Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Astrophoto: Milky Way Over the Bungle Bungles by Mike Salway

Astrophoto: Milky Way Over the Bungle Bungles by Mike Salway "The Bungle Bungles of Purnululu National Park are an incredible sight in themselves, huge beehive-shaped sandstone formations. But Mike was able to take a panoramic view of the Milky Way arching over the formations, a symmetrical halo of light in the full sky."


Monday, July 30, 2012

Darpa's Flu Fighters Ramp Up Veggie-Based Vaccines

Danger Room reports Darpa's Flu Fighters Ramp Up Veggie-Based Vaccines "The standard method of creating flu vaccine involves chicken eggs. Seriously: researchers combine the virus with a chicken embryo. But it takes months to ramp up production, and it takes a lot of eggs to cover a population. One estimate has it at nearly a billion eggs just to cover the U.S. alone. That’s a billion eggs you might not have during an outbreak.

Plant-based vaccines, however, are developed using ‘virus-like particles,’ which consist solely of protein and are non-infectious. They can’t spread between people, and they help produce anti-viral antibodies. To produce the particles, scientists synthesize the DNA of the flu virus, combine the flu DNA with bacteria, and then soak the plants with it. After soaking for a few minutes, the plants then start producing the flu-fighting particles. The DNA stays in the plant. The protein is then extracted and becomes the basis for a vaccine.

The most popular plant? Tobacco, as it grows relatively fast. The U.S. is also estimated to produce a heaping 450 metric tons of tobacco per year. And the whole process of turning tobacco into vaccines only takes a matter of weeks to complete. On a large enough scale, plant-based vaccines could be conceivably produced at 100 million vaccines a month. Egg-based vaccines, though, can take months just to develop."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

22 Pixar Story Rules

From last year: Pixar story rules (one version) "Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of ‘story basics’ over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

London 2012: The Opening Ceremony

In Focus shows us the London 2012: The Opening Ceremony "Last night the 2012 Summer Olympics kicked off with a huge Opening Ceremony in London's new Olympic Stadium, an event watched on television by an estimated 1 billion viewers. Performances paid tribute to British heritage and culture, from agrarian beginnings through pop culture successes like the Beatles and J.K. Rowling. Contingents from more than 200 nations marched in the athletes parade, and the evening was capped off by the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron, a performance by Paul McCartney, and a huge fireworks display. Collected below is just a glimpse of last night's ceremony, as the 2012 Olympics are now underway. [44 photos]"


Most of my friends don't seem to care about the Olympics but I'm fascinated by them, particularly all the odd sports that we don't normally get to see.

The opening ceremonies were ok. The fields and countryside in the round stadium reminded me of Settlers of Catan. Then I have to say I was a little disturbed by the fact that all the countryside was razed to make room for factories in the industrial revolution. I liked the Queen parachuting in with James Bond (mimicking one of the best openings from a Bond movie). I liked the 60s rock music and never expected to hear Pink Floyd at such an event. I also liked how the flame was brought to the stadium by motor boat along the Thames and how the olympic torch was assembled. Mr. Bean was kinda cute but it didn't do much for me.

Here are some gorgeous panorama shots. It must have sucked to have been seated behind the giant tree on a hill.

This morning I have both tuners going on the TiVo, one on NBC and one on MSNBC. I saw some of the biking road race and some table tennis and fencing (foil). I'm happy that so far I haven't seen a human interest story, maybe they're saving them for prime time. I'm a little annoyed that they've given us very little information about the sport, particularly fencing. The Guarding has some nice infographics that explains things. They have a lot more olympic graphics including flash-based interactive ones. I wish they had made an iPad app containing these.

The NBC apps seem ok but don't include info about how the sports work or are scored. The fact that London is 5 hours ahead of us means I'm a little nervous about looking at British news sites and apps for fear of spoilers. I find the NBC iPad is a bit slow and the medal count confuses me. Before noon on the first day the front page shows no medals for the US but if you go to the medal page it says China has 51 golds, 21 silvers and 28 bronze while the US has 36 gold, 38 silver and 36 bronze. Is this even possible? There's an official London 2012 Results app and that currently shows 3 of 302 medals awarded, which seems more reasonable. It also lets you set your time zone and preferred country, but a highlighted news article gave me a spoiler for a swimming event final. There's a Reuters London 2012 app which shows a stream of gorgeous pictures and some articles.

I'm also unimpressed with how NBC is showing the results. At the end of the road race they put up this graphic. Would it have killed them to list the athletes' countries? Or some of the out of medal winners? Or the times? Or even to have given it enough space so the medal icons don't have to overlap?

IMG 0689

Apparently they're doing different things in different sports. In swimming they did more of what I expected.


And we've had the first athlete banned for doping. "An Albanian weightlifter was banned from the Olympics on Saturday for failing a drug test, the first athlete to be sanctioned for doping during the London Games, according to the International Olympic Committee. The athlete, Hysen Pulaku, tested positive for the substance stanozolol, a steroid, in two different urine samples, according to the IOC report."

Friday, July 27, 2012

10 Recent Science Fiction Books That Are About Big Ideas

io9 lists 10 Recent Science Fiction Books That Are About Big Ideas. I've read Anathem and have The Lifecycle of Software Objects and Rainbow's End.

How did people commit mass murder before automatic weapons?

Slate wrote Aurora Shooting: How did people commit mass murder before automatic weapons? "Guns aren’t even the most lethal mass murder weapon. According to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, guns killed an average of 4.92 victims per mass murder in the United States during the 20th century, just edging out knives, blunt objects, and bare hands, which killed 4.52 people per incident. Fire killed 6.82 people per mass murder, while explosives far outpaced the other options at 20.82. Of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century, only 52 percent involved guns."

The New Rule That Could Sink Michael Phelps

The Atlantic writes The New Rule That Could Sink Michael Phelps "Still, as if to prove the rains-pours theory, Beijing brought other once-in-a-generation storylines: Eric Shanteau competing with cancer, Dara Torres medaling at the age of 41, and of course, the freakishly high tally of world records, brought on by bodysuits that have since been banned. With so many sub-plots to follow it's no surprise that a small technical development—a subtle flick of the feet called the Kitajima Kick—slipped under the radar. What is remarkable, however, is just how much this technique reduces drag and increases a swimmer's speed. In a sport where hundredths of a second separate first from fifth, the Kitajima Kick could decide the final bout between the best swimmer in the world and the best swimmer in history."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The New York Times Is Now Supported by Readers, Not Advertisers

The New York Times Is Now Supported by Readers, Not Advertisers "Advertising revenue continues to sink at the New York Times Company, which reported a second-quarter net loss of $88.1 million today. But a glimmer of hope can be seen in circulation revenue, which has actually gone up through print subscription price increases and the online paywall. At the company's big three papers — the Times, International Herald Tribune, and Boston Globe — print and digital ad dollars dipped 6.6 percent to $220 million, while circulation revenue was up 8.3 percent to $233 million. The historical rebalancing, which occurred at the News Media Group for the first time in Q1, may indicate a sea change in an industry that has long relied on advertising to stay afloat. 'They're probably the first major paper that has crossed that line,' media analyst Ken Doctor of Newsonomics told Daily Intel. 'It is an interesting moment.'"

David Kornfeld’s High Noon

David Kornfeld’s high noon is a pretty great article if you watch movies in Boston theaters.

"David Kornfeld, who runs the projection booths at the Somerville Theatre, is perhaps best thought of as the enfant terrible of the local projection scene. His method of terror is a commitment to top-quality presentation that exceeds what many of his peers consider necessary. He is uncompromising. One elite local projectionist calls him a "mega-nerd," which I interpreted to refer both to his insanely encyclopedic knowledge of the craft, as well as — to a lesser degree — his forthright, suffers-no-fools demeanor. "

"The projection booth in the Somerville's cavernous 890-seat House 1 is Kornfeld's masterwork. Built at a cost of $150,000 or more, it features massive twin Norelco projectors and touches like a recirculating water cooling system and $800 windows that can be easily removed for cleaning (dirty glass can kill screen brightness). Its interior is painted, to his specification, pale blue. "In terms of the picture on screen and the sound you're listening to, I would put that up against any theater you can name. Any one. And I will either equal or better them," he told me. John Quackenbush, who runs projection for both the Harvard Film Archive and the Independent Film Festival of Boston, goes to screenings in House 1 regularly. "It's very close to perfection there," he told me. "It's one of the best places to watch in the country." He puts it in the same league as personal favorites of his like the Coolidge and the State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan.

