Sunday, November 30, 2014

How Obama Won in 2012

Teddy Goff
Digital Director, Obama for America

Teddy Goff was the Digital Director for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. In that capacity, he oversaw a team of more than 200 people nationwide, who collectively raised more than $500 million, registered more than a million voters online, built Facebook and Twitter followings of more than 45 and 33 million people respectively, generated more than 100 million video views, ran the largest online advertising program in political history, built groundbreaking tools for online fundraising and campaigning, and organized more than 150,000 active volunteers and 300,000 offline events through their proprietary organizing platform, Dashboard. As a member of campaign leadership, he also played a critical role in developing and executing the broader campaign's strategy for fundraising, organizing, and communications.

Before joining the campaign, Teddy served as Associate Vice President for Strategy at Blue State Digital, in which capacity he oversaw the account managers and creative teams servicing more than 75 active engagements across the globe. He also personally directed programs for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Partners In Health, American Express, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.

On President Obama's 2008 campaign, Teddy was responsible for state-level digital campaigns, overseeing everything from email and social media programs to online organizing strategies in more than 25 battleground states. During the primaries, he helped lead President Obama's mass email team, writing and editing fundraising, recruitment, and messaging emails and developing communications and segmentation plans. After that campaign, Teddy oversaw the creation and launch of the Obama Administration's new as a member of the Presidential Transition Team.

Footnote by the Blog Author

1.  The Romney campaign did not properly capitalize on Obama's disastrous performance in the first presidential  debate.

2.  Between three million and six million voters for McCain in 2008 stayed home or under-voted in 2012 rather than vote for Romney.

3.  The Romney campaign had confidence in an entirely ineffectual electronic outreach that was amateurish compared to Teddy Goff's efforts.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Deer Ticks' Self-Defense

Animals Steal Defenses from Bacteria
Microbe toxin genes have jumped to ticks, mites and others
from University of Washington Health Sciences, November 24, 2014

It’s a dog eat dog world, and bacteria have been living in it for a long time. It’s of no surprise that bacteria have a sophisticated arsenal to compete with each other for valuable resources in the environment. In 2010, work led by University of Washington Department of Microbiology Associate Professor Joseph Mougous uncovered a weaponry system used in this warfare between bacteria. The combatants inject deadly toxins into rival cells.

Now, in a surprising twist, Mougous and colleagues have found that many animals have taken a page from the bacterial playbook. They steal these toxins to fight unwanted microbes growing in or on them. The researchers describe their findings in a report to be published online Nov. 24 in the journal Nature.

The animal toxins were serendipitously discovered when the Mougous group was working with evolutionary biologist Harmit Malik at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to find more bacterial competition toxins.

 “When we started digging into genome databases, we were surprised to find that toxin genes we thought were present only in bacteria were also in several animals,” explained co-author Matt Daugherty, a postdoctoral fellow in the Malik lab. “We immediately started wondering why they were there.”

Their analyses revealed that these genes had jumped from bacteria into animals. These genes had become permanently incorporated into the genomes of these animals through a process known as horizontal gene transfer. While such transfer events are common between microbes, very few genes have been reported to jump from bacteria to more complex organisms.

The organisms carrying the bacterial toxins were incredibly diverse and included several species of ticks and mites. The team of scientists immediately recognized the potential medical importance of the toxin in one organism in particular – the deer tick, infamous for its ability to transmit Lyme disease.

“We were excited to see this in the deer tick, given the increasing prevalence of Lyme disease in North America. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, so we speculated that the transferred antibacterial toxin might affect how the tick interacts with the Lyme disease agent,” said co-author Seemay Chou, a postdoctoral researcher in the Mougous group.

Ticks carry pathogens in their guts and transmit them through their saliva when they feed on animals. The toxin was abundant in both of these sites in the tick.  The researchers observed that, when they used genetic strategies to reduce production of the toxin in ticks, levels of the Lyme disease pathogen rose significantly.

 “We are now following up on these results by looking into how these toxins influence Lyme disease transmission,” said Chou.

How the toxins function in organisms other than ticks remains to be explored. The researchers now are looking at the possibility that other bacterial toxins have been repurposed by animals for antibacterial defense.

“Given the rate by which we are discovering new toxins, it would not surprise me at all if we find more that have been horizontally transferred” noted Mougous.

The Nature paper is titled, “Transferred interbacterial antagonism genes augment eukaryotic innate immune function.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

Superb Non-Fiction Cop Stories

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

By David Simon (non-fiction)

Editorial Reviews Review

This 1992 Edgar Award winner for best fact crime is nothing short of a classic. David Simon, a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, spent the year 1988 with three homicide squads, accompanying them through all the grim and grisly moments of their work--from first telephone call to final piece of paperwork. The picture that emerges through a masterful accumulation of details is that homicide detectives are a rare breed who seem to thrive on coffee, cigarettes, and persistence, through an endlessly exhausting parade of murder scenes. As the Washington Post writes, "We seem to have an insatiable appetite for police stories.... David Simon's entry is far and away the best, the most readable, the most reliable and relentless of them all.... An eye for the scenes of slaughter and pursuit and an ear for the cadences of cop talk, both business and banter, lend Simon's account the fascination that truth often has."


