August 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The Loss of Skill in the Industrial Revolution (Growth Economics, August 19, 2014)

There's a recent working paper by Alexandra de Pleijt and Jacob Weisdorf that looks at skill composition of the English workforce from 1550 through 1850. They do this by looking at the occupational titles recorded in English parish records over that period, and code each observed worker by the skill associated with their occupation. They use the standardized Dictionary of Occupational Titles to infer the skill level for any given occupation. For example, a wright is a high-skilled manual laborer, a tailor is medium-skilled, while a weaver is a low-skilled manual laborer.

The big upshot to their paper is that there was substantial de-skilling over this period, driven mainly by a shift in the composition of manual laborers. In 1550, only about 25% of all manual laborers are unskilled (think ditch-diggers), while 75% are either low- or medium-skilled (weavers or tailors). However, over time there is a distinct growth in the the unskilled as a fraction of manual laborers, reaching 45% by 1850, while the low- and medium-skilled fall to 55% in the same period. 

The point of technology/information is that it obviates the need for specialized knowledge (skills).

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


This 1,600-year-old Viking war game is still awesome It's even a pretty good simulator of 21st century conflicts (Robert Beckhusen, 8/21/14, War is Boring)

At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced "nef-ah-tah-fel") might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older -- already well-known by 400 A.D. -- and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

"I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent," emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command's Intelligence Directorate. "Geography, force structure, force size, and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can't think like your opponent, you can't win. I don't know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict."

The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered -- like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.

The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking black player has 24 total pieces -- known as "hunns" -- to white's meager and surrounded 12 hunns. But white has several advantages.

White has an additional unique unit, a king, which must be surrounded on four horizontal sides to be captured. Hunns require being surrounded on two sides, and that's pretty hard by itself. White's goal is also simple: move the king to one of four corner squares known as "castles." Black's goal is to stop them.

Other rules? All pieces move like chess rooks. Black makes the first move. Black cannot occupy a castle, which would end the game in short order. But black can block off several castles by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Ratings Revolution (Carlo Ratti & Matthew Claudel, 8/21/14, Project Syndicate)

"Bonjour Monsieur, comment pourrais-je vous aider?" asks the obsequious concierge at my Paris hotel. I immediately wonder what happened to the city's infamous haughtiness - especially toward American tourists. If the French capital is no longer Europe's rudest city, we can perhaps thank the growth of online rating tools, such as TripAdvisor.

Travel Web sites have been around since the 1990s, when Expedia, Travelocity, and other holiday booking sites were launched, allowing travelers to compare flight and hotel prices with the click of a mouse. With information no longer controlled by travel agents or hidden in business networks, the travel industry was revolutionized, as greater transparency helped slash prices.
Today, the industry is in the throes of a new revolution - this time transforming service quality. Online rating platforms - specializing in hotels (TripAdvisor), restaurants (Zagat), apartments (Airbnb), and taxis (Uber) - allow travelers to exchange reviews and experiences for all to see.

Hospitality businesses are now ranked, analyzed, and compared not by industry professionals, but by the very people for whom the service is intended - the customer. This has forged a new relationship between buyer and seller. Customers have always voted with their feet; they can now explain their decision to anyone who is interested. As a result, businesses are much more accountable, often in very specific ways, which creates powerful incentives to improve service.

Although some readers might not care for gossipy reports of brusque bellboys in Berlin or malfunctioning hotel hairdryers in Houston, the true power of online reviews lies not just in the individual stories, but in the Web sites' capacity to aggregate a large volume of ratings.

The impact cannot be overstated. Businesses that attract top ratings can enjoy exponential growth, as new customers are attracted by good overall reviews and subsequently provide yet more (positive) feedback.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


John Stuart Mill: False Prophet of Liberty (Bruce Frohnen, 8/21/14, Imaginative Conservative)

As long as there have been "libertarians," there has been hero worship of John Stuart Mill. This Nineteenth Century utilitarian author, most famously of On Liberty, has been looked to as a kind of fount of holy writ for individualism. And Mill was an individualist. Unfortunately, he was not a supporter of liberty in any meaningful sense.

It is somewhat odd, frankly, that Mill should enjoy the reputation he does, given the depth and breadth of the written record of his opinions and proposals advocating an administrative state with unchecked power to regulate people's daily lives. What is more, excellent studies by Joseph Hamburger and, more recently, Linda Raeder, have shown the character and statist intentions of his life's work. Still, some of the many passages so frequently quoted from his works might give evidence, to those who do not read more and with moderate care, that he was a friend to individual freedom and reasoned, principled service to mankind.

There is a pride evinced in Mill's work that appeals to his readers' own pride, especially if they consider themselves to have sacrificed material gain for principles--and particularly if they are academics or otherwise committed to what we somewhat self-servingly refer to as "the life of the mind." Thus, Mill's catchphrase, "one person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests," is the stuff of dorm room walls and faculty office doors across America. Commitment to "principle," be it justice, freedom, or toleration, and however defined, makes us feel good about ourselves. That such principles, stated in the abstract and held by their adherents more or less abstractly, may serve as cover for hypocrisy as well as inhumane zealotry is a well known problem of long standing--and one that generally is ignored until long after it is too late to prevent moral enormities of various kinds.

