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Archive for November 24th, 2013

The real reason law schools are raking in cash

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Very interesting article indeed in Salon by Benjamin Winterhalter:

Since at least 1985, the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education has published annual statistics about the rates of enrollment at American law schools, the costs of attendance, and the eventual employment of law graduates. Looking at how these numbers have changed since the financial crisis of 2008, one thing is clear: Law schools are doing quite well for themselves. Tuition at private law schools has steadily increased, climbing from a mean of $34,298 in 2008 to a mean of $40,634 today – an increase that, by my calculations, outpaces inflation by about $3,000. And although enrollment has declined slightly from its all-time peak of 52,488 new students in 2010, the general trend has been unmistakably positive.

But if you sought information about how law schools weathered the financial storm in the pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or the Atlantic, I would not have faulted you for coming to the conclusion that they must be undergoing a major crisis. As these publications have tirelessly (and accurately) reported, the picture for law graduates is rather bleak. Student debt is astronomical, with some law students borrowing upwards of $200,000 to finance their educations, and employment prospects are dismal, with even well-established, “white-shoe” law firms being forced to make massive cuts and layoffs.

As a straight value proposition, it seems, it is no longer clear that going to law school makes any sense. So, law schools, one might reasonably expect, surely must be feeling the pressure. College students, one could not be blamed for thinking, surely must be considering other careers. But it has not been thus.

Why? How, in other words, can we explain the fact that young people are still going to law school in droves? How are we to make sense of the fact that so many intelligent college graduates are, to all appearances, deciding to commit financial suicide? The accounting just does not add up.

A couple of answers suggest themselves. First, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 12:57 pm

Map Shows the NSA’s Massive Worldwide Malware Operations

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From The Wire, an article by Connor Simpson:

A new map details how many companies across the world have been infected by malware by the National Security Agency’s team of hackers, and where the companies are located. [map at link – LG]

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports the NSA uses malware to infect, infiltrate and steal information from over 50,000 computer networks around the globe. This new, previously unreported scope of the NSA’s hacking operation comes from another PowerPoint slide showing a detailed map of every infection leaked

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports the NSA uses malware to infect, infiltrate and steal information from over 50,000 computer networks around the globe. This new, previously unreported scope of the NSA’s hacking operation comes from another PowerPoint slide showing a detailed map of every infection leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

The practice is called

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 12:48 pm

A heartening story for Thanksgiving

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Francis X. Clines writes in the NY Times:

CHESTER, Pa.

Twelve years ago, residents of this hardscrabble riverfront city watched its last supermarket shut down. As poverty deepened and businesses left, Chester was officially designated one of about 6,500 “food desert tracts” by the United States Department of Agriculture. This means the heavily low-income population of 35,000 lacked easy access to healthy, affordable food and people had to commute to other places to buy groceries. “I had to hire someone to drive me to markets in other towns; that’s the way I shopped,” said Sylvia Powell, a longtime resident.

That changed in late September when a full-fledged supermarket named Fare & Square opened in the very building that had housed the last profit-driven supermarket. Anyone driving down Ninth Street, a grimly tattered boom-to-bust boulevard, suddenly encounters Fare & Square gleaming and bustling like a mirage, like the supermarkets in the middle-class towns flourishing farther off in the Delaware Valley.

It was opened as a creative outpost, a “nonprofit supermarket” conceived by Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, a hunger relief organization well known to the poor and needy on the streets of Philadelphia, 15 miles northeast. Isolated and recession-battered, Chester needed “a real Phoenix story,” Mr. Clark decided — in the form of a market rooted in community pride and healthy, low-priced food.

“This is just wonderful,” Ms. Powell declared, filling her shopping cart from the store’s displays of fresh meat, produce, dairy products, fish and frozen foods. “Everything’s right here,” she said, and “the prices are right.”

Low-income shoppers can sign up for membership in the store’s Carrot Club to get store credit equal to 7 percent of what they spend, to be used for future purchases. Philabundance estimates that more than half of the population of Chester, where unemployment is about 13 percent, has already signed up in this credit system. There is a services counter for customers to learn about their eligibility and apply for federal food assistance and Social Security programs.