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Amazon Customer Reviews

 5 Stars

79 of 81 people found the following review helpful

By Jeffrey Ellis on September 19, 2001

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Appropriately enough, one of the best cop shows in the history of television was based on one of the best true crime books ever written. Journalist David Simon spent a year observing Baltimore Homicide detectives and it is their poignantly true stories -- almost all as funny, heartbreaking, and memorable as any fiction -- that make up this book. While fans of the TV show will immediately recognize the initial templates for such beloved characters as Frank Pembleton, Bayliss, Munch, and others, this amazing book is much more than just a basis for a classic television show. It is, quite simply, one of the most insightful books about modern law and order ever written. All of the detectives live brilliantly on the page and Simon's prose reminds us what great writing actually is. Though this is a word I've probably overused in this review, there is no other way to describe Simon's achievement: amazing.

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5 Stars

By Paul Fidalgo on March 15, 2000

Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase

Simon's Homicide reads not as a murder mystery, not as a documentary, and not as a dramatic novel, but as a life lived in the Baltimore homicide unit. The reader does not feel passive, as though he were watching the goings-on through a filter like a television or even a bystander. The reader is there, with the detectives, sharing their experiences, sharing their very thoughts. This book is a masterpiece, a book that completely enthralls you to the point where during the time you are reading, nothing means more to you than the resolution of each case, each obstacle, and each crisis. Please, do yourself a favor and read this remarkable book.

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5 Stars

By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on July 28, 2000

Format: Mass Market Paperback

I've always felt that the main problem with the TV show version of "Homicide" is that, good as it is, it just can't match the gritty realism of the book it is based on. Journalist David Simon spent a year as a fly on the wall observing the Baltimore Police Homicide Unit, and dutifully recording everything he saw by and large without editorial comment. The result is absolutely indispensable for anyone with an interest in law enforcement. Being homicide detectives is a tough job both emotionally and professionally with many hours of tedium that can often result in the frustration of an unsolved case. Particularly poignant is the story of an unsolved child murder case that haunts one of the detectives to the point of endangering his mental well being. The value of this book to the nation's hard working law enforcement professionals simply cannot be understated.

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5 Stars

By B. Cross on October 25, 2005

Format: Mass Market Paperback

I will keep this short: I have been a city cop for almost eighteen years and I defy anyone to find a better book about police work than this one. This is the closest you can come to knowing what being a cop is all about short of actually wearing a badge.

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5 Stars

By Tyler Hewson on November 10, 2004

Format: Mass Market Paperback

The television show was excellent, but HOMICDE the book is much better. It is perhaps one of the finest pieces of narrative non-fiction of the past 50 years. David Simon's background as a journalist for the Sun makes him uniquely qualified to examine the inner workings of a homicide unit, and to lay bare the shortcomings and serious flaws of Baltimore's city government (the action in the book takes place during the worst of the crack wars in the late 80s, but it's remarkable how little things have changed).

What's more, Simon writes with great deadpan humor and is able to find both humanity and wit in this true-life story of the "murder police." He is truly one of the most accomplished narrative writers of our time. I also highly recommend THE CORNER, another look into Baltimore's gritty urban landscape.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Electron Shield Protects Earth

Star Trek-like Invisible Shield Found
Thousands of Miles Above Earth
University of Colorado Boulder, November 26, 2014

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called “killer electrons,” which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.

The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth’s surface. In 2013, Baker -- who received his doctorate under Van Allen -- led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient “storage ring” between the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.

The latest mystery revolves around an “extremely sharp” boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth’s atmosphere.

“It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” said Baker, the study’s lead author. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”

A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 27 issue of Nature.

The team originally thought the highly charged electrons, which are looping around Earth at more than 100,000 miles per second, would slowly drift downward into the upper atmosphere and gradually be wiped out by interactions with air molecules. But the impenetrable barrier seen by the twin Van Allen belt spacecraft stops the electrons before they get that far, said Baker.

The group looked at a number of scenarios that could create and maintain such a barrier. The team wondered if it might have to do with Earth’s magnetic field lines, which trap and control protons and electrons, bouncing them between Earth’s poles like beads on a string. The also looked at whether radio signals from human transmitters on Earth could be scattering the charged electrons at the barrier, preventing their downward motion. Neither explanation held scientific water, Baker said.

"Nature abhors strong gradients and generally finds ways to smooth them out, so we would expect some of the relativistic electrons to move inward and some outward,” said Baker. “It’s not obvious how the slow, gradual processes that should be involved in motion of these particles can conspire to create such a sharp, persistent boundary at this location in space.”

Another scenario is that the giant cloud of cold, electrically charged gas called the plasmasphere, which begins about 600 miles above Earth and stretches thousands of miles into the outer Van Allen belt, is scattering the electrons at the boundary with low frequency, electromagnetic waves that create a plasmapheric “hiss,” said Baker. The hiss sounds like white noise when played over a speaker, he said.

While Baker said plasmaspheric hiss may play a role in the puzzling space barrier, he believes there is more to the story. “I think the key here is to keep observing the region in exquisite detail, which we can do because of the powerful instruments on the Van Allen probes. If the sun really blasts the Earth’s magnetosphere with a coronal mass ejection (CME), I suspect it will breach the shield for a period of time,” said Baker, also a faculty member in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department.

“It’s like looking at the phenomenon with new eyes, with a new set of instrumentation, which give us the detail to say, ‘Yes, there is this hard, fast boundary,’” said John Foster, associate director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory and a study co-author.

