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A is for Average [Page 3.14]

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, Dr. Isis solicits hypotheses for the increase in the number of A's awarded to students at American universities. In 1960's, one out of six students got an A (and C used to be the most Common). Now an A is most common, and the number of C's (and D's) has fallen by half. Dr. Isis says, "It's interesting that the real change in grading appears to have occurred in the period between 1962 and 1974, probably coinciding with the increase in conscription for the Vietnam War." Mike the Mad Biologist offers, "I think it's pretty obvious what happened: increased competition for graduate school slots put (and still puts) pressure on faculty to not give C's and to give more A's." Chad Orzel has a different theory, saying "blame the Baby Boomers. First, as students, they got a gigantic bump in grades [...] Then, as they entered the faculty ranks, they continued the upward trend." Regardless of the cause, more students now get a passing grade than ever before, and close to half of them get an A. B is the new Below Average—and C the new Crappy.

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BS Proliferation

BS Proliferation

by digby

Oh boy:
Pornography is not a necessary cause of terrorism. The abolition of pornography would not lead to the cessation of terrorism in the world. Terrorism existed well before graphic pornography and its mass spread via the internet.

Likewise, pornography is not a sufficient cause for terrorism. There are pornography users, even addicts, who do not become terrorists. Given how widespread the viewing of pornography is today, if the direct result of each individual’s pornography use were terrorist violence, one could conceivably argue that pornography proliferation would pose a more widespread threat to human existence than nuclear proliferation.

But let's make that case anyway, shall we, just because it's so darned titillating:

Yet pornography now appears frequently in the possession of violent terrorists and their supporters, including Osama bin Laden. Regarding “smut” found on captured media, in 2010, a Department of Defense al-Qaeda analyst was quoted in The Atlantic: “We have terabytes of this stuff.”Terabytes. That’s a lot of “smut.”

I wonder whether the pornography of today—now ubiquitous and increasingly grotesque—is one of the influences warping the mentality of those who aspire to or who actually go on to engage in ever more grotesque public violence.

Would those terabytes of pornography and such more aptly be dubbed “terrorbytes”? Why, after all, would an al-Qaeda affiliate, as reported in 2009 from interrogations in Mauritania, select pornography to target new recruits? We need to know.

As terrorism researchers Daniel Bynum and Christine Fair point out in an article about the modern terrorists we have been pursuing, especially since 9/11, the fact of the matter is that “they get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?”

They "get intimate" with cows and donkeys? What, they share their most secret thoughts? That is shocking.

But if by being "more realistic" we decide that these men's interest in porn has anything whatsoever to do with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism (as opposed to their human libidos) then no. The fact that they also like porn, like millions of others, gives us no clue as to their motivation. But then we don't need any. Islamic extremists have a very clear agenda. It isn't obscure. They say it right out loud.

But she goes there:

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks staring us in the face, we already know that our failure to have an approach to security that is robust and accurate has dire consequences. Pornography has long circulated nearly unbounded due to calls for “freedom,” but what if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?

Are there security costs to the free-flow of pornography? If so, what are they? Are we as a society putting ourselves at risk by turning a blind eye to pornography proliferation?

Obviously we should stop turning a blind eye to the "proliferation" of such other obvious causal factors as the fact that terrorists use toothpaste and wear socks too. Indeed, I'm thinking the whole interest in eating food and drinking water thing should be looked into as well. Are we making ourselves less free by allowing groceries to be more freely accessible to terrorists?

h/t to @JoshuaHolland

TiVo Premiere Elite quad-tuner DVR detailed, doesn’t support OTA broadcasts

Earlier this summer, we got wind of TiVo's plans to release its Premiere Elite DVR -- a retail version of the company's quad-tuner Premiere Q, which is only available directly through service providers. We knew to expect four tuners on the Elite as well, letting you record content from up to four channels at once. A leaked FCC document sheds a bit more light on the Elite, revealing two terabytes of recording capacity (for a whopping 300 hours of HD), digital cable compatibility (read: no OTA), and support for Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA), for networking with other MoCA-enabled devices in your home. Still missing, however, are a price tag and release date, though Zatz Not Funny predicts pricing to land in the $600-800 range, with a release this fall. $499 seems to be more on target, though, considering the Premiere XL's $299 price tag -- but even at $500, you better really love television if you're gunning to spend that much on a DVR.

