Archive for November, 2014


Roundup – Bounty Tracker

Best of the Best:

A Vaccine Mystery Hits Older Americans [Virginia Postrel via Bloomberg Views]

More than three-quarters of Americans believe vaccines for such diseases as measles, mumps, and whooping cough should be mandatory for children, a new Harris poll finds. The margin increases with age, with 88 percent of respondents over 69 years old and 83 percent of those 50 to 68 voicing support. People who remember the scourge of polio and who themselves may have suffered through such “childhood diseases” as mumps are, not surprisingly, more likely to want vaccines required for kids. But when it comes to their own health, they aren’t as enthusiastic about a shot of prevention. It’s been eight years since the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck’s Zostavax shingles vaccine for people over 60. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices officially recommended it for the same group. Yet only about 20 percent of Americans over 60 have had the vaccine. (In 2011 the FDA also approved it for people over 50, but without a CDC recommendation insurers rarely cover it.)

States Making Long-Term Contraception More Accessible [Chris Kardish on Governing Magazine]

A five-year study launched in 2007 by St. Louis’ Washington University has bolstered public health arguments in favor of LARC. More than 9,000 women ages 14 through 45 were educated on different contraception options and given a choice of method; 75 percent selected a form of LARC. Across all age categories, women who chose LARC had significantly lower pregnancy rates — 20 times less than those using a pill, ring or patch. Those findings and a growing awareness of the costs of unintended pregnancies first spurred a few states in recent years to evaluate Medicaid payment policies, which typically don’t pay doctors to insert LARC immediately after a woman gives birth. Studies show women who don’t get LARC  immediately after delivering a baby are less likely to come back for it later and far more likely to get pregnant in the next year. So more states — including Illinois, New York and Texas most recently — are trying to make Medicaid changes and help doctors deal with LARC’s high upfront costs of $400 to $1,000.  That price is based both on the long-term nature of the contraception, its high rates of effectiveness and the determination of manufacturers that Americans can afford to pay for it. The price also reflects the high public costs of unintended pregnancy, which totaled $12.5 billion in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. About 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. The rate is even higher among teenagers, minorities and women with lower levels of education and income. Medicaid or other public health programs cover nearly two out of three unplanned pregnancies (about 1.1 million births). From a health standpoint, unplanned pregnancies are associated with delayed prenatal care, premature birth and other complications.

In D.C., Most Gunshots Happen Near Schools [J.B. Wogan on Governing Magazine]

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, looked at gunfire within 1,000 feet of public schools and public charter schools in Washington, D.C., during school hours in the 2011-2012 school year. The report suggests that government officials should pay attention to guns fired near a school, even if no police report is filed — and tracking homicides or other common metrics from police reports may not be enough. To measure the number of gun shots near schools, researchers used data from ShotSpotter, a technology that detects the sound of gunfire and triangulates the location of each gun shot. Of the 175 schools open during that school year, 116 fell within the technology’s coverage area. The data show 336 gunshots fired during the school year. About 54 percent occurred within 1,000 feet of a school. The report noted that exposure to gunfire was concentrated near a few schools: about 9 percent of the schools experienced 48 percent of all gunfire.

U.S. Economic Confidence Index Stable in August at -16 [Rebecca Riffkin on Gallup]

Despite strong stock market gains, as well as more robust consumer spending and increased job creation, Americans’ economic confidence continues to be flat. While Democrats and upper-income Americans are the most positive about the economy, other Americans lag behind. In recent months, Americans have been a bit more negative about the direction of the economy than they have been about current economic conditions. However, economic confidence as a whole has remained consistent.

Two Is Stronger Than One: Shared Experiences are More Intense [Dr. Gary Lewandowski on The Science of Relationships]

Participants at Yale University tasted chocolate in a room either (a) along with another person tasting their own chocolate, or (b) with another person who looked at a book of paintings. Participants who ate chocolate with a fellow taster thought the chocolate tasted better than those who tasted chocolate alone. To determine others’ influence on unpleasant experiences, a follow-up study used a similar procedure, but had participants taste a highly bitter chocolate. As before, having a fellow taster present intensified the experience, in this case making the chocolate taste worse.