Other CU-Boulder study co-authors included Allison Jaynes, Vaughn Hoxie, Xinlin Li, Quintin Schiller, Lauren Blum and David Malaspina. Other co-authors were from UCLA, Aerospace Corp. Space Sciences Lab in Los Angeles, the University of Minnesota, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the University of Iowa and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

CU-Boulder is playing a prominent role in NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission, which consists of two spinning, octagonal spacecraft weighing 1,500 pounds each. LASP developed the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope, (REPT) to measure high-energy electrons. LASP also developed the “brains” of the Electronic Field and Waves package to compress huge amounts of mission data to send back to Earth. CU-Boulder will receive roughly $18 million from NASA over the lifetime of the mission.

About a dozen graduate students are participating in the mission, as well as more than a dozen other LASP personnel.

The Van Allen probes mission is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built the twin satellites and is managing the mission for NASA. For more information on LASP visit

For more information on the Van Allen Probes mission visit   

Link for this article:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Liquid to Solid Glass

Glass As a Solid – With a New Theory on How It Transitions from a Liquid
New York University, November 24, 2014

How does glass transition from a liquid to its familiar solid state? How does this common material transport heat and sound? And what microscopic changes occur when a glass gains rigidity as it cools?

A team of researchers at NYU’s Center for Soft Matter Research offers a theoretical explanation for these processes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Our understanding of glasses as they change state is relatively limited. This is because, unlike other materials such as metals, their constituent particles--which can be as small as a billionth of a meter in size--are in a disorganized, rather than orderly, arrangement. Understanding what in these disordered arrangements decides if the material is liquid or solid remains a long-lasting challenge of physics and chemistry.

The simplest examples of glasses are colloidal suspensions, which behave essentially as hard spheres. Beyond their conceptual interest, they also matter to scientists because they are the basis for an array of consumer products. For instance, colloidal dispersions comprise such everyday items as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain. Moreover, understanding how they evolve from liquids to solids is of concern to medical researchers—for example, the clotting of blood.

Colloids form a liquid at small density, but become solid when the density is increased beyond some threshold. At that point, crowding effects become important: particles are prisoners of the cage formed by their neighbors. Although they can still wiggle somewhat within their cage, they cannot escape far, forbidding flow. Why the assembly of cages can resist the wiggling of particles in the solid phase is a long-standing debate in the field. Explanations have been proposed in very abstract models, but a simple physical picture of what is going on was lacking.

In their theoretical work, spurred by laboratory observations of colloidal glasses, the researchers propose to use 19th-century concepts developed by Maxwell, the founder of electromagnetism, to study the stability of mechanical structures. Thus concepts widely used in architecture and engineering are now applied at a microscopic level in colloidal glasses. Based on these ideas, the authors developed a theory of the emergence of rigidity.

A curious outcome of their work is the prediction that the wiggling motion of particles in their cage is collective: particles dance in a very coordinated way. The structure of the material is predicted to be such that the dance has the largest amplitude it could possibly have without destroying the solid.

The authors show that this coordinated dance is quantitatively affected by the presence of weak spots in the materials. The description leads to various predictions on the dynamics of the particles, as well as the elastic response of the material and the ability to transport heat in molecular glasses.

The study’s authors included Carolina Brito of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil as well as the following researchers in the Wyart group at NYU’s Center for Soft Matter Research: Eric DeGiuli, a post-doctoral fellow, Edan Lerner, a post-doctoral fellow at the time of the study and now an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam, and Matthieu Wyart, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Physics.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Executive Order

The Executive Order on Immigration: 

I personally think this represents Obama usurping Congress’s exclusive responsibility for immigration policy as set forth in Article I of the Constitution.  But most lawyers who themselves are pundits disagree.  The smartest of that bunch, Sean Trende, also sees future disaster for the country as a result of Obama’s trick.

“President Obama is likely to win this argument on legal grounds.  Once he does, there will be nothing to stop a future president from using the precedent for his benefit.  There’s simply no unringing this bell, and we’re all likely to regret its having been rung in the near future.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chasing Happiness

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of hunans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay "Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society" (1971). During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current "hedonic treadmill theory" which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place.

The Hedonic (or Happiness) Set Point has gained interest throughout the field of positive psychology where it has been developed and revised further. Given that hedonic adaptation generally demonstrates that a person's long term happiness is not significantly affected by otherwise impactful events, positive psychology has concerned itself with the discovery of things that can lead to lasting changes in happiness levels.


Hedonic adaptation is a process or mechanism that reduces the affective impact of emotional events. Generally, hedonic adaptation involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. The process of hedonic adaptation is often conceptualized as a treadmill, since one must continually work to maintain a certain level of happiness. Others conceptualize hedonic adaptation as functioning similarly to a thermostat (a negative feedback system) that works to maintain an individual’s happiness set point. One of the main concerns of positive psychology is determining how to maintain or raise one’s happiness set point, and further, what kind of practices lead to lasting happiness.

Hedonic adaptation can occur in a variety of ways. Generally, the process involves cognitive changes, such as shifting values, goals, attention and interpretation of a situation. Further, neurochemical processes desensitize overstimulated hedonic pathways in the brain, which possibly prevents persistently high levels of intense positive or negative feelings. The process of adaptation can also occur through the tendency of humans to construct elaborate rationales for considering themselves deprived through a process social theorist Gregg Easterbrook calls "abundance denial".