Nonetheless, almost all of us not residing in asylums want to believe that we live according to principle rather than mere self-interest. Moreover, we should not forget that the Golden Rule itself is a kind of master-principle of virtue, though one freighted with cultural context in its admonition, not to "do unto others so as to serve the greatest good of the greatest number" but, rather, to do unto others as we, in light of our varying circumstances and needs, would have done by us.

Of course, the Golden Rule assumes innate recognition of certain permanent goods beneficial to us all. Utilitarianism, the belief that societies should be seen as mechanisms for the gathering of "good things" defined as good by those seeking them, holds no such view. Yet, idealism has the power to invest with at least an apparent nobility even the extreme vision Mill has of the good of individual autonomy, in which liberty itself is defined in terms of self-mastery: "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." The "sovereign" self in this view is what matters. And what makes that self truly matter is sovereign, that is self-willed, autonomous choice. Thus, the principle that Mill would serve is the liberty to do as one wills, making the will itself a governing principle for us all.

Another aspect of Mill's writing that has endeared him to many is his seeming love of eccentricity. The individual who dares to be different in the face of the conformist mob appears to be his greatest hero, just as it is for those hordes of non-conformists populating the halls of academe (and, of course, juvenile halls everywhere). To break the chains of tradition and social authority seems, to Mill, to be a moral duty to oneself and to mankind. As Mill succinctly claimed, "the despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement." If only, he seems to argue, we would dispatch custom to the ash heap of history, we might get down to some serious reasoning about how to make life better for everyone.

The problem with this vision, as we have learned to our great loss, is that unthinking opposition to the wisdom of the ages, made concrete in a people's practical habits and ways of living, produces, not ordered liberty, but social chaos. Individuals are, indeed, unprincipled "followers" and "self-interested" morally flawed beings, at least more so than they are the kind of grand idealists Mill would have us be. That is to say, people are social creatures, not abstract calculators of public interest. If they do not follow good customs, they will follow bad habits--including the contemporary habit of disparaging settled modes of living and even the most basic of social institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


The Moral Divide Between Progressives and Traditionalists (JAMES KALB, 8/21/14, Crisis)

A recent account of moral sentiments, proposed by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon, 2012), has attracted attention for its explanation of the difference between progressives and traditionalists.

According to the account, moral judgments typically have to do with six dimensions of concern: care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and sanctity versus degradation. Surveys show that progressives, by and large, are concerned with the care, fairness, and liberty dimensions, while traditionalists are concerned with all six. So it appears that the "culture wars" have to do with the moral status of loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Traditionally minded people accept them as morally important, while their more progressive fellows do not.

But why the difference? It appears, although Haidt's concerns lie elsewhere, that the difference lines up with the opposition between the modern tendency to view man as radically free and the world as technological, and the traditional, classical, and religious view of man as social, and the world as pervaded by intrinsic meanings, natural ways of functioning, and natural ends.

The difference is a difference in basic understandings of man, society, and the world. Progressives tend to think of the world as a sort of blank slate that is meaningless in itself. On that view man becomes the creator of values, society becomes a system set up to bring about whatever goals people want it to serve, and it seems most sensible to design the system to help people attain whatever purposes they have, without playing favorites or interfering more than necessary with what they want to do.

So the progressive view makes care, fairness, and liberty seem the right basic standards, with "care" understood from the standpoint of the concerns of the person cared for. Authority, loyalty, and sanctity interfere with people doing and getting what they want, so on such a view they make no sense as standards. They seem dangerous, since they give an advantage to those in charge of the system, who in the absence of a higher good shared with others can be expected to use the advantage for their private ends. So it's not surprising that "question authority" has been an axiom for progressives, rebellion a virtue, and transgression a desirable form of liberation.

In contrast, traditionalists view society and morality as natural rather than constructed. Since man is naturally social, society and morality are necessary to the world he inhabits and needed to make him what he truly is. That world is considered good in itself as well as productive of good, and to act socially and morally is to realize one's own nature by participating in it. So the loyalty and authority that create a social world and make us part of it are natural to man and necessary for a good life.

August 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 PM


All of the U.S.'s New Electricity in July Came from Renewables ( Rebecca Leber, 8/21/14, New Republic)

Clean energy still counts for a pretty small portion of our energy. While coal provides 39 percent, renewables like solar and wind add up to just 13 percent of our total supply. But policies to improve our energy mix--tax credits for wind and solar, state-level standards requiring utilities to rely more on renewables--are having a real impact. You can see it July's Energy Infrastructure Update, which the federal government just released.

