The View From Your Obamacare

Apr 24 2014 @ 2:39pm

Not all of the experiences from our readers are positive:

I was going to get a new car, but the increase in my premiums sapped up the income I’d set aside for the additional expense.  So I guess I’m stuck with my 12 year old truck.  Oh, should also mention that my deductibles nearly tripled and my coverage sucks in comparison.

Another reader:

While I recognize the large-scale benefits of the ACA, we found its implementation absolutely devastating to our small business.  Our company is a medical device developer/manufacturer with about 12 employees. Because we employ mostly high-pay, high-skill engineers and scientists, almost none of our employees qualified for any sort of subsidy. Most of our employees are married and have kids, so they needed the most expensive policy, the dreaded “Self + Family” option.

Because we are a small-business, we did not have the H.R. resources to shop for private insurance and had to contract a third party to do so for us. And because we are a small company, we had virtually zero bargaining leverage with insurers. Larger companies in our area ended up with much better group policy offers from the same insurer as us. In general, our policies went up about $300/month per employee, and our deductible increased from $2,500 to $3,850.

But what is the absolute worst is that insane 2.3% medical device tax enacted to “pay for” the ACA.

Read On

We learn something new from readers every day:

I enjoyed that link on the gynosome, but I think that your coverage of sexual orientation and biology focusing on things like 29saw_drawing-blog480bug penises miss issues about sexual orientation that genuinely fascinate biologists. The concept of “natural law” doesn’t really carry much weight with actual biologists, and it’s not all that surprising that there is an insect in which the female has a penis.

There are hundreds of species with these sorts of reproductive role reversals, including males who incubate eggs internally or even in their mouths, and in which female parental investment is limited. At this point, it’s almost trivial to point out that same-sex behavior and even same-sex parenting is common in nature, or that every possible variation on genitalia occurs somewhere in nature. Even in mammals, there are females with “penises.” Female hyenas have pseudo-penises bigger than those owned by males, and they swing their dicks with more élan and pride than the males do!

This is all entertaining, but it misses the deeper and more interesting question evolutionary biologists ask about homosexuality:

Read On

Obama Support

Nate Cohn highlights the increasing political uniformity of Southern whites:

While white Southerners have been voting Republican for decades, the hugeness of the gap was new. Mr. Obama often lost more than 40 percent of Al Gore’s support among white voters south of the historically significant line of the Missouri Compromise. Two centuries later, Southern politics are deeply polarized along racial lines. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in these states the Democrats have become the party of African Americans and that the Republicans are the party of whites.

Read On

Derek Mead outlines the FCC’s new proposed Internet regulations:

While the exact framework has yet to be announced, it’s expected that ISPs will be able to charge content providers extra for higher speeds. It would likely be voluntary, which is a key legal distinction; if Netflix doesn’t want to pay Comcast for bandwidth, it won’t have to. And if Time Warner Cable wants to negotiate different rates for special treatment with Google, NBC, and Netflix, it’ll be open to do so. But regardless, it will mean that those that have money can cruise in the internet fast lane, and those that can’t will be stuck with what’s left.

It represents a fundamental shift away from net neutrality, which assures that end users can pay for faster speeds but all content is treated the same. Net neutrality proponents argue that such equality is crucial for the vibrancy of the web. If Netflix has to pay more for faster streaming speeds, it will probably just pass those costs on to users; if a startup can’t afford to leverage a better delivery deal, it’s going to find it even harder to compete with the web giants.

Tim Wu is dismayed:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.)

Read On

Email Of The Day

Apr 24 2014 @ 1:25pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.30.11 AMA reader writes:

I’m a US Army soldier on deployment to Kuwait and read your blog daily. Like other government computer networks, the one here blocks certain content.  This screen capture, from the article about the gag order imposed by James Clapper on the intel community, is too ironic not to share.

Oberammergau Passionplay 2010 Final Dress Rehearsal

That may seem a rather strange way to kick off discussion of a book about the beliefs of Christians in the decades and first few centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. But it’s the question that lingers in my head after reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of A Jewish Preacher From Galilee.

What Ehrman does in this book – as he did most memorably in Misquoting Jesus – is explain how the texts that we have about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus came to be written. I am not qualified to judge the details of the scholarship – my knowledge of such matters is a tiny fraction of Ehrman’s. I know no Aramaic or Hebrew and very little Ancient Greek. Readers with more expertise may well, with any luck, deal with some of the specific controversies – such as the notion that Jesus probably wasn’t buried at all – as we go along.

But the book’s main claims about the origins and nature of the texts are not in any scholarly doubt. And bookclub-beagle-trthey challenge the traditional and reflexive mental universe that most Christians, and all fundamentalists, share. For many Christians in the modern world, there is an unchallenged notion of an inerrant text that contains what we have even come to call the “gospel truth.” It is entirely inspired by God. It has complete authority in Protestant circles and shared authority in Catholicism (along with church teaching and the sensus fidelium). It is the sole authorized account of the extraordinary story that changed the world.

