Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chick-fil-A Has Trademarked "Eat More"

Last year a friend moved to Montpelier VT and I went to visit. Walking downtown I noticed t-shirts that said "Eat More Kale". Turns out there's a big push to eat kale in Montpelier. I have another friend who loves kale and I picked her up a t-shirt. Now I see that this t-shirt is the source of a stupid trademark lawsuit.

Kale fan vows to fight Chick-fil-A "A folk artist expanding his home business built around the words “eat more kale” says he’s ready to fight root-to-feather to protect his phrase from what he sees as an assault by Chick-fil-A, which holds the trademark to the phrase “eat mor chikin.”"

My understanding of trademark law is limited but I think I know two relevant points. First, a trademark holder, Chick-fil-A must defend their trademark or risk losing it. It's not just idle. If the trademark is known generically for a class of products then the holder can lose the trademark. Examples are aspirin, escalator and zipper. Others have come close but the owners have fought and held on to them, such as Kleenex and Band-Aid. So if Chick-fil-A knew of an infringement and didn't fight, that fact could be used against them in another trademark lawsuit.

Second, in order for it to be infringement, someone would have to be confused by the use of the trademark. I seriously doubt someone is going to confuse "Eat More Kale" with "eat mor chikin". So the end result is that that big giant company sues tiny little business and if they can afford the fight, the tiny little business wins, though that is a big if. Ain't the law great?

A Club of Liars, Demagogues, and Fools

A Club of Liars, Demagogues, and Fools—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine) "The German newsweekly Spiegel takes the latest disclosures concerning Herman Cain and the rise of Newt Gingrich as an opportunity to offer a foreign bird’s-eye view of the current Republican Party and the American media froth around it."

"The most important observation Spiegel offers is this: At a time of mounting crisis, when much of the world is looking to the United States for leadership and initiative, the celebration of sleaze and ignorance that has marked the Republican primary is damaging the reputation of the nation as a whole. Even those who despise the G.O.P. should be concerned about the depths to which the party has sunk."

Meanwhile, as we set record high temperatures today, Al Gore reminds us that "Every National Academy of Science has confirmed the existence of climate change."

Anthrax Victim’s Family to Receive $2.5 Million in Settlement

I'm still amazed that people seem to have forgotten about the anthrax attacks. The New York Time reports, Anthrax Victim’s Family to Receive $2.5 Million in Settlement "The federal government has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the widow and children of the first person killed in the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, settling a lawsuit claiming that the Army did not adequately secure its supply of the deadly pathogen."

2011 Hurricane Season In 4.5 Minutes

NOAA releases animation that packs hurricane season into 4 1/2 minutes. "With the Atlantic hurricane season officially ending today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a satellite photo animation that shows the entire hurricane season in 4 1/2 minutes. Hurricane Irene is the star of the show, appearing at about 2:05 on the video."

When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality and Liberals Become So Unreasonable??

New York Magazine had a pair of interesting political articles.

David Frum wrote When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality? "America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong."

"It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations—or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place. In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult. In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new ­prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55. Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by TheWall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the “greatest central banker in the history of the world,” according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm. Today, health reform that combines regulation of private insurance, individual mandates, and subsidies for those who need them is considered unconstitutional and an open invitation to “death panels.” A dozen years ago, a very similar reform was the Senate Republican alternative to Hillarycare. Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is “socialism.” In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic­-recovery program."

I found just about everything in it to be quotable, read the whole thing. Also read Jonathan Chait's When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable? "The cultural enthusiasm sparked by Obama’s candidacy drained away almost immediately after his election. All the passion now lies with the critics, and it is hard to find a liberal willing to muster any stronger support than halfhearted murmuring about the tough situation Obama inherited, or vague hope that maybe in a second term he can really start doing things."

"Here is my explanation: Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president."

He goes on to tell the history of presidential accomplishments back to FDR and makes a compelling case that presidents we now think of as great, weren't viewed that way by their contemporaries and probably shouldn't have been. And any article that quotes Monty Python’s Life of Brian is okay by me. His summation of Obama's accomplishments is quite good:

"By that standard, Obama’s first term would indeed seem to qualify as gangsta shit. His single largest policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, combines two sweeping goals—providing coverage to the uninsured and taming runaway medical-cost inflation—that Democrats have tried and failed to achieve for decades. Likewise, the Recovery Act contained both short-term stimulative measures and increased public investment in infrastructure, green energy, and the like. The Dodd-Frank financial reform, while failing to end the financial industry as we know it, is certainly far from toothless, as measured by the almost fanatical determination of Wall Street and Republicans in Congress to roll it back.

Beneath these headline measures is a second tier of accomplishments carrying considerable historic weight. A bailout and deep restructuring of the auto industry that is rapidly being repaid, leaving behind a reinvigorated sector in the place of a devastated Midwest. Race to the Top, which leveraged a small amount of federal seed money into a sweeping national wave of education experiments, arguably the most significant reform of public schooling in the history of the United States. A reform of college loans, saving hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting out private middlemen and redirecting some of the savings toward expanded Pell Grants. Historically large new investments in green energy and the beginning of regulation of greenhouse gases. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. Elimination of several wasteful defense programs, equality for gays in the military, and consumer-friendly regulation of food safety, tobacco, and credit cards.

Of the postwar presidents, only Johnson exceeds Obama’s domestic record, and Johnson’s successes must be measured against a crushing defeat in Vietnam. Obama, by contrast, has enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes—expanding targeted strikes against Al Qaeda (including one that killed Osama bin Laden), ending the war in Iraq, and helping to orchestrate an apparently successful international campaign to rescue Libyan dissidents and then topple a brutal kleptocratic regime. So, if Obama is the most successful liberal president since Roosevelt, that would make him a pretty great president, right?"

Health Insurance Premiums, Dissected

My health insurance just went up 15% which it did last year and the year before. I found this Washington Post article from October that tries to explain why, Health insurance premiums, dissected.

"Thanks to some new insurance rate filings, required by the health reform law, we’re starting to get some answers — but also a lot of familiar finger pointing over who is to blame for growing health insurance bills."

"Flip through the filings and you see that, on average, insurers attribute about 60 to 70 percent of any given insurance rate increase to the growing cost of delivering health care."

"But the hospitals say its not their fault: The cost of treating patients, as new and more complex medical options become available, necessarily pushes prices up. “There’s better technology that’s demanded by patients and physicians,” says Caroline Steinberg, vice president of trends analysis for the American Hospital Association."

"Where do the rest of the costs go? Most companies say that a smaller portion of their premium increase, usually hovering around 15 percent, will cover growing administrative expenses. This part of the premium is facing downward pressure from the health reform law, which bars insurers from spending more than 20 percent on anything that’s not medical treatment."

"As for profits, its a pretty mixed bag. I found a pretty even split between plans that expect to earn money next year, usually about 3 or 4 percent, and those who expect to take a loss."

I'm not sure I believe that there are all these new expensive treatments in each of the last few years that everyone is getting. As far as I know, new drug treatments have stalled and MRI's are still the big diagnostic equipment. I thought it was that as the population ages and becomes more obese we have more conditions to treat like diabetes and hypertension. That means we're spending on more treatments (and not spending on keeping people healthy by changing the farm bill and paying for gym memberships), but not that individual treatments are more expensive. But they are and I thought it was because hospitals and doctors amortize the costs of treating those that can't pay by raising rates on those that can. Also I know that ICU care is expensive and I'm pretty sure end-of-life care has stretched out to be much more than it was 20 years ago and I think that's raising general hospital costs too. Maybe I'm wrong.

Barney Frank didn’t cause the housing crisis

The Washington Post reiterates Barney Frank didn’t cause the housing crisis "So was Barney Frank to blame for our woes? There are two lines of argument here, and neither is all that compelling. The first contention is that Frank failed to exercise diligent oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as the housing bubble swelled. There’s something to this, though it’s worth noting that Frank was in the congressional minority for most of the period in question. The second argument is that Frank and other Democrats — by promoting policies to boost affordable housing — somehow caused the subprime mess and financial collapse. That argument is especially hard to square with the facts."


