Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Caesar Augustus Died 2000 Years Ago

Timothy B. Lee is covering an anniversary today I didn't know about. Caesar Augustus died 2000 years ago. Here's why he was one of history's greatest leaders. "Today marks the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus on August 19, 14 AD. Augustus was Rome's first emperor and one of the most accomplished leaders in world history. He made possible the Pax Romana, a 200-year period of relative peace and prosperity that allowed the Roman empire to have a profound and lasting influence on the culture of the Europe."

I guess that the switch to the Gregorian Calendar means it wasn't really 2000 years ago today.

And here are 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire.

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson

Matt Yglesias wrote Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson.

"Above you'll see a picture of Scott Olson, the Getty photographer who's brought us many of the most striking images of protests and police crackdown that followed the shooting of Michael Brown.

The other two men in the photograph, despite presumably being police officers, are not identifiable at this time. Unlike normal police officers, they are not wearing name tags or badges with visible numbers on them. When police arrested the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, they weren't wearing badges or nametags either. Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it's appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there's really no room for disagreement about when it's reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There's only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions."

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Newman Chronicles

A 2008 Vanity Fair piece, The Newman Chronicles about Paul Newman. Lots of interesting and unexpected stories. For example,

"This past year, at one of the usual meetings of parents and children at the original [Hole in the Wall Gang Camp], Newman showed up; crowds pressed close. The mother of one little girl spoke to Ray Lamontagne, the head of the camp’s board. Her daughter wanted to tell Paul Newman something, but she couldn’t get over to him because she was in a wheelchair. Lamontagne fought his way through the crowd and brought Newman back to the little girl, and he knelt down by her wheelchair. ‘For the first time in my life I have a friend,’ the little girl told him. ‘I’ve never had a friend before, because I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life, so kids avoided me. So thank you, Mr. Newman, for this camp.’ Newman had tears in his eyes."

The Future of Publishing

Lane Diamond makes a lot of good points in The Future of Publishing – One Man’s Perspective

American and British Police Compared

I saw a tweet to this article with a fact I found astounding, "Last year, the British police in total fired their weapons fewer times than Darren Wilson did on August 9th."

The full Economist article, Armed police: Trigger happy, is behind a paywall (though I think you can get free access to three articles per month). It has a few more details and puts the statistic into a little more context. Here's the relevant parts:

"The shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, is a reminder that civilians—innocent or guilty—are far more likely to be shot by police in America than in any other rich country. In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were ‘justifiably’ killed by police—409 with guns. "

"Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans."

"The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50."

"In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police culture and a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers. Unless America can either reduce its colossal gun ownership rates or fix its deep social problems, shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—seem sure to continue."

2014 Hugo Award Winners

Here are the 2014 Hugo Award Winners. I've seen Gravity and Game of Thrones and I've read xkcd's Time but nothing else.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film

"Is there a better way of showing a text message in a film? How about the internet? Even though we’re well into the digital age, film is still ineffective at depicting the world we live in. Maybe the solution lies not in content, but in form."

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

More on Ferguson

Zeynep Tufekci wrote What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson. She saw Ferguson all over her Twitter feed that night but she didn't see coverage elsewhere (particularly on Facebook) until the next day.

But I’m not quite sure that without the neutral side of the Internet—the livestreams whose ‘packets’ were fast as commercial, corporate and moneyed speech that travels on our networks, Twitter feeds which are not determined by an opaque corporate algorithms but my own choices,—we’d be having this conversation.

So, I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country.

But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

Here's another odd way Twitter played a role in this. How social media freed reporters Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly from Ferguson police

"Had Lowery been able to follow through on his impulse to tweet first and call later, he might have been released by police even more quickly. As it was, it hardly took any time for the news to reach The Post, and for the journalists to be released. Equally noteworthy was how the newsroom first found out — not through a phone call, or a fax, or even an e-mail, but by watching the Twitter feeds of other journalists and noting Lowery's and Reilly's absence from those feeds. It's safe to say that how this unfolded would've looked completely different 10 years ago."

Greg Howard writes America Is Not For Black People

Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It's to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown's life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It's to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun's rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children's toys. Guns aren't for black people, either.

Max Ehrenfreund complied A list of potentially unconstitutional things that police in Ferguson are doing

  1. The mayor asked protesters to be respectful and to go home at night.
  2. Police have asked citizens not to record their activities.
  3. Police are deploying tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
  4. Area law enforcement consistently arrest and search black people more frequently than whites.