The Truth Behind Online Dating: What Is and Isn’t Real [Dr. Dylan Selterman on The Science of Relationships]

In OKCupid’s study, they found that people were about as interested in partners they thought were highly compatible even if objectively they were not. The odds of a single message turning into a longer conversation were nearly identical for the dissimilar (17% chance) and similar (20% chance) users. In general, I would suggest not taking the matching programs too seriously on any dating website, because these algorithms are not supported by scientific evidence.5 A practical take-home message is that the match percentage you see with potential partners probably doesn’t mean all that much—simply the perception that people are similar is enough to make you feel attracted, regardless of actual similarity. So whether you’re on OKCupid,, eHarmony, JDate, or other sites, don’t assume that a lower match % means you should avoid interacting with a potential partner, especially considering some of the incredibly random (yet perhaps highly entertaining) questions they have people complete (here’s a full list for OKCupid), which are not related to future relationship outcomes. If you like someone’s profile but they have a low match percentage, there’s no reason to hesitate sending them a (respectful) message—go for it!

Bellamy Salute [Wikipedia]

The Bellamy salute is the salute described by Francis Bellamy, Christian socialist minister and author, to accompany the American Pledge of Allegiance, which he had authored. During the period when it was used with the Pledge of Allegiance, it was sometimes known as the “flag salute”. Later, during the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazis adopted a salute which had the same form, and which was derived from the Roman salute. This resulted in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States. It was officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942…In his Pulitzer prize winning biography Lindbergh, author A. Scott Berg explains that interventionist propagandists would photograph [Charles] Lindbergh and other isolationists using this salute from an angle that left out the American flag, so it would be indistinguishable from the Hitler salute to observers.

The Legend of Elvis Old Bull [Patrick Sauer on Vice Sports]

The [Elvis] Old Bull vs. [Jonathan] Takes Enemy debate will never be decided. The former had the all-encompassing Johnson game with the odd knuckleball set shot, the latter the ability to score anywhere/anytime with both hands and a sweet stroke a la Bird. The latter went on to have a successful post-high school career at Rocky Mountain College, the former has those Lodge Grass titles. Both men, legends. And even if you were never lucky enough to see them play—and you won’t until someone uploads some dusty VHS footage to YouTube—could you at least agree there has never been two better names in the history of basketball?

The Third Wave [Wikipedia]

The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during the first week of April 1967. [History teacher Ron] Jones, finding himself unable to explain to his students how the German population could have claimed ignorance of the extermination of the Jewish people, decided to demonstrate it to them instead. Jones started a movement called “The Third Wave” and told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy.

Amid Kale and Quinoa, Pop-Tarts Keep Hanging On [Sarah Nassauer on The Wall Street Journal]

Sales of soda, cereal and frozen food are down. Sales of Pop-Tarts have gone up each year for the past 32.

Obama’s Betrayal of the Constitution [Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale and a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, via The New York Times]

President Obama’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris. Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written. This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed. But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

Number of Unvaccinated Children on the Rise [Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter on The Los Angeles Times via Governing Magazine]

California parents are deciding against vaccinating their kindergarten-age children at twice the rate they did seven years ago, a fact public health experts said is contributing to the reemergence of measles across the state and may lead to outbreaks of other serious diseases. The percentage of kindergartens in which at least 8 percent of students are not fully vaccinated because of personal beliefs has more than doubled, according to data on file with the state. That threshold is significant because communities must be immunized at a high rate to avoid widespread disease outbreaks…Holly Blumhardt, a mother of three unvaccinated children (two of them attend Orange County public school), said her family believes in staying healthy “from the inside out.” In her view, that means taking vitamin and mineral supplements, steering clear of genetically modified foods, getting regular chiropractic care and maintaining an “active lifestyle.”

The Typo that Destroyed a NASA Rocket [Zachary Crockett on Priceonomics]

On July 22, 1962, at 9:20 PM, the Mariner I sat idly on its platform, ready to make history. After investing years of construction, calculation, and funding, NASA had high hopes that its rocket would successfully conduct a flyby survey of Venus, thus shifting the Space Race’s momentum back to the home front. In every way, it was poised to set a space travel precedent. But when the rocket embarked, it was clear there’d be no cause for celebration: less than 5 minutes into flight, Mariner I exploded, setting back the U.S. government $80 million ($630 million in 2014 dollars). The root cause for this disaster? A lone omitted hyphen, somewhere deep in hand-transcribed mathematical code.

