Well, the year 2014–if that’s how you count years–is upon us. More than anything else, I’m hoping this year goes down as the year the Tea Party goes into the correct bag and we dispose of it. It’s time to look back with regrets and hope that things change for the better. Let’s start with the Sleaziest Pols of 2013. Here’s my pick of the list for ickiest pol this year.
Bob Filner is not the first politician to commit sexual harassment. In fact, he’s not even the first politician to serially harass and grope women. But he’s almost certainly the first one to count a former admiral in the U.S. Navy among his victims. Filner spent 20 years in Congress as a relatively obscure Democrat representing much of San Diego. Then, he became mayor of San Diego and the scandal floodgates opened. At least 18 women came forward and Filner was eventually forced to resign as mayor, pleading guilty to one felony and two misdemeanors related to his serial harassment.
Some times things need an explanation. The Economist always does this with something in its weekly issues. Here’s The Explainer article in 2013 that I found most compelling. What makes a language difficult?
Ranking languages on a universal scale of difficulty is itself difficult and controversial. Some languages proliferate endings on verbs and nouns, like Latin and Russian. Such inflection can be hard for learners who are not used to it. Several years ago, two scholars found that smaller languages (those with less contact with other languages) tended to have more inflection than big ones. By contrast, creole languages—which arise between groups that do not share a common language—are thought by scholars to be systematically simpler than other languages, even after they become “normal” languages with native speakers. They typically lack heavy inflection.
But inflection is only one element of “hardness”. Some languages have simple sound systems (such as the Polynesian languages). Others have a wide variety of sounds, including rare ones that outsiders find hard to learn (like the languages of the Caucasus). Some languages (like English) lack or mostly lack grammatical gender. Some have dozens of genders (also known as “noun classes”) that must be learned for each noun. Languages can have rigidly fixed or flexible word order. They can put verbs before objects or even objects before subjects. Yet it is not clear how to rank the relative difficulty of exotic consonants, dozens of genders or heavy inflection. Another recent approach sought to go around the problem by finding languages that had the most unusual features, skirting the question of whether those features were “hard”. Comparing 21 feature parameters across hundreds of languages, they ranked 239 languages. Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in Mexico, was the weirdest. English came in place number 33. Basque, Hungarian, Hindi and Cantonese ranked as among the most “normal”. The researchers did not find any larger similarities between “weird” and “normal” languages.
As you know, I’m obsessed with digging up ancient stuff. So, no list of 2013 outliers of mine would be complete without looking at the top archaeological finds of 2013 and picking one that fascinated me. One of the most disturbing events in history on my list was the destruction of the Great Library and the absolute purging of all kinds of ancient wisdom during the Crusades and the onset of the spread of dogma by the “Holy Roman Empire”. I love it whenever we recover something that these self-righteous destroyers ruined. So, in that spirit, I’m glad some of the ancient writing mediums were reused. We know have the technology to recover the good stuff that’s buried under the propaganda.
Ancient Philosophical Writings Found Hidden Beneath Medieval Text A group of scientists and historians made an incredible discovery relating to some writings made on parchments that were produced in medieval times. Using cutting-edge technology, the researchers found that the parchment had once contained ancient philosophical writings that had later been washed off and over-written. Using multispectral imaging, scientists were able to recover the original text, shedding new light on the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity. The uppermost layer of text dates to the thirteenth century and comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament. However, through an amazing stroke of luck, it was discovered that beneath this text there had originally been some writing by the well-known ancient Greek writer, Euripides, and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle, which dated back to the fifth century. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, said the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University. The research being undertaken, named the Palamedes Project, aims to create a critical edition of the two important manuscripts featuring the newly discovered and unexplored Greek texts, made readable using the latest forms of technology.
My choice for best beat down of an urban myth this year–other than the NYT’s article that should shut the Republicans up on Benghazi— is this one about coffee stunting your growth. It turns out that there’s no evidence that coffee is bad for a kid’s growth. That idea was put in our heads by the makers of POSTUM because they didn’t want to lose customers.
Modern concerns about coffee’ health effects in the U.S. can be traced to C.W. Post, an 1800s-era food manufacturer most well known for pioneering the field of breakfast cereal. He also invented a grain-based breakfast beverage called Postum, advertised as a caffeine-free coffee alternative, that was popular through the 1960s (and is still in production).
“Postum made C.W. Post a fortune, and he became a millionaire from vilifying coffee, and saying how horrible it was for you,” Pendergrast says. “The Postum advertisers had all kinds of pseudoscientific reasons that you should stay away from coffee.” Among the “evil effects” of coffee for adults, according to Post: it depressed kidney and heart function, it was a “nerve poison,” it caused nervousness and indigestion, it led to sallow skin.