David Simon wrote about the police chief failing to name the shoot (for so long) in The endgame for American civic responsibly in three parts: Part I, Part II and Part III

But the cost to our society is not abstract — and the currency in which that cost is paid is trust. Your department has shown that you do not trust the public with the basic information about who specifically has, in the performance of his or her duties, been required to take a human life in Ferguson. And that same public is now in the street demonstrating that they do not believe that Ferguson law enforcement can therefore be relied upon for anything remotely resembling justice. How could it be otherwise?

If you cannot see the contempt inherent in your policy, then you, sir, may need to reconsider both your own role and the premise of law enforcement in a democratic society. You may need to yield your position to someone who retains the basic notion that your officers, armed with the extraordinary authority of using state-sanctioned lethal force on fellow citizens, are equally burdened by a responsibility for standing by their actions in full. You, your department, and the prosecutors in your jurisdiction are now running from that responsibility. In doing so, you lose the trust and respect of your citizens, your state and the nation.

I know that you wish to claim that the individual officer, if identified, would be somehow vulnerable. But this is dishonest and dishonorable, sir. Having covered a police department in a jurisdiction even more troubled than your suburban community, I am well aware of the resources available to your department to protect one of its own against retribution. Your officers are the ones with legal authority. They are all armed. And they can maintain a presence anywhere in your jurisdiction. Moreover, they have, if necessary, the support of your county’s prosecutors and judiciary, and all of the law itself to ensure the safety of a solitary officer. They are, as police in Baltimore were accustomed to saying, the biggest, toughest gang out there — so much so that the claim of violent retribution against this officer is embarrassing hyperbole.

He doesn't hold back in the end:

The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of secrecy, while asking the public at large to risk all in open court, is not mere hypocrisy. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of your professional role and your basic integrity. Your actions, sir, stand not merely in support of your rank-and-file, or in defiance of a mob; that’s how you wish to be seen, and likely, it is how many will view you within the cloistered culture of the roll-call room. But to the greater public that you serve, your decision is, again, void of all honor or courage. You have done your uniform, your department and your city a great disservice. Some reflection and a change in policy is required before anyone in Ferguson, Missouri can be assured that you, Chief Jackson, actually remain in service of law and order in your city.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Obamacare could make filing taxes a nightmare

How Obamacare could make filing taxes a nightmare:

Individuals and families who bought subsidized coverage have been receiving tax credits based on whatever amount they thought they would earn this year. Upon filing taxes, the IRS will reconcile the amount of subsidy received, based on expected income, with the person's actual income.

(Via Vox - All)

Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles

NASA reports Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles

"Seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles that date to the beginnings of the solar system are among the samples collected by scientists who have been studying the payload from NASA's Stardust spacecraft since its return to Earth in 2006. If confirmed, these particles would be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust."

"The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake."

Half of the US

In February I posted this:

A year ago Business Insider posted this map: Half Of The United States Lives In These Counties

Map of us 50 percent

Really makes me wonder about how fair that Red/Blue split is.

Secular stagnation: Facts, causes, and cures – a new Vox eBook

Secular stagnation: Facts, causes, and cures – a new Vox eBook

Six years after the Crisis and the recovery is still anaemic despite years of zero interest rates. Is ‘secular stagnation’ to blame? This column introduces an eBook that gathers the views of leading economists including Summers, Krugman, Gordon, Blanchard, Koo, Eichengreen, Caballero, Glaeser, and a dozen others. It is too early to tell whether secular stagnation is really secular, but if it is, current policy tools will be obsolete. Policymakers should start thinking about potential solutions.

Economic growth is still anaemic despite years of zero interest rates.

  • Is ‘secular stagnation’ to blame? What does secular stagnation really mean? And if it’s for real, what must be done?

Today, VoxEU.org launches an eBook that gathers the views of leading economists including Summers, Krugman, Gordon, Blanchard, Koo, Eichengreen, Caballero, Glaeser and a dozen others (edited by Coen Teulings and me). Collectively, the chapters suggest that something historic is afoot.

Humans Need Not Apply

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Last some crazy things happened in Ferguson, MO.

In Ferguson, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery gives account of his arrest.

Here's Video of Ferguson police gassing news crew and dismantling their equipment.

Matthew Yglesias says Enough is enough in Ferguson. "The local authorities clearly have no idea what they're doing, and higher powers from the state or federal government need to intervene before things get even worse."

