Wednesday, September 30, 2009
"...the things that have never made sense, ever, about this family in which everything could allegedly be resolved in 30 minutes. I will now catalog for you a few of what I consider the more perplexing mysteries.
1. Why doesn't Alice know anyone other than her boyfriend and the people she works for? Was she hatched from a giant egg?...
5. How big of a dweeb do you have to be to get hold of a movie camera and decide to enlist your family in a dramatization of the first Thanksgiving? And Greg was the cool one?...
8. Were there still crazy prospectors wandering around ghost towns in 1971?...
10. How old were you before you had any idea that the "pork chops and apple-shawss" thing was supposed to be Peter's impression of Humphrey Bogart? I think I respected him more when I thought he was just being strange.
11. Why is it that every time anything good happens to any of these kids (Peter saves someone's life, Marcia is cast as Juliet), they immediately become unmanageable, egocentric jerks? I sentence them to a lot of time locked in the garage listening to Greg's "music."...
15. As nice as Vincent Price may turn out to be, if I find out that someone has kept three of my children imprisoned in a cave for any period of time, I am going to involve the authorities, even if the attendant paperwork means I miss the luau..."
1) Deter the Iranians from "joint" maneuvers with their Shia brethren in southern Iraq
2) Deter the Sunnis and Shia from getting too aggressive with our Kurdish allies
3) Make sure we retain a disproportionate amount of influence on several billion bbls. of petroleum products
The other thing that struck me in this article were the "contractor" numbers. There are more "contractors" than U.S. troops. Many of these are not U.S. citizens and their functions vary from slinging hash to maintenance to guard duty. But the numbers speak to how modern military ops have evolved. For better or worse we have farmed out many functions. When folks compare the troop numbers of today to yesteryear it is really an apple and orange comparison. If one combines the "contractors", U.S. troops and (albeit meager) coalition troop numbers, at its peak there were roughly 400,000 "troops" in Iraq.
"The United States will withdraw about 4,000 troops from Iraq by the end of October, the U.S. military commander in Iraq said in testimony prepared for a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
In his assessment of the war, General Ray Odierno will tell the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that the United States is on track to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by September 2010.
"We have approximately 124,000 troops and 11 Combat Teams operating in Iraq today. By the end of October, I believe we will be down to 120,000 troops in Iraq," Odierno said in an advance copy of the testimony obtained on Tuesday.
...Odierno said the number of U.S. contractors in Iraq has dropped from 149,000 in January to just over 115,000, saving over $441 million...
President Barack Obama's withdrawal timetable calls for the U.S. combat mission in Iraq to end on August 31, 2010. However, a force of 30,000 to 50,000 troops will remain to train and equip Iraqi forces and proprotect provincial reconstruction teams, international projects and diplomatic staff..."
(click to enlarge)
From the Big Picture blog:
" quoting WSJ-'The artwork is a critique of the global financial crisis, with the bull representing Wall Street and the man pinned to the wall representing Bernard Madoff.'
Three odd things about this Chinese sculpture: 1) It appears that Madoff has horns (wonder what THAT means) and 2) The bull appears to be badly flatulent.
Worst of all, it somehow implies that it was Wall Street captured or uncovered Madoff’s crimes — when in fact it was the Bear market that revealed his sins."
TW: Some Chinese culture I like.
TW: I know last week I criticized a snarky health care piece but this one struck me as more effective. The graph frames the real issue. Health care costs are going up for everyone and notice the costs of the monthly premiums paid by employees are going up the fastest. In fact faster than the employee costs, which means the employers are shifting ever so slowly health care costs onto employees. The pain may be muted now but due to the power of compounding these costs are eating an ever greater share of your paychecks.
I can see how tea happened – dried tea leaves will add both flavor and color to cold water if left in long enough. That’s an easy accident waiting to happen, the next step of heating the water and varying the drying time of the leaves is merely fiddling with the process.
But you can throw coffee beans into a bucket of water and get nothing but water with some beans in it no matter how long you leave it. Boil whole beans in water for 30 minutes and you end up with boiling water and hot coffee beans. Keep boiling and you’ll end up with just hot beans. What made the first person think to grind up the beans before adding hot water? And don’t forget roasting – the raw bean is not going to make something that you want to drink more than once.
Regardless of how they got there, I’m glad that the original brewers carried on because a good cup of coffee is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures.
Making coffee is pretty easy, making good coffee takes some effort. First, you have to grind your own beans. Second, you have to use a coffee-maker that brings water at the right temperature into contact with the grind for just the right amount of time. Too little and you have dirty water, too much and you have cooked coffee. The coffee machines at the local Starbucks or Caribou do it right but what about at home?
Behold the Saeco Magic Comfort +
I don’t know what the Comfort + is all about but I do know that this thing is magic. Fill the water reservoir, load your coffee beans and press a button - 30 seconds later, you have a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. Expensive? Perhaps, but ours paid for itself the first year when Mr. Blogger gave up his daily Venti.
Btw, it seems that the first cup of tea actually was an accident while the brewing of coffee was a process that came about after humans were already eating the bean, having noticed its ‘energy boosting’ properties.
