Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aerial view of the New Jersey coastline near Seaside Heights

This is the most serious looking video I've seen of Sandy's effects. This is the area I've spent the past dozen July 4ths. Aerial view of the New Jersey coastline near Seaside Heights "Aerial view of the New Jersey coastline near Seaside Heights from a 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter following Hurricane Sandy Oct. 30, 2012."

Big Sky, Big Money

This week's Frontline, Big Sky, Big Money was really good. It dives into 501c3 PAC and how Citizens United is working in real elections. In part it seems obvious, in another part, it goes through step by step how unnamed groups are influencing elections.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - South Ferry and Whitehall St NYC Subway Station Damage

This is crazy...

Are Talking Heads Blowing Hot Air?

An Analysis of the Accuracy of Forecasts in the Political Media

"In this paper, we report on the first-ever test of the accuracy of figures who made political predictions. We sampled the predictions of 26 individuals who wrote columns in major newspapers and/or appeared on the three major Sunday television news shows (Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and This Week) over a 16 month period from September 2007 to December 2008. Collectively, we called these pundits and politicians “prognosticators.” We evaluated each of the 472 predictions we recorded, testing it for its accuracy."

"We discovered that a few factors impacted a prediction's accuracy.  The first is whether or not the prediction is a conditional; conditional predictions were more likely to not come true.  The second was partisanship; liberals were more likely than conservatives to predict correctly.  The final significant factor in a prediction's outcome was having a law degree; lawyers predicted incorrectly more often. (R-square of .157)  Partisanship had an impact on predictions even when removing political predictions about the Presidential, Vice Presidential, House, and Senate elections."

"We have discovered a number of implications from our regressions and analysis of the data. First, we have discovered that six of the analyzed prognosticators are better than a coin flip (with statistical significance.) Four are worse, and the other 16 are not statistically significant. A larger sample can provide better evidence addressing the question of if prognosticators on the whole are better than a coin flip. We understand that being better than a coin flip is not a high bar to set, but it is a serious indictment of prognosticators if they are, on average, no better than a flipped coin."

FYI, Krugman won.

Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm

Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm Ltd.

"“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.”"

"Kathleen Kennedy, current Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm, will become President of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Additionally she will serve as the brand manager for Star Wars, working directly with Disney’s global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise. Ms. Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars feature films, with George Lucas serving as creative consultant. Star Wars Episode 7 is targeted for release in 2015, with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future."

Mitt and Sandy

I try to avoid the really partisan stuff but I stumbled across these two articles and felt the need,

Daily Kos: Mitt Romney attends storm relief event. In Ohio. Sponsored by his campaign. It's sniping, but I liked this line, " Still, in the charitable spirit that Romney hopes to demonstrate, let me give him some credit with his response here: at least he didn't release a statement in the middle of the night attacking President Obama for sympathizing with and apologizing to Mother Nature."

Huffington Post: Mitt Romney Refuses To Talk About FEMA After Hurricane Sandy Event

Hurricane Sandy in Photos

In Focus has Hurricane Sandy in Photos and Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall.

xkcd: Congress

If you have power, you can get lost in xkcd: Congress. Amazing.

Water, Fire And Darkness: NYC After The Superstorm

I made it through Sandy just fine but the photos in this article are pretty amazing, Water, Fire And Darkness: NYC After The Superstorm.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Mitt Romney's Auto Bailout Bonanza

The Nation reports on Mitt Romney's Bailout Bonanza "Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout has haunted him on the campaign trail, especially in Rust Belt states like Ohio. There, in September, the Obama campaign launched television ads blasting Romney’s November 2008 New York Times op-ed, ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’ But Romney has done a good job of concealing, until now, the fact that he and his wife, Ann, personally gained at least $15.3 million from the bailout—and a few of Romney’s most important Wall Street donors made more than $4 billion. Their gains, and the Romneys’, were astronomical—more than 3,000 percent on their investment."

I'm not so sure I'm bothered by Romney's investment, though the hypocrisy of profiting from the bailout he opposed and now says he supported is mind boggling. But the details of how the hedge fund owner of Delphi profited so much by strong-arming the government in the auto-bailout and then moved basically all the jobs overseas is disgusting.