"But it is clear at this point that local officials in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County don't know what they are doing. Of course people will not be calm while police officers charged with protecting them trample their rights."

Tervor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation writes, Lessons from Ferguson: Police Militarization is Now a Press Freedom Issue. "The situation in Ferguson, Missouri—where four days ago the police killed an unarmed teenager—took another disturbing turn yesterday as cops decked out in riot gear arrested and assaulted two reporters covering the protests, Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, as they were sitting in a McDonald’s, quietly charging their phones. The arrests were undoubtedly a gross violation of the reporters' First Amendment rights, and both the attempts to stop them from filming and their assault by police officers were downright illegal. But there’s another issue at play here, an issue which has led to the environment in which cops think they can get away with these acts: the militarization of local police."

Ryan Cooper in The Week explains, The fiasco in Ferguson shows why you don't give military equipment to cops. "While the Army Field Manual focuses on de-escalation, communication with protestors, and a minimum level of violence, the cops in Ferguson have been applying the opposite."

"Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan needed armored vehicles like MRAPs, since they were constantly in danger of being blown up or shot. The police in Ferguson, by contrast, are not facing insurgents armed with RPGs, IEDs, automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and suicide vests. They're facing unarmed civilians in their own country, give or take a few looters. When heavy military equipment is taken from its original context and placed in the hands of a domestic law enforcement agency with little training in wartime scenarios, it becomes nothing more than an instrument of intimidation. It simply has no other purpose. Wearing jungle camouflage in an urban setting, pointing guns at civilians, driving around pointlessly in an armored personnel carrier — all of these egregiously violate military best practices. This is playing soldier dress-up to scare the pants off the locals — except the guns are real."

The Washington Post writes, Military veterans see deeply flawed police response in Ferguson

“You see the police are standing online with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at peoples chests,” said Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst. “That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.”

“We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn’t wear that much gear,” said Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department. Dykstra specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor the officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as “Deltoid” armor.

“I can’t think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited,” Fritz said. “I don’t see it as a viable tactic in any scenario.”

“Officers were calling the protesters ‘animals,’ ” King said. “I can’t imagine a military unit would do that in any scenario.”

Glenn Greenwald provides his rant on the topic, The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson.

Matt Apuzzo explains in the NY Times how War Gear Flows to Police Departments. Dara Lind in Vox follows up with Why the feds are putting grenade launchers in the hands of local cops

Sarah Kliff points out, Tear gas is banned in international warfare — and in use in Ferguson, MO. "Tear gas is a chemical weapon that the Geneva Convention bans from use in international warfare. In the Ferguson, Mo. riots, police have used it repeatedly to disperse ongoing riots."

I keep reading how the press isn't really covering this well but even film site Badass Digest managed to comment on it, What BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Had To Say About Ferguson. And of course BSG nailed it:


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

xkcd: Worst Hurricane

Sometimes xkcd comes up with ideas and images that are obvious, informative and interesting and that I've never seen before. Worst Hurricane "What's the Worst Hurricane anyone in your town remembers?"


Polaroid Cube

I didn't know Polaroid was still in business, now they're releasing the Polaroid Cube "Introducing the Polaroid Cube lifestyle action camera—water resistant, shockproof, mountable and built to handle everything you can imagine. Packed with fun including 1080p HD video, 6MP photo, 124° wide angle lens, and built in battery that records up to 90 minutes." It's only 35mm cubed. Available for pre-order now for just $100.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stanford's Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal

Stanford's Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal "Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Stanford, has been awarded the 2014 Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the prize, widely regarded as the 'Nobel Prize of mathematics,' since it was established in 1936."

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me

Mat Honan wrote in Wired, I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. Most of it wasn't that interesting. He flooded his feed with lots of junk and he flooded his friends' feeds with lots of junk (your friend Mat liked...). In the end, liking everything means liking nothing, shocker. But I did find these two bits interesting:

"My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages. Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com."

"I was also struck by how different my feeds were on mobile and the desktop, even when viewed at the same time. By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile, my feed was almost completely devoid of human content. I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads. Yet on the desktop—while it’s still mostly branded content—I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out. Weird."

Robin Williams

Salon has clips of 13 amazing Robin Williams moments we’ll never forget. Most are short, but one is the hour and half Weapons of Self Destruction show.

Here's Robin guest starring on Who's Line Is It Anyway.

Update: Here's Marc Maron on Remembering Robin Williams. It's mostly a 1 hour interview with him from 2010 and it's the most personal I've ever heard Williams.

