October 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Eating Cooked Food Made Us Human : Raw food takes too long to digest and offers too few calories to grow a human brain. Cooking it is the key. (Rebecca Boyle, 10.22.2012, Popular Science)

Gathered around a blazing fire, our ancient ancestors probably huddled to pass the archaic kebab, munching cooked meat and figuring out how they might share it and plan to get more of it. Eating cooked food allowed these early hominids to spend less time gnawing on raw material and digesting it, providing time--and energy--to do other things instead, like socialize. The strenuous cognitive demands of communicating and socializing forced human ancestors to develop more powerful brains, which required more calories--calories that cooked food provided. Cooking, in other words, allowed us to become human.

A new paper examines the metabolic restrictions of a raw diet, and suggests that our primate cousins are limited by their inability to heat their dinners. It bolsters the cooking hypothesis of Richard Wrangham, a primatologist and professor of biological anthropology at Harvard who believes cooking is our legacy. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


It's (Almost) Morning in America : A surging economy is great news. Especially for the next president. (Michael Tomasky Oct 22, 2012, Daily Beast)

The winner may very well go down in history as the man who led the country out of the greatest economic crisis in eight decades.

If it's Obama, that validates the stimulus, the deficit--even Obamacare, which revolutionizes one sixth of the economy. That old-time FDR religion, Democrats could claim, still works. "Which party sent this country to the brink of ruin in 2008, and which party pulled our chestnuts out of the fire?" could be a Democratic rallying cry until about the 2040s.

And if it's Romney? Well, that'll be one lucky man. He'll brag, of course, that it was all about his policies. The party that made the mess will spend the next few years or decades--and they're pretty good at this sort of thing--hammering home the argument that they sorted it all out as soon as Obama got out of the way.

So the improving economy raises the stakes in a huge way. In case they weren't high enough for you already.

This is the fourth important election of the past 100 years, not because of the choice of candidates in themselves, but because it will determine which party gets credit for the Peace Dividend.  In 1920, the GOP won back Washington after WWI and got itself the Roaring '20's, though it screwed the pooch by adopting limitations on immigration and trade.  In 1948, Truman fended off Tom Dewey and kept the Democrats relevant for another couple generations.  With the party finally on the ropes, after the GOP won the Cold War, Bill Clinton got o George H. W. Bush's right and Democrats managed to get part of the credit for the 1990's boom.  Comes the end of the WoT, which combines with the transition to a Third Way social safety net, and the party that gets credit for this boom and transition--if it gets sole credit--stands to dominate our national politics for a number of decades, as Republicans did after the Civil War and Democrats did after the Depression.

So, while the differences between the candidates and parties are trivial, the stakes are potentially massive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Josh's CMJ 2012 Day 5: Tallahassee, Ace Reporter, Hippy, Black Wing Hallo, Automatic Children (Josh S. Johnson, 10/21/12, Deli)

First up at the Legion in Brooklyn was a very cool band from Boston called Tallahassee, whom I covered for the Deli's New England blog. Each member of the band had a beard on his face and a mic at his mouth. At first glance, it seemed that the audition process for Tallahassee consisted of two parts: can you sing, and can you grow copious amounts of facial hair? But once the band started playing, they became a rock n' roll monster. The vocals soared and the guitar solos were blistering. The drummer was especially all kinds of awesome, which particularly came to light when part of his kit fell over, so he played it on his side.

All four members of Tallahassee sang, so it was interesting to watch them switch off and on vocals and particular parts of the song. No matter who sang, though, the harmonies were always on point. Basically, Tallahassee was a dirtier, more electric Fleet Foxes, or, if you will, a Fleet Foxes-Lynyrd Skynyrd mash up. Either way, they put on a fantastic performance for the small crowd that was lucky enough to watch one of today's most talented bands. [...]

My favorite acts of the week (in no particular order): Wilsen, Blonds, The Nightmare River Band, Local H, Field Mouse, The Bengsons, Tallahassee, MS MR, Sewing Machines, Linfinity

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Battleground Tracking Poll: Mitt Romney takes lead (JAMES HOHMANN | 10/22/12, Politico)

Mitt Romney has taken a narrow national lead, tightened the gender gap and expanded his edge over President Barack Obama on who would best grow the economy.

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll of 1,000 likely voters -- taken from Sunday through Thursday of last week -- shows Romney ahead of Obama by 2 percentage points, 49 percent to 47 percent. That represents a 3-point swing in the GOP nominee's direction from a week ago but is still within the margin of error.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Do we make too much fuss about breasts? : It's good to raise awareness of breast cancer, but an agenda driven by popular opinion can get in the way of science (Max Pemberton, 22 Oct 2012, The Telegraph)

I think the reason this study made the headlines was because it focused on two things that we, as a society, are obsessed with: breasts and cancer. Although the breast cancer findings were the ones that were widely reported on, the study looked at a host of other cancers too, including prostate, bowel, lung and all cancers combined. But it was the breast cancer component that got picked up.

