Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 30th, 2010

Coffee lids: Who knew?

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I had no idea.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 2:08 pm

Interesting story of one man’s awakening

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This article by Susan Berfield in Bloomberg Businessweek is definitely worth reading and pondering. It begins:

On June 30, Alex Bogusky went for a bike ride in the hills outside Boulder, Colo., then made his way downtown to the century-old house-cum-studio he had renovated and dubbed FearLess Cottage. Once inside, he called Miles Nadal, his boss in Toronto, and resigned. Bogusky was 46.Adweek had named him creative director of the decade, and the agency he helped build, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, was bringing in more than a billion dollars in billings. He had a dream title of his own making, chief creative insurgent, and a salary close to $2 million.

Bogusky’s conversation with Nadal, the owner of CP+B’s parent company, MDC Partners (MDCA), was followed by an e-mail. Bogusky hoped Nadal saw him "as a friend who wants to try something new." He signed it, "Love, Alex." Then Bogusky and his wife, Ana, spent much of the afternoon sitting on their porch contemplating what he had just done.

MDC relied on CP+B for at least one-quarter of its $546 million in revenues last year, and Nadal often referred to Bogusky as the Steve Jobs of the industry. In a lengthy statement to Bloomberg Businessweek, MDC concluded: "Our future has never looked brighter and neither has Alex’s." MDC would not grant an interview to discuss exactly how bright its future would be without the most famous name in advertising.

Bogusky declined to comment for this story, too, though he left plenty of clues about his state of mind, as revealed in interviews with industry peers, co-workers, and family members. There are also hints about why clients, such as Best Buy (BBY), Burger King (BKC), Domino’s (DPZ), Microsoft (MSFT), and Kraft (KFT), which had just awarded its Macaroni & Cheese account to CP+B, did not want to say much about him. Perhaps the most telling of Bogusky’s statements before resigning was . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Extremely cool engine

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I particularly like that you can just add another engine if you need more power. David Welch and Mark Clothier write in Bloomberg Businessweek.

(click image to enlarge)

Retired Ford (F) engineer John Coletti got a call in 2007 from Vinod Khosla, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wanted advice on a new engine technology in which he was considering investing. A mutual friend suggested he contact Coletti, who had served as the chief of Ford’s performance division. Coletti was skeptical that the design in question could deliver a promised 50 percent improvement in fuel economy. “Any time you hear about a new engine technology, you look for the Achilles’ heel,” the engineer said.

He pored over the EcoMotors International opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder (OPOC) engine. To his surprise, he concluded that it could perform as advertised. Coletti joined the company as president and chief operating officer in February 2008. Khosla and Microsoft (MSFT) founder Bill Gates were impressed, too, and together have invested $34 million in EcoMotors. They are attracted by a motor that, in theory, would allow a large pickup to achieve 27 miles per gallon. The company plans to license the technology to carmakers that would make their own OPOC engines, or manufacture and sell the engines through joint ventures.

Traditional engines have one piston per cylinder; EcoMotors’ version has two. The design saves space and weight, allowing for a 95-pound engine that is one-third the heft of a small, conventional four-cylinder motor and 15 percent to 19 percent more efficient. Designed by Peter Hofbauer, a former Volkswagen engineer and founder of EcoMotors, the small, modular engines can be hooked together to power autos of different sizes. A pair would yield a 150-horsepower motor suitable for a midsize car like a Toyota (TM) Camry. When the car is coasting, one of the engines shuts down, delivering a 50 percent boost in fuel economy. That’s a similar efficiency gain to what a hybrid gets, only EcoMotors says its model is less expensive. An OPOC engine will add roughly $600 to $900 to the cost of a vehicle, compared with an extra $3,000 for a hybrid, according to Don Runkle, chief executive officer of EcoMotors. Says Coletti: “This technology is disruptive to the industry.”

The question is …

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UPDATE: They didn’t survive.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 12:56 pm

Sadness response strengthens with age

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Interesting. I think I’ve noticed this. Laura Sanders writes in Science News:

As people grow older, sad films seem sadder.

In a recent study, people in their sixties felt sadder than people in their twenties did after viewing an emotionally distressing scene from a movie. This heightened emotional response to sorrow may reflect a greater compassion for other people and may strengthen social bonds, researchers propose.

The finding is an important contribution to emotion studies because it adds to a growing body of work showing that emotions don’t deteriorate, says Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen, who was not involved in the research. “One of the important findings of this is that the emotion system is in no way broken in old age,” she says.

To explore how feelings of sadness change with age, researchers led by Robert Levenson of the University of California, Berkeley brought 222 study participants into the laboratory to watch neutral, disgusting or sad movie clips. The volunteers made up three age groups: young people in their twenties, middle-aged people in their forties, and older people in their sixties. Before watching the movies, participants were hooked up to monitors that recorded physiological responses such as blood pressure, heart rate and breathing patterns. 

Levenson and his team chose two gut-wrenchingly sad scenes to elicit responses: In the first clip, from the movie 21 Grams, a mother is told of the deaths of her two young daughters. The second scene, from The Champ, depicts a young boy watching his father die after a boxing match. (The disgusting clips were also well chosen: They showed a woman eating horse rectum and a man sucking fluid from a cow’s intestines, both on NBC’s Fear Factor. The neutral scene showed two men talking about nothing in the absurdist film Stranger than Paradise.)

