Archive for December 30th, 2010
I’m watching Collapse. Well worth viewing: seeing so many well-known uncomfortable truths gathered together and related is eye-opening. Great for New Year’s Eve viewing since it specifically focuses on the near-term future.
James Fallows quite rightly praises this column by Garrett Epps:
If a public figure walks on water at noon, by 3 p.m. a dozen talking heads will be explaining that he can’t swim.
That’s politics. But we can hope that federal judges won’t think in sound bites.
The current lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act raise this question insistently. I return to this lawsuit in yet another column because I believe this case will dominate both constitutional law and political discourse over at least the next 12 months–and because I believe its stakes far transcend its immediate consequences, important though they will be. I think that if our federal courts are willing to sign on to the challengers’ jejune theory of this case, not only we but our children will spend years dealing the malign consequences of the mistake. Nothing less than the ability of the United States to function as a modern nation may be at stake.
(Okay, I also return because I enjoy the comments that will shortly appear below accusing me of being Kim Jong Il, but that’s a secondary reason.)
So far, in two of the pending lawsuits, opponents of the law have succeeded in spinning the judges, framing the lawsuits as posing the question whether (as Virginia argued) the federal government can "impose a penalty for what amounts to passive inactivity."
We know the talk-radio answer to this question: Tyranny! Death panels! Black helicopters! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
But the judicial answer, it seems to me, should be two-fold.
The first, and most important, answer a judge should give is, "I dunno. Find a case where the government does that and get back to me." Because that description of the Affordable Care Act is simply inaccurate.
The second answer, which a judge shouldn’t give but a Con Law jock like me can, is, "Why ever not?"
I will get to that one later; but first, let’s deal with the canard that the Act somehow "penalizes inactivity."
Here’s how Judge Henry Hudson put it in his decision in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius: . . .
Our Pilates classes are going well. The Wife wanted to know some mat exercises, so she could do those while she’s away in Paris, so our instructor particularly recommended two books:
The Everything Pilates Book: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Body Stronger, Leaner, and Healthier, by Amy Taylor Alpers, Rachel Taylor Sege, and Lorna Gentry
A Pilates Primer: The Millennium Edition, by Joseph Pilates
Obviously, nothing replaces a good instructor, who can catch and correct subtle errors of which the client is completely unaware. But in combination with an instructor, these books can be quite helpful. The first is out of print, but you can read Amazon’s reader reviews here.
For centuries, humanity has been utterly transfixed by the cosmos, with generations of astronomers, philosophers and everyday ponderers striving to better understand the grand capsule of our existence. And yet to this day, some of the most basic, fundamental qualities of the universe remain a mystery. How Large is the Universe? is a fascinating 20-minute documentary by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody exploring the universe’s immense scale of distance and time.
“Recent precision measurements gathered by the Hubble space telescope and other instruments have brought a consensus that the universe dates back 13.7 billion years. Its radius, then, is the distance a beam of light would have traveled in that time – 13.7 billion light years. That works out to about 1.3 quadrillion kilometers. In fact, it’s even bigger – much bigger. How it got so large, so fast, was until recently a deep mystery.”
For more on the subject, see these five fascinating ways to grasp the size and scale of the universe.
Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.
Walt Bogdanich and Kristina Rebelo report in the NY Times:
The initial accident report offered few details, except to say that an unidentified hospital had administered radiation overdoses to three patients during identical medical procedures.
It was not until many months later that the full import of what had happened in the hospital last year began to surface in urgent nationwide warnings, which advised doctors to be extra vigilant when using a particular device that delivers high-intensity, pinpoint radiation to vulnerable parts of the body.
Marci Faber was one of the three patients. She had gone to Evanston Hospital in Illinois seeking treatment for pain emanating from a nerve deep inside her head. Today, she is in a nursing home, nearly comatose, unable to speak, eat or walk, leaving her husband to care for their three young daughters.
Two other patients were overdosed before the hospital realized that the device, a linear accelerator, had inexplicably allowed radiation to spill outside a heavy metal cone attachment that was supposed to channel the beam to a specific spot in the brain. One month later, the same accident happened at another hospital.
The treatment Ms. Faber received, stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS, is one of the fastest-growing radiation therapies, a technological innovation designed to target tiny tumors and other anomalies affecting the brain or spinal cord, while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.
Because the radiation is so concentrated and intense, accuracy is especially important. Yet, according to records and interviews, the SRS unit at Evanston lacked certain safety features, including those that might have prevented radiation from leaking outside the cone.
The mistakes in Evanston involve linear accelerators — commonly used for standard radiation therapy — that were redesigned by the manufacturer, Varian Medical Systems, so they could also perform SRS. As the devices became more versatile and complex, problems arose when vital electronic components could not communicate with one another.
In the last five years, SRS systems made by Varian and its frequent German partner, Brainlab, have figured in scores of errors and overdoses, The New York Times has found. Some mistakes were caused by operator error. In Missouri, for example, 76 patients were overradiated because a medical physicist did not realize that the smaller radiation beam used in radiosurgery had to be calibrated differently than the larger beam used for more traditional radiation therapy.
Peter Keepnews reports in the NY Times:
Billy Taylor, a pianist and composer who was also an eloquent spokesman and advocate for jazz as well as a familiar presence for many years on television and radio, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The cause was heart failure, said his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson.
Dr. Taylor, as he preferred to be called (he earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1975), was a living refutation of the stereotype of jazz musicians as unschooled, unsophisticated and inarticulate, an image that was prevalent when he began his career in the 1940s, and that he did as much as any other musician to erase.
Dr. Taylor probably had a higher profile on television than any other jazz musician of his generation. He had a long run as a cultural correspondent on the CBS News program “Sunday Morning” and was the musical director of David Frost’s syndicated nighttime talk show from 1969 to 1972.
Well educated and well spoken, he came across, Ben Ratliff wrote in The New York Times in a review of a 1996 nightclub performance, as “a genial professor,” which he was: he taught jazz courses at Long Island University, the Manhattan School of Music and elsewhere. But he was also a compelling performer and a master of the difficult art of making jazz accessible without watering it down.
His “greatest asset,” Mr. Ratliff wrote, “is a sense of jazz as entertainment, and he’s not going to be obscure about it.”
The notion that a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act is more nuanced than you might think. Robert Schlesinger writes in US News & World Report:
You may have noticed the CNN/Opinion Research poll released earlier this week, which had this all too familiar top-line: 54 percent of voters oppose President Obama’s healthcare reform law. But drill down a bit and you’ll find another number familiar to those who have paid attention–but one generally lost amid the noise of the conservative healthcare narrative of backlash against government overreach. Only a relatively small minority of Americans dislike the new law because it’s too liberal.
"Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?"
Oppose, too liberal 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%
No opinion 7%
Or to put it another way, 56 percent of Americans either like the law or would prefer that it was more robust.
So, when you see the top-line results and see that 54% oppose the law, this is not to say that 54% have bought into the right-wing demagoguery and think Republican criticisms have merit. On the contrary, one could look at the same results and say that a 56% majority either support the law or want it to be even more ambitious in a liberal direction.
When Republicans try to gut the Affordable Care Act next year, insisting that the country is with them, it’s worth remembering a pesky detail: they’re wrong.
That said while Democrats can take comfort in poking that hole in the right-wing view of healthcare—and the fact that approval for the law has inched better overall—they should look with concern on the fact that public disapproval is growing against the individual mandate.