Monday, May 31, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

A New Subway Map for New York

The New York Times has a nice infographic A New Subway Map for New York with comparisons to previous NY subway maps.

The Worst of the Worst

With Guantanamo detainee review completed, political implications remain "About 10 percent of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when President Obama took office were 'leaders, operatives and facilitators involved in plots against the United States,' but the majority were low-level fighters, according to a previously undisclosed government report. About 5 percent of the detainees could not be categorized at all."

"The final report by the Guantanamo Review Task Force recommends that 126 of the detainees be either transferred home or to a third country; that 36 be prosecuted in either federal court or a military commission; and that 48 be held indefinitely under the laws of war. A group of 30 Yemenis was also approved for release if security conditions in their home country improved."

I'm so embarrassed by my government.

And then there's this New defeat for detainees.

Congress Misses Deadline For Fixing Medicare Doc Pay -- Again

NPR reports Congress Misses Deadline For Fixing Medicare Doc Pay -- Again "For the third time this year, Congress is going to miss a deadline to avert a 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. And for the third time this year, Medicare officials will, starting next Tuesday, hold off paying Medicare claims for as long as two weeks in hopes that by mid-June, Congress will pass the necessary legislation to eliminate the cut — which virtually no Republican or Democrat supports."


New Ebola Drug 100 Percent Effective In Monkeys

NPR reports New Ebola Drug 100 Percent Effective In Monkeys

"The drug that Geisbert's team devised, in collaboration with a British Columbia biotech company called Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, is a departure from other anti-Ebola measures. It contains snippets of RNA derived from three of the virus' seven genes. That 'payload' is packaged in protective packets of nucleic acid and fat molecules. These little stealth missiles attach to the Ebola virus' replication machinery, 'silencing' the genes from which they were derived. That prevents the virus from making more viruses."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brownian motion moves beyond Einstein's equations

ars reports Brownian motion moves beyond Einstein's equations "There are nuances to particle movement and energy at tiny scales that one of Einstein's equations did not capture, according to a paper published in Science this week. Researchers were able to measure the instantaneous velocity of a tiny glass bead undergoing Brownian motion, or making tiny random movements, and found that the particle was not always governed by the forces that Einstein predicted. Knowing how Brownian motion works at these short intervals may allow researchers to study these tiny particle systems for quantum effects."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gingrich Attacks And Defends Bank Bailouts In The Same Interview

Ben Armbruster points out in Think Progress, "So in the very same interview, Gingrich attacks the bailouts to play to the anti-government Tea Party crowd, but later justifies them to defend Bush."

What To Make Of The White House 'Job Offer' To Sestak

Ken Rudin writes in NPR What To Make Of The White House 'Job Offer' To Sestak.

I guess I don't understand the big deal. Part of offering an job from the administration is what position that person is giving up. When discussing Cabinet appointments it was a consideration what district a congressman or state a governor came from and for senators the part of the governor of the state since they might appoint a successor and that could change the balance in Congress. If someone is in a primary, isn't that just the same?

Even George Will on This Week didn't think it was an issue at all.

And yeah, this is completely different than the allegations against Rod Blagojevich who supposedly offered the senator position for money or other gain.

What does it even mean to say we'll give you this job if you drop out of an election? Offer the job and if they take it they drop out.

Now I read "Earlier today, according to ABC News' Jake Tapper, all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the matter. Their argument: that the job offer "would appear to violate federal criminal laws, including 18 U.S.C. 600, which prohibits promising a government position 'as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity' or 'in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office.'"

There is of course this problem that Peter Baker writes in the New York Times. "Even if the conversations were perfectly legal, as the White House claims, the situation challenges President Obama’s efforts to present himself as a reformer who will fix a town of dirty politics. And the refusal to even discuss what was discussed does not advance the White House’s well-worn claim to being “the most transparent” in history."

Synthetic Life? I Think Not

I still have to read the Economist story on "The First Artificial Organism and Its Consequences" but a knowledgeable friend pointed me at this rebuttal in The Atlantic, Synthetic Life? I Think Not.

Update: The full Economist article (the above is just an editorial) is better: Genesis redux

So Much For Real Financial Reform

I haven't read too much on the financial reform bill that's comprehensive, probably because the House and Senate versions need to be reconciled. But the economists I read seem to be down on it as not doing enough.

Robert Reich wrote Obama's Regulatory Brain. "The most important thing to know about the 1,500 page financial reform bill passed by the Senate last week — now on he way to being reconciled with the House bill — is that it’s regulatory. It does nothing to change the structure of Wall Street."

"First, although the Senate bill seeks to avoid the “too big to fail” problem by pushing failing banks into an “orderly” bankruptcy-type process, this regulatory approach isn’t enough. The Senate roundly rejected an amendment that would have broken up the biggest banks by imposing caps on the deposits they could hold and their capital assets."

"Another crucial provision left out of the Senate bill would be to change the structure of banking by resurrecting the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act and force banks to separate commercial banking (the classic function of connecting lenders to borrowers) from investment banking."

While I think reinstating Glass-Steagall would probably be a good thing, I haven't read anything that said repealing it was a contributing factor to the crisis and I've seen some things saying it was helpful because it allowed some financial firms to buy distressed firms that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to.

Still his overall point is: "The interesting question is why the president, who says he wants to get “tough” on banks, has also turned his back on changing the structure of American banks — opting for a regulatory approach instead. It’s almost exactly like health care reform. Ideas for changing the structure of the health-care industry — a single payer, Medicare for all, even a so-called “public option” — were all jettisoned by the White House in favor of a complex set of regulations that left the old system of private for-profit health insurers in place. The final health care act doesn’t even remove the exemption of private insurers from the nation’s antitrust laws. Regulations don’t work if the underlying structure of an industry — be it banking or health care — got us into trouble in the first place. "

On the point that big banks are too big to fail and therefore should be broken up, Mark Thoma doesn't completely agree. With more smaller banks, one bank failing isn't going too be too much of a problem, but there are still systemic failures that would bring down multiple banks and collectively they would still be too big to save. He does say that breaking them up would be good because it would curtail their political power. On the structural/regulatory point he says, "Much of the change that is needed is structural in nature, but not all, e.g. I'd categorize leverage limits, which I view as critical to minimizing the fallout when problems occur, as regulatory. However, as noted above structural change is harder than imposing new regulations... If we cannot muster the political will to make such changes in light of the most devastating financial collapse since the Great Depression, that does not bode well for the future."

James Kwak comments on the Regulation vs Structural Change issue. "I would add that Obama is also a political pragmatist with a strong belief that getting something done is better than nothing. I think that on health care he and the administration probably did the best they could. Remember, they barely got a majority in the House, then barely got sixty votes in the Senate, then barely got a majority in the House again (to pass the revised bill), and public opinion was very divided. But on financial reform I think they could have gotten more done. First of all, public opinion wanted more; and second, the administration lobbied against some of the most far-reaching changes, such as Kaufman-Brown and Blanche Lincoln’s derivatives spinout provision, and Merkley-Levin never got a vote."

Today, Simon Johnson is depressed. The Last Hold Out: Senator Blanche Lincoln Against 13 Bankers. "By now you have probably realized – correctly – that “financial reform” has turned into a victory lap for Wall Street." Paul Krugman lists some other Reasons To Despair about the economic recovery (specifically "the mindset of policy makers").

Still, is Obama really just giving gifts to corporations? On Monday Krugman tried to measure this objectively. "How can you do that? Follow the money — donations by corporate political action committees. Look, for example, at the campaign contributions of commercial banks — traditionally Republican-leaning, but only mildly so. So far this year, according to The Washington Post, 63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the G.O.P."

"One answer is taxes — not so much on corporations themselves as on the people who run them. The Obama administration plans to raise tax rates on upper brackets back to Clinton-era levels. Furthermore, health reform will in part be paid for with surtaxes on high-income individuals. All this will amount to a significant financial hit to C.E.O.’s, investment bankers and other masters of the universe." He also cites the disappointment by the left. "So what President Obama and his party now face isn’t just, or even mainly, an opposition grounded in right-wing populism. For grass-roots anger is being channeled and exploited by corporate interests, which will be the big winners if the G.O.P. does well in November."