"Rattner could not believe that Delphi’s management—now effectively under the hedge funders’ control—would “want to be perceived as holding GM hostage at such a precarious economic moment.” One Wall Street Journal analyst suggested that Singer was treating Delphi “like a third world country.” Rattner likened the subsidies demanded by Delphi’s debt holders to “extortion demands by the Barbary pirates.”

Romney has slammed the bailout as a payoff to the auto workers union. But that certainly wasn’t true for the bailout of Delphi. Once the hedge funders, including Singer—a deep-pocketed right-wing donor and activist who serves as chair of the conservative, anti-union Manhattan Institute—took control of the firm, they rid Delphi of every single one of its 25,200 unionized workers.

Of the twenty-nine Delphi plants operating in the United States when the hedge funders began buying up control, only four remain, with not a single union production worker. Romney’s “job creators” did create jobs—in China, where Delphi now produces the parts used by GM and other major automakers here and abroad. Delphi is now incorporated overseas, leaving the company with 5,000 employees in the United States (versus almost 100,000 abroad)."

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is a ridiculously huge storm affecting practically the entire east coast. Satellite images kind of do it justice but even more so, here's a comparison image with Hurricane Irene of last year (the fifth costliest hurricane in United States history). Here are some numerical comparisons with Irene and Katrina.


Here's the latest from the National Hurricane Center on Hurricane Sandy.

The New York Times has an interactive map with reports for zip code.

Google has a pretty amazing crisis map.

I've previously mentioned wind map, it should have some interesting images today.

For the New England area, there's the NStar Outage Map. Also, here's a map of storm shelters.

@alertnewengland tweeted this photo.


I have to agree that it's remarkably inspiring, but also a bit pointless and dangerous. It turns out this photo was from September but yes, the tomb is guarded 24/7 through all forms of weather. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Remains Guarded Through Hurricane Sandy

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Daily Show Does It Again

I really liked The Daily Show yesterday. Jon Stewart not only does fact checking, but he puts the facts in context. Didn't newspapers used to do this?

Stewart left out that Richard Mourdock is the only Senate candidate that Romney has done a commercial for. Romney may say he's for rape and incest exceptions to an abortion ban, but he doesn't act like it. And Stewart did a good job at explaining that a total ban in all circumstances is a fairly mainstream GOP position and that people tend to use really ridiculous justifications for the position. His final line is good "If a woman wants to have a baby, in vitro fertilization she cannot, rape, she has to" even if it overstates the IVF issue. I really don't think that the GOP is against IVF, that this is just bad wording in the bills, but it does point out how much of a fine line this is and I do remember all the objections to test tube babies (does anyone still object to them?). As usual, The Onion did a good job on this too, God Distances Self From Christian Right.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Massive Secrets of The Hobbit — Revealed!

Recently a few people have asked me how many films the upcoming Hobbit will be (three) so I figured I'd point to this ion story, Massive Secrets of The Hobbit — Revealed!. "This past spring, we, along with several other members of the press, were invited to Wellington to visit the set of The Hobbit, and at long last, we can reveal some of what we saw and learned, including more details on how Peter Jackson is expanding J.R.R. Tolkien's original story, how Gandalf will spend his time away from the main party, the Dwarves' individual personalities and backstories, and just how all this Middle Earth craziness is being filmed. Many, many spoilers below."

Family Tree Diagram of Greek Mythology

Severino Ribecca created the Family Tree Diagram of Greek Mythology "The ancient Greeks had a vast list of various deities, mythical beings and legendary characters in their culture. My task was to take their many mythical figures and show their relation to each other in one diagram. My response was a detailed family tree system, that shows the origin of all these characters exploding out of 'Chaos', their point of origin. I had to design the diagram in a way that it could handle the huge amount names and interactions, while still being visually clear and easy to follow."

Silent Circle

The Economist writes Let's keep this between us about PGP creator Phil Zimmermann's latest venture.

"Silent Circle, Mr Zimmermann's latest firm, which he founded with a former Navy SEAL, extends privacy protection to voice and video calls, and instant and text messaging, as well as e-mail. On October 16th the company unveiled its software for the iPhone and other iOS devices that, for $20 a month, handles encrypted chat and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls. A version for Android is coming soon.