Kornfeld says the Norelco "Double A's" in the booth are the best projectors ever made (Quackenbush takes issue — he's partial to the Harvard Film Archive's Kinotons). Designed and built in the early '60s for the esoteric and short-lived Todd-AO film format, they can run both 70mm and 35mm prints at either 24 or 30 frames per second. They are menacing steel beasts painted industrial beige and bristling with add-on tech. Perched at the very top of the steep balcony, they point almost straight down at the screen, which, seen through the port glass, is the size of a postcard. "They were manufactured to tolerances and standards that are unique in projection history," says Kornfeld. "And they will simply last forever.""

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Right Lies About Who invented the Internet

Slate wrote Who invented the Internet?: The outrageous conservative claim that every tech innovation came from private enterprise

"Suddenly, though, the government’s role in the Internet’s creation is being cast into doubt. “It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet,” Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, argued Monday in a widely linked Journal op-ed. Instead, Crovitz believes that “full credit” for the Internet’s creation ought to go to Xerox, whose Silicon Valley research facility, Xerox PARC, created the Ethernet networking standard as well as the first graphical computer (famously the inspiration for Apple’s Mac). According to Crovitz, not only did the government not create the Internet, it slowed its arrival—that researchers were hassled by “bureaucrats” who stymied the network’s success. “It's important to understand the history of the Internet because it's too often wrongly cited to justify big government,” Crovitz says."

I try not to hate the right, I really do but every week there's another bullshit claim like this. And it's not just from the fringe, it gets picked up and repeated but all on the right. Slate goes on to say:

"Crovitz’s entire yarn is almost hysterically false. He gets basic history wrong, he gets the Internet’s defining technologies wrong, and, most importantly, he misses the important interplay between public and private funds that has been necessary for all great modern technological advances."

and of course they're right. I think another reason conservatives want to believe their bullshit is if they thought that the government funded the creation of the Internet, they might also have to admit that Al Gore pushed hard for a lot of that funding over many years.

Quote Approval and Journalism

Jeremy Peters wrote in the NY Times Latest Word on the Campaign Trail? I Take It Back.

"The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations."

Dylan Byers added, "The National Journal joins the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, and the Washington Examiner in opposing quote approval."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Washington Pertussis Outbreak Is Very, Very Bad

Bad Astronomy wrote Washington pertussis outbreak is very, very bad.

"Got that? There are 13 times as many people – more than 2500 in total so far – getting pertussis right now as there were last year at this time in Washington.

Some of this increase may be attributable to the pertussis bacterium growing a resistance to the vaccine and booster. However, it’s curious that Washington state has seen such a large jump; the incidence of pertussis overall in that state is nine times higher than the national average.

Why would this be? Well, it so happens that the antivax movement is quite strong in Washington state, and it also so happens that parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children in higher numbers there than the rest of the nation."

196 People Gave 80% Of Super PAC Funding...in 2011

Professor Lawrence Lessig will be testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee against the Citizens United decision. His testimony is here.

He states one of the statistics I've seen a few times and that scares me about our political fundraising. "In the current presidential election cycle, .000063% of America — that’s 196 citizens — have funded 80% of Super PAC spending." He also gives a citation for that stat, it comes from here, Auctioning Democracy: The Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 ElectionNewImage

What wasn't clear to me before, is this for 2011 Super PAC contributions. And it's also only about the 65% of
contributions that came from individuals (not corporations). The report goes on to say that if you include all large donor funding then it's 351 donors gave 84% of the money, that's still ridiculously skewed. Still I have to suspect that 2012 statistics will be different and will have to stop quoting the 196 number.

Photographing Police: What Happens When the Police Think Your Phone Holds Evidence of a Crime?

Ever since 9/11 there's been some paranoia about people photographing buildings, particularly federal ones or those involving transportation. Remember this? Photograph Amtrak Trains For Amtrak Contest: Go To Jail. So apparently the ACLU has been working with organizations to resolve this.

Photographing Police: What Happens When the Police Think Your Phone Holds Evidence of a Crime? "The Washington, DC chief of police on Friday issued a new ‘General Order’ to members of the police department on ‘Video Recording, Photographing, and Audio Recording of Metropolitan Police Department Members by the Public.’ The order, which was part of the settlement of an ACLU lawsuit, includes some very interesting, groundbreaking provisions."

So you can take pictures of public things, including police officers "in the public discharge of their duties", though you can commit other crimes (like trespass) to take photos and you can't interfere with police in their duties.

"The part that actually took longest to negotiate was the question of what do you do if the police have reason to believe that someone’s camera has evidence that might be important, either in prosecuting a crime or in perhaps in showing police misconduct. We didn’t want the police to be just grabbing people’s cameras—which has certainly happened sometimes—and we also certainly didn’t want police to be browsing through people’s photographs and video to see what else might be there that’s really of no legitimate interest to the police.

And we eventually agreed. I think the most creative thing about this order—my idea was, why can’t the police department set up an email address so that someone can simply email the relevant photographs or video, so you’ll have it, but I get to keep my camera. So that’s been incorporated in the order."

If the person still refuses there can be some cases where the police can seize the camera, but they can't look at the photos without first getting a warrant and then they can only look at the photos mentioned in the warrant, they can't look at any random photos on the camera.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tax havens: Super-Rich Hiding At Least $21 Trillion

The BBC reports Tax havens: Super-rich 'hiding' at least $21tn "A global super-rich elite had at least $21 trillion (£13tn) hidden in secret tax havens by the end of 2010, according to a major study. The figure is equivalent to the size of the US and Japanese economies combined."

"Mr Henry said his $21tn is actually a conservative figure and the true scale could be $32tn."

London Olympics: Olympic Stadium Isn't Built to Last

The Wall Street Journal wrote London Olympics: Olympic Stadium Isn't Built to Last. The architects of the Olympic Stadium had to embrace the temporary. It was surprisingly freeing.

"The temporary aesthetic gave Populous the freedom to 'start thinking about doing the building in a completely different way from anything we'd ever done before, even down to things like materials and colors,' Mr. Sheard says. 'Why do most of our buildings not have a lot of color in them? It's because UV light decimates colors. Architects shy away from colors because within five years they look like a faded version of what they were.' Freed from that concern, Populous could use a broader palette for the stadium.

It also could save money by using 'fabrics that have a very short life span and are very reasonably priced,' says Mr. Sheard. Additional money was saved by putting fewer permanent concession stands inside the stadium and instead relying on temporary facilities just outside the building."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Paul Krugman on Dicing With The Climate.

"The normal, cautious thing is to say that there’s no way to attribute any particular event, like a heat wave in the Ukraine, to global warming — and news media have basically been bullied by this argument into rarely mentioning climate change even when reporting on extreme weather. But Hansen et al make an important point: this argument is much weaker when we’re talking about really extreme events, like temperatures more than 3 standard deviations above historical norms. Such events would almost never happen if there weren’t a rising trend in global temperatures; so when they become quite common, as they have, it’s fair to call them evidence of warming."

"The second point is how we know that climate change is a bad thing?...But Hansen et al make a stronger point: life as we know it evolved to fit the historical range of planetary temperatures. In the long run it might be able to adapt to a changed world — but now we’re talking millions of years."

So yeah, we suck at talking about climate change in a way that will convince anyone. Bill McKibben wrote in Rolling Stone a great and terrifying article, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math. He frames the discussion as three numbers.

2°C is how much we should hold rising temperatures to. We've already seen it rise 0.8°C and the effects are much worse than we predicted.

565 Gigatons is how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere by mid century to keep temps within the 2°C.

2,795 Gigatons. "The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher...Those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you'd be writing off $20 trillion in assets."

"Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue. If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming."

State Taxes and the Tax Debate

Jared Bernstein on State Taxes and the Tax Debate.

"You don’t win friends doing it, but I’ve been trying to amplify the point that if you look at federal taxation from any angle you want, you will be very hard pressed to make an argument that Americans are overtaxed.  Relative to our own past, to other advanced nations, to the optimal taxation literature…that argument is simply not in the data. But what about state and local taxes?  Have they gone up enough to offset the decline in federal taxation since 2000?"

"In fact, once you add state+local+federal together, you find that the share of total taxes paid by households is pretty close to their share of national income, a strong data point against argument that the bottom 50% don’t have any skin in the tax game. That’s only true if you’re considering federal income taxes."

U.S. Admits Surveillance Violated Constitution At Least Once

Danger Room reports U.S. Admits Surveillance Violated Constitution At Least Once.

"The head of the U.S. government’s vast spying apparatus has conceded that recent surveillance efforts on at least one occasion violated the Constitutional prohibitions on unlawful search and seizure.

The admission comes in a letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassifying statements that a top U.S. Senator wished to make public in order to call attention to the government’s 2008 expansion of its key surveillance law.

‘On at least one occasion,’ the intelligence shop has approved Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to say, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that ‘minimization procedures’ used by the government while it was collecting intelligence were ‘unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.’ Minimization refers to how long the government may retain the surveillance data it collects.  The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is supposed to guarantee our rights against unreasonable searches.

Wyden does not specify how extensive this ‘unreasonable’ surveillance was; when it occurred; or how many Americans were affected by it."

FactCheck.org : Whoppers of 2012, Early Edition

FactCheck.org : Whoppers of 2012, Early Edition.

"In Chicago, the Obama campaign for weeks has been consumed with the date (1999 or 2001?) of Romney’s departure from Bain Capital, the venture-capital firm he founded. The reason? The Obama campaign wants to blame Romney for management decisions made after Feb. 11, 1999, at a few of the companies in which Bain invested. Romney did retain ownership and corporate titles listed in routine SEC filings after February 1999, but no evidence has yet shown that he exercised any active control over Bain’s investment decisions during this time. Romney was working 12-hour days, six days a week, as president of the 2002 Winter Olympics committee and was not actively involved in Bain.

Obama has even stooped to make a false claim that Romney favored banning abortion in cases of rape or incest, as though the contrast between their actual positions was not sufficiently clear. In doing so, the president mirrors the distortions of opponents who once accused him of favoring ‘infanticide.’

For his part, Romney has claimed to have created as many as 100,000 jobs while at Bain, happily taking credit for hiring that happened long after he left (and offering no actual accounting for the figure). He has accused Obama of waging a ‘war on women’ based on job losses from a recession that started more than a year before Obama took office. He has falsely stated in a TV ad that an inspector general found stimulus contracts ‘were steered to ‘friends and family,’ ’ when the IG made no such finding. And he has repeatedly misrepresented Obama’s new health care law.

Meanwhile the tone of the campaign becomes ever more nasty. Obama campaign aides recently suggested Romney was guilty of a ‘felony,’ while a Romney surrogate said the president should ‘learn to be an American.’

And neither candidate speaks candidly of what he would actually do if elected. Romney won’t say how he plans to cut taxes further without losing revenues. Cutting or eliminating the deduction for home mortgages or for state income taxes? Obama says nothing about how Social Security is to be preserved. Raising the payroll tax?

Perhaps we’ll hear more in the 109 campaigning days to come. Perhaps the candidates will become less personal, more substantive, and more forthcoming about their plans for leading the nation. We remain hopeful. But, based on the facts so far, we’re not optimistic."

Romney’s and Obama’s tax plans, in one (new and improved) chart

Ezra Klein wrote Romney’s and Obama’s tax plans, in one (new and improved) chartNewImage

"What you’re seeing there is the same data as on the first chart, but with ‘equally spaced intervals on the horizontal axis represent[ing] equal percentages of taxpayers.’ The result is that the two candidate’s tax plans come through much more clearly. Romney’s plan is a large tax cut for the top 60 percent, a huge tax cut for the top few percent, and a significant  tax increase for the bottom few percent, as he permits a few temporary tax breaks that benefit low-income folks to expire. Obama’s plan keeps the current tax rates for almost everyone but the top few percent, who face a very large tax increase.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers only tell half the story: Romney has promised to offset the cost of most of his tax plan through spending cuts and tax reforms, and so any analysis of who pays is incomplete without those policies. But that information is impossible to graph, as Romney hasn’t released it yet. All we can say is that since Romney has promised to increase spending on defense and honor Medicare and Social Security’s scheduled benefits for the next decade, it’s hard to see how he makes good on that promise without cutting deep into programs for the poor and tax preferences that benefit the middle class, and if that’s right, then the poor and middle class are paying much more than you can tell from the graph above."

How I Lost My Fear of Universal Health Care

How I Lost My Fear of Universal Health Care describes how one woman became less of an idiot.

"Fast forward a little past the Canadian births of my third and fourth babies. I had better prenatal care than I had ever had in the States. I came in regularly for appointments to check on my health and my babies' health throughout my pregnancy, and I never had to worry about how much a test cost or how much the blood draw fee was. With my pregnancies in the States, I had limited my checkups to only a handful to keep costs down. When I went in to get the shot I needed because of my negative blood type, it was covered. In fact I got the recommended 2 doses instead of the more risky 1 dose because I didn't have to worry about the expense. I had a wide array of options and flexibility when it came to my birth, and care providers that were more concerned with my health and the health of my baby than how much money they might make based on my birth, or what might impact their reputation best. When health care is universal, Drs are free to recommend and provide the best care for every patient instead of basing their care on what each patient can afford.

I found out that religious rights were still respected. The Catholic hospital in the area did not provide abortions, and they were not required too. I had an amazing medically safe birth, and excellent post-natal care with midwives who had to be trained, certified and approved by the medical system.

I started to feel differently about Universal government mandated and regulated Health care. I realized how many times my family had avoided hospital care because of our lack of coverage."

"I started to wonder why I had been so opposed to government mandated Universal Health care. Here in Canada, everyone was covered. If they worked full-time, if they worked part-time, or if they were homeless and lived on the street, they were all entitled to the same level of care if they had a medical need. People actually went in for routine check-ups and caught many of their illnesses early, before they were too advanced to treat. People were free to quit a job they hated, or even start their own business without fear of losing their medical coverage. In fact, the only real complaint I heard about the universal health care from the Canadians themselves, was that sometimes there could be a wait time before a particular medical service could be provided. But even that didn't seem to be that bad to me, in the States most people had to wait for medical care, or even be denied based on their coverage. The only people guaranteed immediate and full service in the USA, were those with the best (and most expensive) health coverage or wads of cash they could blow. In Canada, the wait times were usually short, and applied to everyone regardless of wealth. If you were discontent with the wait time (and had the money to cover it) you could always travel out of the country to someplace where you could demand a particular service for a price. Personally, I never experienced excessive wait times, I was accepted for maternity care within a few days or weeks, I was able to find a family care provider nearby easily and quickly, and when a child needed to be brought in for a health concern I was always able to get an appointment within that week."

She goes on about how there are fewer abortions, religious views are still respected, information presented is more balanced and the patient has the choice. Oh also that it costs much less for families so they get more treatments earlier and with less hassle and is cheaper for the government (with a balanced budget). She left out that it's much cheaper for businesses (who aren't sponsoring health insurance) and why the right lied to her for song long in the US and why she didn't believe the left when they told her so.

I should be happier reading this that someone changed their mind with more information and came the right conclusion but I really think this should be subtitled "How I got my head out of my ass". I mean how else to interpret: "I was horrified that they included abortion on the list of options, and the fact that the pamphlet was so balanced instead of 'pro-life.' " and ...

