Archive for September 16th, 2009
Good news for science fans. Dan Colman at Open Culture:
A little breaking news… 35 leading universities have launched a new web site, Futurity.org, with a simple goal — educating the public about new scientific breakthroughs. In the old days, universities depended on the traditional press to spread the word about new scientific advances. Now, with journalism in crisis and newspapers folding, the schools can no longer bank on that. And so we get Futurity, which is essentially a nonprofit wire service that will distribute news through major news suppliers on the web (Yahoo News & Google News) and also through social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and MySpace). On the list of participating universities, you will find UC Berkeley, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, The University of Chicago, Duke, Princeton, Yale and many others. You can get a full list here, and read more about the venture here.
The MBT shoes just arrived—this model. When I walk down the hallway, it feels (literally) as though I were walking on air—a peculiar but not unpleasant sensation. These are quite comfortable, and I seem to have hit my size right on the mark. I’m now going outside for a little walking.
I’m somewhat surprised that this works, but I’ll accept the experience of users. Have any readers used this?
Now that I’ve been presented with obvious evidence that I’m an introvert, I found this article by Jonathan Rauch quite interesting:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.
I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.
Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.
What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung…
Sleeping in the same bed works for some, but not for all—particularly if one of the pair is a restless sleeper and the other a light sleeper, or if one snores to beat the band. Interesting note by Lisa Belkin in the NY Times:
When couples become parents they give a lot of attention to where the baby sleeps — particularly to the question of whether that baby sleeps with them. Will their infant sleep better in the same room — or bed — as Mom and Dad? Will Mom and Dad get enough sleep with an extra person around?
What gets far less attention is the quality of sleep when Mom and Dad share a bed. At wsj.com yesterday, Sue Shellenberger took a look at the assumption that this is what all couples should do. Some, she concludes (and she puts herself and her ex-husband in this category), would do better sleeping apart.
She cites a presentation at the British Science Festival last week by sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley, who sleeps in a different room from his wife and believes others should at least consider following suit. He said:
It’s about what makes you happy. If you’ve been sleeping together and you both sleep perfectly well, then don’t change, but don’t be afraid to do something different.
We all know what it’s like to have a cuddle and then say ‘I’m going to sleep now’ and go to the opposite side of the bed. So why not just toddle off down the landing?
Dr. Stanley is an author of a study published earlier this year in the journal Chronobiology International, which found that adults who share a bed are 50 percent more likely to have their sleep interrupted during the night than those who sleep alone. Yet while there is data that hints that more couples are opting for separate bedrooms — the National Sleep Foundation says that 23 percent of married Americans slept solo in 2005 compared with 12 percent in 2001 — for most of us, co-sleeping with a spouse or partner is still the expectation and the norm…
Yesterday, ThinkProgress talked with Wendell Potter, Cigna Health Care’s former Communication Director, about a common and widespread practice among insurance companies called “rescission.” As the former Cigna executive explains, rescission is the insurance industry practice of finding reasons — even reasons as flimsy as typos on your enrollment form — to cancel your coverage when you get sick. According to Potter, insurance companies are saving billions by rescinding coverage from Americans who purchase individual insurance:
POTTER: If they determine that you might have left out something that they consider pertinent on your application and might have indicated that you would have had some illness or might get an illness down the road, and you’ve been getting treatment and submitting claims to your insurance company, they will go back and look at that application and they will often rescind or cancel your policy even if you’ve been paying your premiums on-time, every month, for years. You will be left holding the bag with the responsibility of paying all of your medical care when insurance companies do this. They’ve been doing it for many years and saving billions of dollars as a result of this.
The Washington Post recently highlighted other examples of rescission:
Woman Lost Her Home Because Coverage Was Canceled For Condition She Didn’t Have. “For Teresa Dietrich, it was fibroids. The Northern California real estate agent was left to pay $19,000 after Blue Cross said she did not disclose a diagnosis of the benign uterine tumors. But Dietrich said the doctor who had written ‘fibroids’ on her medical record never mentioned his suspicions to her. The bills destroyed her credit and cost her her home – and, in a comically cruel twist, the surgery proved the doctor was wrong. ‘They said I had a condition I didn’t even have,’ Dietrich said. ‘And they canceled me.’”
Woman Saddled With $25,000 Debt For Not Disclosing Condition She Didn’t Know She Had. “The untimely disappearance of Sally Marrari’s medical coverage goes a long way toward explaining why insurance companies are cast as the villain in the health-care reform drama. ‘They said I never mentioned I had a back problem,’ said Marrari, 52, whose coverage with Blue Cross was abruptly canceled in 2006 after a thyroid disorder, fluid in the heart and lupus were diagnosed. That left the Los Angeles woman with $25,000 in medical bills and the stigma of the company’s claim that she had committed fraud by not listing on a health questionnaire ‘preexisting conditions’ Marrari said she did not know she had.’”
