Obamacare Upheld: How and Why Did Justice Roberts Do It?

David Cole in The Nation:

Scotus_drawing_ap_imgWhat led Roberts to cast his lot with the law’s supporters? The argument that the taxing power supported the individual mandate was a strong one. The mandate provides that those who can afford to buy healthcare insurance must do so, but the only consequence of not doing so is the payment of a tax penalty. The Constitution gives Congress broad power to raise taxes “for the general welfare,” which means Congress need not point to some other enumerated power to justify a tax. (By contrast, if Congress seeks to regulate conduct by imposing criminal or civil sanctions, it must point to one of the Constitution’s affirmative grants of power—such as the Commerce Clause, the immigration power, or the power to raise and regulate the military.)

The law’s challengers—and the Court’s dissenters—rejected the characterization of the law as a tax. They noted that it was labeled a “penalty,” not a tax; that it was designed to encourage people to buy health insurance, not to raise revenue; and that Obama himself had rejected claims that the law was a tax when it was being considered by Congress. But Roberts said the question is a functional one, not a matter of labels. Because the law in fact would raise revenue, imposed no sanction other than a tax and was calculated and collected by the IRS as part of the income tax, the Court treated it as a tax and upheld the law.

More here.

Israel’s New Politics and the Fate of Palestine

Akiva Eldar in The National Interest:

Palestinian-flagIsrael never overtly spurned a two-state solution involving land partition and a Palestinian state. But it never acknowledged that West Bank developments had rendered such a solution impossible. Facing a default reality in which a one-state solution seemed the only option, Israel chose a third way—the continuation of the status quo. This unspoken strategic decision has dictated its polices and tactics for the past decade, simultaneously safeguarding political negotiations as a framework for the future and tightening Israel’s control over the West Bank. In essence, a “peace process” that allegedly is meant to bring the occupation to an end and achieve a two-state solution has become a mechanism to perpetuate the conflict and preserve the status quo.

This reality and its implications are best understood through a brief survey of the history that brought the Israelis and Palestinians to this impasse. The story is one of courage, sincere efforts, internal conflicts on both sides, persistent maneuvering and elements of folly.

More here.

Nora Ephron | 1941-2012: Writer and Filmmaker With a Genius for Humor

From The New York Times:

NoraThe producer Scott Rudin recalled that less than two weeks before her death, at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, he had a long phone session with her while she was undergoing treatment, going over notes for a pilot she was writing for a TV series about a bank compliance officer. Afterward she told him, “If I could just get a hairdresser in here, we could have a meeting.”

Ms. Ephron’s collection “I Remember Nothing” concludes with two lists, one of things she says she won’t miss and one of things she will. Among the “won’t miss” items are dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and panels on “Women in Film.” The other list, of the things she will miss, begins with “my kids” and “Nick” and ends this way:

“Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan


More here.

Rabbits kept alive by oxygen injections

From Nature:

BloodRabbits with blocked windpipes have been kept alive for up to 15 minutes without a single breath, after researchers injected oxygen-filled microparticles into the animals' blood. Oxygenating the blood by bypassing the lungs in this way could save the lives of people with impaired breathing or obstructed airways, says John Kheir, a cardiologist at the Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, who led the team. The results are published today in Science Translational Medicine1. The technique has the potential to prevent cardiac arrest and brain injury induced by oxygen deprivation, and to avoid cerebral palsy resulting from a compromised fetal blood supply. In the past, doctors have tried to treat low levels of oxygen in the blood, or hypoxaemia, and related conditions such as cyanosis, by injecting free oxygen gas directly into the bloodstream. They had varying degrees of success, says Kheir.