"During my appointment that day, the midwife asked her initial round of questions including whether or not I had desired to become pregnant in the first place. Looking back I am not surprised she asked that, I was depressed at the time, (even though I did not list that on my medical chart) and very vocal about my views on birth control (it wasn't OK, ever.) No wonder she felt like she should ask if I was happy to be having this baby. But I was angry about the whole thing. In my mind, freedom was being violated, my rights were being decided for me by the evils of Universal Health Care."

Your rights weren't being violated, in fact the polices you want to enforce would violate the rights of others.

New Programming Jargon

Coding Horror: New Programming Jargon " I've collected the top 30 Stack Overflow New Programming Jargon entries below, as judged by the Stack Overflow community."

I particularly like: Yoda Conditions, Refuctoring, Stringly Typed, Heisenbug, Ninja Comments, and Protoduction.

Life Under the Microscope

In Focus shows Life Under the Microscope "In its ninth year now, the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition has once more brought together some of the most extraordinary microscope images of life science subjects from around the world. Seeing these tiny, nearly hidden objects magnified so greatly, so vividly, can bring home the reality of the invisible microscopic worlds all around us. The winning entries will be on display at the New York Hall of Science through August 31st. The competition sponsors have been gracious enough to share some of the top images here, displaying a compelling mix of art and science. [24 photos]"

S b13 0rotifer copy

The Postal Service is struggling, but not because of the mail

An opinion piece in The Washington Post The Postal Service is struggling, but not because of the mail.

"One prevalent myth is that delivering the mail to 150 million addresses six days a week, as more people turn to the Internet, puts taxpayers on the hook for multibillion-dollar losses. In fact, boosted by record worker productivity, the Postal Service is admirably weathering the worst economy in 80 years. In fiscal 2007 through 2010, if you subtract the related costs from the earned revenue from mail delivery (the Postal Service hasn’t received taxpayer money in 30 years), it had an operating profit of $611 million.

There is indeed red ink, but the reasons are unrelated to the mail. In 2006 Congress required that, within the next decade, the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years — a burden no other agency or company faces. That accounts for 85 percent of all of the agency’s red ink since — and more than 90 percent of the $6.46 billion shortfall from the first half of fiscal 2012. Before pre-funding began in 2007, the Postal Service had annual profits in the low billions. It’s this unaffordable payment that the Postal Service is ‘simply not capable of making’ next month, a spokesman said this week."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Humpbacks Off Truro Coast

A whale's tale: Humpbacks off Truro coast. "Humpback whales paid an unexpected visit to boaters off Truro on July 14. Carina Shane of Sweden was floating next to a boat off Truro when a humpback whale appeared."


A little more here.


I'm kinda embarrassed at some of my thoughts in the wake of the tragic shooting in Colorado. The media is of course going nuts about it and there just isn't enough real information at this point to support all the coverage, so there's just mostly useless speculation. In some cases journalists have completely forgotten the ensure accuracy before you report step (again). Anyway, stupid thoughts follow:

Has George Will complained yet about reading the shooter his Miranda rights?

How long until this appears on Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom?

How long until someone suggests that this is a plot by the Obama administration to repeal the second amendment?

Isn't the NRA line that such things would be prevented if everyone carried a concealed weapon? I guess no one was. Or maybe it doesn't work that way. Maybe armed victims don't manage to stop murders. Has that ever happened? UPDATE: Well there's this.

Maybe the fact that this kind of stuff keeps happening in the US and not in Europe suggests we should tighten our gun laws. Well it does happen in other countries too.

One of the news shows (I think on MSNBC) had a crawler showing tweets about the shooting. Most were by politicians but for some reason they thought we should all see this tweet by director @ThatKevinSmith, "My heart goes out to all the families of the victims in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Fucking horrific." Yes it included the full word "fucking". Is that a fleeting expletive? Will the FCC fine them? How did that get on the screen? I can't imagine they're showing a feed of all related tweets or of Kevin Smith tweets, someone must have picked that to show.

Singapore's Biometric Trees

Business Insider writes about Singapore's Biometric Trees.

"To develop its Marina Bay area, Singapore is building 18 'supertrees' as tall as 164 feet as part of a mulit-million project called Gardens by the Bay. The artificial forest will open to the public on June 29.

The trees will also generate solar power, collect rainwater and cool the buildings in the area. There will even be an aerial walkway between some of the trees to provide citizens and tourists with spectacular views of Singapore's downtown district."

The trees will be lit in various colors from vibrant reds browns and oranges to a cooler silver and pink scheme copy

More pictures here.

Elizabeth Warren: Libor Fraud Exposes a Rotten Financial System

Elizabeth Warren had a nice op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, Libor fraud exposes a rotten financial system. But as she almost says, the real question is does it expose or help change a rotten political system...

"Real accountability would mean prosecuting the traders and bank officials who violated federal laws and prosecuting the executives who knew what they were up to. It would mean forcing executives to pay back any inflated compensation that was based on padded profits.

Going forward, the rules would be changed so that Libor is calculated on actual borrowing costs, not estimated or claimed costs. And enforcement agencies would have the resources they need to launch investigations, to fight the armies of private lawyers the banks hire and to prosecute the law-breakers.

But the heart of accountability lies deeper. It rests on acknowledging that we cannot trust Wall Street to regulate itself — not in New York, London or anywhere else. The club is corrupt. When Mitt Romney says he will move to repeal all of the new financial regulations, he supports a corrupt system. When members of Congress grill regulators for being too tough on Wall Street and slash the budgets of the regulators charged with overseeing Wall Street, they prop up a corrupt system."

Bain Crap

This whole Romney stayed as CEO of Bain thing strikes me as a typical summer political story. Fine to cover but unlikely to result in much. It's obvious that he went an managed the Olympics and became governor of MA so he wasn't doing much at Bain. He had a figurehead title and maybe there are some issues with filings with the SEC but it's true that CEOs can be figureheads. How the two campaigns handle a fake scandal is potentially interesting, but it's mostly just what's wrong with politics today.

So today the Boston Globe wrote Romney kept reins, bargained hard on severance. I think the title is overstating things. There are a couple of interesting bits into Romney's character:

"Romney had expected to remain at Bain Capital for years. He initially rejected the idea of running the Olympics, recounting in his memoir, “Turnaround,” that “after fifteen years of effort, Bain Capital had become extraordinarily lucrative. How could I walk away from the golden goose, especially now that it was laying even more golden eggs?” To do so, Romney wrote, meant “I would walk away from my leadership at Bain Capital at the height of its profitability.”"

"At Bain, there would be significant upheaval in the immediate months following Romney’s departure in 1999. At least one partner worried that, in losing the founder — one who excelled at bringing in investors, not at finding the companies to invest in and overhaul — Bain might have trouble attracting money to its funds."

"“He’d created a lot of franchise value, and we were going to pay him for that,” [former Bain Capital partner Edward] Conard said. “We had a very complicated set of negotiations that took us about two years for us to unwind. During that time a management committee ran the firm, and we could hardly get Mitt to come back to negotiate the terms of his departure because he was working so hard on the Olympics.” Conard said Romney’s negotiating position was along these lines: “I created an incredibly valuable firm that’s making all you guys rich. You owe me.’ That’s the negotiation.”"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

GOP Shamelessness Reaches New Heights

Kevin Drum writes GOP Shamelessness Reaches New Heights. "There's a category of political quarreling that I tend to ignore at first, but then slowly get sucked into as the full scale of the hypocrisy at issue becomes apparent."

"Republicans are screaming that the waivers will water down the work requirements of the 1995 welfare reform bill, but it turns out that as recently as 2005 a whole bunch of Republican governors not only supported these kinds of waivers, but signed a letter requesting waivers more expansive than the ones Sebelius just granted."

Boehner Blasts Bachmann, Says Her Unfounded Accusations Are 'Pretty Dangerous'

Think Progress writes Boehner Blasts Bachmann, Says Her Unfounded Accusations Are 'Pretty Dangerous'. Here's some flap I hadn't heard anything about...

"House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has joined a growing list of Republicans in condemning Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) unsubstantiated Islamophobic attacks against top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The flap started when Bachmann all but directly accused Clinton aide Huma Abedin of working on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood in a letter with four colleagues to the State Department’s Inspector General demanding an investigation."