Last month, a full 100 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added at the utility level came from wind, solar, and water in the U.S. This counts renewables that power utilities in the energy grid--but doesn't include solar installed on the rooftops of homes and businesses. Wind and solar added 379 megawatts and 31 megawatts respectively for July, bringing the two sources' total installed capacity to 6 percent of the utility sector. 

But natural gas is still the main new source of electricity this year, even if the oil and gas sector saw no growth last month. Natural gas accounted for 46 percent of new installations for the first seven months of the year, compared to over a quarter each for wind and solar. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 PM


Free Money for Germany Is Bad News for Euro (Mark Gilbert, 8/21/14, Bloomberg View)

When investors are willing to lend money to Germany for two years for free, at a zero interest rate, you know the euro project is in trouble again.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 PM


The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit : For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend--or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest (MICHAEL FINKEL, September 2014, GQ)

Newly installed in the Pine Tree kitchen, hidden behind the ice machine, was a military-grade motion detector. The device remained silent in the kitchen but sounded an alarm in the home of Sergeant Terry Hughes, a game warden who'd become obsessed with catching the thief. Hughes lived a mile away. He raced to the camp in his pickup truck and sprinted to the rear of the dining hall. He peeked in a window.

And there he was. Probably. The person stealing food appeared entirely too clean, his face freshly shaved. He wore eyeglasses and a wool ski hat. Was this really the North Pond Hermit, a man who'd tormented the surrounding community for years--decades--yet the police still hadn't learned his name?

Hughes used his cell phone, quietly, and asked the Maine State Police to alert trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who had also been hunting the hermit. Before Perkins-Vance could get there, the burglar, his backpack full, started toward the exit. If the man stepped into the forest, Hughes understood, he might never be found again.

The burglar eased out of the dining hall, and Hughes used his left hand to blind the man with his flashlight; with his right he aimed his .357 square on his nose. "Get on the ground!" he bellowed.

The thief complied, no resistance, and lay facedown, candy spilling out of his pockets. It was one thirty in the morning on April 4, 2013. Perkins-Vance soon arrived, and the burglar was placed, handcuffed, in a plastic chair. The officers asked his name. He refused to answer. His skin was strangely pale; his glasses, with chunky plastic frames, were extremely outdated. But he wore a nice Columbia jacket, new Lands' End blue jeans, and sturdy boots. The officers searched him, and no identification was located.

Hughes left the suspect alone with Perkins-Vance. She removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water. And he started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn't want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.

His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.

"For how long?" wondered Perkins-Vance.

Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.

Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night. He said he didn't know if his parents were alive or dead. He'd not made one phone call or driven in a car or spent any money. He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet.

He confessed that he'd committed approximately forty robberies a year while in the woods--a total of more than a thousand break-ins. But never when anyone was home. He said he stole only food and kitchenware and propane tanks and reading material and a few other items. Knight admitted that everything he possessed in the world, he'd stolen, including the clothes he was wearing, right down to his underwear. The only exception was his eyeglasses.

Perkins-Vance called dispatch and learned that Knight had no criminal record. He said he grew up in a nearby community, and his senior picture was soon located in the 1984 Lawrence High School yearbook. He was wearing the same eyeglasses.

For close to three decades, Knight said, he had not seen a doctor or taken any medicine. He mentioned that he had never once been sick. You had to have contact with other humans, he claimed, in order to get sick.

When, said Perkins-Vance, was the last time he'd had contact with another person?

Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods.

"What did you say?" asked Perkins-Vance.

"I said, 'Hi,' " Knight replied. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years.

Christopher Knight was arrested, charged with burglary and theft, and transported to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, the state capital. For the first time in nearly 10,000 days, he slept indoors.

News of the capture stunned the citizens of North Pond. For decades, they'd felt haunted by...something. It was hard to say what. At first, in the late 1980s, there were strange occurrences. Flashlights were missing their batteries. Steaks disappeared from the fridge. New propane tanks on the grill had been replaced by old ones. "My grandkids thought I was losing my mind," said David Proulx, whose vacation cabin was broken into at least fifty times.

Then people began noticing other things. Wood shavings near window locks; scratches on doorframes. Was it a neighbor? A gang of teenagers? The robberies continued--boat batteries, frying pans, winter jackets. Fear took hold. "We always felt like he was watching us," one resident said. The police were called, repeatedly, but were unable to help.

Locks were changed, alarm systems installed. Nothing seemed to stop him. Or her. Or them. No one knew. A few desperate residents even left notes on their doors: "Please don't break in. Tell me what you need and I'll leave it out for you." There was never a reply.

Incidents mounted, and the phantom morphed into legend. Eventually he was given a name: the North Pond Hermit. At a homeowners' meeting in 2002, the hundred people present were asked who had suffered break-ins. Seventy-five raised their hands. Campfire hermit stories were swapped. One kid recalled that when he was 10 years old, all his Halloween candy was stolen. That kid is now 34.

