What I'm reading ed. 101109

(This post was drafted a few days ago, so I’m missing a fair bit of stuff that has happened since then, mostly the debt commission report)


In the news: Indonesian volcano, more violence in Iraq, Midterm elections, Rally for Sanity/Fear, QuantEasing2, Republicans Resurgent, Reid survives, Prop19 fails, Obama in India, Mexican drug tunnel, rise of Boehner, Yemen bomb plot.


Your top 10


  1. Post-election coverage preview
  2. The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Rep John Boehner (R-OH) (WaPo)
  3. Is debt evil? (Krugman)
  4. Haiti, 10 mo later (BigPicture)
  5. Crappy US electrical grid has benefits (electric grid map)
  6. McDonald’s hamburgers and rotting: a controlled experiment
  7. Where do (pharmaceutical) drugs come from?
  8. Conjoined twins share brain, thoughts
  9. College Application Inflation (NYT)
  10. Field guide to American walkers (Fallows)

And one for fun: Is Obama a Keynesian (Humor)



US Politics

  • Post-election coverage preview

    It’s long been obvious that Obama’s political standing would decline as a result of the poor economy and the passage of time. Similarly, substantial Democratic losses in the House were always likely given the large number of seats the party had to defend in a midterm election in which it controls the presidency. The continued weakness of the economy subsequently appears to have enhanced the Republican advantage, helping to produce tomorrow’s pro-GOP wave.

    Instead of focusing on these structural factors, journalists and other political figures have constructed a staggering number of ad hoc claims about messaging, tactics, etc. to “explain” what has happened to Obama and the Democrats:

  • Business abhors uncertainty, depending on how you define it.
  • What the F— has Obama done so far?
  • What issues do Americans care about? 1) Economy. 2) Jobs. 3) Terrorism. (infographic)
  • What Obama has done (comprehensive)
  • Republicans pledge to not play nice. (politico)

    Here’s John Boehner, the likely speaker if Republicans take the House, offering his plans for Obama’s agenda: “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed up his plan to National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

  • Who is Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)? (NYT)

    Financing Tea Party candidates and rallying the Tea Party faithful, Mr. DeMint has established himself as an alternate power center in Washington. And his rapid ascent has spawned a parlor game: what does Jim DeMint want?

  • The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Rep John Boehner (R-OH) (WaPo)

    Boehner chalks up his theatrical obstructionism to the reality of being minority leader: He must shout to be heard.

    Yet he insists he will be a very different kind of politician if the GOP wins Congress and he is elected speaker. He’ll help bring the animosity between the two sides under control, he says, by allowing Democrats greater freedom to have their say on the floor of the House and letting them bring their proposals to a vote.

    As it is now, the party in power routinely uses rules and procedural tricks to prevent the minority from offering bills and amendments. In retaliation, members of the minority use what few tools they have to obstruct the majority.

  • The Sisyphean life of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (gq)
  • 5 more examples of bad election commentary (MoJo)
  • Tea Party Factoids

    After a months-long investigation attempting to get a hold of the hundreds of Tea Party groups across the country, The Washington Post found the much-hyped movement is actually “not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process.” The newspaper could verify and contact just 647 of the 1,400 Tea Party groups it identified. Some groups consist of a single person, or a handful of family members, and 70 percent have done zero political campaigning. Only half the groups said they wanted to shrink government size and spending, and the culture war was off their radar.

  • Why NPR matters (Fallows)

    In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions.

  • Is Obama a Keynesian (Humor)
  • The Chinese Professor (aka Ch1na ownz u lol!) Campaign Ad (Fallows Commentary)
  • Fundamentals of the US Economy: A lack of demand

    This is a problem of demand. Workers are producing a lot when they work. Businesses are profitable when they sell goods and services. However, the demand for those goods and services is weak.

  • Is debt evil? (Krugman)

    Yet those parts of the private sector not burdened by high levels of debt see little reason to increase spending. Corporations are flush with cash — but why expand when so much of the capacity they already have is sitting idle? Consumers who didn’t overborrow can get loans at low rates — but that incentive to spend is more than outweighed by worries about a weak job market. Nobody in the private sector is willing to fill the hole created by the debt overhang.

    So what should we be doing? First, governments should be spending while the private sector won’t, so that debtors can pay down their debts without perpetuating a global slump.

  • George Bush’s Memoir Decision Points

    And he asserts that “had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked.”

