July 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM

BUT FOR 9-11...:

George W. Bush's New Cause: AIDS in Africa (Eleanor Clift, Jul 22, 2012, Daily Beast)

Together with Laura Bush, he spent the July 4th week in Africa, where he helped build a wing on a hospital and refurbish a clinic to detect and treat cervical cancer. His jeans splattered with paint and with a baseball cap shielding his eyes from the sun, the former president said his work on global-health issues is a natural outgrowth of the freedom agenda he championed in Washington, noting with his characteristic bluntness: "One aspect of freedom is for people to be free from disease."

This was Bush's second trip to Africa since leaving office (Laura's third), and his emotional ties to the continent reach back to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that he put in place 10 years ago to help stop the transmission of the AIDS virus from mothers to children. It was transformative for Africa--and for also for Bush, who found a cause that he could take way beyond the White House, one that would become a building block in the next chapter of his life. [...]

The Clinton Global Initiative sets a very high bar for what a former president can accomplish. "He has great respect for the things Clinton does with his global initiative, the way he raises money and funds projects," says Tony Fratto, a former Bush deputy press secretary. "But he wanted to have the [Bush] institute be a laboratory and a platform for ideas in the four areas he considers really critical for the advancement of human progress--freedom, education, global health, and the economy." The interest in Africa, and in AIDS, has become a "family affair," says Fratto, noting that daughter Barbara founded a nonprofit, Global Health Corps, which focuses on Africa.

Bush presided this week over the launch of the institute's first book, The Four Percent Solution, an admittedly aspirational goal where various economists weigh in on what they would do in addition to extending the Bush tax cuts. The institute's programs carry forward Bush's signature proposals--there's a team "thoughtfully assessing, not judging" requests from states asking for waivers from No Child Left Behind. And there are the sports events that Bush holds to honor the servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The W-100" is a three-day mountain-bike ride every spring, and in October, Bush will host the second "Warrior Open," a golf tournament that recognizes the importance of golf as a rehabilitative tool. "It recognizes the war in a way that doesn't excite passion about the merits of his policies," says Pitney.

While unquestionably heartfelt on Bush's part, it avoids any re-opening of a policy debate about the wars on his watch. And that's the point. Freed of the office, Bush appears to be modeling his post-presidency after Bush 2000, the compassionate conservative, the reformer with results, the uniter and not the divider. 

Mark McKinnon, Bush's chief media adviser on that campaign, confirms Bush's return to those themes, describing him as "in a state of grace," grateful for the privilege of having served as president "and happy now to be off the radar screen and quietly doing good, meaningful, and compassionate work."

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM

WE ALL KNOW WHERE WE'RE HEADED...:

Our Ridiculous Approach to Retirement (TERESA GHILARDUCCI, July 21, 2012, NY Times)

To maintain living standards into old age we need roughly 20 times our annual income in financial wealth. If you earn $100,000 at retirement, you need about $2 million beyond what you will receive from Social Security. If you have an income-producing partner and a paid-off house, you need less. This number is startling in light of the stone-cold fact that most people aged 50 to 64 have nothing or next to nothing in retirement accounts and thus will rely solely on Social Security.

Even for those who know their "number" and are prepared for retirement (it happens, rarely), these conversations aren't easy. At dinner one night, a friend told me how much he has in retirement assets and said he didn't think he had saved enough. I mentally calculated his mortality, figured he would die sooner than he predicted, and told him cheerfully that he shouldn't worry. ("Congratulations!") But dying early is not the basis of a retirement plan.
 [...]

My plan calls for a way out that would create guaranteed retirement accounts on top of Social Security. These accounts would be required, professionally managed, come with a guaranteed rate of return and pay out annuities. This is a sensible way to get people to prepare for the future. You don't like mandates? Get real. Just as a voluntary Social Security system would have been a disaster, a voluntary retirement account plan is a disaster.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM

Robert W. Creamer, Biographer of Babe Ruth, Dies at 90 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, July 19, 2012, NY Times)

Mr. Creamer's book on Ruth, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life" -- which came out in 1974, the year Hank Aaron broke Ruth's career home run record -- was infused with details, including Ruth's pregame meal: three hot dogs. Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker, said Ruth had "at last found the biographer he deserves in Robert Creamer," describing his writing as "swift and clear and stamped with a confirming intelligence."