There can be no subject that ignites the public interest as much as breasts do. I don't mean this flippantly. It's fascinating the way that these two mounds of flesh seem to eclipse all other organs. I am baffled that some newspapers still feel it acceptable to serve up pictures of topless women as daily ''news". But our interest in breasts is pervasive and means that breast cancer, for example, gets far more publicity than, say, bowel cancer.

This is a double-edged sword. While it means it's easier to raise awareness - and money for research - in breast cancer, it can also unnecessarily worry women, and it skews and impacts on what is studied and how. Of all the organs, the breast is the most political. There are support and advocacy groups for women with breast cancer - it's something that people run marathons to raise money for, and wear pink ribbons to show their support. It receives a tremendous amount of attention and resonates deep within our collective consciousness, more so than probably any other disease.

The American researcher and physician Deborah Rhodes argues that all this attention can, if not tempered, lead to as many problems as it solves, as the agenda is driven by public opinion rather than the science. She cites the perpetual debate about routine mammography as an example, arguing that because of the vocal advocacy for routine screening programmes, despite some medics questioning their value, considerable time and money has been diverted into debating a small, relatively unimportant area.

This, she says, has cost millions and taken up years of research time, for little benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Comedy Isn't Pretty : The religulous journey of Bill Maher. (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, 10/22/12, Weekly Standard)

Bill Maher's fans worship him. Some 4.1 million of them faithfully watch his Real Time with Bill Maher, whether at its 10 p.m. Friday time slot on HBO or in its on-demand and digital-recorder formats. Those are niche numbers compared with the weekly 14 million or so for ABC's Dancing with the Stars but still fairly impressive considering that Maher's show is on premium cable. Also, he aims for an audience that considers itself many cuts in sophistication above the "mouth-breathers," one of his favorite synonyms for the "rednecks" (another Maher bon mot) who take in mass-market network fare--and who vote Republican and go to church on Sunday, two other things that Maher can't stand.

Indeed, HBO has renewed Real Time, which wound up its tenth season in June, for another two years. Its season opener in August drew 1.9 million viewers when you count a replay at 11 p.m. (The numbers aren't in yet for Maher's Oct. 5 post-presidential-debate show, where he declared that Barack Obama had "sucked.") Studio audience members go crazy during Maher's hour-long combination of pundit and celebrity interviews, panel spar-offs, and monologues that veer between conventional standup and lengthy political editorials. They hoot, they cheer, they clap, they roar with appreciation.

But there is one thing that they almost never do: laugh. [...]

At some point in the history of standup comedy--and maybe it began with Maher's hero, George Carlin--certain comedians who had once been genuinely funny, as Carlin was early in his career, decided that the point of their routines was not to generate laughs but to vent political rage to the like-minded. The Carlin curse has afflicted an entire generation of liberal-activist comics, rendering them deadly: Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, to name a few. Their "humor" goes by the sobriquet "edgy," which is a shorthand way of saying "preaching to the leftist choir." 

Maher likes to tell the story of how, when he was 13, his father stopped taking the family to Sunday Mass because he didn't like the Catholic church's position on birth control. There is an irony there because in some ways Maher is a Catholic priest manqué. Like Catholic priests, he has taken a vow never to marry, and he uses his stage appearances essentially as a pulpit, except that the sermons rail not against sin but against conservatives, the evils of religion, or whatever else.

In Maher's church, as in all churches, you'll see plenty of devoted and enthusiastic worshippers. But you won't hear many laughs.

Thanks to Friend Driscoll for this one. For easily comprehensible political reasons, you can eith/er by liberal or funny, not both.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Sorry, U.S. Recoveries Really Aren't Different (Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff Oct 15, 2012, Bloomberg)

Why is our interpretation of the data so different than those of these recent commentators? Is the U.S. different?

Part of the confusion may be attributed to a failure to distinguish systemic financial crises from more minor ones and from regular business cycles. A systemic financial crisis affects a large share of a country's financial system. Such occurrences are quite distinct from events that clearly fall short of a full-blown systemic meltdown, and are referred to in the academic literature as "borderline" crises.

The distinction between a systemic and a borderline event is well established by widely accepted criteria long used by many scholars, and detailed in our 2009 book.
Indeed, in our initial published study on this topic, in 2008, we showed that systemic financial crises across advanced economies had far more serious economic consequences than borderline ones. Our paper, written nine months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, showed that by 2007, the U.S. already displayed many of the crucial recurring precursors of a systemic financial crisis: a real estate bubble, high levels of debt, chronically large current-account deficits and signs of slowing economic activity.

