The View From Your Window Contest: Winner #240

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Turns out this week’s contest was one of our most challenging ever, with only around twenty entries submitted, such as:

Oakland. Looking at the Claremont Hotel. A wild-ass guess, of course.

Another reader is seeing things:

Finally, an easy one. Clearly, this is not an actual window view. It’s an early landscape by the British Artist, Stephen Darbishire, in the years prior to his Impressionist period. I couldn’t find the print on his website, but it’s undoubtedly his. Thrilled! I got one!

Another was wondering about Virginia, West Virginia, or England:

There is no snow so I don’t think it’s New England. The gold trim around the window could indicate it’s an elegant old manor house or hotel. The determining factor will be the pine tree and where that particular fir grows. Someone will know as they always do!

Sadly no amateur arborists this week, but this reader gets us to the right continent at least:

I’ve come to admire the people who just send in a gut response almost as much as the ones who spend hours puzzling out a more likely answer. So, in the midst of a bout of insomnia waiting for the sleep aid to kick in, I have spent about five minutes on this.

This picture is obviously Europe. Or, alternately, constructed by Europeans. Though the lack of leaves and presence of evergreens suggest Europe if the picture is a recent one. I suspect that the distinctive forward facing arch of the building in the foreground has a architectural term associated with it and is an excellent clue, though I know few architectural terms myself. My first thought was Germany. I randomly picked Nuremberg but saw no roof lines anything like that. My next thought was Scandinavia, though I quickly abandoned that as much too flat. In pursuit of less-flat terrain I thought perhaps Zurich, then Geneva. In the one random photo of Geneva I looked at there was a building with a similar arch. So, in five minutes flat, I have a guess.

Or farther East?

I’m pretty sure it’s not Vienna.  So I’ll go with Bratislava instead.  However, I’ll leave it to the real keeners to pinpoint the window.

You won’t get that from this reader:

I am definitely wrong; and way way too baked this morning to look further, but that picture sure did remind me of my visit to Wurzburg.

Germany was by far the most popular incorrect guess:

I’m one of your serious readers and not-at-all-serious contest contenders.  I know when I’m out of my league – no guesses at the specific location, and I may be off by a continent or two.  But the style of the buildings, the feeble light, and the swoop of the hills remind me of Baden-Baden. I recall a winter evening in a cheap, charming hotel, on a small ridge overlooking the street leading to the Kurhaus, with a view very much like this one.  Even if this is really Montevideo, the picture brought back a nice memory of a pre-kids sabbatical in Baden-Wurtenberg 20-some years ago.

A former winner is stumped:

Tough contest this week. A generic Germanic city, though it might be Swiss or Czech or … No real good clues like flags, signs or license plates that I can see except those two dome-roofed tennis (?) structures across the way. Searching for them or generic “German clock towers” has gotten me nothing. So I’m just going to say Heidelberg, Germany, because it could be, and Heidelberg does have two clock towers in relative proximity. Not that I can find those tennis (?) courts anywhere across the Neckar River…

Almost had it. This reader half-gets the right country:

Somewhere in Czechoslovakia or possibly Hungary. We’ve been everywhere on this one, from Hungary to Montreal. But we’re convinced this is a public structure like a museum – one of our team spotted seated lion structures on a wrought iron fence – but beyond that we’re stumped.

Only four readers guessed the right city:

I better start attempting guesses even though these are inscrutable to all but well-traveled readers. The shapes in the architecture, as well as the Soviet-era dilapidated buildings, strongly suggest Prague to me. I was there in the ‘90s on a choir tour, just while Prague was on the verge of being assimilated into the McDonald’s form of Western civilization.

A former winner picked Prague as well:

I’m stuck. I keep ending up back in Prague so I’ll guess that, but … WTF are those domes and why can’t I find them?! sldjfoiwejfsalkdfjaskhdgaghd

A winless 17-contest veteran takes the well-earned prize this week:

I didn’t get as much time to work on the puzzle this weekend as I’d have liked. It’s obviously Europe, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’m going to guess Prague knowing that I could be half a continent off and just be ok with that feeling.

