October 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Once Obama country, Colorado now razor-close (NICHOLAS RICCARDI and KRISTEN WYATT, 10/24/12,  Associated Press)

Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Colorado is a toss-up in this election. Like other battleground states, a slight Obama polling edge before October here has been transformed into a deadlock. That's because independent suburban women--the key demographic in this closely divided state--are taking a second look at Romney. Some analysts see an enthusiasm gap between Obama's supporters and his rival's. And the president's attacks on Romney's wealth may resonate less here than in blue-collar Midwestern battlegrounds like Ohio.

"He should be doing better and he isn't," said independent pollster Floyd Ciruli, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. "It's the worst (swing) state of the bunch for him; isn't that amazing? It's the place we thought he could use as a model."

Though the state has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1968, Obama won it by 9 percentage points in 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Romney Hits the 50 Percent Mark, With a Clear Edge on the Economy (Gary Langer, 10/25/12, ABC News)

Mitt Romney has seized further advantage on economic issues at the core of the 2012 campaign, taking him to 50 percent support among likely voters vs. 47 percent for Barack Obama - Romney's highest vote-preference result of the contest to date. [...]

Romney's gains are clear especially in results on the economy. This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that likely voters now pick Romney over Obama in trust to handle the economy by 52-43 percent - the first time either candidate has held a clear lead over the other on this central issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The political failure of Indonesian Islamists (Neha Paliwal, October 25, 2012, Foreign Policy)

Indonesia is often cited in the West as the ideal model that emerging Arab democracies should follow. Muslims officially account for more than 85 percent of its 240 million people, making Indonesia not only the country with the largest Muslim population, but also often cited as the largest democracy among Muslim-majority nations. Some would even describe Indonesia as the "largest Muslim democracy," although this is something of a misnomer considering that Indonesia is not an Islamic state (the constitution guarantees freedom of religion) and the Islamists are not anywhere close to ruling the country.

Indonesia had its own spring fourteen years ago with the end of three decades of Suharto's authoritarian rule, which had suppressed political Islam. But even with their newfound freedom, the Islamists have been struggling to convince the majority of Muslim voters to support their causes, which range from implementing sharia to making Indonesia an Islamic state.

The lion's share of the votes in all three elections (1999, 2004, and 2009) has gone to secular and inclusive parties that campaigned on more popular issues, such as anti-corruption, economic prosperity, justice, and freedom. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Why Liberals are Misreading Mourdock (Amy Sullivan, October 25, 2012, New Republic)

Let's get one thing straight from the start. I am not defending Richard Mourdock's position on abortion, including his opposition to a rape exception. So take that twitchy finger off the "send" button. However, I do want to examine some of the outrage surrounding the latest comments of a Republican politician regarding abortion and rape.  [...]

[I]f Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about. 

Take a look again at Mourdock's words: "I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And...even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." The key word here is "it." I think it's pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by a rape. He is not arguing that rape is the something that God intended to happen. 

This is a fairly common theological belief, the understanding of God as an active, interventionist. It's also not limited to conservative Christians. There are liberal Christians who also argue that things work out the way they're supposed to. Some of them are in my own family, and I think they're wrong. But it is one way of grappling with the problem of theodicy, trying to understand why God would allow bad things to happen.

...that God hates the child so much He's okay with us killing it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Many Israeli Jews support apartheid-style state, poll suggests (PAUL KORING, 10/24/12, The Globe and Mail)

Palestinians should be denied the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank and should be required to live separately - in effect creating apartheid-style state - according to a poll published in Haaretz, the leading Israeli newspaper.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Reverting to the Norm: The Race Narrows (Stuart Rothenberg, 10/25/12, Roll Call)
With less than two weeks to go until the elections, the presidential race continues to revert to the norm, a development that can only worry the president and his top strategists.
States that historically have been competitive in presidential elections or tilted to the GOP are moving in that direction, even though just a month ago they were favoring Barack Obama. [...]

After spending the summer defining and discrediting Romney in key states and nationally, the Obama campaign now finds itself facing an opponent who, in just 90 minutes, erased much of the image that David Axelrod and David Plouffe created in a series of negative ads over the summer.

Romney's new image and positioning in the race -- moderate, reasonable and focused on problem-solving -- make him a far more acceptable alternative than he once was, and that has made it easier for voters to focus their attention during the final month of the campaign on the president and his record, which remains mixed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Consumption and the Myths of Inequality : The standard of living has increased among all income groups over the past decade. (KEVIN A. HASSETT  AND APARNA MATHUR, 10/24/12, WSJ)

Another way to look at people's standard of living over time is by their consumption. Consumption is an even more relevant metric of overall welfare than pre-tax cash income, and it will be set by consumers with an eye on their lifetime incomes. Economists, including Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri of the University of Pennsylvania, have begun to explore consumption patterns, which show a different picture than research on income.

Our recent study, "A New Measure of Consumption Inequality," found that the consumption gap across income groups has remained remarkably stable over time. [...]

From 2000 to 2010, consumption has climbed 14% for individuals in the bottom fifth of households, 6% for individuals in the middle fifth, and 14.3% for individuals in the top fifth when we account for changes in U.S. population and the size of households. This despite the dire economy at the end of the decade.

What about the standard of living over those years? The Department of Energy regularly surveys Americans and asks them to report on the characteristics of their homes, including the types of devices and appliances they have. If the standard left-wing narrative is correct, then a typical poor American would trade his current circumstances for those of the past in a heartbeat.