  • Seven steps toward deficit reduction (DeLong)
  • Towards a better tax code (Klein)
  • Boehner’s election night speech
  • Marc Ambinder: From print to blog to print

    Really good print journalism is ego-free. By that I do not mean that the writer has no skin in the game, or that the writer lacks a perspective, or even that the writer does not write from a perspective. What I mean is that the writer is able to let the story and the reporting process, to the highest possible extent, unfold without a reporter’s insecurities or parochial concerns intervening. Blogging is an ego-intensive process. Even in straight news stories, the format always requires you to put yourself into narrative. You are expected to not only have a point of view and reveal it, but be confident that it is the correct point of view. There is nothing wrong with this. … What I hope I will find refreshing about the change of formats is that I will no longer be compelled to turn every piece of prose into a personal, conclusive argument, to try and fit it into a coherent framework that belongs to a web-based personality called “Marc Ambinder” that people read because it’s “Marc Ambinder,” rather than because it’s good or interesting.

  • 2 sides of a coin: Conservatism and liberalism (DailyDish)
  • What the 111th Congress accomplished (Klein)
  • Why Social Security is not as big a problem as Medicare (Drum)

    What’s important is that, unlike Medicare, Social Security costs don’t go upward to infinity. They go up through about 2030, as the baby boomers retire, and then level out forever. And the long-term difference between income and outgo is only about 1.5% of GDP.

  • Translating the Fed Reserves’ Quantitative Easing Statement into plain english. (npr)
  • Rating the US Healthcare System


  • Cholera in Haiti
  • Tsunami hits Indonesia
  • Harry Potter blamed for India’s owl crisis

    NEW DELHI — Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has blamed fans of Harry Potter for the demise of wild owls in the country as children seek to emulate the boy wizard by taking the birds as pets.

  • Haiti, 10 mo later (BigPicture)
  • Obama in India
  • The (re)rise of Taoism in China (NYT)
  • The Chinese experience in the US college system. (NYT)
  • Mt. Merapi erupts in Indonesia
  • A Fiery Way Out: suicide of Afghani wives
  • 53 killed at a Christian church in Baghdad

    For Nagam Riyadh, 26, who had a bandage around her knee after being wounded in the assault, its horror only strengthened her faith. On Sunday she sat by an arrangement of candles, the same spot from where she had watched one of the church’s priests die. “We forgive them,” she said. “We’re not afraid. They gave us blood and we give them forgiveness.”

    But for Helen Amir, 28, who said she was switching to Our Lady of Salvation from another church to show solidarity after the attack, it was too soon to talk about forgiveness. “I cannot forgive, ever,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Maybe they will kill me because I love God and I love peace.”

  • We abandoned Haiti. Surprise surprise? (tnr)
  • Structural reform vs. Giving money to the poor

    At first glance, simply handing out cash to the poor may seem naive. … More than a decade later, however, evidence shows that even modest payments grant the world’s poorest the power to make their own decisions; it also indicates that they make smart choices, especially on matters of health and education. Today, cash-transfer programs are thriving in some 45 developing countries and helping more than 110 million families. The World Bank has put at least $5.5 billion into nearly a hundred different projects.

  • Google Africa: hitting a few snags

Science and Environment

  • Science Cheerleaders: Go Science!
  • Vending machine grows lettuce
  • Uncanny valley: Dancing Robot. Facial Expressions Robot
  • Bladeless Windpower
  • Crappy US electrical grid has benefits (electric grid map)

    An important implication of Hines’s work, funded by the National Science Foundation, is that electric grid is probably more secure that many people realize — because it is so unpredictable. This, of course, makes it hard to improve its reliability (in another line of research, Hines has explored why the rate of blackouts in the United States hasn’t improved in decades), but the up-side of this fact is that it would be hard for a terrorist to bring large parts of the grid down by attacking just one small part.

  • McDonald’s hamburgers and rotting: a controlled experiment

    The burger doesn’t rot because it’s small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast. Without moisture, there’s no mold or bacterial growth. Of course, that the meat is pretty much sterile to begin with due to the high cooking temperature helps things along as well. It’s not really surprising. Humans have known about this phenomenon for thousands of years. After all, how do you think beef jerky is made?

  • Where do (pharmaceutical) drugs come from?

    First, the raw numbers. In the 1997-2005 period, the 252 drugs break down as follows. Note that some drugs have been split up, with partial credit being assigned to more than one category. Overall, we have:

    58% from pharmaceutical companies.
    18% from biotech companies..
    16% from universities, transferred to biotech.
    8% from universities, transferred to pharma.

  • Awesome sun photographs
  • How scientific peer review “works”
  • Fracking – promise or poison?