And yet it isn’t the only account – we have many other extant Gospels that never made the cut. Those Gospels are not as compelling or as coherent or as influential – but they sure do exist. That very fact – established in the 20th Century – explodes any idea of “orthodoxy” among the first Christians. Like any human beings trying to grapple with grief and empowerment and fear and supernatural experiences, they did not understand them fully at first or ever. They disagreed among themselves about them. They had very different perspectives and interactions with Jesus. In the Gospels themselves, Jesus’ disciples are a mess half the time – misunderstanding him, betraying him, frustrating him, and abandoning him at critical moments throughout. Whatever else the Gospels teach us, they sure teach us not to trust Jesus’ followers for either truth or morality. Peter disowned him three times in his hour of greatest need. And most fled after his crucifixion.

And the Gospels offer radically different accounts of what Jesus did, said and meant. There is no single coherent account, for example, of Jesus’ last words in the cross, or of his first appearances after his death – critical moments that you might think would have been resolved as fact early on, but weren’t. If I were to come up with a phrase to describe what has been handed down to us in these texts, it would be a game of Chinese

Does this rebut Christianity in a decisive way? For many orthodox Christians, wedded to the notion of a single, coherent and inerrant text, it must. But since the scholarship is pretty much indisputable, it seems to me that it is not Christianity that should be abandoned in the wake of these historical revelations, but a false understanding of what the Gospels and Letters actually are. In the end, the sole criterion of a religion is whether it is true. And if you’re misreading its core texts and failing to understand their origins and nuances, you’re not committed to the truth. You’re committed to a theology that has become more important than the truth.

And I’d argue that seeing them in this flawed and human way does not reduce their power. In fact, their very humanness, their messiness, their reflection of competing memories and rival understandings and evolving theologies make the Gospels a riveting tapestry of anecdotage and love and grief. I think that when you treat these texts that way, the figure of Jesus does not become more opaque. He becomes more alive in moving and marvelous detail through the distorted memories of those who loved him and through the stories that the generations that never saw or knew him in the flesh told each other about who he was. Is this human mess guided by the Holy Spirit? That’s obviously a question only Christians can answer.

My own view is that the sheer vibrancy, power, shock, detail and beauty of these stories – and their enduring resonance over the centuries – makes the presence of the Holy Spirit obvious. In fact, if we want to understand how God interacts with human beings, these Gospels show the way. Even through their obvious literal imperfections, a deeper perfection shines. Agnostic and atheist readers will of course disagree. But my point is simply that, for Christians, there is no need to be afraid of the truth about these texts. Because as Christians, there can never any need to fear the truth. In fact, fear of what such scholarship might reveal exposes a defensive crouch and a neurotic denialism that can only lead us away from Jesus rather than toward him.

The truths of this book that only the neurotic or defensive Christian will deny are the following:

Read On

This doesn’t look good:

Ukraine has sent in troops to clear out occupied government buildings in the city of Sloviansk, sparking a new round of violent clashes in the eastern part of the country. The fighting comes one day after President Oleksandr Turchynov announced that Kiev would move forward with “counter-terrorism” efforts in the east. Some outlets are reporting that a number of Russia separatists have been killed in clashes with Ukrainian soldiers. …

Russian President Vladimir Putin, not surprisingly, appears to be seizing on the event as justification both for the previous annexation of Crimea, and a pretext for further incursions into Ukraine. He said using the army against the Ukrainian people is “a very serious crime” that would have “consequences.” The Russian army claims they’ve been “forced” to launch news military drills along their border with Ukraine as a response.

Civil war expert James Fearon of Stanford tells Zack Beauchamp why he wouldn’t call this a “civil war”:

Read On

Quote For The Day

Apr 24 2014 @ 12:06pm

“I would absolutely concede that, while I find [Cliven] Bundy’s case completely unsympathetic, it is 100 percent possible to agree with his views on grazing rights without being racist. Where we differ is that, I’d argue, it’s not exactly a coincidence that Bundy also turns out to be a gigantic racist. Just like Ron Paul’s longtime ghostwriter turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. And like the way Rand Paul’s ghostwriter also turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. Presumably all these revelations have struck Tuccille as a series of shocking coincidences. Why do all these people with strong antipathy toward the federal government turn out to be racists? Why do all these homosexuals keep sucking my cock?” – Jon Chait.