Woman Denied Coverage For Gall Bladder Surgery Because Of Husband’s High Cholesterol. Washington Post: “In a pending case, Blue Shield searched in vain for an inconsistency in the health records of the wife of a dairy farmer after she filed a claim for emergency gallbladder surgery, according to attorneys for the family. Turning to her husband’s questionnaire, the company discovered he had not mentioned his high cholesterol and dropped them both. Blue Shield officials said they would not comment on a pending case.”
Rescission is widespread – an investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found that three insurance companies alone (WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Assurant) cancelled more than 20,000 policies in the last five years.
For the past two years, Stanford has been rolling out a series of courses (collectively called Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum) that gives you a baseline knowledge for thinking intelligently about modern physics. The sequence, which moves from Isaac Newton, to Albert Einstein’s work on the general and special theories of relativity, to black holes and string theory, comes out of Stanford’s Continuing Studies program (my day job). And the courses are all taught by Leonard Susskind, an important physicist who has engaged in a long running “Black Hole War” with Stephen Hawking. The final course, Statistical Mechanics, has now been posted on YouTube, and you can also find it on iTunes in video. The rest of the courses can be accessed immediately below. Six courses. Roughly 120 hours of content. A comprehensive tour of modern physics. All in video. All free. Beat that.
Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum
Closing Guantánamo won’t mean much if we just shift the prison to another location. Greenwald:
It’s now apparent that the biggest sham in American politics is Barack Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and, more generally, to dismantle the Bush/Cheney approach to detaining accused Terrorists. In August, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo detainees — people abducted from around the world and shipped to our prison in Cuba — have the constitutional right to habeas corpus (a court review of their imprisonment). Then-candidate Obama issued a statement lavishly praising that ruling:
Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy. We cannot afford to lose any more valuable time in the fight against terrorism to a dangerously flawed legal approach.
That was so moving.
Yesterday, the Obama DOJ — as expected — filed a legal brief (.pdf) which adopted the arguments originally made by the Bush DOJ to insist that detainees whom they abduct from around the world and then ship to Bagram (rather than Guantanamo) lack any constitutional rights whatsoever, including habeas review. The Obama administration is appealing from a decision (.pdf) by Bush-43-appointed District Court Judge John Bates which, applying Boumediene, held that detainees at Bagram who are originally detained outside of Afghanistan have the right to habeas review (Afghan citizens detained in Afghanistan have none, he found). In other words, after Obama praised Boumediene as "defending the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy," he’s now attempting to make a complete mockery of that decision by insisting that it is inapplicable as long as he decides to ship detainees from, say, Thailand to Bagram rather than Guantanamo. Obama apparently sees "our core values" as nothing more than an absurd shell game, where the U.S. Government can evade the limits of the Constitution by simply moving the locale of its due-process-free detention system.
Back in April …
Her death was doubtless hastened by her health insurance company’s refusal to buy prescribed drugs for her cancer. Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:
Crystal Lee Sutton, whose courageous efforts organizing Southern textile mills inspired the award-winning 1979 film “Norma Rae,” passed away on Friday after a long battle with brain cancer. Sutton’s story is particularly tragic because after fighting her whole life for rights of working Americans, her health insurance wouldn’t cover the medications she needed:
She went two months without possible life-saving medications because her insurance wouldn’t cover it, another example of abusing the working poor, she said.
“How in the world can it take so long to find out (whether they would cover the medicine or not) when it could be a matter of life or death,” she said. “It is almost like, in a way, committing murder.”
Although Sutton eventually received the medication, the cancer had already taken a toll on her.
A good example of bureaucrats making treatment decisions and disallowing treatment.
Companies love mandatory arbitration agreements because the companies pay the arbitration judges—and if you think that’s not undue influence, you’re naïve: any judge who rules against the company is then blacklisted so remarkably soon the company has a stable of company-friendly judges to decide cases.
Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work. Amanda Terkel in ThinkProgress:
In 2005, Jamie Lee Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. In an apparent attempt to cover up the incident, the company then put her in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” Even more insultingly, the DOJ resisted bringing any criminal charges in the matter. KBR argued that Jones’ employment contract warranted her claims being heard in private arbitration — without jury, judge, public record, or transcript of the proceedings. After 15 months in arbitration, Jones and her lawyers went to court to fight the KBR claims. Yesterday, a court ruled in favor of Jones.” Mother Jones reports:
Jones argued that the alleged gang rape was not related to her employment and thus, wasn’t covered by the arbitration agreement. Finally, two years later, a federal court has sensibly agreed with her. Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 ruling, found her alleged injuries were not, in fact, in any way related to her employment and thus, not covered by the contract.