Cook believes eliminating the scourge of gerrymandering would help. I am skeptical that it would transform the now hardening partisan divides but it would not hurt. Gerrymandering is now a science (employed by both sides) that ghettoizes minorities of all types race, income, ideology.
From Charlie Cook at National Journal:
"...Neither party is solely to blame for the loss of this lubricating agent, which helped the legislative machinery function. Every time Democrats picked off a liberal or moderate Republican lawmaker in the Northeast or Midwest, every time Republicans picked off a conservative or moderate Democrat in the South or some rural district in the Midwest, and every time members of Congress unwilling to march in lockstep with their party finally opted just to retire, the change chipped away at bipartisanship
...When I first came to Washington in September 1972, Congress abounded with conservative and moderate Democrats, as well as liberal and moderate Republicans. These lawmakers provided the ballast that prevented their parties from going to extremes
...Talking with a conservative House Democrat from the South recently, I commented that it must be horrible to go home and get beaten about the head and shoulders by angry constituents. He added, "And then come back here and get beaten up in my own caucus." His remark reminded me of hearing a moderate Republican senator talk last year of being somewhat ostracized at a Tuesday Conference lunch after breaking ranks on a vote.
Some analysts have long embraced campaign finance reform as the cure-all for so many of our nation's political ills. But an equal or better case could be made for redistricting reform, for removing partisan politics from the drawing of congressional district lines -- as Iowa has done. That transformation wouldn't solve every problem, but a process that resulted in more lawmakers being attuned to swing voters would temper both parties in the House.
Redistricting reform might well have an indirect impact on the Senate, where much of the enmity is the result of extremely partisan House members becoming senators and bringing their hard-edged, take-no-prisoners behavior with them.
The statistics are clear: There is more straight-ticket voting now than in the past. Few voters seem to value electing a candidate with the willingness and temperament to reach across the aisle..."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
"WADING through the welter of political analysis around Germany's elections, a thought came to me as I was reading Der Spiegel's take on the unexpectedly strong showing by the Pirate Party, an activist group campaigning for looser online copyright laws and freedom of speech on the internet.
I have a hunch that a good chunk of the Pirate Party's relative success (it picked up about 13% of young, first time male voters, according to first estimates, and about 2% nationwide) comes from its inspired name (borrowed from the Pirate Party in Sweden, which sent its first MEP to the European Parliament this year).
Would either party have attracted quite so much media attention, let along voter support, if it had been called the Campaign for Copyright Reform, or the Free Internet Alliance? If you doubt me, just check out Spiegel's photo-gallery of happy young male supporters in eye-patches, tricorn hats and the rest.
This is not to carp. These parties clearly have tapped into a seam of political opinion. But they are also a brilliant piece of branding."
TW: I can see Glenn Beck at the head of the American version soon enough...
(click on image to enlarge)
TW: This graph frames the relative size of various sources of debt for the U.S. Two things should pop out. "Government" including state, federal and gov't agency debts in sum are smaller than private debts. While federal debt is rising rapidly the other two government debts are not. Concurrently with private debt plummeting total debt growth is slowing quickly. Without federal debt growth (e.g. income stabilizers like unemployment insurance, social security/medicare payments, stimulus etc.) debt would have turned negative. With negative debt growth amidst a demand contraction a depression would almost certainly occur. Food for thought for those "demanding" Hooverian spending policies.
Furthermore, there are additional negative externalities beyond the carbon emissions (e.g. imported oil subsidizing unfriendly regimes and our costs of protecting overseas oil sources etc.)
From Paul Krugman at NYT:
"...Basic economics says that if we want to discourage a negative externality, like pollution, we need to put a price on that externality. One way is through an emissions tax; an alternative, with very similar economic results, is a system of tradable permits. All this goes back to Pigou; Greg Mankiw has urged economists to join his Pigou Club of those who support externality taxes.
Now, a key point in all this is that the emissions tax...does not represent a net loss to society. It’s just a transfer from one set of people to another — from the emitters, and ultimately those who buy their products, to whoever collects the taxes or gets the permits, and ultimately whoever benefits from the revenue or rents thus generated. The only net loss is the Harberger triangle created by the reduction in emissions — which has to be set against the benefits of reduced pollution.
And the burden on households from cap and trade depends on what’s done with the rents (taxes). In the original Obama plan, the rents would be used to pay for middle-class tax cuts; in Waxman-Markey, many of the permits are initially granted to utilities — but since these utilities’ profits are regulated, many of the rents would end up being passed on to consumers through lower prices...
From Greg Mankiw (referring to Krugman's post above relative to utilities getting the permits for free initially) :
"...that is a bug, not a feature, of the Waxman-Markey bill. From the standpoint of economic efficiency, the price of carbon emissions should be passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy prices, so that consumers can make optimal decisions regarding energy consumption. Consumers should be compensated for paying these higher prices via cuts in income or payroll taxes. Those tax cuts would be financed by the revenues received from the auctioning of carbon rights (or, better yet, a carbon tax)."
TW: I agree with Mankiw the permits should not be given away initially but that appears to be a requisite in order to the get bill passed. The permits would eventually be auctioned creating the tax revenue and associated cost to consumers. Again the taxes would be "rebated" back to society in the potential forms mentioned above.