It took seven years of innovative labor to get the store from the drawing board to opening day. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 12:12 pm

Israel military favors Iran deal, says it will improve regional stability

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Very interesting report at ThinkProgress from Ben Armbruster:

An Israeli military intelligence assessment appears to dramatically undercut arguments by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. hawks about the danger of a proposed nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1. An Israeli military official said that based on the report’s conclusions, a deal resulting in the easing of economic sanctions on Iran could serve to boost regional security and stability.

Speaking about the contours of the report, the official also said, according to the Christian Science Monitor, that Israel’s military intelligence does not think the demand that Iran end all uranium enrichment — one promoted by Netanyahu and hawks here in the United States — is realistic:

Tehran has already become a “nuclear threshold” country, building the infrastructure, fissile material and know-how necessary to build a nuclear weapon within a relatively short time if it decided to do so, the intelligence officer said.

Iran has not made that decision yet, according to the assessment – likely because US threats of attack deterred Iranian officials, he said.

“We see a bit of a possibility, although it’s quite problematic, of more … stability,” said the Israeli military officer, adding that that stability depends on the success of the negotiations with Iran “over the nuclear project, but more than that, over the relief of the sanctions on the Iranian economy.”

Saying that Iran was one of several countries that could buck the general turmoil across the region, according to the Monitor, the official explained that a successful negotiation would shore up domestic support for new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but that without one, he “would likely see a major dip in support and possible unrest, according to the military’s calculations.”

CAP expert Matt Duss recently highlighted one aspect of this point:

[A] nuclear deal offers the best hope of improvement on human rights in the near term. A successful negotiation that eases Iran’s economic situation while also securing what Iran sees as its nuclear rights could create momentum that would help Rouhani’s administration address these broader issues. “It would give [Rouhani] and his team more bargaining power with the hard-liners,” Iranian activist Taghi Rahmani said recently. “A successful deal would definitely, positively impact social and political conditions inside of Iran.”

“The intelligence assessment is that we think Iranian regime has legitimacy problems,” the Israeli intelligence officer said. “The fact that economic numbers are not good and that there is some kind of noise among the public – at least about the economic situation – makes challenges for the regime. That’s probably why Rouhani was elected in such large numbers more than anything else.”

Members of Israeli security establishment has warned for years about the negative consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This report from Israel’s military intelligence is the latest example of the Israel security establishment pushing back against Netanyahu’s campaign to derail what he thinks is a “bad” nuclear deal with Iran.

Former Israeli intelligence chiefs have said they are keeping the door open to a possible deal, with one, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, saying it’s “reasonable” to achieve a nuclear deal that allows Iran some uranium enrichment capabilities. The former head of Israel’s domestic security service said earlier this month that the current U.S. policy on Iran “is a policy of wisdom.”

UPDATE  Editor’s note: this post has been updated for clarity. Some aspects of the Israeli military report have already been reported. The Christian Science Monitor’s story included a new analysis of the report from an unnamed Israeli official.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 10:59 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Eating less meat may deter diabetes

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Take note if you’re young and diabetes runs in your family:

Preventing diabetes could mean going meatless more often.

Scientists at the Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris have discovered that a dietary acid found in animal proteins may be associated with type 2 diabetes.

Though foods high in sugar such as candies, sodas, white breads and pastas have long been considered the primary culprit of type 2 diabetes, this pioneering study focuses on the negative effects excess meat consumption has on the body.

At the same time, eating more fruits and vegetables can help the body neutralize the acid in meat.

As study leader Dr. Francoise Clavel-Chapelon and her colleagues wrote in the journal Diabetologia:

“A diet rich in animal protein may favour net acid intake, while most fruits and vegetables form alkaline precursors that neutralise the acidity. Contrary to what is generally believed, most fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, bananas and even lemons and oranges actually reduce dietary acid load once the body has processed them.”