Still the robberies persisted. The crimes, after so long, felt almost supernatural. "The legend of the hermit lived on for years and years," said Pete Cogswell, whose jeans and belt were worn by the hermit when he was caught. "Did I believe it? No. Who really could?"

Knight's arrest, rather than eliminating disbelief, only enhanced it. The truth was stranger than the myth. One man had actually lived in the woods of Maine for twenty-seven years, in an unheated nylon tent. Winters in Maine are long and intensely cold: a wet, windy cold, the worst kind of cold. A week of winter camping is an impressive achievement. An entire season is practically unheard of.

Though hermits have been documented for thousands of years, Knight's feat appears to exist in a category of its own. He engaged in zero communication with the outside world. He never snapped a photo. He did not keep a journal. His camp was undisclosed to everyone.

There may have been others like Knight, whose commitment to isolation was absolute--he planned to live his entire life in secret--but if so, they were never found. Capturing Knight was the human equivalent of netting a giant squid. He was an uncontacted tribe of one.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 PM


Global warming's 'pause': Where did the heat go? (Becky Oskin, AUGUST 22, 2014, CS Monitor)

In 1999, the feverish rise in Earth's surface temperatures suddenly slowed, even as greenhouse gas emissions escalated. This unexpected slowdown has been called a global warming hiatus or global warming pause. Most climate scientists don't think this hiatus means global warming went kaput, but the reason (or reasons) for the slowdown has scientists flummoxed. Researchers have offered more than two dozen ideas to explain the missing heat.

Now, a study published today (Aug. 21) in the journal Science suggests a natural climate cycle in the North Atlantic Ocean gobbled Earth's extra heat. 

August 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Neanderthals walked among us - study (Associated Press,  20 August 2014)

Modern humans and Neanderthals may have coexisted in Europe for more than 5,000 years, providing ample time for the two species to meet and mix, according to new research.

In other words, one species, not two.
Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Bank Of America Reaches Record Settlement Over Mortgage Meltdown (SCOTT NEUMAN, August 21, 2014, NPR)

The settlement "addresses allegations that Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Countrywide each engaged in pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors in structured financial products known as residential mortgage-backed securities, or RMBS," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The securities typically included a high percentage of subprime mortgages and the sellers misrepresented to investors the degree of risk involved, Justice alleges. When the housing market collapsed, many of the RMBS became worthless.

Holder said the subprime mortgages bundled into the securities "contained material underwriting defects; they were secured by properties with inflated appraisals; they failed to comply with federal, state, and local laws; and they were insufficiently collateralized."

Even so, he said, "these financial institutions knowingly, routinely, falsely, and fraudulently marked and sold these loans as sound and reliable investments. Worse still, on multiple occasions -- when confronted with concerns about their reckless practices -- bankers at these institutions continued to mislead investors about their own standards and to securitize loans with fundamental credit, compliance, and legal defects."

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


U.S. Tried to Rescue Journalist James Foley From Islamic State Captors in Syria (DION NISSENBAUM and ADAM ENTOUS, Aug. 21, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. Special Operations forces mounted an unsuccessful mission inside Syria earlier this summer to try to rescue several Americans held by Islamic extremists, including the journalist who was beheaded this week, senior Obama administration officials said.

President Barack Obama ordered the secret operation, the first of its kind by the U.S. inside Syrian territory since the start of the civil war, after the U.S. received intelligence the Americans were being held by the extremist group known as Islamic State at a specific facility in a sparsely populated area inside Syria. Among the group, intelligence agencies believed at the time, was James Foley, the U.S. journalist whose beheading was shown in a grisly video released Tuesday.

Where do these neocons get off unilaterally invading other countries....

August 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Shrinking government: Federal hiring is down, departures are up (Josh Hicks August 2014, Washington Post)

Federal hiring has declined rapidly in recent years, while the number of departures has increased nearly as fast. That's a recipe for a shrinking government. [...]

The number of federal employees leaving government rose from about 83,000 in 2008 to 114,000 last year, representing a 37 percent increase in departures. At the same time, the number of hires has declined every year since 2009, dropping from about 140,000 to roughly 77,000.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


After Joining the WTO, What's Next for Laos? (Buavanh Vilavong,  9 August 2014, East Asia Forum)

Laos has used its WTO accession to implement its decision to establish a market economy. The accession process allows countries to align their trade policy with the principles of non-discrimination and transparency. Over the course of 15 years of accession negotiations, Laos enacted some 90 laws and regulations to bring them in line with WTO rules. This is expected to help create an enabling environment for the private sector. Such reform momentum should be maintained post-accession if Laos is to be competitive in the region.

WTO membership provides export opportunities for Laos, but such opportunities need to be realised. Despite its relatively robust growth of around 7.5 per cent per year over the last decade, Laos has to broaden its export base. To date, its exports are dominated by a limited number of products, mainly resource-based products (mining and electricity), primary commodities (agriculture and wood) and products with low value add (garments). Opening up the internal market to
foreign competition will help to stimulate reform in both the import-competing and export-oriented sectors.