I started out drawing robotic (and sometimes not robotic) creatures on my wife and kids’ lunch bags every day during a stint of freelancing from home. I called these “Lunchbots”. The blog I created to share my art is titled Disposable Drawings because all of my art plays with the idea of impermanence.Partybot
Picklebot and Squirrel
Angeldemon and Monkeybot
Video that Emerson created about ½ way through the lunchbot series – set to the song Robots by Flight of the Conchords (which, btw, is a very funny series on HBO)
via Gawker Artists
From David Frum at the New Majority blog:
"...Beck is very different even from Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. I’ve crossed swords with these other broadcasters for other reasons. I believe that their rage and extremism repel more supporters than they attract. But at least these broadcasters do know a lot about politics and hold considered and coherent worldviews. Beck, by contrast, is a random walk, capable of reaching any outcome...
You challenge me to notice that the “embarrassments to our cause – the shrill, the enraged and the paranoid – who in your mind – seem to be Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck” are also our “most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives.”
I challenge you to notice that all three of these people repel and offend many millions more Americans than they inspire and attract.
Look at the impact of this kind of politics on the three points I itemize above.
(1) If we accept that conservatism will remain a politics that is unacceptable to the young, the urban, and the educated, we will have great difficulty raising the resources and finding the volunteers to fight a recount battle on anything like equal terms. Jon Stewart’s audience will sleep on the floor, five to a room, through an Iowa winter. The Fox audience won’t and can’t.
(2) We lost in 2008 in large part because we had not governed successfully over the previous eight years. More than political tactics, more even than media, what matters in politics is results. If national incomes had grown by 1% a year under George Bush instead of stagnating, Al Franken would have lost in a landslide. Populists like Sarah Palin may excite a TV audience, but they cannot govern. They don’t like it and are not good at it. (That’s why Sarah Palin did not even complete one term in office, let alone run for a second.) Limbaugh and Beck style politics can gain ratings. It will not win re-elections...
I speak out against people like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck because in my estimation they do enormous harm to the causes in which I believe. In my view, the talk-and-Fox complex marginalizes Republicans – and backs us into demagogic and unsustainable political positions.
David, do you really want to abolish the Federal Reserve? Do you think the United States should have allowed Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks to follow Lehman into bankruptcy in October 2008? Do you think that any cuts to Medicare amount to a death panel for grandma? Do you think we can sustain an adequate military – never mind finance future tax reductions – if we allow healthcare to continue rising from its current 16% of GDP to a projected 20% of GDP a decade from now if nothing changes?
I can’t believe you do. And if you don’t believe these things, is it not dangerous to have talk-and Fox whipping a couple of million conservatives into frenzy over things that are not true?
... I believe that their ratings and advertising imperatives are pushing them in a direction fundamentally antithetical to the electoral and governance imperatives of the GOP and the conservative movement..."
Monday, September 28, 2009
TW: Make no mistake we ration health care already and will continue to do so. It is not a matter of if but how. And recall those over 65 yrs old have universal coverage, the poor have Medicaid, the wealthy have coverage of some sort. Those in the graph are either not poor, not older or not wealthy.
From Jamie McIntyre at Line of Departure Blog:
"If you are wondering why the Obama administration is suddenly having serious second thoughts about poring more troops into Afghanistan, here’s the short version. A lot has changed in the past few months. Here are the big three:
1. The Flawed Afghan Election
Instead of the recent elections conferring legitimacy on the government of Hamid Karzai, the widespread fraud has undermined confidence in the central government, in a country by the way, that has never really had any functioning central government. So instead of supporting a popularly-elected regime, the U.S. is seen even more as the outside occupying force that has installed a puppet president. No matter the reality, the perception is very problematic.
[TW: the notion that we were going to impose democracy in Afghanistan was fanciful and worse destructive to our pursuit of bringing stability to the region. That Karzai committed fraud is not the big problem, the big problem is the lack of viable, coherent, strong central leadership in Afghanistan other than perhaps the Taliban]
2. The More Effective, Resurgent Taliban
The Taliban has been on the rebound for years, but in the just last few months it’s shown an amazing ability to plan and execute increasingly sophisticated attacks. It is well-funded, and has installed a shadow government in may provinces that has been able to intimidate or in some cases win over the civilian population. My Pentagon sources say the shadow government even has a system of “ombudsmen” to whom average Afghans can lodge complaints if they feel mistreated. If a Taliban leader is judged guilty of abuse, he is punished. The power and influence of the Talban has grown dramatically, just since Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over.
[TW: Over and over both in the Middle East and elsewhere (e.g. Vietnam) we wonder why the other side can bring more stability than we can. We always underestimate nationalism and we get twisted up trying to impose stability whilst reconciling back to our values. Furthermore, despite any public comments to the contrary our ostensible allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are on various levels funding and supporting the Taliban combined with drug related funding the Taliban are well supplied].
3. The Sobering McChrystal Assessment
President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates dispatched Gen. McChrystal to Afghanistan because, as an expert in counterinsurgency, they thought him best equipped to figure out how to turn things around. They asked McChrystal what needed to done, and what he needs to do it. And they got clear-eyed assessment of how bad things are how long it will take to turn the tide. Now Mssrs. Obama and Gates are asking the key question: what will this massive and potentially long-term investment achieve? If the goal is keeping al Qaeda on the defensive, and preventing a safe haven for terrorists, is building Afghanistan into a nation really the way to achieve that.
