The winners and the losers

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Postal carrier Sommer Miller attempts to deliver a letter on her route in Piqua, Ohio on February 6, 2013. Miller has been employed by the United States Postal Service for 12 years.

Mike Ullery, MikeUllery/Piqua Daily Call

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Winner: If you think your commute is tough every day, take heart. It could be much worse. A new study by the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute ranked U.S. metro areas according to traffic congestion. Salt Lake City came in 84th. The average commuter here spends 30 hours sitting in traffic per year, burning 13 gallons of gas. You may find all of this hard to believe if you were stuck recently trying to maneuver around an accident on I-15, but the figures are based on averages that include more than just rush hour. And while you're contemplating how good you have it, think how bad the air would be during inversions if the traffic wasn't so light.

Loser: Social Security is "fraying because of inattention to its problems." That was the sobering message this week from Michael J. Astrue, who ended his term as Social Security commissioner. He said politicians are using the entitlement as "a tool of political rhetoric," rather than honestly seeking answers to the agency's looming fiscal problems. There is nothing new in all this. Social Security's long-term trajectory toward insolvency has been well-reported. Retiring baby boomers are putting a strain on existing workers to support their benefits. Astrue's comments, made in an interview with the Associated Press, were another in a line of similar warnings over the years. Meanwhile, there is no sign anyone on Capitol Hill or the White House is listening.

Winner: How powerful are thoughts? Well, you may not realize it, but they control everything you do. The trick has been finding ways to harness this power artificially. That makes the breakthrough at the University Pittsburgh School of Medicine, reported this month, particularly noteworthy. Researchers were able to place an electrode atop a paralyzed man's brain that allowed him to move a robotic arm with his thoughts. The technology was able to interpret thoughts in a computer algorithm that then could be translated into movement. For patients with paralysis and amputees, this is exciting news. For those who just want a device with which to read others' thoughts, the long wait continues.

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