In the late nineteenth century, for example, US doctor John Harvey Kellogg experimented with oxygen enemas — an idea that has been revived in recent decades in the form of bowel infusers2, says Mervyn Singer, an intensive-care specialist at University College London. But these methods can be dangerous, because the free oxygen gas can accumulate into larger bubbles and form potentially lethal blockages called pulmonary embolisms. Injecting oxygen in liquid form would avoid this, but the procedure would have to be done at dangerously low temperatures. The microcapsules used by Kheir and his team get the best of both worlds: they consist of single-layer spherical shells of biological molecules called lipids, each surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas. The gaseous oxygen is thus encapsulated and suspended in a liquid emulsion, so can't form larger bubbles. The particles are injected directly into the bloodstream, where they mingle with circulating red blood cells. The oxygen diffuses into the cells within seconds of contact, says Kheir. “By the time the microparticles get to the lungs, the vast majority of the oxygen has been transferred to the red blood cells,” he says. This distinguishes these microcapsules from the various forms of artificial blood currently in use, which can carry oxygen around the body, but must still receive it from the lungs.

More here.

Friday Poem

Gary Snyder Starts Singing

When you suddenly started singing in the middle of your poetry reading
we were caught off guard.
It was as though, when we had crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and turned left,
suddenly we had seen the pampas spread out before us,
when actually we should have seen Wall Street.

The domestic poultry that are supposedly unable to fly in our country,
in the garden of your stanzas, begin ably flying about.
They sail across the planet’s sky in V-formation like wild geese,
as if to say, “We are completely fed up with strolling around
on the Gutenberg runway. From now on we are going to be free,
so please look after yourselves in future.”

When you sang, you yourself became a song.
With your feet rooted in the earth,
your body began to float off into air.
We, left behind, recalled the familiar old maxim,
‘A miracle is reality laid bare.’

But as you sing, you are whispering:
“My tongue which has been up to a lot of vulgar things
is also capable of such elegant things”.

by Inuo Taguchi
publisher: Poetry International, 2006
translation: William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura

Research shows that everyone cheats

Dan Ariely in the Wall Street Journal:

ScreenHunter_05 Jun. 28 13.55We tend to think that people are either honest or dishonest. In the age of Bernie Madoff and Mark McGwire, James Frey and John Edwards, we like to believe that most people are virtuous, but a few bad apples spoil the bunch. If this were true, society might easily remedy its problems with cheating and dishonesty. Human-resources departments could screen for cheaters when hiring. Dishonest financial advisers or building contractors could be flagged quickly and shunned. Cheaters in sports and other arenas would be easy to spot before they rose to the tops of their professions.

But that is not how dishonesty works. Over the past decade or so, my colleagues and I have taken a close look at why people cheat, using a variety of experiments and looking at a panoply of unique data sets—from insurance claims to employment histories to the treatment records of doctors and dentists. What we have found, in a nutshell: Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society.

More here.

Nico Muhly’s many opinions on polygamists, opera and idiocy

David Patrick Stearns in Arts Journal:

Nico_muhly1-300x200The brash young composer Nico Muhly – much to the surprise of many but probably not to himself – turned out to be right.

When his opera Dark Sisters was premiered in New York City in November, many believed the ever prolific Muhly (yes, even more prolific than his longtime employer Philip Glass) had rushed through the composition of a chamber opera about Church of Latter-Day Saints splinter groups that practice polygamy in remote outposts of the southwestern United States. The disappointment extended beyond the critics and operagoers hearing it for the first time on opening night. There was much grumbling within the industry that problems that were clearly apparent in the workshop preceding the premiere but hadn’t been addressed at all. Some of his fellow composers were secretly scathing.

Oh well. There was always the revival the following June at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, where the smallish, congenial Perelman Theater has come to be seen as one of the ideal chamber opera venues in the Northeast. Even then, Muhly, librettist Stephen Karam and director Rebecca Taischman declined to have another workshop. They were all busy and sensed that changes could be made in the few weeks of rehearsal prior to the Opera Company of Philadelphia opening.

And yet … Dark Sisters wasn’t just a hit with critics who were lukewarm first time around. The opera was a considerable popular success with audiences. Word of mouth was uniformly positive. Here was something fresh, challenging and new that wasn’t beyond the grasp of an average operagoer hearing it for the first time. And in Philadelphia – a place known to fear the cutting edge.

What changed?