These are not easy questions. Gates was at the CIA, and helped funnel money to the Mujahedeen fighters to defeated the Soviet army. He’s well aware of how a well-funded insurgency can defeat a superpower, especially if it is seen as an occupying force. And despite the best efforts of the brightest military minds, increasingly, that’s how U.S. and NATO forces are seen.
No significant new troops will be coming from NATO countries who already feel hoodwinked into a bloody protracted war under the false pretense that they would be peacekeepers in war that was already won, and in the mopping-up stage. That was another eye-opening aspect of McChrystal unvarnished report. NATO, despite the valiant efforts of a few countries, such as Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, has been an abject failure in adapting to counterinsurgency tactics.
The feeling at the Pentagon is “all in or all out.” Both courses have real, significant risks for the future security of the United States. But the president also knows other commanders-in-chief have blindly followed the advice of top military commanders with disastrous results.
I don’t envy the president on this one. I hope he makes the right call. (I wish I knew what that was.) But we may never know. Or if we do find out, it could well be too late."
" 'I am shocked! Shocked to find out there's gambling going on in this institution!'
--'Colonel, your enriched uranium.'
'Ah yes. Round up the usual suspects!'
Bet on Iran having already set up the sites where they'll continue enrichment AFTER Israel bombs them."
TW: Iran is pursuing nukes. We know this and have known this for a long time. It is logical for them to do so. One can think of many reasons why WE would not want them to have them but not so many as to why THEY would not want them. Their nuke program is not an Ahmedinejad initiative it is a national Iranian goal with widespread public support. I am highly skeptical that the international community will support sufficiently robust sanctions to deter the Iranians. I am also highly skeptical that the U.S. and other nations will use military force to stop the Iranians. Furthermore, I believe use of force would be ineffective in stopping their drive towards nukes unless applied in an overwhelming fashion of the sort likely not feasible (i.e. surgical air strikes would not get it done, casualties on both sides would be high).
The right-wing in the U.S. will use this likely evolution to claim Obama and the Dems are weak. There is a big difference between weak and simple-minded. The price we would rationally pay to prevent their acquisition of nukes is lower than the price they would rationally pay to obtain them. And if the world can live with Pakistani nukes, we can live with Iranian nukes.
"Victor David Hanson has produced a predictably unhinged rant in response to the revelation that Iran has a nuclear-enrichment plant that it has been keeping secret...
But ignoring Mr Hanson's many faulty arguments, his frustration is justified. As an anonymous administration official says in the Times, "They have cheated three times...So what now? Well, I think Mr Hanson gets this part right when he says that "there is nothing the international community can or will do about Iran's road to a small arsenal of nukes." Sanctions will be mulled and then, possibly, passed. Iran may even agree to stricter inspections. But we've been there before, and now we're here.
What other options do we have? A bombing campaign (whether carried out by America or Israel) might set back Iran's programme, but only briefly, and even then it might speed it up. A change in government may not produce the wanted results—even Mir Hossein Mousavi wasn't willing to give up Iran's nuclear programme. Short of invading and occupying the country (a terrible option and an impossibility with America's military currently overstretched), the one thing the West can do is make the journey to nuclear-bomb capacity as painful as possible for Iran...But ultimately it will be Iran's decision whether to take the final steps on that journey, and the West's capacity to stop it is rather limited. So forgive Mr Hanson for lashing out. That's what one does in a helpless situation."
From Ezra Klein at WaPo:
"...The House bill also assumes an investment in community health centers, which furnish comprehensive primary health care access to millions of residents of medically underserved communities. This investment turns out to have an important impact on costs, even as it expands access. A recently completed GW study that considered the economic effects of this investment found that the $38.8 billion expenditure assumed in the House bill would result in overall health care savings of $212 billion over the 2010 to 2019 time period, including federal Medicaid savings of $59 billion.
The dollar value of these expected savings would significantly exceed the cost of the investment. Savings are the result of the highly efficient way in which health centers operate, as well as their documented impact on reducing avoidable hospital and emergency department use. Were the reach of health centers to be further extended by assuring that exchange health plans pay health centers at the special Medicaid rate, Medicaid savings would climb to $70 billion as health centers' reach grows. This is a case in which doing good for medically underserved communities also turns out to be the smart investment."
--Sara Rosenbaum is chairman of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University
"A blue-ribbon panel said...that a lack of financing has left NASA’s current space program on an “unsustainable trajectory...
With growing federal deficits and bruising battles over health care, it is unclear how much political capital Mr. Obama might spend on expanding the budget for the space agency...
NASA, under its Constellation program, is developing a new rocket called Ares I and a new astronaut capsule called Orion, and the system is to begin carrying astronauts to the International Space Station in March 2015. After that, development of a larger rocket, the Ares V, and a lunar lander was to lead to a return to the moon by 2020.
The panel said that those plans were “reasonable” when they were announced in 2005, but that largely because NASA never received the expected financing, the first manned flight of Ares I would probably be delayed until 2017, and the International Space Station is to be discarded by 2016 under current plans. And the projected financing for NASA would not allow enough money for development of Ares V and the Altair lunar lander.