Seriously, how is this woman still in Congress?

Explaining AT&T and Verizons’ complex shared-data plans

AT&T announced new data plans for phones, tablets and computers. It all seems rather complicated and this is the best description I've seen Explaining AT&T and Verizons’ complex shared-data plans.

I got my iPhone from AT&T and got grandfathered into an unlimited data plan. I doubt I use 0.5GB a month. I have something like 450 minutes of talk (which I barely use in part because I don't really get coverage in my home) and 200 text messages (for which I pay $5/month). For this I pay about $81 a month (and it varies by pennies a month for no reason I can discern). I have an iPad with 3GB capabilities also from AT&T and occasionally I'll get 250MB of service for a month for $15. But really I'm mostly using these at home when I have wifi.

As near as I can tell with AT&T's new plan I get 1GB/month shared across the two devices for $95 a month. I don't think I'm bothering.

Pregnancy No Barrier to Malaysian’s Olympic Journey

The New York Times writes Pregnancy No Barrier to Malaysian’s Olympic Journey.

"Rather, Nur Suryani is worried about whether the baby girl inside her will kick just as she pulls the trigger: The Olympian will be eight months pregnant when she competes.

The 29-year-old Malaysian, who is ranked 47th in the world in the 10-meter air rifle event, is set to join an exclusive club of women who have competed in the Olympics while pregnant."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Agree With Greg Mankiw On Something

What I've been watching: is about Breaking Bad

It is not the best TV drama of all time (I would probably vote for The Wire), but it is close. It is important to watch in sequence, so be sure to start with season one.

(Via Greg Mankiw's Blog)

How the Gorgeous, Sometimes Fictional Sound of the Olympics Gets Made

The Atlantic explains How the Gorgeous, Sometimes Fictional Sound of the Olympics Gets Made "So, in order to make a broadcast appear real, the soundtrack has to be faked, or to put it perhaps more accurately, synthesized. We have a word for what they're doing: This is sonic fiction. They are making up the sound to get at the truth of a sport."

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2012

You've got to look at the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2012. "The 24th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest has just wrapped up, and judges will soon be selecting the winners -- but voting for the Viewer's Choice award is open until Friday, July 20, at 9 a.m. National Geographic was kind enough to allow me to share some of these amazing entries with you here, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. [40 photos]"

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The Damascus Suicide Bombing

Glenn Greenwald talks about The Damascus suicide bombing. "Today's killing of Assad officials raises uncomfortable questions about the meaning and justifiability of Terrorism"

"The point here is that we pretend Terrorism has some sort of objective meaning and that it is the personification of pure evil which all decent people (and Good Western nations) by definition categorically despise, when neither of those claims is remotely true."

The update (which is probably just the first of many) is perfect.

A look inside Leap Motion, the 3D gesture control that's like Kinect on steroids

The Verge provides A look inside Leap Motion, the 3D gesture control that's like Kinect on steroids "Leap Motion's not the household name Kinect is, but it should be — the company's motion-tracking system is more powerful, more accurate, smaller, cheaper, and just more impressive. Leap CTO David Holz came by the Verge's New York offices to give us a demo of the company's upcoming product (called The Leap), and suffice to say we're only begrudgingly returning to our mice and keyboards."

This looks pretty amazing. I want it hooked up to Quicksilver.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

11 Dimensional Tax Return Chess

James Fallows collects a few posts on Bain in I'm Running for Office, for Pete's Sake. The possible problems in his tax returns linked to are interesting (high incomes with low tax rates, other tax havens, possible use of the IRS amnesty program in 2009 for fraudulent nondisclosure of offshore income, and how his IRA got so large) but I also think the last update is a strong possibility. That there isn't much there and Romney is just letting this play out to see how Obama is going to campaign (and possibly to avoid other worse issues) and how to combat it. I think it would be effective to in September release stuff and say "see, 2 months of crap over nothing, now can we get on to creating more jobs".

I don't think attacks or campaigns matter too much until September. Unless they are particularly devastating, the undecideds just aren't paying attention yet. Maybe there's some laying the groundwork getting background information into people's heads that's effective but that's about it. Another possibility is that Romney's returns would really hurt him and he's not going to release them (if at all) until after the convention when he really has sown up the nomination (isn't Ron Paul still trying to steal delegates?).

Jon Stewart on Bain Damage

Jon Stewart was back last night and as usual, even after all this coverage of Bain Capital and Romney's taxes he manages to put it all in context (and find quotes from the past) better than anyone. I love the remarks at the 3 minutes mark.

I never thought of it this way. Romney doesn't really talk of his time as governor of MA (2002-2006), doesn't talk much about his time running the Olympics (1999-2002) because, what is there to say. I think he did both of these things pretty well though not particularly remarkably. But still he talks about his time running Bain which he says he left in 1999. So what's he done in the last 13 years to qualify him for the presidency?

I tweeted this yesterday but I love this comment that James Fallows received, "If you weren't in charge at Bain in 1999-2001, who was? If Mitt Romney had 'retroactively' retired -- who was 'proactively' managing Bain Capital? Just a simple name -- or a committee would do. (Next question, why wasn't this person listed on the SEC forms?)"

I'm also finding it interesting to hear the comments about how badly Romney's campaign is handling this. I thought his campaign through the primary was inept as well. He never made a strong case for himself and I can't think of an instance where he handled an attack particularly well. He certainly didn't convince others to vote for him as his polling remaining constant throughout the primaries. It was just that all his competitors were much worse. For most of the other GOP front runners (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrinch, Santorum), he just had to wait a month until they proved themselves stupid or crazy. That won't be the case with Obama.

I also tweeted this but Romney is no teflon Reagan. "Not many people remember this now, but when Reagan was governor of California in the early 1970s, it came out that he'd paid no state income taxes – none – one year, despite being a wealthy man. And yet, he went on to run – twice – for the highest office in the land, without the revelation making any sort of dent at all."

"Meanwhile, conservative titan William F. Buckley charged to his hero's defense, in terms that would become familiar Romneyian parlance: "Somebody, giving pause to the demagogic imperative to tirade against wealthy men, should point out that if a rich man pays no taxes 'because of business reverses,' that means that he is – net – less well off than he would have been if he had paid taxes." Liberal columnists Frank Mankiewicz and Tom Braden weren't buying it: "What he really was talking about were the paper reverses that abound in the tax field, artificially created expenses and deductions which cancel out income and profits."

They were right, and Buckley was wrong. One month later, the Sacramento Bee broke the story of how things really went down with Reagan's taxes, and it was a doozy. The governor had contracted to have cattle he owned "managed" by a company called Oppenheimer Industries, which in its brochures advertised to clients with a net worth of at least $500,000. "Federal tax laws favor cattle if you pick the right kind and stick to the rules. Herds of beef cows top the list. When you buy them, you become a farmer and can keep your books on a cash basis. You put in dollars that depreciate or are deductible. You take out capital gains." Voila: newly minted cattlemen – their ranks, the Bee reported, also included Jacky Benny and Alfred Hitchcock – "lose" enough money on cows raised hundreds or thousands of miles away "to avoid or postpone payment of any income tax, state or federal.""

Monday, July 16, 2012

Biggest Disaster Area in US History From Recent Extreme Weather

Al Gore says Biggest disaster area in US history from recent extreme weather "The US Department of Agriculture has named over 1,000 counties in 26 states as disaster areas - the largest declaration in history - as a result of the recent drought, wildfires and other extreme weather events threatening agriculture and many other industries across the entire country. As scientists have told us, this is what the climate crisis looks like."

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Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low

A couple of weeks ago Business Insider reported Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low and "3) Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. This is both cause and effect. One reason companies are so profitable is that they're paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP. And that, in turn, is one reason the economy is so weak: Those 'wages' are other companies' revenue."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's 11th Dimensional

Chess is played on an 8x8 two dimensional board. In the original Star Trek they famously played three dimensional chess on three boards at once with a few smaller posts that moved around (though there were real 3D variations in the early 1900s). Lately in political discussions I've seen talk of 11th dimensional chess, referring to political strategies that are thinking many moves ahead (which doesn't require extra dimensions). I wasn't sure if it was an 11th or 12th or some other dimensional game. To the Google!