100% of power for Vermont city now renewable [Wilson Ring on Associated Press via The Boston Globe]

Vermont’s largest city has a new success to add to its list of socially conscious achievements: 100 percent of its electricity now comes from renewable sources such as wind, water, and biomass.

Where More People Are Living in High-Poverty Areas [Mike Maciag on Governing Magazine]

From 2000 to 2010, the number of people living in poverty areas increased by 56 percent to 77 million; the total population rose just 10 percent. Although fewer Americans (45 million) actually live in poverty, the fact that much more reside in areas of concentrated poverty is significant. Consider education, for example, with high poverty areas typically served by lower-performing schools. Access to health care and healthy foods, too, is often inadequate in these communities.

Extent of Antarctic sea ice reaches record levels, scientists say [Jane Ryan and Sam Ikin on ABC News]

Scientists say the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest level since records began…As the area covered in sea ice expands scientists have said the ice on the continent of Antarctica which is not over the ocean continues to deplete. CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, Tony Worby, said the warming atmosphere is leading to greater sea ice coverage by changing wind patterns.

White America’s Drug Problem Is Getting Worse [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

White people have a painkiller problem. According to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, painkiller overdoses accounted for almost 17,000 deaths in 2011. The majority of deaths were among whites, at a rate that’s growing faster than for any other racial group.

Fewer Millennial Moms Show U.S. Birth Rate Drop Lasting [Victoria Stillwell on Bloomberg]

For each year motherhood is delayed, career earnings increase by 9 percent, work experience by 6 percent and average wage rates by 3 percent, according to a 2011 paper by Amalia Miller, an associate professor of economics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Women who have college degrees and jobs in professional and managerial fields see the greatest gains, she found. The children of those women also benefit, Sawhill found. Preventing unexpected births lifts a child’s lifetime income by $52,000, according to Brookings’ study released yesterday. College and high school graduation rates both increase, while the chances of the child becoming a teen parent or being convicted of a crime decline.

Reports of Radio’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated [Priceonomics]

Despite all the disruption and change in the music industry, the size of radio’s audience has remained stable. Since 2004, annual market research has found that radio’s weekly reach is roughly 90% of Americans every year. The 92% of Americans that radio reaches every week listen to an average of two and a half hours of radio per day. And radio’s biggest users are not luddites. Among Millennials, the top listeners are 46% more likely to own a smartphone or tablet than their peers.

U.S. Army Choppers Forced to Land in Polish Fields [Piotr Skolimowski and Dorota Bartyzel on Bloomberg]

Six U.S. army helicopters landed in a rapeseed field in northern Poland, eyewitnesses said, after coming back from military exercises, alarming locals on guard over tensions across the border. Five Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one tandem-rotor Boeing Co. Chinook chopper touched down near the village of Gruta, 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Warsaw at about noon yesterday, according to local eyewitnesses. Some residents were at first spooked at the sight of the aircraft, Halina Kowalkowska, the village’s head, said by phone…“Those Americans were really heaven sent,” Kowalkowska said. “Now, when I think about it we could have served them some food, but we were in shock and the boys had to go.”

Don’t Take Your Vitamins [Emily Oster on FiveThirtyEight]

The bottom line is that there is simply very little evidence that these supplements matter. The best-case scenario is if you are an elderly woman who is deficient in vitamin D — then a supplement might help a little. Still, in the 2009-2010 NHANES, about 30 percent of the non-elderly-female population took supplements. And it’s not just vitamins D and E. The Physicians’ Health Study also looked into vitamin C and a one-a-day multivitamin and found the same results: no impacts on the risk of cancer mortality or the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Of course there are exceptions — folic acid is generally a good idea for pregnant women — but the data increasingly suggests that most people simply do not benefit from supplements. To be clear: Serious vitamin deficiencies can cause serious problems (scurvy in the case of vitamin C, rickets in the case of vitamin D, beriberi for vitamin B).1 But if you live in the developed world and eat a normal diet — even a pretty unhealthy one — you will be nowhere near this kind of deficiency.