The study included over 66,000 women in Europe whose dietary habits were tracked for more than 14 years. During that time, nearly 1,400 of the women were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Those with diets highest in acidic foods were 56% more likely to develop the condition than those with the lowest acidity diets.

Some 25.8 million Americans live with diabetes, 7 million of whom go undiagnosed. Adults age 65 and over are particularly susceptible: 10.9 million had diabetes in 2010, and 50% are estimated to have prediabetes. The total estimated cost of diabetes in the U.S. is $245 billion.

The findings are yet another report that associates meat products with medical issues, and provide another reason for individuals to join the Meatless Monday movement. But while this and other studies help inform the current discourse, the basic guidelines for a recommended diet remain the same: vegetables, complex carbs, limited meats and fats, and regular physical activity.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

Making chess a mass-market spectator sport/game

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I sort of wish he had selected Go, but still… The story in the NY Times is by Matt Richtel:

If chess were storytelling, Andrew Paulson would be the undisputed world champion, the Bobby Fischer of raconteurs.

Not a moment of his rich life is not made richer by Mr. Paulson’s recounting, whether it be working in a science lab at Johns Hopkins University at age 11; his decision to come out at Yale, which he says inspired other gay students to do the same; the brutal murder of two colleagues in Russia who he says he suspects were KGB officers; the playwrights he has inspired; and, of course, his hard-fought business successes, as an American who became a Moscow media personality and pioneer.

Now Mr. Paulson, 55 and the former chief executive of SUP, a leading blogging platform in Russia, is turning his narrative skills to a sell that would tax the best pitchman. He wants to turn chess into the world’s next mass-market spectator sport.

The World Chess Federation, also known as FIDE, has sold worldwide licensing and marketing rights to Mr. Paulson’s company, Agon, in the hope that he will become the game’s white knight, able to monetize chess where past efforts have flopped.

Picture it as Mr. Paulson does: chess on television, or in mass-consumed digital feeds, sponsored by the world’s biggest companies, the players as sex symbols with bulging brains, a new generation of apps and hand-held gadgets that make the game easier to understand, and, of course, live commentators.

And, now, the world champion lifts his pawn — no, it’s his rook, his rook! No, he’s setting it back down….

If this sounds like a guy selling beachfront property in Nebraska, Mr. Paulson is ready to make his case.

“Do you realize there are more people in America who play chess than tennis and golf combined?” Mr. Paulson said minutes into our first conversation, in an enthusiastic burst that made it seem irrelevant whether chess is, in fact, more popular. “Who would’ve thought people would be watching golf on TV, and, yet, they are. And all of India is watching cricket on TV. The only thing more boring than cricket is golf!”

Mr. Paulson, who lives in London, has a good idea of what India is watching because he parked himself there for several months in advance of the chess world championship, which was decided on Friday in Chennai. The victor was Magnus Carlsen, a handsome and personable 22-year-old from Norway who made a Cosmopolitan magazine list of the sexiest men of 2013. To Mr. Paulson, Mr. Carlsen is “a sea change in the history of chess, who gives us the opportunity to reveal the individual of chess players rather than their introverted inscrutability.”

In the months leading up to the tournament, Mr. Paulson talked the ear off any Indian advertising buyer or media executive who would meet with him. Chess, he told them, is a chance to pair with a brand associated with strategy, intellect, creativity and winning. And, with Mr. Carlsen’s ascension, sex appeal.

The thing is, although people are listening to Mr. Paulson — and it’s hard not to — they aren’t yet doing much buying. In fact, he turned to India in part because his initial efforts in Europe to gain corporate sponsorship didn’t take. He faces many obstacles, like a governing chess body widely considered to be strange (putting it kindly), some top chess players who think that his efforts to popularize the sport are lowbrow, and the fact that he is promoting slow-motion entertainment in a world of short attention spans.