Headey (2008) concluded that an internal locus of control and having "positive" personality traits (notably low neuroticism) are the two most significant factors affecting one's subjective well-being. Headey also found that adopting "non-zero sum" goals, those which enrich one's relationships with others and with society as a whole (i.e. family-oriented and altruistic goals), increase the level of subjective well-being. Conversely, attaching importance to zero-sum life goals (career success, wealth, and social status) will have a small but nevertheless statistically significant negative impact on people's overall subjective well-being (even though the size of a household's disposable income does have a small, positive impact on subjective well-being). Duration of one's education seems to have no direct bearing on life satisfaction. And, contradicting set point theory, Headey found no return to homeostasis after sustaining a disability or developing a chronic illness. These disabling events are permanent, and thus according to cognitive model of depression, may contribute to depressive thoughts and increase neuroticism (another factor found by Headey to diminish subjective well-being). Disability appears to be the single most important factor affecting human subjective well-being. The impact of disability on subjective well-being is almost twice as large as that of the second strongest factor affecting life satisfaction—the personality trait of neuroticism.

Oswald and Powdthavee (2008) looked at the capability of someone, after an onset of a disability, to return to their original happiness set point (i.e. before the accident). They studied the economic literature in attempts to disprove the idea that people have close to 100% hedonic adaptation after an injury (previously reported by Brickman et al). They concluded that the degree of adaptation is actually around 30-50%, quite different from 100%. These results suggest that the hedonic treadmill may not actually be a real concept and that we are not always able to return to our happiness set point.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jean Herauld Gourville

Jean Herauld Gourville (July 10, 1625 – June 14, 1703) was a French adventurer.

He was born in La Rochefoucauld, in today's Charente departement.. At the age of eighteen he entered the house of La Rochefoucauld as a servant, and in 1646 became secretary to Francois de La Rochefoucauld, [later in life the] author of the Maximes. Resourceful and quick-witted, he rendered services to his master during the Fronde, in his intrigues with the parliament, the court or the princes. In these negotiations he made the acquaintance of Conde, whom he wished to help to escape from the château of Vincennes; of Mazarin, for whom he negotiated the reconciliation with the princes; and of Nicolas Fouquet.

After the Fronde he engaged in financial affairs, thanks to Fouquet. In 1658 he farmed the taille in Guienne. He bought depreciated rentes and had them raised to their nominal value by the treasury; he extorted gifts from the financiers for his protection, being Fouquet's confidant in many operations of which he shared the profits. In three years he accumulated an enormous fortune, still further increased by his unfailing good fortune at cards, playing even with the king. He was involved in the trial of Fouquet, and in April 1663 was condemned to death for peculation and embezzlement of public funds; but escaping, was executed in effigy. He sent a valet one night to take the effigy down from the gallows in the court of the Palais de Justice, and then fled the country.

He remained five years abroad, being excepted in 1665 from the amnesty accorded by Louis XIV to the condemned financiers. Having returned secretly to France, he entered the service of Condé, who, unable to meet his creditors, had need of a clever manager to put his affairs in order. In this way he was able to reappear at court, to assist at the campaigns of the war with Holland, and to offer himself for all the delicate negotiations for his master or the king. He received diplomatic missions in Germany, in Holland, and especially in Spain, though it was only in 1694, that he was freed from the condemnation pronounced against him by the chamber of justice. From 1696 he fell ill and withdrew to his estate, where he dictated to his secretary, in four months and a half, his Mémoires, an important source for the history of his time. In spite of several errors, introduced purposely, they give a clear idea of the life and morals of a financier of the age of Fouquet, and throw light on certain points of the diplomatic history. They were first published in 1724.

Gourville died in Paris on June 14, 1703.

Obama Immigration Order

Columnist J. Christian Adams of PJ Media makes a compelling case that Barack Obama is nullifying existing federal law in his Executive Order regarding immigration.  Adams compares this to American politician John C. Calhoun and to failed English King Charles I.  It’s a “tight” argument that is hard to defeat logically.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Mike Nichols Dies

Mike Nichols (born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky; November 6, 1931 – November 19, 2014) was a German-born American film and theatre director, producer, actor and comedian. He began his career in the 1950s with the improv troupe, the Compass Players, predecessor of the Second City in Chicago and as one half of the comedy duo Nichols and May, along with Elaine May. May was also in the Compass. In 1968 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film The Graduate. His other films include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Closer, Charlie Wilson’s War (his final picture), and the TV mini-series Angels in America. He also staged the original theatrical productions of Barefoot in the Park, Luv, The Odd Couple and Spamalot.

Nichols was one of a small group of people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. His other honors included the Lincoln Center Gala Tribute in 1999, the National Medal of Arts in 2001, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2010. His films garnered a total of 42 Oscar nominations and seven awards.

Early Life and Education

Mike Nichols was born Mikhail Pavlovich Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany, the son of Brigitte (nee Landauer) and Pavel Peschkowsky, a physician. His father was born in Vienna, Austria to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. Nichols' father's family had been wealthy and lived in Siberia, leaving after the Russian Revolution, and settling in Germany around 1920. Nichols' mother's family were German Jews. His maternal grandparents were anarchist Gustav Landauer and author Hedwig Lachmann. Nichols is a third cousin twice removed of scientist Albert Einstein, through Nichols' mother.