Yet the access of low-income Americans--those earning less than $20,000 in real 2009 dollars--to devices that are part of the "good life" has increased. The percentage of low-income households with a computer rose to 47.7% from 19.8% in 2001. The percentage of low-income homes with six or more rooms (excluding bathrooms) rose to 30% from 21.9% over the same period.

Appliances? The percentage of low-income homes with air-conditioning equipment rose to 83.5% from 65.8%, with dishwashers to 30.8% from 17.6%, with a washing machine to 62.4% from 57.2%, and with a clothes dryer to 56.5% from 44.9%.

The percentage of low-income households with microwave ovens grew to 92.4% from 74.9% between 2001 and 2009. Fully 75.5% of low-income Americans now have a cell phone, and over a quarter of those have access to the Internet through their phones.

We would hazard a guess that if you were to ask a typical low-income American in 2009 if he would like to trade his house for its 2001 version, he would tell you to take a hike. How then is he worse off in 2009?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Are cancer patients' hopes for chemo too high? (Reuters, October 25, 2012)

Researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that 69 per cent of patients who were terminally ill with lung cancer, and 81 per cent with fatal colorectal cancer, did not understand that their chemotherapy was not at all likely to eliminate their tumours.

"Their expectations are way out of line with reality," said lead researcher Deborah Schrag of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institution in Boston, speaking to Reuters Health.

Perhaps ironically, the patients who had the nicest things to say about their doctors' ability to communicate with them were less likely to understand the purpose of their chemotherapy than patients who had a less-favourable opinion of their communication with their physicians.

"This is not about bad doctors and it's not about unintelligent patients," said Schrag. "This is a complex communication dynamic. It's hard to talk to people and tell them we can't cure your cancer."

She added that doctors find it uncomfortable to hammer home grim news and patients don't want to believe it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Obama's Blunder Was in Ceding Political Center to Romney (Clive Crook, Oct 23, 2012, Bloomberg)

In the last debate, focused mainly on foreign policy, he moved further toward moderation. He struck a conciliatory tone and found little in what Obama said to disagree with, making the encounter in one sense a nonevent. He was cautious to a fault, careful to avoid seeming recklessly hawkish, allaying concerns that under his leadership the U.S. might blunder into another war. This peacemaking Romney couldn't have won the Republican nomination. But he could very well win on Nov. 6.

The cipher to understanding this election is to ask, why didn't Obama beat Romney to it? Why didn't he deny his Republican opponent the middle ground of U.S. politics by seizing it himself?

Given economic conditions that dictate a loss, Mr. Obama had to at least try to restore his base in order to avoid a blow-out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Deadly Dancing: Could a Nocebo Effect Explain Medieval Europe's Dancing Plagues? [Excerpt] : Science journalist Chris Berdik describes the sometimes dangerous power of expectations (Chris Berdik, 10/19/12, Scientific American)

Mass psychogenic illnesses [MPI] are fueled by stress and flow from expectations. According to John Waller, author of A Time to Dance, a Time to Die (2008), there were at least ten dancing outbreaks in towns along the Rhine and Mosel rivers, and most of them followed periods of tremendous hardship, such as the waves of crop-killing weather and famine that preceded the 1518 epidemic in Strasbourg.

A hungry and fearful populace was primed for a freak-out, but the loss of control that followed was scripted by cultural expectations. The region's pious citizens knew well the story of Saint Vitus, and some of the first of these dancing plagues began on or near June 15, Saint Vitus' Day.

Today's versions of MPI follow more modern expectations --including fears of environmental toxins and terrorist attacks. In November 1998, for example, a teacher in a Tennessee high school came down with a headache, nausea, and shortness of breath after complaining of a "gasoline-like" smell. Soon her students began to feel sick, too. Eventually more than a hundred staff and students were taken to the emergency room. The school was evacuated and closed for two days while extensive tests were done to locate the source of toxicity. Nothing was ever found. Sometime later, questionnaires revealed that people who reported symptoms were more likely to have known or seen somebody else get sick.

Certainly, MPI should be a designation of last resort. In addition to the risk of neglecting a dangerous toxin or infection, there's the unfortunate implication that those with symptoms are either lemmings or liars. In 2011, more than a dozen teenagers, mostly girls, in Le Roy, a town outside Rochester, New York, were hit with a mysterious outbreak of uncontrollable facial tics and muscle spasms. Investigations by public health authorities found no evidence of environmental or infectious causes, leading many to suspect MPI. That suspicion didn't sit well with many of the girls and their families. They took it as a suggestion that they were faking, that there was no pill they could take to get better, and there was no one to blame but themselves. It's the same stigma that's followed placebos for centuries, of course, only applied to the nocebo in this case. If the mind causes it, then it can't be real.

As we've seen, however, the brain has many ways to make good on our expectations, both good and bad. In response to a clinician's promise, the brain releases painkillers as strong as morphine. Anxiety short-circuits anticipation and the athlete's worst fears come true. The embodied expectations of looking powerful can send our hormones racing. As Ader's saccharin-slurping rats demonstrated, the immune system can be ratcheted up and down without a word being said.

We saw in Chapters 6 and 8 how readily we take cues for our own behavior from watching others. Why couldn't placebo and nocebo effects spread socially, too?