In PGP, Mr Zimmermann solved [secure key exchange] by using public-key cryptography, which uses a pair of private and public keys to handle encryption. The public key is freely published and distributed online, and verified by other trusted parties. A PGP-protected document would contain an encryption key unique to the document that scrambled the file's contents. That document key is itself enciphered using recipient's public key. Only an intended party with the corresponding private key could extract the document's secret and decrypt it.

That may be straightforward for expert cryptographers, but not for the vast majority of internet users. So ZRTP takes a different tact. It relies on the fact that it is difficult to impersonate a voice. After a voice call is initiated with Silent Circle's VoIP software, the two users are both presented with the same short number. At any point in the call, they can read this number to the other person to ensure it matches. If it doesn't, an eavesdropper might be listening in.

Mr Zimmermann notes that by "dragging a couple of human brains into the protocol", Silent Circle makes it impossible for an interloper to predict when the people in a conversation will perform the verification step or how they will perform it, and so pre-arrange a convincing impersonation. (Video chats in Silent Circle will show a blank screen until the short code is verified, and the text messaging app shows the code and suggests making a brief phone call to verify it.)"

Exploded Rocket Fragments Could Endanger ISS and Future Missions

Exploded Rocket Fragments Could Endanger ISS and Future Missions "Traveling through low-Earth orbit just got a little more dangerous; a drifting Russian Breeze M (Briz-M) rocket stage that failed to execute its final burns back on August 6 has recently exploded, sending hundreds of shattered fragments out into orbit."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Movie Reviews

Tower Heist - I caught this on cable. Don't make the same mistake. It's a comedy about a Bernie Maddoff like guy (Alan Alda). He was also managing the pensions of the apartment building's staff and a group of misfits try to steal his hidden stash. It's Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick and some others. I had figured from the trailer and reviews I wouldn't like and I don't know why I felt the need to verify that assumption by watching it.

Onto the better movies…

Looper is a time travel movie by the writer director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom, both of which I liked a lot. In 2074 time travel exists but is outlawed so only criminals use it. Apparently it's hard to dispose of a body then so then they send them 30 years back into to killers they've contracted with to get the job done, until they kill their future selves. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe and now you know where the film starts but not really where it goes. Surprisingly it's less a time twisting film (though it has that) and more a noir story with interesting characters. Good sci-fi fun.

Taken 2 - aka Liam Neeson Kills Everybody 2. The man has trained Obi-Wan and Batman, led the A-Team and the Greek gods, and killed wolves with his bare hands. Do not kidnap his family! In the genre of dumb action films, this isn't completely stupid, not like say Transformers. They at least make an effort to show how he could do what he does. It's almost plausible though not realistic. I enjoyed the first and while the second isn't as good and takes a bit to get going, it's fun ride. Good dumb fun.

Argo - On the other hand this is good smart fun. Based on the true story of the rescue of 6 hostages from Iran in 1980 this is a two hour that goes by very quickly. Ben Affleck directed, stars in and produced this and continues his streak of making good movies. Yes they changed things to make it more dramatic but only one bit felt fake to me. After seeing the film read How Accurate Is Argo? for the details. And if you want more, the original Wired article is good: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From TehranSeven Psychopaths is written and directed by Martin McDonagh who made the very fun In Bruges and the Oscar winning short Six Shooter. I'll let IMDb summarize it: "A struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken) kidnap a gangster's (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu." It's a fun cast with Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Zeljko Ivanek, Gabourey Sidibe and more. Farrell's screenplay is called Seven Psychopaths and the stories his friends tell him turn out to be true and the film gets very meta though not nearly as pretentious as Adaptation (which I also liked). It's too bloody to be for everyone, and the story meanders a little too much and comes off as vignettes, but it's at times very very funny.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age film set in 1991 in Pittsburg, PA. It's based on a novel, by the screenwriter-director which I had not read. Charlie is a loner freshman with some issues in his past who falls in with a crowd of senior outcasts. Patrick is gay, his step sister Sam has a past, Mary Elizabeth is the smart goth buddist. Most of the scenes like Charlie's first football game, dance, party, Rocky Horror Show, acid trip and etc. all work reasonably well though the dialog sometimes felt a little forced to me. In the second half most of those issues fell away as the emotions really resonated. Good smart film, I wish it were doing better at the box office.

