Mental Health Break

Apr 18 2014 @ 4:20pm

A watercolor compilation of your favorite YouTube cats:

New York Is Down With NPV

Apr 18 2014 @ 4:00pm

It just become the 11th state to join the National Popular Vote Compact, whose members agree to award their electoral votes in presidential elections to the winner of the popular vote, effective as soon as 270 electors’ worth of states sign the compact. Rick Hertzberg cheers:

A lot of people labor under the misapprehension that the Electoral College status quo is good for small states, or rural states, or states that don’t have big cities in them. Actually, the only states it’s good for, qua states, are swing states. The jurisdictions that have approved N.P.V. so far come in all sizes. Four are small (Rhode Island, Vermont, and Hawaii, plus the District of Columbia), three are medium-sized (Maryland, Washington, and Massachusetts), and four are large (New Jersey, Illinois, California, and now New York).

The discerning reader will have noticed that all eleven, besides being spectator states, are also blue states. The absence of red states from the roster is due largely to to a suspicion among Republican politicians and operatives that N.P.V. is somehow an attempt to get revenge for 2000. In opinion polls, Republican rank-and-filers, as distinct from Party professionals, strongly favor the idea of popular election. And a nontrivial number of Republican pros favor the plan itself.

Ryan Cooper looks at which states get screwed over the most by the Electoral College:

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The View From Your Obamacare

Apr 18 2014 @ 3:40pm

A reader writes:

Thank you so much for giving me a platform to share my Obamacare success story! Well, actually, it’s my brother’s story and it starts about a year ago. He was 25 and working for a small radio group in President Obama Visits Boston To Talk About Health CareIthaca, NY. He got into a PhD program at IUP, and since he was barely making any money, he decided to quit his job and spend the summer relaxing and traveling and visiting friends before starting school.

Those plans got thwarted when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in June. Three surgeries later, I am happy to say that he is in recovery and doing great, but damn, my family would’ve been fucked without Obamacare. It let my brother stay on my parents’ insurance, so he was covered when he got his diagnosis. I’m not sure what the costs of his treatment have been exactly, but the bill for just administering the radioactive iodine pill he had to take was almost $200,000.  When you add to that all the tests and the three surgeries, the costs have got to be close to a million, if not more. My family would likely be considered well-off, but those costs would’ve bankrupted us.

It’s possible that he would’ve been on Cobra without Obamacare, but I think it’s at least equally likely that he would’ve decided to just wait until he could join the school plan because Cobra is so expensive. At the very least, Obamacare has saved my family from significants costs. And, because he now has a pre-existing condition, it’s the only reason he can buy health insurance and will be able to for the rest of his life.

A reader in Georgia:

My ex and I are splitting soon. I’m leaving my job in a few weeks and moving to another state across the country and will be unemployed for a few months as I switch careers. He’s staying here and working his way through his last couple of semesters of college. He has a pre-existing condition that requires medical oversight and expensive prescriptions. Until I leave my employer in a few weeks, I pay for his insurance through my employer-provided domestic partner coverage. Now that I’m leaving my job and moving to another state, he will have to purchase insurance on his own, something that was impossible before Obamacare due to pre-existing exclusions from the individual health insurance market.

Because we live in a GOP state, thanks to Obamacare, he can buy insurance (yay!) but doesn’t make enough to qualify for subsidies (boo!).

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Malkin Award Nominee

Apr 18 2014 @ 3:22pm

“In the last few days in terms of the people who have been yelling the loudest about [Truvada], they’ve all been associated with bareback porn. They’re all associated with bareback porn, which kind of makes my point that it’s a party drug,” – Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider in the U.S.

Yesterday, a troubling report that Jews in Donetsk were being ordered to report to the local authorities and register their property made the rounds in the press and on the Internet. Ioffe explains that the story is overblown:

Today, the Western press caught up with the Ukrainian rumor mill: apparently, the People’s Republic of Donetsk had ordered all Jews over the age of 16 to pay a fee of $50 U.S. and register with the new “authorities,” or face loss of citizenship or expulsion. This was laid out in officious-looking fliers pasted on the local synagogue. One local snapped a photo of the fliers and sent it to a friend in Israel, who then took it to the Israeli press and, voila, an international scandal: American Twitter is abuzz with it, Drudge is hawking it, and, today in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry slammed the fliers as “grotesque.”

