Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When a calorie is not just a calorie

A story from Wired magazine reports that the traditional method for counting the calorie content of food is inaccurate, because it ignores how much energy the human body takes to process different preparations of the same food. The findings were presented by a panel of researchers American Association for the Advancement of Science.

... the panel reviewed a new spate of studies showing that foods are processed differently as they move from our gullet to our guts and beyond. They agreed that net caloric counts for many foods are flawed because they don’t take into account the energy used to digest food; the bite that oral and gut bacteria take out of various foods; or the properties of different foods themselves that speed up or slow down their journey through the intestines, such as whether they are cooked or resistant to digestion.

A major distinction comes when comparing raw foods, which use up a lot of calories to digest, with cooked foods, which are processed by your body more easily, and therefore result in more net calories left in your system.
One key area where the system is inaccurate, Wrangham reported, is in estimating the calories for cooked food. Cooked items often are listed as having more calories than raw items, yet the process of cooking meat gelatinizes the collagen protein in meat, making it easier to chew and digest—so it takes fewer calories to eat. Heat also denatures the proteins in vegetables such as sweet potatoes, said Harvard University evolutionary biologist Rachel Carmody, a postdoc who studies the energetics of digestion and organizer of the session.

My takeaway from this story is that, given a choice between eating a raw carrot and one cooked, raw is better. Same with any fruits, such as apples, or vegetables, like bell peppers, which don't need to be cooked to taste good.

When it comes to weight loss and weight control, the preparation method of your food should be a secondary or tertiary concern. Much more important is to eliminate addictive foods, such as anything with sugar or other sweeteners added, to eliminate inflammatory foods, like dairy and wheat, to eliminate systemic toxins, like transfats, preservatives, excess salts and fake sugars, and to control your portions. If you only eat good foods, and you eat one small meal every 5-6 hours, beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner, and you mix in a modest, healthy snack 2-2.5 hours after breakfast and lunch, you will be satiated and, if you are fat, you will lose weight. And if you add in 60 minutes of exercise every 24 hours, you will get in good shape in 6 months or less.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who is our greatest president?

The Davis Enterprise, this week, asked people on the street, "Who is our greatest president?" Most of the respondents got it wrong. 
“I guess I would have to say Obama, I think because he’s an excellent mediator.” ... “Woodrow Wilson, because of his idealism.” ... “Bill Clinton, because he fixed things.” ... “Bill Clinton. He’s a great president; he should be a king. Policies, charisma, leadership, you name it.”

Two, at least, had smart choices, although the person who picked Franklin Roosevelt had poor reasoning:

“FDR, I guess, because I like social programs.” ... “Lincoln. Saved the union and ended slavery.”
There are three possible right answers: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Our first president did two things as president which have served our nation extremely well ever since he held that office:

First, Washington, by choosing to step aside after his second term and leave it up to the citizens to pick their new leader, established a democratic precedent for an office which inherently has many of the trappings of a king. He could have won a third and (had he lived) a fourth term, and effectively made the presidency a job for life, albeit with elections every four years. That would have been in line with how kings and other potentates worked. Once in office, they are there for the long haul. In that course, we would have lacked the new blood we get by regularly turning over the office, often changing parties, every four or eight years. With a limited amount of time, our presidents are compelled to do all they can to improve the country, while managing its business, in the limited time they have.

Second, Washington, with the great help of his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, effectively created the federal government out of nothing. It was not clear, even in the Federalist Papers written by Hamilton, exactly what the size and scope of our new central government would look like. The Washington Administration built it up dramatically, figured out how to use taxes and debt to pay for our needs, and established a working relationship with the states, respecting the division of responsibilities. Had Washington not been there, and had we started with someone less wise (like Thomas Jefferson), the federal government would not have gotten off to such a strong start, would not have built a healthy foundation and perhaps would have collapsed not long after the Constitution was adopted.


The argument for Lincoln is almost entirely built on the fact that he saved the union. Abraham Lincoln ascended to the presidency at the time of our nation's greatest crisis, and he was uniquely able to guide us through it. Lincoln deserves high praise for his leadership in the Civil War and historic greatness for emancipating the slaves. Lincoln won the war by employing large numbers of black-American soldiers, many of whom were escaped slaves. Their war efforts permitted and effectively required President Lincoln then to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. A secondary part of Lincoln's greatness, as president, was his greatness as a writer. His words, written and spoken, are themselves more eloquent than all other presidents we had before or have had since.


Despite the fact that FDR violated the Washington precedent of stepping aside after his second term--leading the Republicans, when they had a chance, to amend the Constitution to prohibit any later president from serving more than 8 years--his claim to greatness was built on three big factors: his profound leadership in the Great Depression; his leadership in our nation's largest military effort, World War 2; and his policies created during the War which served the cause of peace among all the major powers and the cause of economic prosperity in the decades after he died.

In hindsight, there are reasons to doubt some of the approach that Roosevelt took to solving the Depression. Much more is known today about the inadequacies of our Federal Reserve policies, which starved the nation's banks of cash and kept the economy sluggish much longer than it should have. However, in his time, Roosevelt is rightly credited with lifting the spirits of a sunken nation full of unemployed workers. FDR was a great public speaker, who inspired his country, when the people needed it. Using radio addresses, he was the first great figure of the mass media. It is overstated to say that Roosevelt "saved capitalism"--that was the argument of business honcho Joe Kennedy (father of JFK), who served Roosevelt as his first head of the SEC. However, FDR's reforms in the banking system and his regulations of the stock markets (designed smartly by Kennedy) ultimately helped to restore lost confidence and in doing so have served our nation well ever since. FDR's legacy of Social Security and other welfare programs is more of a mixed bag, as these ideas have been beneficial in some respects but harmful in others. None of his job's programs really accomplished anything in terms of getting us out of the economic swamp.

Much like he did throughout the Great Depression, Roosevelt used strong and comforting rhetoric in radio addresses to lead our nation in World War 2. Among his best decisions in the war were to put in place great generals at the top of his command, among them George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, and of course Admiral Chester Nimitz running the Navy. Roosevelt deserves extra credit for winning unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan (even though he died shortly before this took place). By completely destroying our enemies, we were able to help them rebuild as countries which could prosper without being threats to their neighbors. That decision played a large role in keeping the peace in Europe and around Japan since WW2.

Lastly, Roosevelt's Administration during the War set up the economic structure which allowed for more and more trade, and hence more prosperity after the War, than had ever taken place before in history. Additionally, the basic design of NATO (which came about under Harry Truman) was agreed upon during the War and served as an effective block on the communist powers and held the free Europeans together.


So who was our greatest president? Lincoln. Ultimately, it was Lincoln because he faced our nation's greatest crisis and brilliantly led us through it. Had Lincoln not been killed, it seems highly likely to me that he would have also done a much better job than Andrew Johnson did in leading our country's reconstruction.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Study: Diet Soda Increases the Risk of Diabetes

One thing I never see: a thin person drinking a diet soda. The only people who consume these drinks are fatties. And clearly, drinking zero-calorie, artificially flavored drinks is not making them thin. A new study out of France suggests they may be worse for one's health than sugary sodas, and it is well established just how unhealthy eating any products with sugar is.

Yet another study confirms what people have been saying for ages: Stop drinking diet soda. Like, right now. Drinking just one 12-ounce can of an artificially sweetened fizzy drink per week can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 33 percent, French researchers found. And given that most people don't stop at a single weekly serving, your real risk for diabetes could actually be much higher.

This was no small study. It included more than 60,000 people, all women.

The study ... was conducted by France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research and covered 66,118 middle-aged women whose dietary habits and health were tracked from 1993 to 2007. ... Though it's well-known that people who consume a lot of sugar are more likely to develop diabetes, the researchers found that participants who drank "light" or "diet" soft drinks had a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who drank regular, sugar-filled sodas. Those who drank 100 percent natural squeezed fruit juices instead had no additional risk.

