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October 31, 2012

Mandoo City

New York has been a dumpling town for a long time. Up and down the streets of Flushing (and at countless stuffed-pouch shrines like Vanessa's Dumpling House, Joe's Shanghai, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Grand Sichuan, Prosperity Dumpling and M Shanghai Bistro & Garden), diners can feast on platters of two-bite delights while sometimes spending less than you'd pay for a morning cup of coffee.

But lately, in Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens, at spots like Talde, RedFarm, Hakkasan, Danji, the Good Fork, the Hurricane Club, the Rickshaw food truck, Biang! and (at unpredictable intervals) Mission Chinese Food, classic dumpling forms are being executed with meticulous care -- and stuffed, pinched and twisted into fresh manifestations.

In Park Slope, Dale Talde has engineered one of the most hunted-down bar snacks of 2012, a beer-friendly, street-cart collision known as the "pretzel dumpling."

One day Mr. Schoenfeld pointed to a bowl of stuffing that Xiao Yan Mei, a prep cook, was smearing into sections of dough with a paddle that looked like a tongue depressor. That bowl held tiny cubes of roasted duck and vegetables -- cut into what the French would call a brunoise, Mr. Schoenfeld said -- all of which were meant to give the dumpling texture, "rather than having meatloaf inside."

-- Ed Schoenfeld, the veteran restaurateur behind RedFarm.

Good Thing, Small Package
New York has been a dumpling town for a long time, but lately the two-bite delights are being executed with meticulous care -- and stuffed, pinched and twisted into fresh Asian manifestations.

October 30, 2012

Science with belt tightening, not collaboration,

A number of science and technology organizations are now arguing that the federal belt-tightening is affecting the ability of the scientific community to share research and collaborate.

The U.S. Public Policy Council of ACM, the Computing Research Association, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have written to Congress and federal officials, asking for an exemption from the spending policy for "recognized scientific, technical and educational meetings" and "meetings of national and international standards bodies."

"Participation in scientific conferences is a critical opportunity for scientists and engineers to keep current in rapidly changing fields of science and technology," said the letter, dated Sept. 10 and sent to House and Senate leaders of both parties, as well as the federal Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. "These conferences facilitate communication among scientists, engineers, practitioners and students. They provide an important venue for presenting cutting-edge research."

Representatives from agencies like the Energy Department, NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department regularly attend conferences to exchange findings with private organizations. Participation in the events usually includes setting up booths where the federal researchers can demonstrate new technologies. Officials said the meetings emphasize collaboration, as well as education.


October 29, 2012

Smartphone apps as bugs

Angry Birds, the top-selling paid mobile app for the iPhone in the United States and Europe, has been downloaded more than a billion times by devoted game players around the world, who often spend hours slinging squawking fowl at groups of egg-stealing pigs.

While regular players are familiar with the particular destructive qualities of certain of these birds, many are unaware of one facet: The game possesses a ravenous ability to collect personal information on its users.

When Jason Hong, an associate professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, surveyed 40 users, all but two were unaware that the game was storing their locations so that they could later be the targets of ads.

"When I am giving a talk about this, some people will pull out their smartphones while I am still speaking and erase the game," Mr. Hong, an expert in mobile application privacy, said during an interview. "Generally, most people are simply unaware of what is going on."

What is going on, according to experts, is that applications like Angry Birds and even more innocuous-seeming software, like that which turns your phone into a flashlight, defines words or delivers Bible quotes, are also collecting personal information, usually the user's location and sex and the unique identification number of a smartphone. But in some cases, they cull information from contact lists and pictures from photo libraries.

Data-Gathering via Apps Presents a Gray Legal Area
The data collection practices of app makers are loosely regulated, but the European Union is working on proposals to get explicit consent from consumers to cull their personal information.

The makers of Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment of Finland, discloses its information collection practices in a 3,358-word policy posted on its Web site. But as with most application makers around the world, the terms of Rovio's warnings are more of a disclaimer than a choice.

The company advises consumers who do not want their data collected or ads directed at them to visit the Web site of its analytics firm, Flurry, and to list their details on two industry-sponsored Web sites. But Rovio notes that some companies do not honor the voluntary lists.