The Donetsk Jewish community dismissed this as “a provocation,” which it clearly is. “It’s an obvious provocation designed to get this exact response, going all the way up to Kerry,” says Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. ”I have no doubt that there is a sizeable community of anti-Semites on both sides of the barricades, but for one of them to do something this stupid—this is done to compromise the pro-Russian groups in the east.”

But Anna Nemtsova talks to a local Jewish leader who points out that there are prominent anti-Semites within the pro-Russian camp and worries that nobody is looking out for his community:

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A Quote For Good Friday

Apr 18 2014 @ 2:37pm

“Just as we were all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worth while asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in an agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all-too-familiar sight — three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute criminals humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the nature of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful,” – W.H. Auden, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book.

(Hat tip: Alan Jacobs)

The View From Your Window

Apr 18 2014 @ 2:20pm

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Avery Island, Louisiana, 10 am

Dissent Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 2:00pm

A reader writes:

Your criticism of Jo Becker is hopelessly histrionic. I watched election returns at my then-boyfriend’s apartment in West Hollywood on November 4, 2008. I still recall the bewildering disorientation associated with feeling such enormous pride that our country had elected our first black president – while, at the same time, feeling such hopeless despair that my state didn’t care about making me a second-class citizen by approving Prop 8.

It was clear to me on that night that something in the marriage equality movement needed to change. The “No on Prop 8″ advertisements that I had been watching and writing a series of small checks to fund were offensive in their banality. Rather than frame the issue in the manner that a majority have subsequently come to understand it – as a matter of fundamental human dignity, love, family, and fairness – the “No on 8″ campaign relied on soundbites from Dianne Feinstein, overly defensive rebuttals of ads claiming that Proposition 8 would lead to the kids being converted to homosexuality, and a steadfast resistance to showing gay couples who were actually affected by the issue. The folks who Jo Becker write about are the folks who saw what a hopeless loser the No on Prop 8 was – and how laughably awful other similar campaigns opposing gay-marriage bans were.

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The Putin Way Of War, Ctd

Apr 18 2014 @ 1:39pm

Vice captures a Ukrainian police station being overrun:

Mark Thompson explores the Russian military tradition of maskirovka in more depth:

Maskirovka (which is rooted in the English word, mask) is designed to sow confusion and frustration among opponents by denying them basic information.

The anonymous troops in eastern Ukraine say only that they’re “Cossacks,” but Ukrainian and Western officials believe many of them are led by Russian special forces. Yet the murkiness of their origin and sponsors inflates their menace, and makes it more difficult to figure out how to deal with them. Snipping puppet strings between Ukraine and Moscow may be easier than controlling indigenous separatists operating independently. A combination of both complicates matters still further.

Patrick Tucker reports that Ukrainians are taking the matter of separating real protesters from Russian infiltrators into their own hands:

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The Math On The Midterms

Apr 18 2014 @ 1:18pm

Sides calculates that the GOP’s House majority could grow significantly larger:

 [B]ased on the current model and current conditions, there is a real chance that the 2014 election could give the GOP as many or more seats as it had after the wave election of 2010.  There is less of a chance, though still a chance, that the GOP could command a majority as large as its post-WWII high-water mark.  But, as of now, 2014 appears unlikely to give the GOP the unprecedented majorities it had after 1928 (or after 1920 for that matter, when it controlled 302 seats).

Sean Trende, meanwhile, wonders about the Democrats picking up Senate seats:

Don’t get me wrong: For Democrats to gain seats this cycle would be the equivalent of drawing a straight flush. With that said, straight flushes do occur, so it’s worth examining how it might occur here.