Part of the problem is that these sweeteners are chemically addictive. Users cannot stop at one drink.

Women who choose artificially flavored soft drinks usually drink twice as many of them as women who choose regular soda or juice—2.8 glasses per week compared to 1.6 glasses. "Yet when an equal quantity is consumed, the risk of contracting diabetes is higher for 'light' or 'diet' drinks than for 'non-light' or 'non-diet' drinks," the researchers, epidemiologists Francoise Clavel-Chapelon and Guy Fagherazzi, said in a statement. Women who drank up to 500 milliliters (about 12 ounces) of artificially sweetened beverages per week were 33 percent more likely to develop the disease, and women who drank about 600 milliliters (about 20 ounces) per week had a 66 percent increase in risk.

Diet sodas not only increase your chance of becoming a diabetic (by jacking up your insulin); they make you fat, too, because they increase your physical cravings for sugar.

Drinking sweetened beverages increases the risk of becoming overweight, which is itself a risk factor in developing diabetes. But the study didn't find that the results were the same even among overweight women. So how can artificially sweetened drinks be making the problem worse if they're fat- and calorie-free? "With respect, in particular, to 'light' or 'diet' drinks, the relationship with diabetes can be explained partially by a greater craving for sugar in general by female consumers of this type of soft drink," the researchers explained. "Furthermore, aspartame, one of the main artificial sweeteners used today, causes an increase in glycaemia and consequently a rise in the insulin level in comparison to that produced by sucrose."

The takeaway: stop drinking soda of all kinds. You would do well to stop drinking fruit juice and any other drinks with added sugars. Your best bet is to drink tap water. It will quench your thirst far better than all flavored drinks.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What caused the lights to go out in New Orleans?

It turns out the answer to the mysterious 34-minute power outage at the Super Dome in New Orleans during the Super Bowl had a terribly mundane cause: The local electric utility, Entergy New Orleans, set the trip setting too low on a circuit breaker.

The manufacturer of a protective device blamed in the power outage that interrupted the Super Bowl said a low "trip setting" on the equipment caused the partial blackout in the Superdome. Friday's statement from S&C Electric Co. of Chicago said the outage would have been avoided if the operator of the relay device had set the trip threshold higher. The statement did not name the operator, but the equipment was owned and installed by Entergy New Orleans, the local electric utility company that supplies power to the dome. Earlier Friday, Entergy said the device was the cause of the power outage.

In essence, what happened is the same thing as a circuit breaker in your house shutting off electric flow if you have too many appliances running on one circuit.

Here is what Wikipedia says about circuit breakers:

A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to detect a fault condition and, by interrupting continuity, to immediately discontinue electrical flow. Unlike a fuse, which operates once and then must be replaced, a circuit breaker can be reset (either manually or automatically) to resume normal operation. Circuit breakers are made in varying sizes, from small devices that protect an individual household appliance up to large switchgear designed to protect high voltage circuits feeding an entire city.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Europe considers designating Hezbollah as terrorists

I find this USA Today story intriguing:

Under pressure from the United States and Israel, the European Union said Wednesday it will think about designating Hezbollah a terrorist group now that it has been implicated in a bomb attack that killed six people in a sovereign EU nation. U.S. officials urged European leaders to take decisive action against Hezbollah after a report by the Bulgarian government that said the Iran-backed group orchestrated a bus bombing in Burgas in July that killed six people. ... Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Wednesday that "if the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack, then consequences will have to follow."

The fact that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks on Jews never once stirred the Europeans to call a spade a spade. Only after Hezbollah staged a terrorist attack in Europe--of course against Jewish people--are the Europeans considering being honest?

The reason the Europeans will not call Hezbollah a terrorist organization is because the EU is run by leftists who hate Israel. If they accept the fact that Israel is under attack by criminals, like Hezbollah is, the anti-Israel case in Europe suffers.

The EU has refused to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Some members say it is a political organization with an armed wing. Hezbollah has refused to disarm as it agreed to do in a United Nations-brokered truce after a war with Israel in 2006. In 2011, Hezbollah and its allies gained 18 of 30 Cabinet seats in Lebanon's government.

The list of Hezbollah's crimes is very long. A few of them include:
•The bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1983 in Beirut, which killed 58 Americans and Lebanese.
•A truck bombing in 1983 that demolished the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans. A truck bombing of French barracks that same day killed 58 French soldiers.
•The bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 in Argentina, which killed 29 people, and the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994 in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
•A bomb attack on the Khobar Towers military housing complex in 1996 in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemembers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Should companies tie health insurance premiums to employee’s health? is reporting that, when employees sign up for some company-provided health insurance plans, physically fit workers are charged less, fatties more.

... as companies struggle to curb rising health-care costs, they are increasingly pointing a finger at workers’ ballooning bellies. Obesity-related health problems account for a big chunk of medical claims, insurance experts say, leading some executives to believe the best way to trim their budgets is to get workers to trim their own fat first. ... For the past few years, companies have experimented with tying health insurance premiums to people’s health. Here’s how it works: Employees go through medical and biometric testing as part of their health insurance open-enrollment process. They are weighed, their height and blood pressure are measured, and their blood is drawn. Those with high scores on cholesterol, glucose and blood-pressure and — or with chronic conditions like diabetes — are told they will have to pay higher premiums unless they actively try to improve their risky condition.

It's entirely fair to make people whose lifestyle choices result in higher health risks to internalize the medical costs of those choices. (It's a different matter for people born with health challenges, even though they, too, tax the medical system more than people without congenital maladies.) However, it's questionable whether requiring fat people to pay more will actually incentivize them to lose weight.

Fat people already pay a high price for being overweight. They are usually ashamed of their condition. They know they are putting their health at risk. They literally have trouble comfortably fitting in society. Everyone prefers to look good and feel well. All else held equal, no one wants to be obese.

So while I support a higher medical premium for those who are overweight or who smoke or drink or do drugs, I doubt the added cost will tip the scales toward making fat people drop down to a healthier weight.

I think the two major factors needed for an obese person to get healthy are internal motivation and dietary education.

For some, the internal motivator may be a health crisis, such as a heart attack or developing diabetes. It might be turning age 40 or 50. It could be the birth of a child or an imminent marriage or a divorce. Whatever it is, the fat person has to desperately want to lose the weight and has to use that motivator to drive himself to do everything possible to change his lifestyle, including eating properly and exercising regularly.

Dietary education is something seriously lacking in our society. The main reason so many people are so fat is because they eat foods with added sugars. Sugar is what makes you fat. There has long been a focus on animal fats and calorie counts in diets. That's mostly a waste of time. The key educational component that fat people need to understand is that they are addicted to sweets, and they need to eliminate all added sugars from their diet. They need to cut out all sodas (even diet sodas), all cakes, all candies, all honey, all ketchup (which is loaded with sugar) and all processed foods where sugar is added.

The one sugar that is okay to eat is fruit, as long as the fruit is loaded with fiber. Our bodies can process the sugar in fruits without turning that sugar into fat. But fruit in the form of juice, where the fiber has been removed, is very much the same as drinking a can of Coke. It's unhealthy, and to the fat person it is poison.

Once obese people completely eliminate all foods with added sugars -- it takes a few weeks to detoxify a body from sugar and end all cravings for sweets -- dieting is easy. The rest is just common sense: Eat a modest meals and don't pig out in between or after dinner.

Less obvious -- and not hard to follow -- is the need to eliminate all foods with gluten and dairy. It's not so much that milk and cheese or pasta and bread are addictive or that your body cannot process them. It's that these food groups cause chronic inflammation, and in fat people inflammation results in added belly fat. As it pertains to health, belly fat is worse than other bodily fat deposits.