As a last resort, Rovio cautions those who want to avoid data collection or ads simply to move on: "If you want to be certain that no behaviorally targeted advertisements are not displayed to you, please do not use or access the services."

Policy practices like Rovio's often do little to inform consumers. Most people simply click through privacy permissions without reading them, said Mr. Hong, the Carnegie Mellon professor. His institute is developing a software tool called App Scanner that aims to help consumers identify what types of information an application is collecting and for what likely purpose.

In Europe, lawmakers in Brussels are planning to bring Web businesses for the first time under stringent data protection rules and to give consumers new legal powers, the better to control the information that is being collected on them.

Proposed revisions to the European Union's General Data Protection regulation now before the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament would require Web businesses to get explicit consent from consumers to collect data. A proposal would also give consumers the ability to choose what information an app can store on them without losing the ability to use the software.

October 28, 2012

Middle class mortgage holders make $100k to $500k

According to Joseph Rosenberg, a research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, only about 30 percent of taxpayers itemize, rather than take the standard deduction. And the majority of these itemizers are upper-middle and upper-income households.

Within that privileged category, the people who tend to derive the greatest dollar benefit from the mortgage interest deduction are households earning $100,000 to $500,000 a year.

"About two-thirds of the total benefit go to that group in the 80th through the 99th income percentiles," Mr. Rosenberg said.

The plain facts:

For households in the 15 percent bracket, the tax benefit for every $1,000 of mortgage interest deducted is $150. That benefit rises to $350 for households in the 35 percent tax bracket.

Robert Dietz, an economist for the National Association of Home Builders, which opposes cuts in the deduction, points out that households earning up to $200,000 could still be considered middle class in some parts of the country. Taxpayers who benefit the most from the mortgage deduction tend to be concentrated in high-cost metropolitan areas. So although their income levels sound high relative to the rest of the nation's, the incomes reflect a higher cost of living.

Low income bracket:

By way of comparison, the value to households earning $40,000 to $50,000 is closer to 0.3 percent of after-tax income; for households earning $50,000 and $75,000, it is 0.7 percent.

Why is this so? One reason is simply that people who have more money are more likely to have expensive homes and bigger mortgages. They may also have second homes, and under the current rules, mortgage interest may be deducted on those as well, up to a cap of $1 million in debt.

The other factor is that the value of the subsidy increases along with your tax bracket.

much of the tax benefit is going to younger homeowners who are at the beginning of their mortgages, when interest charges are highest. "The largest mortgage interest deduction average was found for those ages 35 to 45 years," he said.

But is the deduction helping them buy homes they wouldn't otherwise buy? "The theory is strong," Mr. Dietz said. "By reducing the after-tax cost, you're increasing demand among potential home buyers."

Mr. Rosenberg argues that the deduction does very little at the entry level. "The largest effect it has is it allows the upper middle class and upper income to buy larger houses and take out larger mortgages," he said.

Interestingly, despite its concentrated effect, various surveys have shown broad public support for the mortgage deduction. This is possibly because, in part, "lots of people who don't itemize today may aspire to be itemizers in the future," said Jed Kolko, the chief economist for Trulia, a real estate listing Web site.

Who Really Benefits From Interest Deductions
There is broad support for the mortgage interest deduction, even though most taxpayers don't benefit from it.

October 27, 2012

Party for your right to not vote

Before asking why they will vote, I asked why most young people won't. They told me that many of the issues they care about -- climate change, civil rights, the war on drugs, immigration, prison reform -- are not discussed by Democrats or Republicans. That there is such a gulf between what candidates say they will do, and what they do, that it's impossible to trust anyone. That apathy is actually supported by the evidence.

October 26, 2012

Clinton, authentic

if you're Bill Clinton, you have to look at it this way: for your entire career as a candidate, other politicians tried to paint you as waffling and slippery, and not once did it actually work. (Well, there was that gubernatorial defeat in 1980, but that had more to do with Jimmy Carter and a bunch of Cuban refugees than anything else.)

Meanwhile, you won a couple of national elections by positioning yourself as the pragmatic bulwark against conservative extremism on one side and liberal excess on the other. So it would be natural to have learned that it makes more sense to exploit your opponent's rigid ideology than his general squishiness.