"So where does that leave the president and his party? Mr. Obama wanted to transcend partisanship. Instead, however, he finds himself very much in the position Franklin Roosevelt described in a famous 1936 speech, struggling with “the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Roosevelt turned corporate opposition into a badge of honor: “I welcome their hatred,” he declared. It’s time for President Obama to find his inner F.D.R., and do the same."

Mythbuster Krugman

Krugman keeps trying to debunk conservative myths Did The Postwar System Fail?.

"And what I’m getting as a common response — including from liberals — is something along the lines of, ‘That’s all very well, but by 1980 the postwar system was clearly failing, so what would you have done instead of Reaganomics?’"

"How do we know that the postwar system was failing? Yes, there were some bad years — largely due to oil shocks — and there was stagflation. But stagflation was not, as far as I know — and as far as standard textbook economics says — the result of high taxes and/or excessive regulation; it was a problem of monetary policy. It’s a testimony to the strength of supply-side propaganda that so many people think they know differently."

Ten of the greatest maps that changed the world | Mail Online

Ten of the greatest maps that changed the world "From the USSR's Be On Guard! map in 1921 to Google Earth, a new exhibition at the British Library charts the extraordinary documents that transformed the way we view the globe forever"

The Facts In The Case Of Dr. Andrew Wakefield

The Facts In The Case Of Dr. Andrew Wakefield is "A fifteen page (comic) story about the MMR vaccination controversy."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Smartphone Wars and Microsofts Irrelevancy

On Saturday John Gruber has some Post-I/O Thoughts.

"Post-Google I/O, there’s not much room left to see iPhone-vs.-Android as anything other than an all-out war. What we’ve got here is a good old-fashioned epic rivalry. It’s exciting, vicious, fun to watch, and ultimately should prove to be excellent news for consumers. Competition drives innovation and innovation raises the bar for everyone. And the bar, for smartphones, is rising quickly."

"The big loser this week, though, was Microsoft. They’re simply not even part of the game. RIM looms large, as BlackBerrys continue to reign as the best-selling smartphones in the U.S. But Microsoft? They’ve got nothing. No interesting devices, weak sales, and a shrinking user base. Microsoft’s irrelevance is taken for granted."

James Kwak of the Baseline Scenario follows up and asks Why Does Steve Ballmer Still Have a Job? "Steve Ballmer has been CEO of Microsoft since 2000. During his tenure, Microsoft came out with Windows Vista, perhaps the most unsuccessful operating system in modern history (Windows ME doesn’t count, since Microsoft’s core customer base was using NT/2000); it tried a “Microsoft inside” strategy in digital music and, when that failed, launched the Zune, which also failed; it watched Firefox (and Safari and Chrome) eat a large chunk of its lunch in Internet browsers, the application most people use more than everything else put together; it launched Windows Live, a marketing strategy with no noun behind it, which completely flopped at whatever it was supposed to do; it got blown away in Internet search to the point where it had to re-launch as Bing, a plucky underdog; and in mobile phones, which everyone has known for a decade would be the next big thing, it stuck with its bloated, awkward Windows Mobile for far too long, letting everyone (RIM, Apple, Google, and even Palm) pass it by to the point where it has no customer base left. (BlackBerry rules the corporate market, Microsoft’s traditional stomping grounds.) Recently I saw a headline saying that Microsoft is going to try to relaunch Hotmail to make it cool. Really, why bother?"

The Stigmatization of Bush-Blaming

The New Republic writes on The Stigmatization Of Bush-Blaming "Now, I think it's fine for a story to eschew 'balance'when one side is making an unsupportable or hypocritical case. But Obama's case isn't wrong -- it really is true that the economic and budgetary problems we're facing were inherited from the previous administration. What's false is the Republican effort to imply that Obama caused the problems -- an argument that collapses upon the slightest empirical pressure. But somehow the standard here is not what's correct but what's polite, and it's impolite for Obama to blame Bush."

Paul Krugman follows up On Blaming Bush. "What Chait doesn’t point out, however, is that the idea that enough time has passed that we can’t blame Bush is especially wrong-headed given the nature of our problems. We’re in the aftermath of a financial crisis — and there’s overwhelming evidence (pdf) that recovery from financial crises is almost always protracted and difficult. There’s no way one should have expected everything to be fine until the Lehman failure lies years in the past. In fact, the return of job growth we’ve already seen is ahead of schedule compared with the historical average."

Majority Of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either

The Onion report is brilliant and could almost be real. Report: Majority Of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either.

"At a time when widespread polling data suggests that a majority of the U.S. populace no longer trusts the federal government, a Pew Research Center report has found that the vast majority of the federal government doesn't trust the U.S. populace all that much either.

According to the poll—which surveyed members of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches—9 out of 10 government officials reported feeling 'disillusioned' by the populace and claimed to have 'completely lost confidence' in the citizenry's ability to act in the nation's best interests.

'All the vitriol and partisan bickering in Congress has caused most Americans to form negative opinions of the U.S. government,' Pew researcher Amy Ratner said. 'However, over the same time period, the government has likewise grown wary of U.S. citizens, largely due to their utter lack of foresight, laziness, and overall incompetence.'"

Bobby Jindal Hypocracy

Brad DeLong also writes Our Way of Life Depends on Proper Action by the Federal Government "Bobby 'No Volcano Monitoring Wanted Here!' Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, says that our way of life depends on the federal government."

A New Type of Phishing Attack

Aza Raskin writes on A New Type of Phishing Attack "What we don’t expect is that a page we’ve been looking at will change behind our backs, when we aren’t looking. That’ll catch us by surprise." In fact this page will after a few seconds change to a page that looks like Gmail with a login form.

Brad DeLong vs the Washington Post

Brad DeLong often posts lamenting "why can't we have a better press corps. Today he shreds Dana Milbank in the Washington Post for misrepresentations on Larry Summer's speech at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Can We Please Shut the Washington Post Down Today? I Really Can't See It Doing Anybody Any Good...

Does Your City Spend A Lot On Eating?

The Consumerist writes Does Your City Spend A Lot On Eating? "When it comes to spending on munching and swigging, how do you think your city stacks up? Bundle crunched the numbers and turned it into a plump and juicy infographic, served up piping hot inside..."

Firefly Interview

If you like Firefly (and everyone should) then you'll be interested in this interview, Firefly - How to Get Nathan Fillion Naked - Jose Molina Interview "Writer Jose Molina goes in depth about his contributions to the show, a new Firefly book and Nathan Fillion's twig and berries."

BPA Found in 92% of Canned Foods

Slashfood reports BPA Found in 92% of Canned Foods. "First it was baby products, then reusable drinking bottles. Now a new report released last week by the National Workgroup for Safe Markets, a coalition of more than 17 public and environmental health groups, shows that bisphenol-A is present in most food preserved in cans (not just in the lining of the cans themselves, where it is used to protect food from corrosion and bacteria). BPA, as the chemical is also called, has been linked to a range of ills including cancer, infertility, and obesity.

For the new study (charmingly titled 'No Silver Lining'), researchers analyzed 50 cans of food from 19 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada. BPA was found in a whopping 92 percent of the collected samples, with the top level being the highest yet reported in the U.S. -- 1,140 parts per billion. (In case you're keeping track, it was a can of Del Monte French Style Green Beans, and it came from Wisconsin.)"

Sunscreen Good or Bad?

Fast Company has quite the headline: Your Sunscreen May Give You Cancer: Study

"Sunscreen is supposed to protect us from cancer, but a new report from the Environmental Working Group claims that many products don't do what they're supposed to. "

"the FDA believes that a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in 41% of sunscreens, could speed up skin damage and increase skin cancer risk when applied to the face, arms, legs, back, and chest; and many sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound that enters the bloodstream through the skin."

Space Station Tour

You'll want to mute the horrible music at the beginning but at some point it switches to a nice description of what you're seeing.

The space station is huge! And a sty!