Keep in mind that because fat people are food addicts, eliminating entire food groups (dairy, gluten and sugar) is far easier than trying to eat modest amounts of these groups. It's very much like an alcoholic. He can maintain his sobriety if he resolves to drink no alcohol. His addiction makes it impossible for him to just drink in moderation. Fat people need to address sugar, gluten and dairy in the same way.

The final component to good health is the need to move, to burn off the calories once takes in. With internal motivation, a fat person will be able to gradually increase the amount they exercise. An adult who wants to get and stay fit should work out for 30 minutes twice a day. That is achievable by starting out doing less and slowly adding more. It really doesn't matter what the exercise is, as long as it involves movement. A 30 minute walk and 30 minutes on a stationary bike would be sufficient. A half an hour of skipping rope and 30 minutes more swimming laps will do the trick, too.

If a fat person is in terrible shape, it's fine to start off with a 5 minute walk in the morning and 5 minutes dancing at night. After a few weeks of that, just add 5 minutes to the morning walk, and a few weeks later add 5 minutes to the dance. In a few months, he can achieve 30 minutes of exercise, twice each day.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

My Super Bowl prediction: Intangibles favor Baltimore

Something Justin Tuck of the New York Giants said on Thursday on SportsCenter rang true to my ear:

“I like the Ravens for one simple fact -- they remind me of us. They seem to be the team of destiny. I truly believe the 49ers are a better team on paper. But this is a game where so many emotions have come into this game. I think the Ravens are riding high with the whole playing for Ray (Lewis). All types of stuff that momentum is going to come into effect on Sunday. I think I am going with the Ravens just because of that."

A number of things cause me to think the 2012 Ravens are a lot like the 2011 Giants. Neither one, for starters, had a great regular season. The Giants were just 9-7; the Ravens 10-6.

Both teams had good stretches: the Giants won 6 of 7 after losing their first game; the Ravens won 8 of 9 after starting 1-1. And both teams had bad stretches: the Giants lost 5 out of 6 games from mid-November to mid-December in 2011; the Ravens lost 4 out of 5 games in December, 2012.

Arguably, the reason neither was consistently good in the regular season was due to key injuries, where older veteran leaders on defense were out for some games. It was in those stretches the Giants in 2011 and the Ravens in 2012 lost. When they had all their players, these clubs were excellent.

Both the Giants and Ravens had to win three playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. Each of them started by winning one at home and then they won two on the road.

The Giants were led by quarterback Eli Manning, whose regular season career passer rating (82.7) is good, but not great.  The Ravens are led by quarterback Joe Flacco, whose regular season career passer rating (86.3) is good, but not great. Since 2005, 23 NFL quarterbacks who attempted at least 2,000 passes have a passer rating of 75.0 or higher. Flacco ranks 14th; Manning 16th. Neither is anywhere near the best: Aaron Rodgers, 104.9 and Tom Brady, 101.3.

In the two seasons Eli Manning led the Giants to the Super Bowl and the one Joe Flacco has done the same for the Ravens, each was his best. Manning's post-season passer rating for the Giants championship runs in 2007 and 2011 was 100.1, 17.4 better than his career number. Flacco's post-season passer rating for the Ravens championship run, this year, is 114.7 so far, 28.4 better than his career number.


As Justin Tuck said, San Francisco appears to be the better team in 2012 on paper. The 49ers outscored their opponents by 124 points; the Ravens bettered theirs by just 54. The two teams scored almost the same number of points: 398 for Baltimore; 397 for San Francisco. The difference was that the 49ers gave up only 273 points in 16 games; the Ravens allowed 344.

The 49ers had a much better running game. San Francisco gained 2,491 yards on the ground; Baltimore 1,901. The Ravens passed for 441 more yards. But after Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith at quarterback, the passing numbers for the two teams were nearly identical.

Baltimore's defense, now, however, is better than it was when Ray Lewis was out. Lewis has been a tackling machine in the post-season. And while Terrell Suggs is still not 100%, the Ravens missed him part of the season and that hurt their defense, as well.

A huge factor for San Francisco's defense will be their pass rush. When Justin Smith was out, teams doubled-up on Aldon Smith and the 49ers could not pressure opposing quarterbacks. That exposed their defensive backs, who had to cover for much longer. My expectation is that, while Justin Smith is still ailing, their line will be able to rush Flacco, and that will give their backs a chance to cover the Ravens receivers.


There are five factors to judge a team by: offense; defense; special teams; coaching; and intangibles. When comparing the two clubs, each factor is worth zero or more points to one and the inverse to the other.

Offense: Because of his experience and quality and quantity of his receivers, Joe Flacco is likely to pass for more yards than Colin Kaepernick. Conversely, between Frank Gore and Kaepernick, the 49ers look to have a big edge in the running game over Ray Rice and the Ravens. Additionally, the 49ers scheme is run-oriented. Offensive value--San Francisco +3.

Defense: Both teams are strong on the defensive line. The 49ers are just a bit stronger. Both have excellent linebackers, but the 49ers are better. Their defensive backs are roughly equal as groups, but because Ed Reed is a great playmaker, the Ravens have an edge. Offensive value--San Francisco +2.

Special Teams: Justin Tucker was perfect all season on extra points and 30 of 33 on field goals, including 4 of 4 for 50+ yards; the 49ers weakness this year has been David Akers, who missed 7 field goals and was only 2 for 6 from 50+. Special Teams value--Baltimore +3.

Coaching: John Harbaugh has more experience. Jim Harbaugh has more intensity. The Ravens were forced to change offensive coordinators mid-stream. The 49ers offensive play-calling has been questionable at times. Coaching value--Even.

Intangibles: The first which works for the Ravens is the Ray Lewis factor. He is their clear leader. He inspires them. This will be Lewis's last game. They want to send him out on top. And the other is what Justin Tuck said: this Ravens team is very much like last year's Giants team. It might not be great on paper. But when it counts, they will come up big. Intangible value--Baltimore +5.

Added together, the Ravens win by 3 points. The big difference will be the intangibles.

My pick: Baltimore 24, San Francisco 21.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ed Koch dead: Mayor who became a symbol of New York City passes away at 88

Among the many things to love about Ed Koch was his willingness, unusual for a politician, to say things just how they were. He never came across as fake. Even when Mayor Koch stumbled, I respected the fact that he was a forthright man.

Sadly, the New York Daily News is reporting that Koch passed away yesterday.

Three-term mayor Ed Koch, whose exuberant "How'm I doin'?" tagline made him synonymous with New York chutzpah, is dead at age 88. The Bronx born pol was a reformer who saved the city from bankruptcy but whose final term was marked by scandal and corruption. Political friends and foes praise Koch as a man who meant what he said and fought for the city he loved. ... “Ed Koch has given New York City back its morale," the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in 1984.

I had noticed that in the last year, when Koch's name was in the news, it usually regarded his failing health.

Koch was in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, battling a fluid buildup around his lungs that caused shortness of breath and made speaking difficult. He was unconscious when he was moved to the intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia Thursday afternoon, and died at 2 a.m. Friday of congestive heart failure.


In some respects, it's amazing Koch lived to age 88.
Koch, who'd had a mild stroke while in office in 1987, suffered a heart attack in 1999 and had a bout with pneumonia in 2001. Nothing slowed him down for long. In August 2008, firefighters and paramedics raced over to his Greenwich Village apartment after he accidentally set off his Life Alert pendant in his sleep. He jovially told the Daily News that he had not died. “To the consternation of my enemies, I'm still alive,” the then 83-year-old said.

In the last few years he sensed the end was near.
A couple years later, as he marked his 85th birthday, a more subdued - but still feisty — Ed Koch acknowledged his mortality. "I'm coming to the end of my life, whether it's another five years or so ... or less, or more," he said. "I do reflect on what I've done for the 85 years that I have been given so far. And I'm proud of what I've done."


Koch's name will forever be remembered in his native city.

“Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement Friday. “We will miss him dearly, but his good works - and his wit and wisdom - will forever be a part of the city he loved so much.” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Koch “was more than just the sum total of his accomplishments.” “Mayor Koch was larger than life," she added. “He stood taller than the bridge that bears his name. His sense of humor and tenacious spirit personified this town. Ed Koch was New York."

To my mind, the relationship which defined Koch's fame in New York was his animosity with the criminal activist, Al Sharpton, who came to national fame in the Tawana Brawley fraud.

... the Rev. Al Sharpton, with whom Koch clashed repeatedly, called hizzoner a man who “fought for what he believed. He was never a phony or a hypocrite,” said Sharpton. “He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said.” ... Koch long had an uneasy relationship with the city's black leaders, but the one-two punch of the 1986 Howard Beach race beating and the 1989 shooting death of a black teen in Bensonhurst proved fatal to his mayoralty. He lost the 1989 Democratic primary to Dinkins, who became the city's first black mayor.

One thing I liked about Koch was his effusive Jewishness.

Edward Irving Koch was born Dec. 12, 1924 in the Bronx, the son of a Polish-Jewish furrier, but actually grew up in Newark, N.J. One of three kids, he grew up idolizing his big brother Harold, who died in 1995. In a kids book Koch wrote with his sister called “Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother,” he recounted how his brother set him on the path of City Hall by telling him to do something he’s good at.


Koch's battles with Mario Cuomo led to questions about whether Koch was gay.

Though most famous famous for being mayor, he served eight years in Congress before setting his sights on Gracie Mansion in 1977. Koch was the dark horse in a crowded field seeking to oust hapless Abe Beame from City Hall. But on primary day, Koch lead the pack followed closely by then Secretary of State Mario Cuomo — setting the state for brief but brutal runoff battle that Koch won. Cuomo refused to quit and carried on as the Liberal Party candidate, over the objections of his own advisers and the Democratic Party. And on the streets, some of Cuomo's supporters took the campaign to a new low by posting signs reading, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo,” a reference to longstanding rumors that Koch was gay. ... He was a champion of gay rights, but his own sexuality was off-limits for discussion. And his public appearances with Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, on his arm did little to banish the rumors. “I have a social life,” the lifelong bachelor once said. “But I don't discuss it.”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Snowmobiler Caleb Moore dies a week after crash

CNN is reporting sad news out of Aspen, Colo.

Snowmobiler Caleb Moore died Thursday, a week after a crash that has raised new safety concerns about the X Games. He was 25 years old. ... Moore, a freestyle snowmobiler, was attempting a backflip at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, when he couldn't rotate his machine enough to land properly. The skis dug into the lip of the slope, bringing the 450-pound snowmobile crashing down on him. The vehicle slammed into Moore's head and chest.

What X Games athletes do is incredible. And incredibly dangerous. And as they push the envelope, adding more and more difficulty, the danger level keeps growing.

So it is no surprise that someone died. Unless the promoters prohibit some of the more perilous tricks, more X Games athletes are bound to die. It's the choice they make for thrills ... and in some cases for good money.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

With Timbuktu Retaken, France Signals It Plans to Pull Back in Mali

The world as a whole, and particularly the people of northern Africa, owe France a great debt of gratitude. The French had nothing to gain from routing the Islamists in Mali. They simply acted because Mali was formerly a French colony and France wanted to do what is right and good.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that French and Malian troops have captured the famous desert city of Timbuktu from the Islamists who, before France intervened, had taken over the northern half of Mali and had been imposing its totalitarian brand of religion on that nation.

SEGOU, Mali — French paratroopers arrived in the ancient desert oasis of Timbuktu on Monday, securing its airport and main roads as thousands of residents poured out of its narrow, mud-walled streets to greet French and Malian troops, waving the two countries’ flags, with whoops, cheers and shouts. ... The rapid advance to Timbuktu, a day after French and African troops took firm control of the former rebel stronghold of Gao, may spell the beginning of the end of France’s major involvement in the conflict here.

Pretty soon, the French expect to depart.

The French president, Fran├žois Hollande, suggested on Monday that French troops might soon stop their northward advance, leaving it to African soldiers to pursue the militants into their redoubts in the desert north. “We are winning this battle,” Mr. Hollande said in televised remarks. “When I say, ‘We,’ this is the Malian army, this is the Africans, supported by the French. ... They’re the ones who will go into the area of the north, which we know is the most difficult because the terrorists are hidden there and can still lead operations that are extremely dangerous for neighboring countries and for Mali,” he said.

The forces associated with Al-Qaeda did not put up much of a fight.

French airstrikes had preceded the ground operation and French troops met no resistance, said Colonel Burkhard. The militants who had been controlling the city appeared to have fled northward. ... To the east, the city of Gao is now under the full control of French and African troops, he said, with a contingent of 450 Malian soldiers joined by 40 soldiers from Niger and 40 from Chad. French special forces killed about 15 fighters in what were described as brief but intense firefights when they arrived just south of the city late Friday night, and perhaps 10 more militants on Sunday night on the city’s outskirts.

Partly because of the religious extremism of the Islamists and partly because Mali is divided on racial lines--the south is black and the north is olive-skinned Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs--the liberated Malian population has been taking revenge on everyone whose skin matches that of the Islamists.

Angry crowds shouted at suspected Islamist extremists in the back of an army truck in Gao, Mali, on Tuesday, after the four suspects were arrested. Malian soldiers prevented the mob from attacking them. ... Television footage from Timbuktu captured scenes of jubilation as thousands of people drove cars, trucks and motorbikes through the streets, honking their horns.

France24 has a more extensive report regarding widespread looting going on in Mali.

A day after French and Malian troops gained control of Timbuktu from rebels, tensions were rising in the historic northern Malian city as hundreds of people broke into shops owned by ethnic Arabs and Tuareg on Tuesday in a backlash against perceived collaborators. “After Timbuktu fell yesterday, the situation is now very different,” said FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin, reporting from the centre of Timbuktu. “It’s a time of revenge here and we can see people – everybody, children, old men, women – attacking Arab shops in a misguided idea that those shops were linked to Islamist fighters, which is absolutely not true in many cases.”

While the northern forces which had been ravaging northern Mali were Islamists, the war in the north had begun as a movement by the non-Islamist Tuaregs to gain independence. Because of that, the current backlash is also anti-Tuareg.

A vast, multi-ethnic West African nation, Mali is home to a variety of ethnic groups, including the Tuaregs and other ethnic groups of North African Berber origins, which comprise about 10 per cent of Mali's total population of 14 million. Signs of a backlash against the Tuareg and other lighter skinned groups – commonly called Arabs – were evident nearly 10 months ago in the capital of Bamako shortly after northern Mali fell to a motley mix of Tuareg and Islamist rebels.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gingrich: Republicans "clearly have to change"


On the television program Face the Nation this morning, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told host Bob Schieffer that his party needs to repair itself, if the GOP hopes to win moving forward.

Gingrich ... pointed to overly conservative policies as the GOP's 2012 curse. "When I said as a candidate we're not going to deport a grandmother if she's been here 25 years, we had a nominee who said yes, we would, that she would self-deport," Gingrich said. "I think at that point we lost Asians, we lost Latinos. You can't lose Asians, Latinos, African Americans and young people, and think you're going to be competitive. I think we have to come to grips with the reality," he continued. "We have to learn to communicate in the world of young people on their terms but we also have to understand that we need to be a country of immigrants where Republicans are seen as welcoming, hard-working, competent people, not prepared to kick grandmother out."

It's not going to be easy to fix the Republican Party. What it is today started in the mid to late-1960s, when, following the adoption of civil rights legislation, conservative Southern Democrats drifted into the Republican Party and slowly took over its culture. It became less a party of businessmen and more one of right-wing preachers. It has abandoned balanced budgets for Jesus jingoism.