The View From Your Window

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:56am

Island Pines, NY-11-29 AM

Fire Island Pines, New York, 11.29 am

The Dismemberment Of Sean Hannity

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:44am

Better not to take the Stewart bait sometimes (seen after the jump because of auto-play complaints)

Read On

The War Over The Core, Ctd

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:25am

Jennifer Rubin sighs over growing right-wing distrust of the Common Core:

The rationale for Common Core is that state standards, even the best of them, are far too low, leaving our kids in the dust behind international competition. (“A 2009 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found no state had reading proficiency standards as rigorous as those on the highly respected and internationally benchmarked NAEP 4th grade exam. Only one state, Massachusetts, had an 8th grade test as rigorous as the NAEP exam. Worse still, a large number of states had reading proficiency standards that would qualify their students as functionally illiterate on NAEP.”)

At a dinner with a group of journalists a year or so ago, [Jeb] Bush explained to us that while middle-class families in good school districts may think they are getting a good education, a significant percentage of their kids are not college ready and, in any case, match up poorly against foreign competition.

Jamelle Bouie, who doesn’t agree with Rubin very often, describes the opposition from conservatives as “near-senseless”:

Common Core was a bipartisan initiative, with support from the vast majority of governors, including Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who has since reversed course as he preps for a potential 2016 presidential run. What happened to make Common Core an object of hate for conservative activists? The answer is easy: “The Republican revolt against the Common Core,” noted the New York Times on Saturday, “can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it.” This near-senseless Republican reaction is just one part of a growing tribalism that’s consumed the whole of conservative politics.

Steve Benen points out:

It’s become so bad that in January, Common Core supporters practically begged the White House not to mention the standards in the State of the Union address, fearing it would necessarily push Republicans further away.

Read On


Bonnie Tsui chides our aversion to ugly produce, which results in massive waste:

A recent report commissioned by the U.K. global food security program shows that of a given crop of fruit or vegetables grown in the country, up to 40 percent is rejected because it doesn’t meet retailer standards on size or shape. That’s a sizable chunk of the $31.3 billion of food that gets jettisoned in Britain every year. American supermarkets lose $15 billion each year in unsold fruits and vegetables. American consumers like their apples red and their bananas unspotted, so grocery stores comply—sometimes even dyeing and cutting to fit.

Changing mainstream culture to accept a crooked cucumber has bigger implications than just cost. Given that 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, food waste is a huge piece of the global climate problem. Last month, a new study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed scientists’ deep concerns about dropping agricultural production—as much as 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century. The panel’s researchers have also found that though minor improvements can be made to improve efficiency in agriculture, the real game changers will lie on the consumption side.

(Image via Flickr user comedynose)

Surviving As A Stowaway

Apr 24 2014 @ 10:31am

Kent Sepkowitz explains how the 16-year-old boy who stowed away in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose to Maui on Sunday survived the ordeal:

[A] confluence of dangers sometimes works to some small advantage.

The extreme cold of the upper atmosphere—wheel well riders have had body temperatures recorded at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit—slows the body’s cellular activities, sharply reducing the demand by cells for oxygen. A normal person becomes unconscious—comatose really—in this extreme cold. Just as once in a while, a drowning victim will survive because the extreme cold water acted in a similar fashion to suspend normal function, so too does some lucky wheel well stowaway occasionally make it back to the ground alive. According to the FAA data, younger men, like this week’s 16-year-old, are the survivors.

That is, unless they fall out as the plane lands:

The bodies of stowaways falling from airplanes on final approach has happened a few times in recent history, including on flights from Angola to London and from Charlotte, N.C. to Boston. The FAA lists several instances where a stowaway managed to survive the extreme temperatures with little oxygen, only to fall to his or her death when the airplane started to land.

Chad Griffin Responds

Apr 24 2014 @ 9:59am

The head of the Human Rights Campaign doesn’t take on the distortions and exaggerations in the Becker book, but he does necessary damage control by saluting just a few of the countless individuals who, far from allowing marriage equality to “languish in obscurity” for years, actually made everything we are tackling now possible. The statement is made under obvious duress, but it’s also graceful. And true.

With any luck, we can get past this ugly, unnecessary spat and get on with the business of making marriage equality a reality in every state. Internal debates about strategy are inevitable and usually good things. But the point must never be about who’s getting credit. It must always be about getting the job done. We owe it to this vital moral cause not to lose sight of that.

Update – a reader writes:

This reader comment on his parva mea culpa made me spit coffee on the monitor:

Truly, he stands on the necks of giants.

He made a nice first start, but it’s not nearly enough, IMO.