So where was it in Prague exactly? Our Dishness-channeling photographer weighs in:

Very very cool. I’ve been reading The Dish since The Atlantic days and used to send you guys a lot of material when I worked at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, especially during the Iranian revolution-that-wasn’t a few years back – so selecting my view for the contest is really something for me.

Specifics: Taken from the south-facing window of a villa at Dykova 12, Prague, Czech Republic, at the headquarters of Socialbakers, where I work as Chief Editor.

Some more: This is taken from Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood in a little part adorned with turn-of-the-century villas – some of them are very striking, others, depressingly in disrepair. This view is to the south, overlooking the Vrsovice area. It’s a bit industrial and a bit residential (I live just out view of this photo). The one thing it doesn’t have is a baroque or gothic tower of some sort, which is sort of what people expect from pics of Prague, I think.

I’ve lived in Prague for more than six years, and I still find it strikingly beautiful and exceptionally photogenic. The distinct orange tile roofs, rolling landscapes, and sort of dark, industrial, working-class fabric of the place is great. Charles Bridge is fine, Old Town Square is striking, and Prague Castle is huge. But a lot of the Czech Republic’s beauty lies far from Prague’s main attractions.

As you can sort of make out in the shot, just a few kilometers from the middle of what would be considered “the middle of the city” there is … not much of anything. Villages, fields, forests, and castles – lots of castles. The perfect stomping grounds for a couple of parents with an active little family.

Lastly, as you probably noticed, we didn’t receive an entry from Chini this week. Whether he was stumped or somehow otherwise prevented from playing (stuck in a snowbank?), it breaks the chain of the most consecutive correct guesses that this contest will ever see. We tip our cap.

See everyone Saturday!

The Party Of No And Dunno

A reader writes:

I hope a lot of voters were watching CBS on Sunday night when 60 Minutes interviewed Boehner and McConnell to talk about their plans now that the GOP controls the House and Senate. Both men acknowledged that the economy has been recovering and that the recovery has been picking up steam. They also acknowledged that the recovery has mostly only benefited the top income-earners while leaving the majority of Americans stuck in neutral. Boehner and McConnell want to “do something” to address income inequality and make sure those on the bottom of the economy have the opportunity to move up. They basically accused Obama of only helping the top 1% (which seems a complete reversal of the stories we’ve been hearing from them the last six years, but I digress).

This all sounds good enough to me, since for so long, it seemed the GOP was unwilling to even acknowledge there was an issue with inequality. If they want to blame Obama, I don’t really care so long as they are willing to present solutions.

So, the interviewer then asked if they would support raising taxes on top income earners. Answer:

No. The interviewer asked if they would support raising the minimum wage. Answer: No. The interviewer asked if they would support Obama’s plan to provide free community college. Answer: No. The interviewer asked if they would support Obama’s plan to expand the Child Income Tax Credit for working families. Answer: Maybe (Boehner mumbles about wanting to help working families but says he needs to further study this idea).

Boehner then said that he thinks the solution to raising wages and a more full recovery is the removal of “regulations” coming from Obama’s administration. The only example of such onerous regulations he gave is Obamacare (which I don’t know I would call a regulation, but semantics). He ignores that the economy grew more in 2014 (the first year of Obamacare) than any year since 1999 – which I acknowledge doesn’t mean that Obamacare was the catalyst for growth, but it does seem to indicate that it’s not a “job killer”.

The interviewer then asked about roads and bridges: would the GOP Congress find a way to put forward a comprehensive infrastructure bill? Boehner and McConnell both acknowledged that the Highway Trust Fund is underfunded and that our crumbling roads and bridges need to be addressed. However, they stated that they will not adjust the gas tax and instead try to find the funds “in other ways”.