An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

Special Olympian John Franklin Stephens is far nicer than I am. In An Open Letter to Ann Coulter I think he gives her far more credit than she deserves.

Unfortunately Coulter has made a living from being crass and sensational, you need look no further than the titles of her books to see that. I don't know if she believes the bile she spews but I don't care. I don't need to read or watch it.

I'm always very sorry when she appears on shows that I otherwise watch. Now in the twitter era, I tweet to the shows saying explicitly I won't be watching because they have Coulter on. It at least feels like I'm doing something to prevent her from having a broader audience.

Daily Show on Third Debate

Obama: The first meme president

Obama: The first meme president.

"The four years that Obama has served in the White House coincided with an explosion in Internet memes — Photoshopped images that are passed around via email, blogs, Twitter and Facebook and popularized on sites such as Reddit and Tumblr.

Here's a history of the first meme president, as told through seven major memes: the hope poster, Superman, the teleprompter, Spock, the Joker, the Jedi knight and 'not bad.'"

I've only seen a few of these, and I think I'm happy about that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jon Stewart Goes Up Bullshit Mountain

I really liked the opening segment of The Daily Show last night, particularly the second part below.

The Last Debate

Wonkbook has Everything you need to know about 2012′s final presidential debate.

Here's on False Claims in Final Debate.

By far my favorite part of the debate was Obama saying "You mention the Navy, for example. You say we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers… planes land on them… we have ships that go underwater, called nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.” The whole answer worked too:

I agree with James Fallows in Last Debate. "As a matter of substance, it was depressing in principle that this was the level of presidential-campaign discussion on China, India (nothing, or close to it), climate change and the environment (nothing I heard), energy (next to nothing), Europe (ditto).

But it was more striking as a matter of substance that on virtually no issue did Romney make an actual criticism, of any sort, of Obama's policy or record. Including topics where he used to disagree, like the timeline for withdrawal for Afghanistan! Instead it was, 'I agree, but you should have done it better.'"

Update: I also like this tweet from Aisha Tyler. "When I woke up today, my battleship was in tumult. Luckily the teachers had bayonets. I love teachers. Teachers are the hope of the earth." I did think Romney used "tumult" awfully much (turns out it was 5 times).

2012 General Election Editorial Endorsements by Major Newspapers

I don't know if it matters much but this page tracks the 2012 General Election Editorial Endorsements by Major Newspapers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bacon 25 Ways

Is it peak bacon yet? Bacon 25 Ways.

Bittman's Dream Food Label

Mark Bittman describes My Dream Food Label.

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"Every packaged food label would feature a color-coded bar with a 15-point scale so that almost instantly the consumer could determine whether the product’s overall rating fell between 11 and 15 (green), 6 and 10 (yellow) or 0 and 5 (red). This alone could be enough for a fair snap decision. (We’ve also got a box to indicate the presence or absence of G.M.O.’s.)

We arrive at the score by rating three key factors, each of which comprises numerous subfactors. The first is the obvious ‘Nutrition,’ about which little needs to be said. High sugar, trans fats, the presence of micronutrients and fiber, and so on would all be taken into account. Thus soda would rate a zero and frozen broccoli might rate a five. (It’s hard to imagine labeling fresh vegetables.)

The second is ‘Foodness.’ This assesses just how close the product is to real food. White bread made with bleached flour, yeast conditioners and preservatives would get a zero or one; so would soda; a candy bar high in sugar but made with real ingredients would presumably score low on nutrition but could get a higher score on ‘foodness’; here, frozen broccoli would rate a four.

The third is the broadest (and trickiest); we’re calling it ‘Welfare.’ This would include the treatment of workers, animals and the earth. Are workers treated like animals? Are animals produced like widgets? Is environmental damage significant? If the answer to those three questions is ‘yes’ — as it might be, for example, with industrially produced chickens — then the score would be zero, or close to it. If the labor force is treated fairly and animals well, and waste is insignificant or recycled, the score would be higher."

xkcd: Electoral Precedent

xkcd does a tour de force on Electoral Precedent.