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Joe Coscarelli introduces the above video:

With NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia still technically temporary, he’s doing his best to fit in. [Yesterday], that included a special appearance — or bizarre PR stunt — during a televised Q&A with Vladimir Putin, in which Snowden served up a chance for Putin to tell the world that Russia doesn’t spy on its citizens like the big bad U.S. does. “I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s policy of mass surveillance,” said Snowden. “So I’d like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communication of millions?”

Putin, it’s safe to say, was not caught off guard by the line of inquiry.

For Allahpundit, this proves that Snowden is a tool of the Kremlin:

Only two possibilities here. One: There’s an FSB agent out of frame with a gun pointed at Snowden’s head, just to make sure that he reads the cue card as written. In that case, decide for yourself how likely it is that Snowden’s refused to share any U.S. state secrets with Russian intel. Two: He’s doing this cheerfully, either at Putin’s request as a condition of his asylum or at his own request, to exploit a Putin press conference as a way to further needle the NSA.

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Another Goldwater Moment?

Apr 18 2014 @ 12:37pm

Douthat declares that “the most striking thing about the public polling on the 2016 Republican nomination isn’t just the absence of a clear frontrunner: It’s the absence of a clear pair or trio or even a quartet of frontrunners.” He wonders if we are deviating from “the path that every post-1970s Republican primary campaign has ultimately taken, in which a candidate who seems reasonably electable, performs well with “moderate conservative” primary voters … and wins the blessing of the party’s donor class successfully fends off a more right-wing challenger”:

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8 Million Sign Ups

Apr 18 2014 @ 12:20pm

German Lopez charts the latest enrollment figures:

enrollment

Cohn looks at the demographics:

As for the age mix, you may have heard that about 40 percent of the population eligible for coverage in the marketplaces is between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s true and, obviously, 28 percent is a lot less than 40 percent. The worry has always been that older and sicker people would sign up in unusually high numbers, forcing insurers to raise their prices next year and beyond.

But insurance companies didn’t expect young people to sign up in proportion to their numbers in the population. They knew participation would be a bit lower and they set premiums accordingly. Only company officials know exactly what they were projecting—that’s proprietary information—but one good metric is the signup rate in Massachusetts, in 2007, when that state had open enrollment for its version of the same reforms. According to information provided by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and reform architect, 28.3 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were ages 19 to 34, a comparable age group.

Suderman puts those numbers is a less favorable light:

The administration’s goal, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, was for 39 percent of the final tally to be between the ages of 18 and 34. The “worst-case scenario,” according to a Kaiser Foundation analysis cited by the administration was if only 25 percent of the final tally was in that age cohort. As it turns out, we do have information about sign-ups in that age group, and the demographic mix is much closer to the worst-case scenario than it is to the administration’s target.

David Nather lets a little more air out of the big enrollment number:

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Talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US, and the EU produced an agreement last night:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the terms of the deal during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. All parties agreed that all sides refrain from violence. All illegal groups must be disarmed. All illegally seized buildings in eastern Ukraine must be returned to their legitimate owners. All illegally occupied streets and squares must be vacated.

The deal also calls for amnesty to all protesters who have left their public places and surrendered their weapons, providing they are not accused of crimes. “None of us leave here with a sense that the job is done because these words are on the paper,” Kerry said. “If we’re not able to see immediate progress, we’ll have no other choice than impose further costs on Russia.”

Brij Khindaria analyzes the deal:

Kerry obtained a Russian commitment to a quick de-escalation in coming days without quite knowing how to prevent new outbursts or to sustain the peace. Lavrov got a foot in the door of a constitutional revision that might turn Ukraine into a federation in which Kiev, the capital, does not have administrative control over the east and south. If things go Lavrov’s way, Putin will have got Crimea plus loyal autonomous Russian-speaking cohorts in Ukraine without having to occupy new territory.

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The Discovery Of Earth’s Cousin

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:39am

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Alex Knapp summarizes the news:

NASA has announced that its Kepler telescope has uncovered a new solar system about 500 light years away, currently dubbed Kepler 186. Circling that star are five planets, and the outermost planet, Kepler-186f, is about the size of Earth and within the star’s habitable zone. “The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” NASA’s Paul Hertz said in a statement. The star Kepler 186 is a “red dwarf” star, about half the size and mass of our own Sun. It’s about 500 light years away from Earth, near the constellation Cygnus in the night sky. The planet itself orbits its sun once every 130 days.