In addition to measuring physiological responses to the movie clips, the researchers asked people to describe how they felt. People in their sixties reported …

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Another sign of the decline of the US

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This one is pretty obvious and is a story in Bloomberg Businessweek by Eric Pooley:

Right now the U.S. Senate is conducting a master class on the perils of legislation by rearview mirror. On July 27, when Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled the "Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act," the two most powerful clean energy provisions were missing: a cap on carbon emissions from the electric power sector and a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would require utilities to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. For years, business leaders from General Electric’s (GE) Jeff Immelt to venture capitalist John Doerr have warned that if America failed to pass a comprehensive climate-and-energy bill, the country risked losing the clean energy race to China—sacrificing the jobs of the future in a timid, ill-fated effort to preserve the jobs of the past. Now those warnings are coming true.

Clean energy advocates were angry but not surprised on July 22, when Reid said he was pulling the plug on the carbon cap. Powerful utilities were withholding support. President Barack Obama wasn’t trying to forge a compromise. And key Democratic senators had no appetite for a bill that might cause a modest, short-term increase in electricity prices—potentially endangering some 20th century manufacturing jobs—even if it helps create many more 21st century jobs by making clean energy competitive with coal. The disappearance of the renewable energy standard, however, was a shock. Both the House and Senate have passed RES bills in the past, yet it has never become law. With elections looming, this may be the last chance for years to set the rules of the road for energy investment.

While the carbon cap, at this intensely partisan moment, has exactly zero Republican supporters, at least four GOP senators have signaled support for the RES. Proponents are hoping to introduce it as a floor amendment—and whether or not they have the votes to pass it, this is a debate worth having.

In a meeting with business leaders and environmental advocates early last year, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers described a "scissors" approach to economic recovery, according to several people who were present but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The first blade of the scissors, Summers explained, was the stimulus package and its tens of billions for clean energy deployment. The second blade would be a mandatory, declining cap on carbon, which would remove the investment uncertainty that has hobbled the energy market, and draw billions of private dollars off the sidelines. Utility chief executive officers such as Lew Hay of NextEra Energy (NEE), Ralph Izzo of PSEG, and Jim Rogers of Duke Energy (DUK) have all said they are ready to invest in clean energy just as soon as Congress establishes a carbon cap that creates a clear, steady price signal for dirty fuel—in effect, pricing in some of the social costs of carbon pollution that have never been part of America’s energy bill.

The scissors is missing a blade…

Continue reading. The US waits while its rivals advance.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 12:16 pm

When we’re not poisoning the oceans, we’re over-fishing them

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Is the human race suicidal? Looks like it. Elizabeth Kolbert writes in the New Yorker:

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is shaped like a child’s idea of a fish, with a pointy snout, two dorsal fins, and a rounded belly that gradually tapers toward the back. It is gunmetal blue on top, and silvery on the underside, and its tail looks like a sickle. The Atlantic bluefin is one of the fastest swimmers in the sea, reaching speeds of fifty-five miles an hour. This is an achievement that scientists have sought to understand but have never quite mastered; a robo-tuna, built by a team of engineers at M.I.T., was unable to outswim a real one. (The word “tuna” is derived from the Greek thuno, meaning “to rush.”) Atlantic bluefins are voracious carnivores—they feed on squid, crustaceans, and other fish—and can grow to be fifteen feet long.

At one time, Atlantic bluefins were common from the coast of Maine to the Black Sea, and from Norway to Brazil. In the Mediterranean, they have been prized for millennia—in an ode from the second century, the poet Oppian describes the Romans catching bluefins in “nets arranged like a city”—but they are unusually bloody fish, and in most of the rest of the world there was little market for them. (Among English speakers, they were long known as “horse mackerel.”) As recently as the late nineteen-sixties, bluefin in the United States sold for only a few pennies a pound, if there were any buyers, and frequently ended up being ground into cat food. Then, in the nineteen-seventies, the Japanese developed a taste for sushi made with bluefin, or hon-maguro. This new preference, it’s been hypothesized, arose from their exposure, following the Second World War, to American-style fatty foods. The taste for hon-maguro was, in turn, imported back to the U.S. Soon, fishing for bluefin became so lucrative that the sale of a single animal could feed a family for a year. (Earlier this year, a five-hundred-pound Pacific bluefin went for an astonishing three hundred and forty dollars a pound at a Tokyo fish auction.) First, the big bluefins were fished out, then the smaller ones, too, became hard to find. Tuna “ranching,” a practice by which the fish are herded into huge circular nets and fattened up before slaughter, was for a time seen as a solution until it was shown to be part of the problem: as fewer bluefins were allowed to reach spawning age, there were fewer and fewer new fish to fatten.

Bluefin catches are managed—the word is used here loosely—by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The commission, known by the acronym ICCAT—pronounced “eye-cat”—is based in Madrid, and its members include the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Brazil. In 2008, ICCAT scientists recommended that the bluefin catch in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean be limited to between eighty-five hundred and fifteen thousand tons. ICCAT instead adopted a quota of twenty-two thousand tons. That same year, a panel of independent reviewers, hired by the commission to assess its performance, observed that ICCAT “is widely regarded as an international disgrace.” (Carl Safina, the noted marine conservationist, has nicknamed the group the International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tunas.) By most estimates, bluefin stocks have fallen by eighty per cent in the past forty years. According to other assessments, the situation is even grimmer. Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation at England’s University of York, has calculated that there is now only one bluefin left for every fifty that were swimming in the Atlantic in 1940.

