of the little-known history of Reagan and even Hollywood itself.

The Hollywood in which Reagan worked was very different than the time portrayed in blacklist dramas like The Way We Were, The Front and Guilty by Suspicion. The Communist Party operated more like an underground cult than a political party, recalled the people I talked to, including some who never ended their party membership.

American Communists believed the Soviets represented the future. Today's public perception is that Communists were merely liberals in a hurry. That's because the Reds "wrote their own histories," as screenwriter Richard Collins, a former Communist, shared with me. They erased the part about their connections to Moscow.

Just as Reagan was becoming a movie star at Warner Bros. (more than a dozen pictures in his first four years), Soviet spies Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey began operating in Hollywood. As the L.A. Times reported in 2009, the couple finessed their way into mingling with Hollywood's elite--Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, even staunch anti-Communist Walt Disney. "Many famous people in Hollywood were in touch with the White House...and through them we got the information we needed," the Times quoted the couple from their 2004 memoir.

And what has been typically portrayed as anti-Communist hysteria--for instance, that writers exploited their position for the party agenda--may be true after all, according to documents.

May be?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Planned Parenthood's Hostages: The abortion provider uses a vast media and political network to maintain its subsidies from government and private charities. (ROBERT P. GEORGE AND O. CARTER SNEAD, 2/06/12, WSJ)

The reality is that Planned Parenthood--with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion--does little in the way of screening for breast cancer. But the organization is very much in the business of selling abortions--more than 300,000 in 2010, according to Planned Parenthood. At an average cost of $500, according to various sources including Planned Parenthood's website, that translates to about $164 million of revenue per year.

So how did Planned Parenthood and its loyal allies in politics and the media react to Komen's efforts to be neutral in the controversy over abortion?

Faced with even the tiniest depletion in the massive river of funds Planned Parenthood receives yearly, the behemoth mobilized its enormous cultural, media, financial and political apparatus to attack the Komen Foundation in the press, on TV and through social media.

The organization's allies demonized the charity, attempting to depict the nation's most prominent anti-breast cancer organization as a bedfellow of religious extremists. A Facebook page was set up to "Defund the Komen Foundation." In short, Planned Parenthood took breast-cancer victims as hostages.

...the pink ribbon lobby, likewise, uses the media to scare women into useless mammograms.  They're both more like cults than health organizations and do more harm than good.