"Still, Fannie and Freddie were starting to act recklessly in other ways. As Jeff Madrick and Frank Portnoy detail in the New York Review of Books, Fannie Mae “aggressively minimized federal regulation of its activities and it fought off attempts to tax its profits, partly through extravagant favors to influential lawmakers.” Frank was one of those favored lawmakers — between 1989 and 2008 he received $42,350 in campaign contributions from Fannie and Freddie. Frank even helped get his then-boyfriend a job at Fannie Mae. And yet, for the bulk of this period, Democrats in Congress were in the minority. Even if Frank wanted to help out Fannie and Freddie, he wasn’t in a position to lead these efforts until 2007. (In 2005, when Frank helped sponsor a bipartisan House bill to create an independent regulator for Fannie and Freddie, it died in the Senate.)"

Secret Software on Android Phones Logging Everything

Wired blogs Researcher’s Video Shows Secret Software on Millions of Android Phones Logging Everything

"The Android developer who raised the ire of a mobile-phone monitoring company last week is on the attack again, producing a video of how the Carrier IQ software secretly installed on millions of mobile phones reports most everything a user does on a phone.

Though the software is installed on most modern Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones, Carrier IQ was virtually unknown until 25-year-old Trevor Eckhart of Connecticut analyzed its workings, revealing that the software secretly chronicles a user’s phone experience — ostensibly so carriers and phone manufacturers can do quality control.

But now he’s released a video actually showing the logging of text messages, encrypted web searches and, well, you name it."

Update: Apple fanblog Cult of Mac makes a good point, Steve Jobs Was Right, Android Logs Everything. "This is absolutely insane. Apple was practically crucified over LocationGate, which was just a cache of GPS locations stored on user’s home machines. Meanwhile, almost every Android phone out there is reading people’s emails and logging their passwords, while no one bats an eye."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where in the World? A Google Earth Puzzle

In Focus presents a puzzle, Where in the World? A Google Earth Puzzle - Alan Taylor - In Focus - The Atlantic "Looking at the world through via Google Earth offers striking images of the diversity of our planet and the impact that humans have had on it. Today's entry is a puzzle -- part 2 in a series (part 1 here), this time offering multiple choices. We're challenging you to figure out where in the world each of the images below is taken. North is not always up in these pictures, and, apart from a bit of contrast, they are unaltered images provided by Google and its mapping partners. So I invite you to have a look at the images below, make your guesses, and see your score at the end. Good luck! [25 images]"

Opening quotes from The Wire

Opening quotes from The Wire "The beginning of each episode of The Wire featured a short quote of dialogue from that are the characters saying all those quotes:" (via

Millions of Printers Open to Hacking

MSNBC reports Exclusive: Millions of printers open to devastating hack attack, researchers say. The article, particularly the headline, is hyperbole. The attack is via something called Remote Firmware Update on some HP LaserJet (not InkJet) printers.

"Every time the printer accepts a job, it checks to see if a software update is included in that job. But they say printers they examined don't discriminate the source of the update software – a typical digital signature is not used to verify the upgrade software’s authenticity – so anyone can instruct the printer to erase its operating software and install a booby-trapped version. In all cases, the Columbia researchers claim, duping a would-be target into printing a virus-laden document is enough to take control of that person's printer; but in some cases, printers are configured to accept print jobs via the Internet, meaning the virus can be installed remotely, without any interaction by the printer's owner."

I guess anything called "Remote Firmware Update" is a bad idea. And not signing the firmware is dumb, but apparently HP fixed that in 2009.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Approaches

The Big Picture says Christmas approaches. "The Christian religious holiday may not arrive until December 25, but secular and commercial festivities have been in full swing for almost a month already. Increasingly the non-religious aspects of the holiday are celebrated even in countries without a strong Christian tradition. Gathered here are images of preparations from around the world as it begins to look a lot like Christmas. -- Lane Turner (42 photos total)"

Bp42 copy

Judge Blocks S.E.C. Settlement With Citigroup

The New York Times reports Judge Blocks S.E.C. Settlement With Citigroup "Taking a broad swipe at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s practice of allowing companies to settle cases without admitting that they had done anything wrong, a federal judge on Monday rejected a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the agency."

"The agency in particular, Judge Rakoff argued, “has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges.” But it is difficult to tell what the agency is getting from this settlement “other than a quick headline.” Even a $285 million settlement, he said, “is pocket change to any entity as large as Citigroup,” and often viewed by Wall Street firms “as a cost of doing business.”"

Secret Fed Loans Helped Banks Net $13B

Secret Fed Loans Helped Banks Net $13B - Bloomberg "The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing."

Nice job Bloomberg.

"The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue."

Every paragraph is as revealing as this:

"The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year."

Rortybomb has a couple of comments, Comparing the Federal Reserve’s Reaction to the Financial Crisis Versus the Unemployment Crisis and A Bit More on the Bloomberg Piece.

Al-Qaeda is....Dead....Kind Of

Kevin Drum wrote Al-Qaeda is....Dead....Kind Of. He says the Washington Post wrote: "The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said."

"However, pretty much the entire rest of the piece is devoted to "U.S. officials" telling us that (a) none of this really matters, (a) al-Qaeda remains an enormous threat, and (c) we can't afford any kind of reduction in our overseas military presence. So don't let this get your hopes up."

The Laffer Curve for the Rich

Kevin Drum wrote Raw Data: The Laffer Curve for the Rich.

"Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez have tried to calculate the tax rate on the rich that would maximize revenue to the government."

"If you assume a broad base and no deductions, Diamond and Saez peg the revenue maximizing rate for top earners at 76 percent. That's for federal income tax only."

"Roughly speaking, though, this is a calculation of the peak of the famous Laffer Curve. (For top earners, anyway.) Above 76 percent, you really can generate higher revenues by lowering tax rates. Below that, higher rates generate higher revenue, just like you'd think."

Barney Frank to announce he is not running for re-election in 2012

Barney Frank is holding a press conference at 1pm today to announce he is not running for re-election in 2012. Apparently the redistricting had something to do with his decision.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The GOP’s Dual Trigger Nightmare In One Graph

Ezra Klein wrote The GOP’s dual trigger nightmare in one graph "Here’s a graph comparing the spending cuts and tax increases in all of the major deficit-reduction packages proposed thus far. (Note: I’m measuring revenues against the tax code as it it is right now, and I’m not including savings on interest payments.)"


I think the problem is, Republicans will just run on "See what the Democrats did!" and most people will believe them.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NASA Launches Curiosity Rover to Mars

NASA launched the Mars Curiosity Rover today and In Focus has pictures.

"The $2.3 billion mission will send a capsule into the Martian sky in August of 2012. After decelerating in the atmosphere, a series of entry events will quickly take place, ending with a rocket-powered sky crane lowering the rover gently to the surface. Curiosity is a beast of a rover, weighing one ton, measuring ten feet long by seven feet tall (at the top of the mast), and powered by a plutonium-238 fueled electrical generator. The rover carries ten instruments, including several high-resolution cameras, and a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instrument called ChemCam that can vaporize tiny amounts of minerals and analyze their components. If all goes according to plan, Curiosity is scheduled for a stay on Mars of about 668 Martian sols, or nearly two Earth years, starting in Gale crater. Researchers hope to use the tools on Curiosity to study whether the area in Gale crater has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life existed."

PHD Comics: Science Programming

PhD Comics has some pie charts on "Science" Programming:

Phd112711s copy

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Health Care’s Sleeper Legal Issue

SCOTUSblog provides Analysis on Health care’s sleeper issue.