Last year, in an effort to save the Atlantic bluefin from annihilation, Monaco proposed that the fish join animals like the giant panda and the Asian elephant on a list of creatures that cannot be traded—either alive or cut up for parts—across international borders. When the proposal came up for a vote at a U.N. meeting in Doha this past March, the U.S. voted in favor of it. “The science is compelling,” Tom Strickland, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, told the Times. “That species is in spectacular decline.” Nevertheless, the measure was defeated. (The vote—sixty-eight to twenty, with thirty nations abstaining—was widely seen as a victory for Japan.) The following month, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, and oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is one of only two known Atlantic-bluefin spawning sites, and April is the start of the spawning season.

If the Atlantic bluefin tuna were the first species to be fished into oblivion, its destruction would be shameful. But, of course, its story has become routine. Cod, once so plentiful off the coast of Newfoundland that they could be scooped up in baskets, are now scarce. The same goes for halibut, haddock, swordfish, marlin, and skate; it’s been calculated that stocks of large predatory fish have declined by ninety per cent in the past half century. In 1943, Rachel Carson was a young biologist working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when she wrote a booklet titled “Food from the Sea.” The point of the boosterish guide was to convince American consumers of the delectableness of fish like the wolffish, an enormous creature with a bulbous head, big teeth, and an eel-like body. Wolffish is “one of New England’s underexploited fishes, a condition that will be corrected when housewives discover its excellence,” Carson wrote. Apparently, she was so persuasive—and bottom trawling so wrecked its habitat—that the wolffish is now considered a threatened species…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 12:11 pm

Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain

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The effects of the oil spill continue. Dan Froomkin reports in the Huffington Post:

Scientists have found signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain.

Marine biologists started finding orange blobs under the translucent shells of crab larvae in May, and have continued to find them "in almost all" of the larvae they collect, all the way from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Fla. — more than 300 miles of coastline — said Harriet Perry, a biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

And now, a team of researchers from Tulane University using infrared spectrometry to determine the chemical makeup of the blobs has detected the signature for Corexit, the dispersant BP used so widely in the Deepwater Horizon

"It does appear that there is a Corexit sort of fingerprint in the blob samples that we ran," Erin Gray, a Tulane biologist, told the Huffington Post Thursday. Two independent tests are being run to confirm those findings, "so don’t say that we’re 100 percent sure yet," Gray said.

"The chemistry test is still not completely conclusive," said Tulane biology professor Caz Taylor, the team’s leader. "But that seems the most likely thing."

With BP’s well possibly capped for good, and the surface slick shrinking, some observers of the Gulf disaster are starting to let down their guard, with some journalists even asking: Where is the oil?

But the answer is clear: In part due to the1.8 million gallons of dispersant that BP used, a lot of the estimated 200 million or more gallons of oil that spewed out of the blown well remains under the surface of the Gulf in plumes of tiny toxic droplets. And it’s short- and long-term effects could be profound.

BP sprayed dispersant onto the surface of the slick and into the jet of oil and gas as it erupted out of the wellhead a mile beneath the surface. As a result, less oil reached the surface and the Gulf’s fragile coastline. But more remained under the surface.

Fish, shrimp and crab larvae, which float around in the open seas, are considered the most likely to die on account of exposure to the subsea oil plumes. There are fears, for instance, that an entire year’s worth of bluefin tuna larvae may have perished.

But this latest discovery suggests that it’s not just larvae at risk from the subsurface droplets. It’s also the animals that feed on them.

"There are so many animals that eat those little larvae," said Robert J. Diaz, a marine scientist at the College of William and Mary.

Oil itself is of course toxic, especially over long exposure. But some scientists worry that the mixture of oil with dispersants will actually prove more toxic, in part because of the still not entirely understood ingredients of Corexit, and in part because of the reduction in droplet size.

"Corexit is in the water column, just as we thought, and it is entering the bodies of animals. And it’s probably having a lethal impact there," said Susan Shaw, director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute. The dispersant, she said, is like " a delivery system" for the oil.

Although a large group of marine scientists meeting in late May reached a consensus that the application of dispersants was a legitimate element of the spill response, another group, organized by Shaw, more recently concluded "that Corexit dispersants, in combination with crude oil, pose grave health risks to marine life and human health and threaten to deplete critical niches in the Gulf food web that may never recover."

One particular concern: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 11:58 am

More on GOP obstructionism

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I do hope my GOP readers will take note of this post (and chart) by Steve Benen:

Yesterday, Senate Democrats tried to win confirmation for 20 pending judicial nominees, nearly all of whom enjoyed bipartisan support at the committee level, and all of whom have run into needless Republican obstructionism. How many of the 20 were approved yesterday? None — Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) blocked all of them.

"President Obama’s nominees are moving considerably faster … than President Bush’s nominees," the right-wing Alabaman said on the floor. Senate Dems put together this fact-checking video, which makes plain that Sessions either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s deliberately trying to deceive, hoping those listening don’t know the difference between fact and fiction.

The White House has faced some criticism, much of it deserved, for not being more aggressive in sending judicial nominees for consideration. But it’s certainly not the administration’s fault that the Senate confirmation process is effectively broken, with Republicans using filibusters and holds to block votes on qualified would-be jurists.

