April 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


China Military Paper Warns of Armed Confrontation Over Seas (Reuters, 4/21/12)

China's top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea. [...]

"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Killing the Dream: Why spurn young immigrants who have done no wrong? (Steve Chapman, April 21, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

They sound like a group custom-built and poll-tested to appeal to Republicans: hardworking youngsters with a powerful attachment to America, upright habits and a thirst to join the Army or enroll at State U. But the potential beneficiaries of the Dream Act are getting no love from the GOP.

That's because they are illegal immigrants -- born abroad and brought here as children by parents desperate for a better life. Why they evoke scorn is a mystery. The parents may be faulted for overlooking our laws, but not their offspring, who had no say in the matter.

Many of the kids are as American as Miranda Lambert in every respect but place of birth: They speak English, play football and softball, post photos on Facebook and know the menu at McDonald's.

Some don't even realize they're not U.S. citizens until they apply for a driver's license or a Social Security card. At that point they discover they are subject to summary deportation to a country they may not even remember.

They learn that their only future in this country is no future at all: living in the shadows, dodging the law and missing out on opportunities the native-born take for granted. It's a life sentence of exile, internal or external.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


It was satire: a review of Caligula: A Biography by Aloys Winterling, translated by Deborah Lucas Scheider, Glenn Most and Paul Psoinos (Mary Beard, London Review of Books)

King Canute has had a raw deal from history. He took his throne down to the beach in order to show his servile courtiers that not even a king could control the waves (that was in God's power alone). But, ironically, he is now most often remembered as the silly old duffer who got soaked on the seashore because he thought he could master the tides. When, for example, Ryan Giggs tried last year to use a super-injunction to stop the swell of news about his private life, he was hailed as 'the King Canute of football'.

For Aloys Winterling, the Emperor Caligula offers another case of the Canute problem. He has generally gone down in history as a mad megalomaniac: so mad that he gave his favourite horse a palace, lavish purple clothing, a retinue of servants, and even had plans to appoint it to the consulship, the highest political office below the emperor himself. In fact (so Winterling argues) his extravagant treatment of the animal was a pointed joke. Caligula was satirising the aims and ambitions of the Roman aristocracy: in their pursuit of luxury and empty honours, they appeared no less silly than the horse. [...]

His main question is: what went wrong? Whatever the murky circumstances of the succession, it appears that the reign started reasonably well, but quickly degenerated first to a stand-off between emperor and Senate, and before long to murder. Why? Winterling's answer is partly to be found in that story of Caligula's favourite horse, and in the serious point he believes the emperor was trying to make.

The focus of his book is the dissimulation and hypocrisy that lay at the heart of Roman imperial politics, and had in a sense been the foundation of the governmental system established by Augustus. In making one-man rule work successfully at Rome, after almost half a millennium of (more or less) democracy, and establishing a 'workable entente' between the old aristocracy and the new autocracy, Augustus resorted to a game of smoke and mirrors in which everyone, it seems, was play-acting. 'The senators had to act as if they still possessed a degree of power that they no longer had, while the emperor had to exercise his power in such a way as to dissemble his possession of it.' As others too have recently emphasised (in particular Shadi Bartsch in Actors in the Audience), the politics of the empire were founded on double-speak: no one said exactly what they meant, or meant exactly what they said. It is no surprise that, on his deathbed, Augustus is supposed to have quoted a line, in Greek, from a comic drama, comparing his own role to an actor's: 'If I've played my part well, clap your hands - and send me off the stage with applause.'

On Winterling's model, successful emperors after Augustus were those who managed to exploit the double-speak, and turn it to their advantage; the unsuccessful were those who fought against it. Caligula's predecessor, Tiberius, 'never grew into' the role. He 'took it all at face value', refused to master the game of 'ambiguous communication', and in the process repeatedly revealed the autocratic reality of imperial rule underneath the carefully constructed democratic veneer of the Augustan system. So, for example, according to the Augustan principles, stable relations between Senate and emperor demanded that the Senate continue to debate issues apparently freely - but always in full knowledge of the outcome desired by the emperor. Tiberius, however, insisted that the Senate decide important issues of policy without making clear to them what his own view was. He then became angry 'when they reached decisions counter to his wishes'. Ultimately, relations between the emperor and the traditional governing class broke down so badly that Tiberius spent the last decade of his reign on the island of Capri, governing Rome from a distance and through a series of more or less vicious henchmen.

Caligula also resisted imperial double-speak, but - according to Winterling - in a subtly different way. He tried to fight the ambiguity of political communication that had become the norm in the imperial regime and to counter not only its insincere flattery and apparent emptiness, but also its systematic corruption of meaning. That is the message which underlies the story about the man who had vowed his own life if Caligula recovered from his illness. The intention of this public vow, we must assume, was to draw attention to the man's deep loyalty to the emperor, and so attract a handsome reward for his devotion; it was no indication of the man's real readiness to die. 'The explicit wish - for the emperor's recovery - did not match the unstated wish: to be rewarded for their flattery.' By taking it at face value, Caligula is 'outing' the insincerity, and showing that he would 'abjure this form of communication'.