Laos has bound its tariffs for all agricultural and industrial products, while a grace period has been granted for tariffs on items that are significant parts of Laos' domestic production or tariffs that contribute significantly to government revenue. In the medium to long term, alternative measures that are legal under the WTO, such as trade remedies, need to be put in place to address the possible impacts of an import surge.

Adapting to the WTO rules is a long-term challenge. Both the public and private sectors need to be prepared. Joining the WTO is not an end in itself. It is a tool to assist countries in adjusting their internal system to the norms of the world trade community. The true benefits of WTO accession can only be gained if Laos takes the results of the accession negotiations seriously and implements its obligations proactively -- but its first year has been a good start.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Obamacare Losing Power as Campaign Weapon in Ad Battles (Heidi Przybyla  Aug 19, 2014, Bloomberg) 

Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party's favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift -- also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana -- shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

And in one of those delicious ironies, Republicans will be the ones to make it more universal but will restrict choice.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Always Talk to Strangers : People who know and trust their neighbors are less likely to have heart attacks. New research builds on the understated health benefits of a sense of belonging and community. (JAMES HAMBLIN, AUG 19 2014, The Atlantic)

Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.

"There's evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health," lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I'd add broken windows. One 2003 study found that "boarded-up housing" predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.

Kim's team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that "might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health." For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.

The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:

"I really feel part of this area."

"If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help."

"Most people in this area can be trusted."

"Most people in this area are friendly."

The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.

"On the seven-point scale," Kim explained, "each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks."

"If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion," Kim continued, "they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks."

But does it really matter if you feel connected in your community, as long as you have relationships and connectedness somewhere? (Like, on the Internet?)

Rare among studies of its kind, Kim and colleagues controlled for social connectedness at the individual level. "We also controlled for dispositional factors," he said, "thinking that perhaps optimistic people might think that they are more socially connected." The survey included measures of optimism, and the analysis also accounted for things like age, race, income, marital status, education, mental health, and known risk factors for heart attacks like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Last Call :  The end of the printed newspaper. (Clay Shirkey, Medium)

Journalists have been infantilized throughout the last decade, kept in a state of relative ignorance about the firms that employ them. A friend tells a story of reporters being asked the paid print circulation of their own publication. Their guesses ranged from 150,000 to 300,000; the actual figure was 35,000. If a reporter was that uninformed about a business he was covering, he'd be taken off the story.

This cluelessness is not by accident; the people who understand the state of the business often hide that knowledge from the workers. My friend Jay Rosen writes about the media's "production of innocence" -- when covering a contentious issue, they must signal to the readers "We have no idea who's right." Among the small pool of journalists reporting on their own industry, there is a related task, the production of ignorance. When the press writes about the current dislocations, they must insist that no one knows what will happen. This pattern shows up whenever the media covers itself. When the Tribune Company recently got rid of their newspapers, the New York Times ran the story under a headline "The Tribune Company's publishing unit is being spun off, as the future of print remains unclear."

The future of print remains what? Try to imagine a world where the future of print is unclear: Maybe 25 year olds will start demanding news from yesterday, delivered in an unshareable format once a day. Perhaps advertisers will decide "Click to buy" is for wimps. Mobile phones: could be a fad. After all, anything could happen with print. Hard to tell, really.

Meanwhile, back in the treasurer's office, have a look at this chart. Do you see anything unclear about the trend line?

Carpe Diem/Mark Perry

Contrary to the contrived ignorance of media reporters, the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade. (If you work at a paper and you don't know what's happened to your own circulation or revenue in the last few years, now might be a good time to ask.) We're late enough in the process that we can even predict the likely circumstance of its demise.

Pick up a Sunday paper anywhere in this country. It will be the biggest paper that week, stuffed with sections, and with ads. Sunday is the money-maker, when circulation is highest and browsing time most abundant. Sunday is also the day for delivering those pamphlets of coupons and sales touts from from national advertisers like Home Depot and Office Max, Staples and Michael's.

Those pamphlets -- "free-standing inserts" -- are now the largest single source of print advertising for many papers. Classifieds have imploded, local display ads are down, and black newsroom humor long ago re-labelled the Obituary column 'Subscriber Countdown.'

Print ads are essential revenue for most papers. Retail ads are essential for print. Sunday is essential for retail. Inserts are essential for Sundays. The base of that entire inverted pyramid is being supported by the marketing departments of no more than a couple dozen national advertisers.

Those advertisers already have one foot out the door, having abandoned the idea that ads have to be printed inside the paper to reach their audience. CVS and Best Buy have so little connection to the papers they ride along with that they don't even bother printing the addresses of their local outlets anymore. (You can always find that information online.) From the advertiser's point of view, the nation's newspapers have become little more than a blue-bag delivery service, with a horoscope and enough local sports inside to get people to open the bag.