Growing Number of People Living Solo Can Pose Challenges [Tim Henderson on Stateline]

The proportion of Americans who live alone has grown steadily since the 1920s, increasing from roughly 5 percent then to 27 percent in 2013, according to the latest Current Population Survey. The phenomenon, which is most prevalent in cities, raises a host of health and safety issues for local governments. The growth in the number of men living alone is especially dramatic, rising from less than 6 percent in 1970 to more than 12 percent in 2012, according to a Census Bureau report released last year. Fifteen percent of households are women living alone, but men are more vulnerable to the dangerous side effects of the single life, like social isolation that can lead to health risks and a higher mortality rate.

Liam Neeson Phones It In: Four Action Movies, 42 Minutes of Calls [Mark Glassman on Bloomberg Businessweek]

For about 8 1/2 minutes of Tombstones—or 7 percent of the movie—Neeson’s character is on the phone. He barks orders, cuts deals, and demands proof that a little girl is still alive. At one point he even calls directory assistance. He is on 10 separate calls. Even more remarkable is that Tombstone is a period piece, set mainly in the pre-smartphone year of 1999. Neeson’s character, perhaps annoyed by all the calls, expresses disdain for cellphones; his protégé in the film remarks that he uses a lot of pay phones…Since Taken, the 2008 action movie in which Neeson delivers his beloved “particular-set-of-skills” speech into a phone, it has become commonplace to find the actor holding a handset or a receiver. In Taken and its sequel, Neeson’s character takes part in 17 different phone calls. The longest call in each film occurs during the eponymous taking—kidnappers make off with a loved one while Neeson’s character or his daughter listens in. Neeson’s hero spends 10 percent of both films on a phone.

Hasidic Townhouse Foes Seek to Dissolve Catskills Village [Freeman Klopott on Bloomberg]

A plan to build 396 townhouses for ultra-orthodox Jews in a rural New York village is pitting residents and local officials against a developer who says he’s a victim of an anti-Semitic plot. Opposition to the project is so strong that Bloomingburg, the village in the Catskills, is considering dissolving its local government, which could allow the larger surrounding town to block the development. Voters will decide Sept. 30 whether to fold their municipal government into the Town of Mamakating, whose population is 30 times larger. Shalom Lamm, the developer seeking to build townhouses and amenities meant to draw Hasidim, accused officials in a federal lawsuit of misusing building codes to keep Jews from moving to the area and violating the rights of the plaintiffs under the U.S. Constitution. Town officials say the issue is about preserving Bloomingburg’s rural character, not about religion. Bloomingburg, home to about 420 residents 78 miles (126 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan, sits in the farthest reaches of a culture war raging in New York City’s exurbs as the largest Hasidic community outside of Israel leaves gentrifying Brooklyn in search of lower-cost housing. The fight has increasingly entangled state agencies and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 56-year-old Democrat facing re-election in November. In June, at Cuomo’s urging, the education department appointed a fiscal monitor for East Ramapo, a school district about 40 miles northwest of Manhattan where critics say the Hasidic-controlled education board has cut programs for public school students while Jewish children study privately. The Environmental Conservation Department is caught in a fight over the Hasidic town of Kiryas Joel’s bid to annex 507 acres from its neighbor.

The For-Profit College That’s Too Big to Fail [Karen Weise on Bloomberg Businessweek]

An Education Department inquiry revealed that Corinthian’s finances were in disastrous disarray. The company, which like other for-profits has seen a decline in enrollment since the end of the recession, had become almost entirely dependent on regular cash infusions from the government’s financial aid programs—$1.4 billion last year, or more than 80 percent of the company’s revenue—to keep the doors open at its 107 campuses. In July the government gave Corinthian until the end of the year to get out of the education business. Usually, when a school closes, the Education Department tries to find other programs to accept the students and the credits they’ve earned. But the size of Corinthian’s student body means it’s hard if not impossible to find enough places at other for-profit or community colleges. That creates a problem for the government, which must forgive loans for students who don’t transfer to other institutions. In the case of a school as large as Corinthian, that provision could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Now the Education Department is actively trying to shore up Corinthian’s schools even as it shuts the company down. “They thought they were going to be sending a really strong message” by cracking down on Corinthian, says Trace Urdan, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities (WFC). “They didn’t really understand that it may collapse.”