I know you love to bang the drum of the GOP having no real policies or proposals, so I thought this interview was one of the most stark examples of that – and would be understood by a large number of underinformed voters. Boehner and McConnell acknowledge that there are real problems that need to be addressed. They are excited because they finally have the power to put some bills on Obama’s desk. Yet all they can do – still! – is say No to any suggestion while presenting no ideas or policies of their own for how to address those acknowledged problems.

It’s astounding to me and, frankly, a complete dereliction of duty. I’m no partisan, but I can’t see how we won’t look back at this no-nothing party and shake our heads at how they we allowed them to gain any power at all.

Update from a reader:

I am sure you’re going to get a lot of email about the eggcorn from your reader:

I’m no partisan, but I can’t see how we won’t look back at this no-nothing party and shake our heads at how they we allowed them to gain any power at all.

“no-nothing”!

hyuk hyuk.

Medicare Wants To Pay For Outcomes

Sarah Kliff puts a favorable spin on the news:

The Obama administration announced Monday a sweeping new plan that will directly affect thousands of hospitals and doctors across the country. The federal government now plans to pay Medicare doctors more if they help patients get healthier — and less if their patients just stay sick. This would be done by tying 85 percent of all Medicare payments to outcomes by the end of 2016 — rising to 90 percent by 2018.

The idea is to move away from the broken and expensive “fee-for-service” system, which pays doctors a flat amount for every surgery and physical they perform — even if they do nothing to actually help a patient.

Orszag is excited:

To be sure, more needs to be done: The targets have to be hit. And that will require action. Today’s announcement provided no details about the specific steps ahead. Will Medicare move more toward bundled payments for specific episodes of care, or toward accountable-care organizations, through which hospitals and other providers receive one payment for all the care a patient needs during a year? Such details are crucial.

The first step in any worthy project, though, is to set clear goals. We desperately needed them for payment reform. With today’s announcement, the administration has raised the odds that the era of slower growth in health costs will continue.

Suderman is skeptical:

This isn’t a plan. It’s a plan to develop a plan (or plans) in hopes of meeting a not-very-well-defined target.

Fine. The administration will eventually try to do something. And whatever that something is, it will likely be a bigger version of a program that has already been tried before. Medicare has tried out lots of experiments in alternative payment systems, attempting to influence provider behavior and health outcomes through bonuses, bundled payments, penalties, and various pay-for-performance measures.

And what we know from these experiments is that even in optimal conditions, it’s very, very hard to make them work.

Jason Millman admits that “it’s still uncertain how well these payment approaches work”:

“We still know very little about how best to design and implement [value-based payment] programs to achieve stated goals and what constitutes a successful program,” concluded a 2014 Rand Corporation study funded by HHS. The report, which reviewed pay-for-performance models implemented over the past decade, said improvements were “typically modest” and often hard to evaluate.

Sam Baker provides more background:

Some of the models HHS wants to expand were part of the Affordable Care Act, including Accountable Care Organizations. Networks of hospitals and doctors pull together into a single ACO, with the goal of tightly coordinating care for each patient. ACOs are billed based on their outcomes, rather than allowing each member to bill Medicare separately. Medicare even penalizes some ACOs if they don’t meet certain quality standards or savings targets.

ACOs have had mixed results: Although they’ve shown an improvement in quality, several providers have dropped out of the program, and Medicare hasn’t saved as much money as many advocates had hoped.

And John O’Shea recommends that, “before blindly pushing Medicare doctors and other medical professionals out of fee for service and over the cliff, the Obama administration should be sure they have a safe place to land”:

[M]edical professionals have found that ACOs are exceedingly difficult to implement. Research by the Medical Group Management Association found implementing and/or optimizing an accountable care organization was one of the top five challenges for members, with 60.2 percent of respondents to one survey saying implementing ACOs was one of the biggest challenges, making it the fifth most challenging issue overall. In fact, of 44 issues facing medical practices, the top challenge for Medical Group Management Association members was preparing for new reimbursement models that include greater financial risk for practices.