The Center for American Progress released a report this morning, and the results are both striking and irrefutable. Even district court nominees, whose confirmations used to be routine, are being blocked in record numbers, thanks to Republican tactics that have never even been tried in the Senate.

From the report: "Such tactics are completely unprecedented, and so are their results. Fewer than 43 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have so far been confirmed, while past presidents have enjoyed confirmation rates as high as 93 percent. And President Obama’s nominees have been confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor — nearly 87 percent of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees were confirmed."

congressionalnomineesgraphs1

The report added, "It is easy to manipulate the Senate rules to create a crisis. If a minority of senators broadly object to the Senate’s entire agenda, then it is literally impossible to confirm more than a fraction of the hundreds of judges, executive branch officials, ambassadors, and other nominees that each president has a responsibility to appoint, even if the Senate shuts down all other legislative business to do so."

This political paralysis is unsustainable, and it’s going to get even worse if the Senate Republican caucus grows in the next Congress, as seems extremely likely.

It’s ridiculous to think of a judiciary filled with recess appointments, but it may come to that.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 11:51 am

The United States: The prison nation

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Despite the popularity in the US of the word "freedom," in fact the US locks up in prison a large proportion of its population: more than any other nation on earth, per capita. Take a look:

US prisoners

The graph is from an interesting article in The Economist, which begins:

THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, “they thought it hilarious.” One asked: “What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?”

Prosecutors described Mr Norris as the “kingpin” of an international smuggling ring. He was dumbfounded: his annual profits were never more than about $20,000. When prosecutors suggested that he should inform on other smugglers in return for a lighter sentence, he refused, insisting he knew nothing beyond hearsay.

He pleaded innocent. But an undercover federal agent had ordered some orchids from him, a few of which arrived without the correct papers. For this, he was charged with making a false statement to a government official, a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Since he had communicated with his suppliers, he was charged with conspiracy, which also carries a potential five-year term.

As his legal bills exploded, Mr Norris reluctantly changed his plea to guilty, though he still protests his innocence. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison. After some time, he was released while his appeal was heard, but then put back inside. His health suffered: he has Parkinson’s disease, which was not helped by the strain of imprisonment. For bringing some prescription sleeping pills into prison, he was put in solitary confinement for 71 days. The prison was so crowded, however, that even in solitary he had two room-mates.


A long love affair with lock and key

Exceptional America

Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. Since then, the voters, alarmed at a surge in violent crime, have demanded fiercer sentences. Politicians have obliged. New laws have removed from judges much of their discretion to set a sentence that takes full account of the circumstances of the offence. Since no politician wants to be tarred as soft on crime, such laws, mandating minimum sentences, are seldom softened. On the contrary, they tend to get harder…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 11:48 am

The GOP and insane resistance

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I’ve had a couple of comments from Republicans. Their comments were civil and  naturally enough supported the Republican view, but both comments showed the same problem: they were talking about the GOP of 10-20 years ago, when it was still rational.

For example, regarding the use of the filibuster, one commenter did the "both parties are guilty" trick, apparently in ignorance of the one-sided use of the filibuster:

Blog_Filibuster

That is from this post by Kevin Drum. While it is true that both parties have used the filibuster, do you notice anything unusual about the current Congress?

Another said that the problem was that Democrats rejected all ideas from the GOP and would not work together. That also shows considerable ignorance of what is happening. Healthcare reform had so many GOP ideas in it that it’s generally seen as the Mitt Romney plan—the same thing the GOP supported in Massachusetts. Indeed,take a look:

… a few of the Republican initiatives included in legislation passed by Congress:

Includes personal responsibility incentives: Allows health insurance premium to vary based on participation in proven employer wellness programs

(Sources: H.R. 3468, “Promoting Health and Preventing Chronic Disease through Prevention and Wellness Programs for Employees, Communities, and Individuals Act” (Castle bill); H.R. 4038, “Common Sense Health Care Reform & Accountability Act” (Republican Substitute bill); H.R. 3400, “Empowering Patients First Act” (Republican Study Committee bill); H.R. 3970, “Medical Rights & Reform Act” (Kirk bill), “Coverage, Prevention and Reform Act”)

Advances medical liability reform through grants to States: Provides grants to States to jump-start and evaluate promising medical liability reform ideas to put patient safety first, prevent medical errors, and reduce liability premiums.

(Sources: S. 1783, “Ten Steps to Transform Health Care in America Act” (Enzi bill); H.R. 3400, “Empowering Patients First Act” (Republican Study Committee bill); H.R. 4529, “Roadmap for America’s Future Act” (Ryan bill); S. 1099, “Patients’ Choice Act” (Burr-Coburn, Ryan-Nunes bill))

Extends dependent coverage to age 26: Gives young adults new options.

(Sources: H.R. 4038, “Common Sense Health Care Reform & Accountability Act” (Republican Substitute bill); H.R. 3970, “Medical Rights & Reform Act” (Kirk bill))

Allows automatic enrollment by employers in health insurance: Allows employee to opt-out.

(Sources: House Republican Substitute; H.R. 3400, “Empowering Patients First Act” (Republican Study Committee bill); “Coverage, Prevention, and Reform Act” )

Mechanisms to improve quality.

