2011 - %3, January

Who Wants to Repeal Healthcare Reform?

| Sat Jan. 22, 2011 11:10 AM PST

Via Greg Sargent, I see that the New York Times decided to go the extra mile and do more than simply ask people if they support or oppose the healthcare reform law. They first asked them if they wanted the law repealed, and if so, what part they wanted repealed. The basic result was 48% in favor of keeping the law as is, 18% who wanted to repeal part of the law, and 20% who wanted to repeal the whole thing. The details look like this:

So 8% are opposed to everything and 11% are opposed to the individual mandate. And that's about it. Not a single other provision was opposed by more than 1% of the respondents. Not even higher taxes! Hell, a full 14% were supposedly in favor of repeal but couldn't name even a single provision they disliked.

It's true that most people don't know anything about anything. So this isn't exactly man bites dog news. Still, with general opposition this small and this amorphous, and specific opposition limited almost entirely to the mandate, Democrats really shouldn't have such a hard time selling their side of this. It's yet another piece of evidence that, like it or not, healthcare reform is here to stay.

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A Near Death Experience for the Death Penalty?

| Sat Jan. 22, 2011 10:21 AM PST

Trouble in death penalty land:

The sole American manufacturer of an anesthetic widely used in lethal injections said Friday that it would no longer produce the drug, a move likely to delay more executions and force states to adopt new drug combinations....No other American companies manufacture the drug, which has largely been supplanted by alternatives in hospitals but is used by 34 of the 35 states that use lethal injection to carry out the death penalty....During what had been described as a temporary halt to production last year, scarcity of sodium thiopental led to delays in scheduled executions in at least two states, California and Oklahoma.

I oppose the death penalty on pragmatic grounds (it's too expensive) and moral grounds (it's pretty obvious that we aren't able to apply it fairly), but it's never been a huge hot button for me because I've never thought that it's inherently barbaric or wrong. That said, some of the best evidence that most of us feel pretty queasy about the whole thing is the idiocy of lethal injections. Frankly, if the whole process is so unbearable that hangings and electric chairs and firing squads and gas chambers are all beyond the pale, then maybe it really is inherently barbaric. And if that's the case, we shouldn't kid ourselves that recreating a sterile hospital environment makes it any less so.

Besides, it's still the case that putting someone to death is a mind-bogglingly expensive and convoluted process; we plainly aren't able to apply it fairly; and alone among punishments it's impossible to reverse if and when a mistake is discovered. That's reason enough to end the practice, and hopefully the end of sodium thiopental will prompt at least a few states to bring an end to the death penalty too.

Decluttering the Blogosphere

| Sat Jan. 22, 2011 9:59 AM PST

The bandwagon effect has always been with us, but OTB's James Joyner complains today about the baleful tendency of popular aggregators like Memeorandum to supercharge the herd instinct:

Regardless of how it happens, though, the result is the same: Everyone in a given niche winds up feeling obligated to weigh in. Indeed, I frequently see a headline or story somewhere, decide it’s not worth my time, and then get drawn into it hours later when I see conversations about it on Twitter or my blog feed reader. Sometimes, it’s just a function of “well, this must be important so let me say something.”

I have a solution: don't do it! If it's not something that you personally care much about, just skip it. I, for one, would actually enjoy the blogosphere more if fewer people repeated the same things over and over, and in particular I'd pay more attention to OTB if it had fewer posts. I can't read 20 or 30 posts a day on a single blog, which means that I probably miss lots of good stuff that gets lost in the clutter.

So let's make 2011 the year of decluttering in the blogosphere. Now if I can just figure out a way to get this meme to catch on.

Gays at War: Nothing New to MoJo

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 3:49 PM PST

This exuberant image by illustrator Lucinda Cowell appeared on the cover of the February/March 1983 issue of Mother Jones. In that issue, Alan Bérubé, the author of "Coming Out Under Fire," used archival letters, interviews, and declassified government records to argue that modern gay liberation began during World War II, when "thousands of gay men and lesbians were swept up by the war effort and given unprecedented opportunities to discover one another." He points out that the 1969 Stonewall riots, often seen as the beginning of the gay liberation movement, happened only after this "gay awakening" and the subsequent McCarthy-era crackdowns.

