February 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Poll finds broad support for Obama's counterterrorism policies (Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, 2/07/12, Washington Post)

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama's decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He pledged during his first week in office to close the prison within a year. But he has not done so.

Even the party base appears willing to forgive that failure.

The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats -- and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats -- support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.

Obama has also relied on armed drones far more than Bush did, and he has expanded their use beyond America's defined war zones. The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama's drone policy, which administration officials refuse to discuss, citing security concerns. [...]

[F]ully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, meaning that Obama is unlikely to suffer any political consequences as a result of his policy in this election year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Where the U.S. Election Stands Now: A review of key indicators that could help determine the outcome (Frank Newport, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Lydia Saad, 2/06/12, Gallup)

Obama's job approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking is at 46% for the week ending Feb. 5. His weekly approval ratings have remained at the 45% to 46% level each week so far this year. Obama's current job approval rating in Gallup's tracking is below the historical threshold of winning incumbents, although it has shown marked improvement in recent months, after matching his term-low 40% weekly average in October. Obama's three-day job approval rating reached 47% in Gallup tracking at one point in January. Additionally, although Gallup did not conduct Daily tracking interviews Feb. 3-4, a separate Gallup poll conducted Feb. 2-5 found 50% of Americans approving of Obama, suggesting the president may have received an approval bounce after Friday's jobs report. These results indicate that Obama is generally not far from reaching a job approval situation more conducive to his re-election.

The three presidents since World War II who were not re-elected -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush -- all had job approval ratings below 50% in the last Gallup measure before the election took place. Five presidents who won re-election -- Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton -- all had job approval ratings above 50% in the last Gallup poll before the election. Two presidents were re-elected with sub-50% approval ratings. George W. Bush had 48% approval in October 2004 among national adults. Harry Truman's final Gallup job approval rating in 1948 was 40%, but that was from a poll conducted nearly five months before Election Day, making it unclear precisely what Truman's level of support was at the time of the election.

This historical pattern suggests that Obama would need to see his job approval rating climb to 50% to be in a comfortable position for re-election. History shows that by March of the election year, all winning presidents in the modern era, including George W. Bush, had job approval ratings above 50%, and all losing presidents had job approval ratings below 50%. This suggests that where Obama stands by next month may be an important indicator of his ultimate re-election chances.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Quality friends make good Valentires ... sweet (Sue Ade, 2/08/12, Bluffton News)

Our friends at the 100 percent employee-owned King Arthur Flour Company (America's oldest flour company) also strives to make our Valentine's Day foolproof, by providing us with, among other things, baking ingredients that are in a word -- sublime. Whether its flour, cocoa, extracts or any of one of the hundreds of their items they offer to make our baking experience infallible, King Arthur Flour is always my go to choice for trusted, quality baking ingredients. (The company's new "All-Purpose Baking Cocoa" blend of natural and Dutch-process cocoas is one of the best cocoas I've ever used for baking.) 
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Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Physicists 'record' magnetic breakthrough (PhyOrg, February 7, 2012)

The researchers found they could record information using only heat - a previously unimaginable scenario. They believe this discovery will not only make future magnetic recording devices faster, but more energy-efficient too.

The results of the research, which was led by the University of York's Department of Physics, are reported in the February edition of Nature Communications.

York physicist Thomas Ostler said: "Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Whatever Happened to the Spitball?: Once upon a time, a pitcher would do anything to doctor a baseball (Jonah Keri on February 8, 2012, Grantland)

How and why did all of that vanish from the game?

"Bruce Sutter," said Mike Maddux, the Texas Rangers pitching coach and 15-year major league veteran whose own pitching career briefly coincided with the Hall of Fame reliever's. "He mastered the splitter. All of a sudden you had a pitch that had the same action you could get with the greaseball."

Though Sutter started his big league career in the mid-'70s and retired nearly a quarter-century ago, the emergence of his split-fingered fastball and the decline of the spitball are fairly recent events by historical standards. Pitchers threw spitters as far back as the early 1860s, when baseball was just getting started as an organized sport. It became a favorite of numerous early 20th-century pitchers, including future Hall of Famers Jack Chesbro and Ed Walsh.

That period became known as the Deadball Era. Baseballs lacked the lively center that would usher in an offensive explosion in the 1920s. But the balls were dead for another reason: There weren't enough of them. Teams made do with just a handful of balls per game, and umpires would do anything in their power to conserve their supply. This would have been bad enough with balls simply getting whacked by bats and smacking the rough infield dirt. But pitchers and their supporting infielders goosed the process along, spitting all over the ball and unleashing streams of tobacco juice. Chewing licorice, then spewing sweet, viscous liquid on the ball was another common practice.