The panel in fact could find no program that “permits human exploration to continue in any meaningful way” within the $100 billion for human spaceflight over the next decade.
For $30 billion more, the current Constellation program is feasible, but would still not reach the moon until 2025, the panel said.
The panel asserted that it would be “unwise” to throw away the space station in 2015 after only five years of full operation, but that operating the space station would draw away money from the rest of the program.
...Beyond the question of rockets is one of destination. The ultimate goal is Mars, but that is currently not practical, the panel said."
Sunday, September 27, 2009
As you likely know, we have huge nat gas reserves domestically, readily accessible, not offshore or in pristine forests etc. Furthermore, were cities to build out a cng infrastructure the notion of a national network would become more viable as well.
From Robert Rapier's blog:
Quoting Dow Jones-
'Beer distributors are among a growing vanguard of private trucking fleets encouraged by cheap natural gas and new government funding to adopt compressed natural gas, known as CNG, as a cleaner alternative to diesel.'
I [Rapier] think it makes a lot of sense for fleet vehicles to migrate to compressed natural gas (CNG). Natural gas is historically a lot cheaper fuel than liquid fuels such as diesel or gasoline. A quick check of prices today shows natural gas for October delivery at $3.78 per million BTUs (MMBTU). By contrast, gasoline is currently trading at $1.62/gallon (spot market, no taxes included) which works out to be $14 per MMBTU...But more importantly than where prices are today is where prices are going. Natural gas will have a lot of resistance trying to sustainbly break through the $7-$8/MMBTU range because shale gas starts to become economical in that range - and we have a lot of shale gas resources. So if you are planning for the future, the odds are with you over the next few years if you are betting on moderate natural gas prices. Oil prices, on the other hand, are far more uncertain in my opinion.The caveat of course is that the conversion can be quite
Paying for CNG conversions is still a problem. Federal funds are available to cover up to $32,000, or roughly two-thirds, of the additional costs associated with purchasing a CNG truck as opposed to a diesel one.A company that gets the full $32,000 in federal funds should be able to make back its investment in less than three years, according to Natural Gas Vehicles for America.
Lawmakers in Congress are trying to shorten the time it takes to recoup costs on a CNG vehicle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is among legislators backing a bill, dubbed the NAT GAS Act, that would cover 80% of the incremental cost of a natural gas vehicle and give a $100,000 property tax credit to any company that builds a CNG fueling station.
...fleet conversions are one more way to reduce our dependence on imported petroleum.."
English speakers due to the ubiquity of English can easily get by without learning other languages hence learning them becomes an extravagance rather than a valuable career enhancer. This dynamic may seem arrogant but it is real. It does not, however, mean those English speakers who forgo learning other languages are not missing out. It does not mean English only speakers are not missing out some career ops but it does mean on average they are missing out on few than non-English speakers.
"...the grim statistic about language learning in...Britain, where more than half of all schoolchildren in upper secondary education (51.4%) learn no foreign languages at all.
...Europe is becoming bilingual, except for Britons, who are becoming monolingual.
There is a logic behind this turning away from languages. I wrote a column in February about language, which made the point that as more and more Europeans speak good English, the benefits to a Briton of learning European languages are reduced and the costs increase. The benefits are reduced because a smaller and smaller group of people can be reached only by speaking their language. The costs rise because Britons have to learn to speak foreign languages really well, to avoid inflicting halting French, say, on a room full of fluent English-speakers.
...But Britain's unique (in the EU) refusal to study other people's languages still worries me. Learning a foreign language teaches you humility, empathy and respect for others. In Europe, it teaches you the ancient links that unite our squabbling continent...
My language teachers at school were amongst my favourites. The teacher who influenced me more than any other in my school career taught me Spanish. He told us about his student days in Franco's Spain (he recalled the little vests painted on pictures of boxers in the newspapers, to avoid the shocking sight of nipples), taught us about the civil war...the role of the Catholic church, the Moorish occupation and the savagery of honour killings (in the 17th century). You don't get that in business studies GCSE. He died far too young: here's to you Gerry Ashton, and to learning languages."
Looks like they were on Montgomery St. below Broadway. If you’re not familiar with San Francisco – check out the downhill on this stretch of the ride:
Those skaters have some skills.
Sorry for the poor quality – the photo is off Google Maps
Saturday, September 26, 2009
From Andrew Sullivan's blog:
"I'm an American who has also decided to leave the US ...my European wife has a chronic disease that worsened soon after we moved to the U.S. two years ago. I have insurance, but with a sick wife and two children, our bills are quite high. Worse, should I ever change jobs, or get fired, I have no doubt our insurer would drop us, or at least dramatically increase our premiums.
I'm a senior exec in a software company. I've always wanted to run my own company, and I have an idea that I think will work.
But we'll move back to Europe before I take that risk. In the U.S., I just cannot be without healthcare for any length of time. I wonder how many other potential entrepreneurs are discouraged from striking out on their own for this very reason?"