The Funniest Kids Test Answers of All Time

THe Huffington Post has photos of The Funniest Kids Test Answers of All Time

Zahra's Paradise

I read about the new web comic Zahra's Paradise in the Economist. "The scenes are from “Zahra’s Paradise”, an online graphic novel written and illustrated by two Iranians in America. The authors are anonymous, fearing what could happen to relatives still in Iran. The novel, published three times a week, tells in stark black-and-white pictures the story of Iran’s protesters and the horrors they have endured since the election. Tens of thousands of readers scattered all over the world follow each instalment in languages from Persian and Arabic to Dutch and Korean. When the story is finished, the authors plan to release it as a book."

You can start at the beginning (published in February) Chapter 1: Aftermath.

NPR mentioned it in March. "Another, wholly separate, thing that comics do well is explore historical events in ways that make them freshly available to the senses."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Obama’s Progressive Project Is Changing Washington

The New York Times writes Economic Scene - Obama’s Progressive Project Is Changing Washington.

"First came a stimulus bill that, while aimed mainly at ending a deep recession, also set out to remake the nation’s educational system and vastly expand scientific research. Then President Obama signed a health care bill that was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. And now Congress is in the final stages of a bill that would tighten Wall Street’s rules and probably shrink its profit margins.

If there is a theme to all this, it has been to try to lift economic growth while also reducing income inequality. Growth in the decade that just ended was the slowest in the post-World War II era, while inequality has been rising for most of the last 35 years."

For my complaints that some of the policies don't go far enough, Obama is racking up a pretty impressive set of accomplishments.

Paul Krugman, Debunking the Right

Paul Krugman writes Down The Memory Hole.

"Read almost any conservative commentator on economic history, and you’ll find that the era of postwar prosperity — the gigantic rise in living standards after World War II — has been expunged from the record.

You can see why: the facts are embarrassing. Here’s a rough-cut version. The blue line, left scale, shows median family income in 2008 dollars; the red line, right scale, shows the top marginal tax rate, a rough indicator of the overall stance of policy. Basically, US postwar economic history falls into two parts: an era of high taxes on the rich and extensive regulation, during which living standards experienced extraordinary growth; and an era of low taxes on the rich and deregulation, during which living standards for most Americans rose fitfully at best."


I'm sure his point is not that all we need to do is raise marginal tax rates and increase regulation to improve conditions for the middle class. The point is to discredit the right's talking point that high taxes and regulation are what are crippling the economy now.

Update: He follows up.

I Hope Rand Paul is an Opportunity

Rand Paul is an anti-government libertarian, but he's running as a GOP candidate. He also can't seem to avoid hurting himself. Think Progress writes Paul Calls White House Pressure On BP ‘Un-American,’ Says That ‘Sometimes Accidents Happen’. So he's saying there shouldn't be regulation on BP and there should the EPA shouldn't regulate coal mines and I assume since he wants to get rid of the Fed they shouldn't regulate banks.

His competitor Jack Conway would be a fool to not bring this up all the time. The campaign should be "Not less government but good government". Ok, maybe someone could improve the wording there. :) But the Democrats should be all over this because Rand Paul's libertarian ideology is just slightly further out there mainstream GOP ideology. The GOP position in this Congress (and under Bush) has been for less and less regulation and oversight and let the market decide. There's a real opportunity here to teach the limits of free markets.

Free markets let mining companies ignore safety regulations for the miners, because they'll just get new miners. Free markets let oil drilling companies ignore safety regulations and occasionally have an "accident" that destroys a coast line (or two) for a few years (or longer). Free markets let huge Wall Street banks gamble with the economy at risk so they can make crazy amounts of money and get bailed out by the government lest we all suffer.

I like companies, and nobody wants senseless oppressive regulations; but capitalism works on competitive markets not free markets (which is why monopolies are bad). We obviously need a zero tolerance policy for say nuclear plant safety. It turns out we also need one for off-shore drilling platforms. And for systemic problems with giant banks. And we should regulate safety in coal mines and with food and drugs and as best we can disease control and disaster response.

People are willing to let the government tell them to take off their shoes before getting on a plane because some idiot tried to put a bomb in their shoe (and failed). Someone else put a bomb in their underwear and it failed but people are apparently not willing to take off their underwear to fly. They are mostly willing to let the government take a nude photo of them through their clothes before they get on a plane. But the GOP candidate for Senator in KY is not willing to tell oil drilling companies that they have to have safety measures in place in their off-shore wells. And he's not willing to tell restaurants that they have to serve people even if they're black. And a lot of Republicans in Congress think that banks shouldn't have their derivative trading be regulated.

I really don't get this. And I really don't know why Democrats aren't making more comparison like these.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nuclear Bomb Testing Turned Our Teeth Into Radioactive Clocks

How 1950s Nuclear Bomb Testing Turned Our Teeth Into Radioactive Clocks "Above ground nuclear tests in the middle of the Century introduced significant amounts of radioactive carbon into the atmosphere—and into all living things. And while our skin cells are constantly regenerating, the enamel in our teeth is only made once, bearing signs of the atmosphere in which they were created."

Bizarre, cool, and kinda scary all at once.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Crazy Amazing Pictures of Saturn and its Moons

Checking in on Saturn "While we humans carry on with our daily lives down here on Earth, perhaps stuck in traffic or reading blogs, or just enjoying a Springtime stroll, a school-bus-sized spacecraft called Cassini continues to gather data and images for us - 1.4 billion kilometers (870 million miles) away. Over the past months, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made several close flybys of Saturn's moons, caught the Sun's reflection glinting off a lake on Titan, and has brought us even more tantalizing images of ongoing cryovolcanism on Enceladus. Collected here are a handful of recent images from the Saturnian system."

Mars Rovers Set Surface Longevity Record

Universe Today reports Mars Rovers Set Surface Longevity Record.

"Congrats to the science and engineering teams for the Mars Exploration Rover program! Today, (Thursday May 20) the Opportunity rover marked an historic milestone: it has now passed the duration record set by NASA's Viking 1 Lander of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of Mars. The celebration was tempered just a bit because Oppy may be the longest lasting mission on Mars, or it may be second to its twin, Spirit. Spirit has not communicated with Earth since March 22, succumbing to the cold and decreased power from its solar panels. If Spirit awakens from hibernation and resumes communication, then she will attain the Martian surface longevity record."

Not bad for landers originally planned to function 90 days! More details at NASA.

A New Kind of Supernova Explodes in Unusual Way

Universe Today writes A New Kind of Supernova Explodes in Unusual Way "Not all supernovae are created equal, astronomers are finding. A faint supernovae found by international teams of scientists is like nothing previously seen, and cannot be explained by conventional insights into these exploding stars. Until now, only two basic kinds of supernovae had been observed. But now there appears to be a third."

Obama Wins The Right To Detain People With No Habeas Review

Glenn Greenwald writes Obama wins the right to detain people with no habeas review>/a>.

"Today, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the Bush/Obama position, holding that even detainees abducted outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram have no right to contest the legitimacy of their detention in a U.S. federal court, because Boumediene does not apply to prisons located within war zones (such as Afghanistan).

So congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for winning the power to abduct people anywhere in the world and then imprison them for as long as they want with no judicial review of any kind.  When the Boumediene decision was issued in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain called it 'one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.' But Obama hailed it as 'a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo,' and he praised the Court for 'rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.'"

I get this part. If we're at war, and we capture the enemy and hold them in POW camps, I don't see that they get habeas review. Such a description works well for WWII or Vietnam. What does it mean for the so-called War on Terror?

If capture Taliban forces then we should be able to imprison them, either at our bases or put them through an Afghani criminal system if that applies. When we leave Afghanistan in 2011 that choice is reduced by half.

If we capture a US citizen attempting to blow up a domestic plane, they should go through the criminal justice system. Doesn't that make sense? Seems the same for an international flight. And it seems the same for a non-US citizen on a domestic or international flight (where one end is in the US).

