‘Bagel head': My theory

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The currently most-popular article on Huffington Post is about saline forehead injections, ‘Japan’s hot new beauty trend':

Botox is more ubiquitous than yoga pants in Hollywood. But women (and men) in Asia have been taking part in a different injection “trend” for years: saline bagel-shaped injections on one’s forehead.

Here’s how it goes down: technicians insert a needle into the forehead and inject about 400 cc of saline to create a forehead-sized blob. (One bagel-ee describes is as feeling like “something’s dripping down [his] head” and a “slight stinging sensation.”) The practitioner then places his or her thumb into the blob to create the indentation.

It’s the kind of story I would file away with vodka eyeballing (i.e. as reliable as a New York Times trend piece), save for the existence of horrifying, graphic photographic evidence:

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The real reason Obama and Bibi can’t just get along

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Bibi’s speech at the UN is making headlines because of his spot-on impression of – depending on whom you ask – Wile E. Coyote, or Adolf S. Hitler [see above]. Drawing considerably less attention were his attempts to make amends with the Obama administration:

Two days ago President Obama reiterated that the threat of a nuclear Iran cannot be contained… We thank and support President Obama for his position. I believe Democrats and Republicans alike share his position, and it is shared by leaders around the world … Israel is in discussions with the United States on this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together.

The comments came the same day as a ‘leaked’ Israeli memo indicated that current sanctions against Iran are working, and that the approach might pay dividends and obviate the need for a pre-emptive strike on pre-nuclear Iran. Prior to Netanyahu’s speech, the New York Times speculated as to the source of the leak:

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The horror that is Mitt Romney’s campaign logo

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I know I’ve given Mitt a lot Mitt sh*t over the past few weeks for all manner of shenanigans and tomfoolery. While I’ll happily stand by the assertion that much of that was deserved, I also know it’s opened me up to the accusation of being a partisan hack. I don’t think that’s entirely fair – there are certainly Republican candidates *cough* Huntsman *cough* I might have supported against Obama – I do recognize that my lack of enthusiasm for the current Republican candidate has gone largely undisguised.

It is against that backdrop that I preface this post with the disclaimer: This post is not about Romney the person, or even about Romney the candidate. This is not about my political views, it’s about my personal opinion as someone who clearly spends too much time and energy worrying about design issues. More specifically, it’s about ‘Romney’ the logo – or more accurately, R omney:

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Two final thoughts from Monday night’s game

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God knows enough ink has been spilled over 8 seconds of football – my own post has now undergone three revisions in as many days – but since this is, like, my one opportunity to write about the Seahawks and expect someone to read it, here goes. I’ll keep ‘em quick, promise.

1. Ian Rapoport, on NFL.com:

Is there a better hardcore runner than Marshawn Lynch? [...] I’d have a hard time imagining someone who runs harder with less care for the hits he takes. That fourth-and-2 carry, where he kept his legs moving and essentially carried B.J. Raji on his back was just unreal [...] When scouting, I don’t know how you’d measure this. There’s no  category at the combine for ability to gain three key yards while carrying a 360-pounder on your back.

One of my favorite reactions to the final play of the game went something to the effect of, “Jennings might have caught the ball, but Tate caught Jennings AND the ball, which is much more difficult.”

Here, we have Marshawn Lynch carrying B.J. Raji AND the ball, which sounds even more impressive than Tate’s accomplishment – except that Lynch is actually used to putting the whole TEAM on his back, so what’s another 360 pounds do?

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I like to think this would not have happened at Penn

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From the front page of today’s Yale Daily News [see for yourself here, or if you don't like squinting, read on]:

What a tease! Though a key part of Yom Kippur is fasting, the menu in the residential dining halls includes a number of traditionally Israeli dishes, such as Matzoh Ball Soup…

I like to imagine the paper’s Israeli Jewish staff took the night off.

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[Post-publication edit to reflect that this totally would have happened at Penn.]

Monday night’s game is not why the lockout had to end

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As of last night, I had no intention of commenting on the call. But after a good night’s sleep, I decided to weigh in, for the sake of sanity – mine, and everyone else’s.

It seems that much of the outrage has been directed at the Lingerie Football League referees, and at the NFL owners who hired them. The opinion hardly varies whether you’re asking a professional mainstream journalist, a sports journalist, or a sports fan:

This is the first time that the outcome of a game was so clearly decided — and decided wrongly — by replacement referees.

- Cindy Boren, for The Washington Post

In a photograph that will live in infamy, one official ruled the play a touchdown and the other a touchback. Neither looked as if he wanted to make the call.