The campaign against imperial double-speak turned out to have disastrous consequences. 
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Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


New District Maps Toughen Democrats' Race for House (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 4/20/12, NY Times)

Congressional redistricting, a decennial process that generally allows the party in legislative power in each state to draw new lines, has not created many opportunities for new seats for Republicans, as the party's leaders once expected. But it has forced multiple House Democrats, viewing their odds in new districts as slim, into retirement. Many of those districts are now either in play or solidly Republican, making the climb for Democrats all that more onerous.

On paper, Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to take back House control. In reality, the number is closer to 30 or even 35, since the party is likely not only to lose the seats of retiring Democrats in North Carolina, but also to face tougher odds in Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois and perhaps in Arizona, in the district once served by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Over all, 15 Democrats have announced their retirements from the House, compared with 10 Republicans. Seven Democrats and eight Republicans have also opted to run for other offices. Among the lot, Republicans leave far more safe seats behind than their Democratic counterparts.

Of the seats where members are not seeking re-election, just two -- one in Illinois and the other in California -- have the potential to flip from Republican to Democrat, said David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, while at least six seats held by Democrats are at risk of falling to Republicans, thanks to new lines. Among those are the North Carolina seats being vacated by Representatives Heath Shuler and Brad Miller.

"Democrats are at a disadvantage because of these retirements," Mr. Wasserman said. "Those retirements have hamstrung their requirements of picking up the 25 seats they need."

Democrats' only hope was that the GOP would nominate a whackdoodle for president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Cleaning Your Streets With The Power Of Hydrogen (CoExist, 4/20/12)
For the past six months, the streets of Basel, Switzerland have been cleaner than usual. Not only has a street-cleaning prototype been sweeping away debris, but the vehicle is quiet and emits no diesel or other exhaust fumes--just water and heat. The street cleaner, which has been under development since 2008, is the first to be powered by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. Using just about 15 pounds of hydrogen, the fuel cell can recharge the vehicle's electric motor battery ten times over the course of a seven-hour shift. At the end of the day drivers can refuel it themselves at a user-friendly hydrogen-fueling station.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM

Of Monsters And Men On World Cafe (World Cafe,  April 20, 2012)

Of Monsters and Men is an Icelandic sextet specializing in catchy folk-pop. The group came together in 2009 when singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir began recruiting backups for her acoustic solo act. In 2010, Of Monsters and Men gained national fame when it won an annual Icelandic battle of the bands; since then, the buzz has only grown. Incorporating melodica, glockenspiel, accordion and brass into cheery pop, Of Monsters and Men has coasted to international recognition on the strength of the bright and upbeat single "Little Talks." A charming full-length album, My Head Is an Animal, followed.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Cancer screening feeds overdiagnosis debate (Frederik Joelving, Apr 20, 2012, Reuters)

When the blood test for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, emerged two decades ago, it represented a simpler and cheaper alternative to the standard at the time -- ultrasound and a biopsy of the prostate done through the rectum.

Promoted by urologists and patient-advocacy groups, the test quickly took off. Doctors began finding tumors early enough to destroy them with surgery and radiation. Some men experienced treatment side effects such as impotence, incontinence and severe infections, but these seemed a tolerable price to pay for thwarting a potentially deadly disease.

In the ensuing years, the picture grew muddy. Reports mounted that many men were submitting to treatments for slow-growing cancers that would never have bothered them in the first place. Scientific evidence showed that the millions of screenings and treatments performed hadn't significantly lowered death rates from prostate cancer.

In a 2010 op-ed article in the New York Times, Richard Ablin, one of the discoverers of PSA, noted that 30 million American men were getting the test every year, racking up a $3 billion bill. "The test's popularity," Ablin wrote, "has led to a hugely expensive public health disaster."

Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federally funded panel of independent experts that makes recommendations on preventive care, caused an uproar with a draft recommendation against prostate cancer screening.

"Looking hard for asymptomatic cancers will always result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment," says Dr. Michael LeFevre, a member of the task force. The panel does recommend routine screening beyond certain ages for breast, cervical and colo-rectal cancers and other diseases where research has shown that screening reduces deaths. [...]

About 10,500 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal adenocarcinoma each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The number for tumors of the colon and rectum -- the No. 2 killer cancer, after lung cancer -- is 143,000. White men over 50 have an elevated risk for esophageal cancer. Smoking, obesity and chronic acid reflux add to the danger. [...]

Aviv is aware that his campaign for routine screening places him outside the mainstream. "I'm taking an extreme position because of what I have seen with this disease," he says. To underline his point, he ticks off a list of high-profile victims: baseball great Harmon Killebrew, architect Charles Gwathmey, actor Ron Silver, Texas Governor Ann Richards.

In 2009, ENT and Allergy Associates recruited Aviv, then a professor at Columbia University in New York City, to found and run its voice and swallowing center.