Even after Post died in 1914, his company’s ads continued their attack on coffee, highlighting its effects on youth in particular and marketing Postum as a kid-friendly hot beverage. Postum’s ads claimed that that coffee should never, under any circumstances, be served to children, for a number of reasons—it made them sluggish, irritable and sleepless, it robbed them of “rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes,” it led to failing grades and, as the 1933 ad above claims, “it hampers proper development and growth.”
Over time, it seems, the belief that coffee is unfit for children—and, specifically, that it stops them from growing—slipped into the country’s cultural consciousness and took root, despite a total lack of scientific evidence.
Happily, Postum is now mostly forgotten, and coffee reigns. Virtually all of coffee’s supposed ills have been debunked—including the idea that coffee stunts growth. On the whole, scientists now believe that the health benefits of drinking two to three cups of coffee per day (a reduced risk of developing dementia, diabetes and heart disease) outweigh the costs (a slight increase incholesterol levels, for instance).
Of course, you might have your own very legitimate reasons for not letting kids drink coffee that have nothing to do with growth. A big concern is sleep, and how crucial it is for developing children—they need more of it than adults, and there’s evidence that sleep disturbances could be linked with childhood obesity—so the fact that coffee packs more caffeine than tea or soda is an issue.
Then there are the more prosaic problems that could result from giving kids coffee. “My biggest concern is that caffeine is addictive,” Pendergrast says. “And there is a lot of evidence that if you’re addicted, and you don’t get your caffeine, you suffer quite exquisite headaches, among other symptoms.”
Fox says the NYT’s research on Benghazi is wrong. They’d probably be fighting a faux war on coffee for kids if the ad dollars from Coffee aren’t so huge these days compared to POST cereal and POSTUM. It’s just really dismaying to see how a media outlet that basically exists to lie to people gets to pass itself off as news.
There were a lot of kewl science events this year. Some of the Best Space Photos include my one of my favorite science stories this year. The compelling voyage of Comet ISON that started some where around the time our ancestors were learning to walk upright ended this year in a battle with our Sun. Comets cemented the Law of Gravity and have contributed to knowing our timing and place in our universe for some time. ISON may have disappointed some. But, I really got hung up in the last days of ISON.
After Comet ISON made its spectacular hairpin turn around the Sun on Thanksgiving, as seen in online images taken by the SOHO and STEREO spacecraft, it was unclear if enough of the comet had survived for it to become widely visible in the night sky. By the time it exited SOHO’s field of view a few days later, ISON had faded dramatically, even as it became larger and diffuse. Many astronomers believed the comet had disintegrated, melted by the fierce heat of our star and/or ripped apart by tidal forces. Unfortunately, it seems they were right.
ISON was to have been at its best in early December, had it lived up to its more optimistic projections: A beautiful sight with a long tail extending up into the predawn sky. But nothing of substance emerged from the solar glare. Several of the world’s most skilled comet observers reported sightings of a large, faint smudge at the comet’s approximate position around December 8, but no photographs were able to confirm this, and such sightings have ceased. Last week, both the Arecibo giant radiotelescope dish and the Hubble Space Telescope attempted to find remnants of ISON, but they were unable detect anything near the comet’s expected position. All that’s left of ISON is a ghost: an expanding dust cloud, faded into invisibility.
As it is with ISON, so it is with 2013. There was a lot of gas, speculation, and hooplah that ended.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today? And, any thing that stands out in my lists our any others that you’ve found that grab your fancy?
Good Morning and Happy New Year!!!
Sorry to be late with this post. I got so discouraged last night with our dysfunctional government that I went to bed completely disgusted. After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic, if not truly hopeful. If I have any hope, it’s that perhaps the American people will rise up and let the president and Congress know what a horrible job they are doing.
So, what’s happening this morning? We officially went over the fiscal cliff at midnight even though the Senate approved a half-baked, crappy “deal.” Politico reports:
Congress lost a mad, New Year’s Eve dash to beat the fiscal cliff deadline, cinching a deal with President Barack Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy and temporarily freeze deep spending cuts but failing to get it through both chambers before midnight.
So over the cliff the country went — though perhaps for only a day or two and, assuming no snags, without incurring the double whammy of another recession and higher unemployment.
The measure, which would raise tax rates for families making more than $450,000 and delay deep across-the-board spending cuts for two months, cleared the Senate by an overwhelming 89-8 vote shortly after 2 a.m. The Republican-controlled House could take up the pact in a rare New Year’s Day session, though the timing of that chamber’s vote was not clear.
The $620 billion agreement was a major breakthrough in a partisan standoff that has dragged on for months, spooking Wall Street and threatening to hobble the economic recovery. It turned back the GOP’s two-decade-long refusal to raise tax rates, delivering a major win for the president.
The bill also canceled pay raises for members of Congress and averted an expected hike in the price of milk by extending expiring dairy policy.