If the GOP hired me as a consultant to make its message and style more palatable, here are some suggestions I would offer up:

1. Primaries. They are low-turnout affairs dominated by extremists. The Republican primaries have served to defeat conservatives and moderates who could win a general election in favor of troglodyte morons who could not. My suggestion is that the national party needs to back sensible candidates in every important primary with money and it needs to work harder to raise turn out in their primaries. If necessary, the GOP also needs to spend money to tarnish extremist candidates. The party cannot simply sit back and see what happens when these nut-jobs have a chance to win.

2. Social conservatism. All the right-wing preachers need to be sidelined. The Republicans would be a lot more attractive if they could live with a separation of church and state. The GOP platform needs to focus on finance, investment, taxes, defense and foreign affairs. The party which says it believes in individual liberty needs to get out of the nation's bedroom and out of the offices of gynecologists. It may still play in the deep South to hate abortion and gays. But more and more that is a losing strategy nationally. Gays should be welcomed for the first time.  Republicans ought to have no dogma on a woman's right to choose.

3. Science. Gov. Bobby Jindal recently said that Republicans cannot succeed as long as they are the stupid party. Nothing says stupid more than the Republican aversion to science. When virtually every climatologist agrees that burning fossil fuels is filling our atmosphere with excessive carbon dioxide and that in turn is causing global warming, the Republican Party has adopted its most aggressive stance against science. If Republicans want to be the smart party, they have to be led by scientific consensus, not bloviating that science is a liberal conspiracy.

4. Clean energy. Republicans need to become a party which accepts that there is a serious external cost when we burn coal and oil. To internalize that cost, Republicans should be calling for a stiff carbon tax, one which would make cleaner forms of energy (including nuclear power) more cost-competitive and would generate revenues to pay down our debts. Being the party of drill, baby, drill makes the Republicans come across as one which does not care about our nation's future.

5. Immigration. Newt Gingrich spoke to this. The GOP cannot succeed if it turns off tens of millions of Hispanics. Republicans need to advocate a sensible reform, where those who are here illegally and are productive workers can transition to legal status. Additionally, the GOP should push for a jobs-based immigration program, where employers (including farmers) can sponsor workers to come here legally, and those workers can stay as long as they are needed by their employers.

6. Media whining. Republicans have been complaining about the liberal media for 40 years. Even with Fox News pushing the right-wing message all over the place, they keep complaining that reporters are biased in favor of liberals. There may be some instances of this. However, a lot of those complaints are unmerited. A report which is entirely neutral gets called liberal if the conclusions are not in line with conservative thinking. It harms the GOP--makes it the stupid party--to incessantly complain about liberal media bias. Instead, Republicans need to simply tell a better story.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hackers take over goverment website to avenge Swartz

CBS News reports today that Anonymous is out for revenge for the death of the young computer programmer who helped write the software for Reddit ("a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of either a link or a text") and as a 14-year-old boy wrote the software for RSS ("Rich Site Summary: a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works, such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video, in a standardized format"):

The hacker-activist group Anonymous says it hijacked the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to avenge the death of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who committed suicide. The website of the commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch, was taken over early Saturday and replaced with a message warning that when Swartz killed himself two weeks ago "a line was crossed."

From what I have read about the crimes of Mr. Swartz, it does not seem that they were all that serious. Yet he faced a long time behind bars (up to 35 years) and a large fine ($1 million) for illegally downloading research documents (which Swartz said were paid for with taxpayer funding) from an MIT library system, most of which MIT has since made freely available to the public.

On that score, I understand the anger of the supporters of Swartz.

However, I don't buy the notion that he committed suicide because he was being oppressed by the government. Millions of people all over the world face far more serious oppression and don't kill themselves. The problem for Aaron Swartz was that he suffered from depression, and that is why he took his life. Untreated, he likely would have killed himself had he faced no prosecution for anything.

What Aaron Swartz wrote about his own mental anguish is telling:

"Everything gets colored by the sadness. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none."

Complicating matters is the fact that his father refuses to accept that fact that his son's depression was psychiatric mental illness. Robert Swartz mistakenly thinks Aaron killed himself entirely because of the unfairness of federal prosecutors (never mind whether he did the crime he was accused of).

"He had never been diagnosed as having depression; he was never on medication for having depression. So the notion, the narrative that people are going to say -- is that he’s somebody who just has depression -- is just wrong. You’d be depressed too if you were under a 13-count federal indictment and you go see your mother, who’s in a coma."

It seems likely to me that had Aaron Swartz been diagnosed and prescribed medication for his depression, he would be alive today. Robert Swartz cannot see what is obvious to me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why are some people gay?

I was probably in my mid 20s when I first heard the term "gaydar," meaning the ability to sense if someone you just met is gay. I know that, before I was 30, I had no gaydar. It's not that I didn't know gay stereotypes or recognize those in other people. It's more that the idea of same-sex attraction was completely outside of my realm of thinking. So if someone was stereotypically gay or sent off some other signals of his or her homosexuality, I never gave such clues any thought at all. I more-less sized up other males as friendly or unfriendly and females my age as hot or not.

When I was a bit older, and had met more gays, I gave a bit of thought as to why I was straight and why they were not. No one ever had to explain to me to be attracted to girls. It just happened as a normal course of puberty. It was certainly an expression of my biology. It was never the case that I could go either way. Like almost every guy I knew, I had zero attraction to males.

This realization about myself made me sympathetic to gay males. They surely were not homosexuals (or in some cases, I suppose, bisexuals) because they had chosen that orientation. It's really, truly impossible to choose. No biologically straight man wants gay sex in any form. Rather, I became convinced--and still am convinced--that their being gay is an expression of their biological impulses, very much like mine is to be heterosexual.

Yet the scientific proof of what makes some people gay has been lacking. A new theory, reported in the latest issue of Popular Science, says that chemical "switches" attached to genes may explain why someone is gay.

Gayness may not be in our genes, but in the molecules that regulate them. New research suggests that epigenetic factors -- chemical "switches" attached to genes that turn them on or off -- are a more plausible heritable mechanism behind homosexuality than DNA itself. Non-genetic changes to gene expression are called epi-marks, for epigenetics, the field of research dealing with the molecular on/off switches. Epi-marks are normally erased between generations, but there's recent evidence that they're sometimes passed from parent to child.

The key hormone seems to be testosterone in the womb.

Researchers at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) looked at how epi-marks that influence testosterone sensitivity in the womb might contribute to homosexuality. Late in pregnancy, natural variations in testosterone levels can alter a fetus' sexual development. Sex-specific epi-marks protect female fetuses from masculinization in the presence of too much testosterone; boys are protected from feminization if too little testosterone is present.

The theory suggests that lesbian girls inherit testosterone-buffering epi-marks from their fathers and gay boys inherit them from their mothers.

According to computer modeling by the group, testosterone-buffering epi-marks passed from a parent to an opposite-sex offspring may result in the reverse effect: Girls who inherit sex-specific instructions from their fathers will be partially masculinized, while boys who get epi-marks from their mothers will be partially feminized. In this model, homosexuality occurs when stronger-than-average epi-marks influencing sexual preference from an opposite-sex parent escape erasure and are then paired with weaker-than-average sex-specific epi-marks produced in opposite-sex offspring.

Many researchers have looked for a gay gene and have not found it.
Study co-author Sergey Gavrilets, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and associate director for scientific activities at NIMBioS, says there could still be a "gay gene" or genes, but that there are problems with the idea: "Nobody has been able to present solid experimental evidence for this in spite of significant effort."

Despite their being no evidence for a specific gay gene, that does not mean that gayness does not tend to run in families. It does.
The search for genes that control sexual orientation is based on increasing evidence of a strong genetic component. Studies clearly show that homosexuality runs in families, with an increased rate among siblings and the maternal uncles of gay men, according to a 2011 review.

The largest theoretical problem with a gay gene being the cause of homosexuality is that gays reproduce less often than straights. Therefore, if it were a gene or a sequence of genes which caused homosexuality, it should be quite rare and disappearing over time. That does not appear to be the case. However, a recent Italian study suggests that females related to gay males tend to reproduce much more than other females.