But Mr. Clinton's situation was different from either Mr. Romney's or Mr. Obama's. For one thing, Mr. Clinton's brand of centrism -- which Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, tried to portray as expedient -- actually sprang from a coherent worldview. The charges of inauthenticity never seriously wounded Mr. Clinton because, unlike Mr. Romney, he had been remarkably consistent throughout his political life, and where there was inconsistency, Mr. Clinton had a singular ability to argue his way out of it.

October 25, 2012

Mandelbrot, "The Fractalist"

"I realized that mathematics cut off from the mysteries of the real world was not for me, so I took a different path," he writes. He wanted to play with what he calls "questions once reserved for poets and children."

He prized roughness and complication. "Think of color, pitch, loudness, heaviness and hotness," he once said. "Each is the topic of a branch of physics." He dedicated his life to studying roughness and irregularity through geometry, applying what he learned to biology, physics, finance and many other fields.

He was never easy to pin down. He hopscotched so frequently among disciplines and institutions -- I.B.M., Yale, Harvard -- that in his new memoir, "The Fractalist," he rather plaintively asks, "So where do I really belong?" The answer is: nearly everywhere.

As "The Fractalist" makes plain, Mandelbrot led a zigzag sort of life, rarely remaining in one place for long. He was born in Warsaw to a middle-class Lithuanian Jewish family that prized intellectual achievement. His mother was a dentist; his father worked in the clothing business. Both loved knowledge and ideas, and their relatives included many fiercely brainy men.

The family fled to Paris in 1936, in time to escape Hitler's advances. Looking back on dear friends who didn't make it out, he laments their procrastination. Some, he writes, "had been detained by their precious china, or inability to sell their Bösendorfer concert grand piano, or unwillingness to abandon the park view from their windows." He'd learned a lesson about not being tied down.

He communicates the reverence he felt toward men like Norbert Wiener, then a professor at M.I.T., and John von Neumann, then a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Mandelbrot perceived them, he writes, "as made of stardust." He refers to von Neumann, more than once, as Johnny. He quotes a friend who called Mandelbrot and his wife's first automobile, a grasshopperlike Citroën 2CV, "the Platonic essence of a car."

Beautiful minds don't always write beautiful books. Life isn't fair that way. But "The Fractalist" evokes the kinds of deceptively simple questions Mandelbrot asked -- "What shape is a mountain, a coastline, a river or a dividing line between two river watersheds?" -- and the profound answers he supplied.

Memoir of a Scientific Maverick
By Benoit B. Mandelbrot
Illustrated. 324 pages. Pantheon Books. $30.

October 19, 2012

Bedside manner to focus on patients, not tools and computers

The doctor knelt at the bedside to perform the time-honored tradition of percussing the heart. "Do it like this," he said, placing his left hand over the man's heart, and tapping its middle finger with the middle finger of his right.

One by one, each trainee took a turn. An X-ray or echocardiogram would do the job more accurately. But Dr. Heineken wanted the students to experience discovering an enlarged heart in a physical exam.

Dr. Heineken fills his teaching days with similar lessons, which can mean struggling upstream against a current of technology. Through his career, he has seen the advent of CT scans, ultrasounds, M.R.I.'s and countless new lab tests. He has watched peers turn their backs on patients while struggling with a new computer system, or rush patients through their appointments while forgetting the most fundamental tools -- their eyes and ears.

For these reasons, he makes a point of requiring something old-fashioned of his trainees.

"I tell them that their first reflex should be to look at the patient, not the computer," Dr. Heineken said. And he tells the team to return to each patient's bedside at day's end. "I say, 'Don't go to a computer; go back to the room, sit down and listen to them. And don't look like you're in a hurry.' "

One reason for this, Dr. Heineken said, is to adjust treatment recommendations based on the patient's own priorities. "Any difficult clinical decision is made easier after discussing it with the patient," he said.

Dr. Paul A. Heineken, 66

October 18, 2012

Mortgages gone bad -- blockback to underwriters, issuers ?

MBS issuers often assert their own put-back claims against mortgage originators, for instance. But JPMorgan still has an enormous put-back claim by a group of major institutional investors in almost $100 billion of mortgage-backed notes hanging over its head. And lately, the MBS headlines have all been about repurchase claims against JPMorgan. I've said it before: Bank of America's MBS woes are so 2011. These days, at least when it comes to private-label litigation, it's all about JPMorgan.