From Ezra Klein at WaPo:
MIT economist Jon Gruber has looked into this, and the effect is quite significant:
'Over the past fifteen years, dozens of studies have documented the detrimental impact that job lock has on the economy. These studies typically compare the mobility of workers who are at firms with insurance but do not have an alternative source of coverage (such as spousal insurance or COBRA continuation coverage) to those who do have an alternative source of coverage should they leave the firm. The studies find that mobility is much higher when workers do not have to fear losing coverage; job-to-job mobility is estimated to increase by as much as 25 percent when alternative group coverage is available…'
...the most convincing research, by Alison Wellington, mirrors the findings of other job mobility studies: Americans who have an alternative source of health insurance, such as a spouse’s coverage, are much more likely to be self-employed than those who don’t. Wellington estimates that universal health care would therefore likely increase the share of workers who are self-employed (currently about 10 percent of the workforce) by another 2 percent or more. A system that provides universal access to health insurance coverage, then, is far more likely to promote entrepreneurship than one in which would-be innovators remain tied to corporate cubicles for fear of losing their family’s access to affordable health care. Indeed, even the Galtians among us should be celebrating the expanded potential for individual enterprise once the chains tying them to a job that provides insurance have been broken..."
From Columbia Journalism Review:
"...Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.
This is not a new development, of course. It’s been unfolding since 1986, when billionaire Laurence Tisch bought CBS and eviscerated its news division in order to boost profits...But the issue seems worth revisiting in light of the recent naming of Diane Sawyer to replace Charlie Gibson as the anchor of ABC’s World News. We don’t yet know how much Sawyer is going to be paid, but it will no doubt surpass Gibson’s current estimated salary of $8 million. Sawyer will thus be perpetuating the corrosive, top-heavy system of the network news..."
Big News - Chicago Hot Dog Favorite Bests NYC Hot Dog Upstart!!
It was a dog fight.Take that New York! Plus, our wiener mascot is so much better than yours:
In one corner was Chicago's venerable Superdawg, the 60-year-old wiener stand at Devon and Milwaukee on the Northwest Side.
In the other corner was Superdog, a New York eatery that opened this year.
And after months of legal scrapping, the Chicago restaurant came out top dog. On Sept. 10, a federal judge here signed an order requiring Superdog to change its name to Super Hot Dog, resolving a trademark infringement lawsuit that Superdawg brought in June.
~ Chicago Sun Times
Friday, September 25, 2009
Light green, brown and white areas are Uzbeks and Tajiks (generally anti-Taliban)
Yellowish area Shia Hazara (supported by Iran and generally anti-Taliban)
Gray area encompassing Herat/Kandahar/Kabul are Pashtuns (not exclusiviely sympathetic to Taliban but their ethnic base nevertheless)
TW: There are currently about 28MM Afghans. Their population growth rate is one of the world's highest by 2050 the population may approach 70MM.
Afgahnistan is an ethnic potpourri. The Taliban are, however, predominantly Pashtuns (understanding there are numerous tribes amongst the Pashtuns). The Taliban achieved power pre-9/11 through the use of the Pashtun brethren from Pakistan. There was a brutal civil war within Afghanistan pitting the northern Uzbeks/Tajiks/Hazara against the Pashtuns albeit with a significant amount of double-crossing based upon payoffs and bribery.
The notion that geography can be hived off based on ethnicity is attractive although dubious:
From Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:
"In the closing talk of the COIN conference, Gen. David Petraeus [US Centcom commander] said that 70 percent of the violence in Afghanistan is in just 10 percent of the country's districts. (Meaning that a troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign might not need as many troops as you might think.)
I guess he missed the opening talk by former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen, author of the terrific study Supreme Command, about civilian leadership in war. One metric that drives him batty, he said, is when officials say, "Well, 75% of the violence occurs in 10 percent of the country," an approach Cohen said he finds, "profoundly misleading." First, he said, if we aren't there, we don't know how much violence is occurring. Second, he said, the place might be "completely quiet" because the Taliban have already won in that area..."
" '...Medicare has to lead the way in moving away from a system that rewards low value, high cost services and undercompensates for time spent with patients to help manage or even prevent illness. Provisions in the Finance bill encourage innovation -- not just by creating a Center for that purpose -- but by empowering it to broadly experiment with new payment mechanisms, requiring their evaluation, and authorizing their broader implementation.
But equally important...are the provisions in both the House and Senate bills to authorize changes in the existing payment system to re-price services that are just plain over-priced. Until we stop paying too much for the wrong kind of service, we won't get providers to deliver the right kind of service. Getting the current payments right, then, is as important to change as putting new kinds of payments in place...'
--Judy Feder is...dean of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and a health-care policy expert at the Center for American Progress.
'Successful cost control requires two strategies: (1) aggressive government bargaining to constrain prices and utilization, and (2) the development of new care models that provide more efficient care. For now, the first strategy seems out of reach. Democrats choose to blame insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies. In truth, the opposition is broader.
I am becoming more optimistic about the second strategy. I don’t know whether accountable care organizations or primary care medical homes really save money...
I’m also struck that these efforts enjoy wide support among partisans who normally disagree. As a partisan myself, I have no trouble identifying friends and enemies in the fight over universal coverage. When I ponder delivery reform, I find the white hats and black hats more difficult to place. However liberal and conservative experts might disagree over the public option, both want to shift resources from specialty to primary care. Both want Medicare purchasing through competitive bidding. Both want medical care to be explicitly guided by comparative effectiveness research...'