A study published online just last week by Italian researchers Andrea Camperio Ciani and Elena Pellizzari found that the maternal aunts and grandmothers of gay men have more children than those of straight men. A few years ago, Ciani used genetic modeling to explain the 2004 finding that sisters and maternal aunts of homosexual men have more children than the females in the maternal line of straight men. According to that model, at least one unknown gene on the X chromosome predisposes female carriers to higher fertility and male carriers to homosexuality. "The genes evolved for the fecundity benefit in females, at the reproductive cost of an increase in homosexuality in males," Ciani explains.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sacramento-area home values to rise nearly 12% this year, Zillow predicts

Most recessions, including the Great Recession of 2008-09, are primarily the result of excess inventory. Once too much product builds up and overwhelms demand, production comes to a halt. Workers are laid off. Demand drops further. Prices start to fall. And you are in a vicious cycle of recession.

Most recessions conclude when the excess inventory in an economy has been absorbed. At that point, supply and demand are more-less in line. But employment will not pick up in earnest until supply is over-absorbed, meaning there is more demand for product than supply. When that happens, prices will start to rise, new producers will enter a market, new employees will be hired, unemployment will fall, demand will grow and the growth phase of an economy will take off.

Since residential housing is such a large part of the American economy, and since, during the Great Bubble of 2002-07, so much more housing was built (due to speculation and terribly loose credit) than needed, excess real estate inventory was at the heart of the Great Recession. The downturn was so severe and has been so hard to emerge from because that sector is so central to our national economy.

A story today in the Sacramento Bee suggests that our region will now begin a growth phase, as home prices are on the rise. Higher prices will spur development and that will cause unemployment to fall.

Sacramento-area home values will rise by nearly 12 percent this year, after a similar increase in 2012, online real estate tracker Zillow predicted today. The forecasted rate of increase, driven by short supply and buyer demand, far outstrips Zillow's predicted national price hike of 3.3 percent over the next year.

The group which deserves credit for absorbing all the excess inventory which had built up in the Sacramento region are cash buyers. These investors sensed at some point the market for houses had bottomed out. They then began buying them up. And as prices increase in the following years, those cash investors will reap the rewards of the risks they took.
The Sacramento region's predicted gains in 2013 mirror those of nearly 12 percent in 2012, when investors snapped up foreclosures and first-time buyers and move-up buyers competed to take advantage of rock-bottom prices and historically low interest rates of about 3.5 percent for 30-year mortgages.

The second half of the story is that after years of adding foreclosed properties to the housing stock, fewer homeowners are going bust.

Meanwhile, foreclosures continued falling. Bank-owned houses made up 17 percent of all home sales in December 2012 in the Sacramento region, compared with about 19 percent in December 2011. Nationally, foreclosure resales made up 12.4 percent of all sales, Zillow said.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The evil which lurks in the hearts of radical Islamists

It's nearly impossible for me to understand the evil which lurks in the hearts of radical Islamists, which in the past week led them to murder dozens of innocents at a gas plant in Algeria.

They are not unique in world history, of course. There have always been bands of evil men willing to rape, pillage and murder in the name of a sick cause.

In the last 100 years, from the rise of Bolshevism in Russia and other Marxist totalitarians around the world, we saw evil at work, stealing innate human liberty from all who lived and continue to live under their thumbs. And, of course, from the early 1930s to VE-Day in 1945, the world witnessed the greatest evil of them all, the Nazis, who were unembarrassed in displaying their savagery.

Perhaps what sets aside the evils of the Islamists is that a billion others, the supposedly peaceful Muslims, seem unwilling to stand up to them, unwilling to beat them into submission. The ideas and attitudes, if not the violence, of the radical Muslims is clearly popular throughout the Muslim world. They win elections in Palestine, Egypt and elsewhere.

When they despicably harm innocents, as long as the innocents are not other Muslims, their acts are not harshly criticized by the masses. When they slit the throats of Jewish babies, they are celebrated around the Muslim world. When they terrorize Egyptian Copts, their fellow Muslims in Egypt are completely silent and cast blame on the victims.

Although it is an unpopular, undemocratic government in Algeria, I give it great credit for fighting back against the Islamists who murdered so many at the gas plant in the desert. At least Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal is not a coward like most of his fellow Muslims are in the face of evil.

"I cannot find words to adequately describe my feelings over this heinous and cowardly act," Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said. At least 37 hostages from eight countries were killed during a four-day siege at an the complex. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for, Sellal said, saying they may have been killed, escaped or held in captivity by terrorists who got away. He said 29 terrorists were killed during assaults by Algerian military forces to end the standoff and "a few" may have escaped. Sellal said the terrorists came from Egypt, Canada, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia, and that three were captured. Algerian special forces stormed the plant on Saturday to end the siege, moving in to thwart what government officials said was a plot by the Islamist terrorists to blow up the complex and kill all their hostages with mines sown throughout the site. On Sunday, Algerian bomb squads sent in to blow up or defuse the explosives found 25 bodies, said a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Who said failing students are not clever?

The Business Insider posted some humorous "wrong" answers that students gave to teachers on recent exams.

British author Richard Benson and his publisher, Chronicle Books, asked teachers to share their favorite (real) answers kids have given on tests.

Here a few I liked:


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why are states not required to submit the names of all people who need antipsychotic medication to the NICS?

A story today by John Bentley, Paul Bogosian and Phil Hirschkorn on the CBS News website outlines some of the faults in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, when it comes to reporting the names of mentally ill people. The story does not get into the fact that 40 percent of all gun sales are private transactions, and none of those require any background check at all.

Since 1998, when the FBI launched the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, the database has grown to include the names of more than 8.3 million people prohibited from purchasing guns. The database includes illegal immigrants, felons, fugitives, spouse abusers, drug addicts, and the mentally ill. Under federal law, anyone who has been committed to a mental institution or deemed mentally unstable by a judge is prohibited for life from purchasing a gun.

The focus of the CBS story is Pennsylvania, which until it elected a new AG, refused to hand over the names of its residents who have been deemed a danger due to mental illness.

For the past 15 years, Pennsylvania did collect the names of its seriously mentally ill residents, but until this month, it never sent that information to NICS. Through 2011, Pennsylvania was the most populous of 23 states that had submitted fewer than 100 disqualifying mental health records to NICS, and it was among the 17 states to submit fewer than 10 such records, according to the report, "Fatal Gaps," by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. (MAIG).

It makes no sense to me that states should be given an option to participate. They should be required to submit these names and more. Lawmakers in noncompliant states seem to think they have to wait for a tragedy before acting.

When MAIG updated its data this month, it found that two states previously inactive, Delaware and Idaho, had begun submitting mental health records. By submitting 18,699 records last year, MAIG reported, Delaware has become the second most compliant state on a per capita basis behind Virginia, which sprang into action only after the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre.

Virginia waited and waited and only acted after 32 innocent students were murdered. The authorities in Virginia knew that Mr. Cho was very ill and potentially dangerous.

In December 2005, just 16 months before his killing spree at Virginia Tech, gunman Seung-Hui Cho underwent a psychiatric evaluation. A judge deemed Cho a danger to himself and ordered him to get treatment, which never did. Virginia had not sent Cho's name to NICS, so when he went to purchase a Glock 9mm and a Walther P22, both semi-automatic pistols, he twice passed a background check. On April 16, 2007, Cho shot 49 people - killing 32 and wounding 17 -- before shooting himself.

Pennsylvania needed a new, better Attorney General to act.

In the past two weeks, CBS News has learned, the Pennsylvania State Police sent 642,000 names collected between 1998 and 2012 of residents once diagnosed with mental illness or committed to a mental hospital to NICS. In correspondence reviewed by CBS News, Pennsylvania State Police informed the FBI last December 19, just five days after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that it would begin transmitting mental health records.