I told you last week about the hedge fund Baupost's put-back case against JPMorgan's EMC unit in Delaware Chancery Court -- one of the very few cases in which a private investor (as opposed to a bond insurer or government-sponsored entity) has successfully forced an MBS trustee to assert claims on its behalf. But the bond insurers have been busy as well. MBIA filed a new suit against JPMorgan last Friday in federal court in White Plains, New York, claim in g that its predecessor Bear Stearns fraudulently induced MBIA to insure a GMAC securitization. (Okay, it's not a put-back suit, but the claims, as described by MBIA's lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, are similar.)

Meanwhile, the bond insurer Ambac and its indefatigable counsel from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler are rocketing along in Ambac's sweeping fraud and put-back case against Bear Stearns and its onetime mortgage arm, EMC Mortgage. As the financial writer Teri Buhl was the first to report at her website, last month Ambac brought an action in Connecticut state court seeking to compel the loan reviewer Clayton Financial to produce the Bear MBS documents Ambac has subpoenaed. Clayton was one of the companies (along with Watterson Prime) frequently hired by MBS issuers to re-underwrite loans they purchased from mortgage originators to assess the mortgages' quality before they were securitized. Clayton has been thoroughly scrutinized in the mortgage mess, by former New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo and the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations, among others. So it's not news that the company has loan-level information that could support bond insurer claims that Bear bundled deficient mortgages into MBS trusts. But the Patterson Belknap filing included excerpts of deposition testimony from a whistle-blower who worked at both Clayton and Watterson. Like the recently filed, amended Baupost complaint, the whistle-blower deposition excerpts are another example of actual evidence that the due diligence and underwriting shenanigans you see described in complaints against MBS defendants really happened.

JPMorgan's mortgage-backed migraine -- Alison Frankel / Reuters

October 17, 2012

Complexity at discrete.gr

Complexity analysis is also a tool that allows us to explain how an algorithm behaves as the input grows larger. If we feed it a different input, how will the algorithm behave? If our algorithm takes 1 second to run for an input of size 1000, how will it behave if I double the input size? Will it run just as fast, half as fast, or four times slower? In practical programming, this is important as it allows us to predict how our algorithm will behave when the input data becomes larger. discrete.gr/complexity/.

October 16, 2012

Supreme Count decision on Obamacare: But wait, there's more

The CNN and Fox producers are scanning the syllabus. Eight lines from the bottom of page 2, they see the following language: "Chief Justice Roberts concluded in Part III-A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause." They immediately and correctly recognize that sentence as fantastically important. The individual mandate is the heart of the statute, and it is clear that the Court has rejected the Administration's principal theory - indeed the only theory that was discussed at great length in the oral arguments and debated by commentators.

Into his conference call, the CNN producer says (correctly) that the Court has held that the individual mandate cannot be sustained under the Commerce Clause, and (incorrectly) that it therefore "looks like" the mandate has been struck down. The control room asks whether they can "go with" it, and after a pause, he says yes.

The Fox producer reads the syllabus exactly the same way, and reports that the mandate has been invalidated. Asked to confirm that the mandate has been struck down, he responds: "100%."

The Bloomberg team finishes its review, having read the Commerce Clause holding and then turned the page to see that the Court accepted the government's alternative argument that the individual mandate is constitutional under Congress's tax power. At 10:07:32 - 52 seconds after the Chief Justice began speaking - Bloomberg issues an alert: "OBAMA'S HEALTH-CARE OVERHAUL UPHELD BY U.S.SUPREME COURT." Bloomberg is first, and it is right.

CNN is also running a live blog. The entries are later edited (leaving the impossible time stamp "Updated at 10:06") to delete the words "struck down" and insert "upheld" to preserve for history the following bizarrely contradictory entry: "In a landmark decision that will impact that nation for decades, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key provision of president Barak Obama's health care law, ruling that requiring people to have health insurance violates the Constitution."

At 10:15:00, CNN's on-air team reports - still somewhat elliptically - that "the individual mandate may be upheld under a narrow reading of the constitution, not under the commerce clause. We're talking about the taxing clause, Wolf, very important distinction here." And at 10:15:29, it reports (now making a different error, given that the Court has struck down part of the Medicaid provision), that "the entire law has been upheld." The control room then inserts a banner stating that the mandate "May Be Upheld."