 

It’s High Time For More Marijuana Research

A major doctors’ group supports reclassifying cannabis:

There’s some very early, and largely anecdotal, evidence that marijuana might be an effective treatment for some forms of epilepsy in children who haven’t responded to traditional medications. It’s partly to help bolster these types of clinical studies that the American Academy of Pediatrics today recommended that the government re-classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a category that includes other addictive, yet still therapeutic, substances like oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, along with things like heroin and acid, which are thought to have no medicinal value.

German Lopez spells out why reclassification has proven so difficult:

When marijuana’s classification comes under review, its schedule 1 status is consistently maintained due to insufficient scientific evidence of its medical value.

Specifically, the scientific evidence available for marijuana doesn’t pass the threshold required by federal agencies to acknowledge a drug’s potential as medicine. HHS’s 2006 review of marijuana’s schedule found several problems: no studies proved the drug’s medical efficacy in controlled, large-scale clinical environments, no studies established adequate safety protocols for marijuana, and marijuana’s full chemical structure has never been characterized and analyzed.

But one reason there isn’t enough scientific evidence to change marijuana’s schedule 1 status might be, in fact, the drug’s schedule 1 status. The DEA restricts how much marijuana can go to research. To obtain legal marijuana supplies for studies, researchers must get their studies approved by HHS, the FDA, and DEA. (This process didn’t even exist until the late 1990s. Before then, it was nearly impossible to obtain marijuana for medical research.

Changing marijuana’s schedule, in other words, is a bit of a Catch-22.

Sullum sounds off:

Reclassifying marijuana would not automatically make it available as a medicine, but it would have several salutary effects, especially if marijuana is placed in Schedule III or lower. Facilitating research is one possible benefit, although if that is the aim rescheduling should be accompanied by the abolition of the federal government’s monopoly on the legal supply of cannabis for research. The AAP does not mention that change, but it makes sense in light of the organization’s position that marijuana derivatives should be treated like any other drug considered by the FDA.

The Hunker Mindset

Drew Harwell never joins the bread and milk frenzy:

Everyone’s shopping list is different — toilet paper, eggs and booze fill many carts — but bread and milk stand out as long-time staples of the panicking pre-storm bustle. A report from Pittsburgh during “The Big Snow” of 1950 said that milk “was the one shortage that has hit all sections,” and that bread was being “doled out” in some grocery stores, a Pittsburgh Magazine writer found last year.

It’s not just that bread and milk work poorly as emergency rations, critics say; they don’t even work well with themselves. Twitter users have even criticized the un-versatility of the combo with a hashtag called #milksandwiches.

A more reasonable alternative?

Bottled water’s not a bad choice. Neither are foods with more nutrients or longer shelf lives: canned goods like tuna, vegetables or soup; peanut butter and crackers; nuts, trail mixes or granola bars. They may break the routine or give less of a feeling of control. But at least you’ll have something to eat.

Daniel Engber tries to diagnose the urge people feel to panic-shop:

[T]his is a different kind of frenzied state than you’d find during a genuine catastrophe—less frightened than nervously excited, not so much survivalist as shopaholic. In fact there’s a name for such behavior, which takes prudence as a beard for gluttony. The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy. The end is nigh let’s eat!

Official weather warnings feed this hunker culture. They talk in terms of quantity, not quality—an implicit exhortation to go shopping. Meteorologists say that a crippling and historic storm will dump several feet of snow or more. “More”—that’s what drives the hunkered mind: The weather will be so excessive, with so much snow on top of snow, that we should take excessive action. Politicians gin up excessive numbers, the bigger the better: We’ve got 700 pieces of equipment at the ready, says Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, and more than 35,000 tons of salt. On Sunday, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied local hunkerers with a call for immoderation: “Whatever safety precautions you take in advance of a storm,” he said, “take even more.”

Got that? It doesn’t matter what you do, exactly, as long as you do as much of it as possible.