In 1984, Mr. Creamer (pronounced kreemer) followed up with "Stengel: His Life and Times," a comprehensive look at the baseball legend who played for or managed all four major league teams from New York City. Mr. Creamer presented Stengel, who was often portrayed as an idiot savant, as a nuanced personality of wit and intelligence. But he did not neglect the "old perfessor's" knack for squeezing new possibilities out of the English language in a personalized dialect called Stengelese. One gem Mr. Creamer chose: "There comes a time in every man's life at least once, and I've had plenty of them."

Jonathan Yardley, writing in The Washington Post Book World, said the Stengel book was the second-best American sports biography. The best, he said, was the Ruth book.


MORE:
-ARCHIVES: Robert W. Creamer (Sports Ullustrated Vault)
-TRIBUTE: BOB CREAMER (1922-2012): A GENTLE GIANT OF JOURNALISM (Jack McCallum, July 19th, 2012)
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Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM

NEVERMIND THIS RULING...:

Between the Lines : Why liberalism faces a new era of constitutional insecurity. (Paul Starr, July 13, 2012, New Republic)

FROM A HISTORICAL perspective, the ACA followed the path of least resistance to universal health insurance. Through most of the twentieth century, the model that many Democrats favored for health care was a tax-supported national program like Social Security or Medicare. They regarded private health insurance as inefficient and inequitable, and they saw Medicaid as providing only limited access to care. But after years of frustration, congressional Democrats pursued incremental reforms as a stopgap. During the 1980s, they worked with Republicans to extend Medicaid to pregnant women and young children in families with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. These extensions, signed into law by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, began as options for states and were soon revised and became mandates, and the states all complied in expanding coverage. In the early '90s, as a counterproposal to President Bill Clinton's health plan, many prominent Republicans also endorsed a mandate on individuals to purchase health coverage as part of federal legislation to bolster private insurance and make coverage universal.

In short, both elements at issue in the legal challenge to the ACA--the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion--had a Republican imprimatur. Serious questions had never been raised about their constitutionality. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the ACA case is that the Court nearly overthrew the entire act on the basis of arguments that Congress had no reason to take seriously when it passed the legislation.

Strictly interpreted, the Court's new limit on the scope of the Commerce clause should not have far-reaching consequences. Bill McCollum, Florida's former attorney general, unintentionally made this point when he said after the decision, "Well, at least it's clear that they can't order you to buy broccoli"--as if anyone had proposed to do that. Under the Commerce clause, according to Roberts as well as the four right-wing justices, the federal government cannot set a minimum requirement for health insurance any more than it can require people to buy vegetables. But by arguing that the ACA's insurance mandate was a novel and radical departure in federal legislation, Roberts and the conservative dissenters appear to concede that their ruling doesn't apply to any other existing legal requirement. In fact, the only recent proposal to mandate purchase of a private product has come from conservatives who want to replace Social Security with a requirement to buy private annuities--an idea safe under Roberts's tax-powers argument. The real worry about his Commerce clause ruling is that it may only be one in a series of new and dubious lines drawn to hem in federal regulatory powers related to the economy, environment, and other concerns.

...the point is that the four justices who'd have been happy to ignore the Constitution to achieve their desired result may on other occasions be joined by the Chief and have a majority, which would give us a Brennan Court of the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM

WHAT'S MOST PECULIAR ABOUT IT...:

Two uncomfortable men (Robert Fulford  Jul 21, 2012, National Post)
  
It's not hard to figure out why the 2012 presidential election is such a downer. The economy looks bleak and global instability is more dangerous than usual, but there's something else: Neither party is running a real politician for president. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney deploys the skills of persuasion and compromise that identify someone suited for politics.

Both are talented in various ways but they know little about braiding disparate sections of society, an essential element in political leadership. We find ourselves watching two uncomfortable men trying to be what they are not. The last time the parties produced such awkwardly inadequate champions was 1976, the year of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

...is that if Mr. Romney were to simply argue that Bain represented the ways in which modern economies have been made more efficient and made everyone more affluent, while Mr. Obama continued his attacks--based on the idea that the economy should create jobs at the expense of efficiency and wealth creation--we'd end up with the most ideologically consequential election since 1912.