CNN in particular should have told its viewers and readers more quickly about its own serious doubts about its initial reporting. By 10:12 at the latest, CNN was alone in seriously suggesting that the mandate might have been invalidated. The network's on-air team responsibly hedged throughout the entire process. But by 10:14, they should have been told not to claim that there were wildly conflicting reports about whether the mandate had been invalidated - the only reports on its side were its own, or echoes of its first reports bouncing around Twitter and blogs.

Sleep, race, ethnicity, and autonomy

The idea that race or ethnicity might help determine how well people sleep is relatively new among sleep researchers. But in the few short years that epidemiologists, demographers and psychologists have been studying the link, they have repeatedly come to the same conclusion: In the United States, at least, sleep is not colorblind.

Non-Hispanic whites get more and better-quality sleep than people of other races, studies repeatedly show. Blacks are the most likely to get shorter, more restless sleep.

What researchers don't yet know is why.

"We're not at a point where we can say for certain is it nature versus nurture, is it race or is it socioeconomics," said Dr. Michael A. Grandner, a health research associate with the Center for Sleep and Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania. But when it comes to sleep, "there is a unique factor of race we're still trying to understand."

Whatever the cause, doctors say that unlocking the secret to racial disparities in sleep could yield insights into why people in some minority groups experience higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Helping poor or immigrant populations to get more solid sleep, they say, could also help break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

"When people aren't sleeping as well during the night, they aren't as productive during the day, and they're not as healthy," said Dr. Mercedes R. Carnethon, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's a self-perpetuating cycle."

Sleep experts refer to this as the "autonomy" problem, and studies have shown it has an effect on sleep. "People who feel they have control over their lives were able to feel secure at night, go to sleep, sleep well, and wake up well in the morning and do it all over again," said Dr. Lauren Hale, associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University on Long Island, referring to a study she conducted in 2009. "That's part of the cycle not just for blacks and minorities, but other disadvantaged populations."

October 14, 2012


Fairness also dictates that the length of a line should be commensurate with the value of the product or service for which we're waiting. The more valuable it is, the longer one is willing to wait for it. Hence the supermarket express line, a rare, socially sanctioned violation of first come first served, based on the assumption that no reasonable person thinks a child buying a candy bar should wait behind an old man stocking up on provisions for the Mayan apocalypse.

Surveys show that many people will wait twice as long for fast food, provided the establishment uses a first-come-first-served, single-queue ordering system as opposed to a multi-queue setup. Anyone who's ever had to choose a line at a grocery store knows how unfair multiple queues can seem; invariably, you wind up kicking yourself for not choosing the line next to you moving twice as fast.

Alex Stone is the author of "Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind."

October 13, 2012

Hankook Ventus R-S3 tires

A great summer tire.
Large tread blocks.
Deep circumferential grooves.
Curved water evacuation grooves.


October 12, 2012

47 Percent, part 2

Romney, unlike Obama, writes off skeptical voters: "They will vote for this president no matter what." He simplifies and caricatures them: They "believe that they are victims ...

I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility." He counsels not empathy but indifference: "My job is not to worry about those people." And he speaks this way not about a fringe constituency, but about 47 to 49 percent of the country.

-- Lord Saletan

October 11, 2012

Fitness first

Research that does tease apart weight and fitness -- like a series of studies conducted by Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute in Dallas -- shows that being fat and fit is better, healthwise, than being thin and unfit. Regular aerobic exercise may not lead to weight loss, but it does reduce fat in the liver, where it may do the most metabolic damage, according to a recent study at the University of Sydney.

"More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh," said Glenn Gaesser, author of "Big Fat Lies" and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University.

-- Harriet Brown, author, "Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia."

October 10, 2012

Trust the government in Washington to do what's right ?

The American National Election Study has long included a question about how much people "trust the government in Washington to do what's right," with the possible answers being "just about always," "most of the time," or "only some of the time." In the third graph we plot the responses to this question from 1964 on, when the A.N.E.S. first started to ask the question regularly. The graph shows three major features.


