Friday, November 21, 2014

82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea

Libby Nelson in Vox says 82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea. She says using public money to make loans more affordable will just mean more money to schools which are already charging too much. She'd rather the public money be spend better, such as on Pell grants which go to needier students or on incentives to states to spend their money on public colleges. These kind of trade offs sound good to me, but they're also the area of economics I never do well in.

Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics

Kevin Drum thinks Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics. He makes some good points.

Republican leaders are not only fearful of next year's primaries branding the GOP forever as a bunch of xenophobic maniacs, they're afraid it's going to wipe out any chance they have over the next two years of demonstrating to voters that they're a party of adults. Here's the LA Times:

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president's healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they've tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don't want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it's quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it's likely to turn next year's primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand. And that's not even counting the energizing effect this has on Democrats, as well as the benefit they get from keeping a promise to Hispanics and earning their loyalty for the next few election cycles.

He thinks the downside is minimal because GOP leaders weren't going to work with Obama on anything significant (including appointments) and for anything they were willing to work on, Democrats don't want anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong. I don't view it as a failure, this was supposed to be an experiment, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference this time around. I found this to be an informative discussion...

"It was supposed to be the super PAC to end all super PACs. The brainchild of Harvard professor Larry Lessig, Mayday PAC aimed to get money out of politics by wielding it against candidates who didn't support campaign finance reform. After amassing $10 million in a matter of weeks, Mayday started pouring it into congressional races around the country.

But the ambitious plot didn't pan out. Rather than send a wave of pro-reform politicians to Congress, Mayday was rewarded with mostly defeats. Now it's back to the drawing board. Two weeks out from Election Day, Mayday ally Ben Wikler explains what went wrong (and what went right). Wikler, a staffer at MoveOn.org and a friend of Lessig's who helped Mayday gain steam on his left-leaning podcast, 'The Good Fight,' sat down with me Wednesday at Fusion's Washington conference for social change."

Update: See also, The Learned Helplessness of the American Voter.

RIP Mike Nichols

I believe I've seen all of his films but two: What Planet Are You From? (2000) and The Fortune(1975).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Cosby Show

Ta-Nehisi Coates' first big article was on Bill Cosby. Now The Atlantic he writes The Cosby Show, "I don't have many writing regrets. But this is one of them. I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away."

"Lacking physical evidence, adjudicating rape accusations is a murky business for journalists. But believing Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person's word over another—it requires you take one person's word over 15 others.

At the time I wrote the piece, it was 13 peoples’ word—and I believed them. Put differently, I believed that Bill Cosby was a rapist.

Rape constitutes the loss of your body, which is all you are, to someone else. I have never been raped. But I have, several times as a child, been punched/stomped/kicked/bumrushed while walking home from school, and thus lost my body. The worst part for me was not the experience, but the humiliation of being unable to protect my body, which is all I am, from predators. Even now as I sketch this out for you publicly, I am humiliated all again. And this happened when I was a child. If recounting a physical assault causes me humiliation, how might recounting a sexual assault feel? And what would cause me to willingly stand up and relive that humiliation before a national audience? And why would I fake my way through such a thing? Cosby's accusers—who have no hope of criminal charges, nor civil damages—are courting the scrutiny of Cosby-lovers and rape-deniers. To what end?

The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn't just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history."

Kickstarter: Lunar Mission One

I find this remarkable. LUNAR MISSION ONE: A new lunar mission for everyone. by Lunar Missions Ltd — Kickstarter "Now is your chance to participate in this global project from the start, by pledging a donation at this early stage and helping us to move the project into the next phase of development."

Seriously. They're trying to fund a 10 year robotic mission to the moon, ON KICKSTARTER! For only $940,000! And they're already a third of the way there. Amazing.

Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow Talk Buckaroo Banzai

"The Film Society's new bi-monthly series curated and hosted by award-winning filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) returns for a special NYFF edition with writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W. D. Richter's gonzo, Pynchon-esque cult favorite, starring the incomparable Peter Weller as Japanese-American particle physicist, neurosurgeon and all-around renaissance man Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. Fighting to save planet Earth from an invasion of interstellar aliens—unleashed from another dimension by the insane Dr. Emilio Lazardo (John Lithgow) and now posing as defense contractors—Banzai joins forces with a volunteer army and his wife's suicidal twin sister (Ellen Barkin), and the outlandish merriment begins. Just remember: no matter where you go, there you are. In person: Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow."