"Section 7421, indeed, does take a bit of explaining.  What is it, what does it actually do, how did it get into the legal and constitutional dispute over the Affordable Care Act, and why might it shut down the constitutional review of the insurance mandate until 2015 at the earliest?

Section 7421 is actually a section within the Anti-Injunction Act that traces its origins to 1867; that law is often referred to as the Tax Anti-Injunction Act to distinguish it from another congressional enactment that is similar.  Both have to do with defining the powers of the federal courts.  The tax version is a part of Title 26 of the code of federal laws, and Title 26 deals only with tax issues.  The section’s most important words are these: “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such a person is the person against whom such tax was assessed.”

What that comment and the actual language of the section mean is that no taxpayer can file a lawsuit in court to challenge a federal tax provision if that provision has not yet actually gone into effect and been applied to a specific taxpayer...For purposes of the health care law and its insurance mandate, this means that no taxpayer could challenge the mandate in court until after it has gone into effect (in 2014), the IRS has assessed a penalty for not having insurance by then, the taxpayer has paid the penalty with a 2015 federal tax return, and then seeks to get the penalty money back with a refund claim, or the taxpayer uses a constitutional challenge as a defense to the assessed penalty."

Apparently the administration lawyers mentioned it in the first few suits but were overruled and then stopped talking about it. As the various healthcare rulings have come out it's gone back and forth.

"Six days after that ruling came down, deepening the split among federal appeals courts on the Anti-Injunction Act question, the Court granted review of the government’s appeal in one of the cases (along with two other appeals) and added a question for counsel in the government case: whether the anti-injunction law barred the challenges to the mandate and its penalty. And, last Friday, the Court chose Washington attorney Long to “brief and argue” that very question. Long will make his oral argument, opposing lawyers for the federal government and for state governments, during a one-hour argument that will be held with other arguments in the cases next March.

Judge Kavanaugh’s comments about separation-of-powers concerns, and his suggestion that the “prudent” thing for a court to do is to wait for another day to rule on the mandate and its penalty, could have an impact on the Justices as they ponder the non-legal question of whether they should rule on those issues during the current Term, knowing — as they surely will — that their decision probably will come down in the midst of the 2012 presidential and congressional election campaign. The Anti-Injunction Act question provides a credible alternative basis for a ruling."

Influence Explorer

The Sunlight Foundation created the Influence Explorer. "Type in the name of a COMPANY, your LAWMAKER or a prominent INDIVIDUAL, and see how they're influencing the political system." Looking up News Corp is quite surprising.

Now someone's created a bookmarklet called Checking Influence that you can use from your online banking site. "Just add Checking Influence to your bookmarklet bar and then go to any web page that has bank transactions (wherever you do online banking, like your banking site, credit card site, or Then, just click on the Checking Influence bookmarklet in your toolbar. Checking Influence will find the company names in your list of banking transactions and show you the “influence data” for the corporations it can identify — including political campaign contributions and what lobbying the corporation conducted."

RIP Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011. "Anne McCaffrey, legendary SF and fantasy author best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, has passed away. Random House has confirmed that McCaffrey died of a stroke at her home in Ireland on Monday, November 21."

"McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction, the first woman to win a Nebula Award, and the first author to hit the New York Times bestseller list with an SF title (The White Dragon)."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leonardo's To-Do List

Robert Krulwich talks about Leonardo's To-Do List "Well, Toby Lester describes what is essentially a "To Do" list buried in one of those notebooks, a bunch of things Leonardo planned to do one week, or month, in the early 1490's...Here's what was on his mind, stuff he wanted to do. This is a direct translation, with my amendments in brackets:"


The Easy Question in Financial Regulation

Economist's View points to Jeff Frankel's "The Easy Question in Financial Regulation".

"I do not see the argument for cutting funding of the SEC and CFTC or for the other ways that Republicans in Congress are finding to make it difficult for these agencies to do their jobs. They are also deliberately impeding two new agencies set up in response to the 2008 financial crisis — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, lodged at the Fed, and the Office of Financial Research at the Treasury — from doing their respective jobs."

"I realize that in the United States, as in every country, we have some regulations that are excessive or undesirable. But how anyone can think that regulation by the SEC was excessive during 2001-08 and that this contributed to the financial crisis?"

"That is the irrationality on the Right. There is an equally irrational point of view on the Left. It goes like this: because the head of the CFTC is a former investment banker from Goldman Sachs, it must necessarily be that he is serving the interests of the financial community. It happens that Gary Gensler is doing a great job, against great odds. He has been trying to force derivatives trading into clearinghouses with lower counterparty risk, as required by the Dodd-Frank bill, to try to avoid repeats of September 2008."

Romney offers a hint of what’s to come

Steve Benen writes Romney offers a hint of what’s to come "In October 2008, a month before the president was elected, then-candidate Obama spoke in New Hampshire and told voters, “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”

In Romney’s new attack ad, viewers only see Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The obvious point is to deceive the public — Romney wants voters to think the quote reflects Obama’s current thinking, not McCain’s three years ago.

Romney, in other words, is choosing to mislead voters and hoping they don’t know the difference."

Who's Fault Was the Supercommittee Failure?

Ezra Klein looks past the pol chatter and points out, In supercommittee, Dems moved right and Republicans moved righter

"If by "at fault" we mean "unwilling to compromise," we can do better than listen to the self-serving remarks of the players. We can look hard at the movement in the actual plans."

"But if the question is whether the Democrats or the Republicans moved further in the direction of a compromise, there's no doubt that compared to the last set of negotiations, the Democrats moved right and the Republicans moved further right."

Always nice having some data to back up your opinion.

Pennsylvania GOPers Put Electoral Vote-Grab Plan Back On The Shelf

TPM reports Pennsylvania GOPers Put Electoral Vote-Grab Plan Back On The Shelf. "Pennsylvania Republican leaders are backing away from a proposal to split the state’s electoral votes by Congressional districts, rather than the winner-take-all system used almost everywhere else — a proposal that would have potentially given the 2012 Republican presidential nominee a majority of the state’s electoral votes even if they didn’t carry the state’s popular vote."

New parking card in Boston means no more scrounging for quarters to feed meters

The Boston Globe reports New parking card in Boston means no more scrounging for quarters to feed meters "Mayor Thomas M. Menino will introduce a parking debit card today to give drivers another option at 7,200 Boston meters that until now were coin-only.

The officially named Boston Meter Card is designed to be swiped at the time of parking and again when leaving, so drivers pay only for time used, down to the nickel. That means no more racing back to fill an expiring meter or driving off with time left on the clock."

"The prepaid cards can be purchased at City Hall and the city’s tow lot or online in increments from $5 to $100. Unlike the MBTA’s CharlieCard, the Boston Meter Card will not be reloadable from home, though officials said they hope to add that feature. Menino’s administration is also in talks with a major retailer to make the cards available in stores."

And extra bonus for the city, they get to collect interest on your money before you actually park.

I wonder if this means you can park for longer? Harvard Square has some new credit card meters but it's still a three (two?) hour limit. I got back literally one minute late and had a ticket on my car. I think that since the meters must be connected to a network to process the credit card, they also have a sensor that knows when a car pulls away and informs the parking cop walking around the minute you're over. If anyone knows for sure if this is true or not, please let me know.

Why Is China Building These Gigantic Structures In the Middle of the Desert?

Gizmodo reports Why Is China Building These Gigantic Structures In the Middle of the Desert? "This is crazy. New photos have appeared in Google Maps showing unidentified titanic structures in the middle of the Chinese desert. The first one is an intricate network of what appears to be huge metallic stripes. Is this a military experiment?"


Click through to the article to see more, really bizarre.

