June 2014 Archives

The Tea Party Illusion

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Is the tea party now in the mainstream?
Is the tea party just a fancy name for the Republican Party?
M-Perry explains how the rift between establishment Republicans and the tea party could just be an illusion.

Avoiding Mosquitoes

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All flying hypodermics need to go extinct.

Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People and Not Others

Why are some people so much more attractive to mosquitoes than others? And what can you do about the pesky little bloodsuckers, especially if you don't want to resort to DEET? (DEET, while effective, is also weakly neurotoxic in humans.)

To start, there are some 150 different species of mosquitoes in the United States, and they differ in biting persistence, habits, ability to transmit disease, and even flying ability.

Mosquitoes of the genus Culex are painful and persistent biters and they will gladly fly into your house to bite you. They bite at dusk and after dark, and they can spread West Nile virus. On the upside, however, they are not strong fliers and won't fly long distances from where they hatched. And, they'd prefer to bite a bird than a human. A common Culex species in the U.S. is C. pipiens, the Northern House mosquito.

Then there's the genus Aedes, which includes A. aegypti and A. albopictus, the Asian Tiger mosquito. The former is not a problem in the U.S.; the latter is. Both can transmit Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever. Aedes mosquitoes feed early in the morning as well as at dusk and into the evening. They might also bite you during the day if it's cloudy or if you wander into a shady place. Fortunately, they probably won't enter your house - but they do prefer biting mammals like humans over other animals, and they are very strong fliers.

One other notable genus of mosquitoes are Anopheles mosquitoes. They are the ones responsible for transmitting malaria. In the U.S., that mostly means A. quadrimaculatus, which lives in the central and eastern U.S., as far north as southern Canada.

But if we have Anopheles mosquitoes, then why don't we have malaria? The answer, in part, is due to climate. According to Andrew Githeko, a Kenyan scientist who studies malaria, malaria only occurs in places where the average temperature is above 18C (64.4F). Below that, the mosquito dies before the parasite matures, and this prevents transmission. In Kenya, he discovered malaria already moving into new areas as the climate warmed. Fortunately, malaria is not endemic to the U.S. as it is in Kenya. And if the U.S. lacks a base of humans and mosquitoes carrying the parasite, then that prevents the spread of the disease.

These different genera and species not only differ in the ways listed above; they also differ slightly in what attracts them to hosts they wish to bite. Mosquitoes use carbon dioxide, heat, moisture, scent, and even vision to locate hosts. When they are sniffing us out, they hone in on a large number of chemicals. A 2000 study identified 346 chemicals from human hand odors, of which 277 were potential mosquito attractants.

The most significant chemicals mosquitoes use to locate us and bite us include l-lactic acid, ammonia, carboxylic acids, and octenol, in combination with one another. In experiments, scientists found that adding l-lactic acid to the scent of an unattractive person made them more attractive to Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and vice versa. Additionally, the presence of carbon dioxide makes A. aegypti mosquitoes more sensitive to human skin odors.

A 1999 study found that malarial mosquitoes were not attracted to fresh human sweat, but found attractive after it was incubated for one or two days. During the two days, bacteria in the sweat multiplied and the pH changed from acidic to alkaline, signifying a decomposition of sweat components into ammonia. The study also notes that malarial mosquitoes flock to the scent of limburger cheese, which resembles human foot odor. Githeko confirms that, indeed, malarial mosquitoes are attracted to chemicals produced by bacteria on one's feet, and they will even bite a pair of smelly socks if you hang them up after wearing them for a few days.

Needleless Insulin Therapy

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FDA Approves Inhalable Form of Insulin

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a long-delayed inhalable diabetes medication to help patients control their blood sugar levels. The FDA cleared MannKind Corp.'s drug Afrezza, a fast-acting form of insulin, for adults with the most common form of diabetes that affects more than 25 million Americans.

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either does not make enough insulin to break down the sugar in foods or uses insulin inefficiently. It can lead to blindness, strokes, heart disease or death. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, the body does not use insulin properly. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In those cases, the body does not produce insulin. Afrezza, an insulin powder, comes in a single-use cartridge and is designed to be inhaled at the start of a meal or within 20 minutes of starting.


