August 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science : Fifty years ago, a book by Thomas Kuhn altered the way we look at the philosophy behind science, as well as introducing the much abused phrase 'paradigm shift' (John Naughton, 8/19/12, The Observer)

Kuhn's version of how science develops differed dramatically from the Whig version. Where the standard account saw steady, cumulative "progress", he saw discontinuities - a set of alternating "normal" and "revolutionary" phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases - for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics - correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. The fact that his version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962 almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how science did - and should - work. [...]

"The question I hoped to answer," he recalled later, "was how much mechanics Aristotle had known, how much he had left for people such as Galileo and Newton to discover. Given that formulation, I rapidly discovered that Aristotle had known almost no mechanics at all... that conclusion was standard and it might in principle have been right. But I found it bothersome because, as I was reading him, Aristotle appeared not only ignorant of mechanics, but a dreadfully bad physical scientist as well. About motion, in particular, his writings seemed to me full of egregious errors, both of logic and of observation."

What Kuhn had run up against was the central weakness of the Whig interpretation of history. By the standards of present-day physics, Aristotle looks like an idiot. And yet we know he wasn't. Kuhn's blinding insight came from the sudden realisation that if one is to understand Aristotelian science, one must know about the intellectual tradition within which Aristotle worked. One must understand, for example, that for him the term "motion" meant change in general - not just the change in position of a physical body, which is how we think of it. Or, to put it in more general terms, to understand scientific development one must understand the intellectual frameworks within which scientists work. That insight is the engine that drives Kuhn's great book.

Or, to put it even more depressingly for materialists, science does not describe reality, just reflects intellectual trends, like any of the arts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Last Bipartisan (BILL KELLER, August 26, 2012, NY Times)

Nowadays, Wyden is like the Amur tiger or the ivory-billed woodpecker -- if not the last of his breed, at best a very endangered species. Still, he persists in cornering colleagues who would disagree with him 95 percent of the time -- Judd Gregg, Dan Coats, Darrell Issa, Marco Rubio, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan -- and engaging them on the 5 percent where they might get something done. On tax reform, copyright protection, Internet freedom, education and especially health care, Wyden has found unlikely partners from the other side. These joint ventures rarely get adopted wholesale, but interesting elements find their way into the debate, and into the law. A fairly typical example: Wyden and Brown, the Massachusetts Tea Party favorite, designed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that lets states opt out if they can provide equivalent benefits and quality of care some other way. After much Democratic harrumphing, President Obama bought it. (Coming as he does from a relatively progressive and inventive state, Wyden is more open than many Democrats to treating the states as laboratories for new ideas, as long as the federal government enforces minimum standards.)

I once asked a Wyden aide whether the senator ever showed signs of despair at the increasingly toxic climate. "You know," the aide replied, "I've been trying to figure the guy out for about six years now and I honestly think that while the stuff that goes on here makes the rest of us tired, angry and cynical, it just makes him that much more determined to find a way to fix it. Seriously, after taking a three-year beating trying to push bipartisan health reform, he walks into my office and says, 'Great, now we're going to do bipartisan tax reform.' I admire the hell out of him for it, but sometimes I want to throw things at him."

When I reached him in Oregon the other day, Wyden was preparing to fly up to Alaska to see if he and Lisa Murkowski, a drill-baby-drill Republican senator, could work through the gridlock on energy policy.

For evidence that legislative odd-coupling can be a thankless exercise, let's return to Wyden's attempt to tackle Medicare.

Last year Wyden and Ryan held a news conference to release their plan. It would leave Medicare intact for anyone 55 and over, but give the next wave of retirees a menu of options including traditional Medicare and private insurance plans that would compete in local auctions. (The system resembles the insurance exchanges envisioned in the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare.) By introducing a measure of choice and competition Wyden hoped to prod health care providers toward more efficient practices and reap savings that could be used to ensure the long-term survival of Medicare.

The Ryan-Wyden proposal tasked the federal government to enforce basic protections for the vulnerable. It made Medicare more progressive, by requiring that the wealthy pay higher premiums. But, as Wyden says, the plan "put Medicare on a budget," allowed to grow only 1 percent faster than G.D.P. unless Congress intervened.

Many in his own party saw this as sacrilege, or at least a slippery slope. Liberals complained that the plan, by diverting some beneficiaries into private plans, would weaken Medicare's power to bargain for lower prices. Wyden's response: "Folks, 10,000 people are going to turn 65 every day for the next 20 years. Those of us who care about protecting the Medicare guarantee, we're going to have to find a way to make some tough decisions."'re part of the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Ad With Former Obama Backers Deemed Most Effective (Scott Conroy, August 26, 2012, RCP)

Luntz showed the group more than a dozen negative TV ads funded by both presidential campaigns and outside groups and asked participants to rate on a scale of zero to 100 the impact of each ad, regardless of which candidate they are leaning toward.