At least the NRA's bought and paid for senators are not fighting for the rights of the insane to own automatic weapons.

This week, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said President Obama is "right to take steps to strengthen mental health databases and reporting to the NICS system, so we can ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of criminals or those who are a threat to themselves or others." The pro-gun rights National Rifle Association told CBS News that it was deeply involved in the development of NICS and has strongly supported state implementing legislation.

The greater obstacle seems to be the ACLU and its affiliated lefties, who seem to think that mentally disturbed people with guns are not dangerous.

To date, neither the Massachusetts State Mental Health Department nor private hospitals in the state have been willing to share names of the mentally ill. "This is a place where public safety trumps any possible privacy right," state senator David Linsky said. "If you don't want to have somebody to get access to the fact that you were committed to a mental hospital, then don't buy a gun, don't apply for a gun license."

What I cannot understand is how incredibly lax the federal standard for mental illness is.

"We all have different definitions of mental illness. We all have different definitions of in-patient treatment or institutionalization, and we need to get those all on the same track," Pennsylvania's new attorney general, Kathleen Kane said.

No one who is being treated for schizophrenia should have a gun or ammo. No one who is being prescribed antipsychotic medications should be allowed to purchase a gun and/or ammo. And certainly everyone who has been hospitalized for a serious mental illness should be prohibited from buying a gun and/or ammo.

Federal law should require all psychologists and psychiatrists who are treating people with psychoses to report their patients' names to a county public health official. Every county should then report those names to their states and then to the federal government.

As a check on possible abuse, any time a person's name is put on the NICS list, the person should be informed, and he should have the right to appeal his listing to a judge.

The other obvious needed change in federal law is to require all private gun sales (including those at gun shows) to have an NICS background check before any sale is made. And in a case where someone sells his gun without getting a background check done first, or loses his gun and fails to report the loss to the police, the seller or loser should be held liable for any damage done with his gun, including prison time if someone is shot.

None of these improvements would have stopped the schizophrenic Adam Lanza, because the arsenal he used to murder all those first graders in Newtown, Conn. were bought and owned by his mother, who was the first of his victims. To prevent that from happening--or at least to make it less likely--I would make it illegal to do what she did, which was to allow her mentally ill son from firing her guns at a shooting range or anywhere else. I would further like a law which required those with firearms in their homes, where a mentally ill person also lives, to keep their guns and ammo locked up and beyond the reach of the mental patient at all times.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo: The wizard behind the curtain in the Manti Te'o hoax?

Did this man 'catfish' his friend, Manti Te'o?

I remain unsure what the full truth is in the Manti Te'o hoax. However, there is evidence which suggests Te'o was lying to people about the fictional Lennay Kekua. He may have been fooled into believing she existed. But he certainly knew he never had met her. That did not stop him from telling others he spent time with her. Consider this quote from his dad, who I assume was not in on the hoax in any way:

"They started out as just friends," Te'o's father, Brian, told the Tribune in October 2012. "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there."

Again, assuming Brian Te'o had no idea that Ms. Kekua was a fiction, doesn't that statement make it sound like his son had told him he was meeting with her in Hawaii? The South Bend Tribune later reported that when Kekua was released from the hospital following "a car accident," Manti's father, Brian, congratulates her "via telephone."

Whoever was behind this hoax seems to have decided to fool Te'o's father, as well. Some actress (I guess a female friend of the hoaxer) must have spoken with him, pretending to be Lennay. If Te'o was purely a victim, this same actress must have spoken with Te'o on the phone, as well.

Deadspin implies that the Te'o family and Notre Dame exploited this "tragic death" to publicize Manti in an effort to win Heisman votes:

It was around this time that Te'o's Heisman campaign began in earnest, aided in part by the South Bend Tribune. ... And it was around this time that Manti and his father began filling in details about the linebacker's relationship with Lennay. Brian Te'o told multiple reporters that the family had never met Kekua; the Te'os were supposed to spend time with her when they visited South Bend, Ind., for Notre Dame's Senior Day on Nov. 17.

The various pictures of "Lennay Kekua" are of a real person. Deadspin calls her Reba (but the TV show, "Inside Edition," says her true name is Diane O'Meara):

(Reba) was initially confused, then horrified to find that she had become the face of a dead woman. "That picture," she told us over the phone, "is a picture of me from my Facebook account."

Manti had said his "relationship" with "Lennay Kekua" began after they met in person at Stanford in 2009. But Deadspin's investigation of Te'o's Twitter account suggests Manti was lying, that this began in 2011:

The real beginning of their relationship apparently occurred on Twitter, as an encounter between @MTeo_5 and @lovalovaloveYOU, on Oct. 10, 2011. "... nice to meet u too ma'am."

The photographs of "Reba" led Deadspin to a close friend of Manti Te'o, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is related to the famous football-playing Tuiasosopos, including the former 49er, Manu (his uncle), and the former Raider, Marques (his cousin).
All of those photographs—with one important exception—came from the private Facebook and Instagram accounts of Reba ... One picture in particular brought Reba to a start. It had been used briefly as @LoveMSMK's Twitter avatar and later in the background of the page (we've blurred out the face, at Reba's request):

It was this particular picture which made the connection to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who, it turns out, is a friend of Manti Te'o and was a high school classmate of Diane O'Meara ("Reba"), who says she had never met Te'o.

That photo hadn't appeared on the internet—at least, not to Reba's knowledge. She had taken it in December 2012 and sent it directly to an old high school acquaintance. The two hadn't talked since graduation, but the classmate, whom Reba remembered fondly, contacted her on Facebook with a somewhat convoluted request.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo apparently tricked his old classmate into helping him out. Ronaiah told Ms. O'Meara:

His cousin had been in a serious car accident, and (the cousin) had seen her photos before and thought she was pretty. Would she be so kind as to take a picture of herself holding up a sign reading "MSMK," to put in a slideshow to support the cousin's recovery? (He didn't explain what MSMK meant, and Reba still doesn't know.) Baffled but trusting, Reba made the sign and sent along the photo.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's life story is told by Deadspin.

... Reba told us everything she knew about the classmate, a star high school quarterback turned religious musician named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. ... now 22, (he) had once been something of a football prospect himself. In 2005, the Los Angeles Daily News wrote that the young Tuiasosopo, then the sophomore starting quarterback for Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., "looked like a star" in practice, despite some in-game growing pains. His coach said he was a "great kid" who did a fine job leading the older seniors. He was an honorable mention for the all-league team.

Unfortunately for Tuiasosopo, football did not work out too well for him. But it did lead him to Diane O'Meara.

He transferred out of town, to Franklin High in Stockton, where he spent his junior year living with an aunt and handing the ball off. His team featured two 1,000-yard rushers, and he completed only five passes all season. He transferred again: His senior year, he turned up at Paraclete High in Lancaster. Titus, his father, had become an assistant coach there. That's where he encountered Reba. His team lost in the semifinals. A season recap article suggested that he might sign with Hawaii, but that evidently went nowhere.

Ronaiah then joined his dad in the family business:
Once high school ended, in 2008, Tuiasosopo threw himself into his father's church. Titus is the pastor at the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley, and Ronaiah leads the church's band. He also has his own little YouTube music career. He sings secular songs, with a cousin (Conan Amituanai, a former Arizona lineman whom the Vikings once signed), and religious songs, both solo and as part of an ensemble.

One of Tuiasosopo's songs was promoted, albeit unsuccessfully, by Te'o.

"Ignite," the lead single on the group's ReverbNation page, is a likable enough song. It borrows its chorus from Katy Perry's catchy "Firework." But the song only has 10 Facebook likes, a fairly low figure that seems especially low once one considers who plugged Tuiasosopo's single on Twitter in December 2011: Manti Te'o.