At different times over the past decade, he was a paid consultant to three companies that make or sell TNE scopes and related equipment: Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc, Pentax -- now known as KayPentax, based in Montvale, New Jersey -- and Vision-Sciences Inc, of Orangeburg, New York. Aviv says he is no longer a paid consultant to any of the companies, though he owns several thousand shares in Vision-Sciences and uses its equipment. The company's systems cost between $30,000 and $60,000.

Vision-Sciences says that while it "may not have the marketing power of a larger corporation who might be able to take the promotion directly to the patient," it has supported research on the use of TNE and plans to offer training to teach doctors "about the merits of our TNE product offering."

Nicholas Tsaclas, who has worked in marketing for Pentax and Vision-Sciences, says input from Aviv and Dr. Jamie Koufman, another prominent New York-area ENT, was critical to the development of TNE devices. Among other things, the new cameras have given ENT doctors easier access to parts of the human anatomy -- the esophagus and stomach -- that have typically been out of reach.

In 2009, it was Tsaclas who played the "patient" on "Good Morning America" while Aviv demonstrated TNE screening and host Diane Sawyer told viewers, "It's not painful, you can do it fast, and it can save your life." Since then, Aviv has appeared on "The Dr. Oz Show" and Bloomberg TV and on radio to promote TNE screening.

Many of his critics are worried about the history between doctor and equipment maker -- not a rarity in the medical profession -- as well as the sheer number of people who would be screened if Aviv had his way.

"The unfortunate thing is ... this is something that will be a money-maker for the people who offer it," says Brawley of the American Cancer Society. In the absence of research showing that routine screening yields clear benefits, it's premature to be doing it, "especially if they are charging for the procedure," he says.

"This is marketing, that is all that is," says Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, an internist at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Hanover, New Hampshire, and author of "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Second Wind: Air-Breathing Lithium Batteries Promise Recharge-Free Long-Range Driving (Larry Greenemeier  | April 20, 2012, Scientific American)

Researchers predict a new type of lithium battery under development could give an electric car enough juice to travel a whopping 800 kilometers before it needs to be plugged in again--about 10 times the energy that today's lithium ion batteries supply. It is a tantalizing prospect--a lighter, longer-lasting, air-breathing power source for the next generation of vehicles--if only someone could build a working model. Several roadblocks stand between these lithium-air batteries and the open road, however, primarily in finding electrodes and electrolytes that are stable enough for rechargeable battery chemistry.

IBM plans to take lithium-air batteries out of neutral by building a working prototype by the end of next year. The company announced Friday it has stepped up development efforts by adding two Japanese technology firms--chemical manufacturer Asahi Kasei Corp. and electrolyte maker Central Glass--to the IBM Battery 500 Project, a coalition IBM established in 2009 to accelerate the switch from gas to electric-powered vehicles among carmakers and their customers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM

Levon Helm and The Band: a rock parable of fame, betrayal, and redemption: Levon Helm of The Band found an unlikely path back to fame after decades of disappointment. But by the end, the homespun singer from Turkey Scratch, Ark., had come full circle. (Mark Guarino, Staff writer / April 20, 2012, CS Monitor)

The phenomenon of the "Midnight Ramble," as Helm called the Saturday evening house parties, reflected Helm's unique downhome sensibilities. At one performance I attended while on assignment for a music magazine, his house on a pitch-dark wooded back road was marked by a balloon tied to a mailbox. There, the road opened to a large field for parking. Tables set up by town locals had cupcakes, cookies, juice, pasta salad, and other food. People mingled and talked while Helm's dog, Muddy, wandered around looking for ear scratches.

When it came time for the music, Helm emerged from a back room gleaming, shaking hands with the 100 people tucked around the room on folding chairs. Despite his age - and persistent throat troubles - he snapped at the drums with fierce strength while singing with emotive depth and tender inflections.

"It's certainly a miracle for me and a dream come true. I never thought I would sing and play like I used to be able to do. I thank God. Every song is a celebration for me," he said at the time.

World Cafe Remembers Levon Helm (World Cafe 1/18/08)

Levon Helm, an Americana legend and drummer for the '60s rock group The Band, died this week. Here, we remember Helm with an archived interview and performance from WXPN. [...]

Helm launched a solo career apart from The Band, releasing several albums. In the late '90s, he turned to blues with a new group, Levon Helm & The Barn Burners. In 2007, he released his first solo record in 25 years, the Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer.

The Band On Mountain Stage (LARRY GROCE, NPR: Mountain Stage)

As I listen to his vocals in "Rag, Mama, Rag," "Blind Willie McTell" and "The Weight" from the 1996 show, it's hard to imagine anyone else trying to sing those songs. Of course, everybody does try to sing "The Weight," but we all suffer by comparison. Levon's voice is for the ages. I can hear traces of Pops Staples and fellow Arkansan Ronnie Hawkins, influences from both sides of the big river that flowed near his home. Conway Twitty, like Levon, grew up in Helena, and Johnny Cash not far away in Kingsland. Powerful voices came out of that Arkansas dirt.