TiVo Premiere Elite quad-tuner DVR detailed, doesn't support OTA broadcasts originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Aug 2011 15:08:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Professional Left Podcast #88

"What is this, courtesy class?"

-- Dave Moss, "Glengarry Glen Ross"

This week's links -- Lemkin: Cokie's Law vs. Social Security

Thanks again to Frank Chow for the graphic at the ProLeft website and Heather at Crooks and Liars Video Cafe for their help. And don't forget, our archives are available for free with no downloads at Professional Left.

Da' money goes here:


Iowa Corn Cakes

Iowa Corn Cakes

by digby

Chuck Todd just said that if Michele Bachman looks like she might get the nomination, the business will actively try to stop her because of her views on the debt ceiling. If that's the straw that breaks the camel's back, they should be mounting a campaign against a whole bunch of Tea Partiers. They nearly got it done.

Indeed, the fact that sane businessmen and wealthy elites aren't gathering their forces against this whole field of GOP loonies (so looney that Newt Gingrich appears moderate by comparison)tells you just how far politics has gone off the rails.

Even right wing expert Adele Stan was taken aback by how crazy they've become:

If there was any doubt that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of far-right ideologues, last night's broadcast surely dispelled that notion. In fact, many of the themes sounded throughout the evening appeared to come right out of the platform of the Constitution Party, the hard-core, theocratic party founded by Christian Reconstructionist Howard Phillips.

Candidates discussed the right of fetuses conceived in rape to be born, a return to the gold standard as the basis for U.S. currency, and the proposed abolition of the Federal Reserve, all tenets of the Constitution Party platform. Rounding out the Reconstructionist agenda was a question to Bachmann about her adherence to the doctrine of "wifely submission," advocated by several right-wing Christian sects, which she dodged by saying that the term simply meant mutual respect between husband and wife. (AlterNet's reporting on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism on Bachmann's beliefs can be found here, here and here.)

Read on for a full rundown of the debate.

I think what struck me the most was how they've seamlessly incorporated their extreme social conservatism --- even to the point where presidential candidates are now boldly saying that a woman should be forced to bear her rapists child because "it isn't the fetuses fault" that it was conceived in hideous violence.(The irrelevant gestation vessel apparently must bear her share of the blame however, and accept her just punishment...)This has been commonplace in GOP circles for some time. Warmongering as well, although it was only really discussed with respect to Iran top give the candidates an excuse to show their fealty to US ally Israel. The big change is the full embrace of crackpot wingnut economics, the likes of which you used to only see at those seminars about how to become a sovereign citizens to avoid taxes. These people have officially become economic saboteurs on a level I don't think we've ever seen before. It's one thing to be against TARP, it's quite another for presidential candidates to be espousing throwback Christian Reconstructionism in a time of economic crisis.

Read the Christian Reconstructionist Constitution Party Platform --- you'll find it's very familiar. With the exception of its position on ending wars --- which, for different reasons, neither Party will ever embrace --- it is now the defacto GOP platform as well.


Junior’s Id

Junior's Id

by digby

Not to pile on Rick Perry after Atkins' brutal takedown below, but seriously folks, the man makes Bachman look like FDR:

As The New Republic’s Ed Kilgore puts it, “Rick Perry seems to perfectly embody the Republican zeitgeist of the moment, appealing equally to the GOP’s Tea Party, Christian Right, and establishment factions while exemplifying the militant anti-Obama attitude that holds it all together.”

The author of that passage, Andrew Romano, says that he's nonetheless unelectable because of his positions on social security, medicare and government intervention to prevent a depression. We'd better hope he's right because is someone with his views gets a mandate from the people, we're in even deeper trouble than we already are. This man is Beckie:

In Fed Up!, you criticize the progressive era and the changes it produced: the 16th and 17th Amendments, Social Security, Medicare, and so on. I understand being against these things in principle—of longing for a world in which they never existed. But now that they’re part of the fabric of our society, do you think we should actually do away with them?