More here.

the end of the euro


Most of the current policy discussion concerning the euro area is about austerity. Some people – particularly in German government circles – are pushing for tighter fiscal policies in troubled countries (i.e., higher taxes and lower government spending). Others – including in the new French government — are more inclined to push for a more expansive fiscal policy where possible and to resist fiscal contraction elsewhere. The recently concluded G20 summit is being interpreted as shifting the balance away from the “austerity now” group, at least to some extent. But both sides of this debate are missing the important issue. As a result, the euro area continues its slide towards deeper crisis and likely eventual disruptive break-up. The underlying problem in the euro area is the exchange rate system itself – the fact that these European countries locked themselves into an initial exchange rate, i.e., the relative price of their currencies, and promised to never change that exchange rate. This amounted to a very big bet that their economies would converge in productivity – that the Greeks (and others in what we now call the “periphery”) would in effect become more like the Germans.

more from Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario here.

The Night Wanderers


Joseph Kony could never have imagined it. Once an obscure warlord traipsing through the central African bush, he has been catapulted onto the leaderboard of global villains. Schoolchildren have been riveted by an internet video of his atrocities released by Invisible Children, a group of American activists. Their film has garnered more than 89 million hits on YouTube since March. Some viewers rallied behind their Kony2012 campaign to call for the Ugandan rebel’s arrest by the year’s end. Overnight, Kony has become the world’s favourite bogeyman. It is fortuitous then that the English translation of The Night Wanderers by Wojciech Jagielski, a veteran Polish journalist, has arrived at just the moment when ever larger numbers of people are curious to learn more about Kony, his child soldiers, and the conflict they spawned.

more from Matthew Green at Literary Review here.

joyce’s detritus of reality


On a day in May, 1922, in Paris, a medical student named Pierre Mérigot de Treigny was asked by his teacher, Dr. Victor Morax, a well-known ophthalmologist, to attend to a patient who had telephoned complaining about pain from iritis, an inflammation of the eye. The student went to the patient’s apartment, in a residential hotel on the Rue de l’Université. Inside, he found a scene of disarray. Clothes were hanging everywhere; toilet articles were scattered around on chairs and the mantelpiece. A man wearing dark glasses and wrapped in a blanket was squatting in front of a pan that contained the remains of a chicken. A woman was sitting across from him. There was a half-empty bottle of wine next to them on the floor. The man was James Joyce. A few months before, on February 2nd, he had published what some people regarded then, and many people regard now, as the greatest work of prose fiction ever written in the English language. The woman was Nora Barnacle. She and Joyce were unmarried, and had two teen-age children, Giorgio and Lucia, who were living with them in the two-room apartment.

more from Louis Menand at The New Yorker here.

Charisma: who has it, and how to get it

From The Telegraph:

Until I encountered Olivia Fox Cabane, whom US executives at firms like Google, Deloitte and Citigroup pay up to $100,000 a year to help boost their X-factor, I’d have naively believed charisma was an intangible, magical aura. The word comes from the Greek “gift”, befitting the notion that allure is something you’re born with, and can’t earn. It’s the “It” that differentiated Baroness Thatcher from John Major, George W Bush from John Kerry, Lady Gaga at the O2 from her hundreds of imitators performing to tiny audiences in bar back rooms. But, as Fox Cabane points out in her new book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, it was also the difference between Marilyn Monroe and her alter-ego Norma Jean Baker. In 1955, the film star rode the New York subway, unnoticed by her fellow passengers because, she explained, she had chosen to adopt “Baker” mode. But when she emerged onto the city pavements, she asked an accompanying journalist: “Do you want to see her?” She fluffed her hair, struck a pose.

Suddenly, onlookers reported, magic seemed to flow from her. “That shows that charisma isn’t innate, it can be controlled at will,” Fox Cabane says.

More here.

The Snarky Voice in Your Head

Via Alan Henry at Lifehacker:

X-rayThere's a difference between being occasionally sarcastic and a little derisive in your head, but when negativity becomes your default reaction, you have a problem. You may have had a wake-up moment, much like Anna Holmes, founding editor of Jezebel, had when she realized she was sneering at someone for no reason other than that the person was happy. Here's what she said:

Just rolled my eyes at a woman skipping happily across 42nd Street. Then I realized I'M the asshole.