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Lord of the Ring

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Take four minutes from dreary headlines to marvel at the gymnastics of street performer Isaac Hou and the capacity of the human body to thrill and inspire.

Giant Vulva Traps Man

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Sure, I guess most men would want to walk inside.
He's just lucky it was not a case of vagina dentata.

American Student Ends Up Trapped in Giant Vagina Sculpture

MAINZ, Germany -- Call it a stimulating study-abroad experience. An American exchange student sparked an "extraordinary rescue mission" when his leg became trapped inside a giant vagina sculpture. "It was a dare," fire department squad leader Markus Mozer told NBC News. "The young man had tried to pose for an unusual photo and climbed into the artwork."


A total of 22 rescue workers with special equipment were deployed to the scene in the southern Germany city of Tuebingen on Friday to free the 20-year-old but a "forceps delivery was not necessary," local newspaper Schwaebisches Tagblatt noted. "We were able to pull the victim out with our bare hands after about 30 minutes," Mozer added. The six-foot replica of female genitalia was installed 13 years ago outside the microbiology and virology department of the city's university clinic. It is worth nearly $200,000.

While armchair warriors in Washington cry "back to Iraq," former combat veteran and military historian Andrew Bacevich says no way.

Cheney of Fools

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Can people really be as bubbled and stupid as Liz and Dick?

Cheneys shock with lack of self-awareness

Rachel Maddow reviews the recent history of failed Liz Cheney political endeavors and marvels at Dick Cheney's apparently lack of awareness of his lack of credibility in offering foreign policy advice, particularly on dealing with matters in Iraq.

Iraq conflict impacts clean energy conversation

Escalating tensions in Iraq dramatically impacted oil prices across the U.S., bringing the clean energy debate to the surface. Ed Schultz and former Governor Brian Schweitzer, D-Mt., discuss.

The new Iraq situation has to be viewed through lens of the conflict between the two major divisions within Islam. Essentially it is a recapitualtion of an ancient political power struggle between the two sects.

I have gotten to the point of thinking that the US should not involve itself at all and should let the two sides work it out even if that means a blood bath.
The Origins Of The Shiite-Sunni Split

LISTEN to NPR Program


by Mike Shuster

It's not known precisely how many of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are Shiites. The Shiites are a minority, making up between 10 percent and 15 percent of the Muslim population -- certainly fewer than 250 million, all told.

The Shiites are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon. But there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia and Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well.

Although the origins of the Sunni-Shiite split were violent, over the centuries Shiites and Sunnis lived peacefully together for long periods of time.

But that appears to be giving way to a new period of spreading conflict in the Middle East between Shiites and Sunnis.

"There is definitely an emerging struggle between Sunni and Shia to define not only the pattern of local politics, but also the relationship between the Islamic world and the West," says Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University, author of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran.

That struggle is playing out now in Iraq, but it is a struggle that could spread to many Arab nations in the Middle East and to Iran, which is Persian.

One other factor about the Shiites bears mentioning. "Shiites constitute 80 percent of the native population of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region," notes Yitzhak Nakash, author of The Shi'is of Iraq.

Shiites predominate where there is oil in Iran, in Iraq and in the oil-rich areas of eastern Saudi Arabia as well.

The Partisans Of Ali

The original split between Sunnis and Shiites occurred soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in the year 632.

"There was a dispute in the community of Muslims in present-day Saudi Arabia over the question of succession," says Augustus Norton, author of Hezbollah: A Short History. "That is to say, who is the rightful successor to the prophet?"

Most of the Prophet Muhammad's followers wanted the community of Muslims to determine who would succeed him. A smaller group thought that someone from his family should take up his mantle. They favored Ali, who was married to Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah.

"Shia believed that leadership should stay within the family of the prophet," notes Gregory Gause, professor of Middle East politics at the University of Vermont. "And thus they were the partisans of Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. Sunnis believed that leadership should fall to the person who was deemed by the elite of the community to be best able to lead the community. And it was fundamentally that political division that began the Sunni-Shia split."

The Sunnis prevailed and chose a successor to be the first caliph.

Eventually, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph, but not before violent conflict broke out. Two of the earliest caliphs were murdered. War erupted when Ali became caliph, and he too was killed in fighting in the year 661 near the town of Kufa, now in present-day Iraq.