An eyewitness to President Lincoln's assassination appeared on television in 1956

An eyewitness to President Lincoln's assassination appeared on television in 1956 "In 1956, on an episode of then-popular game show 'I've Got a Secret,' 96-year-old Samuel J. Seymour tottered out on stage, sat down gingerly beside the program's host, and proceeded to blow the audience's mind. Over ninety years earlier, he had witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Washington D.C.'s Ford Theatre."

National Geographic Photo Contest 2012

The photos in National Geographic Photo Contest 2012 are amazing.

"It’s that time again…the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest is in full swing. The contest has reached his midpoint but there is plenty of time to enter before the November 30, 2012 deadline. Photographers of all skill levels - from professional to amateur - across the globe, submitted more than 20,000 entries from 130 countries in last year’s competition. The photographs are judged on creativity and photographic quality by a panel of experts in the field. There is a first place winner in each of three categories: People, Places and Nature, and a grand prizewinner as well. The following images are a sampling of the competition thus far – twelve images in each category. The caption information is provided and written by the individual photographer. – Paula Nelson ( 36 photos total)"

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Fall Is in the Air

Crazy beautiful pictures from In Focus, Fall Is in the Air "The autumnal equinox took place on September 22, marking the end of summer and the start of fall across the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn is the season of harvests, festivals, migrations, winter preparations, and of course, spectacular foliage. Across the north, people are beginning to feel a crisp chill in the evening air, leaves are reaching peak color, apples and pumpkins are being gathered, and animals are on the move. Collected here are some early images from this year's autumn -- more will come later as the season unfolds. [36 photos]"

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And more from The Big Picture, Autumn 2012: Celebration of the season "The arrival of autumn brings falling leaves; vibrant and rich jewel-toned colors across the landscape; a distinct change in temperature; festivals and some celebrations. The world often marks the September event as special. Throughout history, the first day of autumn has been considered a good time to take stock of the year’s successes and failures. A myth in many cultures holds that some mystical forces let us stand eggs on their ends for a short time immediately before or after the exact time of the equinox. In Greek mythology, autumn begins when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her kidnapper, Hades – in repayment of the six pomegranate seeds she illicitly ate. Here, a look at a diverse collection of autumn photographs. – Paula Nelson ( 65 photos total)"

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World's biggest geoengineering experiment 'violates' UN rules

This seems absolutely crazy… World's biggest geoengineering experiment 'violates' UN rules.

"A controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups are calling it a 'blatant violation' of two international moratoria and the news is likely to spark outrage at a United Nations environmental summit taking place in India this week.

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilisation that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits."

What we can learn from Europe’s cap-and-trade system

What we can learn from Europe’s cap-and-trade system "And there’s a new report (pdf) out today from the analysts at the Environmental Defense Fund, looking at the track record of Europe’s cap-and-trade system over the past seven years. Some of the lessons here are worth a closer look."

"Since 2005, the E.U. economy has expanded slightly, though there was an obvious dip after the financial crisis (that’s the blue line). But greenhouse-gas emissions in the covered sectors fell dramatically, by 13 percent (that’s the purple line). It appears that Europe is starting to sever the traditional link between carbon emissions and economic growth. Overall, emissions in the E.U.-15 fell by 9.2 percent between 2005 and 2010. For comparison, U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions fell 5.3 percent during this period without any cap at all. This is far from a perfect comparison, however, since the two regions have different economic situations, different supplies of natural gas, different histories, etc."

TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports

TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports

"The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer. The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports."

"The replacement machines, known as millimeter-wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats automatically and quickly using a computer program. They display a generic cartoon image of a person's body, mitigating privacy concerns."

Scanning the Scanners: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Hofstra Debate

First some data. FactChecking the Hofstra Debate

Wonkbook: The second presidential debate in graphs. "Both President Obama and Mitt Romney tossed out plenty of statements and figures in the second presidential debate on Tuesday. Many of them were ripe for charting. So we’ve compiled some graphs that help add context for some of our favorite moments in the debate."

Ezra Klein read through the transcripts to get to the details better. Here's part 1 and part 2. "After the first debate, President Obama’s supporters comforted themselves by saying Obama’s deficiencies were stylistic, and Romney’s victory was the result of confident lying. But reading the transcript, it quickly came clear that President Obama’s stylistic shortcomings were connected to his substantive shortcomings. His answers were rambling, his case for his candidacy was vague, and his attacks on Romney were often confused. So I sat down tonight with a rush transcript of tonight’s debate. The same thing was true. The candidate who struggled on style also struggled on substance. But this time, that candidate was Romney."