If we stop some al Qaeda on a flight from Pakistan to Yemen, I have no idea what we do. That sounds very James Bond to me. And Bond never seemed to take prisoners. I don't know as I'm too comfortable with the US having the ability to just kidnap anyone in the world and hold them forever in a cell somewhere. You want to tell me the real James Bonds do this occasionally with a Goldfinger, fine. But don't tell me we do this with people brought to us by poor farmers in a lawless land based just on their word that this guy is a terrorist. And yeah, we've don't that a lot.

Greenwald makes another point: "One other point: this decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which serves to further highlight how important the Kagan-for-Stevens replacement could be. If the Court were to accept the appeal, Kagan would be required to recuse herself (since it was her Solicitor General's office that argued the administration's position here), which means that a 4-4 ruling would be likely, thus leaving this appellate decision undisturbed. More broadly, though, if Kagan were as sympathetic to Obama's executive power claims as her colleagues in the Obama administration are, then her confirmation could easily convert decisions on these types of questions from a 5-4 victory (which is what Boumediene was, with Stevens in the majority) into a 5-4 defeat. Maybe we should try to find out what her views are before putting her on that Court for the next 40 years?"

The Air Force's Secret X-37B Space Plane

Universe Today writes What is the Air Force's Secret X-37B Space Plane Doing in Orbit? "Last month's launch of the US Air Force X-37B secret mini space plane has fueled speculation about the real mission of this vehicle and if it could possibly be used for a new type of military weapon. The X-37B launched on April 22, 2010 and has the ability to stay in orbit for up to 270 days. While the Air Force provided a webcast of the launch, since then there has been no word — leaked or official – about the status of the mission. ‘There has been a lot of speculation about what this vehicle could do and what sort of capabilities it could provide to the U.S. military, and some of that speculation was based on more science fiction than fact,’ said Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation. ‘While a successful completion of the X-37B flight, landing, and turn-around will certainly be a significant step forward in reusable space vehicle technology, it is a long ways away from a single-stage-to-orbit capability.’"

Time Capsule Died

Well that kinda sucks but I'm impressed with Apple Support.

I have a Time Capsule from apple. It's a wifi router with a hard drive and it's the only approved way to use Time Machine to do wireless backups. Aside from a problem early on with corrupted backups (corrected with a software update), it's worked well for just over two years.

I was online today and all of a sudden I wasn't anymore. I looked over at the Time Capsule and saw the green light was out. I checked the plug and it was still out. As I plugged it back in I noticed there were green LEDs in the 4 ethernet ports and they flashed for a moment so some power was getting to the machine, just not everywhere. A friend's TC died a month ago and I remember him saying the early units are having a power supply issue. Ugh.

So I called Apple and quickly got to tech support and he was helpful. He had my try to reset it and when that didn't work he said we could a "DIY Repair" which is oddly named because it means they send me a new unit and when I receive it I send back the old unit in the same packaging, they pay for shipping both ways. I asked if the local Apple Store could repair it and called them but they didn't have any of this (old) model in stock.

A few more minutes and we were all set. He gave my my Case and Repair numbers and said it should arrive soon. I had to give my credit card info. After receiving the new unit I have 10 days for them to receive the old one to avoid having my card charged. Fair enough. They currently have no evidence other than my word that the unit is actually dead. Also before I hung up the phone I checked at their website and my case was in their system showing the proper status. Nice.

Time Capsule is a backup product. It is pretty crappy that a backup product isn't perfectly reliable, but then again the data on it is just backup. When I bought it, I did get the bigger model thinking I'd use the drive for more. I did have a little someone else on it, but I haven't looked at it in forever so even I'm not sure what (I think it was an old backup of my sisters machine). He said I try bringing the drive to someone to extract the info off of it, but in the "DIY Repair" process, they destroy drive when they receive it. Still I am losing all the backup history that Time Machine keeps which annoys me but isn't really any trouble at all.

So some lessons here:
1. Your backup drives can fail too
2. If you're buying a Time Capsule, probably best to just have backup data on it and therefore, buy the smaller (and cheaper) model.
3. Apple knows the product has problems and didn't inform me, that's annoying. Nevertheless, at just over two years after I bought it, they are replacing it for free and paying all shipping charges, literally with almost no questions asked. It was actually a pleasant support call. Everyone else should take a lesson from Apple customer support.
4. I do use the TC for a wifi N network and if that was all I had I'd be annoyed now. I'd have to be online via an ethernet cable. Since my FiOS requires me to use their router and I have an iPhone I do have a G network as well and connecting via the mac was trivial. Having a backup wifi system is very nice.

I had been thinking of getting another drive to do a monthly full backup on in addition to Time Machine backups. This would be bootable (which the TC isn't) and just needs to be the size of the drive in my laptop (200GB). A fast physical connector (Firewire 800 or USB 2.0) would be good and I assume 5400 RPM. Small would also be good (perhaps I'd take it while traveling) and I guess bus powered would be nice. Any recommendations?

A friend recommended the Iomega eGo which is $110 at Amazon (there's a 320GB version in blue for $90). There are some reports of it overheating and connecting glue melting. The other choices seem to the WD My Passport for Mac which has some reports of loose cables or the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain which is apparently a lot smaller than it looks and is also $110. MacWorld apparently likes Mercury On-The-Go drives. Anyone have recommendations?

Update It's official Apple announces replacement program for some 2008 Time Capsules

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rachel Maddow Interviewed Rand Paul on Civil Rights

There's a lot of buzz today about this interview last night:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Rachel Maddow Show Blog has been all over this today:
Rand Paul on 'Maddow' fallout beginsWhat Rand Paul misses about civil rightsRand Paul regrets his Maddow visitSen. Kyl on Paul, Maddow: Civil rights debate no biggie. DeMint's a no.

Here's the deal. Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul won the GOP nomination for Senator of Kentucky, but he's really a libertarian who wants smaller (federal) government. So it came up with the Civil Rights Act and while he's opposed to racism and supports 9 of 10 parts of the act, he has problems with one of them. The nine parts all prevent the government or government funded entities from discriminating. Title II prohibits private businesses that provide public accommodations from discriminating; think restaurants and hotels. Libertarian Paul has a problem with government limiting what private entities can do (except he supports a constitutional ban on abortion and opposes gay marriage).

The idea is that businesses should be compelled by market forces to not discriminate (by say not serving African Americans) because of lost income or other societal pressures. Of course this could take a while and in the mean time people are really hurt. In almost 50 years the Civil Rights Act has done a pretty good job of improving things for minorities, including Title II; and businesses don't seem to be suffering, at least because of it. And I think with the financial crisis and the oil spill it should be clear that some government regulation is good and necessary, further diluting the pure libertarian ideology. James Joyner has more on this, including the constitutional issues Paul raises.

The real problem was that Paul never answered Maddow's question. He didn't just come out and say "yes, I think businesses should have the right to not serve African Americans if they don't want to and I hope that everyone would stop patronizing any business that did so". But such a statement would lose him votes (not just because it's not PC but because it's wrong in today's America), so he avoided saying it but couldn't move off the topic. Maddow kept pushing for answer, something she's better at than most network interviewers. She took some hypotheticals a little too far but generally just let him hang himself. November is far away but it will be interesting to see if Jack Conway, Paul's Democratic competitor will be able to take advantage of this (that is Paul's radical positions, not this interview).

And of course the other problem is that whenever someone tries to take a pro-discrimination stance based purely on ideological constitutional grounds, it doesn't take long for someone to connect them to pure racist bigotry even if it's it indirect and vigorously denied.

Update: And of course Mr. Paul got these views from his daddy.

Venter Makes First 'Synthetic Cell'

MSNBC reports It's alive! Artificial DNA controls life

"It may not quite be 'Frankenstein,' but for the first time scientists have created an organism controlled by completely human-made DNA. Using the tools of synthetic biology, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute installed a completely artificial genome inside a host cell without DNA. Like the bolt of lightning that awakened Frankenstein, the new genome invigorated the host cell, which began to grow and reproduce, albeit with a few problems. The research marks a technical milestone in the synthesis and implantation of artificial DNA."

If a subway station honors your favorite film...

does that mean it's your favorite subway station?

Rear Window mosaic found at the Leytonstone tube station.

Call Your Senater To Support Merkley-Levin Amendment

The Merkley-Levin Amendment in the Senate needs some support.