The violence and war split the small community of Muslims into two branches that would never reunite.

The war continued with Ali's son, Hussein, leading the Shiites. "Hussein rejected the rule of the caliph at the time," says Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival. "He stood up to the caliph's very large army on the battlefield. He and 72 members of his family and companions fought against a very large Arab army of the caliph. They were all massacred."

Hussein was decapitated and his head carried in tribute to the Sunni caliph in Damascus. His body was left on the battlefield at Karbala. Later it was buried there.

It is the symbolism of Hussein's death that holds so much spiritual power for Shiites.

"An innocent spiritual figure is in many ways martyred by a far more powerful, unjust force," Nasr says. "He becomes the crystallizing force around which a faith takes form and takes inspiration."

Too cool.

Thumbs Up! HitchBOT the Robot Plans to Hitchhike Across Canada

By James Eng

Sure, your parents warned you never to pick up hitchhikers, but can you really resist giving a ride to a cute, fun-loving robot?

HitchBOT, a talking robot about the size of a 6-year-old child, plans to hitchhike across Canada this summer, all by its lonesome self. It will start its coast-to-coast journey on July 27 from the side of the road near The Institute for Applied Creativity at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Counting solely on the kindness of human strangers one ride at a time, HitchBOT hopes to reach the Open Space Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia, 3,870 miles (6,228 kilometers) away.

It's a project -- part collaborative art, part scientific research -- dreamed up by David Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University; and Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

HitchBOT is a simple-looking bot on the outside. It's being assembled from what Smith characterizes as parts scooped up from a yard sale, including a beer cooler bucket, copper tubing, foam pool noodles, garden gloves, a tripod, rubber boots and a cake saver. The bot's torso and hat will be wrapped in flexible solar panels, and it can also be charged up with a cigarette lighter or house current (if it winds up at a party). About Its only moving part will be a motorized hitchhiking right arm controlled by a motion-detection signal.

On the inside, HitchBOT will have high-tech circuitry, 3G/GPS connectivity and vision and speech capabilities, allowing it to chat up strangers (it's got a Wikipedia knowledge base).

"Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way,"

You can follow HitchBOT's travels on its website and on Twitter and Instagram.

Cantor's Death by Cycle

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Eric Cantor and 'The Certainty of Conservative Sellout'

Salon columnist Thomas Frank explains House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising loss to a tea party primary challenger last week as "part of a long-running and basically unchanging Republican melodrama. ...An eternal populist revolt against leaders who never produce and problems that never get solved."

cantor.jpgTo put the trend in focus, Frank cites "Young Guns," a book Cantor published in 2010 to explain the "drubbing [Cantor's] party took in the 2006 Congressional elections." Further back, in 1994, his party seized Congress by appealing to voters' idealism. Once in power, however, it "left these principles behind," Cantor wrote. His predecessors "became what they had campaigned against: arrogant and out of touch. There were important exceptions, but the GOP legislative agenda became primarily about Republican members themselves, not the greater cause," the congressman noted.

"We got what we had coming," Cantor lamented.

In view of the rejection by voters, Frank writes, "these passages seem highly ironic and more than a little bit prophetic."

"The clash of idealism and sellout are how conservatives always perceive their movement," he explains, "and what happened to Eric Cantor is a slightly more spectacular version of what often happens to GOP brass. That right-wing leaders are seduced by Washington, D.C., and that they will inevitably betray the market-minded rank-and-file, are fixed ideas in the Republican mind, certainties as definite as are its convictions that tax cuts will cure any economic problem and that liberals are soft on whoever the national enemy happens to be.

"And so the movement advances along its rightward course not directly but by a looping cycle of sincerity and sellout in which the radicals of yesterday always turn out to be the turncoats of today; off to the guillotine they are sent as some new and always more righteous generation rises up in their place."

The victor in Cantor's race, a college economics professor named David Brat, "simply called [Cantor] on this blatant reversal," railing against "crony capitalism" and its "flesh-and-blood representative," Frank writes. Quoting Brat: "All the investment banks up in New York and D.C., those guys should've gone to jail. ...Instead of going to jail, where'd they go? They went onto Eric's Rolodex."