There was so much more. Pitchers slathered mud on balls. They rubbed wax, soap, or grease on them. You could scuff or cut up a ball using sandpaper, or a tack, or anything else you could find. Eddie Cicotte, a little right-hander who also got pinched in the Black Sox scandal of 1919, became famous for his shineball, a move that required scooping a special oil used to treat infields onto the ball, creating a shine on one side and making the ball move in ways that confounded even the best hitters. Depending on what they smeared on the ball and how good they got at manipulating oozy substances, pitchers could make pitches drop, fade away, or ride in on hitters, all while using their same old throwing motions.

All of that trickery put bats to sleep. It was also, in a word, disgusting. When the league finally cracked down on the spitball after the 1920 season, you could tick off two major reasons: jump-start offenses, and clean up one of the most unsanitary practices any sport had ever practiced -- or has since.

The clinching argument, though, came August 16, 1920. Facing Cleveland in a dimly lit game, Yankees righty Carl Mays fired a spitball wildly toward the plate. Indians shortstop Ray Chapman couldn't pick up the ball until it was too late. The pitch struck him in the head, and killed him, making him one of only two players to ever die of an injury suffered during a major league game. Long before MLB made batting helmets mandatory, it banned doctored pitches and made umpires replace dirty balls regularly during a game, doing more to alter the game than perhaps any other rule change of the past 100 years.

Long after that ban, even long after the last generation of amnestied spitballers retired, pitchers kept on messing with pitches. Five pitchers -- Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and Negro League star Bullet Rogan -- all threw spitters and other doctored pitches after the practice was banned and after the league-sanctioned grandfather clause had expired, only to still make the Hall of Fame. Of the four major leaguers on the list, only Sutton avoided overt admission of his crimes. In one oft-told account, Sutton was asked if it was true that he used foreign substances on the ball. "Not true at all," he replied. "Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States."

That kind of cheekiness became common as pitchers got better at harnessing illegal pitches and those who remembered the Ray Chapman tragedy left the game for good. Some pitchers grew to be known as artists, skilled practitioners who worked for years on mastering their tricky pitches and hiding their guilt.

"I was a big fan of Gaylord Perry," said Derek Zumsteg, author of the book The Cheater's Guide to Baseball. "I would go with my dad to see him pitch for the Mariners. Dad would say to me, 'He throws a spitball, watch for it,' and my eyes would be as big as saucers. You'd watch him fidget through his whole routine. Then he'd throw this crazy pitch. The batter would swing and miss, then look at the ump as if to say, 'Come on!' It was so, so cool."

Perry was a very good pitcher with great command and exceptional endurance, firing 300 or more innings six times between 1969 and 1975. But you couldn't separate his success from the Vaseline-loaded pitches he slimed at hitters. Perry was so successful throwing illegal pitches and so impossible to catch that after the 1973 season, baseball began granting much broader powers of judgment to umpires who suspected cheating. The next year, Perry spilled his guts in his book, Me and the Spitter, An Autobiographical Confession, copping to his rule-breaking and even sharing intimate details on exactly how he threw his various spitballs and greaseballs. He was already 35 years old by then. All he did thereafter was pitch another decade and rack up 137 more wins, returning to his illicit ways in rapid order.

"It was like a Penn & Teller thing," Zumsteg said. "'I'm going to tell you how the trick is done, I'm going to stop doing it ... then I'm going to do it again.' He really was a magician."
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Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Tim Kaine splits with Obama on birth control rule for religious groups (Ben Pershing, 2/08/12, Washington Post)

Former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine criticized the Obama administration's new policy requiring some religious institutions to provide coverage for prescription contraceptives, a rare instance of disagreement between the Senate candidate and his close political ally.

The insurance rule has sparked fierce criticism from religious groups., particularly the Catholic Church, who say the policy will require them to violate their own beliefs. Republicans have used the controversy to attack the White House, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowing Wednesday that the new policy "will not stand."

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Tim Thomas Causes Stir on Facebook (John Beattie, Feb 8, 2012, NESN)

The Bruins goalie, who skipped out on the team's visit to see president Barack Obama in the nation's capital earlier this year, posted the following on his Facebook page at about 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon.

"I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Holland Abuzz about 'Mythical' Skating Race (Charles Hawley, 2/08/12, Der Spiegel)

The event hasn't been held for 15 years. But, this week, Holland is abuzz with anticipation that the famed "11 Cities Tour" might take place in the coming days. All that's needed are a few more cold nights before 16,000 skaters can take to the 200-kilometer course.