"Moreover, conservatives should find tonight’s transcript worrying. Romney’s answers were worst when he was describing how he’ll accomplish his key conservative goals. He’s clearly not committed to the kind of tax reforms needed to pay for his tax cuts, and given his insistence that he won’t pass any tax cuts that increase the deficit or cut taxes on the rich, it’s hard to see how he’ll be able to pass large tax cuts at all. The same is true on his spending cuts, where he’s been, if anything, vaguer than on his tax cuts. Again, it’s hard to see a candidate this afraid of trying to sell the American people on the details necessary to make conservative policies work actually following through on those policies. "

A young man told Obama he voted for him in 2008 but was disappointed. I thought Obama's answer was really good. I didn't think much of Romney's answer but I've heard repeatedly that it was Romney's best moment. Here's Ezra's analysis of Romney's answer:

"This was, on first viewing, a devastating indictment of Obama. On rereading, it’s still harsh and effective. But it’s also telling. Most of what’s in here either wasn’t under Obama’s control or flatly isn’t true. Unemployment isn’t 5.4 percent because the recession, which predated Obama’s presidency, was vastly worse than anyone knew when that December 2008 estimate was made. That basically covers the food stamp and unemployment and median income charges, too. Obama could have done a bit better around the margins. But the bulk of the blame here goes to the recession — and, for the record, our economic performance, given the kind of recession we had, is a lot better than most people realize.

Obama hasn’t put forward a plan on Social Security, but between the Affordable Care Act and his 2013 budget, he’s put forward a much more ambitious and detailed Medicare plan than Romney has. The promise to cut health insurance premiums by $2,500, while audacious and probably unlikely, is tied to the Affordable Care Act, which doesn’t begin until 2014 — so that’s best understood as in progress.

Finally, to compare the recession we just went through to the Reagan recession, which was deliberately induced by the Federal Reserve as a way to break inflation and solved when it lowered interest rates, is ridiculous. "

Warren’s Role in Asbestos Case

Warren’s Role in Asbestos Case
. "Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren are accusing each other of ‘not telling the truth.’ Brown says Warren worked to ‘restrict payments’ to asbestos victims, while Warren says she worked to ‘get more money’ for them. We find Warren is correct; Brown’s ad is a distortion.

It may seem counter-intuitive that Warren’s work on behalf of an insurance company that covered an asbestos manufacturer could be work on the same side as the victims of the case. But Warren was brought in as a bankruptcy expert on a case before the Supreme Court to secure a $500 million trust to pay asbestos victims. As part of a settlement that Warren worked to preserve, the insurance company sought immunity from lawsuits in exchange for releasing the $500 million trust. Attorneys for most of the asbestos victims supported Warren’s efforts."

To all the high and mighty Scott Brown supporters out there, he's lying to you.

Romney's Lies on His Numbers

Ezra Klein is too nice in The Romney campaign’s postmodern approach to policy.

"Suzy Khimm, Josh Barro and Dylan Matthews have already done excellent work breaking down the “six studies” that Mitt Romney says prove his tax plan adds up...I don’t have much to add to what Khimm, Barro or Matthews have written on the substance of these studies. But it’s worth pointing out the brazenness of the Romney campaign’s talking point. They know four of their six studies aren’t, even in the loosest definition of the term, ‘studies.’ They know two of the four are duplicates. They know three of the six define ‘high income’ as above $100,000, and their results thus imply a tax increase on taxpayers their candidate has publicly defined as middle class."

"This is how the Romney campaign has treated numbers in general. The evidence behind their “12 million jobs” claim is a joke. Their white paper and subsequent op-ed on the economy misrepresented almost every economist it mentioned. Their tax and spending plans are missing pretty much all of the relevant information. The standards behind the talking points and policy proposals the campaign releases are insultingly low."

It was the same thing in the Vice Presidential debate when Ryan was saying his plan was bipartisan and Biden said no Democrat voted for it. Ryan said he worked with a Democrat, and Biden pointed out he then disowned the final version. I see this over and over again from the Republicans and I don't see it from the Democrats. Sure they exaggerate some numbers but they don't just outright fabricate things or claim the opposite of reality. Look at the difference in the issues came up with in the VP Debate.