I'm going to have to rewatch it tonight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site

Freedom to Tinker describes Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site. Sounds like a great idea.

First Flight with the Wright Brothers

Last August In Focus covered the First Flight with the Wright Brothers "Yesterday was National Aviation Day, a holiday established by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate developments in aviation. The date selected was the birth date of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who, along with his older brother Wilbur, is credited with inventing and building the world's first practical fixed-wing aircraft and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight more than a hundred years ago. The Wright brothers documented much of their early progress in photographs made on glass negatives. Today, the Library of Congress holds many of these historic images, some of which are presented below. [18 photos]"

Wright 1

The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision

Last May, Professor Marci A. Hamilton wrote about The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision "When the Supreme Court releases a decision like the one it issued this week in Town of Greece v. Galloway, it is tempting to assume this area of the law is a mess. In fact, the doctrine is more solid than it first appears, even if its application is fact-intensive."

Terrorism in Sinai

The Middle East Institute created a Special Feature: Terrorism in Sinai "The recent escalation of terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has received widespread international attention, but is not a new phenomenon. MEI’s History of Terrorism in Sinai, which includes an interactive timeline and map, follows terrorist activity - by location, method, target, and associated group - in this geopolitical hotspot over the last decade.  Because of the nature of the security crisis in Sinai, this is not a comprehensive record, but a curated account of the most relevant attacks and events that have been reported to date."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Terraform: A New Home for Future Fiction

Vice's Motherboard has a new site publishing short science fiction. Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction.

"Meet Terraform: a new section of Motherboard, where we'll be publishing original speculative fiction every week. You'll find established voices here—the kinds of writers whose imaginations have already made a dent on the world—as well as emerging talents, bright new brains we love and can't wait to share. 

The aim is for Terraform to seize upon and play off of the zeitgeist; if drones are the news this week, we'll try to run our best piece on autonomous machines. If it's climate change that's making waves, perhaps we'll have fiction that takes place in the not-too-distant sweltering future. "

New York City unveils the pay phone of the future

The Washington Post reports New York City unveils the pay phone of the future—and it does a whole lot more than make phone calls "The city announced Monday that it had selected a consortium of advertising, technology and telecom companies to deploy throughout the city thousands of modern-day pay phones that will offer 24-hour, free gigabit WiFi connections, free calls to anywhere in the U.S., touch-screen displays with direct access to city services, maps and directions for tourists, and charging stations (for the cellphones you'd rather use). The devices will also be capable of connecting people straight to emergency responders, and broadcasting alerts from the city during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy."

The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

The Atlantic reports on The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

"The world is running out of chocolate. In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. And now, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut—two of the world's biggest manufacturers of chocolate goods—are warning that by 2020, that consumption-over-production number could increase to 1 million metric tons (a fourteen-fold bump)."

"So why can't the world's chocolate supply keep up with its chocolate demand? Part of the problem—besides the combination of drought and disease mentioned above—involves the cacao plants themselves. Chocolate trees take an exceptionally long time to yield fruit. That doesn't just make for slow production; it also means that genetically selecting for high-performance plants can be a challenge. 'A corn breeder,' Bloomberg points out, 'can raise three new generations of corn in a single year—three opportunities to select for desirable traits. A new cacao seedling, by comparison, won’t produce fruit for two years at the earliest, and it takes 10 years to reveal traits worth perpetuating.'"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Law in the Raw

Linda Greenhouse is not happy about the Supreme Court's latest Obamacare case, Law in the Raw "So this case is rich in almost every possible dimension. Its arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

Vox reports The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

"The US pledge: As part of the bargain, the US government has pledged to reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is a new and significant extension of the Obama administration's existing goal to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020.

The biggest question here is whether US policymakers will actually follow through on this pledge. The country's carbon-dioxide emissions are currently 10 percent below 2005 levels, but they've started to rise again of late. The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules to curb emissions from existing power plants, but that's unlikely to be enough to achieve a 28 percent cut. So where will additional policies come from? Note that Congress is deadlocked on climate, with many Republicans furious about this new deal.

The China pledge: For the first time ever, China has set a goal of having emissions stop growing by 'around' 2030 — and possibly earlier. China will also aim to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030. (China isn't reducing its emissions as quickly as the US; the logic is that this is fair since China is still poorer.)"