Oscar Race: Herzog, Spurlock left behind as 15 documentaries advance

Oscar Race: Herzog, Spurlock left behind as 15 documentaries advance | Inside Movies | "The Oscar for best feature documentary is officially closer for 15 films. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed the list via a press release on Friday, after the Documentary Branch Screening Committee narrowed their picks down from 124. The Committee will now have to select the final five, which will be announced live along with the other nominees on Tuesday, January 24 at 5:30 a.m. "

Their 15 picks are listed below in alphabetical order:
Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Jane’s Journey
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Project Nim
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here

I've only seen If a Tree Falls and Project Nim. They're ok, but it's ridiculous that Being Elmo and The Interruptors aren't on this list. I'm not sure they're eligible but Last Days Here and El Bulli should be on the list too.

Poll Shows Fox News Viewers Less Informed on Major News Stories

Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll Shows Fox News Viewers Less Informed on Major News Stories "According to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University, if you watch Fox News you are significantly less likely to know the correct answer to that question than if you mostly avoid news shows and newspapers all together."

"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor who took part in the analysis of the PublicMind data. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."


Monday, November 21, 2011

Faster than light neutrinos? Not so fast, say new findings

The Christian Science Monitor reports Faster than light neutrinos? Not so fast, say new findings.

"In a paper posted Saturday on the same website as the OPERA results, the ICARUS team says their findings "refute a superluminal (faster than light) interpretation of the OPERA result."

They argue, on the basis of recently published studies by two top U.S. physicists, that the neutrinos pumped down from CERN, near Geneva, should have lost most of their energy if they had travelled at even a tiny fraction faster than light.

But in fact, the ICARUS scientists say, the neutrino beam as tested in their equipment registered an energy spectrum fully corresponding with what it should be for particles traveling at the speed of light and no more."

xkcd: Money

xkcd has another tour de force today, a big chart about Money. It's a bit unwieldy but was interesting to go through. I think some things would have been better as a bar chart or other graph (like past presidential campaign fundraising). Be sure to catch "Five things I learned while researching this chart" in the middle right of the billions section. Note also "US spending on wars" and "size of derivatives market by year". It's not that derivatives are bad, but shouldn't something that big be regulated at least a little bit, like to guarantee some reporting and transparency so we know what it is.

Gingrich Says Child Labor Laws Should Be Rolled Back So Kids Can Be Janitors

TPM reported, Gingrich: Roll Back Child Labor Laws. Here's the whole post, "New frontrunner Gingrich says child labor laws are a major cause of growing economic inequality. His first suggestion: fire unionized janitors and have kids do the clean-up."

Sounds pretty stupid on it's face, but follow the links and you find this slightly more detailed report, Newt: Fire the janitors, hire kids to clean schools.

"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

He added, "You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars."

"They all learned how to make money at a very early age," he said. "What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don't do it. Remember all that stuff about don't get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central."

Now that sounds a little more reasonable, at least something you could discuss. Though if the child labor laws are so tough, I'm not sure how these successful people managed to get their first job at 9-14. Maybe there are some jobs for kids. Though again, that "stay all day" stuff might interfere with school. Yeah, maybe when you look at his comments in a little more depth, they do sound pretty stupid even if they're wrapped around something that almost kinda wants to sound reasonable.

The Health Care Grants at SCOTUS

SCOTUSblog' s The health care grants: In Plain English give the background on the appellate decisions and the questions the court has accepted to hear.

Lyle Denniston went into a little more detail in his analysis, The Court’s agenda on health care and again in Why a health care law, anyway?Plea for TV of health care hearings "Against very long odds, the C-SPAN network on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow live television coverage of the oral arguments that are to be held in March on the constitutionality of the new federal health care law."

Darpa: Do Away With Antibiotics, Then Destroy All Pathogens

Danger Room writes Darpa: Do Away With Antibiotics, Then Destroy All Pathogens "Instead, Darpa wants researchers to use nanoparticles — tiny, autonomous drug delivery systems that can carry molecules of medication anywhere in the body, and get them right into a targeted cell. Darpa would like to see nanoparticles loaded with “small interfering RNA (siRNA)” — a class of molecules that can target and shut down specific genes. If siRNA could be reprogrammed “on-the-fly” and applied to different pathogens, then the nanoparticles could be loaded up with the right siRNA molecules and sent directly to cells responsible for the infection."

Pizza is a Vegetable? Congress Defies Logic, Betrays Our Children

Kristin Wartman writes Pizza is a Vegetable? Congress Defies Logic, Betrays Our Children

"Herein lies the brilliance of the food industry -- not only has it created a myriad of products but it also created the idea that children want industrial food products above all else. While most Americans have bought into this notion, it's simply not true. Children 100 years ago couldn't have possibly eaten the industrial foods they are eating today. But listening to parents and children now, you'd be convinced that they will only eat industrial foods. Bruske writes that the middle schoolers in Berkeley "insist" on round industrial pizza.

How was this notion started? The food industry literally shapes and changes the palates of our children. Constantly eating sugary, salty and fatty food products adjusts taste preference to the point that simple, real foods taste bland and unappealing. While the food industry insists that it only advertises to children "to influence brand preference," a study published in the journal Appetite found that the food industry works to, "fundamentally change children's taste palates to increase their liking of highly processed and less nutritious foods.""

Up With Chris had a Congressman on who, if I remember correctly, explained that this was buried in a continuing budget resolution which kept the government open for another whole 30 days. Also it did something like funding the military so on balance it was a good bill. Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to fund the government every 30 days so industry could sneak stuff into such bills.

Update: Sarah Kliff says No, Congress did not declare pizza a vegetable. "What happened this week was that Congress blocked that change: Tomato paste will continue to get outsized credit, with one-eighth of a cup essentially counted as something four times larger."

"If you stack one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste up against a half-cup of some pretty common fruits and vegetables, the paste actually doesn’t do so badly. Here are nutrition facts for one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste (left) versus a half a cup of apples (right):"

"All told, the nutrition facts look really similar. Tomato paste does do a lot worse on sodium, but it also does much better in terms of calcium and potassium content. It also slightly edges out apples on dietary fiber, with a lower amount of sugar."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Which Economic Indicators Best Predict Presidential Elections?

Nate Silver answers Which Economic Indicators Best Predict Presidential Elections?. He looked at 43 economic indexes all back to 1948.

"The broader point — and one thing this evidence is fairly definitive upon — is that the rate of change is what counts. Americans will give a fair amount of credit to a president in an economy that is still below its full productive capacity provided that it seems to be getting better. This can also be seen in the poor performance of the variable actual-to-potential G.D.P. (which tracks output against its long-term trend-line) as compared to the comparatively strong performance of the rate of G.D.P. growth during the election year."

"Meanwhile, the best-performing variable has been the ISM manufacturing index, which is a measure of how much manufacturing businesses are ramping up or ramping down their activity. It has had an r-squared of .46."

"So does this mean you should all go out and use the ISM manufacturing index in your forecasting models? Actually, maybe not. It is certainly worth looking at. But when you’re testing 43 different economic indicators over a sample of just 16 elections, the best-performing ones are likely to have been a little lucky. In fact, the relative rank of the economic indicators has historically been very inconsistent: those that perform best over one set of elections do not do much better over the long-term. "

Woman Gets Jail For Food-Stamp Fraud; Wall Street Fraudsters Get Bailouts

Usually I think Matt Taibbi goes just a little to far, but it's hard to argue with his framing of this issue. Woman Gets Jail For Food-Stamp Fraud; Wall Street Fraudsters Get Bailouts.

"Last week, a federal judge in Mississippi sentenced a mother of two named Anita McLemore to three years in federal prison for lying on a government application in order to obtain food stamps...Since McLemore had four drug convictions in her past, she was ineligible to receive food stamps, so she lied about her past in order to feed her two children...The total "cost" of her fraud was $4,367. She has paid the money back. But paying the money back was not enough for federal Judge Henry Wingate...He ultimately gave her three years, saying, "The defendant's criminal record is simply abominable …. She has been the beneficiary of government generosity in state court.""