Science Shots: Penguin Racers, Cold Cod, Cooking with Lead

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 3:45 PM PST

A sampling of new science papers, explained in a sentence.

A new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder shows recruitment of young North Sea cod is stronger in cold years than warm years, leading the authors to predict that a full recovery of this stock is unlikely until our warming world cools again.

 

Credit: Hans-Petter Fjeld, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.Credit: Hans-Petter Fjeld, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

A study in PLoS ONE suggests the meat of game animals (red-legged partridge) killed with controversial lead shot is more dangerous to people if eaten cooked rather than raw—and even worse if cooked in acidic recipes, say, with vinegar or wine.

 

Credit: PERDIZ ROJA (Alectoris rufa)1, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Credit: PERDIZ ROJA (Alectoris rufa)1, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

Forthcoming in Marine Ecology Progress Series, a paper hypothesizing that emperor penguins gain enough speed underwater to launch into the air and onto sea ice by using "air lubrication"—air bubbles trapped in feathers at dive onset then shed during ascent—a form of drag reduction engineers have learned to use to speed ships and torpedoes through the water.

 Credit: Antarctic Photo Library of the US Antarctic Program, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.Credit: Antarctic Photo Library of the US Antarctic Program, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

The papers:

  • Esben Moland Olsen, Geir Ottersen, Marcos Llope, Kung-Sik Chan, Grégory Beaugrand and Nils Chr. Stenseth. Spawning stock and recruitment in North Sea cod shaped by food and climate. PRSB. DOI
  • Rafael Mateo, Ana R. Baos, Dolors Vidal, Pablo R. Camarero, Monica Martinez-Haro, Mark A. Taggart. Bioaccessibility of Pb from Ammunition in Game Meat Is Affected by Cooking Treatment. PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015892
  • John Davenport, Roger N. Hughes, Marc Shorten, Poul S. Larsen. Drag reduction by air release promotes fast ascent in jumping Emperor Penguins—a novel hypothesis. MEPS. DOI: 10.3354/meps08868 

The Onion News Network: Cable News Gone Rogue

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 3:39 PM PST

Does the world need another inane, dubiously sourced, and paranoid cable news channel? Yes, please! In what began as occasional fake news riffs online, the Onion News Network promises “9 billion viewers across 811 countries, and cameras watching over 80% of the world’s population.” The show premieres tonight on IFC as a half-hour weekly show, promising to be just as salacious as its cable companions. The show’s main vehicle is the “FactZone,” a fake real-news show that’s a mashup of Nancy Grace, Stephen Colbert, and Fox-News fearmongering all rolled up into a laser-packed collection of slick graphics and manufactured mayhem. In one episode pundits debate the merits of Kim Jong Il’s proposition to exchange nukes for a starring role in the next Batman (“risky…but we shouldn’t ignore the possibility that Kim Jong Il could be fantastic as Batman”), and a political analyst talks about presidential hopeful Sarah Palin’s newly released Choose Your Own Adventure book where “she could change the drinking age to 14, annex Mexico, or…”


When did cable news shows become a parody of themselves? The Onion's foray into makeup under the hot lights suggests that Fox, CNN, and friends jumped that shark long ago; The Onion's just taking the joke to a new satirical high. The show is sensational, insane to the point of hilarious, and totally full of malarkey, in other words, classic Onion. From its focus on dumb news (missing tire, found!), to entertainment plugs (Suri Cruise’s time-traveling kidnappers), to fear-based reporting (most everything else), ONN can break the news with the best of them. And viewers know what they're in for, nothing but untruths, no foolin'. How refreshing!

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The Week in Sharia: Elvis Retreats, Texas Reloads

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 3:37 PM PST

The new face of terror? (Photo: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen) The new face of terror? (Photo: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)Let's get right to it:

