Archive for February, 2013


Roundup – Tidal Wave Nightmare

Line O’ the Day:

Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible “puffy” bare skin exposure.


– Danger Guerrero, “Attention Grammy Attendees: CBS Would Like A Word About Your Boobs And Butts, Please” [Warming Glow]

Best of the Best:

Special Report: The latest foreclosure horror: the zombie title [Michelle Collins on Reuters]

Five years ago, Keller, 10 months behind on his mortgage payments, received notice of a foreclosure judgment from JP Morgan Chase. In a few weeks, the bank said, his three-story house with gray vinyl siding in Columbus, Ohio, would be put up for auction at a sheriff’s sale. The 58-year-old former social worker and his wife, Jennifer, packed up their home of 13 years and moved in with their daughter. Joseph thought he would never have anything to do with the house again. And for about a year, he didn’t. Then it started to stalk him. First, in 2010, the county sued Keller because the house, already picked clean by scavengers, was in a shambles, its hanging gutters and collapsed garage in violation of local housing code. Then the tax collector started sending Keller notices about mounting back taxes, sewer fees and bills for weed and waste removal. And last year, Chase’s debt collector began pressing Keller to pay his mortgage, which had swollen, with penalties and fees, from $62,100.27 to $84,194.69. The worst news came last January, when the Social Security Administration rejected Keller’s application for disability benefits; the “asset” on Avondale Avenue rendered him ineligible. Keller’s medical problems include advanced liver disease, hepatitis C and inactive tuberculosis. Without disability coverage, he can’t get the liver transplant he needs to stay alive.

Jason Taylor’s pain shows NFL’s world of hurt [Dan Le Batard on The Miami Herald]

[W]e begin the anatomy of Taylor’s story at the very bottom … with his feet. He had torn tissues in the bottom of both of them. But he wanted to play. He always wanted to play. So he went to a private room inside the football stadium. “Like a dungeon,” he says now. “One light bulb swaying back and forth. There was a damp, musty smell. It was like the basement in Pulp Fiction.” The doctors handed him a towel. For his mouth. To keep him from biting his tongue. And to muffle his screaming. “It is the worst ever,” he says. “By far. All the nerve endings in your feet.” That wasn’t the ailment. No, that was the cure. A needle has to go in that foot, and there aren’t a lot of soft, friendly places for a big needle in a foot. That foot pain is there for a reason, of course. It is your body screaming to your brain for help. A warning. The needle mutes the screaming and the warning. “The first shot is ridiculous,” Taylor says. “Ridiculously horrible. Excruciating.” But the first shot to the foot wasn’t even the remedy. The first shot was just to numb the area … in preparation for the second shot, which was worse. “You can’t kill the foot because then it is just a dead nub,” he says. “You’ve got to get the perfect mix [of anesthesia]. I was crying and screaming. I’m sweating just speaking about it now.” How’d he play? “I didn’t play well,” he says. “But I played better than my backup would have.”

Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax [Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey with Dom Cosentino and Tom Ley on Deadspin]

Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper. Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed. The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

The Latest Chinese Pollution Crisis [James Fallows on The Atlantic]

Therefore I am sobered by news reports, official warnings, and messages from friends in Beijing, Xi’an, and elsewhere saying that the air pollution there is worse than it has ever been before. Here’s a gauge: the picture above was taken back when the level of dangerous “PM 2.5” small-particulate pollution, as reported by the rogue @BeijingAir monitoring site on the roof of the US Embassy in Beijing, was in the low-300s “hazardous” range. The readings in the past few days have been in the previously unimaginable 700s-and-above range, reported as “beyond index” by @BeijingAir. The worst I have personally seen in Beijing was in the high 400s, and that day I did not understand how life could proceed any further in such circumstances.

How To Solve Problems Like Sherlock Holmes [Jennifer Miller via]

She points to a study from the National Academy of Sciences, which showed that people who described themselves as heavy media multi-taskers had much more trouble tuning out distractions than light media multi-taskers. They were also worse at switching between tasks. “So even though they were multi-tasking all the time, they were less efficient,” says Konnikova. She explains that our minds are programmed to wander, which multi-tasking exacerbates. But concentration is self-reinforcing. The more you do it, the better you get. “The more you learn to filter out irrelevant distractions, the better your brain can monitor [your] environment–both externally and internally.” This means that focusing on one activity or thought at a time will help you notice or remember details in your work, the things your read, and the people you talk to. This kind of focus will also make you better attuned to how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally.

