Monday, December 27, 2010

AT&T offers video "The Last Text" on the hazards of texting and cell phone use while driving

This morning ABC Good Morning America mentioned a new short film from AT&T: “Don’t Text While Driving” also called “The Last Text”.

The ten minute film presents several graphic histories, including a teen serving a sentence for hitting a bicyclist, and covers the concept of responsibility for those on the other end of cell phone calls made or texts sent by drivers.

Two years ago there was a similar 4 minute video from the UK. It was called “Texting While Driving” and is on my Movies Blog Aug. 25, 2009.

I have taken Oprah's "No phone zone" pledge.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website is called “Distraction”, here.

People are 23 more times likely to have an accident if texting while driving. But cell phone conversations are risky too, and some say that the hands free devices (like Jupiter Jack) don’t necessarily make it safer; it’s the brain distraction that matters. Of course, we could say that about eating, operating CD players or even radios while driving. The other side of the coin is that a little distraction keeps someone awake on an interstate. Once in 1997, someone on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as I hauled out to Minneapolis to start a new life and had finished lunch, yelled “Stay Awake”. It startled me. And the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel was approaching. (Hobbyists and cyclists: look for this link on “abandoned PA turnpike tunnels”; I will come back to this later.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Teenage pregnancies drop, but so does fertility and population replacement

Rob Stein (and he’s not quirky columnist “Ben Stein” but maybe he could be) has an article on p A2 of the Washington Post, Dec. 22, “Birthrate among teens hits record low: poor economy, abstinence message may be swaying girls”, link here.

The article briefly connects abstinence to the reverse problem of low fertility. It says that US birthrates inched above population replacement in 2007 and 2008 and have slipped below again in 2009 and 2010.

There is a general impression that it is not a good idea to depend on a bad economy to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The longer term, however, is that a stagnating population and seriously imperil a country’s future economic growth, and that’s why some social conservatives are talking about rewriting “the social contract.”  These days, we tell young people that their future responsibilities are under their own control. (Just listen to Dr. Phil.) That might not work forever.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dr. Ox on cell phone dangers: Erin Brokovich's chromium comes back; Moon

A couple more “public health” issues came up in the past couple of days. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah’s friend, has been talking ambiguously about cell phone hazards, and here is his basic article on the subject from Oprah’s Magazine from February 2010, link.

He was a little concerned about the micro radiation getting into hip bone marrow, and possibly heating the brain, particularly in children. It seems very unlikely. Doctor’s have become less concerned about microwaves and heart pacemakers and the like than in the past. One tip is that a poor signal may present more “risk” than a strong one, because it takes more power to carry it (probably from a more distant tower).

The other news concerns finding Hexavalnet Chromium in drinking water, the topic of the 2000 Fox film “Erin Brokovich”, in Hinkley, CA. Now it seems it has been found in the drinking tap water in 31 out of 35 US cities. Travis Walter Donovan has a typical story in the Huffington Post, link. Norman OK and Honolulu were the worst offenders; Washington DC was way down the pack.

Wikipedia attribution link for Lunar Eclipse at 2010 Winter Solstice today.  Sorry, I didn’t wake up for it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The VAT v. "The Single Tax"

Chrystal Freeland discussed the idea of a value added tax on Ali Velshi today. The plus of it is to reduce consumption; the minus is that it is regressive, although that could be offset with credits.

Fareed Zakaria discussed the increased fees (resulting in “demonstrations” in London) and increased VAT in Britain with George Osborne. Gordon Browne disagreed, saying

I can recall back in the early 1970s the Far Left (“People’s Party”) wanted a “Single Tax”, which it claimed must he an “income tax”, so that “life was fair” and everybody started at the same place in line (that’s what Chairman Mao wanted).  I think we studied "The Single Tax" in high school government class.

Zakaria said that US Congress was playing a shell game, risking financial instability in order to pretend it could keep tax cuts. Britain, Zakaria thought, may be facing its problems more squarely and the UK may be much more creditworthy in the future.