Fathering In The Mother Tongue

Apr 24 2014 @ 9:44am

After speaking only Hebrew to his daughter for three years, Noam Scheiber explains why he decided to stop trying “to mold her in the Israeliness that shaped me as a kid”:

Read On

Weighing A Masterpiece

Apr 24 2014 @ 9:27am


David was originally intended for the buttress of the Florence Cathedral. But William E. Wallace figures that Michelangelo knew that at a weight of 8.5 tons, devising a proper support system for the sculpture would be “an impossible task.” The artist “realized the impossibility of the job from the earliest moment, even before he began carving the figure,” insists Wallace. “This realization, in effect, liberated him”:

Given the familiarity of the David, it is difficult for us to appreciate just how novel it is. Despite many highly regarded precedents in Florentine art for the representation of David, Michelangelo carved a unique work: an oversize, illogically nude figure with almost no identifying attributes. One could hardly imagine a more peculiar means of representing the young shepherd boy of the Bible, nor a more inappropriate figure to adorn the cathedral. I believe David looks as it does because Michelangelo, realizing that it would not be placed on the cathedral buttress, was free to carve a completely original work. And that is precisely what he did.

(Photo by John W. Schulze)

“Justice” Under Occupation

Apr 24 2014 @ 9:02am


Dish alum Zack Beauchamp illustrates the consequences of the West Bank’s two-tiered criminal justice system on young Palestinians:

Take stone-throwing, a historically common Palestinian attack on Israelis that some Jewish settlers have adopted. 45 percent of all Palestinians arrested were convicted, and exactly zero of the 54 arrested Israelis were. … Now, since most stone-throwers are likely Palestinians, it makes sense that many more Palestinians would be arrested for that particular crime. However, it turns out that Palestinians are also more likely to be indicted (conviction data wasn’t available) than Israelis in general. Once again, the difference in legal system is the clearest explanation. It’s much easier to arrest and detain Palestinians in military courts than Israelis in civil ones. That makes it correspondingly easier for prosecutors to get what they need for indictments.

Roi Maor provides more background that complicates the picture a little:

Read On

Counterintuitively, Jeffrey Rosen argues that liberals should be happy about the Schuette ruling:

In cases like affirmative action bans, where citizens (including minority citizens) vigorously disagree about whether the policy in question are likely to harm minorities or help them, the conservatives held, the court should practice judicial restraint and defer to democratic decision making. Breyer didn’t need to hold his nose to support this. Far from it. He enthusiastically defended the importance of letting democratically accountable bodies decide whether affirmative action should be adopted or rejected. …

Liberal defenders of affirmative action should embrace Breyer’s reasoning, rather than reluctantly tolerating it. The framework provides a principled reason for criticizing conservatives when they resort to judicial activism to strike down state policies that permit affirmative action. As Breyer wrote: the Constitution “favors decisionmaking though the democratic process. Just as this principle strongly supports the right of the people, or their elected representatives, to adopt race-conscious policies for reasons of inclusion, so must it give them the right to vote not to do so.”

Richard Kahlenberg thinks race-based affirmative action is on its way out, which he says is a good thing:

In 2012, my colleague Halley Potter and I examined a number of states that had outlawed considering race in admissions, often by voter referendum. In addition to Michigan, these states include Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, Washington and others. Six states, we found, have spent money to create new partnerships with disadvantaged schools to improve the pipeline of low-income and minority students.

Read On

What Is Your Cat Thinking?

Apr 24 2014 @ 8:00am

It’s hard to say:

Dogs have lived with us for as many as 30,000 years—20,000 years longer than cats. More than any 194other animal on the planet, dogs are tuned in to the “human radio frequency”—the broadcast of our feelings and desires. Indeed, we may be the only station dogs listen to.

Cats, on the other hand, can tune us in if they want to (that’s why they pass the pointing test as well as dogs), but they don’t hang on our every word like dogs do. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that’s ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds may forever be a black box.

Still, there may be hope. As scientists begin to experiment with new ways to study animal intelligence—from eye-tracking technology to fMRI machines—they may yet find a way to peek inside the feline mind.

A reader calls the headline of this post “offensive and biologically wrong”:

A new sexuality is found in nature if it gets crunched down to chicks with dicks? Bullshit! The gynosome is an amazing discovery; it is not like anything else ever found. But to reduce it to human sexuality removes the wonder of the diversity on this earth.

She points us to Annalee Newitz, who asserts that “the gynosome isn’t a penis”:

As Jason Goldman explains in an article about the gynosome, this is a hitherto unknown form of sexual organ in the animal kingdom. When female members of the Brazilian bug species Neotrogla mate with males, they insert their gynosomes into the male’s sexual organ. Once inside the male’s body, the gynosome inflates and grows spines, then absorbs both sperm and nutrients from the male for several days.

I’m sorry, but does this sound like a penis to you? When was the last time you found a penis that grew spines, absorbed nutrients, remained erect for 75 hours, or allowed its owner to get pregnant? Pretty much the only thing this organ has in common with a penis is that it’s used to penetrate a partner during sex.

She scoffs, “when it comes to sex, humans are still hopelessly in thrall to our anthropomorphic urges – which is to say, our urge to see every animal’s behavior as a reflection of our own.” Ed Yong, on the other hand, defends the characterization:

As Diane Kelly, who studies penises, points out:

Read On