Life in the Red [Benedict Carey on The New York Times]

In one experiment, participants competed in rounds of the game “Family Feud,” a trivia contest in which each question allows for multiple guesses. One team was “poor,” allotted only 15 seconds per round; another was “rich,” having budgets of nearly a minute per round. Both groups could borrow time against future rounds, but the poor borrowed far more, progressively shrinking their future paychecks while the rich mostly avoided debt. The research team, which included Sendhil Mullainathan and Dr. Shafir of Princeton, demonstrated that same effect in a series of related experiments. Scarcity by itself — independent of personality or any other factors — fuels a drive to borrow recklessly.

Smokers who quit before age 40 live almost as long as people who never smoked: Ontario study [Jason Rehel on The National Post]

Jha’s used data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, which includes a cross-section of the population that’s surveyed every year about many health topics. More than 200,000 survey participants were linked to the National Death Index, which includes death certificate information for all Americans since 1986. Researchers working with Jha found that people who quit smoking between ages 35 and 44 gained about nine years and those who quit between ages 45-54 and 55-64 gained six and four years of life, respectively. This survey of existing data is considered a more accurate gauge than similar studies in the past that were skewed by data collected mainly from nurses or other health care workers.

Former Porn Star Is China’s Hottest New Politician [Josh Chin with Te-Ping Chen on China RealTime Report on The Wall Street Journal]

News that Gansu was playing host to Ms. Pang, known as Peng Dan in mainland China, produced a gush of responses on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging service, including no shortage of ribald commentary linking Ms. Pang with a series of officials whose illicit bedroom exploits have gone viral in recent months. “Peng Dan might work hand-in-hand with mainland officials to welcome in the New Year by recording a 12-second film that challenges Lei Zhengfu’s record,” wrote one salty microblogger. Lei Zhengfu was Communist Party chief of a district in the megacity of Chongqing who was sacked late last year after explicit video footage of him having sex with a woman many years his junior was uploaded to the Internet. A number of commentators, noting the short duration of the video, mocked Mr. Lei’s stamina – though to be fair, the footage in question started in media res, making it difficult to say with certainty how long the act lasted.

White House Keeps Secrets as CIA Agent Goes to Prison [Bloomberg Editorial Board]

The Kiriakou saga shines yet more light on the Obama administration’s vexed relationship with transparency. There were 720 Freedom of Information Act-related complaints filed in district courts in the last two years of Obama’s first term, a 28 percent jump from the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Six Americans have been indicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, twice as many as in the previous 90 years. All were charged with giving secrets not to hostile powers but to journalists. This record is all the more unsettling because of the relish with which the administration plays the double game of leaks: While officials have furtively and even openly divulged secret details on the drone war against Islamic militants when it served their purposes, the White House has stonewalled FOIA requests to release the Justice Department documents making the legal case for the program. Similarly, days after the New York Times published a front-page article on U.S.-instigated computer attacks against Iran that clearly relied on classified information from the administration, Obama had Attorney General Eric Holder open an investigation into such leaks. “The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said, stretching credulity.

A Health Scare for Small Businesses [Emily Maltby on The Wall Street Journal]

Even though the rule doesn’t go into effect until early 2014, a business could be subject to the so-called employer mandate if, during 2013, it averages 50 or more full-time equivalent employees, according to recently released regulations from the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service. Employers have the choice to calculate their head counts by averaging the full 12 months of 2013 or a consecutive six-month period during the year. Many small-business owners haven’t yet realized that the way they structure their firm in 2013 could determine their status under the law in a year’s time.

The Genius of Samsung [Farhad Manjoo on Slate]

Since 2010, Samsung has deepened its technical prowess. Its design and workmanship have improved, and now its devices work just as well as Apple’s and no longer look like clones of Cupertino’s best stuff. Most importantly, as Business Insider has noted, Samsung has become a master of marketing. Its commercials portraying Apple’s customers as mindless sheep were brazen—especially considering Samsung’s mimicry of Apple’s devices—but they were ubiquitous and beloved by Apple haters. They announced Samsung as a friendly, reasonable alternative to a cultish global brand. And, indeed, there is something charmingly humble about Samsung’s see-what-sticks strategy. Other tech giants operate according to lofty philosophies. Apple prizes aesthetics and usability, Google cherishes the free flow of information, and Facebook wants to connect us all to one another. Samsung has no such philosophy. All it wants to do is make stuff that we’ll buy. This strategy is an admission that customers, not companies, know best. If pleasing customers means making phones that look exactly like your rivals’ devices, or making phones that are foolishly large, or making devices that run every conceivable operating system, or creating a fridge with a built-in baby monitor and an Evernote app (unveiled at CES this week)—well, then that’s what Samsung will do.