— Anna Holmes (@AnnaHolmes) May 31, 2012

How about a quick check. Do you:

  • Roll your eyes at every “hipster” who, by most accounts, is just a person trying (successfully or not) to dress fashionably?
  • Primarily complain about how horrible people/things are on Facebook/Twitter?
  • Get angrier every passing moment that you stand in line at the grocery store, or have to wait for your check to arrive at a restaurant?
  • Find you're constantly frustrated with coworkers who don't “get it?”
  • Comment angrily on blogs, videos, and other web sites (usually beginning with “ummm” and ending with “just saying?”)
  • Feel like it's okay to be a complete jerk, as long as you're “witty” about it?

Sounding familiar? You may have a problem.

Jonah Lehrer Just Does Not Know How To Do Journalism

To be read alongside this previous post and the additional links below it, more opinions on Jonah Lehrer from Gawker:

JonahLehrerYesterday we found out that Jonah Lehrer, the Gladwellesque whiz kid who's The New Yorker's newest staff writer, reused his own old writings for every goddamn blog post he's written for The New Yorker so far. A self-plagiarist, he is. Big time. What's the latest? He is an even bigger time plagiarist (self, and otherwise!) than we knew yesterday. And for it, he should probably be eased out of journalism's highest echelon.

The news yesterday set off a predictable wave of digging into Lehrer's past work, revealing that his penchant for reusing old material without disclosure was not limited to a few blog posts. Edward Champion found “twelve pages of lifted passages” in just the first 100 pages of Lehrer's recent book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer's January New Yorker article on brainstorming now has an editor's note disclosing that Lehrer took Noam Chomsky quotes from a story (not written by him) in Technology Review and inserted them into his story, making it appear as if he had spoken to Chomsky himself.

More here.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Allergies

From Discover Magazine:

PeanutsCuring them by giving yourself hookworms, preventing them by putting RFID tags in your food, and avoiding them in Knoxville, the Allergy Capital of the country.

1 Our immune system may be like those small bands of Japanese “holdout” soldiers after World War II. Not knowing that the war was over, they hid for years, launching guerrilla attacks on peaceful 

2 With our living environment well scrubbed of germs, our body’s immune “soldiers” mistakenly fire on innocent peanuts and cat dander.

3 According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of all Americans have one or more allergies.

4 The scariest allergy: penicillin, one of the most common causes of fatal anaphylaxis. The most disgusting allergy: cockroaches.

5 Most food allergies result from an immune response to a protein. In 2004 a team at Trinity College Dublin tried to counter that reaction by injecting mice with parasites, giving the animals’ immune systems the sort of threat they evolved to fight, thus distracting them from the food proteins.

6 The experiment worked.

More here.

Comment Policy

This is not a real comment policy but one written up for amusement by Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance in a moment of frustration with the rude behavior of a few commenters there. It does express the point of view of blog hosts rather well at times, though:

Blog-commentsThe best way to think about blog commenting has been formulated by Eugene Volokh: comment threads as cocktail parties. A good comment section is a cacophony of views, a bringing-together of different voices in the best possible way. But it is not a random collection of passers-by gathered in a public space to shout at each other. It’s a hosted space, with the bloggers as proprietors. This implies a minor form of social contract: the bloggers provide a common space for commenters to meet and converse, while commenters are expected to contribute positively and politely to the experience.

One goal of a good cocktail party is that you meet people you haven’t met before, and perhaps share an interesting conversation. But the guest list, and some broad expectations for personal behavior, are set the by organizers. Party crashers who are obnoxious, or disruptive, or even just deadly boring, may be asked to leave the party. Nobody has a right to attend whatever parties they like.

Consider, in terms of this analogy, the temptation to complain out loud about what the bloggers are choosing to blog about. That would be like showing up at a party, noticing that the only appetizers being passed around are spring rolls and bacon-wrapped dates, and proceeding to raise a ruckus about the absence of cocktail weenies.

No, come to think of it, it’s not like that. It’s like showing up at a party, noticing that spring rolls and bacon-wrapped dates are being passed around in addition to your beloved cocktail weenies, and loudly proclaiming how offended you are at the presence of such outré finger food at this event. You shouldn’t complain about the host’s taste in appetizers; if there’s nothing there you like, go to another party. And if there is, ignore the offerings you don’t like, and enjoy yourself some weenies. Delicious, delicious weenies.