John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show

Matt Zoller Seitz in the Vulture says John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show. "Last Week is doing what media watchdogs (including the Peabody Awards) keep saying that The Daily Show does — practicing real journalism in comedy form — but it's doing it better, and in a simpler, yet more ambitious, ultimately more useful way. If Stewart's show is doing what might be called a reported feature, augmenting opinions with facts, Oliver's show is doing something closer to pure reporting, or what the era of web journalism calls an "explainer," often without a hook, or the barest wisp of a hook."

I agree though I think he failed to mention the main reason. The fact that his show is weekly, not daily, means he has more time to investigate an issue. Like actual journalism. It's the thing that Jon Stewart complains about cable news networks, they're on for 24 hours a day and they don't have time to cover anything in depth. Stewart has to crank out a half hour a day (well kind of since it's only on four days a week) and basically covers the days events. Oliver can pick something important that being lost to constant harping on the Ebola scare of the day or celebrity/athlete/politician embarrassment of the moment. So he can dive into net neutrality, drone strike rules, the death penalty, Iraqi translators, and we can all learn something while laughing. Stewart could do it too but does so only rarely (e.g., with vet benefits) and cable news channels could, but that would take money away from new holographic systems or something.

The PBS News Hour manages to take deep dives often and Bill Moyers can have a calm 20+ minute conversation with someone with something interesting to say, but I can't say I've found much else on TV that manages to do so.

Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home

The NY Times has amazing photos (from today and the last few months) of Comet 67P and the Philae lander, Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court

Richard L. Hasen writes in Slate, Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court: Did legislators redraw district lines to hurt Democrats or to disenfranchise black voters? "In the end, the Supreme Court has an impossible task in front of it: figuring out whether the Alabama Legislature’s predominant motive in redistricting was about race or about party. It was surely about both, and trying to pretend that packing black Democratic voters into districts is about just one or the other is a fool’s errand. But it is the task of the court under the rules it has set up for itself, and it could have real consequences for not just black Democrats in Alabama, but all Americans."

Tomorrow ESA's Philae Will Land on a Comet

Nature reports Landing on a comet: A guide to Rosetta’s perilous mission "Never before has a space mission put a lander on a comet. But the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to change that. Its Rosetta craft has been orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko since August and is set to release the washing-machine-sized lander, Philae, on 12 November. This would set in motion a nail-biting seven-hour fall designed to deliver Philae to a landing site called Agilkia on the comet’s surface. Philae is programmed to beam data and images back to Earth to help scientists to understand comets, including whether these conglomerations of ice, rock and dust supplied our planet with water and other building blocks of life when they smashed into it billions of years ago. Our step-by-step guide identifies the biggest obstacles to a successful landing — although even if the landing fails, it will go down as one of the most ambitious feats attempted in space."

They have nice infographics explaining the mission. The Planetary Society has a rundown of What to expect on landing day. What it all on ESA TV (touchdown is at 11am ET).

King v. Burwell: Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act.

Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick explain Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act. "In the end, SCOTUS may deal this blow to the ACA come spring. But we would caution against placing such an uncertain bet. If we learned anything from the 1.0 version of the Obamacare fight, it’s that judicial outcomes can be hard to predict, and that months of preemptive panicking don’t necessarily foretell the final result."

Pley: Netflix for Lego

Pley lets you rent Lego sets like Netflix does for movies. Clever idea given the cost of the sets I'd be interested in (Simpsons, Star Wars).

A Game of Thrones Family Tree

All Leather Must Be Boiled has posted a family tree of EVERY HOUSE in A Song of Iron and Fire combined by El-Daddy. It's a giant png and looks like it's a single tree though it's in a format that can be deceiving or at least a little hard to follow (look for Walder Frey for an example). Still it's very impressive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

iOS ‘Masque Attack’

Cult of Mac writes iOS ‘Masque Attack’ vulnerability could be more dangerous than WireLurker "To keep yourself protected from Masque Attack, iOS users should not install any apps unless they’re coming directly from the App Store. Do no click on ‘Install’ if a pop-up from a website appears on your iPhone, no matter what it says. And if you open an app and iOS displays an alert that it’s from an ‘Untrusted App Developer’ you should tap Don’t Trust and uninstall immediately."

So to be susceptible you have to install an app not from the app store. It's pretty easy to avoid that. Yes many naive users might be fooled (and many legitimate web sites pop open page or window asking if you want to install their app) but the App Store is so central to the iOS experience I think many people are scared if they aren't installing from the App Store.