Friday, December 17, 2010

TSA full body scanners won't catch a lot; it could get even more personal

Fran Golden has an “AOL Original” story Friday Dec. 17, “Leading scientists say airport full body scanners easily duped”, link here. There are a lot of concerns that many objects could be hidden, well, in crevices, maybe even in hair. (Imagine what could be expected of passengers; “Aplusk” on Twitter wouldn’t like it.) Increasing the radiation dosage could reduce the risk of missing contraband, but raise even more safety issues.

The Washington Post ran a similar long story today, by Anne E. Kornblut and Ashley Halsey III, “Revamping of Airport Checkpoint System Urged”, link here. The thinking is certainly shifting toward more reliance on intelligence gathering, and passenger-based screening, not taking it to the extent that Israel does (which would be unacceptable here), and probably running further into issues about federal data collection and even online “cloud” reputation as well as false positives on no-fly lists.

It's also unlikely that the "enemy" will repeat the same "tricks" it tried before, which fortunately it has not been very competent at.  This will become a battle of imagination, the kind you see only in the movies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Fact sheet" on minimum wage stirs controversy

Here’s a nice little fact sheet on the debate over the minimum wage, at a site called “The Work Buzz”. It’s called “A few things you should know about the minimum wage.” It’s interesting that it says that Oklahoma City is the nation’s lowest rent metro area, and even there the minimum wage would barely pay a year’s rent.

The real value of this post is the extensive comments. Some of the speakers are quite explicit that most of us are just a few paychecks from living in the streets.

In some cases, companies get around minimum wage laws by hiring people as “independent contractors.”

I found a copy of the study by Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester and Michael Reich at a Berkeley site called “eScholarship” here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Should companies be taxes on accumulated cash so they will spend on employing people?

Well, the Left is indignant against inherited wealth, but also against risk-free hoarding under the mattress (really not so safe). Mihir A. Desai had an op-ed on p A25, the “Washington Forum”, in the Washington Post on December 10, “Tax U.S. companies into spending”, link here.

Imagine a tax on accumulated liquid wealth, and then shenanigans it would inspire. Imagine that being done at an individual level to redistribute wealth. But that is what far left wing groups like Dr. Spock’s People’s Party wanted back in the early 1970s. The “most effective tax”, a “single tax”, was an obsession with them.

Picture: from an Amtrak train, near Philadephia: through a narrow window, darkly.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Federal judge strikes down "mandatory insurance" provison of Obama's health care reform (in suit brought by Virginia)

U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson has ruled, in Richmond, that a portion of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or else pay penalties if they do not get insurance through work, to be unconstitutional. Jim Nolan has a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here.  The Commonwealth of Virginia, under Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, had sued, claiming that the Commerce Clause did not give Congress the authority to regulate the decision to purchase individual health insurance.

The Obama administration will appeal the ruling to the 4th Circuit in Richmond, generally considered conservative.

Here is the Opinion, in the case Virginia v. Sebelius, link.

Obama-GOP tax deal and China's trade could suppress tax-free bond values for many investors

The extension of the tax cuts is probably going to push up interest rates, despite the Fed’s recent stimulus plan. “What the Federal Reserve Giveth, Obama Takes Away”, so goes a Reuters-Yahoo story today.  The story casts the game as “Fed v. Obama”, but maybe it’s Fed v. “Bubba Bill Clinton” who encouraged Obama go to along with the GOP on some tax cuts, even if Clinton was probably our most responsible president fiscally in recent times. (The first Senate vote on the "deal" may occur late Monday, according to media headlines.)

China may also put upward pressure on interest rates worldwide soon, according to many media stories.

The result is lower bond prices, which is not a good thing for many retirees who have invested heavily in less “volatile” bonds, especially tax-free municipal bonds, which may see lower demand due to high income tax cuts and also due to local government pension stresses and calls for stricter pension accounting. Just put all the eggs together and make an omelet.

Here’s a CNBC video yesterday that reminds us of 70s stagflation economics.

Update: Dec. 15

Check the front page Washington Post article by Neil Irwin, "Uptick in interest rates puts Fed on alert; Rise complicates efforts to kick-start economy with big bond purchage", link here. This comports with what a financial planner at SunTrust told me recently when explaining the recent dip in prices of tax-free municpal bonds.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Unemployment insurance premiums hurt small business disproportionately

The Washington Examiner has an important op-ed by Michelle Malkin, “Unemployment insurance kills small business”, link here.  Small proprietors, like doctors or neighborhood retail businesses, are hit much harder relatively speaking by higher unemployment insurance premiums than are much larger employers who are often responsible for so many of the layoffs.