In April 1939, when the Nazis were arresting Jews in Berlin, seven-year-old Mikhail and his three-year-old brother Robert were sent alone to the United States to meet up with their father, who had fled months earlier. His mother eventually joined the family, escaping through Italy in 1940. The family moved to New York City on April 28, 1939. His father, whose original Russian name was Pavel Nikolaevich Peschkowsky, changed his name to Paul Nichols, Nichols derived from his Russian patronymic, and set up a successful medical practice in Manhattan, enabling the family to live near Central Park. Nichols' youth was especially difficult for him, as he explained, because “I was a bald little kid." By age 4, following an inoculation for whooping cough, he had lost his hair, and consequently wore wigs for the rest of his life.

Nichols became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1944 and attended public elementary school in Manhattan (PS 87). After graduating from the Walden School, a private progressive school on Central Park West, Nichols briefly attended New York University before dropping out. In 1950, he enrolled in the pre-med program at the University of Chicago. He later described this college period as "paradise," recalling how "I never had a friend from the time I came to this country until I got to the University of Chicago.

Indeed, while attending the university in the 1950s, Nichols began skipping class to engage in theatrical activities. He first met Elaine May at this time when she criticized his acting in a performance of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. It was at U/Chicago that Nichols made his theatrical debut as a director with a performance of William Butler Yeats’ Purgatory. Also there he met Susan Sontag (then known as Susan Rosenblatt), who considered Nichols her "best friend." In 1954, Nichols dropped out of the University of Chicago and moved back to New York City, where he was accepted into the Actors Studio and studied under Lee Strasberg.

While in Chicago in 1953, Nichols joined the staff of struggling classical music station WFMT, 98.7 FM, as an announcer. Co-owner Rita Jacobs asked Nichols to create a folk music program on Saturday nights, which he named "The Midnight Special." He hosted the program for two years before leaving for New York City. Nichols frequently invited musicians to perform live in the studio and eventually created a unique blend of "folk music and farce, showtunes and satire, odds and ends," along with his successor Norm Pellegrini. The program endures today in the same time slot

Nichols and May

In 1955 Nichols was invited to join the Compass Players, which was predecessor to Chicago's Second City and whose members included Elaine May, Shelly Berman,m Del Close, and Nancy Ponder, directed by Paul Sills.

Nichols moved back to Chicago to perform comedy with Compass and started doing improvisational routines with Elaine May, which led to the formation of the comedy duo Nichols and May in 1958, which they began performing in New York City. Three records of their routines, best-sellers at the time, were released and the duo made appearances in nightclubs, on radio and on several television programs. They were invited to audition for Jack Rollins, who later became Woody Allen’s's manager and producer, and he was impressed, stating: "Their work was so startling, so new, as fresh as could be. I was stunned by how really good they were, actually as impressed by their acting technique as by their comedy. . . I thought, My God, these are two people writing hilarious comedy on their feet!

In 1960 Nichols and May opened the Broadway show An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, directed by Arthur Penn. The LP album of the show won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. Personal idiosyncrasies and tensions eventually drove the duo apart to pursue other projects in 1961. About their sudden breakup, director Arthur Penn said, "They set the standard and then they had to move on," while [at the time, a writer for Jack Paar and later a successful] talk show host Dick Cavett said "they were one of the comic meteors in the sky." Comedy historian Gerald Nachman describes the effect of their break-up on American comedy:

Nichols and May are perhaps the most ardently missed of all the satirical comedians of their era. When Nichols and May split up, they left no imitators, no descendants, no blueprints or footprints to follow. No one could touch them.

They later reconciled and worked together many times, such as on the unsuccessful A Matter of Position, a play written by May and starring Nichols. May scripted Nichols' films The Birdcage and Primary Colors. They appeared together at President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala and in a 1980 New Haven stage revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Swoosie Kurtz and James Naughton.

Career as a Director

After the professional split with May, Nichols went to Vancouver, B.C., to work in the theater directing a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and acted in a revival of George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan.

In 1963, Nichols was chosen to direct Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park. He realized at once that he was meant to be a director, saying in a 2003 interview: “On the first day of rehearsal, I thought, ‘Well, look at this. Here is what I was meant to do.’ I knew instantly that I was home”. Barefoot in the Park was a big hit, running for 1530 performances and earning Nichols a Tony Award for his direction. This began a series of highly successful plays on Broadway (often from works by Simon) that would establish his reputation. After an off-Broadway production of Ann Jellicoe’s The Knack, Nichols directed Murray Schisgal’s play Luv in 1964. Again the show was a hit and Nichols won a Tony Award (shared with The Odd Couple). In 1965 he directed another play by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple. The original production starred Art Carney as Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison. The play ran for 966 performances and won Tony Awards for Nichols, Simon and Matthau. Overall, Nichols won nine Tony Awards: including six for Best Director of either a play or a musical, one for Best Play, and one for Best Musical.

By 1966, Nichols was a star stage director and Time magazine called him "the most in-demand director in the American theatre." Although he had no experience in filmmaking, Warner Bros. invited Nichols to direct a screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was critically acclaimed, with critics calling Nichols "the new Orson Welles", and a financial success, the number 1 film of 1966. The film was considered groundbreaking for having a level of profanity and sexual innuendo unheard of at that time. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won five Academy Awards and garnered thirteen nominations (including Nichols' first nomination for Best Director), earning the distinctions of being one of only two films nominated in every eligible category at the Oscars (the other being Cimarron), and the first film to have its entire credited cast nominated for acting Oscars, a feat only accomplished twice more with Sleuth in 1972 and Give ‘em Hell, Harry! in 1975. The film also won three BAFTA Awards, and was later ranked #67 in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).