Senate Dem Volcker rule amendment revised:

"The amendment from Democrats Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin would toughen a part of a sweeping Wall Street reform bill that endorses the "Volcker rule" proposed in January by President Barack Obama and White House economic adviser Paul Volcker.

The rule would curb proprietary trading by banks for their own accounts unrelated to customers' needs, get banks out of the hedge fund business, and limit their future growth.

The language in the Democratic bill would leave it to regulators to write the Volcker rule's details and expose it to being watered down later. The Merkley-Levin amendment would reduce regulators' latitude to change the rule."

Sign up here and call your Senator in support of the amendment. If you're in MA, Kerry hasn't yet taken a position but has gotten "a lot, a lot of calls" in support of it. Scott Brown also hasn't taken a position and probably needs some more convincing.

Politicizing Miranda

Adam Serwer writes a Politicizing Miranda in The American Prospect. "Modifying who has the right to a Miranda warning is a political solution to a national security problem that doesn't exist." It's an excellent overview of the issue.

Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness

Into The Abyss has an interesting post Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness

"Those of you who watch a lot of Hollywood movies may have noticed a certain trend that has consumed the industry in the last few years.  It is one of the most insidious and heinous practices that has ever overwhelmed the industry.  Am I talking about the lack of good scripts?  Do I speak of the dependency of a few mega-blockbuster hits to save the studios each year, or of the endless sequels and television retreads?  No, I am talking about something much more dangerous, much deadlier to the health of cinema. I speak of course, of THE COLOR GRADING VIRUS THAT IS TEAL & ORANGE!!!"

Lots of photos make the point very well.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Legal Redundancy

A friend mentioned this the other day and I can't find an answer.

Why is it "cease and desist"? Both words mean the same thing. Same for "null and void"?

"Breaking and entering" are two different things, and "assault and battery" are at least subtly different. But the first two just seem redundant.

Republicans Stop Science Funding Bill

I don't yet know anything more about this than this Bad Astronomy post: Republicans derail the COMPETES act "In a 261-148 vote that went almost exactly along party lines, the America COMPETES act was defeated. Over $40 billion dollars was designated in that bill to go toward science and technology innovation, and to provide a lot of jobs to meet our nation’s needs for the future."

Meryl Streep to Barnard: Acting “Opened My Soul”

I caught a few minutes of On Point tonight in the car, I heard this part of Meryl Streep to Barnard: Acting “Opened My Soul”.

"I am however an expert in pretending to be an expert in various areas, so just randomly like everything else in this speech, I am or I was an expert in kissing on stage and on screen. How did I prepare for this? Well most of my preparation took place in my suburban high school or rather behind my suburban high school in New Jersey. One is obliged to do great deal of kissing in my line of work. Air kissing, ass-kissing, kissing up and of course actual kissing, much like hookers, actors have to do it with people we may not like or even know. We may have to do it with friends, which, believe it or not is particularly awkward, for people of my generation, it’s awkward.

My other areas of faux expertise, river rafting, miming the effects of radiation poisoning, knowing which shoes go with which bag, coffee plantation, Turkish, Polish, German, French, Italian, that’s Iowa-Italian from the bridges of Madison County, a bit of the Bronx, Aramaic, Yiddish, Irish clog dancing, cooking, singing, riding horses, knitting, playing the violin, and simulating steamy sexual encounters, these are some of the areas in which, I have pretended quite proficiently to be successful, or the other way around. As have many women here, I’m sure."

Here's the whole thing:

ISS, Shuttle transit the Sun

thierry_iss_atlantis_2010 1.jpg

"The big yellow thing is the Sun. But look at the upper right section. See those two dark blips? The one on the left is the Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis and on the right is the International Space Station! Incredibly, Thierry caught them as they passed directly in front of the Sun! To give you an idea of how talented Thierry is, the entire transit lasted just over half a second."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crude Awakening

Infographic World has a great one on the gulf spill, Crude Awakening

AL Teacher Gives Geometry Lesson Using Assassination As Example

Unbelievable. Alabama Teacher Gives Geometry Lesson Using Assassination As Example

"A student in the class described the lesson: 'He was talking about angles and said, 'If you're in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president.''"

"We did not find a credible threat," Roy Sex ton, of Birmingham's Secret Service office, told the Birmingham News. "As far as the Secret Service is concerned, we looked into it, we talked to the gentleman and we have closed our investigation."

California Lawmakers Raise 79% of Funds From Outside Voter Districts

California Lawmakers Raise 79% of Funds From Outside Voter Districts. "California lawmakers raised 79 percent of campaign funds from outside their districts, according to a study released today by the nonpartisan research group

In other words, legislators raised almost four out of every five dollars in campaign funds from outside of where their constituents live. found that California legislators raised $97.9 million in campaign funds during the three-year time period studied, January 2007 to March 2010. Of this amount, $77.5 million (79 percent) came from out-of-district, while $11.9 (12 percent) came from in-district. The remaining $8.6 million, or nine percent, could not be definitively located as in-district or out of district.

More than half of the lawmakers, 58 percent, raised 80 percent or more of their campaign funds from outside their districts (68 out of 117 members). Nineteen lawmakers raised 90 percent or more of their funds from outside their districts. No lawmaker raised more than half of their funds from in-district, where their constituents live.

'Not a single legislator in California raised the majority of their campaign funds from in-district, where their voters live,' said Daniel Newman, executive director. 'Instead of a voter democracy, we have a donor democracy.'"

Gulf Oil Spill May Far Exceed Government, BP Estimates

NPR writes Gulf Oil Spill May Far Exceed Government, BP Estimates "A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mathematicians Solve 140 Year-Old Boltzmann Equation

Science Daily writes Mathematicians solve 140-year-old Boltzmann equation.

"Pennsylvania mathematicians have found solutions to a 140-year-old, 7-dimensional equation that were not known to exist for more than a century despite its widespread use in modeling the behavior of gases."

"Using modern mathematical techniques from the fields of partial differential equations and harmonic analysis -- many of which were developed during the last five to 50 years, and thus relatively new to mathematics -- the Penn mathematicians proved the global existence of classical solutions and rapid time decay to equilibrium for the Boltzmann equation with long-range interactions. Global existence and rapid decay imply that the equation correctly predicts that the solutions will continue to fit the system's behavior and not undergo any mathematical catastrophes such as a breakdown of the equation's integrity caused by a minor change within the equation. Rapid decay to equilibrium means that the effect of an initial small disturbance in the gas is short-lived and quickly becomes unnoticeable."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Twenty Years Later, Remembering Jim Henson

I can't believe it's been Twenty Years since Jim Henson died. "It’s been twenty years since the world lost Jim Henson, and I still can’t think about it without tearing up a bit. His death at age 53 was sudden and catastrophic, like being hit by lightning on a cloudless day. Along with countless others around the world who had never met him, I felt like a close friend was gone."

Space Shuttle Atlantis over Canary Islands

101426699-1 1.jpg

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Inside Man - Timothy Geithner

I'm finally caught up on The Economist (well a new issue arrived yesterday). I am a couple of issues behind on the The Atlantic (and a new issue arrived this week). So I finally got around to reading Inside Man from the April issue. It's a profile of Timothy Geithner and his approach to the crisis by Joshua Green. It's long and interesting. Given it's a couple of months old I looked for critiques on it but didn't find much more than what I'm doing here, pointing people at it and letting them decide for themselves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Rush?

Digby wrote Swimming in the swill with Rush.

"Anyone who doesn't subscribe to Media Matters' "Limbaughwire" is missing out on a profoundly important insight into the thinking of a fairly large number of Americans. Here's a piece of yesterday's dispatch:"

[moronic rantings elided]

"Chris Matthews issued a challenge this week to any Republican who is willing to come on his show and say that Limbaugh is wrong. He has had no takers.

Every elected Republican is scared of this man and that should scare everyone else."

So what to do about it?

Disaster Response

The Atlantic yesterday had a really interesting interview, How Steven Chu Used Gamma Rays to Save the Planet .