She gives an example of a rock band, Vinyl Headlights, Inc., which might have to make its members go solo.

Continuation of the 99 weeks of unemployment insurance (to up to 155 weeks) was part of President Obama’s deal with Congress, which as of just now has fallen into jeopardy (CNN Political Ticker--Breaking News -- story Dec. 9 ).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

NYC trying to give "make work" to suspended teachers; Michell Rhee founds "Students First"; American students falling behind

Sharon Otterman has a story in the New York Times today narrating NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to get rid of “rubber rooms” for defrocked public school teachers, “New York Teachers Still In Idle Limbo”, link here

Now the City is assigning teachers to make-work administrative jobs, sometimes measuring sizes of buildings, in various schools. A few work in truancy centers (that takes people skills), but some say they have been told to sit in their cubicles for the entire 6 hours and 50 minutes and not get up and walk around.

A few have genuine administrative jobs but only non-functioning work computers.

In another education matter, departing (and controversial) DC School System Chancellor Michelle Rhee has established “Students First”, with link here. You have to sign up for the email list to see the content. Under the “for everyone else” page there is an article “International study finds U.S. students far behind those in other countries” (posted by Rhee herself), especially Singapore, South Korea (which has a boot camp for Internet addiction!) and Finland, link here. Finland is especially well known for the quality of its teachers.

I still say, Michelle Rhee and Mark Zuckerberg are psychologically very much alike!  Neither cares what others think!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may be associated with a retrovirus, could be in blood supply, according to advocacy group

An organization named the (ME/CFS) Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Alliance ran a print advertisement on p A12 of The Washington Post on Dec. 6, maintaining that “chronic fatigue syndrome” is caused by a retrovirus and than 87% of CFS patients display markers for the virus in the blood. The virus is thought to be blood-borne and follow transmission patterns like HIV or maybe Hepatitis B.

The print ad claims that the novel virus is (XRMV or some similar virus) in the blood supply.

The website for the organization is here.

The Earth Times has a story about the printed commercial here.

The “culprit” seems to be a murine virus (carried in mice), possibly similar to feline leukemia. The New York Times had run a story  Aug. 23, 2010 by David Tuller on a paper .abstract from the National Academy of Sciences on murine retroviral sequences being found in people with CFS.

There is another article at Health Central here  pointing to a 2009 issue of Science.

There’s not much to say about transmission or epidemiology. It could be that, unlike HIV, this virus does not cause disease or symptoms in most people (which ironically means it is already well adapted to a human host, and probably a very old virus). Women seem to be much more affected.

There are bloodborn RNA viruses which are not, strictly speaking, retroviruses, that don’t have reverse transcriptase (like Hepatitis C) but have similar transmission as STDSs and blood contact.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Virginia legislators could not pass state's SOL's in English

I remember that 10th Grade English, back in 1958, alternated all year between grammar and literature. (Grammar was easier, at least when it came to tests; literature started right out with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, with "The Cobbler".) But apparently some members of the Virginia Assembly might have trouble with Virginia’s SOL’s, given an acquittal of a man for reckless driving for passing a stopped school bus with red lights on.

Here is the statute:

"A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children."

Yes, “any school bus” is a direct object. The preposition “at” is missing (to make the phrase adverbial). Remember those parts of speech?

The story by Tom Jackman in the Metro Washington Post Dec. 1 is (website url) here.

Of course, English is a little bit tricky because it uses prepositions, often idiomatically, when other major languages use inflection (endings) more. Taking foreign languages nearly always helps a student understand English grammar. 

Here’s a vocabulary item, from a friend’s blog, “bathetic”, not “pathetic.” Look it up on Bing and English teachers, put it on a weekly vocabulary test.  You may need it for the SAT's, too.

Picture: Washington-Lee High School, Arlington VA, Quincy St, the day of John F Kennedy's inauguration, the day after a blizzard in January 1961.  From the Generals' Yearbook that year (my graduation).