The graph shows that Republicans don't trust government less than Democrats do, historically. The real difference is that Republicans are more sensitive to who controls the White House. When their man is in, they trust government more than Democrats do. When their man is out, they trust it less. Democrats hold steadier; they seem to identify "government" less with the presidency than Republicans do.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business and the author of "The Righteous Mind." Marc J. Hetherington is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and the author of "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics." They both write for Civil Politics.org.

First, the long term trend is down. Way down. During the Johnson years, more than two-thirds of Americans said they trusted the government either just about always or most of the time. After Watergate and the Vietnam War, it dropped down closer to one third.

Reason for hope is that there are many changes we can make now, over the next few years, that might roll back the polarization by a decade or two. Several recent books contain lists of great ideas backed up by years of insider experience (see in particular Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein's "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" and Mickey Edwards's "The Parties Versus The People"; see also the list from NoLabels.org). Some of these changes would reduce gridlock directly by making it easier for the majority party to implement its program - and then be held accountable by the public for the results. For example: making it harder to launch and sustain a filibuster in the Senate, or making it easier for a president to obtain a quick up-or-down vote on nominations for judicial and administrative appointments.

October 9, 2012

the 47 percent

Here's what Obama said:

"...our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's no evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot -- like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they've gone through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate, and they have not. It's not surprising, then, that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. At least in some communities, anyway."

Here's Romney:

"All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what...These are people who pay no income tax."

One empathizes (Obama) and the other blames (Romney). Both could have avoided such broad characterizations - but Romney is dismissive and arrogant- Obama tries to empathize.

October 8, 2012

Democrats and Republicans speak up to their donorbase

For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money: They have it, other Americans don't, and those resentful, entitled others might just have enough votes to wage class warfare and redistribute the donors' hard-earned millions to the indolent and irresponsible.

For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars: They think they've built an enlightened society, liberated from archaic beliefs and antique hang-ups, and yet these Jesus freaks in flyover country are mobilizing to restore the patriarchy.

Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built. For Republicans, the dystopia is (inevitably) "Atlas Shrugged." For liberals, it's one part "Turner Diaries," one part "Handmaid's Tale."

Both the right and left have provocative intellectual takes on how this new world came to be: Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" and Chris Hayes's "Twilight of the Elites," respectively, are this year's prime examples. But both takes are longer on description than prescription, and neither has much purchase on our politics.

--- Ross Douthat, the NY Times' abortion columnist tag teams Lord Saletan.

But set aside the short-term politics for a moment. What does it say about our culture that the people funding presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle seem to regard their downscale fellow countrymen as a kind of alien race, to be feared and condescended to in equal measure?

What does it say that rich Republicans are unable to entertain the possibility that Americans who depend on government programs during the worst recession in generations might have legitimate economic grievances?

What does it say that rich Democrats can't fathom why working class Americans might look askance at an elite that's presided over a long slow social breakdown and often regards their fundamental religious convictions as obstacles to progress?

The way Obama and Romney employed these stereotypes are not actually equivalent. Both behind-closed-door comments were profoundly condescending, but only Romney explicitly wrote off the people he's describing. As Slate's William Saletan notes, Obama embedded his bitter- clingers characterization in a longer riff about why it's important for Democrats to keep fighting for blue-collar votes. Romney's remarks were more dismissive and therefore should prove more politically damaging: "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said, of millions of his fellow countrymen, and left it at that.

October 7, 2012

Scientific eating

Nutritional recommendations were born at the end of the 19th century with the discovery that humans need 20 calories per pound of weight each day; 55 to 65 percent of this energy intake ought to come from carbohydrates, a quarter from fats and something over 10 percent from proteins.

These guidelines did not emerge only from scientific inquiry but also from a desire to maximize efficiency. In 1888, the American chemist Wilbur O. Atwater devised a series of formulas that would help people get the most energy from the least food. Economics and physiology would be joined in what he called "the pecuniary economy of food." Atwater pioneered a movement that came to be known as "scientific eating."

The notion appealed to French physicians, who had been looking for ways to improve working-class health and budgets. They believed that these households spent too much on meat and alcohol. Their program of "rational eating" aimed to instruct the poor to keep food expenses within the limits of their (modest) budgets. They urged the substitution of protein-rich legumes for red meat, pasta for sausages, and sugared beverages for wine.