I googled four variations of 14 dimensions of chess. That is for example the phrases: "4 dimensional chess", "4th dimensional chess", "four dimensional chess" and "fourth dimensional chess". The answers surprised me a little:

Screen shot 2012 07 15 at 1 38 33 PM

So the political discussion was about 11th (or eleven) dimensional chess. There's a little 12 dimensional one upmanship but it's mostly 11th. In fact there's more 11th than two which I guess makes sense because you don't often have to mention that chess is in two dimensions. I figured that three dimensions would have a good representation on the Internet, there are a lot of Star Trek fans. I'm surprised that 4 dimensional chess was the big winner. Looking through the first few pages of results it really is about figuring out a playable game and not merely a metaphor for something. Some results are for a 3 dimensional game where I suspect at the end of the page they postulate about extending it to four dimensions.

For those interested in the data:

Screen shot 2012 07 15 at 1 52 44 PM

I Side With

ISideWith is a political quiz to see how you compare with various presidential candidates and parties. I liked that the questions weren't just yes/no but there was an option "Choose another stance" that had various (though not always enough) shades of grey in there. Here's how I did.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Credit Card Issuers Agree to Settlement Over Surcharges

The Wall Street Journal writes Credit Card Issuers Agree to Settlement Over Surcharges .

"Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. agreed to pay scores of retailers more than $6 billion to settle a long-running lawsuit in an agreement that also permits merchants to charge higher prices to customers who pay for purchases with credit cards.

The settlement is expected to have wide-ranging implications for consumers, retailers and the card industry. It is also the latest victory for merchants, who have recently logged some significant wins in their efforts to reduce their cost of accepting plastic."

I was recently in NJ and surprised that gas stations were charging different prices for cash or credit. Hadn't seen that in a very long time.

The Crisis of Big Science

Steven Weinberg wrote The Crisis of Big Science in The New York Review of Books. It might be the best science article I've ever read. While much of it is about funding big machines, part 1 is a brilliant and understandable summary of what we know about particle physics and why we've been looking for the particles we've been looking for. Great stuff.

We’re getting wildly differing assessments : SCOTUSblog

While Linda Greenhouse writes great articles on SCOTUS, if you really want to follow what's going on you read SCOTUSblog. The founder last week wrote We’re getting wildly differing assessments. "I have taken a deep dive into those events; my first effort at real journalism.  The following is the story of what happened at the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog, CNN, Fox News, and the White House that day between 10:06 (when the Court released the opinion) and 10:15 (when CNN reversed itself and reported that the mandate had been upheld).  Everything is based on interviews with those directly involved; nothing is second hand."

It's a very interesting read.

The Mystery of John Roberts

As is usual, Linda Greenhouse writes the best pieces about the Supreme Court, her latest is The Mystery of John Roberts.

She ends with this comment by Judge Posner: "“I mean, what would you do if you were Roberts? All of a sudden you find out that the people you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press. What do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, ‘What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics.’ Right? Maybe you have to reexamine your position.”"

If you think him becoming more liberal is impossible, make note that Sandra Day O'Conner turned more liberal after Justice Thomas joined the court. He was too far to the right and too combative and drove her left.

Four Point Six

Kevin Drum explains Four Point Six "I just want everyone to be absolutely clear on what this 'narrative of aggrievement' is all about. It's about Obama's proposal that the marginal tax rate on income over $400,000 should rise from 35% to 39.6%.

That's your aggrievement. That's your entitlement. That's your socialism. That's your class warfare. An increase in the top marginal tax rate of 4.6 percentage points."

14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever

Ezra Klein provides 14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever. It's quite convincing.

Barclays staffer told Fed of false Libor in 2008

MarketWatch says Barclays staffer told Fed of false Libor in 2008 "An unidentified employee of U.K. bank Barclays PLC told the New York Federal Reserve Bank in April 2008 that the bank was filing false reports on Libor, according to documents released by the central bank on Friday. The documents show that reports of this admission were quickly circulated to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Treasury Department. Then-New York Fed President Timothy Geithner briefed other U.S. agencies on the Libor problems in May 2008, the documents show. Information that there were problems with Libor started in the fall of 2007, the New York Fed said"

Yep, this scandal just gets more and more interesting.

Who’s Very Important? - NYTimes.com

I thought Krugman's piece yesterday Who’s Very Important? was very well done.

How Yul Brynner avoided tipping off What's My Line? contestants

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Romney Continued At Bain After Date When He Says He Left

The Boston Globe reports Government documents indicate Mitt Romney continued at Bain after date when he says he left "Government documents filed by Mitt Romney and Bain Capital say Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time.

Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm’s ‘sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.’

Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain ‘executive’ in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.

The timing of Romney’s departure from Bain is a key point of contention because he has said his resignation in February 1999 meant he was not responsible for Bain Capital companies that went bankrupt or laid off workers after that date."

"A former SEC commissioner told the Globe that the SEC documents listing Romney as Bain’s chief executive between 1999 and 2002 cannot be dismissed so easily. “You can’t say statements filed with the SEC are meaningless. This is a fact in an SEC filing,” said Roberta S. Karmel, now a professor at Brooklyn Law School. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say he was technically in charge on paper but he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations,” Karmel continued. “Was he getting paid? He’s the sole stockholder. Are you telling me he owned the company but had no say in its investments?”"

I suspect not much will come of this.

The world desperately wants to loan us money

The world desperately wants to loan us money

"The Financial Times reports that there was record demand for 10-year Treasurys this week. ‘The $21 [billion] sale of 10-year paper sold at a yield of 1.459 per cent, the lowest ever in an auction.’"

"But that 1.459 percent doesn’t account for inflation. And so when you do account for inflation, it’s not “almost nothing.” It’s “less than nothing.”"

"The market will literally pay us a small premium to take their money and keep it safe for them for five, seven or 10 years. We could use that money to rebuild our roads and water filtration systems. We could use that money to cut taxes for any business that adds to its payrolls. We could use that to hire back the 600,000 state and local workers we’ve laid off in the last few years."

It's been this way for a while and I don't understand why no one other than Klein and Krugman is talking about it. The federal government can get paid to borrow money and invest in our infrastructure. This is free stimulus money but no, the conversation is driven by Republicans talking about debt and the fear of inflation. It's a completely alternate reality.

Nail Ladies

I thought I blogged the LA Times story Donors arrive at Hamptons fundraisers with advice for Mitt Romney, but I guess I didn't. There's a lot of attention to this quote:
"I don't think the common person is getting it," she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. "Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

"We've got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies -- everybody who's got the right to vote -- they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income -- one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."

Paul Krugman had some fun:

"So I was curious: what do “nails ladies” earn? The answer, according to the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics, is that in 2010 the mean annual wage of Manicurists and Pedicurists(395092) was $21,760. Among other things, this means that nails ladies probably face a higher marginal effective tax rate than Romney donors."

The Market Has Spoken – And It Is Rigged

Simon Johnson writes The Market Has Spoken – And It Is Rigged.

"Barclays has acknowledged that its staff took part in a wide-ranging conspiracy (or perhaps a set of conspiracies) to rig markets – including, but not limited to, any securities for which the price is linked to a particular set of short-term interest rates. The collective term for these rates is the London InterBank Offered Rate, known as Libor, but the use of this nomenclature sometimes hides the fact that there is currently a separate Libor daily for each of 10 currencies at 15 maturities, from overnight to 12 months, according to the British Bankers Association. The notional size of the derivatives involved is on the order of $360 trillion.

Barclays could not have manipulated those rates by themselves – and that is not what the C.F.T.C. found or the basis of the Barclays settlement. Rather, some Barclays employees colluded with people at other banks in a way that, over a period of years, moved Libor rates up and down – depending on what would favor the trading positions of the people and organizations involved."