"It should be recognized, though, because when it comes to government disaster response, the Bush years marked a low point and right now we're experiencing a high point. For a vivid illustration of this disparity, look no further than the Gulf. During Katrina, FEMA director Michael Brown secured his place history as the poster boy for government incompetence. Now consider Chu, the Nobel Prize Winner who has been at BP headquarters in Houston with a team of government scientists trying to figure out how to stop the leak. According to a government official, BP initially 'dismissed' Chu's gamma ray suggestion, but came back a week later and admitted 'Chu's right.' 
I talked to Chu this afternoon about the government's response to the disaster. As a mental exercise, try and imagine what these answers would sound like if 'Brownie' or some other top Bush officials were still overseeing disaster relief in the Gulf."

Read it.

Facebook's Latest Privacy Issues

On April 19th Facebook blogged Connecting to Everything You Care About announcing Community Pages and More Connected Profiles. "Profiles no longer are a static list of likes and interests. Now, they are a living map of all the connections that matter to you." The concern is that they are now also public.

I think it works this way. It used to be that the text on the Info tab on your profile was mostly just text. You would write what you wanted to express (favorite band) and those who could see your profile could see that. Some of these were links and you could click on them and see who else wrote considers that band a favorite. Now that text is actually a link to a public page for that text (say that band) and as a public page, all the members of that page are public knowledge. Facebook's idea is "If you don't want to show up on those Pages, simply disconnect from them by clicking the "Unlike" link in the bottom left column of the Page. You always decide what connections to make." Which makes some sense, it just now seems that you can't express some (profile) info just to your friends, and not to everyone, anymore.

The ACLU asks Is Facebook Having Another Privacy Disconnect? "Earlier this week, following up on its recent policy changes, Facebook announced its plans to create more dynamic profiles using "Connections." What exactly counts as a connection wasn't clearly defined either time, but seems to include things like friends lists, likes and interests, events, groups, and activities."

"If Facebook believes that you "should have control over what you share," it should resolve this by giving users real control over whether their connections can be accessed by apps and pages. Doing so still won't resolve other issues, like the "app gap" that allows your friends' applications to view your personal information without your knowledge or consent, but it would be one step in the right direction. Otherwise, the only way you can keep control of your information is to refuse to use Facebook to share or connect at all. And that's not what we mean by control."

They've since started a Facebook Privacy Action Campaign.

The EFF compiled a Timeline of Facebook's Privacy Policies. "Viewed together, the successive policies tell a clear story. Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it's slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users' information, while limiting the users' options to control their own information." Matt McKeon turned this timeline into a nice graphic.

Shortly afterwards EFF listed Six Things You Need to Know About Facebook Connections which is a good list of issues of how Facebook is implementing this new feature.

DeObfuscate wrote Facebook’s Anti-Privacy Monopoly with graph showing various privacy events charted against Facebook's social network marketshare.

More and more people were concerned about this and started dropping Facebook. Dan Yoder wrote on Gizmodo, Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook.

One of those reasons is that they are technically incompetent. Boing Boing pointed out an issue with users IP addresses being revealed in automated email messages. Facebook did promptly fix it and their rationale was at least almost plausible.

Others are leaving Facebook too. "The people who run Facebook may or may not be evil. And I imagine that they will continue to be very successful; I have never been a good predictor of what technologies or companies will do well. But in any case I don’t think they’re very good at writing software. And I don’t want to devote my time to figuring out what Facebook may or may not be doing (knowingly or accidentally) with my information."

I can certainly agree with point that it takes too long to figure this out. The New York Times on tuesday has a chart of the all the Facebook privacy settings. "To manage your privacy on Facebook, you will need to navigate through 50 settings with more than 170 options." They also chart how the Facebook Privacy Policy has grown in word length from 1004 in 2005 to currently 5,830. The FAQ for the privacy policy is 45,000 words.

EPIC and 14 other consumer groups filed a 38 page complaint with the FTC over Facebook's privacy changes.

I first thought Facebook had a lot of promise because of the social network, apps and strong privacy settings. Their photo support showed this promise. I also thought there would be apps for netflix and amazon and newspapers and other sites with accounts and that Facebook could be the single signon solution the net was needing (and portals always promised). Users could have a single page with all their net presence and use privacy controls to selectively share that with friends. Instead we got inundated with quizes, mafia wars and farmville and the most important feature became Hide. Now I just use Facebook as I use Twitter, in fact that's literally it as my tweets automatically update my Facebook status. I rarely get comments on my tweets, but I do often get comments on Facebook. I also find out a lot about friends I'm not very close to via their status updates. I've found out about engagements, pregnancies, illnesses, and divorces via Facebook and yes that does feel a little weird. If they'd use twitter it would be equally effective, but far more of my friends use Facebook. I don't know as either of these sites is profitable, but Facebook seems like far more of a wasted opportunity.

How Long Will the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Last?

DAvid Biello wrote in Scientific American How Long Will the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Last?. Hopefully this is a more accurate article than the last one I pointed to.

Kindles Yet to Woo University Users

The Princeton University paper writes Kindles yet to woo University users. "When the University announced its Kindle e-reader pilot program last May, administrators seemed cautiously optimistic that the e-readers would both be sustainable and serve as a valuable academic tool. But less than two weeks after 50 students received the free Kindle DX e-readers, many of them said they were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the devices."

“Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”

“The Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers; it gives you location numbers. They have to do that because the material is reformatted,” Katz said. He noted that while the location numbers are “convenient for reading,” they are “meaningless for anyone working from analog books.”

I found this article referenced from this ars story: Business school ditches Kindle DX after trial run. "When asked to fill out a midterm survey on whether they would recommend the Kindle DX to incoming MBA students, 75 to 80 percent answered "no," according to Darden director of MBA operations Michael Koenig. On the flip side, 90 to 95 percent answered "yes" to whether they would recommend it to an incoming student as a personal reading device."

I can completely understand this. Just reading for pleasure (or interest) is different than trying to take notes on what you're reading (or in general). I much prefer blogging about online text rather than printed text (or film/tv) for purposes of quoting. But if I'm reading something long, taking handwritten notes is much easier than typing them. And I'm extraordinarily comfortable with my editor of choice (emacs), having used it for decades. Just moving my hands back and forth between a book and a keyboard is annoying. I have a laptop, but it's been connected to a monitor and keyboard for months because it's much easier to position a book in that configuration than next to a laptop.

In a lecture I still think handwriting notes is easiest. As I write, I indent and draw diagrams and annotate previous notes in the margins and use different colors to make things I want to follow up with stand out (I typically use a Cross Tech 3 Pen or a now discontinued Rotring Quattro Pen). I also position text on the page to show various relationships between ideas.

A laptop is the only alternative that comes close to the efficiency of handwriting for me. But it's too bulky, particularly without a surface to rest it on. I can type quickly and there's the great advantage of having the text be searchable, etc. But it does seem to be the case that writing something out rather than typing helps me to learn and remember the material better. I was never a highlighter, but writing notes on what I read always helped me in college.

I was ok with graffiti on a Palm Pilot but it was never good enough for me to take meeting notes with. I type on the iPhone only the shortest things I can. I was hopeful that an iPad would be some useful medium in note taking at talks but I don't think it is yet (though I am interested in trying :). I haven't tried Dan Bricklin's Note Taker App yet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Comparing the Climate and Energy Bills

Climate Progress has a table Comparing the American Power Act with the House climate bill and clean energy jobs bill.

The Truth About the Social Security Trust Fund

Kevin Drum writes The Truth About the Trust Fund. I didn't know this...

"Back in 1983, we made a deal. The deal was this: for 30 years poor people would overpay their taxes, building up the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the rich. For the next 30 years, rich people would overpay their taxes, drawing down the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the poor. Well, the first 30 years are about up. And now the rich are complaining about the deal that Alan Greenspan cut back in 1983."

A volcano of oil erupting

A volcano of oil erupting, an article by Paul Noel is by far the most detailed and depressing thing I've read about the oil spill.

Update: Not so much, see the comments.

Scientists Announce Advanced DNA Robots

The Wall Street Journal reports Scientists Announce Advanced DNA Robots.