Today, there can be little doubt that the U.S. has experienced a systemic crisis -- in fact, its first since the Great Depression. Before that, notable systemic post-Civil War financial crises occurred in 1873, 1893 and 1907.

It is also important to define how a recovery is measured, and how success is defined. The recent op-eds focus on GDP growth immediately after the trough (usually four quarters). For a normal recession, the restoration of positive growth is typically a signal event. In a V-shaped recovery, the old peak level of GDP is quickly reached, and the economy returns to trend within a year or two.

Our book examined both levels and rates of change of per capita GDP; recovery is defined by the time it takes for per capita GDP to return to its pre-crisis peak level. For post- World War II systemic crises, it took about four and a half years to regain lost ground; in 14 Great Depression episodes around the world (including the U.S.) it took 10 years on average. A focus on levels, rather than percentages, is a more robust way to capture the trajectory of an economy where the recovery is more U- or L-shaped than V-shaped.
It also is a way to avoid exaggerating the strength of the recovery when a deep recession is followed by a large cumulative decline in the level GDP. An 8 percent decline followed by an 8 percent increase doesn't bring the economy back to its starting point.

Taylor, for example, appears to show the recovery from the Great Depression as the strongest in U.S. history, even though it took about a decade to reach the same level of per capita income as at its starting point in 1929.

Working with long historical series, we have stressed per- capita measures because U.S. population growth has fallen from 2 percent a year in the late 1800s to less than 1 percent in more recent times. Put differently, in the early 1900s, a year with 2 percent real GDP growth left the average person's income unchanged; in the modern context, 2 percent annual GDP growth means an increase of slightly more than 1 percent in real income per person. The impact of cumulative population growth even within an individual crisis episode is significant, as the recovery process usually spans four to 10 years.

Even allowing for all the above doesn't seem to entirely account for the differences between our interpretation and the conclusions of the Hassett-Hubbard, Bordo and Taylor op-eds.

Take the Panic of 1907, which fits the standard criteria of a systemic crisis (and one with a global dimension at that). We certainly would count that one. The narrative in the Bordo- Haubrich paper emphasizes that "the 1907-1908 recession was followed by vigorous recovery." Yet, as we show below, the level of real GDP per capita in the U.S. didn't return to its pre- crisis peak of 1906 until 1912. Is that a vigorous recovery? The unemployment rate (which we routinely include in our comparisons but the Bordo-Haubrich study doesn't consider) was 1.7 percent in 1906, climbed to 8 percent in 1908, and didn't return to the pre-crisis low until 1918.

The aftermath of the systemic banking crisis of 1893 is worse than the period after the 1907 episode, and the Depression of the 1930s is worse still. According to our 2009 metrics, the aftermath of the most recent U.S. financial crisis has been quite typical of systemic financial crises around the globe in the postwar era. If one really wants to focus just on U.S. systemic financial crises, then the recent recovery looks positively brisk. [...] 

So how many years did it take for per-capita GDP to return to its peak at the onset of the crisis? For the 1873 and 1893 (peak is 1892) crises, it was five years; for the Panic of 1907 (peak is 1906), it was six years; for the Depression, it took 11 years. In output per capita timelines, at least, it is difficult to argue that "the U.S. is different." It can hardly be said to have enjoyed vigorous output per capita recoveries from past systemic financial crises.

The notion that the U.S. exhibits rapid recovery from systemic financial crises doesn't emerge from the unemployment data, either. That data only begin in 1890, eliminating the 1873 crisis from the pool. [...]

The 2007 crisis is associated with significantly lower unemployment rates than both the Depression of the 1930s and the depression of the 1890s; it is more in line with the unemployment increases observed after the Panic of 1907.

It's remarkable how often analyses of the recent credit crunch conflate GDP with employment, even this one which begins by arguing that GDP per capita is the important indicator, but then switches to a focus on employment rates.  Let us consider only the question that the authors ask: So how many years did it take for per-capita GDP to return to its peak at the onset of the crisis? The answer--within a year from the trough--would seem to either dispel the notion that there was a systemic crisis or demonstrate that the crisis was met so effectively as to be sui generis.  Thanks, W.

Of course, the failure of employment to respond in similar fashion--even as GDP per capita surged back above pre-Recession levels--suggests that there is something wrong with those numbers.  The most obvious conclusion, though folks are reluctant to accept it, is that pre-Recession employment was artificially high and what we've been seeing is a market correction in employment.