I think every program needs to stand the sunshine of righteous scrutiny. Whether it’s Social Security, whether it’s Medicaid, whether it’s Medicare. You’ve got $115 trillion worth of unfunded liability in those three. They’re bankrupt. They’re a Ponzi scheme. I challenge anybody to stand up and defend the Social Security program that we have today—and particularly defend it to a 27-year-old young man who’s just gotten married and is trying to get his life headed in the right direction economically. I happen to think that the Progressive movement was the beginning of the deterioration of our Constitution from the standpoint of it being abused and misused to do things that Congress wanted to do, and/or the Supreme Court wanted to implement. The New Deal was the launching pad for the Washington largesse as we know it today. And I think we should have a legitimate, honest, national discussion about Washington’s continuing to spend money we don’t have on programs that we don’t need.

America’s looming debt crisis is a real problem, but neither Republicans nor Democrats have really been addressing it seriously. What solutions should your party be pushing?

I think the states are the ones who should be making the decision on whether or not they want to be spending their dollars on those types of programs—not having it made in Washington, D.C.

I see how that might make sense for, say, education. But what would it mean for something like Social Security—a big, national safety net? In the book, you call Social Security a “failure” that “we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now.” Is it time for it to end?

Well, the counties of Matagorda, Bresoria, and Galveston in 1981 decided they wanted to opt out of this Social Security program. They have now very well funded programs and their employees are going to be substantially better taken care of then anybody in Social Security. So I would suggest a legitimate conversation about let the states keep their money and implement the programs. That’s one option that’s out there. But I didn’t write the book and say here are all the solutions. I think the first step in finding the solutions is admitting we have a problem—and admitting that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

What about Medicare? That’s an even bigger contributor to these debt problems.

Here’s the problem, in the 25 years that I’ve worked in Texas state government both as a legislator, an appropriator, then as lieutenant governor and the governor of Texas: Washington attaches strings to all these programs. They take away the incentive for innovation because they say here is a portion of your money back and here are the only ways that you can spend it. That on its face is bad public policy. And again, I think it’s an abuse of our Constitution. There’s no place in the Constitution that says Washington, D.C. is supposed to be mandated health-care coverage, for example. That gets to the very core of the book. If America really wants to be strong again, we need to get back to the principles this country was based upon. The Constitution as it was written, and the 10th Amendment that clearly says the states are where these decisions should be made. Moving back in that direction will create substantially more competition. States should be laboratories of innovation. I promise you, I know you did a profile on Bobby Jindal, who I happen to think is one of the brightest governors in our country. Bobby knows health care very well. If he were given the freedom from the federal government to come up with his own innovative ways working with his legislature to deliver his own health-care innovations to his citizens, I guarantee he could do it more efficiently and more effectively than one-size-fits-all coming out of Washington, D.C.

But again, Medicare. It’s been in place for more than four decades now. What do you suggest we do to set it on a more fiscally sustainable path going forward?

I think we need to have a national discussion and not be afraid to talk about it. That is my goal. I didn’t write the book and say anywhere in it, I got all the solutions. What I did say is, We have to be courageous as a country and stand up and admit that we have a Social Security program that is bankrupt, that is a Ponzi scheme, that Medicare and Medicaid collective had $106 trillion worth of liability that is unfunded, and that we need to deal with it and quit passing it on to the next Congress and the next generation.

It goes on --- and it send a chill down my spine. It's tempting to think this fellow is a genial doofus but he's actually a hardcore right wing extremist without whatever restraints George W. Bush had from his establishment roots. He's Bush's id.

The Constitution says that “the Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes… to provide for the… general Welfare of the United States.” But I noticed that when you quoted this section on page 116, you left “general welfare” out and put an ellipsis in its place. Progressives would say that “general welfare” includes things like Social Security or Medicare—that it gives the government the flexibility to tackle more than just the basic responsibilities laid out explicitly in our founding document. What does “general welfare” mean to you?

I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term “general welfare” in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do.

So in your view those things fall outside of general welfare. But what falls inside of it? What did the Founders mean by “general welfare”?

I don’t know if I’m going to sit here and parse down to what the Founding Fathers thought general welfare meant.