A majority pointed to a 60-second AFP spot -- which has been running in swing states as part of a reported $27 million advertising blitz by the Koch brothers-backed group -- as the most effective ad of the current cycle.

In the ad, voters who cast their ballots for Obama four years ago speak directly to the camera about why they would not make the same decision in 2012. "He said he was going to cut the deficit in his first term; I've seen zero interest in reducing spending," one man says. "He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse."

The ad made an especially strong impression on registered Republicans in the Luntz focus group, but registered Democrats and participants who said that they intended to vote for Obama again also gave it high marks.

Asked what they liked about it, several cited the relatively subdued tone and the effectiveness of featuring "real people" instead of actors or politicians.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Work Less to Get More Done (Scott Young, 8/28/12, LifeHacker)

Goals only work if they motivate achievable action. Zig Ziglar used to say goals should be out of reach, not out of sight. If you're not succeeding your daily goals lists at least half the time, you're not stretching yourself, you're just wasting time.

In the spirit of this, I offer two propositions:

1. We should endeavor to know, honestly, how much time we spend working and how much we actually accomplish. Doing a timelog is easier than ever now that there are services which track it for you.

2. Once we know how we actually spend our working time, we should try to incrementally improve it and not pretend that we'll be superheroes tomorrow.

If you do a timelog and discover you're only working four hours a day (which is very common) the appropriate reaction isn't to immediately convince yourself you'll start working eight hours, but to make incremental shifts. Try five or six hours and log yourself again in a couple weeks to see if you've made improvements.

Don't bother.  Your two hours of genuine productivity tomorrow will just be spent fixing hours 5 and 6 of today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM


In shunning African refugees, Israel ignores Exodus' call not to 'oppress the stranger' (Maya Paley / August 27, 2012

Israel was established as a haven for survivors of genocide. But it is now confronting a problem that puts that historical legacy to the test, and the results so far are dismaying.

Immigration authorities rounded up hundreds of refugees from South Sudan over the past few months and sent them back to their home country, where they could face death due to the ongoing conflict with Sudan, in the north. The last flight of returnees were sent back without any of their belongings, including the mosquito nets and medication kits humanitarian aid organizations had given them before the flight. [...]

This is policy born out of paranoia rather than reason. The crime rates among the African asylum seekers are much lower than that of the general Israeli population. While no crime is excusable, it is unacceptable to exaggerate and make erroneous claims about an entire population of people.

The African affair - and its shameful handling by the leadership - throws light on one of the central tensions of Israeli identity. It yearns to preserve its status as a primarily Jewish state, yet also wants to live by the compassionate and ethical heritage of Jewish teachings.

G-d imposes certain burdens upon us.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


On the road in the Weinermobile : Oshkosh native delivers smiles with iconic Oscar Mayer vehicle (Jessica Opoien, Aug 12, 2012, The Northwestern)

"It's a lot of fun," Pattee said. "Driving down the interstate, we get so many looks. We have people waving, people trying to take pictures, kids with their faces pressed against the glass, some wondering what the heck a Weinermobile is. That's one of the coolest parts, just seeing how many people can be positively affected by the Weinermobile ... We like to say, going down the highway, we spread miles of smiles, because everyone we see just loves the Weinermobile."

The most important part of the job, Pattee said, is interacting with people and helping them create "I remember when" moments with the Weinermobile. This summer, they're taking photos of people in front of the Weinermobile and sending "digital postcards." Hotdoggers don't give away hot dogs, but they do hand out coupons and the iconic Weinerwhistles. According to Oscar Mayer, hotdoggers give away an average of 250,000 Weinerwhistles per year.

While the hotdoggers don't receive free hot dogs for life -- but, Pattee said, "that would be great" -- they do receive Weinermobile tracksuits and hotdogger nicknames. Pattee goes by "Deli Eliot," and his partner is "Anggie Dogg." In addition to their nicknames, hot dog-related puns are an integral part of the hotdoggers' vocabulary.

"Puns are a job requirement," Pattee said. "We love a hot dog pun, like 'We really relish our job,' or, 'I was one of the lucky dogs to cut the mustard to get the position.'"

Pattee's favorite pun? "We took the scenic kraut."

Although the Weinermobile is comfortable, roomy and cheerfuly decorated, the hotdoggers do not sleep in the vehicle, Pattee said.

"It's not a Weiniebago," he said.