Mr. Paulson’s first big tournament, in September 2012, had to be moved at the last minute to London from Russia because of an internal dispute among chess authorities, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. His next big event, in March, was a relative hit. Mr. Paulson said that about five million people watched online, while a few hundred spectators in the London auditorium where the match was held listened to commentators and followed the play on tablets donated by Samsung.

This is what he calls “chess casting,” and it’s his big idea. It involves technology that streams multiple images, including video of the game being played, data showing in simple terms who is ahead, and another image of the game controlled by commentators who break down the action and show potential moves. He envisions providing viewers with readouts of the pulse and eye movements of the players, to show how they are digesting the board. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 8:30 am

Posted in Business, Games

Female aggression and competitiveness

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Very interesting article in the NY Times on how females carry out aggression.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 8:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Internship

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I watched The Internship last night. Interesting movie: it seems very like an informercial for Google, though it does have its moments. And man! is Vince Vaughn a big guy. Next to him, Owen Wilson looks like he’s about 5’4″. (Wilson is 5’11”, Vaughn 6’5″.)

The other thing that struck me forcibly is the binge drinking and overuse of alcohol. Are people really that much into drinking until they’re stumbling drunk? I thought that has sort of died out. That degree of hard drinking is now difficult to watch, just as seeing a table full of people who are chain-smoking would be: we know too much now about what it does.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 7:52 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Obamacare is helping

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Bias in reporting

One notes a certain amount of bias in reporting, but of course journalism tends to be focused on bad news rather than good. Still, we seem to be moving in the right direction, and the website problems will be fixed in time: it’s just software.

The above is from this report at ThinkProgress by Sy Mukherjee and Andrew Breiner:

On Wednesday, the new head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a bombshell report finding that U.S. health care spending since 2010 has increased by just 1.3 percent — the smallest cost growth over a three-year period in American history — while prices in the health care sector rose by 50-year lows, thanks in part to structural changes made by the Affordable Care Act. But most media outlets ignored that story, instead choosing to focus on ongoing glitches with the Healthcare.gov website.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, English-language online and print media published about ten times as many pieces on the troubles with the Obamacare site than they did on the new health care spending report:

[see chart above – LG]

Analysts are divided on the extent to which Obamacare has influenced the remarkable slowdown in health spending since the law was passed in 2010. Most agree that it is likely due to a combination of factors, including less health care consumption in the global financial crisis’ wake, savings from the ACA’s hospital payment reforms, increasing reliance on cheaper generic drugs, and ongoing changes in the medical industry as providers form more efficient and collaborative care models encouraged by Obamacare. It will take years before enough data is available to perform a more precise analysis of Obamacare’s effect on health spending.

Regardless, the record slowdown is one of the most important economic developments of the decade, and has huge ramifications for the fiscal viability of major programs like Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already cut its projections for Medicare and Medicaid’s price tag in 2020 by $147 billion — a 10 percent reduction from previous estimates.

That’s significant because those health entitlements are the primary driver of U.S. debt. The CBO’s dire predictions about future debt are based on the assumption that health care costs will continue spiking for the foreseeable future. But now that costs are growing more modestly, the country’s long-term budgetary outlook is improving.

Meanwhile, while Healthcare.gov’s rollout has indeed been disastrous, the site is slowly improving.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 7:45 am

Optimism on Iran

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At Informed Comment Juan Cole has an excellent summary of the Iran situation:

The decade-long Neoconservative plot to take the United States to war against Iran appears to have been foiled.

In response for a loosening of sanctions, worth some $7 billion to Iran, President Hasan Rouhani undertook to freeze enrichment activities at their present level. He also pledged to cast Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.75% for the production of medical isotopes in a form that makes it impossible to further enrich it. Nor will Iran produce more 19.5% low enriched uranium. (Uranium enriched to 95% is suitable for a bomb, and the Western diplomats figure that 19.75% is closer to 95% than is the stock of uranium enriched to 3.5% to serve as fuel for the three nuclear power plants at Bushehr. Iran also agreed to do no further work on its proposed heavy-water reactor at Arak. (Heavy-water reactors produce plutonium, with which bombs can easily be constructed).