The NFL got what it deserved Monday night.

- Ken Seifert, for ESPN

We really need the refs back because now it has cost us a game and that shouldn’t be happening.

- Green Bay resident Seth Wagnitz, to the Green Bay Press Gazette

Even I got into it:

And while that anger is understandable, after conducting an official review, I believe it is misguided.

The referees’ call raises two distinct questions. The first is as follows: was it correct by any objective, reality-based standard?

Now – like the replacement referees – I’m no expert on the rules of the NFL, so I’ll accept the concensus view that the call was incorrect: Jennings pick for the touchback, game over.

That assumption brings us to the second question: Why did the referees rule incorrectly? Was it simply because they are incompetent b00bs n00bs? Or are they simply susceptible to the same human error as the rest of us – and more importantly, as the NFL’s everyday nonreplacement referees?

I think it’s hard to argue that the regular referees would have gotten this call right.

The NFL is a game of inches. Things happen quickly, and it’s up to the referees to catch the action as it happens. But that’s not always possible. Sometimes a play is so impossibly complex that demanding accuracy on the first try is unrealistic. That’s why the NFL has instant replay,* and that’s why official review is now mandatory on scoring plays.

If I recall correctly, six players went up for the ball. At least two appeared to come down with it to some degree. Watching from home, could you tell exactly what happened? Answer this one honestly: Before ESPN showed the instant replay? Could anyone in the stadium? I had two family members sitting on the sidelines last night. Within moments, they were texting me – sitting in my apartment in New Haven – to ask what had happened.

To ask what the replays showed.

Obviously, the spectators have no responsibility to accurately call the game. They don’t sit close enough to the action. That’s what the referees are for. But referees are human too, and they have to make a call based on the best information available to them at the time. And if the referees – the everyday referees – could get every call right on their first try, there would be no need for official review.

Could the referees have put themselves in better position? Absolutely. But considering how many different angles of replay it took to settle the question conclusively [here's one you might not have seen], it’s hard to fault them for being out of position to accurately call the play. And remember, the official officials get this wrong all. the. time.

Seifert got it exactly right (above), “Neither [referee] looked as if he wanted to make the call.”

Neither one could definitively conclude whether Jennings or Tate caught the ball, whether it was ‘simultaneous catch’ or an interception. So they went through the checkdown of information that was actually available to them.

And here’s what they saw: the ball was caught. Period.

In a last-second fourth-down Hail Mary, the defender’s goal is clear: swat away the ball. Don’t get an interception. Just knock it down. Out of bounds, if possible. So if Jennings had complete control, why did the ball come down in somebody’s – anybody’s – arms? Without a perfect view of the action, it’s certainly reasonable to conclude that Tate had a sufficiently strong claim to the ball to deserve the ‘simultaneous catch’ ruling he got.

No doubt the refs also raced through other possibilities. We can’t know. What we do know is that they both hesitated, guessed, and in doing so, punted the call up to the review booth. Maybe you call that incompetence. I call that what they’re supposed to do.

To the booth! [Editor's note: Feel free to say this again in a week*]. When viewed in slow motion, it seems clear that Jennings got the interception. But the officials didn’t overturn the call. Total incompetence! End the lockout!

*This is a Succot joke.

Just one problem: As made clear in the NFL’s official statement, the official reviewers are not replacement referees. They were never locked out, but retained as “the NFL’s safety net” for just these circumstances. Bringing back the locked-out referees solves nothing:

Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.

Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.

Chalk this up to incompetence, chalk this up to a cover-up, chalk this up to whatever or whomever you want – just not the replacement refs. The ruling was botched not because the referees made some egregious, unforgiveable error, but because the reviewing officials – the exact same officials who will be in the booth Thursday night, when the refs are back – didn’t see enough evidence on replay to overturn the call.

You might note that the NFL statement did acknowledge that Golden Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference. But the statement also clearly says that that ruling was simply not up for review:

While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.

If you want to blame anyone, try the NFL rules that allow the review of some elements of objective reality but not others.

That said, there’s no real argument that this instance deserves to be the exception, that the Seahawks should play the rest of their season with an asterisk indicating that they ‘should have’ lost, and that the play should haunt them all the way to iy”h the Superbowl.

I mean, I understand the argument on an instinctual level. Much of the uproar over Monday’s outcome was not just because the refs got the call so egregiously wrong, but because the play went down with zero seconds on the clock. The ruling’s outcome seems so clear-cut:

Interception? 12-7.