His next film was The Graduate (1967), starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross. On its release, it grossed $50 million, making it both the highest grossing film of 1967 and one of the biggest grossing films in history up to that date. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director. Hoffman credits Nichols for having taken a great risk in giving him, a relatively unknown, the starring role: "I don't know of another instance of a director at the height of his powers who would take a chance and cast someone like me in that part. It took tremendous courage." In 2007, The Graduate was ranked #17 in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).

Nichols was able to get the best out of actors regardless of their acting experience, whether an unknown such as Dustin Hoffman or a major star like Richard Burton. For his first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, each of the four actors was nominated for an Oscar, with Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis winning. Burton later said, "I didn't think I could learn anything about comedy - I'd done all of Shakespeare's. But from him I learned," adding, "He conspires with you to get your best."

However, it was Taylor who chose Nichols to be their director, because, writes biographer David Bret, "she particularly admired him because he had done a number of ad-hoc jobs to pay for his education after arriving in American as a seven-year-old Jewish refugee." Producer Ernest Lehman agreed with her choice: "He was the only one who could handle them," he said. "The Burtons were quite intimidating, and we needed a genius like Mike Nichols to combat them." Biographer Kitty Kelley says that neither Taylor nor Burton would ever again reach the heights of acting performance as they had achieved in that film.[

In the 1990s, Nichols directed several more successful, well-received films including Postcards from the Edge (1990) starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine; Primary Colors (1998) starring John Travolta and Emma Thompson; and The Birdcage (1996), an American remake of the 1978 French film La Cage aux Folles starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lanem, Gene Hackman and Dianne West. Both The Birdcage and Primary Colors were written by Elaine May, Nichols' comedy partner earlier in his career. Other films directed by Nichols include Regarding Henry (1991) starring Harrison Ford and Wolf (1994) starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. When he was honored by Lincoln Center in 1999 for his life's work, Elaine May--speaking once again as his friend--served up the essence of Nichols with the following:

"So he’s witty, he’s brilliant, he’s articulate, he’s on time, he’s prepared and he writes. But is he perfect? He knows you can’t really be liked or loved if you’re perfect. You have to have just enough flaws. And he does. Just the right, perfect flaws to be absolutely endearing."

Personal Life

Nichols was married four times. His first wife was Patricia Scott; they were married from 1957 to 1960. He was married to Margo Callas from 1963 to 1974, producing a daughter, Daisy Nichols. His third marriage, to Annabel Davis-Goff, produced two children, Max Nichols and Jenny Nichols. They were divorced in 1986. He married former ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer on April 29, 1988.

Nichols' grandfather, Gustav Landauer, was a leading theorist on anarchism in the early 20th century. According to research done by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University, in 2010 for the PBS series Faces of America, Nichols is related to Albert Einstein who was a third cousin on his mother's side.

Among Nichols' personal pursuits was a lifelong interest in Arabian horses. From 1968 to 2004, he owned a farm in Connecticut and was a noted horse breeder. Over the years, he also imported quality Arabian horses from Poland, some of which later resold for record-setting prices.

Nichols died of a heart attack on November 19, 2014, at his apartment in Manhattan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Big Vehicles Are Safer

Car Crash Survival Rates Increase with Being Younger, Male and Driving a Big Vehicle
Science Codex, November 18, 2014

Motor vehicle crashes are the most common cause of unintentional life lost around the world, with about 30,000 deaths occurring annually in the U.S. due to motor-vehicle crashes.

A study by a doctoral student in epidemiology at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis showed that vehicle inequities have a significant impact on survivability in head-on collisions.

Uzay Kirbiyik conducted a study of risk factors associated with drivers' survival in head-on vehicle collisions by examining Fatality Analysis Reporting System database records in 1,108 crashes.

The results showed that the driver's chance of survival was increased by driving a vehicle with a higher mass, driving a newer vehicle, being younger, being a male, using a seatbelt and having the airbag deployed in the crash.

Kirbiyik said his study found that more women die in head-on collisions, but deferred to medical trauma experts to explain why.

The study concludes that vehicle inequity, which includes differences like height and rigidity as well as weight, was a major cause of drivers' fatalities. According to Kirbiyik, if you are in an automobile, given that other variables are equal, you are 17 times more likely to die compared to a driver of a light truck. This ratio is about nine times for a collision with an SUV.

According to the study, there were more young people between the ages of 15 and 24 involved in head-on collisions than any other age group. That age group accounts for 21 percent of the collisions, and the rate of death among that age group is 39 percent, the lowest among all age groups.

"An intervention that reduces the involvement of younger drivers will likely help reduce the death rate of other age groups," Kirbiyik said. "This shouldn't be a surprise, but it is not an easy task to do."

Kirbiyik presented his study, "Factors affecting survival in head-on vehicle collisions" on Nov. 17, at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in New Orleans.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Credit Score Predicts Health

Credit Score Can Also
Describe Health Status
Longitudinal study suggests the same behaviors
that ruin credit ruin health too

Duke Today, November 18, 2014

A credit score doesn't just reduce a person's entire financial history down to a single number and somehow predict their credit-worthiness.

It might also be saying something about a person's health status, too, according to a new analysis from a long-term study of the physical and mental health of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who have been monitored continuously from birth to age 38.

The latest paper from the study, appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found a strong relationship between low credit scores and poor cardiovascular health.