Iran’s nuclear facilities have been being inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the inspectors have repeatedly certified that no uranium has been diverted to weapons purposes. This agreement will increase the frequency of the inspections and widen their scope somewhat.

The agreement did not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the right was implicit in the agreement (which does not forbid enrichment to 3.5% for reactor fuel) and in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a press conference on Sunday morning, Iranian president Hasan Rouhani reaffirmed that he understands the agreement to recognize Iran’s right to enrich. But he strongly reaffirmed that Iran does not want and never will want to build an atomic bomb (nuclear weapons are forbidden in Shiite law according to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwas, but it has been hard to get suspicious Westerners to take these theocratic pronouncements seriously).

The agreement is actually an agreement to negotiate, and the hard bargaining is yet to come. The terms agreed upon are more confidence-building measures than anything else.

In 2003, the Neocon chickenhawks, most of whom had never worn a uniform or had a parent who did, joked that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran.” When people have to talk about being “real men,” it is a pretty good sign that they are 98-pound weaklings.

The “everyone” who wanted to go to Baghdad was actually just the Neocons and their fellow travelers. Most of the latter were hoodwinked by the Neocon/Cheney misinformation campaign blaming Saddam Hussein of Iraq for 9/11. A majority of Democratic representatives in the lower house of Congress voted against the idea of going to war. The Iraq War, trumped up on false pretenses and mainly to protect the militant right wing in Israel from having a credible military rival in the region and to put Iraqi petroleum on the market to weaken Saudi Arabia, cost the United States nearly 5000 troops, hundreds more Veterans working as contractors, and probably $3 or $4 trillion– money we do not have since our economy has collapsed and hasn’t recovered except for wealthy stockholders. Perhaps George W. Bush could paint for us some dollars so that we can remember what they used to look like when we had them in our pockets instead of his billionaire friends (many of them war profiteers) having them in theirs.

Binyamin Netanyahu was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. He is now deeply wounded that the US is making peace with Iran. He seems to see the US as his personal doberman pinscher, which he is used to siccing on his rivals in the region whenever they complain about his aggressive land thefts.

The irony is that in early 2003, the reformist Iranian government of then-President Mohammad Khatami had sent over to the US a wide-ranging proposal for peace. After all, Baathist Iraq was Iran’s deadliest enemy. It had invaded Iran in 1980 and fought an 8-year aggressive war in hopes of taking Iranian territory and stealing its oil resources. Now the US was about to overthrow Iran’s nemesis. Wouldn’t it make sense for Washington and Tehran to ally? Khatami put everything on the table, even an end to hostilities with Israel.

The Neoconservatives threw the Iranian proposal in the trash heap and mobilized to make sure there was no rapprochement with Iran. David Frum, Bush’s speech-writer, consulted with eminence grise Richard Perle (then on a Pentagon oversight board) and Irv Lewis “Scooter” Libby (vice presidential felon Richard Bruce Cheney’s chief of staff), and they had already inserted into Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech the phrase the “axis of evil,” grouping Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Iran had had sympathy demonstrations for the US after 9/11, and, being a Shiite power, feared and hated al-Qaeda (Sunni extremists) as much as Washington did. But the Neoconservatives did not want a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda or against Saddam Hussein. Being diplomatic serial killers, they saw Iran rather as their next victim.

All through the Cheney-Bush administration, repeated leaks from the Pentagon to Sy Hersh and other investigative journalists warned that machinations were afoot to draw the US into a war against Iran, as an outgrowth of the illegal and aggressive attack on and occupation of Iraq. The Neocons plotted against the lives of our children until their last day in office, in January of 2009.

After seeing what Bush did to Iraq, Tehran ramped up its nuclear enrichment program, in hopes of making the point that if the US looked like it might try to invade (which it often looked like), Iran might go for broke and come up with a small nuclear device. In 2003 when Khatami made the peace proposal, Iran had just declared a small set of nuclear experiments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2013 at 7:06 am

Posted in Iran

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