Touchdown? 13/14-12.

One little change, and hand the Packers the win they deserve. Do it, Goodell.

Not so simple. Regulation is 60 minutes. This controversial play lasted just eight seconds. During the other 59 minutes and 52 seconds, the referees got any number of plays wrong – plays that undoubtedly affected the outcome of the game. Some calls went the Seahawks way. Some calls went the Packers way. Yes, most of those blown calls are on the replacement refs.

But these are the same refs who have been calling every game for the past three weeks – this game should be counted like any other. Choosing to overturn the final play on Monday and handing a win to the Packers simply because it happened as the clock wound down is the definition of arbitrary.

At the end of the day, the replacement refs needed to go – but Monday night’s game shouldn’t have changed anything.

And besides, give the non-Lingerie League referees one week back on the field. I promise, you’ll forget how awful the replacements were and go back to hating on the regular ones.

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*And that’s why MLB should expand instant replay.

Mitt Romney’s physical raises exactly as many questions as it answers

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Mitt Romney went in for a physical last month, and received from his doctor – good news for anyone who still thinks he might win – a clean bill of health:

“He has shown the ability to be engaged in multiple, varied, simultaneous activities requiring complex mental, social, emotional, and leadership skills. He is a vigorous man who takes excellent care of his personal physical health.”

Romney’s resting heart rate is 40, and he’s 6 feet 1.5 inches tall, 184 pounds. He is allergic to penicillin and takes aspirin and the cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor daily.

“He has reserves of strength, energy, and stamina that provide him with the ability to meet unexpected demands. There are no physical impairments that should interfere with his rigorous and demanding political career as the next President of the United States,” the doctor wrote.

I’m a little skeptical of any doctor who comes across a resting heart rate of 40 and doesn’t immediately prescribe a 24-hour heart monitor. But even if we accept at face value the findings of Randall Gaz, the candidate’s physician since 1989, his report raises another very important question: Romney’s health might check out, but does his birth certificate? [Editor's note: key phrase in bold below.]

“His most recent physical examination on 8/9/12 revealed a healthy appearing, energetic, strong, physically fit male. He appears years younger than his age.

We’ve certainly heard no shortage of questions about Obama’s birth certificate – some from Romney himself, who bragged at a rally in Michigan last month:

“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

Well, Mr. Romney, let me be the first: You claim to have been born on March 12, 1947. But your personal doctor recently released a statement claiming you are, in fact, ‘years younger’ than indicated by the official records. As a 65-year old, you are now eligible for Social Security, and more importantly, for the America the Beautiful National Parks $10 Lifetime pass.

For all we know, you could be committing National Parks fraud at this very moment. And as we both know, there’s only one way to settle this uncertainty: Mr. Romney, hand over your birth certificate! (Long-form, please.)

Also, your tax returns.

Could Steve Jobs have saved Apple from itself?

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It didn’t take long after his death for the world to arrive at a consensus: Steve Jobs was no Saint. As chronicled in the New York Times, articles to that effect began to appear within 18 hours of his death:

Gawker: Steve Jobs Was Not God

Occupy Wall Street: Was Steve Jobs a Good Man, or an Evil Corporate CEO and Wall Street Shill?

Forbes: Steve Jobs Was a Jerk, You Shouldn’t Be

The Atlantic: In Praise of Bad Steve

You get the idea.

But with last week’s release of the iPhone 5, come a series of complaints – ranging from the replacement of Google with Apple maps, to supply shortagesAfrican-American emoji shortages, to the fact that they can (yes, can) connect to the internet – and an all-too-predictable wave of Jobstalgia:

Without Steve Jobs, Apple Is Without A Map

iPhone 5: Is Apple missing Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs better career role model than Obama: Survey

Is Apple lost without Steve Jobs?

Even the New York Times couldn’t resist getting on it, with a piece by Joe Nocera, Has Apple Peaked?:

If Steve Jobs were still alive, would the new map application on the iPhone 5 be such an unmitigated disaster? Interesting question, isn’t it?

As Apple’s chief executive, Jobs was a perfectionist. He had no tolerance for corner-cutting or mediocre products. The last time Apple released a truly substandard product — MobileMe, in 2008 — Jobs gathered the team into an auditorium, berated them mercilessly and then got rid of the team leader in front of everybody…

In rolling out a new operating system for the iPhone 5, Apple replaced Google’s map application — the mapping gold standard — with its own, vastly inferior, application, which has infuriated its customers. With maps now such a critical feature of smartphones, it seems to be an inexplicable mistake.