Martin Bruegel, historian at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, is the editor of "A Cultural History of Food in the Age of Empire."

The history of "scientific eating" offers several lessons. Nutritional campaigns can succeed in influencing consumer behavior only if they take into account the sensual joys of eating. The French continued to eat their red meat and drink their red wine because rich meals gave them a sense of belonging to a community. Similarly, American consumers after World War II saw access to plentiful, ever cheaper and ever less healthy foods as proof of the American promise -- even if the impact on their waistlines, and well-being, has been disastrous.

In an era of stagnant wages, dystopian politics and cultural anomie, eating indulgent if unhealthful food has become a last redoubt of enjoyment for Americans who don't feel they have much control in their lives.

Higher incomes and better educations -- in the classroom, not on the menu board -- will do more to solve the obesity epidemic than mandating the disclosure of calorie counts. Before we blame the poor and the overweight for their inability to manage their budgets or control their appetites, we might want to think not only about the foods they encounter in the supermarket and on television but about a culture that relies ever more on unhealthy foods to breathe meaning and purpose into everyday life.

October 6, 2012

Mushroom Death Suit

Jae Rhim Lee wearing the Mushroom Death Suit, (Image: Mikey Siegel)


This Infinity Burial Suit is a body suit embroidered with thread infused with mushroom spores. The embroidery pattern resembles the dendritic growth of mushroom mycelium. The Suit is accompanied by an Alternative Embalming Fluid, a liquid spore slurry, and Decompiculture Makeup, a two-part makeup consisting of a mixture of dry mineral makeup and dried mushroom spores and a separate liquid culture medium. Combining the two parts and applying them to the body activates the mushroom spores to develop and grow.

October 4, 2012

Sleep vs ADHD

Most important, perhaps, those already found to have A.D.H.D. before surgery subsequently behaved so much better in many cases that they no longer fit the criteria.

The National Institutes of Health has begun a study, called the Childhood Adenotonsillectomy Study, to understand the effect of surgically removing adenoids and tonsils on the health and behavior of 400 children. Results are expected this year.

"We're getting closer and closer to a causal claim" between breathing problems during sleep and A.D.H.D. symptoms in children, said Dr. Ronald Chervin, a neurologist and director of University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center in Ann Arbor.

In his view, behavioral problems linked to nighttime breathing difficulties are more likely a result of inadequate sleep than possible oxygen deprivation. "We see the same types of behavioral symptoms in children with other kinds of sleep disruptions," he said.

October 2, 2012

Musical training in childhood improves lifelong language and hearing

Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning -- for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.

We aren't talking here about the "Mozart effect," the claim that listening to classical music can improve people's performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain's ability to discern the components of sound -- the pitch, the timing and the timbre.

"To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections," said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. "Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument."

Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.

In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.

October 1, 2012

On downgrading banks

The potential downgrades would cost those institutions billions of dollars in higher interest payments, steeper collateral costs and missed revenue opportunities.

What's making executives at Morgan Stanley and the scores of rivals waiting for Moody's decisions even more frustrated is they are fighting against an army of credit-rating analysts who are nowhere near as well-known and are paid a fraction of what bankers get. Even finding someone to blame can prove elusive, as Moody's ratings actions are decided by a voting committee of about a dozen analysts whose identities are never disclosed.

Moody's actions are faceless by design. The aim is to shroud at-times contentious decisions in an aura of mechanic precision, and to protect its analysts from the personalized attacks they may otherwise endure from finance ministers, bank executives and other debt issuers unhappy with their decisions.

Mr. ory Winans Bauer is an unlikely antagonist for the titans of Wall Street. People who know him say he has a tactful manner, which embodies the image Moody's has sought to project throughout its review, one of the firm's most controversial in recent years.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Bauer and his team of around 170 analysts world-wide are a powerful group, pushing through ratings cuts that have delivered a sobering message to some of the finance world's most-powerful executives: Banks can't be trusted to manage their own risks.

As the head of the global banking team, Mr. Bauer guides his team's priorities, working with analysts to ensure that the ratings accurately reflect banks' risks. He directs analysts to write research pieces and, if it's a particularly important article, will co-author it.