That Te'o and Tuiasosopo know each other is clear from various Tweets. How or when they met is not so clear. Here is what Deadspin reports that a Facebook friend of Titus Tuiasosopo said about the relationship between Ronaiah and Manti.

"Manti and Ronaiah are family," she said, "or at least family friends." She told us that the Tuiasosopos had been on-field guests (of Te'o or someone else, she didn't know) for the Nov. 24 Notre Dame-USC game in Los Angeles. USC was unable to confirm this, but a tweet from Tuiasosopo's since-deleted account suggests he and Te'o did see each other on that West Coast trip. "Great night with my bro @MTeo_5! #Heisman #574L," Ronaiah tweeted on Nov. 23, the night before the game.

One of the stranger parts of the fake story of Lennay Kekua is that she supposedly was dying of leukemia for a long time, and in the middle of her treatments, she gets in a serious car accident. Very likely by no coincidence, the car accident story was borrowed from the real life of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo had been in a car accident a month before Lennay's supposed accident. Was this Lennay Kekua?

This and his ruse to get a new photo of Diane O'Meara suggest that Ronaiah was the hoaxer (though it remains unclear if and when Manti knew that). To find out, Deadspin asked people who know Ronaiah.

We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te'o wasn't the first person to have an online "relationship" with her.

If that is correct, that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was the hoaxer and he had fooled others with the Lennay character, then it at least says that Te'o was a victim, not a perpetrator, at least much of the time he "knew" her. It also lends credence to the idea that Te'o is an idiot, if he could not figure out something was fishy about Lennay.

One mark—who had been "introduced" to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah's stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te'o's rise to national celebrity this past season.

Deadspin says the hoax fell apart after a new character, U'ilani, a sister of Lennay, was created on November 4, 2012. Te'o sent Tweets to U'ilani, and someone (apparently aware that Lennay was fake) "alleged that U'ilani was a fraud, that the same person behind Lennay was operating the U'ilani account, and that the images of "U'ilani" were really of a woman named Donna Tei."

Ms. Tei, it turns out, is another family member of Tuiasosopo, related to a cousin of his on his mother's side who also played in the NFL, Fred Matua. Mr. Matua died quite young.

Tei's Twitter account is @FreDonna51zhun; Fred Matua wore No. 51, and Tei's profile is full of pictures of herself with the late football star (and cousin of Tuiasosopo's). We showed U'ilani's Twitter avatar to one of Tei's friends, and he confirmed it was her.

Deadspin believes there is some evidence that Te'o is not innocent in this hoax.

A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was "80 percent sure" that Manti Te'o was "in on it," and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua's death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te'o together on Tuiasosopo's now-deleted Instagram account. The sheer quantity of falsehoods about Manti's relationship with Lennay makes that friend, and another relative of Ronaiah's, believe Te'o had to know the truth. Mostly, though, the friend simply couldn't believe that Te'o would be stupid enough—or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo clever enough—to sustain the relationship for nearly a year.

What really awaits is for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to talk. I don't expect Te'o to come clean any time soon.

An alternative theory on Manti Te'o: he's gay?

Listening this morning to the Gary Radnich Show on KNBR, one of his sidekicks, Kate Scott, who is a lesbian, suggested a theory on the Manti Te'o hoax that had never occurred to me: that Mr. Te'o could be gay, and that he invented the Lennay Kekua "girlfriend," where he had this female lover who lived far away and who he never visited, because he did not want anyone to think he was a homosexual, but he had no interest in dating real women.

Ms. Scott, who was a competitive athlete at Cal-Berkeley, said that when she was in college, she made up a boyfriend, because she was not yet ready to admit to her friends and family that she was gay. In reality, Kate said, she actually was dating a girl. But she never let any of her friends or family see this girl. Instead, she told them the person she was seeing was a male, and no one had any reason to doubt her. However, Ms. Scott said, after about six months of living that lie, it became too difficult to contain. Lies built upon lies and she decided she had to "come out" to her family.

I have no idea if any of that is what happened to Mr. Te'o. However, it sounds plausible on its face. And, in fact, if the Lennay Kekua story was a hoax of Te'o's invention, I would guess that, if he is gay and he does say that he invented her for the purposes of hiding his homosexuality from those around him, that explanation would probably be much less damaging to him than it turning out that he had concocted this story to gain sympathy and publicity in an effort at self-promotion and attention-seeking.

I think most people, gay or not, can understand a cover-story of the kind that Kate Scott used. In his case, it simply grew out of control and he did not know how to stop it. But if the truth is that he was simply a narcissist who was chasing attention and public sympathy, that is clearly pathological behavior and suggests a very deep character flaw.

Conceding there is some chance the Kate Scott-theory is correct, I would still put it at more than 50 percent likelihood that he was the victim of a hoax, because he is incredibly dumb, and that he lied (in order to embellish the story) by saying that he had met Lennay Kekua in person. But I am certainly not 100 percent sure that Te'o did not invent the hoax.

UPDATE: Apparently Kate Scott is not the only person who has suggested Te'o might be gay. Here is a link.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Manti Te'o: Stupid victim of a hoax? Or deranged perpetrator of a hoax?

Following the publication of a story on, the national media is taking a serious look at the character and intellect of Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker who, before he played poorly in the national championship game against Alabama, was thought to be a top 5-caliber pick in this year's NFL draft.

Here is what the Chicago Tribune story on the hoax involving Mr. Te'o says:

Manti Te'o's ascendancy to national star and Heisman Trophy candidate was jet-propelled by the personal backdrop of a girlfriend tragically lost to leukemia in September. Except that girlfriend never existed. And so the former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman runner-up has plunged into a morass of controversy and confusion, with a Deadspin story reporting that the woman known as Lennay Kekua was a hoax -- and Notre Dame confirming that later Thursday in an official statement. "On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," the school's statement read. "The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."

Te'o issued a statement later, claiming he was duped:

This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. ... In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.

The problem with Te'o's explanation is that his earlier statements about this supposedly dead girlfriend made it sound as if they met in person at Stanford University, where she had allegedly been a student and he was playing in a football game.

This republication of a South Bend Tribune story comes from a Mormon newspaper (Te'o is a Mormon) in Utah, the Deseret News. It sounds to me like Te'o told the reporter, Eric Hansen, how and when he met his "girlfriend":

It never felt like a chance meeting, although it probably appeared that way from the outside looking in. Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes. They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets. Te’o had plenty to preoccupy himself that November weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 2009.

Here is my guess as to what likely happened: Te'o is stupid. He was the victim of a hoax. Some group of people, probably students at Stanford University, saw him as this extremely dumb Notre Dame kid (Stanford and Notre Dame play each other every year) and decided to trick him into believing that this "girlfriend" was real. The Stanford kids perhaps thought they could help Stanford's football team by messing around with the emotions of a rival team's star player.

But after a while, once Te'o was emotionally invested in this fake relationship, he then started telling small lies about the girlfriend to his friends and family and eventually to the reporter from the South Bend Tribune, Eric Hansen. He told everyone he had a girlfriend, and he really thought this online persona was his girlfriend from afar. But it made a better, and more convincing story if he actually had met her. So he just made up that little part. The rest, as far as he knew, was true.

If my take on the story is correct, I don't think the lie Te'o told, about meeting this fake person, is good evidence that he has some horrible character flaw or that he is a psychopathic liar. I can understand someone embellishing a story and then getting caught up in that story and feeling like the best thing to do is to keep it up, instead of admitting that aspect was untrue.

Yet, what this story says to me is that Te'o is dumb. Rocks for brains dumb. Anyone of average intelligence surely would have figured out after not too long--especially because she would never meet him in person--that this girl was phony. But he never caught on. He was not smart enough to catch on.

What I seriously doubt is that his low-level of general intelligence matters one whit on the football field. He might not have enough talent to go in the top of the next draft. But he has plenty enough football intelligence and football skills to play in the NFL. Just don't ask Mr. Te'o to do your advanced calculus homework for you.