More here. [See the post before this one for an example of demanding “cocktail weenies”.]

RIP Nora Ephron, 1941 – 2012

ImagesHere is a parody of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo that she wrote in The New Yorker a couple of years ago:

The Girl Who Fixed The Umlaut

Salander opened the door a crack and spent several paragraphs trying to decide whether to let Blomkvist in. Many italic thoughts flew through her mind. Go away. Perhaps. So what. Etc.

“Please,” he said. “I must see you. The umlaut on my computer isn’t working.”

He was cradling an iBook in his arms. She looked at him. He looked at her. She looked at him. He looked at her. And then she did what she usually did when she had run out of italic thoughts: she shook her head.

“I can’t really go on without an umlaut,” he said. “We’re in Sweden.”

But where in Sweden were they? There was no way to know, especially if you’d never been to Sweden. A few chapters ago, for example, an unscrupulous agent from Swedish Intelligence had tailed Blomkvist by taking Stora Essingen and Gröndal into Södermalm, and then driving down Hornsgatan and across Bellmansgatan via Brännkyrkagatan, with a final left onto Tavastgatan. Who cared, but there it was, in black-and-white, taking up space. And now Blomkvist was standing in her doorway.

More here.

Addicts, Mythmakers, And Philosophers: Plato’s/Socrates’ Understanding of Habitually Bad Behavior

Alan Brody in Philosophy Now:

GreekWinThad held up his right hand and asked “See this?” He showed me gnarled and maimed fingers. Thad told me that while he was flying his plane into Turkey, the Turkish air force forced him to land, having gotten wind that he was running drugs. They jailed him, and in an attempt to extract a confession, his jailers broke his fingers. He didn’t confess.

Thad bribed his way out of jail. Eventually he came to the drug treatment center where I was working, to get help with his drinking problem. (Thad and other patient names are pseudonyms.) After discussing addiction as involving compulsive behavior, we concluded that Thad was suffering from alcoholism. Knowing he would be better off not drinking, Thad committed himself to abstinence. He told me that he didn’t need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous for support, explaining that if he could resist caving in from torture he could certainly resist whatever discomfort he would experience from not drinking. Thad thought that being able to follow through with his resolve was simply a matter of having the ability to resist succumbing to how bad it would feel to not drink.

When Thad came in for his next appointment he looked pained, shocked and confused. He told me that in spite of his decision to remain abstinent, he drank. It happened at the airport while he was waiting for his friend to arrive. Thad couldn’t understand how he would do such a thing, given his ability to handle pain when sticking to a resolution. I explained how a compulsive condition such as alcoholism can change how one evaluates what to do, so that someone who previously decided not to drink can come to temporarily think it’s okay to do so. After I explained how this kind of change of thought could produce a motive for drinking, Thad saw how his ability to endure suffering couldn’t be counted on to guarantee abstinence.

More here.

Vanishing Languages

From Russ Rymer at National Geographic:

Vanishing LanguagesIn an increasingly globalized, connected, homogenized age, languages spoken in remote places are no longer protected by national borders or natural boundaries from the languages that dominate world communication and commerce. The reach of Mandarin and English and Russian and Hindi and Spanish and Arabic extends seemingly to every hamlet, where they compete with Tuvan and Yanomami and Altaic in a house-to-house battle. Parents in tribal villages often encourage their children to move away from the insular language of their forebears and toward languages that will permit greater education and success.

Who can blame them? The arrival of television, with its glamorized global materialism, its luxury-consumption proselytizing, is even more irresistible. Prosperity, it seems, speaks English. One linguist, attempting to define what a language is, famously (and humorously) said that a language is a dialect with an army. He failed to note that some armies are better equipped than others. Today any language with a television station and a currency is in a position to obliterate those without, and so residents of Tuva must speak Russian and Chinese if they hope to engage with the surrounding world. The incursion of dominant Russian into Tuva is evident in the speaking competencies of the generation of Tuvans who grew up in the mid-20th century, when it was the fashion to speak, read, and write in Russian and not their native tongue.