Frank asks: "Why is it that Republicans are uniquely prone to this cycle of idealism and betrayal?" His answer is elegant and incisive. "Because free-market idealism is a philosophy that automatically leads to betrayal--and also to misgovernment, and cronyism, and even corruption, as we saw in the DeLay era. The movement's greatest idealists often turn out to be its greatest scoundrels--think of Jack Abramoff, or of Oliver North, or (as Rick Perlstein has pointed out) the gang of hard-right purists who signed up to do dirty tricks for Richard Nixon. In truth, there seems to be no real contradiction between conservative morality and following the money; to be a capitalist true-believer is to sell yourself."

Among the finishing strokes in his essay: "To be true to [the principle of free-market idealism] means respective incentives, answering the call of money." And quoting from his 2009 book, "The Wrecking Crew," politicians like Cantor "did not do these awful things because they were bad conservatives; they did them because they were good conservatives, because these unsavory deeds followed naturally from the core doctrines of the conservative tradition."

Danger Mouse :Two Against One

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Love this song

Make no mistake I don't do anything for free
I keep my enemies closer than my mirror ever gets to me
And if you think that there is shelter in this attitude
wait till you feel the warmth of my gratitude

I get the feeling that it's two against
I'm already fighting me so what's another one?
The mirror is a trigger and your mouth's a
Lucky for me I'm not the only one

And if it looks to me like you and your reflection
plan to add your own fire to this dimension.
then tell it that this is ain't no free for all to see
there's only three... Its just you and me against me

I get the feeling that it's two against
I'm already fighting me so what's another one?
The mirror is a trigger and your mouth's a
Lucky for me I'm not the only one
Lucky for me I'm not the only one

And if your foot soldiers, sycophants, and yes men
plan to break into the middle of this little plan
Then they should plan to hear me say,
that I won't play around the way, anyway,
I plan to plan around them

I get the feeling that it's two against
I'm already fighting me so what's another one?
The mirror is a trigger and your mouth's a
Lucky for me I'm not the only one
Lucky for me I'm not the only one

Turing Test Passed

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Happy Birthday Alan Turing -100 years old today

Eugene--the supercomputer first to beat the Turing Test

33 percent of human judges at the Royal Society of London were fooled during 5-min conversation

by Nathan Mattise

alan_turing.jpgEugene Goostman is a computer, not a young boy. But this weekend, according to The Independent, its AI fooled more than 30 percent of its genuinely human judges to think the opposite. So at an event held by the University of Reading at the famed Royal Society of London, Eugene appeared to become the first AI to officially pass the Turing Test, a long-time challenge based on tech pioneer Alan Turing's question and answer game, "Can Machines Think?".

"Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world," said Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at Coventry University, according to the event press release. "However this event involved more simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified, and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted. A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations. We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing's Test was passed for the first time on Saturday."

Eugene was one of five supercomputers tackling the challenge at this weekend's event, held precisely 60 years after Turing's death on June 7, 1954. It was designed by a team in Saint Petersburg, Russia, led by creator Vladimir Veselov (who was born in Russia and now lives in the US). An earlier version of Eugene is hosted online for anyone to interact with according to The Independent (though with interest understandably high right now, we've been unable to access it).

"Eugene was 'born' in 2001. Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," Veselov said according to the event press release. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality. This year we improved the 'dialog controller' which makes the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as 'conversation logic.'"

As CNET points out, there are sure to be questions about the results and complaints about Eugene's M.O. After all, a 13-year-old boy doesn't have to display the same level of knowledge and thought as a computer like Watson would need to in order to pass the Turing Test. But Eugene did not eek out its victory, rather it fooled 33 percent of all judges during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations. (Notable judges according to the press release included Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in the TV series Red Dwarf, and Lord Sharkey, who led the campaign for Turing's posthumous pardon in 2013.)

Kottke.org notes, if the results hold, Mr. Singularity himself Ray Kurzweil will be a happy man. That's because he placed the first Long Bet--a series of prediction competitions to benefit charity--against Lotus founder Mitchell Kapor that a computer would pass the Turing Test by 2029. If Kurzweil officially wins, $20,000 could go to the Kurzweil Foundation.

Where did all the crime go?