Inserts are one of the last sources of advertising to resist digitization. They are also the next to go. Businesses like Cellfire and Find & Save are working on digital coupons; stores like Kroger's and Safeway already offer online coupons direct to customers. This digitization is progressing as print circulation decays. Back in Roanoke, the Times was on the market for 5 years before it was bought; in that time the paper lost a quarter of its Sunday readers -- 106,000 to 85,000 -- and a third of its weekday readers -- 96,000 to 65,000. This story too is being repeated all over the country. The print audience continues to defect to mobile, abandon the local paper, or die.

As digital alternatives become attractive while print circulation withers, business will start to shift their money away from inserts. When the inserts go, Sundays won't prop up the rest of the week. When Sundays turn bad, the presses will become unprofitable. And when the presses become unprofitable, it will trigger the extraordinary costs involved in shrinking or ending the print operation. (If you work at a newspaper chain, ask your treasurer about underfunded pensions. Bring smelling salts.) These costs will torpedo the balance sheet, leading to further mergers, layoffs, reduced delivery days, or outright collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Robin Williams Was Addicted To 'Tooth-Rotting Sentimentality' Says Barry Norman In 'Honest Tribute' (Ben Arnold, 19 Aug 2014, Yahoo)

Norman, who helmed the BBC's 'Film' series from 1972 until 'Film 98', praised Williams celebrated work, and Oscar-winning success, but continued to lament his less successful movies.

"That's a CV for which many a star would give his eyeteeth. But among the good films was a plenitude of bad ones," he continued.

"Well, every actor makes bad films occasionally but what was remarkable about Williams was not that he was so good in the good ones but that he was so very bad in the bad ones.


"He made no secret of his addiction to drugs and alcohol but there was another addiction, which he never admitted but which became increasingly evident in his own work - to saccharine, tooth-rotting sentimentality.

"Were the bad films made when drink or drugs played their part?"

Mr. Williams was the classic case where folks confuse mania (which is always self-indulgent) or humor.  To illustrate the point, he only starred in two good movies : one that wasn't a comedy, Awakenings; and one where he was confined by illustrators, Aladdin.  Anytime that he was allowed to be himself the movie/show suffered.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


Kurdish Fighters Aren't Terrorists (The Editors, 8/20/14, Bloomberg View)

In Iraq, the U.S. is fighting in a de facto alliance with one group on its list of terrorist organizations -- the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK -- against another, Islamic State. This odd situation reveals an emerging truth about the Kurdish group: Its terrorist status is falling out of date. At this point it has to be recognized for the constructive role it can play in Iraq and the wider region.

August 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


How Egypt Prolonged the Gaza War (MICHELE DUNNE, NATHAN J. BROWN AUGUST 18, 2014, Foreign Policy)

[W]hile a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas -- and particularly the population of Gaza -- the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

...than talk to democrats, you've warped yourselves.
Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative (AVITAL ANDREWS, August 19, 2014, Pacific Standard)

If you know that someone knows something that you also know, does that make you more likely to cooperate with them? A new study out of Harvard suggests the answer is yes.

Social psychology has plenty of studies that examine altruism, but there hasn't been much research that looks into its obscure cousin, "mutualistic cooperation"--that is, when people cooperate to benefit each other and themselves.

To start rectifying that, a group of researchers, including the popular author Steven Pinker, designed and ran four game theory-type experiments on 1,033 people that involved giving subjects varying levels of information, from private to common--the common knowledge was literally broadcast over a loudspeaker. Each person was then given a set of decisions with varying costs and payoffs, and allowed to choose whether to work by themselves or with others. In many cases, participants needed common knowledge and others' help to get the games' maximum benefit. The researchers also manipulated what their subjects knew about their partners' knowledge.

The resulting study, published last week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that when people have common knowledge, they're much likelier to act in each others' best interest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Obama Is Seen as Frustrating His Own Party (CARL HULSE, JEREMY W. PETERS and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, AUG. 18, 2014, NY Times)

The meeting in the Oval Office in late June was called to give President Obama and the four top members of Congress a chance to discuss the unraveling situation in Iraq.

But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.

With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama's nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.

Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.

"You and Mitch work it out," Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.

Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama's own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.

But the impression the president left with Mr. Reid was clear: Capitol Hill is not my problem.

To Democrats in Congress who have worked with Mr. Obama, the indifference conveyed to Mr. Reid, one of the president's most indispensable supporters, was frustratingly familiar. In one sense, Mr. Obama's response was a reminder of what made him such an appealing figure in the first place: his almost innate aversion to the partisan squabbles that have left Americans so jaded and disgruntled with their political system. But nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.

In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.

Only a peculiar kind of "magic Negro" racism can have blinded them to the fact that he's basically Jimmy Carter. Better brace ourselves for the most annoying post-Presidency ever....

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


In modern education, metrics 'r' us (John Yemma,  AUGUST 19, 2014, CS Monitor)

Metrics are better than guesses. A good guess might lead to something wonderful, but that is rare, and a worker who only guesses won't go far. Being systematic is important. Producing consistent results is crucial - whether repairing a faucet or building a jet engine. As you'll see in Sarah Garland's recent Monitor cover story (read it here), the three-decade effort to improve public education in the United States - initiated by the 1983 "A Nation at Risk" report and brought forward by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and the current Common Core initiative - has relied heavily on metrics.