This even though neither man believes in much of anything--politically--and they disagree even less.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM

A TRUISM WITHIN A TRUISM:

Art Over Biology (Adam Kirsch, July 12, 2012, New Republic) 

IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that the same era should have given birth to Darwinism and to the aesthetic cult of decadence. The iron law of Darwinian evolution is that everything that exists strives with all its power to reproduce, to extend life into the future, and that every feature of every creature can be explained as an adaptation toward this end. For the artist to deny any connection with the enterprise of life, then, is to assert his freedom from this universal imperative; to reclaim negatively the autonomy that evolution seems to deny to human beings. It is only because we can freely choose our own ends that we can decide not to live for life, but for some other value that we posit. The artist's decision to produce spiritual offspring rather than physical ones is thus allied to the monk's celibacy and the warrior's death for his country, as gestures that deny the empire of mere life.

Darwin himself recognized that the human instinct to produce and admire art posed a challenge to the law of the survival of the fittest. He addressed the subject obliquely in 1871 in The Descent of Man, the work in which he advanced the idea of sexual selection as a complement to natural selection. Sexual selection was Darwin's ingenious way of explaining features of the natural world that seemed gratuitously wasteful, in a fashion that the parsimony of evolution ought not to have permitted. The classic example is the peacock's tail: why should the bird devote so much of its energy to producing a totally nonfunctional but amazingly decorative tail? It is the kind of natural splendor that, to earlier generations, might have spoken of the generosity of a Creator. The problem plagued Darwin: "The sight of a feather in the peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick."

The discovery of sexual selection solved the problem with brilliant economy. Such displays, Darwin realized, were male animals' ways of competing for the favor of the female. By this logic, the tiniest initial preference of the female for a conspicuous male--a peacock with a patterned tail, an elk with enlarged antlers--sparked a continual competition among males to become even more conspicuous. In every generation, a more beautiful peacock would leave more offspring than a homelier one, thus passing on the genes for beauty to his offspring, who would undergo the same kind of selection.

Animals produce beauty on their bodies; humans can also produce it in their artifacts. The natural inference, then, would be that art is a human form of sexual display, a way for males to impress females with spectacularly redundant creations. There is even an animal precedent for this: the Australian bowerbird, which attracts females by building an incredibly elaborate bower out of grass and twigs, and decorating it with colorful bits and the juice of crushed berries. The bower is a perfect example of an artwork whose explicit purpose is to promote reproduction.

For Darwin, the human sense of beauty was not different in kind from the bird's. "This sense," he remarked in The Descent of Man, "has been declared to be peculiar to man," but "when we behold a male bird elaborately displaying his graceful plumes or splendid colors before the female ... it is impossible to doubt that she admires the beauty of her male partner." Still, Darwin recognized that the human sense of beauty was mediated by "complex ideas and trains of thought," which make it impossible to explain in terms as straightforward as a bird's: "When ... it is said that the lower animals have a sense of beauty, it must not be supposed that such sense is comparable with that of a cultivated man, with his multiform and complex associated ideas."

In particular, Darwin suggests that it is impossible to explain the history or the conventions of any art by the general imperatives of evolution: "Many of the faculties, which have been of inestimable service to man for his progressive advancement, such as the powers of the imagination, wonder, curiosity, an undefined sense of beauty, a tendency to imitation, and the love of excitement or novelty, could hardly fail to lead to capricious changes of customs and fashions." Such changes are "capricious" in the sense that they are unpredictable from first principles. Put more positively, one might say that any given work of art can be discussed critically and historically, but not deduced from the laws of evolution.

This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin's death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton's much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.

For Dutton, the exposure of the Darwinian origins of art was meant to build a case against the excesses of postmodernism. If human aesthetic preferences--for representation in visual art, tonality in music, and narrative in literature--are the product of hundreds of generations of evolutionary selection, then it follows that art which rejects those preferences is doomed to irrelevance. In this sense, Dutton's Darwinism was aesthetically conservative: "Darwinian aesthetics," he wrote, "can restore the vital place of beauty, skill, and pleasure as high artistic values." Dutton's argument has recently been reiterated and refined by a number of new books, which do not necessarily share his aesthetic agenda or his artistic cultivation. But their appearance suggests that Darwinian aesthetics--and its more empirical cousin, neuroaesthetics--is growing quickly in confidence and appeal.

ON ITS FACE, the notion that the human instinct to make and appreciate art can be explained by evolution seems true, even a truism. 