  • New Jersey's sterling reputation is under attack! Republican Gov. Chris Christie, floated by some conservatives as a possible 2012 candidate, has become the unlikely target of the anti-Sharia fringe after appointing Sohail Mohammed, a known Muslim, to the state superior court. Right-wing blogger Pamela Geller summed things up nicely: "Governor Christie looked and sounded like he could be presidential. He's not. He's in bed with the enemy. All the other stuff doesn't matter if you don't have your freedom."
  • Also in bed with the enemy, apparently, is Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), whose upcoming hearings on the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community came under fire this week—from the right. Steve Emerson, of the totally legit-sounding Investigative Project on Terrorism, alleged that King had "caved in to the demands of radical Islamists" by neglecting to invite him to testify. I detailed King's own history of radicalism here.
  • Remember that whole to-do about the proposed Islamic community center in Manhattan? It turns out the entire anti-mosque advertising campaign was paid for by one (1) New York hedge-fund manager, Robert Mercer, possibly under the pretense of demonstrating to political power brokers that he was willing spend tons money if necessary, on the totally unrelated issue of high-frequency trading.
  • Texas is facing a $27 billion budget deficit, so naturally the state legislature is hard at working on the political equivalent of hitting "refresh" on your Facebook feed all day: State Rep. Leo Berman (author of his state's birther bill) has introduced legislation to ban Sharia law from being used in Texas courts. Far-right activists believe Sharia could subject citizens to extremely harsh punishments for dubious infractions—and isn't that what the state's criminal justice system is for?
  • Meanwhile, in Indiana, a similar proposal has been shelved—for the time being. State Rep. (and Elvis impersonator) Bruce Borders, who had previously floated the ban to send the message "that Indiana does not recognize Sharia law, or Muslim law," told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, that he has not actually introduced any such legislation yet.
  • And finally, the Village Voice reports that the NYPD has been requiring its officers to watch a film called The Third Jihad as part of their counter-terrorism training. Per the Voice: "The favorite image in The Third Jihad—shown over and over—is an enormous black-and-white Islamic flag flying over the White House." At one point the narrator warns that "One of their primary tactics is deception." I mean, just look at Chris Christie.

Florida GOP Champions Freedom, Liberty, and Busted Poop Tanks

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 2:02 PM PST

Newly anointed billionaire arch-conservative Florida governor Rick Scott—along with his all-GOP cabinet and tea-party-led state legislature—will get around to the state's budget crisis, its mortgage meltdown, its educational woes, its brain drain, its disaster-preparedness services, and its corruption problems eventually. But not until they've finished with their crap storm over, well, crap.

Last spring, outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist signed a landmark bill into law requiring septic tanks to undergo once-every-five-year inspections—the first time in Florida history that such inspections would be instituted. In a state where more than half of its 2.6 million septic tanks are over 30 years old, and 10 percent are estimated to be failing—a state where the water table is usually just a couple of inches below your feet—this didn't seem like such a bad idea. Not even to last session's Republicans: The bill's author was Lee Constantine, a GOP representative from Altamonte Springs. It was a "consensus bill on water policy which the agency involved, local government, environmentalists, business and industry support," he said.

Or, it was creeping tyranny! After the liberty wing of the GOP won a bevy of seats in the Legislature last November, the body's incoming leadership held a special session and passed a new bill that would halt the septic-tank inspections. Scott signed it last Wednesday. The reason? Republicans say the state's taxpayers don't want Big Government all up in their shit:

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 January 2011

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 1:06 PM PST

On the left, here's a good picture of Domino's stubby front legs. Or is it something else at work? In any case, when she walks she definitely slopes up toward the rear, which you don't normally see in a cat. On the right, here's another shot from the series of pictures of Inkblot and the laser pointer that I took a couple of weeks ago. Why? Because you can never get enough of cats and laser pointers. Note also that he's sitting on a cheap area rug that we originally bought to protect a high-traffic area of the carpet. It's almost literally in shreds now because Inkblot has adopted it as his personal scratching post. But I'm basically OK with this. It only cost twenty bucks, and if it lures him away from the furniture and the carpet, that's fine. I'll just buy a new one every six months or something

Chart of the Day: Done By 40

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 12:51 PM PST

Brad DeLong is surprised by this chart:

I suspect this is surprising only to people like Brad and me (and most of our readers): that is, college educated, white collar workers who make pretty good incomes and work in jobs where continual lifetime advancement is the norm. But that's definitely not the norm for the vast majority of the country. If you work as a truck driver or a waitress or an accounts payable clerk, then by the time you're 40 you've peaked out. Your job pays what it pays, and once you've accumulated a few years of experience you make as much as you're ever going to make. It's a different world from the one lived in by the upper middle class, and unfortunately, it's an increasingly foreign one to a lot of us.