November 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


First Talks Bring Hope of Broad Budget Deal (CAROL E. LEE, JANET HOOK and DAMIAN PALETTA, 11/16/12, WSJ)

Leaders from both parties and aides to Mr. Obama said they agreed to make concessions to achieve a deal. For Democrats, that included a willingness to curb entitlement programs, such as Medicare. For Republicans that meant a willingness to raise tax revenue. The question for each side, however, is how.

White House and congressional staff will next week begin sorting through details of what a framework will look like. The leaders are expected to convene for another meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Under a proposed framework, policy makers would have to agree to the amount of revenue they would raise through an overhaul of the tax code as well as the savings they would get through changing entitlement programs like Medicare. The deadline for Congress to enact these changes would be some time next year.

Republicans know tax revenues are drastically below their historic average of 18% of GDP.  Democrats know you can't run an annual budget drastically higher than that.  The rest is just posturing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


US energy is changing the world again (Daniel Yergin, 11/16/12, Financial Times)

The idea of "energy independence" was first proffered by Richard Nixon during the 1973 oil crisis. Every president since has held out the promise that the US could return to self-sufficiency and so, it was thought, become less vulnerable to Middle East turmoil and high prices.

Yet until recently, the only pertinent question seemed to be how quickly would the rate of oil imports increase? As it turned out, it was technology, facilitated by higher prices - and not grand policy - that have propelled the turnround of the past few years. Two developing technologies - hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling - were successfully combined to spark the US shale gas revolution. In a decade, shale gas has risen from 2 per cent of US natural gas production to 37 per cent. The US has overtaken Russia as the world's largest natural gas producer.

Oil explorers soon began to apply these technologies to previously unproductive rocks. The result is the surge in what has become known as "tight oil" (owing to the density of rocks from which it is produced).

The economic effects of this revolution in unconventional forms of production are already apparent. The most immediate has been in employment - more than 1.7m jobs have been created. The development of shale gas and tight oil involves long supply chains, with substantial sums being spent across the country. It is these jobs that have made Mr Obama and many state governors supportive of shale gas and tight oil.

The impact will increase. By 2020, 3m jobs could be created by the energy revolution. Most will have salaries higher the average US job. This means more money for cash-strapped governments. By that year, government revenues from taxes and royalties arising from unconventional oil and gas could be over $110bn, according to analysis by IHS.

The other increasingly important impact is on global competition. US natural gas is abundant and prices are low - a third of their level in Europe and a quarter of that in Japan. This is boosting energy-intensive manufacturing in the US, much to the dismay of competitors in both Europe and Asia. Billions of dollars of investment are now slated for US manufacturing because of this inexpensive gas.

...but instead waited until the profits were flowing to rotten regimes and speculators.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Teenage Gamers Are Better At Virtual Surgery Than MDs (Colin Lecher,11.16.2012, Popular Science)

A lot of people see videogames as the archetypal time-waster. That's silly, and there have been a lot of studies that show why. The latest? Researchers have found that high school- and college-age gamers are better virtual surgeons than medical residents.

Scientists from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston had a hunch that students with a regular videogame diet (high school sophomores who played two hours of games a day and college students who played four) would be primed for virtual surgery tools. They were right. When performance with those tools was measured, the game-playing students did better than a group of residents at UTMB.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Big Idea: The Hell of Pure Possibility (Peter Lawler, November 16, 2012, Big Think)

Here's a thought of the novelist Walker Percy's searching character Will Barrett in The Last Gentleman:

For until this moment he had lived in a state of pure possibility, not knowing what sort of man he was or what he must do, and supposing therefore that he must be all men and do everything. But after this morning's incident his life took a turn in a particular direction. Thereafter he came to see that he was not destined to do everything but only one or two things. Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.

