A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.
With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."
For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.
I thought all along that Benjamin Netanyahu was going to win this week's election in Israel. I never wrote about it, but Mark Kleiman is my witness. My reasoning was simplistic: the polls were pretty close, and Netanyahu is a survivor. In a close race, he'd somehow figure out a way to pull out a win.
But yikes! I know Israeli politics is tough stuff, but I sure wasn't prepared for the sheer ugliness of Netanyahu's closing run. His speech before Congress turned out to be just a wan little warmup act. When things got down to the wire he flatly promised to keep the West Bank an occupied territory forever, and followed that up with dire warnings of Arabs "coming out in droves" to the polls. Even by Israeli standards this is sordid stuff.
I don't follow Israeli-Palestinian politics closely anymore, having long since given up hope that either side is willing to make the compromises necessary for peace. But even to my unpracticed eye, this election seems to change things. Sure, no one ever believed Netanyahu was truly dedicated to a two-state solution in the first place, but at least it hung out there as a possibility. Now it's gone. This will almost certainly strengthen Hamas and other hardline elements within the Palestinian movement, which in turn will justify ever tighter crackdowns by Israel. Is there any way this doesn't end badly?
I just don't see the endgame here for either side. Can someone enlighten me?
And it gets even better. This is unusually straightforward reporting:
House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or “achieving sustainability.” They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.
What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a “cut.” The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.
I get that budget documents are often as much aspirational as anything else, but surely they should have at least some grounding in reality? Here's the best part:
The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.
House Republicans sure don't make it easy to take them seriously, do they?
While reporting on the arrest of Robert Durst, the subject of HBO's documentary "The Jinx," the Associated Press committed a wonderful error by confusing the creepy real-estate millionaire for the frontman of Limp Bizkit, Fred Durst.
The correction marks what we can safely predict will be the most relevant Limp Bizkit will be ever again.
On my very first shift after being promoted to line cook from busboy at a busy Texas steakhouse back in the '80s, I watched a wizened colleague deftly transfer a catfish filet straight from a fryer basket to a plate using only his bare fingers. Bristling with teenage zeal, I attempted the same trick—earning a surge of pain and five raised welts (one for each finger tip) that troubled me for weeks. I learned several important lessons—about technique, calluses, and the wonders of tongs—and never suffered another serious burn in my near-decadelong career as a cook.
Kitchens seethe with danger: sharp (or, worse, dull) knives; fire; hot pans full of gurgling liquids; vats of boiling grease. Injuries are inevitable. In a properly trained and staffed outfit, however, they should be minimal. But as the above video shows, that's not always the case. Made by the union-led Fight for $15 campaign, which aims to improve wages and conditions for fast-food workers, it depicts truly nasty conditions prevailing behind the scenes at a McDonald's outlet.
And McDonald's isn't the only chain with worker safety issues. A new poll of 1,426 adult fast-food workers—1,091 of whom work in the kitchen "at least some of the time"—suggests that things are out of control in the nation's fast-food kitchens.
Hart Research Associates, on behalf of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH)
Note that those numbers reflect the injury experiences of all the workers polled, even those who don't work on the kitchen side of the operation. Among the approximately 1,100 kitchen workers polled, 75 percent reported having been burned multiple times over the past year. Among nonkitchen workers, 61 percent reported a burn in the past year, most often from handling hot liquids, the report notes. That 12 percent of respondents said they've been assaulted over the previous year suggests that security, too, is an issue in fast food outlets.
Now, these startling numbers raise the question of why the polled workers didn't learn to navigate the dangers of the kitchen after one burn, like I did as a teen. Among the recent burn victims in the poll, 46 percent cited either "pressure from managers to work more quickly than is safe" or "having too few employees to handle the workload safely" as the main culprit of their injury. And 28 percent blamed either "missing or damaged protective equipment" or "broken or damaged kitchen equipment."
The kitchen where I worked was amply staffed with experienced cooks and outfitted with functional equipment. According to this poll, those conditions don't always prevail in our nation's fast-food outlets.
Hart Research Associates, on behalf of behalf of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH)
And when people get injured, it's depressingly difficult to get decent treatment:
More than one-third (36%) of fast food workers report that their store is missing a basic tool of injury preparedness: a stocked, accessible first aid kit. In addition to the 8% who say their restaurant does not have a first aid kit at all, 19% say that the kit in their store is missing important items such as Band-Aids or burn cream, and 14% say the kit is located in a place inaccessible to employees such as a manager's office or a safe.
Then there's this jaw-dropper: "Incredibly, one-third (33%) of all burn victims say that their manager suggested wholly inappropriate treatments for burns, including condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup, instead of burn cream." (Sure, there's a history of using mustard as a burn salve; but workers should at least have the option of reaching for medicated burn cream.)
For their trouble, fast-food cooks earn an hourly median wage of $8.87, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—a poverty wage. And contrary to industry dogma, fast-food jobs aren't all about disposable income for teenagers. Around 70 percent of the industry's workers are 20 and older; and more than a third are at least 25 years old. Crappy wages and unsafe conditions go together like burgers and fries; they're symptoms of a food system that prizes zealous cost-cutting and shareholder profit above all else.