And maybe that’s all it is — a mistake, soon to be fixed. But it is just as likely to turn out to be the canary in the coal mine. Though Apple will remain a highly profitable company for years to come, I would be surprised if it ever gives us another product as transformative as the iPhone or the iPad.

Part of the reason is obvious: Jobs isn’t there anymore.

The thesis is surely reasonable. Getting rid of Google maps seems to have backfired on Apple. But would a healthy and hearty Steve Jobs have been of any help?

Given Jobs’ dying wish – to destroy Google – Apple’s decision to drop that company’s products seems perfectly in line with his directive. And once you move away from Google Maps, there are no good answers. In a timely piece from The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal describes Google’s virtually-insurmountable edge in the field of Geographic Information Systems:

This is a task of a nearly unimaginable scale. This is not something you can put together with a few dozen smart engineers.

I came away convinced that the geographic data Google has assembled is not likely to be matched by any other company. The secret to this success isn’t, as you might expect, Google’s facility with data, but rather its willingness to commit humans to combining and cleaning data about the physical world. Google’s map offerings build in the human intelligence on the front end, and that’s what allows its computers to tell you the best route from San Francisco to Boston.

Sure, Apple has 63,000 employees – but given Google’s massive headstart, along with the natural gravity inherent in owning the world’s most heavily-used (and therefore data-generating) GIS system, creating a product on par with Google maps will take solutions Steve Jobs would have been hard-pressed to genius up. Sure, Apple might have held off on disengaging from Google, but that would hardly qualify as progress.

My favorite part of the whole situation is the laughable premise that Apple has never experienced roll-out problems like this with Steve on the bridge. Guys, it’s the iPhone 5; has everyone already forgotten about the iPhone 4? I know it was two whole years ago, but let me jog your memory:

iPhone 4 Loses Reception When You Hold It By The Antenna Band?

The Best Semi-Solutions for iPhone 4 Reception Problems So Far

And, of course, the Steve Jobs solution:

Steve Jobs solves iPhone 4 reception problems: ‘don’t hold it that way’

That flaw in the phone’s design seems like a much more serious engineering obstacle than the basic software decision of which maps ought to be baked into iOS 6. If you downloaded the operating system in 15 minutes, Apple can push you an upgrade in the same amount of time.

So my advice to any disappointed iPhone 5 buyers out there: don’t lose too much sleep over it. And please, please stop dreaming about the second coming of Steve Jobs.

What the Oregon Trail means for conservation in America

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A recent survey that asked 12 environmental NGOs to rank the three environmentally-friendliest presidents declared Barack Obama the 4th-greenest in American history.

Leaving aside that his only first-place vote was awarded by Rebuild the Dream – founded by former Obama adviser Van Jones – what exactly has the current administration done to earn Obama’s 90th percentile-designation? Well, I’m not here to talk about his overall environmental record. Instead, this post will focus on one very narrow issue: the conservation of land.

You may not have noticed, but the 2010 discovery of a “secret” Interior Department memo* proposing 14 sites as potential locations for National Monument designation caused a minor ruckus. The possibility that any of them might be designated for further protection under the American Antiquities Act drew widespread opposition from such diverse groups as Republican Congressmen from Utah, the American Motorcyclist Association, and the largest collection of welfare queens in the country – otherwise known as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

*It turned out the memo wasn’t actually secret, but it’s easier to get people riled up about something when you claim it was meant to be kept secret

The opposition worked – to a degree. On Friday, Obama declared only his third National Monument. Along with Fort Ord in California and Fort Monroe in Virginia, none of the three Obama has designated have been drawn from the original list of 14 sites, possibly – and this is speculation – because of bitter opposition three years ago.

Indeed, it’s likely that Friday’s listing was possible only because it received bipartisan support:

The designation – celebrated at the site Friday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet – comes as Obama and Republican Mitt Romney intensify their battle for the presidential vote in Colorado, considered a swing state. Romney returns to Colorado on Sunday to campaign.

Yet both Democrats and Republicans – including Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents southwest Colorado – had worked for years to create the monument in the San Juan National Forest west of Pagosa Springs.

So how exactly did Friday’s listing get support from both political parties?

It could be that the new monument was already protected as a National Landmark, that it sits in 5,000 acres of ungrazeable high desert, or that a recent study found designation could double its regional economic impact to $2.4 million by 2017, but I prefer to avoid these cynical evaluations. Instead, I have my own theory for why this place was designated a national monument:

Does the site, perchance, look somewhat familiar? It should:

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