Adrienne LaFrance provides more details:

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Cell Phones On The Cellblock

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:23am

Jonathan Franklin explores how members of the Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC), Brazil’s most powerful prison gang, use mobile phones to conduct business and cause chaos on the outside:

Whether its members are looking up the home address of their least favorite guard, organizing a riot, or even buying gold bullion with stolen credit card numbers, the PCC has shown that prisoners with bandwidth pose a host of challenges.

The PCC is hardly alone in its exploitation of in-prison cell phone usage to organize crimes, but few prison gangs in the world can match its combination of access to phones, brute violence, and organizational discipline. And as the PCC has shown repeatedly, wired prisoners change the entire concept of incarceration. Instead of being isolated and punished, the inmate with access to a cell can organize murders, threaten witnesses, plan crimes, and browse online porn to figure out which escort to order up for the next intimate visit.

Last year, Brazilian authorities confiscated an estimated 35,000 phones from prisoners, yet Brazilian organized crime leaders continued to have widespread ability to make calls, receive calls, organize conference calls, and even hold virtual trials where gang leaders from different prisons are patched in to a central line to debate the fate of gang members accused of betraying the group’s ironclad rules.

Chart Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:03am

Matthew Klein’s interactive visualization on the ways we die is worth a few minutes of your time. One frame that sticks out:

AIDS Victims

Time To Regulate E-Cigs?

Apr 18 2014 @ 10:35am

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Dick Durbin has issued a report showing that, in the absence of regulations like those imposed on tobacco products, e-cigarettes are being openly marketed to young people:

The Gateway to Addiction report written by the lawmakers’ staff after surveying e-cig makers finds e-cigarette companies are using marketing tactics that appeal to young people, such as handing out samples at events like music festivals, social-media promotion and offering kid-friendly flavors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1.78 million children and teens tried e-cigarettes in 2012. … According to the report, six of the surveyed e-cigarette companies support some regulation.

The report is the opening volley in a campaign to regulate vaping. Jason Koebler expects Congress to act soon:

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Why We Yawn

Apr 18 2014 @ 10:04am

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Konnikova relays the research:

Boredom, hunger, fatigue: these are all states in which we may find our attention drifting and our focus becoming more and more difficult to maintain. A yawn, then, may serve as a signal for our bodies to perk up, a way of making sure we stay alert. When the psychologist Ronald Baenninger, a professor emeritus at Temple University, tested this theory in a series of laboratory studies coupled with naturalistic observation (he had subjects wear wristbands that monitored physiology and yawning frequency for two weeks straight), he found that yawning is more frequent when stimulation is lacking. In fact, a yawn is usually followed by increased movement and physiological activity, which suggests that some sort of “waking up” has taken place.

“You yawn when you’re obviously not bored,” [Robert Provine, neuroscientist and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond] points out.

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Over The Hill At 24

Apr 18 2014 @ 9:35am

It may be the age at which our cognitive performance peaks:

That’s the conclusion of new study in PLoS One published last week by psychology researcher Joseph Thompson and his colleagues at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. The team tracked and measured the performance of 3,305 subjects (between the ages of 16 and 44) who played the nerdy “real-time strategy” computer game StarCraft 2. “Using a piecewise regression analysis, we find that age-related slowing of within-game, self-initiated response times begins at 24 years of age,” the authors write. In other words, older players took longer to respond to new visual playing conditions before taking action. And, according to the study, it was “a significant performance deficit,” which likely has consequences even outside abstruse digital space wars.

The paper does not focus on biological causes, but the authors speculate that the shift might have to do with changing brain “ratios of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) to choline (Cho)” that coincide with the early twenties.

Christopher Ingraham explains why measuring brain power with a computer game isn’t as silly as it sounds:

The game provides an excellent real-world laboratory for testing cognitive ability under pressure.

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