"Nevertheless, five arguments put forward in the last 10 days, singly or collectively, attempt to provide some sort of cover for what happened at Barclays. None of these arguments have any merit."

Beyond the Telescope: Finding Inhabited Worlds

Thursday July 19th at the Boston Museum of Science David Charbonneau will give a talk, Beyond the Telescope: Finding Inhabited Worlds. "Are there inhabited worlds other than our own? Humans have pondered this question for generations, and now, finally, we have the technological ability to answer it. Join David Charbonneau, PhD, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, as he tours known exoplanets, searching for the telltale molecular fingerprints of life. As a member of the NASA Kepler Mission to find Earth-like planets, he led the first studies of the compositions of exoplanets and their atmospheres, and was named Scientist of the Year by Discover Magazine."

I doubt I'll make it but I've seen him talk before and if you're at all interested in the topic, I'm sure the talk will be great.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Breaking Bad: Five Reasons It's One Of TV's All-Time Greats

Maureen Ryan writes 'Breaking Bad': Five Reasons It's One Of TV's All-Time Greats (note the article has spoilers through season 4). I don't agree with everything in the article, but I agree it's one of the best shows on TV now and ever and I'm greatly looking forward to the premiere on Sunday.

Rachel Maddow's Quiet War

Ben Wallace-Wells has a great piece in Rolling Stone on Rachel Maddow's Quiet War.

Poverty in the 50 years since ‘The Other America,’ in five charts

Dylan Matthews wrote Poverty in the 50 years since ‘The Other America,’ in five charts.

"Fifty years ago, the democratic socialist activist and writer Michael Harrington published The Other America, which chronicled the state of the American poor at that time. The book shed light on what was at the time an especially marginalized population, easily ignored by middle and upper-class Americans who didn’t venture into the urban ghettos and rural communities where most of the poor lived. Most notably, the book, in part due to a review of it by the social critic Dwight MacDonald in The New Yorker, helped convinced the Johnson administration to launch the war on poverty.

The 50th anniversary is prompting a fair amount of useful reflection on poverty reduction efforts since the book’s publication, notably at a conference being held at Demos today. Which raises the question: what has happened to poverty since The Other America?"

GOP Focuses On Repealing, Not Replacing Obamacare

The LA Times has a pretty scathing article about Republicans plans to reform health care. GOP focuses on repealing, not replacing, Obamacare. In the 2010 elections they promised to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. So now they're taking their 33rd useless vote to repeal (useless because it won't pass the Senate and won't be signed by Obama). Now maybe if they had a reasonable alternative it might, but they're not bothering with that at all. They have fun quotes from GOP lawmakers:

"I'm perplexed by this obsession with the replace part when the repeal hasn't occurred." - Tom Price (R-GA), House Republican Policy Committee Chairman

"There might be a chance for us to do [replacement] next year" - David Dreier (R-CA), House Rules Committee Chairman

"Conservatives cannot allow themselves to be browbeaten for failing to provide the same coverage numbers as Obamacare." - Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Politics as usual, but this part bothered me most:

"And conservative policy experts at the Heritage Foundation and elsewhere have outlined comprehensive plans to address rising healthcare costs while ensuring broad protections for the poor and the sick. But Republican leaders have not brought any of these proposals to a vote. That has shielded the party's ideas from close scrutiny by independent analysts, a politically risky process that could highlight legislation's costs and its impact on consumers and others.

Such scrutiny proved embarrassing for House Republicans in 2009, when they proposed a detailed alternative to the healthcare legislation that Democrats were developing at the time. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded the GOP proposal would have left more than 50 million Americans without health insurance and reduced costs for healthy people while raising them for the sick.

Similar study of the House Republicans' 2011 budget plan indicated that a proposal to make Medicare beneficiaries shop for commercial insurance with a government voucher would leave seniors paying thousands of dollars more for their healthcare.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, speaks only generally about how he would replace the current healthcare law. His campaign has repeatedly declined to provide details about knotty challenges such as affordably protecting millions of Americans with preexisting medical conditions."

xkcd: Visual Field

Today's xkcd: Visual Field is awesome.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Everything Obama has done — and wants to do — on taxes in one post

Dylan Matthews explains Everything Obama has done — and wants to do — on taxes in one post. It's worth a read and I mostly understand it, but,

"In sum, taking those big three bills and the HIRE Act into account, Obama has cut taxes by $1.98 trillion and raised them by $834 billion, for a net tax cut of $1.15 trillion during his tenure."

NCDC: Record U.S. Heat Unlikely To Be Random Fluke

NCDC: Record U.S. heat unlikely to be random fluke

"Perhaps a chart can help clarify matters. The National Climatic Data Center has just released its ‘State of the Climate’ report for June 2012. The last 12-month period on the mainland United States, it notes, were the warmest on record. What’s notable, however, is that every single one of the last 13 months were in the top third for their historical distribution–i.e., April 2012 was in the top third for warmest Aprils, etc."

"Climate scientists often use cautious language whenever connecting individual events with global warming. “Humans have made some extreme weather events more likely, and they are happening,” writes Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Penn State. “Just as a back-street gambler might beat someone in an honest game but has a better chance with loaded dice, Nature might have caused this summer’s weather but we gave it a boost.” Scientific efforts to attribute specific, short-term events to long-term climate change have only recently gotten underway.

On the other hand, as Grist’s David Roberts argues, ordinary people rarely talk this way when discussing the causes of most things. No one hedges and says that there are many factors that cause lung cancer and that no one incidence of cancer can be definitively blamed on cigarette smoke (even though this is more scientifically precise). We just say, “smoking causes lung cancer” and leave it at that. Why, Roberts asks, should climate change be any different?"

“This is what global warming is like."

Entertaining Rants Against David Brooks

I've seen lots of complains about David Brooks latest column. David Atkins asks How does this man still have a job?.

"Brooks thinks that two-thirds of the country is doing OK, and it's only the bottom third that is in trouble? That moralizing about having a wedding ceremony before childbirth will solve income inequality? That conservatives are somehow opposed to benefit cuts? That the best way to help the poor and middle class is to expand tax credits that further erode the ability to spend on needed programs like education? Most of what Brooks says is nonsensical or based on false premises, and the rest is delusional.

There are millions of Americans with analytical and writing skills superior to those of Brooks. Some of them can be found in the nation's middle schools. That the New York Times still sees fit to employ Brooks is one minor symptom of the nation's disregard for meritocratic equality of opportunity. Why does this guy still have a job, again?

Barack Obama's Tax Proposal: Politically Stimulating

The Economist syas Barack Obama's tax proposal: Politically stimulating.

"That's sorta how I feel about Barack Obama's proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for one year on family income under $250,000. The plan would benefit all families, by the way, not just those making under $250,000. Families making $1m or $5m or $500m keep the tax cut too on their first $250,000. But you get a sense of the president's political motivations in the way he himself frames the proposal: 'I’m calling on Congress to extend the tax cuts for the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000 for another year.' As Dan Amira points out,

'Normally, a president would want to publicize that he's trying to cut taxes for everyone in the country. But Obama actually has an incentive this time to downplay the number of Americans who would benefit from his tax plan. His proposal is, at its heart, a political maneuver meant to force Mitt Romney to defend tax cuts for the wealthy. It's more effective, then, for it to be seen as a cut solely for the middle class. The reality is that Obama's proposal would also keep Warren Buffett's taxes lower, if only a little bit.'"

It goes on to suggest one idea to separate politics from needed economic policy, change the expiration of the tax cuts from a fixed date to an economic metric like unemployment under 7%.

It Doesn't Really Matter Who Runs the Fed

Kevin Drum says It Doesn't Really Matter Who Runs the Fed. After a couple of quotes like this: "There's no possible analysis of the welfare tradeoffs of these policies which leads to any other conclusion than 'mass unemployment is a small price to pay for keeping the rich fat and happy, or even fatter and happier.'" he says, "The problem, I think, isn't Fed independence. It's the mindset of the entire financial elite in the developed world. Until that changes, it hardly matters who runs the Fed."

