April 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Tips for how patients can evaluate health research (Connie Midey, Apr. 13, 2012, The Republic)

"It's about having a healthy skepticism," she says. [physician Lisa Schwartz, professor at Dartmouth Medical School and author with Steven Woloshin and H. Gilbert Welch of "Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics"] suggests starting with: "What is this study trying to say, and do I believe it? Is it about people like me, or is it an early result, perhaps from animal research?"

If research concludes that a certain intervention -- a drug or food or treatment -- reduces risk, she would ask, "My risk of what exactly? Is it something I really care about? Does it affect whether I live or die? Or is it just about a blood test or X-ray result?"

The National Institutes of Health lists seven questions to ask about medical findings. Schwartz would add: How big is the expected benefit? What are the side effects? Do the research subjects have the same level of disease you have? If not a randomized, controlled trial, was it an observational study?

The first type is "the gold standard," Schwartz says. "People are randomly assigned to the thing being tested, such as to the new drug or to the old drug. Then when we see differences at the end of the study, we can feel confident that they are because of the intervention we did."

Observational studies have a place, too, sometimes out of necessity. Researchers can't assign subjects to do something harmful, such as smoke cigarettes.

But with a study that follows people over time, "it's hard to separate out one contributing factor from all their lifestyle habits," Schwartz says.

Seven questions to ask when you learn about a new medical finding...

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


U.S. likely to make a profit on bailouts, Treasury says (Jim Puzzanghera, 4/14/12, Los Angeles Times)

Over the next 10 years, the taxpayer-funded bailouts could produce as much as $163 billion in profits, in a best-case scenario, from repayments, stock sales, dividends and interest paid by banking and insurance firms, auto companies and mortgage finance companies.

That's a stark turnaround from predictions of hundreds of billions in losses in the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented aid, starting at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

The only danger of TARP was always that it was going to work so well that it would justify future government intervention.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


For Obama, Going Positive May Be More Difficult This Time (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 4/14/12, NY Times)

[T]he edgier and more negative tone coming from the president's re-election is highlighting another issue. Successful campaigns tell positive stories even while they are in knife fights, and even as it steps up an effort to define Mr. Romney on its terms, the White House is working to make a positive case for Mr. Obama, one built around themes of fairness and security.

Judging by the difficulties he has had selling his policies and himself for the last three years, going positive in an effective way could prove to be more challenging for Mr. Obama than going negative.

...when he is no one and has nothing to say?  His formerly blank slate has been written on by four years of governance and folks don't much like what they read there.  He has no choice but negativity and there he faces the same problem that Maverick had last time around, he's running against too amorphous a figure for the negative stuff to stick.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM

Heritage Blues Orchestra: Spirits Rising (MARC SILVER, April 12, 2012, NPR)

"Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" is a vigorous mash-up of big-city blues, church spirit and modern jazz. A chugging guitar and honking harmonica set a march-like pace at the get-go, and vocalist Junior Mack begins a lyrical sermon in his warm-hearted tenor: You might slip, slide, stumble, fall by the roadside, "but don't you let nobody drag your spirit down." Four horns -- tenor sax, two trumpets and trombone -- add unexpected harmonies, rising and slithering like a conjurer's snake, negotiating a maze of bluesy flatted thirds and sevenths. For good measure, Mack shows off his B.B. King-like guitar chops in a solo.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


U.N. condemns North Korean rocket launch (William Wan and Colum Lynch, 4/123/12, Washington Post)

...how are we supposed to justify our bloated military spending if you show everyone there is no threat to defend against?

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Why Stephen Harper's biggest battles will be with Conservatives (Chantal H├ębert, 4/13/12, National Post)

If she seizes the Alberta throne from the Tories, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith will be a force within the conservative movement that Harper will have to reckon with.

The territory she has staked out -- to the right of her province's ruling Progressive Conservatives -- is the natural habitat of a sizeable section of Harper's party base.

A Wildrose Alliance victory on those terms would come at a particularly sensitive time for the federal Conservatives; a moment when their longtime supporters are questioning whether the conquest of federal power has turned out to be a zero-sum game on the policy front.

Over much of Harper's six-year tenure as prime minister, his minority status has acted as a buffer between his successive Conservative governments and an impatient activist base. That buffer was removed in last year's federal election.