 Here's Percy's thought:  Sartre was wrong to say that hell is other people.  Hell is the experience of "pure possibility."  It's the experience of not knowing who you are or what you're supposed to do. It's  to have no order or direction to your life except what you might quite arbitrarily choose for yourself.  If you might be everyone or might do anything, you don't have what it takes to turn your life in any "particular direction." You're unlucky enough not to have what it takes to live--meaning  live well.

According to David Brooks in his most recent column:  "At some point over the past generation, people around the world entered what you might call the age of possibility. They became intolerant of any arrangement that might close off their personal options. "

In keeping with Mr. Lawler's recent essays, isn't it largely marriage and parenthood that replaces possibility with direction?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


American Creed : A popular video-game series takes on the Revolutionary War. (Robert VerBruggen, 11/17/12, National Review)

Unfortunately, ACIII gets off to a painfully slow start -- while the series is known for letting its Assassins explore huge historical cities, playing through specific "memories" (missions) at their leisure, this entry forces players along a linear storyline for quite some time. Several hours pass before the main character is even born (the Animus first taps into the memories of the protagonist's father), and several more go by before our new Assassin, the half-white/half-Native American Connor, is fully trained and the events of the Revolution start heating up.

It's worth the wait, though. Eventually, Connor is allowed free rein in a gigantic, beautiful, almost photorealistic rendering of early America, with forests bursting with wildlife, cities buzzing with conversations about the current political tensions, and taverns full of forgotten betting games like Nine Men's Morris. Colonial cities, most strikingly Boston, have been recreated through a combination of actual maps and creative license.

As the story unfolds, Connor takes part in countless pivotal events, from the Boston Massacre to the war's most important battles. Even with the series' Dan Brown-style conspiracy theories worked in at every turn, it is difficult for an American not to revel in a game that involves hurling tea into Boston Harbor, killing British tax enforcers, and accompanying Paul Revere on his famous ride.

Further, the franchise has always done a tremendous job of bringing historical personalities to life -- most memorably, in Assassin's Creed II, Leonardo da Vinci let players take a prototype of his flying machine for a test drive - and in Assassin's Creed III the developers have seized the opportunities presented by the American Revolution. Israel Putnam appears as a gruff, cigar-chomping general, Ben Franklin as a refined academic, and Samuel Adams as a dedicated and thoughtful revolutionary who's more than willing to help Connor keep a low profile.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly (JUSTIN HECKERT,  November 15, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

The girl who feels no pain was in the kitchen, stirring ramen noodles, when the spoon slipped from her hand and dropped into the pot of boiling water. It was a school night; the TV was on in the living room, and her mother was folding clothes on the couch. Without thinking, Ashlyn Blocker reached her right hand in to retrieve the spoon, then took her hand out of the water and stood looking at it under the oven light. She walked a few steps to the sink and ran cold water over all her faded white scars, then called to her mother, "I just put my fingers in!" Her mother, Tara Blocker, dropped the clothes and rushed to her daughter's side. "Oh, my lord!" she said -- after 13 years, that same old fear -- and then she got some ice and gently pressed it against her daughter's hand, relieved that the burn wasn't worse.

"I showed her how to get another utensil and fish the spoon out," Tara said with a weary laugh when she recounted the story to me two months later. "Another thing," she said, "she's starting to use flat irons for her hair, and those things get superhot."

Tara was sitting on the couch in a T-shirt printed with the words "Camp Painless But Hopeful." Ashlyn was curled on the living-room carpet crocheting a purse from one of the skeins of yarn she keeps piled in her room. Her 10-year-old sister, Tristen, was in the leather recliner, asleep on top of their father, John Blocker, who stretched out there after work and was slowly falling asleep, too. The house smelled of the homemade macaroni and cheese they were going to have for dinner. A South Georgia rainstorm drummed the gutters, and lightning illuminated the batting cage and the pool in the backyard.

Without lifting her eyes from the crochet hooks in her hands, Ashlyn spoke up to add one detail to her mother's story. "I was just thinking, What did I just do?" she said.
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