Mr. Kirsch has given too much of the game away. Once you acknowledge that sexual selection was just invented as a way around the refusal of Nature to obey Darwinism you're left with nothing but truisms.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM

GOING ALL THELMA AND LOUISE ON US:

Obama Should Head for the Fiscal Cliff (Bill Keller, 7/22/12, New York Times)

In January, two fiscal time bombs planted by Congress are due to explode. On Jan. 1, all the Bush tax cuts expire, constituting a $400-billion-plus tax hike in 2013. The next day -- unless Congress agrees on a major deficit-reduction plan -- a fiscal discipline known as sequestration will slash about $100 billion a year from federal spending, divided between defense and nondefense.

Blanket repeal of the tax cuts and across-the-board spending reductions are both pretty bad ideas. Taken together they are a kind of grotesque, automated austerity program. Lawmakers of both parties are desperately seeking ways to evade some of the consequences. Republicans are more focused on sparing the defense budget, and Democrats are pressing to preserve the middle-class tax cuts.

Republicans know that revenues have to be raised and Defense cut.  Democrats know everything else has to be cut too.  Driving over the cliff gives both what they want with plausible deniability.



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Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM

THAT'S A THEM PROBLEM:

Sex really does make men fall asleep (The Telegraph, 7/22/12)

Researchers from the French government took scans of men's brains during and after sex to monitor changes in their mental activity.

They found that the cerebral cortex, which governs conscious thought, switched off during orgasm.

Two other areas, the cingulate cortex and the amygdala, then sent a message to the rest of the brain telling it to remove all sexual desire, via the release of sleep-inducing chemicals including serotonin and opioids.

The findings may provide men with a helpful excuse to turn off the light and go to sleep, but they are unlikely to be welcomed by their partners who do not experience the same effect.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM

NOTHING BUT ASSUMPTIONS:

Muddled models (Buttonwood, 7/20/12, The Economist)

To be fair to economists, there are two reasons why their forecasts are often likely to be wrong. The first is that humans are not inanimate objects; we change our behaviour and we watch the news. If every economist forecast a recession for 2013 and the predictions were widely publicised, businesses would cancel their investment programmes and consumers would start saving, not spending, for fear of losing their jobs. The recession would occur now, not next year.

Second, the economy is a complex mechanism with many working parts. Economists cannot run real-time experiments in the same way as scientists; operating one version of the economy with high interest rates and another with low rates, as a pharmacologist can offer one patient a new drug and another a placebo. There is no way of isolating the various factors that affect growth.

But there are more fundamental questions about the nature of the subject beyond the failure of economists to make accurate forecasts. Do economists have an accurate model of human motivation? Or do they assume that our motives are entirely mercenary?

In his excellent book, "The Assumptions Economists Make" Jonathan Schlefer tries to go back to first principles. Economists, he writes, "make simplified assumptions about our world, build imaginary economies based on those assumptions - otherwise known as models - and use them to draw practical lessons." This is, as he admits, inevitable; the economy is too complex for any other approach to work. Simplified models can be manipulated mathematically to produce answers to economic problems. But it is easy to get carried away by the elegance of the model, and to forget the short cuts that were taken when the simplified assumptions were made.

Even the most basic assumptions of economics turn out to have exceptions. Take one law that most people can grasp - supply and demand. As supply rises, relative to demand, the price falls; while if demand rises, relative to supply, the price rises. But this is not true for housing; when prices are rising, demand increases as more people want to become homeowners. And it is not true of so-called Veblen goods, luxury items such as designer clothes whose appeal is driven by their higher price.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM

IT'S NOT TORTURE WHEN WE DO IT:

"I REALLY RESENT YOU USING THE WORD 'TORTURE' ": Q. & A. WITH JOSE RODRIGUEZ (Amy Davidson, 7/19/12, The New Yorker)


Jose Rodriguez spent more than thirty years with the Central Intelligence Agency, eventually serving as the director of its Counterterrorism Center. He was involved in the Agency's detention-and-interrogation program, which included holding prisoners in black sites and waterboarding them. Rodriguez wrote a book about his career, "Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives," which I've written about and discussed in a Q. & A. with Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent (and the subject of a Profile by Lawrence Wright). Rodriguez and I discussed his book and the choices he and the C.I.A. made in e-mail and phone exchanges; questions and answers are collected below, edited for length.