ATF’s Milwaukee sting operation marred by mistakes, failures [John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge on The Milwaukee Sentinel]

They were undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives running a storefront sting aimed at busting criminal operations in the city by purchasing drugs and guns from felons. But the effort to date has not snared any major dealers or taken down a gang. Instead, it resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found. When the 10-month operation was shut down after the burglary, agents and Milwaukee police officers who participated in the sting cleared out the store but left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents. And the agency remains locked in a battle with the building’s owner, who says he is owed about $15,000 because of utility bills, holes in the walls, broken doors and damage from an overflowing toilet. The sting resulted in charges being filed against about 30 people, most for low-level drug sales and gun possession counts. But agents had the wrong person in at least three cases. In one, they charged a man who was in prison – as a result of an earlier ATF case – at the time agents said he was selling drugs to them.

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men [Lisa Wade on The Pacific Standard]

USA Today maintains a database of charges, citations, and arrests of National Football League players since 2000 (ones they found out about, in any case). According to their records, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year. This is lower than the national average for men of the same age. And, despite the publicity, this year looks like it will be the least criminal on record.

The War Nerd: Bombs away in the Middle East! But why is Israel so quiet? [Gary Brecher on Pando Daily]

Israel sent a message about how it views the US campaign against [Islamic State] IS without using words at all. On the same day that American forces were attacking IS bases in Syria, Israel shot down a MiG-21 from Assad’s Alawite forces over the Golan Heights. Quite a moment in Middle Eastern military history: While the US was intervening to attack the Sunni jihadis, the IDF underlined its view of the real enemy by knocking down one of Assad’s antique fighters out of the sky. That ancient MiG wasn’t downed because it was a threat to Israel, or because it was over the line. It was downed as a gesture. Bibi and his Likud allies are sulking, because the way they see it, we’re bombing the wrong Syrians. The Israeli elite has always wanted the US to intervene in the Syrian Civil War—but not against the Sunni jihadists, as we’re doing now. They want American planes and drones to obliterate the other side–the Alawites’ Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its Hezbollah allies. Nobody ever seems to mention it, but the supposedly fearsome IS now owns the ground right under Israel’s Golan Heights fortifications, after moving in in June 2014 when the weary SAA, tired of being shelled by the IDF, moved out. So IS has been in place right there on Israel’s border for months now—and there’s been no attack from Israel. Yes, folks, you might actually get the impression that the Israelis—who know a thing or two about threat assessment—just don’t take IS very seriously. In fact, IS is a convenient little irritant, as seen from Jerusalem, a useful way to annoy the real enemy—the Shia/Alawite/Iran bloc.

Record Share of Americans Have Never Married [Wendy Wang and Kim Parker on Pew Social Trends]

After decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. In 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. In 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9%) in that age range had never been married.1 Men are more likely than women to have never been married (23% vs. 17% in 2012). And this gender gap has widened since 1960, when 10% of men ages 25 and older and 8% of women of the same age had never married.

God’s Lonely Programmer [Jesse Hicks on Motherboard on Vice]

TempleOS is more than an exercise in retro computing, or a hobbyist’s space for programming close to the bare metal. It’s the brainchild—perhaps the life’s work—of 44-year-old Terry Davis, the founder and sole employee of Trivial Solutions. For more than a decade Davis has worked on it; today, TempleOS is 121,176 lines of code, which puts it on par with Photoshop 1.0. (By comparison, Windows 7, a full-fledged modern operating system designed to be everything to everyone, filled with decades of cruft, is ​about 40 million lines.) He’s done this work because God told him to. ​According to the TempleOS charter, it is “God’s official temple. Just like Solomon’s temple, this is a community focal point where offerings are made and God’s oracle is consulted.” God also told Davis that 640×480, 16-color graphics “is a covenant like circumcision,” making it easier for children to make drawings for God.

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