--Harold Pollack is a professor at the Univ. of Chicago, a faculty chair of the university's Center for Health Administration Studies
'Baucus...has a little noticed but very important provision to establish a Chronic Care Management Innovation Center at CMS. The Center, funded at $1 billion per year, would experiment with different ways to encourage evidence-based, coordinated care. Reforms that improve quality and reduce costs could be expanded nationally without further legislation.
Improved chronic care management is a key part of necessary reform. It is what will turn the dream of prevention into a reality, improving health and saving money. Further, the idea of experimentation is exactly right. We don’t know all the steps to take in reform. But we have a number of ideas. Those ideas should be tested, refined, and then expanded or dropped as appropriate. The chronic care management center is a model for how payment reform might work as a whole'
--David Cutler is Dean of the Social Sciences...Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University...He was also one of the Obama campaign's most influential health-care policy advisers.
Did you know that fall colors are not all that colorful in Europe? Per an article in Live Science, fall foliage in North America and East Asia has a lot of red while autumn leaves in Europe are mostly yellow. Why would this be? Climate differences? Variations in the mineral mix of the soil? Different tree species?
Nope. According to Simcha Lev-Yadun of the University of Haifa-Oranim in Israel and Jarmo Holopainen of the University of Kuopio in Finland, the answer is evolution with the cause being insects and the basic tool being the Ice Age. It seems that the red color in leaves acts as a shield, warding off insects that would eat the leaves if they were yellow.
Until 35 million years ago…large areas of the globe were covered with evergreen jungles or forests composed of tropical trees… During this phase, a series of ice ages and dry spells transpired, and many tree species evolved to become deciduous, dropping their leaves for winter.
Many of these trees also began an evolutionary process of producing red deciduous leaves in order to ward off insects...
In North America, as in East Asia, north-to-south mountain chains enabled plant and animal 'migration' to the south or north with the advance and retreat of the ice according to the climatic fluctuations…along with them migrated their insect ‘enemies’. Thus the war for survival continued there uninterrupted.
In Europe, on the other hand, the mountains… reach from east to west, and therefore no protected areas were created. Many tree species that did not survive the severe cold died, and with them the insects that depended on them for survival.
At the end of the repeated ice ages, most tree species that had survived in Europe had no need to cope with many of the insects that had become extinct, and therefore no longer had to expend efforts on producing red warning leaves.
~ Live Science
An interesting theory although it raises as many questions as it answers, such as – why are yellow leaves more appetizing to insects? Did Lev-Yadun and Holopainen evaluate the color variations between the same tree species in both locations? Does this mean that there are no leaf-eating insects in Europe?
Btw, I liked this not only for the article but for the intelligent comment thread that followed. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes the internet entertaining and useful.
Thanks to Mr. Blogger for passing on the link to this article.
Top (New England) from cwalker71
Bottom (Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy) from clickykbd
From Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:"...Having toiled at the low pay but high morale WSJ for 17 years in my well-spent youth, I can say that the view we held on the news-gathering side of the organization was that the newspaper's business formula was brilliant -- the news side told American business what it needed to hear, while the edit page told American business what it wanted to hear."
Thursday, September 24, 2009
From David Brooks at NYT:
"On Sunday evenings, my local NPR station airs old radio programs. A few weeks ago it broadcast the episode of the show “Command Performance” that aired the day World War II ended. “Command Performance” was a variety show that went out to the troops around the world.
On V-J Day, Frank Sinatra appeared, along with Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante, Dinah Shore, Bette Davis, Lionel Barrymore, Cary Grant and many others. But the most striking feature of the show was its tone of self-effacement and humility. The allies had, on that very day, completed one of the noblest military victories in the history of humanity. And yet there was no chest-beating. Nobody was erecting triumphal arches.
...Burgess Meredith came out to read a passage from Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent. Pyle had been killed just a few months before, but he had written an article anticipating what a victory would mean:
“We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things — because of Russia, England and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud.”
...You also hear a cultural reaction. As The Times of London pointed out on the day of victory, fascism had stood for grandiosity, pomposity, boasting and zeal. The allied propaganda mills had also produced their fair share of polemical excess. By 1945, everybody was sick of that. There was a mass hunger for a public style that was understated, self-abnegating, modest and spare...
And there was something else. When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then.
But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression...Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons.
...This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live. And from this vantage point, a display of mass modesty, like the kind represented on the V-J Day “Command Performance,” comes as something of a refreshing shock, a glimpse into another world. It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary."
From Bruce Bartlett at Capitalgainsandgames blog:
"I am reading Matt Latimer's book...Two things struck me. First is confirmation of the portrait of George W. Bush that I painted in my Impostor book of a bully who cannot stand to be contradicted, who thinks he knows everything despite being grossly ignorant most of the time, and who browbeats those beneath him into agreeing with him.
Second is how different the Bush White House was from the Reagan White House where I worked. Reagan's WH was a model of thoroughness, adherence to proper procedure, and respect for the office of the president. Bush's WH seems amazingly slipshod, showing total disregard for all of the things that were important to Reagan in terms of how his administration functioned.