No-pocalypse

2004BL86-640

Becky Ferreira explains how lucky we are to only have to deal with a massive blizzard today:

[Yesterday] morning, an enormous space rock missed Earth by a narrow margin of 745,000 miles, or about three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. With a diameter of 550 meters and a velocity of about 35,000 miles per hour, the asteroid, known as 2004 BL86, will be so bright in the evening sky that it will be visible through binoculars. Scientists don’t expect another object of this size to pass so closely to Earth until August 7, 2027.

What you’re seeing above:

NASA has released radar observations of the 325 meter-wide asteroid that flew safely past Earth [yesterday] at 8:19 a.m. PST (11:19 a.m. EST), but in those grainy observations, asteroid 2004 BL86 appears to have company — a small moon.

 

Bob King has more on that exciting find:

Among near-Earth asteroids, about 16% that are about 655 feet (200 meters) or larger are either binary or triple systems. While that’s not what you’d call common, it’s not unusual either. To date, we know of 240 asteroids with a single moon, 10 triple systems and the sextuple system of Pluto (I realize that’s stretching a bit, since Pluto’s a dwarf planet) – 268 companions total. 52 of those are near-Earth asteroids.

With a resolution of 13 feet (4-meters) per pixel we can at least see the roughness of the the main body’s surface and perhaps imagine craters there. No details are visible on the moon though it does appear elongated. I’m surprised how round the main body is given its small size. An object that tiny doesn’t normally have the gravity required to crush itself into a sphere. Yet another fascinating detail needing our attention.

Circling back to Ferreira, she imagines how bad today could have been:

What if [2004 BL86] hurtled towards us just a little earlier, and instead of flying freely through the wake of Earth’s orbit, it collided with us head on? How bad would the damage be?

Fortunately, there is an online tool for calculating the apocalyptic potential of various impact scenarios. Run by Purdue University, Impact Earth allows users to input details about asteroids, comets, and other cosmic death traps, then crunches the numbers on the fallout. I gave the calculator the known details about asteroid 2004 BL86, including its diameter and velocity. I entered a hypothetical mid-range angle of 45 degrees, and specified that the asteroid hit sedimentary land, not water. Then, I asked it to tell me what the damage would be like one kilometer away from the impact site. After a dramatic animation of an asteroid hitting New England, Impact Earth gave me a rundown of the designer catastrophe.

Naturally, it wasn’t pretty. “The projectile begins to breakup at an altitude of 49,800 meters (16,3000 ft),” Impact Earth predicted. It would be fractured by the time it hit the ground, striking the surface at a velocity of about 7.95 miles per second. The energy released would be about 5,120 megatons, which is 100 times more powerful than the strongest nuclear bomb ever detonated. It would leave behind a crater with a diameter of 3.64 miles and a depth of 1.26 miles—similar dimensions to Alabama’s Wetumpka crater. But as the calculator noted under the “Global Damage” category, the impact would not be enough to disrupt the Earth on a global level by altering its orbit or its axial tilt.

Snowpocalypse Now

The historic storm is peaking. So far four governors have declared states of emergency, more than 7,000 flights have been cancelled, and road travel is banned in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and NYC, where the entire public transit system has shut down – a first for a snow-related event in the city. Eric Holthaus checks in on the dire forecasts, which all seem to agree that New England is going to get the worst of it:

In an epic and at times even giddy technical forecast discussion, the NWS office in Boston warned of an “unprecedented” storm. The storm’s central pressure will explosively deepen on Tuesday, at a rate twice that of a “bomb” cyclone. Invoking the technical term for rapid strengthening of these kinds of storms, the NWS forecaster exclaimed, “it’s bombogenesis, baby!” The NWS Boston office also alternately referred to the storm as “historic” and “crippling.” For New England, there may be two separate intense snowfall bands, one in Western Connecticut and one just south of Boston. Exactly where those bands end up will determine which areas receive the most snowfall, but isolated totals exceeding three feet won’t be surprising.