One of the judges who ruled in her favor, Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale, is a West Point grad, Vietnam vet, and one of the court’s most conservative members, a sign, perhaps, of just how bad the facts are in this case. It’s a big victory, but a bitter one that shows just how insidious mandatory arbitration is. It’s taken Jones three years of litigation just to get to the point where she can finally sue the people who allegedly wronged her. It will be many more years before she has a shot at any real justice.
“We do not hold that, as a matter of law, sexual-assault allegations can never ‘relate to’ someone’s employment,” wrote the court. “For this action, however, Jones’ allegations do not ‘touch matters’ related to her employment, let alone have a ’significant relationship’ to her employment contract.
It is easy to think of efforts to influence lawmakers as the exclusive domain of K Street lobbyists. Much has been said and written about the millions of dollars the special interests are spending on lobbying activities and the hundreds of lobbyists who are at work as we speak trying to shape health care reform legislation. Very little by comparison has been written about the millions of dollars that special interests are spending on PR activities to accomplish the same goal and that are vital to successful lobbying efforts.
One of the reasons I left my job at CIGNA, where I headed corporate communications and was part of the Legal & Public Affairs division, was because I did not want to be involved in yet another PR and lobbying campaign to kill or gut reform. I finally came to question the ethics of what I had done and been a part of for nearly two decades to influence decision-making and bill writing on Capitol Hill.
When I testified before the Senate Commerce Committee in late June, I told the senators how the industry has conducted duplicitous and well-financed PR and lobbying campaigns every time Congress has tried to reform our health care system, and how its current behind-scenes-efforts may well shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans. I noted that, just as they did 15 years ago when the insurance industry led the effort to kill the Clinton reform plan, it is using shills and front groups to spread lies and disinformation to scare Americans away from the very reform that would benefit them most. The industry, despite its public assurances to be good-faith partners with the President and Congress, has been at work for years laying the groundwork for devious and often sinister campaigns to manipulate public opinion.
The industry goes to great lengths to keep its involvement in these campaigns hidden from public view. I know from having served on numerous trade group committees and industry-funded front groups, however, that industry leaders are always full partners in developing strategies to derail any reform that might interfere with insurers’ ability to increase profits. My involvement in these groups goes back to the early ‘90s when insurers joined with other special interests to finance the activities of the Healthcare Leadership Council, which led a coordinated effort to scare Americans and members of Congress away from the Clinton plan.
A few years after that victory, the insurers formed a front group called …
Source: Politico.com, September 15, 2009
"Some of the most influential aides in the closed-door Senate Finance Committee negotiations over health care reform have ties to interests that would be directly affected by the legislation," reports Politico.com. Committee Chair Max Baucus‘ senior counsel, Liz Fowler, previously "worked as a highly paid public policy adviser for WellPoint Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded health benefits company." Senator Jeff Bingaman‘s health policy adviser, Frederick Isasi, "was a registered lobbyist at Powell Goldstein, where his clients included public hospitals and the American Stroke Association." Beyond the Senate Finance Committee, "a number of former lobbyists, consultants and advisers for firms that represent consumers, patients, hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers are now in key positions in the House and Senate. … And according to the group Public Accountability Initiative … more than 500 former congressional aides have gone on to become health care lobbyists."
Israel has adamantly rejected the recommendation of a United Nations report to carry out an independent inquiry into its conduct during the 22-day Gaza war in January. Although the 575-page report released Tuesday condemned Palestinian groups for rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, it came down hardest on Israel for its treatment of Palestinian civilians during and after the war.
The report, which accuses Israel of committing war crimes, “makes a mockery of history,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The UN investigation of Israel’s war in Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead, was led by Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African who has also served as a prosecutor for war crimes in the Balkans and Rwanda. The report looked at 36 cases that it said were representative of conduct during the war.
The Israeli military has launched several investigations of its conduct during the war and all such investigations have cleared the Jewish state of any wrongdoing. The UN report seizes upon that fact to contend that “what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
The report suggested that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority conduct independent investigations into their conduct during the war, reports The New York Times. The authors of the report threatened to have the United Nations Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if no such action was taken.
Israel refused to cooperate with investigators during their fact-finding mission and now accuse the UN of appointing a team that had a “clear anti-Israeli bias,” reports the Associated Press. Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev said his government would conduct no independent investigation.
