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Monday, March 15, 2010

Jamie exclusive!

Once again, this blog is ready to take it to the Next Level.  For some reason it took all day for YouTube to upload and process this thing, but here it is: my first-ever exclusive interview with Jamie!

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to get him to narrate his experiences more readily and more fluently.  So a few weeks ago I had the Bright Idea® of hauling out ye videocam and asking him to talk about some of the many zoos and aquariums he has visited.  I thought that would warm him up, so to speak, and that he’d be more willing in future installments to talk about his new job, his LifeLink apartment, his experiences at school, his hopes and dreams, and so forth.  Eventually, I want him to be able to collaborate with me, in one way or another, in the project of writing a twenty-years-later followup to Life As We Know It.  He says he’s up for it, so I’m basically trying to lay the groundwork now—starting off with the easy stuff.

In playing back this snippet (while waiting 12 hours for YouTube to process it) I realized a couple of things.  One, I step on some of his remarks.  D’oh!  Gotta watch out for that next time.  Two, he hauls out a few memories I’d forgotten, even as he substitutes “Madison Square Garden zoo” for “Central Park zoo.” (That was odd—he’s never been to the Garden.) And three, he closes by suggesting that we send this clip to CBS, ABC News, and ... The Daily Show!  I totally missed that last bit the first time around.  Great idea, Jamie!

I taped this at his maternal grandmother’s retirement village last week, at some point during the torrential rains that made much of the Northeast feel like a ship in a stormy sea.  And then I (foolishly) took him to the Mystic Aquarium, thereby adding one more item to the long list of zoos and aquariums we have visited in horrific weather.  (That visit to the Omaha Zoo really was insane. 35 degrees, as I say in the clip, but something more like 20 with the wind chill.  Fortunately they had some truly wonderful indoor exhibits, including the desert landscape Jamie mentions.)

I’m still officially on hiatus, but until I’m fully rested and ready for big-time blogging again, heeeeere’s Jamie!

Just for the record, here are those “craziest and kookiest” baboons Jamie mentions at 4:15.  Waterloo, Ontario, mid-May 2005.  40 degrees outside.  Did I mention it was mid-May?

Posted by Michael on 03/15 at 09:31 PM
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Would health care reform help you?

A special guest post by Barbara O’Brien of The Mahablog.


Many obstacles and stumbling blocks remain in the way of health care reform. After all we’ve been through, the House still may not pass the Senate bill, and/or the budgetary aspects of the bill may not get through the Senate reconciliation process.  Almost anybody could derail the thing in the next few weeks.

But just for fun, let’s look at what conventional wisdom says will be in the final bill and see if there is anything in it that will be an immediate benefit to people with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease.

It is likely that the final bill will provide additional funding for state high-risk insurance pools. Currently more than 30 states run such pools, which are nonprofit, state-sponsored health insurance plans for people who can’t buy insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The biggest problem with such pools is that, often, the insurance they offer is too expensive for many who might need it. Both the Senate and House bills provide $5 billion in subsidies for state high-risk pools to make the insurance more affordable.

Under the Senate bill, beginning in 2014, private companies would no longer be able to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions, nor could they charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. Until then, the state high-risk pools could provide some help.

Closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap — also called the “doughnut hole” — is another potential provision that could help some patients with asbestos-related disease. The “doughnut hole” is the gap between the coverage for yearly out-of-pocket expenses provided by Medicare Part D and Medicare’s “catastrophic coverage” threshold.

For example, in 2009 Medicare Part D paid at least 75 percent of what patients paid for prescription drugs up to $2,700. After that, patients must pay for all of their prescription medications until what they have paid exceeds $6,154. At that point, the catastrophic coverage takes over, and Medicare pays for all but 5 percent of the patient’s drug bills. The final health care reform bill probably will provide for paying at least 50 percent of out-of-pocket costs in the doughnut hole.

You may have heard the bills include budget cuts to the Medicare program, and this has been a big concern to many people. Proponents of the bill insist that savings can be found to pay for the cuts, and that people who depend on Medicare won’t face reduced services. But this is a complex issue that I want to address in a later post.

The long-term provisions probably will include many other provisions that would benefit patients with asbestos-related disease, including increased funding for medical research. Although there are many complaints about the bill coming from all parts of the political spectrum, on the whole it would be a huge benefit to many people.

— Barbara O’Brien

Posted by Michael on 03/10 at 04:28 PM
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Sunday, March 07, 2010

We interrupt this hiatus in progress

So I took the week off like a lazy bum and totally forgot about two things. 

One, voting in the 3 Quarks Daily Arts and Literature Prize ends at 11:59 tonight (Eastern time).  Unfortunately, 3QD has one of those voting devices that allows people to see the results as they vote, so you can all see that each of my two entries has picked up one vote so far.  This is embarrassing.  Yes, I know the posts weren’t all that good, or all that literary, but one vote?  Help me, my friends, let’s at least get to three.  The voting booth is here.  I know I have very few Sunday readers (largely because I almost never post on Sundays), but what the hell.

Two, and more important, I forgot to post this picture of the Best T-Shirt Ever.  (If you right-click and “view image” you can see a somewhat larger image.)

It was a gift from people at Penn State’s Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, which I visited on Tuesday, February 23 at the invitation of Hannah Williams (she’s the one on the left).  Why was I visiting the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, you ask?  Because Hannah had the great idea of inviting people from around the university who don’t work on gravitation or the cosmos to come in, talk about their work, and share notes with people who do work on gravitation and the cosmos.  I was there to talk about the fallout from Ye Olde Sokale Hoaxe, the legacy of T. S. Kuhn, the difference between brute fact and social fact, and the way that Down syndrome and disability studies reside at the intersection between brute fact and social fact.  It was much fun, and there was much food.  Also, a whole mess of really good questions.  This was only the second time I’ve done a presentation for physicists (the first time was April 1995, at Illinois), but I have to say, these ultra-interdisciplinary get-togethers are very enjoyable.  When else do you get to talk about the perihelion advance of Mercury and the debates over autism in the space of 90 minutes?  (Hmm, it turns out that you can download a Mercury Perihelion Procession of your very own from the Wolfram Demonstrations Project.  I do love the Internets for things like this.)