Chris Christie has a budget problem

Chris Christie has a budget problem "A major part of the problem is that revenue collection for 2012 is already falling significantly short of the Christie administration’s own projections. The state’s Office of Legislative Services (OLS), a non-partisan agency, estimated earlier this year that New Jersey will face a $1.3 billion shortfall by the end of 2013. NJ Spotlight details the gap between their projections for the upcoming year, and the budget shortfall that’s expected."

The key to fixing our broken economy: it's not what you think

David Atkins says The key to fixing our broken economy: it's not what you think. It's an interesting piece, here's just a bit of it.

"Globalization created a surplus of labor. Even middle-school students understand the supply and demand factors at work: in a global economy with billions of people desperate for work, unskilled and semi-skilled labor costs will be driven to the lowest common denominator. Some of the cost savings on labor will go toward creating cheaper goods with ever advancing technology, but a great deal of it will also go toward capital gains and shareholder returns.

But the simplistic mechanistic effects don't tell the entire story. As the capital of multinational corporations wins the long-term battle over national labor pools, corporations shed any patriotic loyalty they might have had to the nation states that spawned them. A new class of stateless global elites is created. Most of the productive energy of the brightest and most creative individuals increasingly diverts to the financial industry where the bulk of the money is actually to be made. The increased power of capital corrodes the responsiveness of governments to their people."

"Furthermore, in a global economy multinational corporations will simply continue to do what they already do today: play each nation off one another in a bid to make policy more favorable to themselves, in exchange for desperately needed "investment." This will occur with or without tariffs, as the jet setting elite don't particularly care which country they call home, or where they happen to park their stolen billions.

The only way out of this mess is to make governments and workers more powerful than multinational corporations. At this point in history corporations have the edge on nation-states. Nations dance to the tune of corporations as companies manufacture products in a global supply chain, using globalized energy resources. Governments attempt to enrich companies owned by shareholders in each nation-state, even as the workers in each nation-state are themselves left in the lurch. Wars are fought to ensure access to global energy supplies on behalf of international corporations."

Boy, Are Americans Not Overtaxed: New CBO Data

Jared Bernstein looks at New CBO Data and concludes Boy, Are Americans Not Overtaxed.

"The Congressional Budget Office just released a very thorough update of their high quality household income series, adding data through 2009.  There’s so much in here it will be weeks before I can work my way through all of its nooks and crannies, but so far, two things jumped out at me.

First, man, I gotta say: when it comes to federal taxation, there is just no case in the data to be made in any way, shape or form that we Americans are overtaxed.  Not middle income, not high income—not the overall average. Not relative to other countries (figure 4 here), and not relative to our historical rates back to 1979."

Cbo taxtrnds

10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read

io9 wrote "We asked some of our favorite writers, and they told us the 10 science fiction and fantasy books that everybody pretends to have read — and the reasons why you should read them for real. Here they are, in no particular order."

I've read (and loved) Cryptonomicon, Dune, Foundation, and 1984. I don't believe people haven't read Dune or Foundation.

I've started Gravity's Rainbow twice. I'm fascinated by it since it's also been called the greatest book on film ever written, but... eh. I own (in hardcover) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but haven't gotten to it.

I've never heard of First and Last Men and Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett, or Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. I'll probably get to Infinite Jest only after I finish Gravity's Rainbow.

Hotel Trades Landlines For iPhones

Hotel Trades Landlines For iPhones "The Opus hotel in Vancouver made a somewhat shocking announcement last week. The hotel was ripping the landline phones out of its rooms and replacing them with iPhones."

"Offering an iPhone to each guest means that he or she can make calls while in the room, in the hotel, or anywhere they happen to go – that means guests who aren’t from Canada don’t need to worry about international roaming charges. It also means that they have quick and easy access to hotel services, which will be programmed into the phone along with a range of apps for entertainment and finding their way around Vancouver and surrounding areas. When a guest checks out, the iPhone is wiped."

Relativistic Baseball

xkcd has a new what if? blog. I hope the second post is an example of what to expect, it's Relativistic Baseball. "What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?"

Monday, July 09, 2012

How Hot Is It? All You Need To See Are These Two Maps

How Hot Is It? All You Need To See Are These Two Maps "Then, look at this image showing the number of places where daily maximum temperature records were broken in June. The data center says 2,284 records were broken and another 998 were tied."

"And in the year so far, 23,283 daily high records have been set. Over the same period last year, there were 13,582 such records set. The number of records set, then, is up about 71 percent."

And George Will says it's summer, so get over it.

Mitt’s Gray Areas

Krugman on Mitt’s Gray Areas.

"Put it this way: Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?

And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million.

There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.

And that is precisely why voters have a right to know that truth. Elections are, after all, in part about the perceived character of the candidates — and what a man does with his money is surely a major clue to his character.

One more thing: To the extent that Mr. Romney has a coherent policy agenda, it involves cutting tax rates on the very rich — which are already, as I said, down by about half since his father’s time. Surely a man advocating such policies has a special obligation to level with voters about the extent to which he would personally benefit from the policies he advocates."

What We Learn When the Lights Go Out

James Fallows explains What We Learn When the Lights Go Out, #1. There are a few points, but this was most important to me.

"It really drives home the fact (and your other correspondents have not emphasized this sufficiently) that the US is becoming in many respects a third world country due to misplaced priorities and a shallow libertarianism. It's not just electricity infrastructure, either. Germany is a country that freezes in winter, but you don't see frost-heaved road pavement. Why? They build the roadbeds much deeper. American contractors seem to prefer pie crust roads.

Adjusted for inflation, the US has spent well over $20 trillion on the military since the cold war began. Does anyone think if we had only spent $15 trillion we would be speaking Russian? What about the $1 trillion we squandered on Iraq? Could a portion of that have gone for improved electricity grids, better water filtration (with backup generators - the fact that some water filtration plants can't pump water when the grid goes down is scandalous), better roads, and better infrastructure in general?"

He has more in What We Learn With the Lights Out, #2.

"Electricity is not the luxury it was a century ago -- it is absolutely necessary for a modern industrial society to function. The reason the power has been out for days at a time for so many people isn't because of the storm alone, but because a for-profit company made a calculated decision that it would rather its customers eat the costs of a power outage than invest in the most reliable infrastructure it knows how to build.

You didn't expect multi-day outages to be something you needed to be prepared for, and you shouldn't have to expect that, because it doesn't have to be that way. I visited China last year, where many people (rightly) boil their tap water before use. Or exclusively drink bottled water. Think of all the energy wasted, all the time and effort expended and garbage thrown out just because the water wasn't sanitized properly at the source. That's what happens when a public utility can't be relied upon. But when I got back to America, I drank greedily straight from the tap. Because I could."

PhD Comics: The Higgs Boson Explained

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Simple BBC Explanation of Higgs Boson

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


The blog itself will be quiet the rest of the week, there might be some twitter updates. Have a happy fourth.

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Monday, July 02, 2012

Roberts switched views to uphold health care law

Jan Crawford wrote this pretty amazing story yesterday Roberts switched views to uphold health care law. "Chief Justice John Roberts initially sided with the Supreme Court's four conservative justices to strike down the heart of President Obama's health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, but later changed his position and formed an alliance with liberals to uphold the bulk of the law, according to two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations. Roberts then withstood a month-long, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position, the sources said. Ironically, Justice Anthony Kennedy - believed by many conservatives to be the justice most likely to defect and vote for the law - led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to the fold. "He was relentless," one source said of Kennedy's efforts. "He was very engaged in this.""

Think Progress explains what's so unusual about the story, Supreme Court Springs A Leak; Leaks To Conservative Pundits May Have Started More Than A Month Ago. "Crawford cites two unnamed sources, and there are a very limited universe of people who could have revealed this information to her. Only the justices and their personal staff would have access to this knowledge, and it is highly unlikely that a clerk or secretary would be willing to risk their entire career by revealing the Court’s confidential deliberations to the press. Crawford, moreover, is a very well connected conservative reporter who has, at times, worked closely with the Federalist Society to drive conservative legal narratives. Nothing is certain, but it is likely that one or both of Crawford’s sources is a conservative justice."