Paper or Plastic (or Deadly Food-Borne Pathogens)? [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Recent years have seen a raft of bans put in place on plastic bags—Los Angeles and San Francisco both have them, as does China. In their paper, University of Pennsylvania economist Jonathan Klick and the lawyer Joshua Wright decided to look at emergency room admissions for illnesses related to food-borne bacteria before and after San Francisco County imposed its ban in 2007. They found that the problem had increased by more than one fourth, and that deaths had risen by the same amount.

Steven Soderbergh on Quitting Hollywood, Getting the Best Out of J-Lo, and His Love of Girls [Mary Kaye Schilling Interviews Steven Soderbergh on Vanity Fair]

I’m importing this liquor from Bolivia: Singani. Technically it’s a brandy. I was turned onto it while I was doing Che and everybody on the crew got hooked.  You don’t get that burn in your throat like you do with most hard liquor, so it’s dangerous. You can drink it like water and then you’re invisible.

Obama’s non-closing of GITMO, kind NYT headlines, and US government irony [Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian]

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported yesterday that the State Department “reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him”. That move obviously confirms what has long been assumed: that the camp will remain open indefinitely and Obama’s flamboyant first-day-in-office vow will go unfulfilled. Dozens of the current camp detainees have long been cleared by Pentagon reviews for release – including Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 36-year-old Yemeni who died at the camp in September after almost 11 years in a cage despite never having been charged with a crime. Like so many of his fellow detainees, his efforts to secure his release were vigorously (and successfully) thwarted by the Obama administration.Perfectly symbolizing the trajectory of the Obama presidency, this close-Guantánamo envoy will now “become the department’s coordinator for sanctions policy”.

Americans Most Satisfied With Military, Least With Economy [Frank Newport on Gallup]

Clearly, Americans view the performance of the nation’s military quite positively, an attitude that is also reflected in the military’s top position on Gallup’s annual measure of confidence in institutions. Americans are almost equally as satisfied with the nation’s efforts to fight terrorism. And, even though Obama made the need to address climate change a focus of his inaugural address, a majority of Americans say they are satisfied with the nation’s environmental quality. The public’s satisfaction with the military and anti-terrorism efforts is higher today than in January 2005, when George W. Bush was inaugurated for his second term as president — despite the Bush administration’s focus on building up the U.S. military and on greatly enlarging the fight against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer [Jared Diamond on The New York Times]

Studies have compared Americans’ perceived ranking of dangers with the rankings of real dangers, measured either by actual accident figures or by estimated numbers of averted accidents. It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way. Having learned both from those studies and from my New Guinea friends, I’ve become as constructively paranoid about showers, stepladders, staircases and wet or uneven sidewalks as my New Guinea friends are about dead trees. As I drive, I remain alert to my own possible mistakes (especially at night), and to what incautious other drivers might do.

For Search, Facebook Had to Go Beyond ‘Robospeak’ [Somini Sengupta on The New York Times]

The project represents how Facebook builds products. It studies human behavior. It tests its ideas. Its goal is to draw more and more people to the site and keep them there longer. What it builds is not exactly a replica of how people interact offline, said Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford who specializes in human-computer interaction. Rather, it reflects an “idealized view of how people communicate.”

U.N. rights inquiry says Israel must remove settlers [Stephanie Nebehay on Reuters]

U.N. human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

Native American Shuts Down Anti-Illegal Immigrant Protest: ‘Y’all Are All Illegal!!!’ [Abena Agyeman-Fisher on News One]

“That’s right. We’re the only native Americans here. Y’all are all illegal. We didn’t invite none of you! We didn’t invite none of you here. Get on, get on, get on with your bogus arguments.”

Everything Fun Is Illegal in Virginia [A. Barton Hinkle of The Richmond Times-Dispatch via Reason]

While it might soon be legal to live in sin, that doesn’t mean you can, by gad sir, fornicate. Fornication remains forbidden under the Code of Virginia, Section 18.2-344. So keep your hands and whatnot to yourself. Especially the whatnots. And don’t even think of doing other stuff. Virginia’s “crimes against Nature” statute—Section 18.2-361—still prohibits oral sex. Even between married straight couples. Moreover, state lawmakers seem particularly opposed to that practice—because in Virginia, it’s a felony. Efforts to repeal that provision or even to reduce oral sex to a misdemeanor have failed repeatedly.

Scary Health-Care Statistics on the Broken-Down Boomer Generation [Peter Coy on Bloomberg Businessweek] and Baby Boomers Sicker Than Parents’ Generation, Study Finds [Nicole Ostrow on Bloomberg]

The study, published online on Feb. 4 by JAMA Internal Medicine, says boomers were less likely to report excellent health and to do regular exercise, and more likely to suffer from obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other maladies. To pick one sorrowful example, they were twice as likely to use a “walking assist device,” such as a cane.

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