On the first point, I was struck by this paragraph as the author discusses his first session with Bush reviewing a draft speech he had written:
"The president's editing sessions went like this: he talked, you listened and scribbled furiously whatever he said. On occasion, he might ask a question. But usually he wasn't too interested in the answer. Sometimes in the middle of your explaining something, if he felt he wasn't getting what he wanted, he'd interrupt and say, 'Okay, here's what we need to do.' This wasn't a process that encouraged dialogue or pushback on an important point. This was George W. decisively telling you what he wanted to say, and you writing it down. Got it?"
The problem with such a bullying method is that the president isn't just some guy expressing a personal opinion when he speaks. If he were, then it would be perfectly appropriate for him to demand that his speechwriters wrote whatever he damn well told them to say. But the president of the United States speaks not just for himself, not just for his administration, but for the country as a whole. His words carry weight. Consequently, it is appalling to see him treating those words in such a cavalier manner.
Ronald Reagan, of course, was a trained actor, accustomed to reading dialogue written for him by others. Consequently, he had respect for those who wrote the words he spoke. Reagan was a great writer himself and would often edit his speeches. But he did it privately with an editing pen and usually for style, not substance. I think every Reagan speechwriter had enormous respect for Reagan's contributions to his own speeches and, in turn, he respected his speechwriters and didn't treat them like manual laborers, as Bush seems to have done.
...'Whenever we talked about an upcoming speech, Ed almost never said, 'Let me think about it' or 'What do you guys think?' He never said, 'Let's figure out what the message of the week is going to be.' He usually just offered an instant reaction. The whole White House was like that--infatuated with decisiveness, dismissive of deliberation.'
...I continue to believe that a great many of Bush's screw-ups, most especially on Iraq, resulted from his personal style, which eventually permeated throughout his entire administration. It disdained facts and analysis and glorified decisiveness and action. "Shoot first and ask questions later" could have been its motto."
From Karen Tumulty at Time:
"...The Senate was holding a noon vote, and I was loitering near an elevator where I had a hunch (okay, a tip) that one Senator who had been eluding my interview requests might be appearing at any moment. The police there, as you might imagine, keep an eye on everything, and when they see you hanging around--even if you are a middle-aged woman with a press credential around your neck--they will politely ask you what you are up to. So it was yesterday, and when I told the uniformed officer the name of the Senator I was hoping to catch, he immediately guessed that I was working on a story on health care reform.
That's when the officer began to tell me about his own experiences as an emergency medical technician. Many was the time, he said, that a critically ill or injured person would try to stop him even as he was loading them into the ambulance. "I don't have insurance," they would say. "I can't afford this." Over and over again, he would tell them not to worry on that score, that the hospital would admit them anyway and ultimately add their bills to the growing amount of indigent care they provide.
The officer said he is mystified by all the talk he hears about how covering the uninsured would be too expensive for the government to take on. "Don't they know?" the officer said, gesturing to the Senators who were scurrying in and out of the elevator. "It's getting paid for. We are all paying for this. We are paying with our tax dollars[TW: and private insurance $]..."
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve been pretty happy with my reading choices to date but after spending some time reviewing the list of prior winners, I can allow for the possibility that I’ve missed some good books.
This year the NBF is making a special award for Fiction. In addition to the Fiction Award for 2009, they are also awarding The Best of the National Book Awards for Fiction. They polled a group of 140 American writers who were asked to vote for their favorite award winner from the past 59 years. This narrowed the list down to 6 finalists and now the NBF is asking the general public to pick the winner. The 6 finalists are:
1951 Collected Stories – William Faulkner
1953 Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
1972 The Complete Stories – Flannery O’Connor
1974 Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
1981 The Stories of John Cheever – John Cheever
1983 The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty – Eudora Welty
You have until October 21st to vote for your favorite here. I won’t be voting – the 2 books that I read didn’t make it to the finals.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
TW: As you may or may not know, in late September baseball teams traditionally haze their rookies by making them dress up in strange outfits for their final roadtrip of the year...
From LoHud Yankees Blog:
"Ill-timed as it was after a loss, the Yankees had their annual rookie hazing today.
The theme was the old Batman television show.
Mark Melancon was Batman. Ramiro Pena was a disturbing Catwoman and Mike Dunn was the Riddler. Massage therapist Lou Potter was the Penguin and video man Anthony Flynn made a fine Robin."
From Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy mag:
"...in the new issue of Parameters, one of the Army's professional magazines, an empassioned article by John Wahlquist supporting the Obama administration's recent moves to curtail the American government's use of torture. Wahlquist, a veteran interrogator who now teaches at the National Defense Intelligence College, writes that:
'President Obama's executive order on interrogation provides an excellent opportunity to end abusive practices and to propose a new agenda for intelligence interviewing that increases the capability to collect accurate information from enemy detainees effectively and humanely. Seizing this opportunity is essential to increasing the chances of success for counterterrorism operations worldwide and reducing risks to the lives of American service members and civilians, as well as detainees. Doing so enhances the broader national security agenda without sacrificing American values.'
In other words, treating detainees decently improves our intelligence, makes us safer, and protects our system. 'Nuff said."