"Compare this court decision to the fraud settlements on Wall Street. Like McLemore, fraud defendants like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank have "been the beneficiary of government generosity." Goldman got $12.9 billion just through the AIG bailout. Citigroup got $45 billion, plus hundreds of billions in government guarantees. All of these companies have been repeatedly dragged into court for fraud, and not one individual defendant has ever been forced to give back anything like a significant portion of his ill-gotten gains. The closest we've come is in a fraud case involving Citi, in which a pair of executives, Gary Crittenden and Arthur Tildesley, were fined the token amounts of $100,000 and $80,000, respectively, for lying to shareholders about the extent of Citi’s debt. Neither man was forced to admit to intentional fraud. Both got to keep their jobs."

It's less effective, but I also liked, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests

Friday, November 18, 2011

Krugman vs Summers: The debate

Felix Salmon describes Krugman vs Summers: The debate from a couple of days ago in Toronto.

Paul Ryan’s Solution to Inequality Helps the Rich, Does Nothing for Poor

Greg Sargent writes Paul Ryan’s solution to inequality helps the rich, does nothing for poor

"Since Ryan has a widespread reputation as a serious fiscal thinker, I thought I’d ask Tim Smeeding, an expert on inequality at the University of Wisconsin, to evaluate his report. Smeeding’s verdict: Ryan’s effort is only “half serious,” fails to prove its argument about inequality, and doesn’t offer any policy prescriptions that would fix the problem as Ryan himself defines it."

Oregon Tries Out Voting by iPad for Disabled

The NY Times reports Oregon Tries Out Voting by iPad for Disabled "Oregon last week became the first state in the country to use iPads to allow people with disabilities to vote, and it intends to use them again for another election in January. Several other states are expected to follow suit with iPads or other tablets, possibly as early as for next year’s presidential election.

In a special primary election in five counties in Oregon, 89 people with disabilities marked their ballots on an iPad. They did not actually cast their votes online — Internet voting is an idea whose time has not yet come, several elections officials said."

"One woman, who has impaired vision, was able to enlarge the print on her ballot so that she could see the names of candidates. A man with arthritis who could not hold a pen was able to touch the screen with his finger and mark his ballot...For the Jan. 31 election, she said, voters with disabilities will have even more iPad options: those who cannot use their hands, for example, can use a tube to activate software that lets them call up the ballot and mark it. They will be able to attach their own joysticks or paddles. The iPad can also translate the ballot for those who do not speak English, and read it out to the blind."

Android malware infections skyrocket, says Juniper

Android malware infections skyrocket, says Juniper "Juniper Networks has reported skyrocketing rates of Android malware infections on the networks of its mobile customers, with detected malware more than quadrupling in just the last six weeks. That's on top of dramatic increases in the previous two years. The report will put more pressure on Google to tighten up security practices in the Android Market."

Fukushima Radiation Spread

Ars on Fukushima radiation spread: wide dispersion and localized hot spots "Yesterday's issue of PNAS contains two papers that are first steps in tracking the radiation released by the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Both contain bits of good news: a substantial amount of the radiation went out over the Pacific, and most of the remainder is concentrated immediately northwest of the crippled reactors. However, they also indicate that some isotopes released by the damaged reactors were spread fairly widely across the country, raising the prospect of localized hot spots."

Occupy protestors say it is 99% v 1%. Are they right?

The Guardian questions, Occupy protestors say it is 99% v 1%. Are they right? "Are the Occupy Wall Street protesters right? How unequal is the US? We've animated the key data - see what it says"

National Geographic Photo Contest 2011

The Big Picture does their take on the National Geographic Photo Contest 2011. Really absolutely amazing.

"There's still time! The deadline for entries for this year's National Geographic Photo Contest is November 30. Photographers of all skill levels (last year more than 16,000 images submitted by photographers from 130 countries) enter photographs in three categories: Nature, People and Places. The photographs are judged on creativity and photographic quality by a panel of experts. There is one first place winner in each category and a grand prize winner as well. The following is a selection of 54 entries from each of the 3 categories. The caption information is provided and written by the individual photographer. -- Paula Nelson (54 photos total)"

Daring Fireball on Josh Topolsky's Year-Old Nexus S Review

Gruber may be an Apple fanboy but his blog is quite good, particularly when he does his version of the Daily Show and finds old reviews and sees how they compare to today. For example, Josh Topolsky's Year-Old Nexus S Review

"Thinking more about Josh Topolsky’s enthusiastic review of the new Galaxy Nexus, I went back to read his review from last year of the Nexus S. He correctly flagged big problems I saw with the Nexus S and Android 2.3, like this:"

"That Topolsky has no major gripes like this about the Galaxy Nexus makes me think Android 4.0 might really be the first good version of Android. Which in turn makes me think Steve Jobs wasn’t far off at the 2007 iPhone introduction when he claimed the iPhone was five years ahead of the competition."

Occupy Protesters Could Use Spy Drones

Spencer Ackerman says Occupy the Skies! Protesters Could Use Spy Drones. it's a cool idea, but I really wonder why journalists or TV news reporter don't use their own drones.

CERN Reconfirms Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos

CERN Reconfirms Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos "The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has reconfirmed the revolutionary September results of its historic experiment that detected neutrinos, a type of uncharged particle, moving faster than the speed of light, according to an announcement from the agency on Friday."

Also, Favored Higgs hiding spot remains after most complete search yet. "The study, made public today, eliminates several hints the individual experiments saw in previous analyses but leaves in play the favored mass range for the Higgs boson, between 114 and 141 GeV. ATLAS and CMS ruled out at a 95 percent confidence level a Higgs boson with a mass between 141 and 476 GeV."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Greatest Horologist of All Time Dies

The BBC reports Dr George Daniels: Funeral for 'greatest horologist' "The funeral of a man described as the "greatest horologist of all time" took place on the Isle of Man on Wednesday."

His website has some pictures of his watches and a biography.

Stephen Colbert this week had Thomas Thwaites on who tried to make a toaster from scratch, including smelting iron. He didn't do very well. George Daniels was one of the few people who could make a watch from scratch. "Dr Daniels created 37 watches in his career. Each one, created from scratch by hand and from raw materials, demanded the mastering of more than 30 separate skills and took more than 2,500 hours to complete."

He also created new escapements including the co-axial escapement which Omega put into production in 1999. They have a nice site with an animation of how it eliminates a sliding surface which means it doesn't need to be lubricated with oil which eventually gunks up and requires maintenance. It's apparently the biggest advance in watch making since the level escapement was invented in 1750.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Impartial Justices?

Rachel Maddow last night talked about this LA Times report, Scalia and Thomas dine with healthcare law challengers as court takes case. "The day the Supreme Court gathered behind closed doors to consider the politically divisive question of whether it would hear a challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, two of its justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court."

SCOTUSblog's Wednesday round-up lists several similar reports:

"Several commentators also weighed in on the subject of whether some of the Justices should recuse themselves, including John Hudson of the Atlantic Wire and David Jackson at the USA Today blog The Oval, who writes that “[c]onservative groups are calling for Justice Elana Kagan to recuse herself because she worked for the Obama administration during the crafting of the . . . bill,” while “[l]iberal groups . . . have called for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself because his  wife has worked for the Tea Party organizations that are seeking repeal of the health care law.”  Echoing the latter sentiment, at the Huffington Post Reverend Al Sharpton calls for the recusal of Justices Scalia and Thomas as a result of their ties to conservative lobbying groups and fundraisers.  Rick Ungar also addresses this topic at Forbes, as does George Zornick at The Nation (via NPR)."

The sad thing is, I have no doubts about how Scalia and Thomas will rule so I'm not sure it matters. I also have no doubts about how Breyer or Ginsburg will rule, so it balances out. The others I have some doubts about but in general, it comes down to Kennedy and I'm not sure about him at all. The fact is, it's hard to imagine qualified people who haven't formed an opinion on it yet. I do trust the justices to look at the facts and rule and I just think their biases will push them to rule in an expected way. Still, being honored at a dinner paid for by a firm that will argue the case you just took earlier that day, does seem a bit over the line.

The Pew Budget Challenge

The Pew Budget Challenge is very detailed and I skipped some things due to lack of time. Still I saved $2.585 billion over ten years. The details are below (flash required) though it mostly from reducing defense spending 1% annually, adding a public option and increasing the maximum income limit on social security taxes to $170K. Also there's some stuff about taxing foreign income for corporations, requiring drug manufacturers to lower costs for Medicare D as they do for Medicaid and raising the top two income tax brackets by 1%. There are a lot of little program options and the descriptions provided are quite good.

Update: Okay that sucks. I though this embedded flash thing would include my results, they don't. If you go through it, you probably want to save your results as a pdf (the option is there).

I was pointed at this by Ezra Klein's wonkbook today which talks about how the supercommittee seems to be failing and that "Republicans are talking about unwinding the trigger before the supercommittee has even finished its work". "The reality is, the supercommittee might not just end without reaching a deal. It might end by undoing a previous deal, and by making the two sides trust each other less i future deals. That's not just failure. That's sabotage."

Congress Says Pizza is a Vegetable

NotionsCapital wrote Congress Reaps Pizza Harvest "Tuesday, by act of Congress, pizza was declared a vegetable. The Spending Bill before our elected officials contained an Agriculture Department provision recognizing that school kids are dangerously obese, and that subsidizing school lunches of frozen pizza and french fries is unwise and unhealthy. The Congressional response: a slice of pizza = a serving of vegetables.

The American Frozen Food Institute spent over $5 million convincing Congress to protect their juicy $11 billion annual school lunch harvest from the pestilence of nutritional common sense, and they prevailed. Result: kids will still eat government-subsidized carbs, fat, and salt, and Big Food will get fatter, too."

More info here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New York City Police Clear Occupy Wall Street Protesters From Zuccotti Park

The Wall Street Journal Reports, New York City Police Clear Occupy Wall Street Protesters From Zuccotti Park. "Police brought the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park to an abrupt end early Tuesday morning, as hundreds of officers swept in and cleared out protesters and their tents. About 200 protesters were arrested, according to the Associated Press, including many who refused to leave. The raid sent others into the surrounding streets, setting off clashes and marches throughout Lower Manhattan."

I get how the protest could be annoying to residents and the mayor, but that doesn't mean they can just order the police to break it up. The point of protesting is to be in others faces. And if they do order the police to break it up, why does the raid have to happen at 1am? And I don't think the police can keep journalists away during the raid.

I have some respect for Bloomberg for taking full responsibility, "the final decision to act was mine". And to pick nits, I'm annoyed when anyone says this is a free speech issue. They're right to say this is a first amendment issue, but it's the right of assembly not free speech. Bloomberg is wrong to say in his statement "There is no ambiguity in the law here - the First Amendment protects speech - it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space." Now I'm sure there are limits on assembly and I'm not sure of the details, but it's not nearly as simple as Bloomberg suggests.

The New York Times has a page with Updates on the Clearing of Zuccotti Park. It's still unfolding because a judge has issued an order saying the protestors can stay and called for a hearing at 11:30 and still the police were blocking protesters from the park. The Daily Telegraph has a similar updating page, Occupy Wall Street eviction: live.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cain Chokes On Libya Question

Cain Chokes On Libya Question: ‘Got All This Stuff Twirling Around In My Head’. "The beginning of Cain’s answer then gave the impression that he might have been working from rote memorization — and struggling to remember his lines."

Seriously, these are the best the GOP can put forward for their nominee? And seriously, these people need to view the campaign as a very long interview or audition, and so far they suck.

The biggest thing to me about the Perry moment wasn't even that he couldn't remember the name of the agency he wanted to shut down (which isn't just a name thing, that's a big decision that shouldn't just be part of lets memorize a list of three names), but what about what those agencies do? The Dept of Energy regulates nuclear power plants. Is all regulation so bad that we just want to stop doing that now? They also do weapons research, is this GOP nominee saying we shouldn't have nukes anymore? The Department of Commerce runs the census. The constitution says we have to do that, so who will do it now and is it is just moving things around? They also do patents and trademarks, also mandated by the constitution. Oh and other commerce stuff like trade I suppose we should just not have the government involved in at all. What about when industry complains about unfair trade practices by other nations? This level of debate is so low it's useless.

LHCb has evidence of new physics! (maybe)

Résonaances writes LHCb has evidence of new physics! (maybe). Unfortunately I can't really follow it.

"It finally happened: we have the first official claim of new physics at the LHC. Amusingly, it comes not from ATLAS or CMS, but from LHCb, a smaller collaboration focused on studying processes with hadrons formed by b- and c-quarks. Physics of heavy quark flavors is a subject for botanists and, if I only could, I would never mention it on this blog. Indeed, a mere thought of the humongous number of b- and c-hadrons and of their possible decay chains gives me migraines. Moreover, all this physics is customarily wrapped up in a cryptic notation ensuring that only the chose few can decipher the message. Unfortunately, one cannot completely ignore flavor physics because it may be sensitive to new particles beyond the Standard Model, even very heavy ones. This is especially true for CP-violating observables, because those are very small in the Standard Model, thus a new physics contribution may easily stick out.

So, the news of the day is that LHCb observed direct CP violation in neutral D-meson decays. More precisely, using 580 pb-1 of data they measured the difference of time-integrated CP asymmetries of D→ π+π- and D→ K+K- decays. The result is...3.5 sigma away from the Standard Model prediction which is approximately zero!"

National Geographic Photo Contest 2011

In Focus on the National Geographic Photo Contest 2011 "National Geographic is currently holding its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 30. For the past nine weeks, the society has been gathering and presenting galleries of submissions, encouraging readers to vote for them as well. National Geographic was kind enough to let me choose among its entries from 2011 for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 45 images from the three categories of People, Places, and Nature, with captions written by the individual photographers. [45 photos]"

S n01 5202011 copy

Supreme Court to Rule on Obamacare

SCOTUSBlog explains Court sets 5 1/2-hour hearing on health care

"Setting the stage for a historic constitutional confrontation over federal power, the Supreme Court on Monday granted three separate cases on the constitutionality of the new federal health care law, and set aside 5 1/2 hours for oral argument, to be held in March.  The Court, however, did not grant all of the issues raised and it chose issues to review only from three of the five separate appeals before it.

The Court will hold two hours of argument on the constitutionality of the requirement that virtually every American obtain health insurance by 2014, 90 minutes on whether some or all of the overall law must fail if the mandate is struck down, one hour on whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars some or all of the challenges to the insurance mandate, and one hour on the constitutionality of the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled. The Court chose those issues from appeals by the federal government, by 26 states, and by a business trade group. It opted not to review the challenges to new health care coverage requirements for public and private employers. It left untouched petitions by a conservative advocacy group, the Thomas More Law Center, and three of its members, and by Liberty University and two of its employees."

So in late June Justice Kennedy will decide for us. Though they seem to be addressing lots of issues, it may be more interesting.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time Lapse from ISS with Aurora Borealis

"Time lapse sequences of photographs taken with a special low-light 4K-camera by the crew of expedition 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from August to October, 2011."

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space | Fly Over | Nasa, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Science of Earworms

Scientific American wrote The Science of Earworms, or Why You Can’t Get that Damn Song Out of Your Head.

"'Simply, an earworm is the experience of an inability to dislodge a song and prevent it from repeating itself in one’s head.' Oh, thaaat. In the last five years, earworms have become the subject of peer-reviewed scientific studies."

I'm not sure they have many results yet. But they do have a poll you can take, perhaps the most annoying single question poll ever. You can choose from a list of the 76 most annoying songs to have stuck in your head. Good luck reading through that.

Atlas Shrugged Inadvertently Releases Collector’s Item

Atlas Shrugged Movie writes ATLAS SHRUGGED Inadvertently Releases Collector’s Item "Atlas Productions LLC announced today its plan to replace more than 100,000 title sheets appearing on the Atlas Shrugged Part 1 DVD and Blu-ray versions sold through major retail outlets. These retail versions were packaged with an inaccurate synopsis of Atlas Shrugged. Not affected were the “Special Edition” versions sold online at"

It's the reason for the recall that's so funny:

"The 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, is known in philosophical and political circles for presenting a cogent argument advocating a society driven by rational self-interest. On the back of the film's retail DVD and Blu-ray however, the movie’s synopsis contradictorily states “AYN RAND’s timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice comes to life...”"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Astronomers have found when and how the cosmic fog was lifted

Astronomers have found when and how the cosmic fog was lifted was a Bad Astronomy article from a month ago (yes I'm catching up on old saved links). I know that when the universe was about 376,000 years old, it became transparent and that produced the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation which we can detect today and which is one of the significant pieces of evidence of the Big Bang.

The "became transparent" was always a little vague to me. I thought it was because the universe expanded enough that it cooled from a plasma to normal matter (mostly Hydrogen gas). Well that's true but this article, unusually, goes one step further and talks about photons interacting with free (ionized) electrons and how we measure the ionization that long ago. And it's still accessible. Good stuff.

The Moneyball of Campaign Advertising

This was from a month ago on FiveThirtyEight, The Moneyball of Campaign Advertising (Part 1) "In other words, much of what goes into modern campaign advertising may be futile. Will this “rapid decay” convince candidates to husband their resources and unleash a barrage of ads on Oct. 30, 2012? Probably not. Might early advertising be useful for raising money or generating media coverage or other things besides moving poll numbers? Possibly yes, although here again there is only a little evidence, if that. Nevertheless, the fact a few eggheads have so spectacularly called into question the monthslong television advertising campaign suggests how little may underlie the collected wisdom of the political cognoscenti. Campaigns are spending a lot of money, but they are not playing Moneyball."

Nigel Tufnel Day

Tommorrow is Nigel Tufnel Day. Be sure to stop and celebrate Friday 11/11/11 at 11:11:11.

Two Econonomic Infographics

Jess Bachman has updated his beautiful visualization of the United States budget Death and Taxes 2012.

Atlas of Economic Complexity: Harvard has released an interesting new index of “economic complexity” which is the productive knowledge of the economy, based on analysis of its output composition.

When Republicans literally ignore the economy

Steve Benen wrote When Republicans literally ignore the economy

"An alert reader forwarded me a copy of the survey, which asked voters, “What do you believe are the most important issues facing the federal government today?” Take a look at the options the public has to choose from."

"Congressional Republicans are often accused of ignoring job creation and economic growth, but we don’t usually see such literal examples of the problem."

Fox News successfully creates climate confusion, but only among conservatives

Fox News successfully creates climate confusion, but only among conservatives "Now, some academics have done an exhaustive evaluation of Fox broadcasts (along with those of CNN and NBC) and demonstrated that there is a systematic bias against presenting the scientific community's conclusions on Fox. And, at least among those with a conservative bent, it works. These viewers are far less likely to understand the state of the science, or even accept the reality that our planet has gotten warmer."

Nice to have evidence backing one's beliefs.

"There was a very clear pattern. "Although Fox discussed climate change most often, the tone of its coverage was disproportionately dismissive," the authors concluded. The dismissiveness was present in almost every category. A third of Fox's broadcasts rejected the reality of climate change, while only 21 percent accepted it (no other network came close to those figures). Almost four times as many broadcasts on Fox claimed there was no consensus as accepted that one existed; the exact opposite was true on the other networks. A similar pattern was apparent when it comes to the issue of attribution. Fox was also selective about its guests, nearly half of which doubted the existence of climate change (about 40 percent accepted it). On CNN and MSNBC, the figures were 9 and 15 percent, which is much closer to the level of acceptance by the scientific community."

And as to whether this is a causal relationship:

"Over 40 percent of the self-identified Democrats sometimes watch Fox, while 17 percent of Republicans tune in to CNN and MSNBC. When the numbers for those viewers were broken out, two different trends were apparent. Among Democrats, it didn't matter how often they watched Fox; their acceptance of climate change remained roughly steady. Republicans who watched MSNBC and CNN, however, had a much higher acceptance than their peers who maintained a strict diet of Fox."

New DNA analysis reveals what cavemen were really painting 35,000 years ago

If you saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams (in 3D) you might be more interested in this report from io9. New DNA analysis reveals what cavemen were really painting 35,000 years ago "Some key pieces of evidence in this debate are paintings of white horses with black spots. These distinctive markings are known as "leopard" spotting in modern horses, but researchers weren't sure if such horses actually existed in Paleolithic times. If these black spots were in fact an invention of the ancient painters, that suggests a level of abstraction or symbolism that we would not have otherwise expected in our ancient counterparts."

Turns out that yes, horses did have spots at that time and therefore cavemen (or women) were painting what they saw and weren't doing anything abstract.

2500 Days

A couple of months ago when I posted about Nerdiversary I found out that as of today I've been on sabbatical for 2500 days. I think I'll watch a movie.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Windows Vulnerable to Attacks Against Closed UDP Ports

I saw someone post about this Microsoft Security Bulletin, MS11-083 - Critical : Vulnerability in TCP/IP Could Allow Remote Code Execution (2588516). This vulnerability is in Windows Vista and Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 and they've released a patch.

The interesting thing is that, "The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if an attacker sends a continuous flow of specially crafted UDP packets to a closed port on a target system."

"The vulnerability is caused when the Windows TCP/IP stack processes a continuous flow of specially crafted UDP packets, resulting in an integer overflow...An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could run arbitrary code in kernel mode."

Crazy. It makes sense, though I'm a little surprised such holes are still around. I wonder if they are in other systems' TCP/IP stacks.

24 Hours at Fukushima

IEEE Spectrum has an article, 24 Hours at Fukushima "On the other hand, close study of the disaster's first 24 hours, before the cascade of failures carried reactor 1 beyond any hope of salvation, reveals clear inflection points where minor differences would have prevented events from spiraling out of control. Some of these are astonishingly simple: If the emergency generators had been installed on upper floors rather than in basements, for example, the disaster would have stopped before it began. And if workers had been able to vent gases in reactor 1 sooner, the rest of the plant's destruction might well have been averted."

"Citing a government investigation, TEPCO has steadfastly refused to make workers available for interviews and is barely answering questions about the accident. By piecing together as best we can the story of what happened during the first 24 hours, when reactor 1 was spiraling toward catastrophe, we hope to facilitate the process of learning-by-disaster."

Colbert Super PAC Issue Ads

The Colbert Report opened last night with a segment on Super PAC issue ads. It starts with an example issue ad by a Super PAC called Make Us Great Again which is just a Perry campaign ad. This is legal as long as the PAC and the campaign don't coordinate. Super PACs have no limit on what they can spend, unlike political parties which is limited to $240,000. The Nebraska Democratic Party created an "issue ad" for Sen Ben Nelson. It cost more than the limit and the party says it was acting as a Super PAC, creating an issue ad, and didn't coordinate with Nelson, even though he's in it. Karl Rove then proposes to take this further.

Colbert brings in former FEC chief Trevor Potter to explain how Rove might lose his case. To "help" Rove, he has Colbert send a letter to the FEC which will be part of the public record with information about the issue.

It ends with the visual aid that Colbert is including, an issue ad that the Colbert Super PAC created starring but not coordinated with presidential candidate Buddy Roemer.

It's a hilarious and brilliant piece of satirical performance art.

The Story of Broke

The people who previously did The Story of Stuff have now produced The Story of Broke

"The United States isn't broke; we're the richest country on the planet and a country in which the richest among us are doing exceptionally well. But the truth is, our economy is broken, producing more pollution, greenhouse gasses and garbage than any other country. In these and so many other ways, it just isn't working. But rather than invest in something better, we continue to keep this 'dinosaur economy' on life support with hundreds of billions of dollars of our tax money. The Story of Broke calls for a shift in government spending toward investments in clean, green solutions—renewable energy, safer chemicals and materials, zero waste and more—that can deliver jobs AND a healthier environment. It's time to rebuild the American Dream; but this time, let's build it better."

Ballet Shoes and Ballerinas as Technology: A History En Pointe

Suzanne Fischer wrote in The Atalntic, Ballet Shoes and Ballerinas as Technology: A History En Pointe. "Laemmli argues that the new shoes forced dancers' bodies to move in new ways. Dancers on this pointe regimen developed characteristically long, lean leg muscles. Balanchine also encouraged dancers to let the shoes remake their bodies, including developing bunions that gave the foot just the right line. And as their bodies were remade, dancers became "like IBM machines," modern and indistinguishable. This had consequences for labor, too. For one, stars became a less central feature of dance companies as dancers became more interchangeable, and second, dancers came to spend hours working on their shoes -- altering, gluing, and caring for them. In fact, in 1980 dancers threatened to strike -- not over hours or pay, but for better pointe shoes, and better management of them."

Fall Is in the Air

In Focus covers Fall Is in the Air, Part II. This might have the highest percentage of great photos I've seen them do. I love half of them.

"Autumn is a season of frosty mornings, festivals like Halloween and Mexico's Dia de los Muertos, and of course, spectacular foliage. Around the north, people have begun to see their breath form misty clouds in the chilly morning air, snows have fallen early, and preparation for winter is well under way. Collected here is a second group of images of this year's autumn from around the northern hemisphere -- the earlier entry can be seen here. [37 photos]"

Friday, November 04, 2011

Fracking Earthquakes and Nukes Oh My

On Wednesday Rachel Maddow had this report about nuclear power plants. The interesting stuff starts at the 4:57 mark and I've transcribed it below (which was a pain in the ass but the MSNBC provided transcript is really bad).

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"The east coast earthquake hit on August 23rd this year. The damage to roads and homes and offices was not catastrophic except in some very specific locations. However, the epicenter was 12 miles away from the North Anna Nuclear Plant in Louisa County Virginia and because of the earthquake, the plant had to shut down. That is the first time that's ever happened to any nuclear plant in the country. They've never before had to shut one down before a quake. Well ten weeks after that August earthquake, the North Anna Nuclear Plant is still not back up and running.

When that plant shut down we were first told it was shut down because it was knocked off the electrical grid when power went out in the area due to the quake. Turns out that was not true. We've since learned that the North Anna Plant shut down because of all the shaking from the earthquake. It was only after the plant shut down because of all the shaking, that the electrical power went off. And eight seconds after the electrical power went off, the generators kicked in, three diesel generators kicked in. One of the four generators at the North Anna Plant tried to kick in and failed.

Right now the rule for American nuclear power plants is that they have to have backup generator capabilities for four hours before off site power is restored. Here's my question. What if it takes more than four hours to get the power back on? Remember, if can you cannot keep the power on, if your diesel generators aren't running to keep the cooling system going, if you can't keep the cooling system on, Fukushima.

I know there is no sex scandal or partisan advantage here but for the record, today we learned that, okay the headline in the Associated Press calls it a glitch, but check this out. Utility officials say gas from inside the Fukushima plant's No. 2 reactor indicated the presence of radioactive xenon which could be the byproduct of unexpected nuclear fission. This is happening now, today at Fukushima. Unexpected nuclear fission. Nuclear fission as in the very thing emergency crews were trying to prevent in the meltdown of Fukushima because a small burst of fission could trigger a much larger nuclear reaction. That's still going on.

Here in the United States in just the last couple months, in addition to the earthquake damaged North Anna Plant which is still not online, the Palisades Nuclear Plant in southwestern Michigan was shut down for a week because a mechanical fault led to a small release of radioactive tritium into the air. This is the same plant shut down in September because it lost water in its cooling system. At a plant in Georgia, in Baxley Georgia, they found radioactive water, tritium again, leaking out of the plant. The Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire shut down automatically after a faulty water pump caused a low water level in its steam generator. After three weeks of being online [sic], it is just now being turned on again. At a plant in Ohio, more cracks were found this week in the concrete shield building that's supposed to protect the plant from wind and tornadoes. The plant's been shut down since October 1st because of previously discovered cracks. Those cracks were found accidentally when the plant's owners were doing some unrelated renovations. And yesterday, a nonradioactive ammonia leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Plant in California set off alarms and caused a partial evacuation of the plant.

On top of all that, the General Electric Corporation, hi boss, says that the 35 nuclear reactors that it built over the last 40 years from New York all the way down to Washington may not shut down properly during an earthquake. The company is recommending testing now to determine how much of a jolt it would take to stop the nuclear fission process during an earthquake in one of those plants. They're recommendation additional testing, 40 years after making them, because we don't know the answer to that yet.

Some of these plants are 40 years old. These plants are all 40 years old. And we're just now getting around to figuring out how big a quake would turn them from a disaster into a catastrophe. All of our nuclear plants being decades old and constantly subject to poorly understood and unprecedented mechanical failure is not the kind of scandal that involves sexy things like reality show stars getting divorced after 72 days of matrimony or regulators shtooping lobbyists or drugs be snorted on household appliances. But some day this stuff, this nuclear plant stuff, is going to drive me nuts enough that I'm going to send cocaine-laden divorce papers without a prenup up to Indian Point in the hopes of getting somebody outraged."

So I'm not sure how bad some of this is. Nonradioactive ammonia leaks don't sound that bad and a partial evacuation could just be a prudent standard operating procedure. But the issue with earthquakes does sound bad, and after my sister just went 50 hours without power after a snowstorm, a four hour backup battery supply does sound inadequate. But Maddow didn't connect a few other things that I've come across lately.

Reuters reported Natural Gas Firm Says Shale Fracking Caused UK Earthquakes "Shale gas exploration triggered small earthquakes near Blackpool in northwest England earlier this year, UK firm Cuadrilla Resources said, adding to concerns about the safety of a technology that is transforming U.S. energy markets."

The report says ""It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing of Cuadrilla's Preese Hall-1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events." Apparently the events were 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale and the site's geological features are rare which would make it unlikely that at other sites there would be quakes caused. Ars Technica has more details.

Brian Williams' new show Rock Central had a segment about how there are tons of jobs in North Dakota because of the new booming oil industry there because of all the fracking. EarthJustice has a map shading "areas of active and potential natural gas drilling and fracking"

Frackmap png 14404 copy

I know there's a lot of controversy over fracking and I've seen the movie Gasland. Usually the complaints about fracking are about the (underregulated) chemicals used and the affect on the water supply. The video of someone lighting their water faucet on fire is certainly compelling. The EPA is studying it with reports due out in several years. But I hadn't heard the earthquake issue before.

The USGS says "Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established. "

So look at that map of fracking sites. Remember the unusual east coast earthquake in August? It was centered in Virgina. Well wikipedia tells me I'm not the first one to put these two together and that the USGS doesn't think it could have caused the Virginia quake. Fair enough, I'm happy to have that idea disproved.

But, we have all these 40 year old nuclear power plants that I'm sure were built in areas of low seismic activity. Well I know the Indian Point plant in NY was built on a fault line and there are some in California. Conveniently, the sunlight foundation has made a map of nuclear plants and fault lines.

Regardless, the idea that lots of fracking could cause even small seismic events in areas that might not otherwise have them is kind of disturbing. If I think that those areas might have been low seismic activity areas and might have been chosen as sites for nuclear plants it's certainly more alarming. I don't mean to be alarmist or generate stupid internet fears, but I'm sure 40 years ago, nuclear plant designers didn't factor in fracking and I want to know what they now think of it.