"In the first project, a team of scientists led by biochemist Milan Stojanovic at Columbia built a molecular robot that moved on its own along a track of chemical instructions—the DNA equivalent of the punched paper tape used to control automated machine tools. Once programmed, the robot required no further human intervention, the researchers reported. It could turn, move in a straight line or follow a complex curve and then stop, all essentially on its own initiative. They documented its progress with an atomic force microscope as it strode along a path 100 nanometers long, about 30 times further than earlier DNA walkers could manage."

"At New York University, scientists led by chemist Nadrian Seeman took that idea a step further. They combined a programmable DNA track and a squad of mobile robotic walkers with a set of independently controlled molecular forklifts that can deliver parts on command. The result was a functioning nano-factory, the researchers reported. "An industrial assembly line includes a factory, workers and a conveyor system," said Dr. Seeman. "We have emulated each of those features using DNA components.""

Why does the Moon look so huge on the horizon?

Bad Astronomy answers Why does the Moon look so huge on the horizon? "So the Moon Illusion is just that. It’s not the air acting like a lens, or foreground objects making it look big by comparison. It’s just the way we see the shape of the sky together with the well-known Ponzo Illusion." There are some nice images on the page. I knew it was an optical illusion but I didn't know the details.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Debate on Elena Kagan

As is usually the case right after a nomination we don't know much about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. But she has been a favorite guess so there has been some research. What most of it has come up with is that we don't know much about her.

The Rachel Maddow Show discussed her and had Glenn Greenwald and Lawrence Lessig on. After that show, Glenn write the missive, How people spew total falsehoods on TV and Lessig's response Ok, so now I'm a liar. Then they both debated on Democracy Now.

This debate between them, while a little tangental has been the most interesting thing about her so far.

Update: It continues on bloggingheads.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not So Depend-O

The Boston Globe wrote Coupling was cited in other breaks. The story contains everything you ever wanted to know about Depend-O-Lok clamps which failed in our water emergency last weekend and apparently 5 other similar but not identical clamps have failed in the last few years. The common theme, is that they only fail in Newton.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Three Critical Banking Reforms

Robert Reich writes The White House Should Stop Pandering to the Street and Support Three Critical Banking Reforms. From what I've read, he's right on all three.

A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages

If you find this funny:

"1801 - Joseph Marie Jacquard uses punch cards to instruct a loom to weave 'hello, world' into a tapestry. Redditers of the time are not impressed due to the lack of tail call recursion, concurrency, or proper capitalization."

Then go read the whole (hilarious) post, A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages

Turtle on a Roomba

New Lego Space Shuttle

Gizmodo writes New Lego Space Shuttle Is the Ultimate Nerdgasm. Just as the space shuttle program is coming to a close, Lego releases their model.

"The $100 1,204-piece set stands 17.5 inches tall, with a 10-inch wingspan. It includes launch pad, detachable fuel tank, booster rockets, robot arm, retractable landing gear, opening cockpit with two minifig astronauts (male and female), opening cargo compartment, satellite, and even a ground vehicle."

A New Setback in Attempt to Contain the Gulf Oil Spill

The New York Times a really informative article, A New Setback in Attempt to Contain the Gulf Oil Spill which describes some of the specific difficulties in finding a working solution to the leak.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Our Carbon Emissions Were Down in 2009

Our Carbon Emissions Were Down in 2009 "The one-line explanation is that the economic collapse, combined with relatively high prices for coal and petroleum, made people cut back on energy consumption and switch away from the dirtiest sources. Emissions from coal were down 12 percent and emissions from petroleum were down 5.3 percent."

Friday, May 07, 2010

If the TSA Were Running New York

Nice post, "How would it respond to this weekend's Times Square bomb threat? Well, by extrapolation from its response to the 9/11 attacks and subsequent threats, the policy would be:" If the TSA Were Running New York

Some Journalists Banned From Gitmo Trials

This is just stupid Pentagon Announces Banning of Journalists from Gitmo Trials. "The Pentagon yesterday banned four journalists from covering trials at Guantanamo after they reported the name of a former military interrogator (which, the reporters note, has been public for years, including from a media interview the interrogator himself gave)."

Europe's Web of Debt

The New York Times produced, Europe's Web of Debt. "Banks and governments in these five shaky economies owe each other many billions of euros — converted here to dollars — and have even larger debts to Britain, France and Germany. Arrow widths are proportional to debt amounts."

02marsh-image-custom1 1.jpg

Here's the full article, In and Out of Each Other’s European Wallets.

Honda's U3-X Personal Mobility Prototype

You probably want to mute the annoying music and just read the sub-titles.

Take that Segway! Though I wonder what the range and speed is.

Pelosi Posts to Flickr

April Marks Largest Job Gain Since March 2006!.


"Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released jobs numbers for April showing the US gained 290,000 jobs last month–larger than expected and the largest gain since March 2006. The BLS also revised the previous two months up 121,000 jobs, making April the fourth consecutive month of job growth with 573,000 jobs added since December (84% of which are from the private sector)."

Are Sportswriters Really Necessary?

BusinessWeek writes Are Sportswriters Really Necessary? about new software that generates sports stories based on the stats.

"There's no human author and no human editing,' says Stuart Frankel, 44, the company's CEO and a former executive at DoubleClick. 'But the stories sound really good.' Narrative Science licenses the software from Northwestern University, where a team of computer science and journalism professors developed the technology. "

Personally, I've already preferred reading box scores to prose to find out what happened in a game. I want the prose to tell me the why.

Thomas on Paulson

Mark Thoma answers Should Hank Paulson be Congratulated for a Job Well-Done?

The Longest Beaver Dam in the World

Ecoinformatics writes The Longest Beaver Dam in the World "The longest beaver dam found with Google Earth to date (October 2 2007) is located in Northern Alberta. The dam has a length of about 850 meters (2790 ft). It has at least existed at this spot for over 15 years as it can be observed on the 1990 LandSat 7 Pseudo Color Imagery Provided by NASA World Wind. However 1975 aerial photo's show that this dam did not exist in 1975."

Scott Brown Is Not the Senator I Want

The Boston Globe reports Brown wants citizenship revoked for terror ties. "Senator Scott Brown responded to the attempted Times Square bombing yesterday by cosponsoring a bill that would allow the United States to strip Americans of citizenship if the government determines that an individual supported or joined a terrorist group."

"The bill, cosponsored with Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, is the highest-profile legislation that Brown has backed. The measure, which quickly attracted considerable national controversy, amounts to a strong political statement; after spending months saying he was focused on nuts-and-bolts issues such as jobs, the Massachusetts Republican ventured yesterday into hot-button debates over immigration, counterterrorism tactics, and the extent of federal power."

I had called his office yesterday to ask him to support the Brown-Kaufman amendment to break up the too big to fail banks. Actually I called both my senators. Kerry's representative said he was still thinking about it, but he voted against it. Calling Brown's phone sent me to voice mail.

Fixing our financial system so that its less risky is a no vote. Trying to add a law to remove the citizenship of terrorists is a yes vote. So how would that work? Presumably they'd need to be found guilty of terrorism first, so why isn't imprisonment or the death penalty enough? Or are they stupid enough to try to enact a law to strip the citizenship of unconvicted terrorists? Who gets to decide who's a terrorist? Independent Senators?

Just Wrong on So Many Levels

The New York Post reports (and I can't believe I'm citing the Post!) Jokes about TSA scanner's package lead to brutal beating. "A TSA screener was busted after allegedly beating a co-worker who joked about the size of the man's penis after walking through an airport security scanner, authorities said."

Notice that none of the TSA employees come out well in this story.

I'm waiting for the story to show up on the TSA Blog (which is generally quite good).

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Closing Main Doors to the Supreme Court Sends Troubling Message

Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post wrote on Tuesday, Closing main doors to the Supreme Court sends troubling message. It's the best ode to architecture I've read, probably ever. Read the whole (short) piece, but if not...