The activity is reminiscent of a small Alpine town after a blizzard. Thousands of volunteers this week have grabbed their shovels and are frantically clearing away a thick layer of white stuff amid frigid temperatures. Even military troops have joined in the effort.

But the scenes are not from a mountain village buried by a heavy snowstorm. Rather, the massive army of helpers can be found in the Netherlands, where the entire nation is excitedly anticipating the prospect of a massive ice-skating event -- and one that hasn't been held for 15 years.

Called the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, the event follows a course almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) long through the extensive network of canals, lakes and rivers in Friesland, the Dutch province in the very north of the tiny country, passing through 11 towns in the region. And it can only be held when the ice along the entire track reaches a thickness of 15 centimeters (six inches).
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Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Why Pay for Intro Textbooks? (Mitch Smith, 2/07/12, Inside Higher Ed)

If ramen noodle sales spike at the start of every semester, here's one possible reason: textbooks can cost as much as a class itself; materials for an introductory physics course can easily top $300.

Cost-conscious students can of course save money with used or online books and recoup some of their cash come buyback time. Still, it's a steep price for most 18-year-olds.

But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers' offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

Using Rice's Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Newt's Two-Man-Race Narrative Collapses After Santorum Victories (John Avlon, Feb 8, 2012, Daily Beast)

This is the story of Newt and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

It is a tale of two caucus states where Newt was schooled by Rick Santorum in the ways of social-conservative voters and one state where he failed to even make the primary ballot.

Worst of all, it was the day when Newt's narrative of a two-man race collapsed.

Because right now, angry and almost broke, Newt is no longer the leading candidate to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That man is Rick Santorum. And what makes Gingrich especially grumpy is that the man he is losing to was once just a pimply backbencher in the 1994 Republican Revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


12 greenest cars of 2012: The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has released its list of the most environmentally friendly cars of 2012, but there's one glaring omission. (Money/CNN, 2/08/12)

Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Fuel ecomony: 126 city / 99 hwy MPGe
Price: $29,125 - $31,125

Mitsubishi's very light lithium-ion powered electric car is the "greenest" car on sale in America today, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit group. The i-MiEV, also known as the i, is powered by a 66 horsepower electric motor.

There's your $30k Volt, next the $20k.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


US-India Relations: Pivot Problems (David J Karl, 6 February 2012, ISN Blog)

There is a conundrum at the heart of the Obama administration's "pivot" toward Asia, at least as it relates to India.  The US is eager to extricate itself from military conflicts in the Greater Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan) so it can focus on a region where, as President Obama put it, "the action's going to be."  Shoring up the US strategic posture in East Asia amid China's ascendance will entail a deepening of geopolitical cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.  But the quickening withdrawal from Afghanistan will increase bilateral frictions, pushing relations in the opposite direction.

The Pentagon's just-released strategic guidance paper calls for "investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region."  Both Obama during his visit to India in November 2010 and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip last summer have called on New Delhi to play a more active strategic role in East Asia.
One of the unheralded stories of the past year is how India has begun to do just that. 

W understood that friendship with India serves both countries to both West and East.  But he had vision. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Why the Early U.S. Didn't Go the Way of the Euro (

The early nation was so fractured that the U.S. Armed Forces relied heavily on state militias until after the War of 1812. So what kept the new nation together?

First-rate economic statesmanship, not a shared unit of account. In the early 1790s, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton defined the dollar in terms of gold and silver, but more significantly he established the taxes and institutions (collection system, central bank) that made it possible for the national government to service its own debts and those of the states. Assumption of state debts, as it was called, was positioned not as a bailout but rather as a way of ensuring that each state shouldered the burden of the Revolutionary War equally. Just as importantly, assumption made bondholders beholden to the national government, cementing the union together as Hamilton predicted it would.

The U.S. Constitution effectively prevented state governments from endangering the monetary union by prohibiting them from issuing money or making anything other than gold or silver a legal tender. The Constitution didn't enjoin the states from incurring debt but -- with the exception of assuming war burdens -- the early national government refused all responsibility for state debts. [...]

By leaving state debts to the states, the national government protected itself, the dollar union and the residents of fiscally sound states from the depredations of profligate or rapacious ones (like Rhode Island, which was so willing to benefit at the expense of other states that it was referred to as Rogue Island). What kept the tender young republic together during its formative decades, then, was not a shared unit of account called the dollar but a shared sense of fairness. Debts incurred in the defense of all were shared by all. Debts undertaken to build a state canal or to thwart federal law were not.
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