This doesn't mean that poor financial management hurts your health, post-doctoral researcher Salomon Israel of Duke University is quick to point out. It's that the sort of personal attributes that can lead to a poor credit score can also contribute to poor health.

This and other studies from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in New Zealand have found that self-control, planning ahead and perseverance are attributes that predict both better financial status and better health.

"What it comes down to is that people who don't take care of their money don't take care of their health," said study leader Terrie Moffitt, who is the Nannerl O. Keohane university professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. She said this study confirms what the insurance and financial industries may already understand.

Backtracking into the data on these study participants, the researchers found that about 20% of the relationship between credit scores and heart health was accounted for by the attitudes, behaviors and competencies displayed by the study members when they were younger than age 10.

"We're showing that these things take root early in life," Israel said.

Harvard economist David Laibson, who was not involved in the research, said the study "fundamentally transforms our understanding of the psychological factors that connect our health and wealth."

Lamar Pierce, an associate professor of organization & strategy at Washington University in St. Louis, agreed. "This study is important because it identifies common cognitive foundations long before financial and physical health problems emerge," said Pierce, who was not involved in this study. "It provides hope that early life intervention can impede the development of life-long patterns of illness and financial struggle.”

Using a standard measure called the Framingham cardiovascular risk score, the Duke researchers estimated the “heart age” of their participants, based on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and smoking habits. At age 38, the participants' Framingham “heart ages” ranged from 22 to 85 years.  Participants with higher credit scores had younger “heart ages.” The components of the Dunedin study's human capital measure -- educational attainment, cognitive ability and self-control -- each predicted higher credit scores and younger heart age.

The idea of checking credit scores against the detailed personal data in the Dunedin study came from a conversation Moffitt had with her seatmate on a plane about a decade ago. When she told her travelling companion from the life insurance industry that she studied self-control and life outcomes, he said, "We do that too, but we use credit scores."

"The thing that's so compelling about credit scores is that they're both predictive and retrospective," said co-author Avshalom Caspi, the Edward M. Arnett professor of psychology and neuroscience, psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Duke. "They offer a window on the future, but also a window on the past."

In recent years, credit scores have been used for pre-employment screening and many other functions beyond their original intent, Israel said. This study seems to bear out their usefulness as a proxy for a person's reliability and steadfastness, and in turn how healthy they may be.

"Our findings suggest that life insurance companies that acquire an applicant's credit score are also indirectly acquiring information about that applicant's educational attainment, intelligence and personality, right back to childhood," the authors wrote.

The link might work the other way as well. In less developed countries where credit scores aren't available, a Harvard team has been experimenting with using a 40-minute personality quiz to assess candidates' credit-worthiness for microloans.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Hailstones Form

Rocky Mountain storms lead to new findings about hailstones

November 13, 2014 -- By Evelyn Boswell, Montana State University News Service

BOZEMAN – Hailstones from three Rocky Mountain storms formed around biological material, then bounced around the clouds picking up layers of ice, according to a new Montana State University study.

The discovery of a biological embryo extends previous findings about the formation of snow and rain, applies to hailstones globally and provides basic information about a little-studied topic, said the researchers who published their findings Nov. 6 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

“This is the first paper to really show that biological material makes hailstones,” said John Priscu, a renowned polar scientist and professor in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. “Despite the millions in dollars of damage the storm caused in Bozeman, the damaging hailstones provided us with a better understanding of hailstone formation, which will help us understand the role of aerosol particles in the formation of precipitation.”

Alex Michaud – MSU doctoral student and first author of the paper -- normally studies Antarctic microorganisms with Priscu, but he took on a side project after hailstones pummeled Bozeman on June 30, 2010.

“If it weren’t for his inquisitive nature of how things work, no good would have come from the devastating storm,” Priscu said.

Once the storm subsided, Michaud collected hailstones and stored them in an MSU freezer at minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The hailstones averaged 1.5 inches in diameter. Then Michaud gathered hailstones from two more area storms that occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those averaged about half an inch in diameter.

Examining some 200 hailstones in MSU’s Subzero Science and Engineering Research Facility showed that the hailstones formed around a biological embryo, Michaud said. Analyzing stable isotopes of water in an Ohio State University laboratory showed that most of the hailstone embryos froze at relatively warm temperatures, generally above 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit, which corroborates freezing temperatures of biological embryos recovered from the middle of hailstones.

Two different research methods showed that a warm temperature of ice nucleation indicates biological material is the likely nuclei, Michaud said. He added that hailstones grow in such a way that makes them a nice model system for studying atmospheric ice nucleation and cloud processes.

Among those providing direction and advice to Michaud were Priscu and David Sands, both co-authors on the published paper and internationally known researchers.

Priscu was chief scientist and one of three directors of a historic U.S. expedition that drilled through half a mile of Antarctic ice and found microorganisms living in a subglacial lake in January 2013. Michaud was part of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) and is about to head to Antarctica for its next phase.

Sands, a professor in MSU’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, conducted and published previous research that gained widespread attention for showing that active airborne bacteria were involved in the formation of rain and snow over several continents. Michaud’s hailstone study builds upon his work.

Co-author John Dore, associate research professor in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, conducted low-level phosphate analyses to validate hailstone decontamination procedures. The presence of phosphates indicates contamination that originated on the ground. Dore also analyzed stable isotope data and developed temperature calibrations for the hailstone layer formation, and participated in many discussions about hail and how the research pieces fit together.