(Sources: H.R. 4529, “Roadmap for America’s Future Act;” S. 1099, “Patients’ Choice Act;” H.R. 3400, Republican Study Group bill; S. 1783, “Ten Steps to Transform Health Care in America Act” (Enzi bill))

Community Mental Health Centers. The President’s Proposal ensures that individuals have access to comprehensive mental health services in the community setting, but strengthens standards for facilities that seek reimbursement as community mental health centers by ensuring these facilities are providing appropriate care and not taking advantage of Medicare patients or the taxpayers.

(Source: H.R. 3970, “Medical Rights & Reform Act”)

That’s just in healthcare reform. The same thing happens in other legislation as well. Cap-and-trade, for example, was proposed by the GOP. The Dems signed on, and the GOP immediately then opposed the idea.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 11:16 am

When the police turn against citizens

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It’s always a danger sign when the police start to turn on the citizens they supposedly are protecting. Ed Brayton:

Here’s an appalling story of sheriff’s deputies in San Luis Obispo, California conspiring to fake a police report and invent a reason why they violated the 4th amendment. A man was target shooting on his own property in an unincorporated rural area and someone called 911 to report hearing shots fired. Based solely on that information, they cuffed the guy and searched his home — without anything remotely like probable cause.

They then took his keys from him to open a locked gun safe in his home, again without anything even approaching probable cause. As the deputies admire the guns they found in the safe, they were told by dispatch that the man had a clear record and that the weapons in his safe were legally registered. Having found nothing, they then had to invent a reason why they went in.

The whole thing was caught on the audio recorders the deputies were wearing — a perfect example of why every single law enforcement officer should have such recorders on them at all times when they’re on duty. There are three Youtube videos documenting all of this and they are worth watching in their entirety.

Bear in mind: The man has done nothing illegal at all. All of the weapons that they seized were legally registered. And they were executing an illegal search to even see the guns in the first place. Every one of those deputies should be fired, immediately.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

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Intriguing book:

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

by Alan Brinkley

A review by Nicholas Fraser

There are many ways of committing professional suicide, and in the 1970s mine consisted of attempting to work as a writer for an American newsmagazine. It probably didn’t help that I was British and somewhat over-sure of my abilities. But failure comes to those who seek it earnestly. I remember looking at the gray, windowless cubicle wall some floors above Madison Avenue, telling myself that here, amid the excess adjectival growths and ineptly pruned corporate prose I generated to no avail each week, I was about to be taught a lesson.

I remain grateful to the friend who took pity on me in the weeks before I was fired, suggesting I read about Henry Luce. “By the time you finish this, you’ll be begging them to let you go,” he explained, as he slid a fat volume my way, entitled Luce and His Empire. As it turned out, he was right. Most interesting was my discovery that the system of journalistic production under which I struggled had been invented in 1923. At Time (and at Newsweek, too, where I labored, though Newsweekers prided themselves, with some degree of justice, on having softened the edges of the Time mold) reporters enjoyed no freedoms. Power was exercised by a hierarchy of executives known as editors, who ruled over those known as writers.

What I had thought of as the more baroque bizarreries of Time-ese — not just the baffling neologisms and the omission of the definite article when describing anyone but also the inelegant syntactical inversions and the awkward hyphenations I strove unsuccessfully to reproduce each week (I was instructed to refer to Kissinger as “mover and shaker Henry Kissinger,” or even “swinger Henry K,” and I never quite understood the appeal of phrases such as “for lagniappe”) — came from 1920s Yale. They were an invention of Briton Hadden, a long-dead Jazz Age editor of genius, who carried around in his back pocket a well-thumbed copy of the Iliad in a Victorian translation.

Superficially, Henry Luce would appear to resemble Evelyn Waugh‘s Lord Copper, who loved to bore after-dinner audiences with his recollections and demanded unthinking loyalty from his employees. Luce suffered from a lifelong, periodically disabling stutter. He dressed badly, often sporting unmatched socks or shoes, and he became so distracted by his own monologues that he would forget he had ordered and eaten supper. In the midtown Manhattan building he had constructed for his magazines, he liked to ride alone in the elevator to his palatial office. Lonely and driven, he was an energetic traveler and a more than competent writer, even if his interest in the world was limited to a consideration of whether history was advancing his own ideas about the progress of civilization. Time men (there were few women, and until quite late in the history of Time-Life, corporate ascent was achieved by ritualized male bureaucratic horn-locking) lived in terror at the prospect of a visit from The Publisher. “Luce is a good man on the great issues. . . . But on the small issues, the personal relationships, he is a very bad man, thoughtless and arbitrary,” said one of them after traveling with him for some weeks in Europe. “He has such intellectual arrogance that he does not believe anybody can tell him anything.” Quizzed on the subject of brainpower, Luce told his wife that he was more intelligent than Albert Einstein, whom he dismissed as a specialist.

Luce’s views about journalism were simple and starkly expressed, tolerable only if one believes that ownership carries the right to be persistently, dogmatically wrong. “I don’t pretend that this is an objective magazine,” he once said of his beloved Time. “It’s an editorial magazine from the first page to the last, and whatever comes out has to reflect my view and that’s the way it is.” Luce frequently mistrusted the work of reporters, insisting that their copy be altered to suit his own, somewhat traditional, views. It was Edmund Wilson who noticed relatively early that the “considerable value” of having the news summarized each week tended to mask “the ineptitude and cynicism of the mentality” governing the reportage. In the 1960s, Fact magazine collected twenty pages of complaints from the prominent about the deficiencies of Luce journalism, listing grievances from P. G. Wodehouse (“about the most inaccurate magazine in existence”) and Marshall McLuhan (“Totalitarianism . . . rather than insight or intelligibility is the object of all of Time’s technical brilliance”).

Many tried to write for Time, giving up or, like myself, being given up. “As a slaughterhouse of moral integrity,” Murray Kempton declared, “Time is the Verdun of the young.” Writing novels about the sheer awfulness of life at Time became a rite of passage among intelligent rejects. In The Big Wheel, published in 1949, the business journalist John Brooks described the way in which everything “had to sound infallible, be the absolute and irrefutable last word, written by experts who had access to all answers.” The Time writing style had been reviled from the magazine’s beginnings. Hostility was expressed most elegantly in a profile of Luce by Wolcott Gibbs for The New Yorker in 1936, which caused a lasting rift between Luce and Harold Ross, The New Yorker‘s editor. “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind” was Gibbs’s mischievous assessment of Time-ese. To the elitists at The New Yorker, so much ingenuity devoted to vulgarization was profoundly misguided. “Where will it all end, knows God,” the piece concluded.

In books published during the 1970s, such as Luce and His Empire, by W. A. Swanberg, “Harry” (he hated to be called Henry, and it may be that his dislike of FDR arose in part from Roosevelt’s use of this name) was depicted as a near-maniacal propagandist, a twister of facts bent on the manipulation of public opinion. But Swanberg’s hatchet job sat uneasily with much evidence of the fact that so many Americans, not all of them brainwashed or deficient in intelligence, plainly enjoyed Luce’s publications. At the height of his influence, in 1942, more than a million copies of Time were read each week, and nearly four million copies of Life; 750,000 copies of Time and 650,000 of Life were sent by air to the troops and passed around until they disintegrated. Among those who wrote about Luce after his death, a degree of admiration for the scale of his achievement lingered, displacing consideration of his more obnoxious traits. In David Halberstam‘s outsize 1975 study of the impact of media on politics, The Powers That Be, Luce receives grudging praise. He might have been “one of the first true national propagandists,” but he believed in America “as an idea and an ideal.” Luce was beginning to seem a representative of a near-extinct species — the cosmopolitan WASP gentleman who set the world to rights while accumulating several fortunes.

Alan Brinkley is a professional historian who has written about Huey Long and Father Coughlin, and writing about Luce would seem a natural progression, from the badlands of Depression America to the nation’s sunny mid-century peaks. With periodic recourse to the hoard of gossip available from previous books, Brinkley re-creates Luce as an Eminent American, royally and sometimes picturesquely flawed. “Luce’s legacy is not that he changed the world,” Brinkley concludes. “His most important legacy remains his role in the creation of new forms of information and communications at a moment in history when media were rapidly expanding.”

This is a sober, incontrovertible judgment; yet it may not reflect the best spirit in which to approach the Luce phenomenon. Luce’s magazines did change the media world, and one cannot imagine modern journalism without his looming presence. But Luce isn’t easily rendered as an Eminent American. He was an original, touched with madness, in some aspects richly dislikable. Now that journalism is under economic threat, it is possible to see him as the progenitor not just of past glories but of many current failings. At the very least, it would seem too early to be fixing Luce’s reputation.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:46 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Media

The changing face of conflict, and Colombia’s success story

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Tom Ricks posts a piece by Col. Robert Killebrew (U.S. Army, ret.):

That the United States has had to painfully re-learn the lessons of counterinsurgency is by now a staple of strategic culture; the story of Gen. David Petraeus and our new counterinsurgency manual is well known even in places that wouldn’t know a guerilla from a traffic cop.

What we don’t yet fully understand is that the nature of insurgency itself is changing. In a sense, Iraq and Afghanistan are only the beginnings — call them "insurgency 101" — of a dialectical change in warfare that is locating crime, terrorism and insurgency in a shifting network of state and nonstate actors that will make fighting "insurgents," or drug cartels, or violent gangs, much harder for status quo states like the United States. In the hemispheric-wide narco-war that now covers North and South America, the Mexican drug cartels and their fellow travelers – including the Venezuelan government and their Iranian allies — the only success story so far is Colombia, and some of their lessons are worth considering.  

First, context. Colombia had had a rocky time in the 20th century with its military establishment. By the late 1970s, the military existed virtually outside the government as part of a compromise deal to keep the generals happy and the politicians away from security issues.  As a result, when the Marxist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) began to make inroads in the 1980s, military action was divorced from the political life of the country, and though the military was fighting a war against the FARC, it was losing because the fighting had no political context. So a painful lesson the Colombians had to learn was to bring the military into a political relationship with the rest of the government, and for the government — not just the generals — to take ownership of the war. 

About that time, the FARC made a huge mistake; with cash support from the Soviet Union dropping, they began to deal with the Colombian drug cartels, first as security guards and ultimately as a producer. Today, the FARC is the major producer of cocaine in the world, and ideology takes a back seat to profit. There are other lawless gangs in Colombia, but the overall general model now is not inspired leftists, but criminal insurgents. This is a big deal in terms of popular support; some Colombian citizens and even most European countries sympathized in the ‘80s with Marxist views of social justice, but there is no sympathy for drug-dealing crooks. 