So when the 90 minutes were up, Hannah presented me with this shirt, saying that the group wanted to see how I react when I am proven wrong.  You’ll recall, of course, that back in January I wrote, “the reason all the T-shirts say ‘RACE FOR THE CURE’ is that ‘RACE FOR THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION’ doesn’t fit neatly on one side of the shirt.” As you can see, I am quite wrong about this.  And, as usual, very very happy to be wrong.  Because now I own the Best T-Shirt Ever.  Thanks, Hannah!  And thanks, people from the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos!  I look forward to meeting you again in the playoffs, when the Institute for the Arts and Humanities faces the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos in the interdisciplinary-institute quarterfinals.  We’ll bring the cosmopolitanism, and you bring the quantum foam!

And don’t forget, the post that inspired the Best T-Shirt Ever is one of the nominees for that 3QD prize.  For that alone, it deserves three votes, no?  11:59, people.

See you soon.  Until then, keep racing for the reasonable accommodation!

Posted by Michael on 03/07 at 10:01 AM
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Des plus brillants exploits

Ô Canada!
Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Ahem.  Well, I don’t think it was a Game of the Ages.  Or a game for the ages, either.  But it was immensely entertaining.  And if you watched these Olympics and still don’t see why hockey is teh bestest game ever, even better than curling and the biathlon, I don’t know what to say to you.

For obvious (and entirely justifiable) reasons, everyone is going to remember Parise’s game-tying goal with 24.4 seconds left (and, I hope, the deft play by Patrick Kane that made it possible:  Kane was the USA’s offensive MVP of the night, and may eventually become the best American hockey player of all times), and the breathtaking, brilliant OT session that followed.  But the first 57 minutes of the game were not really all that thrilling.  The occasion was thrilling, sure—the final event of the 2010 Olympics, a rematch of a terrific prelim game, the latest installment in a serious rivalry.  But although the first 57 minutes were quick, physically intense, and tightly played, they were a little too tightly played.  We were treated to what’s called a “close-checking” game, and apparently everyone was prepared for it: in the pregame commentary, Eddie Olczyk predicted that the game would be won and lost in the corners, and he turned out to be exactly right (even though he didn’t say anything about the puck getting caught in an official’s skates, forcing Crosby to flick the puck down low to Iginla).  Me, I prefer a game that’s won and lost on the question of whether a team can skate through the neutral zone with speed, developing plays and creating open ice and passing lanes; but this game had no open ice or passing lanes, very few odd-man rushes, very little end-to-end action.  I longed for the freedom of the larger international rink; meanwhile, the USA and Canada played old school North American hockey, and they played it well.  It just wasn’t galvanizing—until Crosby’s breakaway and Kane’s furious, possibly-game-saving backcheck.  And then, two minutes later, Kane twisted to save a pass from Pavelski that had been deflected by Getzlaf, spun, sent the puck goalward, off Langenbrunner’s skate and into Luongo’s pads, and Parise put it in.

At which point the team that thought it was going to hold on to win a tightly-played one-goal-game realized that it was going to have to go to the locker room, sit for fifteen minutes, and then come back out and start the entire thing over from scratch.  1993-94 Rangers fans know what that’s like, having watched their team give up three last-minute goals to force overtime, two against the Devils (the second in game seven) and one against the Canucks (in game one).  Oh, yes, the 1993-94 Rangers themselves would know what that’s like, too.  It is excruciating.

Everything after that was just crazy land.  Up to that point, the game was huge because of the stakes, not because of the second-by-second thrills.  But the OT was edge-of-the-seat, second-by-second thrills.  Sudden death is like that.  And a twenty-minute sudden-death with four-on-four play is also like that, except more so.  I decided last night that it’s infinity times better than the five-minute OT, because I’ve watched way too many five-minute OTs in which neither team takes a chance for fear of making the fatal mistake that leads to a 2-on-1 the other way.  In this format, by contrast, players actually try to win the damn game instead of waiting out the OT to get to the shootout.  (I understand why the NHL has to keep it to five minutes, though.) And, of course, the four-on-four produced all the open ice I could have wanted.

In the end, it was exactly the right outcome.  Not only because Canada really was the just-slightly-better team, and not only because Crosby deserves this place in history, but also because Crosby’s goal saved us from decades of debates about the offsides on the first US goal and the Two Clanging Posts at the opening of the third period.  Had the Americans pulled this one out, erasing Canada’s two-goal lead and ending the Vancouver Olympics on a sour note for the home team, Canadians would now be talking about that offsides and those posts, and for obvious (and entirely justifiable) reasons, would continue talking about them forever.

And with that, dear readers, this weary blog is going on hiatus for a couple of weeks.  I have some news—I’ve been asked to serve as the next director of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and I’ve accepted.  I don’t officially take the job until July, but I’m going to start meeting with people well before then, and that’s going to cut deeply into blogging time, for obvious (and entirely justifiable) reasons.  I’m not giving up the thing just yet—perhaps sometime later this year, after the Penguins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup final.  We will see.  In the meantime, I leave you with three important instructional videos.  First, one for you guitarists:

Then, another for you Karen Carpenter fans:

And finally, a different drummer:

See you around the Intertubes, everyone.  While I’m gone, don’t forget—The Editors have been back for a while now.

Posted by Michael on 03/01 at 10:33 AM
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