In your book, "Hard Measures," you write, "I cannot tell how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labelled 'torturers' by the President of the United States." That struck me and also confused me a bit. After all, your book argues that practices generally regarded as torture are necessary, and you express pride in carrying them out. Was the problem that the President used the word "torture"? Or just that he spoke openly about something you felt ought to be kept secret?

The practices the C.I.A. used were not torture. If that is the way they are "generally regarded" then the general impression is wrong. That is one of the reasons I wrote "Hard Measures." The techniques we employed were sometimes harsh, but fell well short of what is torture. My problem with what the President said had nothing to do with secrecy--it had everything to do with the fact that he, too, mischaracterized what was done by C.I.A. officers. These actions were undertaken at the request of his predecessor, judged to be legal and not torture by the Department of Justice, and briefed to appropriate members of Congress.

So if everybody else defined something as torture, but we don't, they're wrong and we're right? Does that come across as defining away torture? And why do you think that the word "torture" matters so much? If waterboarding is something that's regarded as abhorrent in a lot of the world, why does the label matter so much?

Well, because torture is illegal. Over the summer of 2002, when we knew we had to do something different to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured a few months earlier, we worked with our lawyers to make sure that we came up with techniques that were within the law. These techniques were vetted with the Department of Justice and the White House--with the policy people and the leadership people at the White House. Then, on August 1, 2002, we received a binding legal opinion in writing from the Justice Department that said waterboarding and nine other techniques we wanted to implement were not torture. We then went to the White House and asked the N.S.C. to give us policy approval to proceed, and for the President to direct us to proceed. And they did. A month later, when the Congress came back to town, we briefed the leadership of the House and Senate committees on intelligence, both Democrats and Republicans. They had no objection.

You say it's not torture because torture would be illegal, but you were told this was legal, even though it's a technique that in the past has been called torture and that a lot of the world calls torture?

The waterboarding that our critics and many others who do not know or do not understand--the waterboarding that they refer to is torture. They're talking the waterboarding that was used by the Japanese in World War Two, for example, or by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or even by the Spanish in the Inquisition, which was torture. But our waterboarding technique was different. It came from a U.S. program called S.E.R.E., a military training program, and under that program, tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have been waterboarded.





Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM

IT'S NOT TERRORISM WHEN WE DO IT:

Blowing Up the King David Hotel: Sunday marks the anniversary of the 1946 attack on the British. My 91-year-old grandfather helped carry it out. (Niv Elis, July 19, 2012, The Tablet)

There were a handful of Jewish resistance groups, but the Etzel was the only one actively fighting the British. The other groups did not want to divert British resources from fighting the Nazis. "The British at that time were worse than the Germans," my grandfather says. "If a ship of Jews managed to get past the Germans, the British would turn them around and send them back." Despite the violence of the Arab revolt, it was the British who truly stood in the way of establishing a Jewish state, making them the main strategic target.

At first, he was not involved in substantial operations, but after a few years of intermittent participation in the group, he took on a more active role, raiding British weapons store-houses, building explosives, and securing funds through any means possible. He was given the code name "Chaim Toit," combining the Hebrew word for life with the Yiddish word for death, during an explosives training course in 1943. He opened up a front store on 83 Hertzel Street, and went to work assembling grenades and other weapons in the backroom.

Around the start of 1945, his commander Eitan Livni (father of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) approached him with a task. The Etzel, he explained, had found a family living over on Bashan Street that was willing to shelter a wounded or wanted soldier in their house, and a hiding place needed to be built for such an eventuality. The apartment, he was told, was small, and an elderly grandmother was ailing in the second room. "Keep the door closed, because if you disturb the suffering old woman she is bound to die," Livni told him.

When he knocked on the apartment door, a cheerful woman with thick glasses answered, baby in arms, and let them in. Careful not to disturb the dying old woman in the next room, my grandfather and his friend Shlomo scouted the apartment out for a suitable hiding place. The house, they discovered, was built in such a way that left ample space between the ceiling and the roof. They could build a faux laundry closet in the corner and put a ladder inside leading to the rafters, which they would reinforce to allow a fugitive to hide for a few days. The plan was perfect, and they went to work.

One day, as they were working, a wind blew open the door to the sick old lady's room. Before its occupant could shut it, my grandfather caught a glimpse of a bearded figure, and his heart skipped a beat. He would have recognized that face anywhere. Even though he'd only seen him once, giving a speech years earlier, he knew it was Menachem Begin, the leader of the Etzel and, at that time, a wanted fugitive from the British. Instead of delight, however, my grandfather was overcome with trepidation at learning a secret he was clearly not meant to know.