Second, the people of Colombia in 2002 voted decisively against further negotiations with the FARC — who controlled vast swaths of the country — and brought in hard-line Alvaro Uribe, who ran on a platform of "no more compromises." Public support was so high that tens of thousands of Colombians elected to pay extra taxes to fund the war effort. Today the FARC is on the ropes, pressed back into safe camps in Venezuela, foreign investment in Colombia is up, the streets of Bogota are full, and confidence is in the air. How did they do it — or, more accurately, how are they doing it, since the fight isn’t over yet?

Most important, the Colombians have learned to put the fight into a political context, not the other way around. Uribe, who leaves office on August 7, has been personally involved in the fight, and he has brought — in some cases dragged — his ministers government-wide into the fight. This is a “whole of government" effort.

As part of building the political context, Uribe promised at the beginning of the war that Colombia would not sacrifice civil rights during the war. There has not been a day of martial law, one general announced with pride.  Nor has there been any effort to muzzle the free press.  The maintenance of civil rights and the integration of the police and military into the civil life of the country, so that citizens see them as protectors of their rights, versus the kidnapping, murderous FARC and drug gangs, has led to a surprising turnaround in public opinion to support the government, the military — and, to a pleasing degree, the United States, which is seen as a key ally. 

As part of building the political context, Uribe promised at the beginning of the war that Colombia would not sacrifice civil rights during the war. There has not been a day of martial law, one general announced with pride. Nor has there been any effort to muzzle the free press. The maintenance of civil rights and the integration of the police and military into the civil life of the country, so that citizens see them as protectors of their rights, versus the kidnapping, murderous FARC and drug gangs, has led to a surprising turnaround in public opinion to support the government, the military — and, to a pleasing degree, the United States, which is seen as a key ally.  

This has been a war over land. Colombia has vast tracts of sparsely settled jungles and plains, ideal for guerilla warfare, and distant rebellions were historically tolerated until the FARC and others got close enough to actually threaten the state.  So the Colombian government had to take the land — and the people — back. It wasn’t about destroying the FARC as much as pushing them out, winning back the population, keeping the guerrillas on the run, and making life so miserable that they’d quit — as the commander of the Colombian armed forces said to me recently, guerillas who are only into fighting for the money will quit more easily than ideologues.  And he emphatically said that killing the guerillas is his last choice – better that they become to harassed that they quit, come in and re-integrate into the life of the country.

So the Colombian government evolved a three-step, "whole of government" process.  First, the military pushes the FARC out of a geographical space. Close behind the troops comes the National Police, who have evolved into a quasi-paramilitary force acting under the rule of law to secure the gains the military has just made, and courts to hear complaints — and the cops and the legal system stay permanently. Third, and with the cops and judges, comes economic assistance in the form of food grants, the making of truck farms, larger grants in in-kind assistance for  economic development, electricity, email connectivity, roads, schools and all the trappings of good government.  The assistance package also includes voluntary participants from industry and Colombian universities, and the whole thing is organized by an series of informal, mostly out-of-government volunteers who are unfunded themselves – very important to avoid statist politics — but have the authority of the president himself to spend money and jaw cooperation from the rest of the ministries — with presidential wrath at foot-dragging. USAID also contributes funds but, as one authority said gently, U.S. development funds come with so many strings – competitive bidding and so forth – that they lack flexibility to be employed quickly.  The important thing is speed, he said – so that the newly-liberated inhabitants of the former FARC territory see that the government can actually help them.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The GOP view on the unemployed

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Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

This past Tuesday, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), who is also a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for governor, joined a conference call with the right-wing National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). When the subject of extending unemployment benefits arose, Wamp complained that giving people unemployment insurance was “creating a culture of dependence which we do not need.” He then said that he wants “people out there scraping and clawing and looking for work and not just sitting back waiting”:

Wamp […] said small business, the NFIB and he as governor “must resist… any more mandates to small business to help the unemployed — that we have continued to extend on a federal level, I think, unemployment compensation so long that there’s disincentives for people to actually re-enter the workforce or go out and look for a job.

“And this is creating a culture of dependence which we do not need. We want people out there scraping and clawing and looking for work and not just sitting back waiting. And so we’ve got to not allow any more mandates.”

Of course, the promise of a meager unemployment check that provides barely enough support to get by does not have Tennesseans “just sitting back waiting,” and it is offensive for Wamp to paint all the unemployed with such a broad brush. Throughout the recession, people from across the Republican congressman’s state have desperately sought work, going to any lengths to get employed again:

– Lori Hillard, an Ashland City native, was laid off a year ago from her job as an Internet program administrator. She began “stressing out and losing sleep” at the thought of losing her unemployment benefits, which were her only source of income. Yet she sends out “sends out at least 15 to 20 resumes per week,” desperately trying to find work. “I know how hard and diligent I have been in searching for a job,” she told a local paper. “The economic situation is just as bad for us. When 400 people are applying for an administrative assistant’s job, that shows how dire the situation is.”

– Kim Stokes of Hendersonville-based Stokes Production Services Inc. tells the Tennessean that she has so many applicants that she can’t even come close to hiring them all. “I have freelancers calling me constantly because they don’t have anything going on,” Stokes said. “Everywhere I look, people don’t have work — people like some of my friends who are older and have been let go. They’ve never been without work before in their lives.”