Co-authors outside of MSU were Deborah Leslie and W. Berry Lyons in the School of Earth Sciences and Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University. Lyons is a long-time collaborator of Priscu’s, and Leslie received her Ph.D. in Lyons’ lab. She analyzed stable isotopes from the melted hailstone embryos to estimate the temperatures that the hailstone embryos froze in the clouds.

In addition to his co-authors, Michaud said former MSU postdoctoral researcher Brent Christner and MSU affiliate Cindy Morris provided important assistance by helping him develop ideas and discuss data. Christner is also part of the WISSARD project. Morris collaborated with Sands on previous research about the formation of rain and snow.

Michaud also consulted with fellow hailstone researcher Tina Santl Temkiv, a postdoctoral researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark. She is in the university’s Department of Bioscience where Michaud was last spring through the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program.

“It was very coincidental that she published two hailstone microbiology papers two years before me and we ended up at the same university for a few months. Plus, we are the only ones to work on hailstone microbiology since a 1973 paper in Nature,” Michaud said, noting that the two jokingly established the first hailstone microbiology research center at Aarhus.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service office in Great Falls provided temperatures and dew points at noon before the three hailstorms occurred.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Making Quotes

Filmmakers Talk About Their Craft

  • The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behavior toward works of art issues today in a new form. Quantity has been transmuted into quality. The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation.
    • Walter Benjamin, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” Illuminations (1968), p. 239.

  • A film is a petrified fountain of thought.

  • I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.

  • … a pastime for helots, a diversion for uneducated, wretched, worn-out creatures who are consumed by their worries, … a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence,… which kindles no light in the heart and awakens no hope other than the ridiculous one of someday becoming a ‘star’ in Los Angeles.
    • Georges Duhamel, describing cinema, Scènes de la vie future (1930), p. 58.

  • American capitalism finds its sharpest and most expressive reflection in the American cinema.
    • Sergei Eisenstein (1957) Film form [and]: The film sense; two complete and unabridged works. p. 196.

  • I always say a screenplay is the big plain pizza, the one with tomatoes and cheese. And then the director comes and says, “You know, it needs some mushrooms.” And you go, “Put mushrooms on it.” And then the costume designer throws peppers on it, and – and pretty soon, you have a pizza with everything on it. And sometimes it’s the greatest pizza of your life and sometimes you think, “Well, that was a mistake. We should have left it with only the mushrooms.”

  • American motion pictures are written by the half-educated for the half-witted.
    • St. John Ervine Ney York Mirror(June 6, 1963).

  • Cinema is an old whore, like circus and variety, who knows how to give many kinds of pleasure.

  • The public has lost the habit of movie-going because the cinema no longer possesses the charm, the hypnotic charisma, the authority it once commanded. The image it once held for us all, that of a dream we dreamt with our eyes open, has disappeared. Is it still possible that one thousand people might group together in the dark and experience the dream that a single individual has directed?

  • A good opening and a good ending make for a good film provide they come close together.

  • The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.

  • Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.
    • Jean-Luc Godard, Le Petit Soldat (film) (direction and screenplay, 1960)
    • [variation] Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second.

  • A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.

  • If you want to be a storyteller, be an author, be a novelist, be a writer, don't be a film director. Cinema is not the greatest medium for telling stories. It is too specific, leaves so little room for the imagination to take wing other than in the strict directions indicated by the director. Read "he entered the room" and imagine a thousand scenarios. See "he entered the room" in cinema-as-we-know-it, and you are going to be limited to one scenario only.
    • [[Peter Greenaway], "105 Years of Illustrated Text" in the Zoetrope All-Story, Vol. 5 No. 1.

  • If you want to do a film, steal a camera, steal raw stock, sneak into a lab and do it!

  • Film is not the art of scholars, but illiterates.

  • As you see [filmmaking] makes me into a clown. And that happens to everyone – just look at Orson Welles or look at even people like Truffaut. They have become clowns.

  • The words "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.

  • A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.
    • Stanley Kubrick, Kagan, Norman (1989), The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick, New York: Continuum Books.

  • Photography because of its causal relationship to the world seems to give us the truth or something close to the truth. I am skeptical about this for many reasons. But even if photography doesn't give us truth on a silver-platter, it can make it harder for us to deny reality. It puts a leash on fantasy, confabulation and self-deception. It provides constraints, borders. It circumscribes our ability to lie — to ourselves and to others.

  • There is only one thing that can kill the movies, and that is education.

  • Well, Jack Warner may have been celebrated for calling writers "Schmucks with Underwoods," but 20 years earlier, Irving Thalberg … said, "The most important person in the motion picture process is the writer, and we must do everything in our power to prevent them from ever realizing it."

  • Watching violence in movies or in TV programs stimulates the spectators to imitate what they see much more than if seen live or on TV news. In movies, violence is filmed with perfect illumination, spectacular scenery, and in slow motion, making it even romantic. However, in the news, the public has a much better perception of how horrible violence can be, and it is used with objectives that do not exist in the movies.

  • I honestly don't understand the big fuss made over nudity and sex in films. It's silly. On TV, the children can watch people murdering each other, which is a very unnatural thing, but they can't watch two people in the very natural process of making love. Now, really, that doesn't make any sense, does it?
    • Sharon Tate Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders (2000) by Greg King

  • A film is a boat which is always on the point of sinking - it always tends to break up as you go along and drag you under with it.

  • A film is a ribbon of dreams. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.
All the above from: