Saturday, August 29, 2015

How Americans actually feel about stronger gun laws

The Washington Post reports How Americans actually feel about stronger gun laws "Background checks for all gun sales, not just those sold in stores, are supported by 85 percent of respondents, Pew’s poll found. Laws meant to stop mentally ill people from buying guns have support from 79 percent, while 70 percent support a federal database tracking gun sales. A fourth proposal — banning assault-style firearms — is supported by a majority of Americans (57 percent), but the margin is slimmer."

Friday, August 28, 2015

GOP Experiments in Tax Cuts and Immigration

The Kansas City Star describes Kansas jobs plummet in latest disaster for Sam Brownback’s tax-cut strategy.

The Sunflower State now has 1,700 fewer jobs than it did at the start of 2015.

Kansas has added a puny 5,600 total jobs in the last year — from July 2014 to July 2015.

The new information shows that the tax cuts that have drained the Kansas treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars the past two years are not working to attract employers and jobs.

Meanwhile, Missouri celebrated much better news in the latest BLS report. The Show-Me State gained 11,900 jobs in July, and now has added 30,900 for 2015.

Kansas lost 39,000 manufacturing jobs during the recession but has added just 4,000 since it ended.

David Atkins points out in Sam Brownback’s Kansas Disaster is Getting Even Worse, "But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about empathy and ethics. It’s about what works and what doesn’t. And every day in every way, we are learning that conservative approaches simply don’t work—not in terms of social policy, and certainly not in terms of economic policy."

And then with, Conservative Policies Just Don’t Work: Immigration Edition.

He pointed to this Washington Post story, Alabama tried a Donald Trump-style immigration law. It failed in a big way.

Alabama, which hosted the largest rally of Trump’s presidential campaign Friday night, had been a test kitchen for Trump-style crackdowns on undocumented workers — and it had not gone well.

In 2011, a new Republican legislature and governor enacted HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Chief sponsor Micky Hammon warned the undocumented population that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Renting a house or giving a job to an “illegal” became a crime. Police were empowered to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looked as if he or she might lack it. School administrators were instructed to do the same to children.

Asked about the law, Alabama voters rarely say that it worked. Large farms spent millions training new workers. The Byrds conceded that the agriculture sector suffered after some immigrants fled the state. “Most of them left and didn’t come back,” said Terry Darring-Rogers, who works at a Mobile law firm specializing in immigration.

So Atkins concludes:

Some people will never learn, no matter how much self-inflicted failure they endure. When Josh Duggar and countless similar self-righteous conservatives are exposed as cheating molesters, it doesn’t cause conservatives to question whether their belief system might be causing those problems. They just double down. When abstinence education causes more teen pregnancy than responsible sex education, conservatives double down on the slut shaming. When tax cuts on the rich and wage cuts to government workers lead to economic recession, Republicans don’t question their core economic beliefs; they just claim they weren’t allowed to go far enough.

That inability to come to grips with failure and adjust course, and that insistence on doubling down in the face of adverse results, is part of why many consider modern conservatism to be an almost cultic movement. Its adherents long since stopped caring about the evidence or empirical results. It’s all about who can prove truest to the faith, and maximally annoy and rebel against the evil liberal heathens. Policies and results are really beside the point.

Update: Here's a bonus one, Peter Beinart writes in September's Atlantic, Republicans Don't Understand the Lessons of the Iraq War

Today, hawkishness is the hottest thing on the American right. With the exception of Rand Paul, the GOP presidential contenders are vying to take the most aggressive stance against Iran and the Islamic State, or ISIS. The most celebrated freshman Republican senator is Tom Cotton, who gained fame with a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that the United States might not abide by a nuclear deal. According to recent polls, GOP voters now see national security as more important than either cultural issues or the economy. More than three-quarters of Republicans want American ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq, and a plurality says that stopping Iran’s nuclear program requires an immediate military strike.

What explains the change? Above all, it’s the legend of the surge. The legend goes something like this: By sending more troops to Iraq in 2007, George W. Bush finally won the Iraq War. Then Barack Obama, by withdrawing U.S. troops, lost it. Because of Obama’s troop withdrawal, and his general refusal to exercise American power, Iraq collapsed, ISIS rose, and the Middle East fell apart. “We had it won, thanks to the surge,” Senator John McCain declared last September. “The problems we face in Iraq today,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal argued in May, “I don’t think were because of President Bush’s strength, but rather have come about because of President Obama’s weakness.”

He describes some of the history, the extra troops, the emphasis on to protecting civilians rather than fighting, the shifts in Sunni/Shia balances and the bribes to get Sunnis to stop fighting. This all led to a real decline in the violence which Republicans today remember.

But they forget something crucial. The surge was not intended merely to reduce violence. Reducing violence was a means to a larger goal: political reconciliation. Only when Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government would the country be safe from civil war. As a senior administration official told journalists the day Bush announced the surge, “The purpose of all this is to get the violence in Baghdad down, get control of the situation and the sectarian violence, because now, without it, the reconciliation that everybody knows in the long term is the key to getting security in the country—the reconciliation will not happen.”

But although the violence went down, the reconciliation never occurred. According to the legend of the surge, Iraq’s collapse stems from Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops at the end of 2011. “If we’d had a residual force of 10,000 to 12,000,” Senator Lindsey Graham said last year, “I am totally convinced there would not have been a rise of al-Qaeda.” In reality, the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, began persecuting the Sunnis—thus laying the groundwork for their embrace of ISIS—long before American troops departed the country. As early as 2007, writes Emma Sky, who advised both Petraeus and his successor, General Ray Odierno, “the U.S. military was frustrated by what they viewed as the schemes of Maliki and his inner circle to actively sabotage our efforts to draw Sunnis out of the insurgency.”

The problem with the legend of the surge is that it reproduces the very hubris that led America into Iraq in the first place. In 2003, the Bush administration believed it could shatter the Iraqi state and then quickly and cheaply construct a new one that was stable, liberal, democratic, and loyal to the United States. By 2006, many conservatives had realized that was a fantasy. They had massively overestimated America’s wisdom and power, and so they began groping for a new approach to the world. But then, in 2007 and 2008, through a series of bold innovations, the United States military bribed, cajoled, and bludgeoned Iraqis into multiple cease-fires. The Iraqi state was still broken; its new ruling elite showed little of the political magnanimity necessary to reconstruct it in an inclusive fashion. And the Band-Aids that Petraeus and his troops had courageously affixed began peeling off almost immediately. Nonetheless, Republicans today say the Iraq War was won, and would have remained won, had the U.S. left 10,000 troops in the country after 2011.

But this line of thinking is troubling nonetheless, because the same wild overestimation of American power that fueled the war in Iraq now fuels the right’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran. To hear hawks tell it, the United States can scuttle the current deal, intensify sanctions, threaten war, and—presto—Tehran will capitulate. But Iranians have been living under the threat of attacks from America or Israel for more than a decade now. And British and German diplomats have warned that if the U.S. Congress torpedoes the agreement, sanctions pressure on Iran will go not up but down, as countries that have lost billions by limiting their trade with Tehran stop doing so.

Carly Fiorina did a 4-minute riff on climate change. Everything she said was wrong.

A week ago Vox showed that Carly Fiorina did a 4-minute riff on climate change. Everything she said was wrong. It's a pretty entertaining and enlightening refutation.

Who Do Polls Say Will Win the GOP Nomination? Check Back in November.

Patrick Ruffini wrote on Medium, Who Do Polls Say Will Win the GOP Nomination? Check Back in November. He goes through the 2004, 2008 and 2012 races and concludes:

"In no case did the eventual Republican or Democratic nominee exhibit strong momentum in the spring and summer the year before the election. In most cases, they lost support, and were either written off completely or had serious doubts raised about their ability to win. Candidates who appeared strong early in the process (Dean, Clark, Giuliani, Fred Thompson) only began losing support in the late fall or winter.

Crucially, the nominees’ turnarounds came as little as 30 days before the first nominating contests, and even then, these gains could have appeared uncertain and fleeting. But their gains in December were predictive of victories in January and February. Their numbers before November and December? Not as much."

Tech nerds are smart. But they can't seem to get their heads around politics

David Roberts wrote in Vox Tech nerds are smart. But they can't seem to get their heads around politics. I thought it would be about tech companies lobbying efforts but it's more about misunderstandings about the polarization of the parties.

He also pointed me at Wait But Why which seems like something I should have heard of previously.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Scientists Successfully Turn Human Cancer Cells Back to Normal in Process That Could ‘Switch Off’ Disease

This sounds promising, U.S. scientists successfully turn human cancer cells back to normal in process that could ‘switch off’ disease

"The scientists discovered that the glue which holds cells together is regulated by biological microprocessors called microRNAs. When everything is working normally, the microRNAs instruct the cells to stop dividing when they have replicated sufficiently. They do this by triggering production of a protein called PLEKHA7 which breaks the cell bonds. But in cancer that process does not work.

Scientists discovered they could switch on cancer in cells by removing the microRNAs from cells and preventing them from producing the protein. And, crucially, they found that they could reverse the process, switching the brakes back on and stopping cancer."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chart of the Day: Here's Why the Recovery Has Been So Weak

Kevin Drum posts the Chart of the Day: Here's Why the Recovery Has Been So Weak "Instead of responding to a historically bad recession with a historically strong stimulus, we responded with the weakest stimulus ever. Government spending is now more than 25 percentage points lower than normal. If you want to know why the recovery has been so feeble and unsteady, this is it. Republican presidential candidates, please take note."

NewImage

Bonus chart to dispute the GOP notions that we need to spend more on defense and that our navy has fewer ships than anytime since 1915.

NewImage

The image seems to be from 2013. The counts for 2015 are only a little different.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

2153 Nuclear Weapons Have Exploded On Earth

Kottke wrote: "2153! I had no idea there had been that much testing. According to Wikipedia, the number is 2119 tests, with most of those coming from the US (1032) and the USSR (727). The largest device ever detonated was Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb set off in the atmosphere above an island in the Barents Sea in 1961. Tsar Bomba had more than three times the yield of the largest bomb tested by the US. The result was spectacular."

Orbital Mechanics made this:

14 Police Officers Take Down A One-Legged Homeless Black Man

Here's an article on Medium, I watched 14 police officers take down a one-legged homeless Black man outside Twitter HQ.

I recorded the incident August 4th 2015 during the lunch hour. It involves a Black man who was taken down by police in the mid-Market area of San Francisco, between 7th and 8th streets. Though the takedown didn’t occur directly outside of the Twitter building on 9th street, I began to see outlines of the incident unfold from there; a limping Black figure, wearing black, increasingly cornered by a wall of blue. By the time I had crossed 8th street, I was pulling out my phone as fast as I could.

Witnesses said there had been a call about somebody waving sticks around. No one, at least no one that I stayed long enough after the filming, could say for sure where the call came from. One woman said that she heard someone say that one of the deli managers called. By the time I arrived where Joe Bland was (as we’ll call him), several officers had arrived on the scene, and forced this man to the ground, which is where this footage begins. And they held him down, much of the time half-naked, for at least half an hour on one of San Francisco’s busiest streets.

The sticks? They were his crutches. You can hear people in the background around say so much. From my vantage point on the shore of 8th street, I could see the man reluctantly hand over his crutches. The man, it turned out, only had one leg; the other was a prosthetic. It is often twisted and backwards in the video. And this was the crux of the heightened tension between the police and Joe Bland; they wanted his crutches and he did not want to give them away. “What are you doing this for?” he asked so many times. “These are my crutches. I use these to walk.” He repeats this throughout the footage. An officer can be seen at the 5 second time-mark stomping on the man’s prosthetic leg. In further efforts to subdue a man already on the ground with four people on top of him, they stood on his leg, held it, and twisted it around even after they had cuffed him and pinned him to the piss-stained concrete.

Even when restrained and clearly unable to walk, several officers continued to hold him down to the ground.

It does seem pretty ridiculous. I'm not sure why they're arresting him, they might have a good reason (he could be drunk or high) but I don't understand the tactics. Sure the police have to ensure their own safety, but it should be the case that only a minute or two into this incident they should have realized that he had no weapons (I'm assuming but from the video there's no indication of any) and isn't a flight risk (he's got a prosthetic leg and they had taken the crutches he was using to walk). At the end of the video (which is just a portion of the incident) they sit him up, with his hands tied behind his back, why couldn't they have done that 10 minutes prior? I'm guessing if they had, they would have needed 10 or so officers surrounding the other officers to perform crowd control.

Also I learned recently that if you report a car accident and call the police that it's San Francisco Police policy to not send any officers unless someone is injured. They claim they don't have the man power. Given the above where it takes 14 of them to arrest a man on crutches I can understand why that is.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ages of Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates

Democracy in Action's P2016 site charts the Ages of Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates on Inauguration Day Jan. 2017 "Ages of Declared and Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017."

Cute little chart. I knew Rubio was young. I didn't realize that Jindal was slightly younger and Cruz was only slightly older. I didn't realize Rick Perry was 65 or that Trump was 70; both look good for their age.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Realise Minas Tirith

Realise Minas Tirith is a $3 Billion Indiegogo project to build, for real, at full scale, the city of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings in southern England. They realize this is "a light-hearted venture with virtually no chance of succeeding" but they've put some thought into it.

  • In order to realise this amazing dream, we have calculcated our required budget to be in the region of £1.85bn. The vast majority of this expense will cover building costs - £15m for land, £188m for labour and £1.4bn for material. The remainder of the money will be invested in maintenance and public services until the year 2053.
  • We aim to commence work on Minas Tirith by the end of 2016, and complete the project by the end of 2023.

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Big Picture has lots of shots of the Perseid meteor shower.

‘Sesame Street’ to Air First on HBO for Next 5 Seasons

The NY Times reports ‘Sesame Street’ to Air First on HBO for Next 5 Seasons

The next five seasons of Sesame Street will air on HBO first and then after 9 months on PBS. They'll up their season from 18 to 35 episodes.

"Sesame’s partnership with HBO comes at a critical time for the children’s television group. Historically, less than 10 percent of the funding for ‘Sesame Street’ episodes came from PBS, with the rest financed through licensing revenue, such as DVD sales. Sesame’s business has struggled in recent years because of the rapid rise of streaming and on-demand viewing and the sharp decline in licensing income. About two-thirds of children now watch ‘Sesame Street’ on demand and do not tune in to PBS to watch the show."

When Republicans wanted to kill funding for PBS the cry was to "save Sesame Street". As a few suggested then, Sesame Street wasn't really in danger, someone would come to their rescue. Other programs will have a much harder time. But between this and the Deadwood announcement I can't think of two more distant kinds of programs to be on the same network.

Deadwood movie: HBO confirms preliminary talks about the project

EW reports Deadwood movie: HBO confirms preliminary talks about the project .This is great news. If you're a Deadwood fan, the comments on this article are pretty fun to read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Eulogy for Objective-C

A Eulogy for Objective-C

With the birth of Swift, we face the passing of Objective-C. To mark this historic moment, long-time Objective-C developer and trainer Aaron Hillegass delivers an impassioned eulogy for a language he knew well.

Deploying the standard tropes of the genre, we learn about the life of the deceased, we celebrate their finer qualities, and we reflect on how their influence continues to live on, in the minds and work of those who knew them. From Simula, Smalltalk, and Xerox PARC, to NeXTSTEP, OpenStep, and Objective-C 2.0, it’s a narrative rich in anecdotes and achievement. But as we ready our farewells, a twist. Could it be that the reports of a passing have been, perhaps, a little exaggerated?

There's a half hour video and a complete transcript. It's a nice history of the language.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The hidden editing power of Photos for OS X

MacWorld has some nice tips on The hidden editing power of Photos for OS X.

Do You Trust Larry Page?

I've seen a bunch of thoughts on Google's new parent company Alphabet, but I've seen very little that I've found interesting. The best so far has been Ben Thompson's Do You Trust Larry Page?.

I also tend to agree with Kara Swisher. It's basically the same thing, with more CEO titles and it could have been done in other ways but what the hell, this is Google.

This map shows how red states increase inequality and blue states cut it

Vox says This map shows how red states increase inequality and blue states cut it "State and local taxes don't get covered as much as federal ones, but they're still very, very important. Indeed, a new study finds that they can have significant effects on income inequality. Fed researchers Daniel Cooper, Byron Lutz, and Michael Palumbo estimate how major state taxes — sales taxes, income taxes, and motor fuel taxes — have affected inequality from 1984 to 2011. The differences are striking: While in some states, like Oregon, state taxes cut inequality significantly, in many Southern states like Tennessee, they actually exacerbated it."

NewImage

War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever

Scientific American says War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever

"For Krepon, the debate over the definitions of space weapons and the saber-rattling between Russia, China and the U.S. is unhelpfully eclipsing the more pressing issue of debris. ‘Everyone is talking about purposeful, man-made objects dedicated to warfighting in space, and it’s like we are back in the Cold War,’ Krepon says. ‘Meanwhile, there are about 20,000 weapons already up there in the form of debris. They’re not purposeful—they’re unguided. They’re not seeking out enemy satellites. They’re just whizzing around, doing what they do.’

The space environment, he says, must be protected as a global commons, similar to the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. Space junk is very easy to make and very hard to clean up, so international efforts should focus on preventing its creation. Beyond the threat of deliberate destruction, the risk of accidental collisions and debris strikes will continue to grow as more nations launch and operate more satellites without rigorous international accountability and oversight. And as the chance of accidents increases, so too does the possibility of their being misinterpreted as deliberate, hostile actions in the high-tension cloak-and-dagger military struggle in space."

Lessig Exploring Presidential Run

Lawrence Lessig announced on his blog:

So I've launched the exploratory committee for a run to be a "referendum president." I'd serve only as long as it took to pass fundamental reform -- the Citizen Equality Act of 2017 -- and then I'd resign. Here's the video explaining the launch (5:55m) and the video explaining the idea (2:51m).

The Huffington Post wrote about this:

Lessig, a Harvard law professor, will be a distinctly unconventional White House aspirant. In an interview, he said he will run on a singular platform: the Citizen Equality Act, which includes campaign finance reform, an end to partisan gerrymandering, and a vast expansion of voting access that would make Election Day a national holiday. Should he win and lead the passage of that agenda, Lessig said he'll promptly quit, handing the office to his vice president, whoever that may be.

Evidently, to get some air time he should insult Mexicans and women, particularly Megan Kelly (and Rosie O'Donnell).

Friday, August 07, 2015

Donald Trump had the best policy idea of anyone in last night's debate

Matthew Yglesias claims Donald Trump had the best policy idea of anyone in last night's debate. He makes a reasonable case and teaches me a term I didn't know (in this context at least) "path dependency".

Single-payer health-care systems are ones in which the government acts as the insurance company for everyone. That's how Medicare works in the United States, and it's how the Canadian health-care system (conveniently also called Medicare) works for everyone, not just senior citizens.

'It works in Canada,' said Trump, and 'it works incredibly well in Scotland.' He even went so far as to say that 'it could have worked in a different age' in the United States but is not currently suited to our problems.

What Trump is talking about here is path dependency, and it's a reasonable point. It's one thing to set up a National Health Service in the wake of World War II. It's another thing entirely to come 75 years later and completely upend a system that is working pretty well for most people and that enormous institutions have made deep investments in. It's easy to dismiss this message when coming from Trump, but Atul Gawande has written brilliantly about path dependency in health-care reform and my colleague Sarah Kliff's masterful profile of Vermont's failed effort to build a single-payer system further underscores the concerns about path dependency.

It did sound reasonable to me during the debate that health insurance companies should be able to sell nation-wide and not just state-wide. (I think McCain proposed something similar in one of his runs for president). I was thinking about just the size of the market (or pool as insurers like to say) and Trump brought it up from his position as an interstate company trying to simplify bids. If there had been more time and if others could question him, it would lead to an interesting debate. Here he's saying that insurance should be nation-wide or federal. The standard GOP line is that virtually everything should move from the federal level to state level. An interesting question would be "What kinds of policies are better at the federal than state level and why?" Then if I were really dreaming they could argue about what the General Welfare clause means.

Yglesias' list of the other policies candidates mentioned last night is pretty hilarious.

GOP Debate

I watched some of the early debate and all of the evening debate last night. I mostly agree with Matthew Yglesias at Vox, The first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election, explained. I think Christie did a really good job at looking reasonable. Instead of Hulk Christie we got Puny Banner Christie. Kasich did impress me the most, but I guess (according to Ygelisias) that's because I'm a liberal. I've seen remarkably little about Huckabee, Carson, and Cruz. I wasn't impressed by any of them so maybe it's just as well.

There wasn't a lot of content and what there was I thought was weak and often wrong. People talked about needing a stronger economy but the renamed flat tax proposals didn't do anything for me. Huckabee thinks we can solve the national debt with a consumption tax. Fine, but he ignored the regressive aspects of it and even said it will be "paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.” Christie wants to raise the retirement age (but slowly) and cap benefits (though the idea of not getting social security if you're earning $200,000 in retirement doesn't sound so bad to me, I don't think there are many people earning that much in retirement).

Overall, I found the experience tiring. The few entertaining zingers didn't make up for listening to these people for two hours. The fact that there were so many of them stage meant there was little back-and-forth and only a few questions that went to more than one person and none to all of them after the opening one which was obviously a setup to go after Trump. Trump got the most time and it was just 10.5 minutes. Paul got the least at under 5. Newsweek has the tally and it seems the candidates spoke for just 68 total minutes. If that's all you can get then having more than 3 or 4 candidates is a real waste.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Jon Stewart and ‘The Daily Show’: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at 9 Essential Moments

The New York Times wrote Jon Stewart and ‘The Daily Show’: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at 9 Essential Moments "‘The Daily Show’ began in 1996 as a snarky chat show parody hosted by Craig Kilborn. But after Jon Stewart took the chair in 1999, the show began to transform into something more substantial: a nightly comic dissection of current events, politics and the media. As Mr. Stewart’s tenure comes to a close, ‘Daily Show’ writers, producers and guests look back on key moments from the host’s 16-year run, and reflect upon his legacy."