Students, teachers, and schools are held to a set of standards and are constantly being tested and evaluated, their performance compared with their past performances and with those of other students, teachers, and schools. 

We won.  Which annoys the heck out of us.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Mike Brown's Family Asked To See Robbery Footage Before Police Released It To Media, But Were Ignored (JEFF SPROSS, AUGUST 17, 2014, Think Progress)

On Friday, August 15th, Ferguson police released a convenience store surveillance video that purportedly shows Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery -- shoving a clerk to take some cigars from the store -- the same day he was killed. [...]

When asked if the family believes it is their son in the video, Grey said "they haven't examined it for that purpose," but "there's no reason not to believe that it's him." Another Brown family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, also said the person in the video appears to be Michael Brown.

Trayvon Martin's Mom: 'If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us' (Sybrina Fulton,  Aug. 18, 2014, TIME)

I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don't. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day but I can't. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won't. What I can do for you is what has been done for me: pray for you then share my continuing journey as you begin yours.

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young. But Michael is much more than a police/gun violence case; Michael is your son. A son that barely had a chance to live. Our children are our future so whenever any of our children - black, white, brown, yellow, or red - are taken from us unnecessarily, it causes a never-ending pain that is unlike anything I could have imagined experiencing.

Neither kid need be dead, but one was a criminal shot by police officers.  The other was an innocent gunned down by an obsessive.
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue? : The mass frustration is surely there. What's missing is a mainstream national leader who will make this cause a prime election issue. (ROBERT KUTTNER, AUGUST 19, 2014, American Prospect)

The shift in labor markets, from an economy where regular payroll employment is the norm, to one where more of us are performing odd jobs, or have regular jobs with indeterminate schedules, ought to be the top domestic political issue. There should be an emergent political consciousness that regular people are getting screwed solely so that greater profits can go to corporations, executive, and private equity speculators.

Are we on the cusp of a breakthrough, where this issue bursts into public consciousness and cannot be ignored, the way the civil rights movement finally broke through in the late 1950s?

The mass frustration is surely there. What's missing is a mainstream national leader who will make this cause a prime election issue.

Why do politicians address these widely felt injustices mainly at the level of platitude? Because the remedies would require a transformation of who runs the economy, and of how we regulate labor markets.

Three decades ago, corporations in retailing and other service industries faced essentially the same variation in the need for staffing over days or weeks. But they didn't expect their employees to bear all of the cost. Unemployment insurance covered far more of the cost of genuinely seasonal work such as construction.

Though the Times series cites use of new computer technology that makes it easier for employers to monitor fluctuating demand for services and to reduce ever more employees to on-call status, this shift is mainly not about new technology; it's about a power shift.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Top U.S. General Visits Vietnam as Asian Tensions Simmer ( VU TRONG KHANH and TREFOR MOSS,  Aug. 14, 2014, NY Times)

The U.S.'s top-ranked military officer met his Vietnamese counterpart here Thursday, as the U.S. capitalizes on tensions between China and its Asia-Pacific neighbors to revamp its own regional alliances.

Gen. Martin Dempsey became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit the Southeast Asian country since the Vietnam War. Vietnam's Defense Ministry said in a statement that he and Gen. Do Ba Ty, the chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, discussed future cooperation between the American and Vietnamese militaries.

The move is the latest initiative on the part of Washington and its Asian allies to boost the defense capabilities of Southeast Asian countries--notably Vietnam and the Philippines--that are struggling to stand up to China in their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Can taxing the wealthy strengthen democracy? (Deborah Boucoyannis, August 18, 2014, NY Times)

The historical record, however, suggests that taxing the wealthiest does have an important, but different, consequence: making the wealthy vested in the common good. In fact, taxing the wealthy was crucial for the emergence of representative government itself.

Based on an original database of about 600 members of the English nobility between 1200 and 1350, my research shows the remarkable scale of the obligations, both fiscal and military, that the wealthiest in England owed to their crown. Unlike their French or Spanish counterparts, who were typically exempted from fiscal duties, the English nobility bore a heavy burden on both fronts. Almost all were obliged to perform military service and more than 30 percent had their estates confiscated over unfulfilled obligations to the crown, whether temporarily or permanently. Between 20 and 40 percent were in debt to the crown, usually for overdue taxes.

The high fiscal burden remains obscured because some of the most famous nobles, the topmost level of society, paid little in taxes. Probably the richest noble of the 1290s,the Earl of Cornwall, had an annual income amounting to 3,000 or 4,000 pounds, yet he contributed only about £10 in taxes.