Wow, they cancelled their own pay raises? That was big of them–not. They probably did that out of fear of an angry populace. And of course, we still have to watch the shameful spectacle of the tea party House wrangling over a deal that basically give them everything they wanted and more than they ever dreamed of.
From TPM, the Senators who voted against the deal:
The eight senators voting no were Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Richard Shelby (R-AL).
Robert Reich calls it “A Lousy Deal on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff.” I’m thinking that could be the new logo for this administration–“The Lousy Deal” as opposed to Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Reich writes:
Details of the agreement reached by the president and congressional Republicans are still forthcoming, but from the look of it, Obama gave ground where he need not have.
What else is new?
Yes, the deal finally gets Republicans to accept a tax increase on the wealthy, but this is an inside-the-Beltway symbolic victory. If anyone believes this will make the GOP more amenable to future tax increases, they don’t know how rabidly extremist the GOP has become.
The deal also extends unemployment insurance for more than 2 million long-term unemployed. That’s important.
But I can’t help believe the president could have done better than this. After all, public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side. Republicans would have been blamed had no deal been achieved.
More importantly, the fiscal cliff is on the president’s side as well. If we go over it, he and the Democrats in the next Congress that starts later this week can quickly offer legislation that grants a middle-class tax cut and restores most military spending. Even rabid Republicans would be hard-pressed not to sign on.
I hate to say it, but it really looks like Obama pushed for this so he could give more away that he would have had to if we had just gone over the cliff without all the fake deal making.
Noam Scheiber writes at The New Republic: Democrats’ Cliff Compromise Is Bad; But the Strategic Consequences Are Disastrous.
I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he’d previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to “close” the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it. As a practical matter, this signaled to Republicans that the White House wouldn’t walk away from the bargaining table, allowing the GOP to keep extracting concessions into the absolute final hours before the deadline….
I think a reasonable person can defend the bill on its own terms. The fact is that nudging up the tax threshold to $450,000 only sacrifices $100-200 billion in revenue over the next decade (against the $700-800 billion the administration would have secured with its original threshold), while allowing unemployment benefits to lapse would cause real pain to both the 2 million people directly affected and, indirectly, to the economy. Yes, Obama could have gotten the latter without giving up the former had he just waited another few days—at which point what the GOP considers a tax increase suddenly becomes a tax cut. But these things are always easier to pull the trigger on when you, er, don’t actually have to pull the trigger. I can’t begrudge Obama his wanting to avoid some downside risk for only a marginally better deal.
My far bigger gripe with the whole fiscal-cliff exercise has always been the strategic dimension—how it affects the next showdown with the GOP, and the one after that. Coming into the negotiation, Obama had two big problems: First, no matter how tough he talked, Republicans always assumed he’d blink in the end, for the simple reason that he pretty much always had. (This is one of the major themes of my book about his first term.) Second, despite the results of the most recent election, in which Obama won a fairly commanding victory on a platform of raising taxes on wealthy people, the GOP continued to believe that public opinion was mostly on its side. House Republicans cited the preservation of their majority—never mind that their own candidates received fewer total votes than House Democratic candidates—and polls showing most Americans still think government is too big.
No kidding. And I disagree that we shouldn’t begrudge Obama for not sticking to his promise to hold the line at $250,000. As I’ve written previously, Obama should not be involved in negotiations, because he either wants to lose to the Republicans or his need to please the people who hate him is just too strong. I don’t know which is the real problem, and it really doesn’t matter for practical purposes. He’s just a horrible negotiator, period. Now we have to watch another repulsive display of childish squabbling in a couple of months. Is this going to be the extent of what happens in Obama’s second term? With this incompetent, useless Congress, it’s entirely possible.
And of course we still have to wait and see what Boehner and his gang do.
In a joint statement late Monday, House GOP leaders promised to keep their commitment to act on the measure if it passes the Senate. But they say they won’t decide whether to accept the measure or to amend it and send it back to the Senate until lawmakers and their constituents have a chance to review the legislation.
Give me a frickin’ break! I’m going to end here, because there doesn’t seem to be much other news. What are you reading today. I look forward to clicking on your links.
Whatever else happens, I hope everyone has a great day today and a very happy new year in spite of the idiocy in Washington DC!!
Tonight is the last Friday night in the year…so let’s us go out with a bang!
Assault weapon bang…that is.
Oh boy, and that is all I’ve got for the “bang” part of the post!
Let have a few cartoons about the gubment…
This first one is good, only I would have added one thing. Can you guess what that would be?
I would’ve had Obama pulling the budget bag from the other side, bracing his legs on the tusk…and the US public under the ass, with that big GOP elephant taking a big GOP dump on the people.
That one is a good segue into these cartoons about the after Christmas party.
Nope, it wasn’t the end…it will soon be the beginning.