Begin, realizing he had been "discovered," decided it was no use keeping the door closed and invited the two Etzel men into his room for tea, taking the opportunity to get some information on the outside world. My grandfather earned his favor by finding him a short-wave radio to keep abreast of the news from the outside.

Not long after meeting Begin, my grandfather's partner-in-crime at the weapons factory was captured by the British. My grandfather quickly closed the store and relocated to Jerusalem. There he began a new role scouting out possible British targets and determining whether they were penetrable. Among them was the King David Hotel, the luxury building that housed both the British military headquarters and various foreign dignitaries, who would dance along with wealthy Arabs at "La Regance," the hotel's café and lounge. A wanted man, my grandfather had to disguise himself carefully before scouting the area.

The plan was hatched one day when he noticed a truck making a delivery for the café. Every day at noon, Arabs would bring vegetables, food, and canisters of milk to the kitchen. The milk canisters, he thought, would be perfect containers for explosives, but he wasn't sure if the kitchen had an easy connection to the café, which was right below the military headquarters in the hotel's southern wing.

To find out for sure, he'd have to go into enemy territory. Dressed as Arabs, he and a friend, accompanied by two Etzel women, walked right into the café one Friday night. Though the hotel was heavily guarded, and arrest by the British could mean prison, torture, or even hanging, my grandfather had to be sure of his plan. At one point, the ladies were sent to the bathroom, and my grandfather went wandering down the "wrong" hall. At the end of a lengthy corridor, a large Sudanese guard opened a door and boomed a menacing "What are you doing here?" at my grandfather. He replied that he was looking for his friend in the women's bathroom, to which the guard gruffly escorted him, where his date was conveniently waiting for him. The story checked out, and the guard let them go. But my grandfather had already gotten what he needed: He spied a kitchen in the doorway from which the guard emerged. The plan would work.

My grandfather went to work training the operatives who would carry out the operation. On July 22, 1946, 250 kg of TNT in seven milk crates placed along the support columns in the basement went off, demolishing the Southern wing of the hotel and killing 91 people along with it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM

AND HOW MANY OF THE CURRENT RECORDS ARE THE PRODUCT OF PEDs?:

Are athletic records reaching their limits? (AFP, July 22, 2012)

[S]ome scientists say sporting records are starting to flatline and one day will become near impossible to beat without drugs, gene splicing or futuristic technology.

The men's long-jump world record was set in 1991, the men's pole vault record remains unbroken since 1994 and short-distance swimming's achievements have actually reversed since the drag-reducing bodysuit was banned in 2010.

"In all sports, what you see is a levelling off," says Steve Haake, director of Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Sports Engineering Research.

Records continue to be broken in many sports, but the margins are getting smaller and smaller, he explained.

Geoffroy Berthelot with the INSEP sports institute in Paris looked at a history of Olympic records since the modern Games began in 1896.

He calculates that athletes have reached 99 per cent of what is possible within the limits of natural human physiology.

By 2027, half of all 147 sporting events studied will have reached their estimated limits and will not be improved upon by more than 0.05 per cent after that, according to Berthelot's mathematical estimate.

"Sports performances are reaching a physiological plateau," he said.

Reza Noubary of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania projects that the men's 100-metre sprint, seen as the benchmark measure of human acceleration and speed, can only have a top time of 9.4 seconds.

The "data suggests that human speed increases are decelerating and will eventually stop completely," said Noubary.

But, he cautioned, this prediction is based only on mathematics.



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Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM

ISN'T THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION...:

'Who's On First?' The Sign Language Version (CHRIS BENDEREV, 7/22/12, Weekend Edition Sunday)


After Jerry Seinfeld broke down the classic skit on the MLB Network recently, NPR's Mike Pesca wound up with a peculiar email in his inbox.

It was a link to an American Sign Language (ASL) version of the skit, sent by a friend. It was amazing, Pesca says.

"There are parts where you don't really understand what's going on, but if you know the routine, you can pretty much tell what they're talking about," Pesca tells Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer.

"Then there are certain instances where you know exactly what they're saying [and] it gets huge laughs from the audience," he says.

The fact that the routine survives without spoken words is a testament to its brilliance, Pesca says. "It's math. It really is musical, and it works really well."

...inevitably going to be even funnier when you throw in deafness?
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