What this misses, however, is that the earl had lent over £18,000 to the crown throughout his life, which could have been about 20 percent of his lifetime income -- a remarkable amount when the highest tax rate at the time was 10 percent. Such loans were advanced by many of the earls and top nobles. Furthermore, the Earl of Cornwall was never reimbursed; in fact, when he died childless, virtually his entire estate was forfeited to the crown.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that at least 75 percent of the nobility attended parliament. Two separate forces pushed them. First, because the government was forcing nobles to loan it money, these nobles supported the government's ability to raise taxes from other sectors of society, so that the government could pay the nobles back. Loans are serviced by taxes, and one of the biggest obstacles to taxation is that local elites will resist it; but once these people are vested in the government and in its ability to tax, they enable that capacity to grow--or at least their resistance weakens.

A similar dynamic helps explain the emergence of democracy in the city-states of Europe. The political scientist David Stasavage has described how merchants were heavily vested in the public debt of various city-states, as well as early modern England, and this secured their presence in the representative assemblies that granted taxation. This was an ancient practice after all: Plutarch recounted how Eumenes, a Macedonian general, accepted loans from his rivals, thus vesting them in his survival and co-opting them.

The second force pushing the rich to hold the government accountable is that when they are forced to pay high taxes, they feel compelled to monitor the government's actions and check how their money is spent. Where the rich are not vested in public affairs through high contributions, they are less likely to use their bargaining powers to bring change.

No representation without taxation.

August 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Study: Many Seniors Get Unnecessary Cancer Tests (Steven Reinberg, 8/18/14, HealthDay)

"Across the U.S., there seems to be a lot of cancer screening in patients who have a short life expectancy," said lead researcher Dr. Ronald Chen, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"For patients who have a limited life expectancy, cancer screening might cause them more harm than benefit," Chen said. "Most guidelines recommend that we stop screening for these cancers when the patient has a short life expectancy. There is no evidence that cancer screening helps patients who have less than 10 years to live."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Five Things to Know About Perry Indictment (Jay Root, Aug. 16, 2014, Texas Tribune)

No one disputes that Perry, a Republican, had the authority to use his line-item veto power, guaranteed by the Texas Constitution, to eliminate the $7.5 million in two-year state funding for the public integrity unit.

That unit, charged with prosecuting public corruption cases in the state capital, is operated by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. Nor does anyone dispute that Perry, under the First Amendment, has the unfettered right to call for the resignation of Lehmberg or any other DA.

The allegation is that Perry improperly combined the two -- that he illegally tied his power over integrity unit funding to his demand that Lehmberg resign, essentially setting up a quid pro quo arrangement that crossed the line into an abuse of power.

Even after the veto, there were numerous reports that Perry's office continued to dangle a restoration of the state funding or a future job offer to Lehmberg if she would leave office. Sources said Lehmberg rejected the deal because she questioned whether it was legal.

Asked about those reports Saturday, Perry said: "The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in, and I did exactly what I said I was going to do."

Perry's strongest case going forward, at least in the court of public opinion, will probably center on Lehmberg's outrageous conduct during and after her arrest.

According to arrest reports and published accounts, a driver called 911 in April 2013 after seeing someone in a Lexus driving erratically, crossing into the bike lanes and swerving into oncoming traffic. Lehmberg, Travis County's top law enforcement official, was later found in a church parking lot with a bottle of vodka in the front seat.

The video of her field sobriety tests and from inside the Travis County Jail is scandalous and highly embarrassing: She screamed and cried, kicked a door, stuck out her tongue and repeatedly tried to pull rank by telling authorities to "call Greg"  -- meaning Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. "Y'all are gonna be in jail, not me," she declared at one point.

She ultimately had to be restrained in leg irons before her blood was drawn. Even hours after her arrest, her blood-alcohol content was found to be at nearly three times the blood-alcohol limit.

...that in her video she'd said the stuff Mel Gibson did; would anyone even question the veto?

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Is a Baby Aspirin a Day the New Apple? (Hilda Bastian, August 17, 2014, Scientific American)

His first big clue came when people started hemorrhaging after chewing gum.

Lawrence Craven did tonsil and adenoid surgery in his office. And it usually went well. But in the mid-1940s, "an alarming number of hemorrhages were evidenced in disturbing frequency," he said.

He figured it was the aspirin chewing gum people were using for pain relief. Maybe it interfered with blood clotting. Craven tested the idea out on himself. He took 12 aspirin a day till he got a "profuse nosebleed." Then he did it a couple more times to be sure.

And if the drug could interfere with blood clotting, Craven figured maybe it could prevent blood clots in arteries that caused heart attacks. So he started prescribing an aspirin a day to thousands of men at high risk of heart attack and recording what happened: very few heart attacks.

It was the first appearance of the "aspirin a day" practice in the medical literature. But no one followed up on Craven's call for controlled testing of the hypothesis. Then in the 1960s, John O'Brien, a hematologist in Portsmouth, England, arrived at the same conclusion. That convinced Peter Elwood from the UK Medical Research Council to start a randomized controlled trial. The first men enrolled in 1970.

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