In addition to the whole multiple myeloma thing, regular readers may recall that about a year ago I suddenly developed breathing difficulties. Things have improved since then, but I still have regular spells of shortness of breath. In fact, I'm going through one right now, which is likely contributing to all my other woes.
I mention this because today was the last of my pre-stem-cell-transplant workups, which happened to be a lung test. And just as always, I passed with flying colors. It even included a blood draw directly from an artery, which confirmed that my hemoglobin count is outstanding and the oxygen content of the blood in my extremities is normal or even a little above normal. And my lung volume? Better than 100 percent, whatever that means.
So the mystery continues. My lungs are getting plenty of air; they're producing plenty of oxygen; my heart is pumping perfectly; and the oxygen content of my blood is just peachy. Almost by definition, it sounds like there can't be anything wrong. Except that there is. Go figure.
In any case, all my tests are complete, and as far as I know there were no red flags. Next Wednesday I spend the day at City of Hope getting oriented. On Friday I get a nice big bonus round of chemotherapy, after which I spend a week injecting myself with a drug that stimulates white cell production. Then I get a Hickman port installed in my shoulder. Following that, I spend three or four days at City of Hope, where they draw blood through the port, centrifuge it, keep the stem cells, and send the rest back. When they have enough stem cells, they process and freeze them and send me home for a week of rest.
Then comes the stem cell transplant itself. I get a gigantic blast of chemotherapy that kills everything in its path—which includes all the remaining cancerous cells in my bone marrow but also all my non-cancerous plasma stem cells. That would kill me too, so the next day they unfreeze my stem cells and pump them into my body. Then I spend several weeks recuperating.
That's the short version. More later. Despite everything, it appears that all systems are go.
According to a company press release, the recalled boxes are 7.25 oz, "Original Flavor" Macaroni & Cheese Dinner with expiration dates between September 18, 2015 and October 11, 2015, and they're marked with the code "C2" below the date (referring to the box's production line). The boxes have been distributed across the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as some Caribbean and South American countries. The company's statement read, "We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed," and added, "Consumers who purchased this product should not eat it."
Actress Ashley Judd, a well known University of Kentucky basketball fan and alumnus of the Division 1 school, is striking back at Twitter users who launched a tirade of sexually violent tweets aimed at her while she attended a Wildcats game over the weekend.
The explicit messages, which include being called a cunt and suggestions that she "suck a dick," were prompted by her Tweet saying the opposing team was "playing dirty." Now Judd indicates that she hopes to pursue charges against her trolls.
When when I express a stout opinion during #MarchMadness I am called a whore, c---, threatened with sexual violence. Not okay.
"The amount of gender violence that I experience is absolutely extraordinary," Judd said on the Today show Tuesday. "And a significant part of my day today will be spent filing police reports at home about gender violence that's directed at me in social media."
Judd's harassment comes at a time when more women are speaking out against online abuse, whether via cyber-stalking and threats or movements such as #Gamergate. However, prosecuting such threats has proved notoriously difficult. Some members of Congress are asking the federal government to beef up enforcement of laws that already prohibit such threats of violence. From 2010-2013, federal prosecutors only investigated 10 cyber-stalking reports, despite 2.5 million cases of women being harassed online.
The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.
....“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
"Arming our allies" works sometimes, but just as often it ends up like this. If we'd done this in Syria two years ago, those arms would most likely be in the hands of ISIS or Iranian militias by now.
There just aren't very many good middle grounds between staying out of a fight and getting fully engaged in it. Iraq is our latest stab at this middle ground, and so far it's too early to say how it's going. But recent history is not kind to the idea.
Wind energy is growing fast. While it still accounts for less than 5 percent of the United States' total electricity mix, wind is by far the biggest source of renewable energy other than hydroelectric dams, and it accounted for 23 percent of new power production capacity built last year. Some experts think wind could provide a fifth of the world's energy by 2030. But wind in the US is always in a perilous position, thanks to its heavy reliance on a federal tax credit that is routinely attacked in Congress; the subsidy was allowed to expire at the end of last year, and its ultimate fate remains unclear.
Fortunately, wind won't be subject to the whims of legislators for much longer, according to a new analysis from the Energy Department. The new report found that within a decade, wind will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels like natural gas, even without a federal tax incentive.
Cost reductions and technology improvements will reduce the price of wind power to below that of fossil-fuel generation, even after a $23-per-megawatt-hour subsidy provided now to wind farm owners ends, according to a report released Thursday.
"Wind offers a power resource that's already the most competitive option in many parts of the nation," Lynn Orr, under secretary for science and energy at the Energy Department, said on a conference call with reporters. "With continued commitment, wind can be the cheapest, cleanest power option in all 50 states by 2050."
That would be a huge win for slowing climate change. The report finds that it could also lead to billions of dollars of benefits to the American public, from lower monthly electric bills to fewer air-pollution-related deaths.