Archive

March 25th, 2016

Yes, I love puns. Stop saying it's a disease.

    Lately, I have been receiving not-so-subtle signals from everyone who has ever met me: they have finally discovered what ails me.

    I am an incorrigible punster. "Incorrigible" is one of those words that you never use to describe something that brings the people around you pleasure. Nobody is an "incorrigible" giver of thoughtful gifts, or an "incorrigible" gourmet chef. "Incorrigible" is for punsters and people who make elbow farts.

    I thought puns were a sign of a love of language. I love language, even punctuation. (What happens when you forget punctuation? I'll be ill.) No pun is beneath me.

    But now it turns out they're also a symptom of brain damage.

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Health Law's Next Goal: Transform Medicine

    When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, six years ago this week, he addressed the rancor the health-care debate had inspired with a call to resist cynicism. "We are not a nation that does what's easy," he said. "We are a nation that does what is hard. What is necessary. What is right. Here, in this country, we shape our own destiny."

    It hasn't been easy, and there have been challenges along the way, but we have made significant progress. Today, 20 million people have gained coverage because of the health law. Health-care prices have risen at the slowest rate in five decades. And with new protections and benefits, everyone's insurance is higher quality, no matter where it's purchased.

    Today, thanks to the law, families across the country can get preventive care at no extra cost. They no longer have to worry about annual or lifetime caps on coverage. And they no longer have to worry about being denied insurance because they survived cancer or live with a chronic condition.

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The World’s Modern-Day Lepers

    One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl around the world is a fistula, an internal injury caused by childbirth (or occasionally by rape) that leaves her incontinent, humiliated and sometimes stinking.

    Victims are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is suffered by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

    The condition is invisible because it distastefully involves sex, odor and private body parts, and because victims tend to live in impoverished countries and already have three strikes against them: They’re poor, rural and female, and thus voiceless and marginalized.

    They’re the same group that is routinely denied education, denied the right to own property, denied jobs and denied any recourse after being battered, raped or married against their will — and that’s why gender equity worldwide should be a top item on the social justice agenda.

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Donald Trump should read up on libel laws

    Donald Trump, you might want to learn something about L.B. Sullivan and the Supreme Court case he inspired.

    Sullivan was a city commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1960 when The New York Times published a full-page advertisement criticizing "Southern violators" for infringing on the civil rights of student protesters and Martin Luther King Jr. Sullivan brought a libel suit, claiming he had been defamed, and in the lower courts he won.

    Alabama law permitted public officials to recover damages for false statements -- and some of the facts in the ad were incorrect -- that "tend to injure a person ... in his reputation" or "bring [him] into public contempt."

    The Supreme Court reversed. "We consider this case," Justice William Brennan wrote in 1964, "against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

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Trump's sales pitch: His gold-plated glamour

    Why would anyone vote for Donald Trump? One popular theory holds that his supporters are bigots angered by America's changing racial mix. Another is that they're salt-of-the-earth working folks left behind by the loss of manufacturing jobs, alienated from the moneyed ruling class and irritated by the tyranny of political correctness. Or some combination thereof.

    These theories, which contain elements of truth, emphasize Trump's dire assessment of present-day America and his followers' discontent. They focus on negative sentiment. But an important part of the story is Trump's positive allure -- the way the candidate taps into, and projects, the most fundamental outlines of the American Dream.

    Conventional explanations miss the glamour of Trump's message.

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Does Obama Have This Right?

    As one could see from President Barack Obama’s recent interview in The Atlantic, he pretty much hates all the Middle East’s leaders including those of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Iran and the Palestinians.

    Obama’s primary goal seems to be to get out of office being able to say that he had shrunk America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, prevented our involvement on the ground in Syria and Libya, and taught Americans the limits of our ability to fix things we don’t understand, in countries whose leaders we don’t trust, whose fates do not impact us as much as they once did.

    After all, the president indicated, more Americans are killed each year slipping in bathtubs or running into deer with their cars than by any terrorists, so we need to stop wanting to invade the Middle East in response to every threat.

    That all sounds great on paper, until a terrorist attack like the one Tuesday in Brussels comes to our shores. Does the president have this right?

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Stop betting on Trump to lose

    We can no longer pretend this isn't happening. Donald Trump will very likely be the Republican nominee for president, and there is a nonzero chance he could win in November.

    Trump won at least four of the primary contests Tuesday, including winner-take-all Florida. If you count Missouri, where he seems to have beaten Ted Cruz by a scant 1,726 votes, he won five out of six, losing only in John Kasich's home state of Ohio. Cruz and Kasich are his only remaining rivals -- all others have been vanquished -- and Trump has won more primaries and convention delegates than the two of them put together.

    If we were talking about a normal candidate, rather than a dangerous demagogue, we'd say he had pretty much sealed the deal for the nomination. But otherwise sensible people seem to be gambling on some kind of miracle -- rather than focusing on what needs to be done to keep Trump out of the White House.

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Belgium warned of more terror before airport attack

    Only days ago in Brussels, as Western leaders celebrated the arrest of a key terrorist suspect, Belgian officials warned that there were dozens more jihadists at large in the city and that more attacks were being planned. They couldn't have known how right they were.

    I traveled to Brussels on March 16, to attend the German Marshall Fund's Brussels Forum, a meeting of U.S. and European officials, foreign policy experts and journalists, where the fight against terrorism was at the top of the agenda. Two senators and several Obama administration officials who attended had just passed through the main terminal of the Brussels airport. On Tuesday morning, it was hit by what Belgian authorities described as a suicide attack. At least 26 were killed and many more wounded at the airport, and in a parallel attack on the city's subway system.

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'Statistically significant' doesn't mean 'right'

    In response to charges that their field is churning out unreliable science, psychologists this month issued a defense that may be tough to dispute. At issue was a claim, published in the journal Science, that only 39 of 100 experiments published in psychology papers could be replicated. The counterpoint, also published in Science, questioned the assumption that the other 61 of the results must have been wrong.

    If two experimental results are in conflict, who's to say the original one was wrong and not the second one? Or maybe both are wrong if, as some argue, there's a flaw in the way social scientists analyze data.

    This is an important puzzle, given the current interest in drawing conclusions from huge sets of data. And it's not just a problem for psychologists. Researchers have also had trouble replicating experimental results in medicine and economics, creating what's been dubbed "the replication crisis."

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Our focus is AIDS. But Africa's real crisis is heart disease.

    In 2015, the United States spent $7.5 billion, more than three-quarters of its global health budget, to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. These, after all, are the "big three" infectious diseases, and they've ravaged developing-world populations. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide since 2000; in 2015, there were 214 million cases of malaria and almost 10 million tuberculosis diagnoses.

    But thanks to an unlikely coalition -- including George W. Bush, Bill Gates and Bono -- the tide is turning. AIDS deaths peaked at 2 million in 2004 and have dropped 42 percent worldwide since. Deaths from malaria have declined by nearly half since 2000; the malaria death rate for children under 5 has decreased by more than two-thirds. Tuberculosis deaths have also declined by half since 1990. In short, the battle against these diseases is slowly being won.

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