"The decision to close the front doors of the Supreme Court to visitors, announced Monday and enacted Tuesday, is no small tweak to the security arrangements of the nation's capital. It is not a minor detour on the tourist path nor a mere question of convenience, like deciding to enter through the garage door rather than trek around to the vestigial front porch. The closing of the front doors of the Supreme Court, like so many mindless decisions attributed to security concerns, is a grand affront -- architecturally, symbolically, politically. The decision will enforce new and unwanted meanings on one of the city's most dramatic and successful public buildings."

"That statue, the power of the entrance plaza (already defaced by bollards), the sweep of the main staircase, the compelling force of the large columns and the reassuring simplicity of the Great Hall are now all rendered mute and meaningless ornament, to be looked at in passing, but no longer part of a living, temporal experience of the building. That visitors can still leave via the grand front door is of little comfort. This relegates the opening promise of the portal -- "Equal Justice Under Law" -- to the rearview mirror. It is no longer a promise at all, no longer an expectation of the visitor upon entrance. Now, to read it, the visitor must turn around, like Orpheus, and hope it wasn't just an illusion.

By a thousand reflexive cuts, architecture loses its power to mean anything. The loss to the citizens of the United States is enormous. We are becoming a nation of moles, timorous creatures who scurry through side and subterranean entrances. Soon, we will lose our basic architectural literacy. The emotional experience of entering a grand space has been reduced to a single feeling: impatience in the august presence of the magnetometer."


The White House published a timeline of The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill "We have compiled this chronology in the spirit of transparency so the American people can have a clear understanding of what their government has been and is doing to respond to the massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster."

Interesting to compare it to the Katrina Timeline that ThinkProgress put together.

John Yoo: Stupid Political Hack AND Craven Addington Disciple

A couple of days ago John Yoo wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Closing Arguments: Supreme Court sanity calls for filibusters about how Obama is far to the left and GOP should use "Democrats' tactics" to filibuster any SCOTUS nominee that basically isn't a conservative. I read it as very one sided and something at the level of O'Reily.

emptywheel commented on it more forcefully, John Yoo: Stupid Political Hack AND Craven Addington Disciple.

"You see, John Yoo has always pretended he neutrally read the law when he wrote his torture memos. He claimed, repeatedly, that he just did the legal analysis and had no stake in the policy decision. He suggested that he didn’t care, one way or another, whether Bush and Cheney embraced torture, he was just the lawyer doing analysis in isolation from those policy questions. He further has claimed that he only approved limited torture, not the techniques described by the press (which happen to match what the CIA IG saw on the torture tapes).

But all that, of course, is proven to be bullshit, as John Yoo bases his critique of Obama on the claim that Obama has chosen not to use the illegal tactics that Yoo himself authorized. That’s not only an admission–on the part of Yoo–that his claims to political neutrality were all lies. But it’s a repudiation of the very expansive claims to executive power that John Yoo holds dear: after all, if the executive has absolute authority to decide how to implement foreign policy, than the disgraced hacks from the past Administration have no business critiquing the exercise of that authority"

How Could The Supreme Court Shift After Stevens?

A few weeks ago SCOTUSblog wrote How Could The Supreme Court Shift After Stevens?. It's long but interesting (at least to me). The most important parts are these:

"Thus, the Court has been narrowly divided, with the left prevailing, in cases relating to the rights of military detainees to have access to the federal courts, including particularly on federal habeas corpus. A nominee who had a substantially more robust view of presidential powers, or even greater confidence in this Administration’s approach to detainee questions, could shift the course of those rulings. In addition, other important presidential-power questions are headed towards the Supreme Court, including with respect to the NSA wiretapping program.

On preemption, Justice Stevens recently had significant success in securing a majority for two important opinions limiting the extent to which federal law trumps state law. His successor could take a broader view of the extent to which federal law controls, which would allow fewer state-law tort suits to proceed.

The next body of cases involves less traditional alignments among the Justices – generally, the Court’s left (Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter) and right (Scalia and Thomas) wings joining together to form a five-Justice majority. This grouping has produced dramatic shifts in the Court’s Sixth Amendment jurisprudence relating to the jury trial right (which has significant effects on how prison sentences are determined) and a defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. The recent departures of two members of that majority – first Souter and now Stevens – create a significant prospect that the tide of those cases will now be slowed and perhaps reversed.

It is also possible to identify areas of the law in which Justice Stevens’ departure may have an effect, even though he was not traditionally a part of a majority on the merits of a particular legal issue. Most prominent among these is campaign finance. Justices Stevens and Souter were the two strongest voices on the left resisting the trend towards the more aggressive application of the First Amendment to invalidate campaign finance laws, and the combined absence of their voices may speed the trend towards more decisions like Citizens United. Another example is the death penalty, where Justice Stevens (who late in his tenure concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional) was relatively willing to provide a vote in favor of stays of execution. His replacement might be less willing to do so."

Neanderthal DNA lives on ... in some of us

Neanderthal DNA lives on ... in some of us "'The Neanderthals are not totally extinct,' said Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 'In some of us they live on, a little bit.'"

What Happens When Terrorists Get Smart?

Kevin Drum writes What Happens When Terrorists Get Smart? "why is it that nearly all the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil over the past few years have been so laughably incompetent?"

Can't Buy an iPad With Cash

I know that you can't pay cash to buy an iPad at the Apple store, they won't sell it to you. I'm not sure if PadGadget is correct about the reasons. iPad Purchase Limits Confirmed "Apple requires you to buy your iPads via a debit or credit card, no cash allowed, so they can track your purchase history, in case you are thinking about coming back several times in order to get more than 2."

Can Apple not accept cash? My money does say "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private". I'm guessing this is illegal.

Brown-Kaufman Amendment

Simon Johnson on the Brown-Kaufman Amendment. I called my Senators.

Update: Too late.

Supreme Court Upholds Freedom Of Speech In Obscenity-Filled Ruling

Pretty funny reporting by The Onion, Supreme Court Upholds Freedom Of Speech In Obscenity-Filled Ruling "In a decisive and vulgar 7-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court once again upheld the constitution's First Amendment this week, calling the freedom of expression among the most 'inalienable and important rights that a motherfucker can have.'"

Sorry Joe

In 1967 the US Supreme Court decided Afroyim v. Rusk.

"Petitioner, of Polish birth, became a naturalized American citizen in 1926. He went to Israel in 1950 and in 1951 voted in an Israeli legislative election. The State Department subsequently refused to renew his passport, maintaining that petitioner had lost his citizenship by virtue of 401 (e) of the Nationality Act of 1940 which provides that a United States citizen shall "lose" his citizenship if he votes in a foreign political election. Petitioner then brought this declaratory judgment action alleging the unconstitutionality of 401 (e). On the basis of Perez v. Brownell, the District Court and Court of Appeals held that Congress under its implied power to regulate foreign affairs can strip an American citizen of his citizenship. Held: Congress has no power under the Constitution to divest a person of his United States citizenship absent his voluntary renunciation thereof. Perez v. Brownell, supra, overruled.

(a) Congress has no express power under the Constitution to strip a person of citizenship, and no such power can be sustained as an implied attribute of sovereignty, as was recognized by Congress before the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment; and a mature and well-considered dictum in Osborn v. Bank of the United States.

(b) The Fourteenth Amendment's provision that 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States . . .' completely controls the status of citizenship and prevents the cancellation of petitioner's citizenship."

A Note on Newsweek

James Fallows (of the Atlantic) has a A Note on Newsweek. "Newsweek became a 'better' magazine - but a kind of magazine whose natural audience is smaller by definition. It would be as if McDonald's or Applebee's became a tapas bar -- yet still needed to fill the same number of seats."

They Hate Us For Our Freedom

The Chicago Sun-Times wrote Judge holds woman in contempt for wearing offensive T-shirt.

"Associate Judge Helen Rozenberg held Jennifer LaPenta, who was attending a hearing in a friend's case, in contempt of court for wearing a T-shirt that read: "I have the pussy, so I make the rules."

"Jennifer LaPenta spent a night in jail after a judge found her T-shirt offensive."

"LaPenta said she had been at a gym Monday when her friend asked her for a ride to the courthouse. She was wearing sweat pants and the T-shirt when she was handcuffed and jailed."