Best Of MetaFilter has a number of stories Remembering Robin Williams

Here's a reddit AMA he did last year.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Amazon v. Hachette

Christopher Wright argues, Amazon v. Hachette: Everyone Is Wrong But Me "This is a horrible fight. No matter who wins we’re probably screwed. Hachette isn’t the hero, and Amazon isn’t the hero either."

Photos Of Apple's Jony Ive's Home

Business Insider Takes a Look Inside Apple Genius Jony Ive's $17 Million San Francisco Mansion. Very nice place. Based on the photos he doesn't own a TV.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

Matthew Yglesias makes the case that Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

"In Ukraine, for example, Obama has not opted for the path of maximum punishment for Russia. He has opted instead for the path of punishing Russia as hard as possible at minimum cost to the United States. Russians are paying a higher price for the conflict than are Europeans, and Americans are paying a lower price still. Putin hasn't had a change of heart, but Ukrainian forces are steadily advancing on rebel-held territory and Russia is becoming more and more of a pariah. Steady gains at minimal cost don't make for great speeches, but they do put American influence on a sustainable basis."

"Israel is more secure than ever. Not just beneath its Iron Dome but because Hamas has been cut off from Iranian patronage, and Hezbollah is too busy fighting the Assad regime's enemies in Syria to open a northern front against the Jewish State. The Syrian civil war itself is a humanitarian disaster. But in a war between a vicious government and a rebel cause full of its own vicious jihadis, a brutal stalemate that sucks up resources is an acceptable outcome for the United States. The damage of the war, though real, has little direct impact on America and the costs of attempting to dive in and resolve the situation would have been prohibitive."

"In the Persian Gulf, key US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are perfectly secure from external aggression, pumping oil in peace even as the progress of solar power and fracking reduces our long-term dependence on these questionable regimes."

"The Kurdistan regional government is friendly to the United States, is viewed as legitimate by the Kurdish population, and has demonstrated considerable fighting skill in the past. A relatively small amount of American military assistance should be able to secure their continued autonomy, a useful and humane objective that is achievable at low cost. For the Iraqi government to entirely reconquer its lost Sunni hinterland, by contrast, would be considerably more difficult. It is also not entirely clear what the point would be, in terms of concrete American interests. It's far from obvious that a strong unitary Iraqi state is in the interests of the United States or reflects the desire of the Iraqi people."

"As in Syria, stalemate between Sunni-held and Shiite-held territories could be ugly — but an acceptable form of ugly. Don't expect to hear it in a Rose Garden speech, but the main oil fields are down south near Basra in firmly government-held territory."

"Meanwhile, democracy marches on. The Arab Spring has mostly been a disappointment, but the new regime in Tunisia is real enough. Indonesia is poised for its first peaceful, orderly, transition of power to an opposition presidential candidate. China is friendless in East Asia. 'We'll do what we can, when we can do something useful on the cheap' doesn't quite have the glorious ring of JFK's vow to 'pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.' But it does have the advantage of being a sustainable, sensible approach to 21st century world affairs."

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Top 10 Movie Fight Scenes

This is a good list and I've added Kill Zone S.P.L. to my Netflix (dvd) queue.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Mysterious Siberian Crater Attributed to Methane

Nature reports Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane "A mystery crater spotted in the frozen Yamal peninsula in Siberia earlier this month was probably caused by methane released as permafrost thawed, researchers in Russia say."

See also, First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world'

The Washington Post adds a little context, Scientists may have cracked the giant Siberian crater mystery — and the news isn’t good "Some scientists contend the thawing of such terrain, rife with centuries of carbon, would release incredible amounts of methane gas and affect global temperatures. “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of [methane gas] on climate change is over 20 times greater than [carbon dioxide] over a 100-year period,” reported the Environmental Protection Agency."

This computer program can predict 7 out of 10 Supreme Court decisions

This computer program can predict 7 out of 10 Supreme Court decisions "The process seems extremely complicated, but Bommarito and Blackman note that you can still draw conclusions about the way the court behaves from it. For one thing, Bommarito notes that ideological variables seem to make a major difference, which seems to refute the naive view that the Court is somehow above politics. 'If there were an argument ongoing between political scientists and lawyers as to what mattered, as to whether judges are really independent judicial reasoning machines on high, or whether they're just political animals like anyone else, then in terms of the features that the model uses to successfully predict, it appears they're just political animals,' he concludes."