He also notes concerns that the storm could permanently alter the Massachusetts coastline, “boosted by about three feet of storm surge and 20-foot waves.” Whether it ends up a blizzard for the history books or not, don’t let Harry Enten hear you calling it “Winter Storm Juno” – part of The Weather Channel’s storm branding scheme:

A lot of other weather outlets don’t approve of the Weather Channel’s policy. In fact, the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel’s chief private competitor, AccuWeather, appear to hate it. AccuWeather’s founder and president, Joel Myers, has said, “The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service.”

Previous Dish on the controversial subject here. But “Juno” doesn’t seem to be sticking:

So over to you, :

The Most Quoted Experts

Economists

Justin Wolfers charts the recent dominance of economists:

There’s an old Bob Dylan song that goes “there’s no success like failure,” and it’s a lesson that’s been central to the rise of the economics profession. Each economic calamity since the Great Depression — stagflation in the 1970s, the double-dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the 1991 downturn — has served to boost the stock of economists. The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.

Today, the profession is so ubiquitous that if you are running a government agency, a think tank, a media outlet or a major corporation, and don’t have your own pet economist on the payroll, you’re the exception.

The Expiration Date On That URL

Jill Lepore discovers that the “average life of a Web page is about a hundred days”:

No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.

In 2006, David Cameron gave a speech in which he said that Google was democratizing the world, because “making more information available to more people” was providing “the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power.” Seven years later, Britain’s Conservative Party scrubbed from its Web site ten years’ worth of Tory speeches, including that one. Last year, BuzzFeed deleted more than four thousand of its staff writers’ early posts, apparently because, as time passed, they looked stupider and stupider. Social media, public records, junk: in the end, everything goes.

Which is why the Wayback Machine exists:

The Wayback Machine is a Web archive, a collection of old Web pages; it is, in fact, the Web archive. There are others, but the Wayback Machine is so much bigger than all of them that it’s very nearly true that if it’s not in the Wayback Machine it doesn’t exist.

The Wayback Machine is a robot. It crawls across the Internet, in the manner of Eric Carle’s very hungry caterpillar, attempting to make a copy of every Web page it can find every two months, though that rate varies. (It first crawled over this magazine’s home page, newyorker.com, in November, 1998, and since then has crawled the site nearly seven thousand times, lately at a rate of about six times a day.)

The Internet Archive is also stocked with Web pages that are chosen by librarians, specialists like Anatol Shmelev, collecting in subject areas, through a service called Archive It, at archive-it.org, which also allows individuals and institutions to build their own archives. (A copy of everything they save goes into the Wayback Machine, too.) And anyone who wants to can preserve a Web page, at any time, by going to archive.org/web, typing in a URL, and clicking “Save Page Now.”

The Exaggerated Benefits Of Bilingualism

Maria Konnikova examines the research of Angela de Bruin:

De Bruin isn’t refuting the notion that there are advantages to being bilingual: some studies that she reviewed really did show an edge. But the advantage is neither global nor pervasive, as often reported.

 

Where learning another language does pay dividends:

One of the areas where the bilingual advantage appears to be most persistent isn’t related to a particular skill or task: it’s a general benefit that seems to help the aging brain. Adults who speak multiple languages seem to resist the effects of dementia far better than monolinguals do.

When Bialystok examined the records for a group of older adults who had been referred to a clinic in Toronto with memory or other cognitive complaints, she found that, of those who eventually developed dementia, the lifelong bilinguals showed symptoms more than four years later than the monolinguals. In a follow-up study, this time with a different set of patients who had developed Alzheimer’s, she and her colleagues found that, regardless of cognitive level, prior occupation, or education, bilinguals had been diagnosed 4.3 years later than monolinguals had. Bilingualism, in other words, seems to have a protective effect on cognitive decline. That would be consistent with a story of learning: we know that keeping cognitively nimble into old age is one of the best ways to protect yourself against dementia. (Hence the rise of the crossword puzzle.) When the brain keeps learning, as it seems to do for people who retain more than one language, it has more capacity to keep functioning at a higher level.