But you just said what you thought they didn’t mean by general welfare. So isn’t it fair to ask what they did mean? It’s in the Constitution.


For the full transcript,click here.

Scientific Commuting: When Does It Make Sense to Take Alternate Routes? [Uncertain Principles]

I am an inveterate driver of "back ways" to places. My preferred route to campus involves driving through a whole bunch of residential streets, rather than taking the "main" road leading from our neighborhood to campus. I do this because there are four traffic lights on the main-road route, and they're not well timed, so it's a rare day when I don't get stuck at one or more of them. My preferred route has a lot of stop signs, but very little traffic, so they're quick stops, and I spend more time in motion, which makes me feel like I'm getting there faster.

That's the psychological reason, but does this make physical sense? That is, under what conditions is it actually faster to take the back route, rather than just going down the main road?

Some parameters: the main road route covers 1.7 miles and contains four traffic lights. The back way covers 2.2 miles and has nine stop signs. The speed limit on all of these streets is 30mph, but I usually drive more like 35mph, or 16 m/s to put it in round numbers. I don't really gun my car after any of the stops, so the acceleration is around 2 m/s/s (I'm enough of a dork to have checked this with the accelerometer in my phone, as well as counting "one thousand one, one thousand two..." while accelerating up to speed).

Given that information, how can I estimate the conditions under which it makes practical sense, rather than just psychological sense, to take the longer route rather than the main roads?

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The IBM PC turns 30, we hurt our hands giving it birthday punches

IBM PC turns 30
Thirty years ago today IBM officially ushered in what many consider to be the modern computing era with the 5150. What ultimately became known simply as the IBM PC was the first machine to run a Microsoft operating system (the recently acquired PC-DOS) on an Intel processor (the 4.77MHz 8088) and inspired countless clones. The bare-bones model, which cost $1,565, was cheap enough to become a serious commercial success, and spawned an entire cottage industry of machines that touted their IBM-PC compatibility. We won't spend too much time recounting the story of how IBM's decision to build a computer with off the shelf components and commercially available software forged a standard whose descent survives to this day in the form of Wintel. But, if you're feeling a little nostalgic, you can read the original PR from August 12, 1981 just after the break.

Continue reading The IBM PC turns 30, we hurt our hands giving it birthday punches

The IBM PC turns 30, we hurt our hands giving it birthday punches originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 12 Aug 2011 11:37:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Physician Administrative Costs in the US vs. Canada [The Pump Handle]

The US spends far more per capita on healthcare than any other developed country -- $7,538 per person, compared to $3,129 in the UK, $4,079 in Canada, and $5,003 in Norway (the second-biggest spender), according to 2008 totals compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. One contributor to our high healthcare costs is high administrative costs, which is the natural consequence of having hundreds of different insurance plans with different policies, networks, and rates. A new study in the journal Health Affairs focuses on one aspect of administrative costs: the time physician practices spend interacting with payers. They surveyed US and Ontario practices and quantified just how much time and money the US proliferation of payers costs physicians.

Canada has a single-payer system, while the US has a wide variety of insurance plans (as well as a large uninsured population). In theory, the proliferation of insurance plans fosters competition that can improve price and quality for plan members as the plans adjust benefit design and cost-sharing requirements. To control members' healthcare costs, plans often do the following kinds of things:

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Scientific fraud and journal article retractions [Respectful Insolence]

A week ago, I took someone who has normally been a hero of mine, Brian Deer, to task for what I considered to be a seriously cheap shot at scientists based on no hard data, at least no hard data that he bothered to present. To make a long, Orac-ian magnum opus short, Deer advocated increased governmental regulation of science in the U.K. based apparently on anecdotes like that of Andrew Wakefield. Worse, rather than presenting even the limited data that exist regarding the prevalence of scientific fraud, he chose instead to devote too much of his limited word count to characterizing scientists as "screeching" and likening their "silence" on the issue to that of the Roman Catholic Church over pedophile priests. Not cool.

I hadn't planned on writing about this again for a while, but then I saw a couple of posts and articles that might bear on the issue. First, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Mistakes in Scientific Studies Surge. In addition, Derek Lowe weighed in, as did Pharmalot. Let's take a look at the WSJ paper first:

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