Since then, some of the harshest criticism of Harper's agenda -- including the first full-fledged majority budget his government brought down a few weeks ago -- has come in the form of friendly fire.

Governing in a democratic society is incompatible with ideology.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Gas Prices Too High? Have You Considered Sewage?: Hydrogen cars aren't taking off because hydrogen is hard to make and put in cars. But there is a lot of the gas in our waste treatment plants, and one in California will now let you fill up. Have they opened the door to a hydrogen economy? (Ben Schiller, Fast Company)

Jack Brouwer, associate director at the National Fuel Cell Research Center, at UC Irvine, claims the project is a world first, and could be just the start of many installations to be built around the world in the next few years. Eventually, communities could become hydrogen-independent, he says.

"I don't see people in their own backyards using their own waste to produce their own fuel. But communities that are large enough, that have a large enough flow of waste, could have a chance to do this with their waste streams," he says.

Brouwer says that, in the short term, sewage could produce 100% of the required volume of hydrogen to run fuel-cell cars. In the longer term, when there is greater demand, he estimates it could meet 10 to 15%.

Cars with fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity to turn a motor, and potentially offer zero emissions, depending on the original fuel source. As well as sewage gas, it is also possible to produce hydrogen from wind and solar energy. But, Brouwer says sewage is preferable because it offers higher efficiency.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Gotye On World Cafe (World Cafe,  April 13, 2012)

Making Mirrors was a breakout release for Gotye, but it's not his first time around the block. Born in Belgium but raised in Australia, the bilingual multi-instrumentalist began playing drums, piano and other instruments as a child. He started a band in his teens, started another in college and released three albums during that time. Given Gotye's bold, quirky and vivid songwriting, he's looking to stick around for a while, too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The Big Book : Robert Caro has spent thirty-eight years writing the biography of one man. The fourth volume of that work, like its three predecessors a giant achievement and certain best seller, is about to be published. But Caro is not done. The world and all that's in it has changed, and still Caro is not done. Time has eaten everything around him, and still he is not done. But until he is done, one part of the world that we will never see again will not die.  (Chris Jones, May 2012, Esquire)

This room is almost a temple to timelessness. Caro has worked with the same set of tools since 1966, when he began his first book, The Power Broker, his definitive 1,162-page biography of Robert Moses, the controversial New York planner and builder. For so many writers, for most of them, The Power Broker, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, would represent their crowning achievement; for Caro, it was just the beginning. Back then, he and his wife, Ina, lived in a pretty little house in Roslyn, Long Island -- he was a reporter at Newsday -- and one of the great crumbling neighboring estates had a fire sale. Caro went. He bought a chess set, and he bought a lamp. The lamp was bronze and heavy and sculpted, a chariot rider pulled along by two rearing horses. "It cost seventy-five dollars," Caro remembers. The chess set is hidden away under a couch in their apartment on Central Park West. The lamp is here on his desk, spilling light onto his galleys. Except for a brief period when he couldn't afford an office, when Caro worked instead in the Allen Room at the New York Public Library, he has written every word of every one of his books in the same warm lamplight, millions of words under the watch of that chariot rider and his two horses.

"Nobody believes this, but I write very fast," he says.

Before he writes, however, he sits at his desk, and he looks out his window at the glass building across the street, and he thinks about what each of his books is to become. In those quiet moments, he remembers the words of one of his professors from when Caro was a young man at Princeton, studying literature. The professor was the critic and poet R. P. Blackmur, and Caro, who always wrote his assignments in a hurry, under the pressure of deadline, and who usually received good grades for his rushed work, thought he had fooled him. Blackmur was not fooled: "You're not going to achieve what you want to achieve, Mr. Caro, unless you stop thinking with your fingers," the poet said.

So Caro knits together his fingers until he knows what his book is about. Once he is certain, he will write one or two paragraphs -- he aims for one, but he usually writes two, a consistent Caro math -- that capture his ambitions. Those two paragraphs will be his guide for as long as he's working on the book. Whenever he feels lost, whenever he finds himself buried in his research or dropping the thread -- over the course of ten years, a man can become a different man entirely -- he can read those two paragraphs back to himself and find anchor again.
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