“This report was conceived in sin and is the product of a union between propaganda and bias,” Mr. Regev said. “Israel is a country with a fiercely independent judiciary. … Everything done by the military in Israel is open to judicial review by the independent judiciary.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Goldstone’s daughter has come out in defense of her father, calling him a “Zionist” who “loves Israel.” In a telephone interview with Israel’s Army Radio, Nicole Goldstone said that had her father not been involved with the UN investigation, the report would have likely come down even harder on Israel, reports the Jerusalem Post, a conservative Israeli newspaper…
Quite a switch, eh? Only the Post is demanding these things for Iran. The US doesn’t need to play by the rules, in their view. Greenwald:
I’m asking this sincerely, not rhetorically: is there anything other than extreme self-delusion, grounded in blinding self-regard (i.e., self-decreed exceptionalism), that can explain this? The Washington Post Editorial Page today is demanding that the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran include not only efforts to curb their nuclear program but also: "at least one other item should be on the agenda: the government’s recent repression of domestic opposition, and in particular its prosecution of Western citizens." Here’s what they specifically have in mind:
One way to avoid this pitfall is for the United States to insist on discussing the human rights issues raised by the show trials. The obvious lack of due process for leading regime opponents contravenes international human rights standards that Iran claims to respect.
So we’re supposed to roll into these negotiations righteously complaining about Iran’s "obvious lack of due process." For the last eight years and counting, we’ve been imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims around the world with no charges of any kind. Keeping people who have never been charged with any crime shackled in orange jumpsuits and locked in cages for years on a Cuban island has become our national symbol. Just yesterday, the Obama administration demanded that a court rule it has the power to abduct people anywhere in the world, ship them to Afghanistan, and keep them indefinitely imprisoned there with no trial of any kind — which is exactly what we’ve been doing for years and still are (in a dank and nasty prison which happens to be right over Iran’s Eastern border). Our current President just recently advocated and is currently devising a scheme of so-called "preventive detention" whereby he’d be empowered to lock up people indefinitely for crimes they might commit in the future. We continue to abduct people from all over the world and ship them to third-party countries for interrogation and detention ("renditions") without any pretense of due process. And right over Iran’s own Western border, we not only continue to occupy Iraq, but maintain prisons in which thousands of people are imprisoned by our military without any charges of any kind — including an Iraqi journalist who works for Reuters who was ordered released by an Iraqi court yet continues to languish in an American prison in Iraq, merely one of numerous foreign journalists we imprisoned for years, in Iraq and elsewhere, with no charges at all.
But The Washington Post thinks the U.S. should vigorously object to Iran’s "obvious lack of due process" as a central part of these negotiations. What would be the purpose of doing that? Creating a jovial mood for the negotiations at the outset by provoking a massive group laughing fit?
But due process denials aren’t the only Iranian "human rights" violations The Post wants the Obama administration to raise in these negotiations. No, there’s more Iranian evil for us to protest: …
The Eldest pointed out a very interesting article in the Johns Hopkins Magazine:
One would be hard-pressed to disapprove of autodidacticism. Consider a list of notable alumni from the academy of the self-taught: René Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, William Blake. Michael Faraday apprenticed himself to a bookseller and read everything he could before going on to figure out electromagnetism. August Wilson schooled himself at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh after dropping out of the ninth grade. Arnold Schoenberg claimed to be an autodidact, and who are we to dispute it? Frank Zappa advised, “Forget about the senior prom and go to the library and educate yourself, if you’ve got any guts.” Hear, hear. (Though if the prom band is playing Frank Zappa songs, we’re donning a powder-blue brocade tux and we’re going.)
The systematic didacting of oneself—it’s not a verb, but it ought to be—requires printed text bound between boards. Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, or an iSquint will not suffice. And because we subscribe to the advice of Isaac Watts in his 1741 volume Improvement of the Mind—“It is of vast advantage to have the most proper books for reading recommended by a judicious friend”—we consulted a roster of judicious friends to compile some required reading for an autodidact’s course catalog. (The course titles, course descriptions and book blurbs are our invention.) We grade on the curve and will allow you to set your own pace, but do proceed with one last piece of advice from the good Mr. Watts: “Have a care of indulging the more sensual passions and appetites of animal nature; they are great enemies to attention.” Your summer of beach reading is over. It’s back to school, even for the self-taught.
Reader, didact thyself!
Continue reading for 7 pages of recommended readings, grouped by "course".
The Merkur Big Grip (aka “Alu”) is less like yesterday’s razor, the Edwin Jagger Georgian with the bulbous grip, than I thought. The Merkur has more heft in the handle, and the two indentations give more variety to the grip—for example, the knob at the bottom of the handle is very nice when you’re shaving against the grain. On the whole, this razor feels quite nice in the hand and this morning provided a great shave.
The lather was from the Woods of Windsor shaving soap, created with the Semogue 2000 shaving brush—still not broken in, but coming along. Three good passes, and then a splash of Woods of Windsor aftershave. I’m ready for the day.