– Ellen Zinkiewicz, who is the director youth and community services at the Nashville Career Advancement Center, notes that “nearly three-quarters of teenagers who want a job haven’t been able to find one.”

– When Fontanel Mansion at White Creek Pines needed staff and held a job fair this spring, 1,200 people showed up to apply — six times what the business had capacity for.

This past April, hundreds of Tennesseans lined up outside the Lewisburg Recreational Center in Marshall County, Tennessee for a job fair to try to find work. “I’ve been everywhere looking. I’ve been to every temporary agent, trying to find a job. There’s no jobs,” Connie Rogers told a reporter at the fair. Thankfully, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus”), which Wamp opposed while hypocritically touting its benefits, helped create many of the jobs at the fair. Watch a report about the Marshall County job fair from Tennessee’s Department of Human Services:

Tennesseans who are on unemployment benefits are not “just sitting around waiting” for the next unemployment check. They are desperately seeking work so that they can make a decent living for themselves and their families. Tennessee currently has a 10.1 percent unemployment rate, and people who have no other means to get by need unemployment insurance to survive. By attacking the job-seeking unemployed of his state, Wamp is insulting those who are doing everything they can to put food on the table, while simultaneously working against them by trying to deny them unemployment benefits.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent identifies other Republicans who agree with Wamp’s perspective, calling them the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:22 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Are sociopaths and narcissists more likely to rise to the top in corporations?

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Think Cheney and Bush. Mary Catt-Cornell at Futurity:

Employees with an inflated ego may be self-aggrandizing, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed, but they may actually be good for the workplace—if anyone can stand to be around them.

Narcissists are not necessarily more creative than their peers, but they think they are, and they are adept at convincing others to share their inflated view of themselves, says Jack Goncalo, assistant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University.

Three studies led by Goncalo in 2007 and 2008 showed that narcissistic individuals asked to pitch creative ideas to a target person were judged by the targets as being more creative than others.

New research finds that narcissists are able to influence creativity in groups and in the workplace because they convey more enthusiasm, confidence, and charisma while they are selling their ideas to others.

The findings will be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“The danger is that the ideas suggested by narcissists might actually be implemented despite the fact that they are not necessarily very good,” Goncalo says.

“A constant pattern of selecting style over substance may benefit the narcissist, but can drag down the team.”

The research also shows that narcissists can contribute to a team’s creative outcomes—but not on their own.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:19 am

Interesting contrast in media attention

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Steve Benen:

If the accounts from major media outlets are any indication, the political world is awfully excited about the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). To be sure, the interest is warranted — the allegations against the former Ways and Means Committee chairman are serious; Republicans are thrilled; and the controversy has literally become front-page, above-the-fold news.

There may be some rule that I’m not aware of, prohibiting coverage of Republican scandals, but while a House Democrat’s ethics problems intensify, a sitting Republican senator is still the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which is also getting more serious.

The Senate on Thursday night quietly approved a resolution that will allow Sen. John Ensign’s aides to testify to a federal grand jury investigating the aftermath of the Nevada Republican’s extramarital affair with a former campaign aide.

By voice vote, the Senate approved the resolution that would authorize employees of the Senate to give testimony to a grand jury in Washington.

Senate aides said that the resolution was necessary because Senate rules would prohibit employees from testifying outside of the halls of Congress.

Politico added that the move, which nearly every major outlet ignored, "is the latest sign that the investigation … continues to move swiftly."

This development comes just a week after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a former Ensign housemate, announced that he’d agreed to cooperate with the federal criminal investigation surrounding the conservative Nevadan. Coburn turned over more than 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department, including emails from Ensign.

And that development came on the heels of news that Ensign’s aides have told investigators that the senator knew he was violating ethics rules on lobbying restrictions, but did it anyway.

As a rule, when a high-profile U.S. senator is facing a criminal investigation, the media shows at least some interest. When that investigation involves sex, the media tends to show quite a bit of interest.

But for reasons I still can’t explain the Republican Nevadan is getting a pass. Here we have John Ensign, a "family values" conservative Republican, who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend’s wife, while condemning others’ moral failings. Ensign’s parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress’ husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high.

And yet, there’s no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign’s home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. Instead, the media’s fascinated with Charlie Rangel.

Rangel is facing a probe from the House ethics committee, while Ensign is under scrutiny from the FBI.

Is this just the IOKIYAR rule taken to the extreme? Was there some kind of memo stating that only Democratic scandals deserve media attention in an election year?

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:15 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Media

Creed again

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Since I unquestionably had a superior lather yesterday from Creed’s Green Irish Tweed shaving soap, I thought I’d try the soap again with a brush that’s been not quite so good: the Vie-Long horsehair. Of course, this brush has been used only a few times, so it could be a matter of breaking it in.

In any event, this morning I got three very good passes of soap from the brush—no scarcity at alll on the third pass, and that’s new. I did think that the Omega synthetic-bristle brush was a tad bit better, but again: the Vie-Long brush has had few uses. On Monday, I think I’ll use the soap once more, this time with the Rooney 2.

With such a good lather, I enjoyed the shave—and the Elite Razor with the Merkur Classic head (and holding an Astra Keramik blade of a few uses) did a great job. Three passes to smoothness, and a splash of Draggon Noir to send me on my way.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2010 at 8:06 am

Posted in Shaving

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