    In the sparsely populated pastures of De Soto Parish in Louisiana, the ability to extract gas from shale — which can involve a process known as fracking — has been welcomed as an economic windfall. Some residents call it a gift from God.

    But 1,400 miles to the north, in Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania, shale gas development has divided neighbors, spurred lawsuits and sown deep mistrust.

  • Renewable energy proves to be a hard sell (nyt)

    “The ratepayers of Virginia must be protected from costs for renewable energy that are unreasonably high,” the regulators said. Wind power would have increased the monthly bill of a typical residential customer by 0.2 percent.

  • Visualizing the US Electric Grid (NPR)


  • Blizzcon: A journey into geekdom

    We’re all familiar with negative stereotypes of the geek — obsessive behavior, crazed attention to detail, a seeming inability to socialize easily — but if there was one thing I took away from BlizzCon, it was that an essential thing defining geekdom is the capacity to be enthusiastic. Geeks want to be enthralled, and more than most people, they open themselves wide to that kind of ensorcellment.

  • Rally to restore sanity/fear: 215,000. Beck-a-palooza: 87,000 (How to count crowds)
  • The skyrocketing costs of childcare

    In 36 states it costs two-parent households more than 10 percent of their median income to pay for infant childcare. That’s a lot of money. And it can make parents’ household budgets seem awfully tight.

  • What can $1 trillion buy? (infographic)
  • Schoolchairs and what they might mean for education (Slate)

    It’s very rare for students to actually have a chair and desk that fit them right—one study put the number at one in five. In fifth grade, the classroom we’ve asked Slate readers to redesign, it’s not uncommon for the shortest student to be 18 inches shorter than the tallest.

  • Average teen sends 3,339 texts a month
  • Perhaps the bacon love affair can go to far: Bacon Soda
  • Conjoined twins share brain, thoughts

    Adding to the conundrum, of course, are their linked brains, and the mysterious hints of what passes between them. The family regularly sees evidence of it. The way their heads are joined, they have markedly different fields of view. One child will look at a toy or a cup. The other can reach across and grab it, even though her own eyes couldn’t possibly see its location. “They share thoughts, too,” says Louise. “Nobody will be saying anything,” adds Simms, “and Tati will just pipe up and say, ‘Stop that!’ And she’ll smack her sister.” While their verbal development is delayed, it continues to get better. Their sentences are two or three words at most so far, and their enunciation is at first difficult to understand. Both the family, and researchers, anxiously await the children’s explanation for what they are experiencing.

  • What does the war on drugs cost the US? (infographic)

    Obama admin budget: $15.6B
    Drugpolicy.org est: $40B
    Fed+State est: $77.8B

  • Food portions: 1990 vs 2010
  • Colleges and Online Lectures (NYT)
  • College Application Inflation (NYT)

    Fred Hargadon, former dean of admissions at Princeton and Stanford, doubts that more and more applicants make for a stronger class. “I couldn’t pick a better class out of 30,000 applicants than out of 15,000,” he says. “I’d just end up rejecting multiples of the same kid.”

  • What are the odds? (infographic)
  • What makes a makes a metropolis?
  • Field guide to American walkers (Fallows)
  • The difference between agnostics and non-fundamentalist Christians

    The non-fundamentalist Christian experiences doubt within the framework of faith, and above all hope.

  • Why are Christian movies so bad?
  • Relaxation beverages: a snooze test

    Downing a shot of something stiffer would have been less debilitating to my work than that afternoon iChill; within an hour, I was utterly drained and ineffective. Coffee did nothing—it couldn’t wake me up, or counteract iChill’s disgusting “blissful berry flavor”. At night, on the other hand, iChill had no discernible effect. Perhaps that makes sense: iChill contains a whopping 5 mg of melatonin, hundreds of times the natural dose, and as Dr. Czeisler pointed out, supplemental melatonin is far more likely to be effective if it’s taken at a time when your body isn’t already producing the substance—the afternoon—than at bedtime.

  • The importance of being unprincipled

    Granted, it’s a bit of a strange title. Its premise is that we need to be very careful what beliefs we turn into principles, because once they become a principle, we can’t really compromise on it. And that many people turn far too many ideas into principles that they are unwilling to reconsider. Subsequently, negotiation becomes out of the question, and unnecessary conflict often ensues. We can see it in our families, our schools, our country, and in our world.

    The article is not saying there are no principles worth upholding. It’s just suggesting that we very, very carefully decide which ones they are.

  • Why Philosophy? (Photos, NYT)


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