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Raise the Crime Rate

Christopher Glazek

Is it true that living in America has become riskier? In 2006, the political scientist Jacob Hacker published The Great Risk Shift, a progressive tract that appropriated the vocabulary of wealth management to show how thirty years of privatization and deregulation had abraded the security of the American family. Risks once borne by corporations and the government, Hacker noted, like unplanned health costs, are now the responsibility of Mom and Pop. Transferring risk from the collective to the individual, though, ends badly for everyone. Family affliction, like banker "contagion," is tricky to sequester: if Larry and Terry get bankrupted by bad luck, their misfortune cascades, dragging down creditors, neighbors, and especially their children. The reason liberals like insurance is that it helps diffuse risk throughout society. Pooling risk, one might say, is the essence of the progressive social contract.

Hacker focuses on hazards like cancer and credit exposure, but these are not the only perils we face. Every time we leave the house--and more often, actually, if we remain within it--we run the risk of getting stabbed, shot, raped, or robbed. But while financial risks have crested in recent decades, the risk of suffering personal violence has receded. According to government statistics, Americans are safer today than at any time in the last forty years. In 1990, there were 2,245 homicides in New York City. In 2010, there were 536, only 123 of which involved people who didn't already know each other. The fear, once common, that walking around city parks late at night could get you mugged or murdered has been relegated to grandmothers; random murders, with few exceptions, simply don't happen anymore.

When it comes to rape, the numbers look even better: from 1980 to 2005, the estimated number of sexual assaults in the US fell by 85 percent. Scholars attribute this stunning collapse to various factors, including advances in gender equality, the abortion of unwanted children, and the spread of internet pornography.

It shouldn't surprise us that the country was more dangerous in 1990, at the height of the crack epidemic, than in 2006, at the height of the real estate bubble. What's strange is that crime has continued to fall during the recession. On May 23, in what has become an annual ritual, the New York Times celebrated the latest such finding: in 2010, as America's army of unemployed grew to 14 million, violent crime fell for the fourth year in a row, sinking to a level not seen since the early '70s. This seemed odd. Crime and unemployment were supposed to rise in tandem--progressives have been harping on this point for centuries. Where had all the criminals gone?

Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country's prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America's propensity for anger and violence.

Crime has not fallen in the United States--it's been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country's crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie--but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

Islamophobia in Bloom

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I agree with Bowe...Americans can be disgusting in their xenophobias and pettiness..

Bowe Bergdahl's dad now in Fox crosshairs

The full scale attack on the released prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, and the president who freed him has now extended to the soldier's family.

hat tip to sis MO:

Mr. G and Jellybean

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The story of Mr. G and Jellybean

A rescued goat refused to eat until he was reunited with his best friend, a small donkey. Kim Sturla, Jeff McCracken, and the animal duo join Ari Melber

Sermonette #703

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Being helpful is better than fighting.

helpingsickchild.jpgSeleka fighters carry a sick child to her mother, at a village between Bambari and Grimari in the Central African Republic on Saturday.

TS Spivet Film

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The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

I am the better for having witnessed and felt this wonderful gem of a film. I watched the 2d version and cannot imagine how a 3d rendering would have made me feel any more emotionally satiated or spiritually elevated.

Everything about the wonderfully imaginative film, the score, the direction, the script, the acting and cinematography meshed perfectly to tell an exquisite and compassionate tale of discovery and unpredictable humanity.

As TS, lost in his own feelings, stares out a rainy car window comes his voice over summation of his cross country adventure: "The amazing thing about water drops is that they always take the path of least resistance...for humans it's exactly the opposite."

Simplicity and depth at every turn make this film a wonder in any dimension.

Give Homeless Housing

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It's 3x cheaper to give housing to the homeless than to keep them on the streets

Matthew Yglesias

A new study is out providing support to one of my favorite ideas in public policy -- that the best way to deal with the challenge of homelessness is to give homeless people homes to live in. To some it sounds utopian and it's natural to worry about the cost, but a great deal of evidence suggests that it would be cheaper to house the homeless than to let them languish on the streets and deal with the aftermath.

The latest is a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on "the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals -- largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks -- as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues."

By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.

The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a "housing first" approach to homelessness. And by and large it's worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That's a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.


But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.

When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don't need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don't even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem -- a lack of housing -- and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven't yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.

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