Here's more on Romney. Mitt Romney’s ‘new math’ for jobs plan doesn’t add up.

" As we have noted before, the 12 million figure is not a bad bet by Romney. Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs."

"But the specifics — 7 million plus 3 million plus 2 million — mentioned by Romney in the ad are not in the white paper. So where did that come from? We asked the Romney campaign, and the answer turns out to be: totally different studies … with completely different timelines."

"This is a case of bait-and-switch. Romney, in his convention speech, spoke of his plan to create “12 million new jobs,” which the campaign’s white paper describes as a four-year goal. But the candidate’s personal accounting for this figure in this campaign ad is based on different figures and long-range timelines stretching as long as a decade — which in two cases are based on studies that did not even evaluate Romney’s economic plan. The numbers may still add up to 12 million, but they aren’t the same thing — not by a long shot."

As Kevin Drum sums up, "The loser is....all of us who still have functioning brain cells — including Kessler, who was forced to spend precious hours of his life on this nonsense that no one at Romney HQ even pretends to believe in the first place. But the rest of us still have to go along with the gag. Presidential candidates these days can literally say anything they want, and we're all required to stroke our chins and pretend to take them seriously."

Obama's Numbers

"Here — in a graphic suitable for framing, embossing, emailing to friends or posting on social media — is an accurate statistical picture of key changes that occurred since Obama took office in January 2009. The indicators are all derived from the most authoritative and up-to-date sources available."

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Why Amtrak Keeps Breaking Ridership Records and Will Continue To Do So

Why Amtrak Keeps Breaking Ridership Records and Will Continue To Do So

"Last week, Amtrak announced its highest annual ridership … ever. America's passenger rail provider carried 31.2 million people in fiscal 2012, which ended with September. That's a 3.5 percent increase over 2011 and led to ticket revenues of roughly $2 billion. Since the year 2000, ridership is now up 49 percent.

Amtrak's broken ridership records are beginning to sound like a broken record. As the above chart shows, the 2012 mark was the ninth annual record in ten years. September's numbers marked a twelfth consecutive monthly record. July of 2012 was the single best month in Amtrak's 41-year history."

"What's most impressive about Amtrak's recent success is that it's not attributable to any one clear factor but rather speaks to a general attraction toward train travel. Amtrak itself points to improved services like WiFi and electronic ticketing, as well as high gas prices. In the Northeast Corridor the shift reflects sustained discontent with air travel; as the New York Times recently reported, Amtrak now captures 75 percent of the intercity market between New York and Washington, and 54 percent between New York and Boston. A growing perception of the train as a "mobile office" surely contributes as well."

"Amtrak is now a (relative) success at the ticket window. Revenue in 2012 covered 85 percent of Amtrak's operating expenses [PDF]. As a consequence of this improved financial footing, Amtrak requested only $450 million in federal operating funding in 2013 — less than Congress was willing to appropriate."

"A far more productive conversation about Amtrak's subsidies requires a look at individual services. Those only exist as prospective 2012 figures for the moment [PDF, via Transportation Nation], but they're instructive nonetheless. In the Northeast, Amtrak makes about $20 per rider, and among the individual state routes, it loses a little less than $11 per rider. That works out close to a wash. The real drain on taxpayers is Amtrak's long-distance routes. Ridership may be up 4.7 percent on those services for the year, but the projected loss comes out to more than $111 per rider. If there's a substantive discussion to be had about the future of Amtrak, it's about the viability of these long-distance services, which unlike many local transit routes that lose money don't seem particularly necessary as a public service."

Ten Big Brands

The source is in french, but the image is pretty clear.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Researchers reveal first brain study of Temple Grandin

Researchers reveal first brain study of Temple Grandin.

"Researchers at several institutions gave Grandin a slew of psychological tests and scanned her brain using several imaging technologies. She was 63 years old at the time of the scans.

Grandin’s brain volume is significantly larger than that of three neurotypical controls matched on age, sex and handedness. Some children with autism have abnormally large brains, though researchers are still working out how head and brain size changes across development.

Grandin’s lateral ventricles, the chambers that hold cerebrospinal fluid, are skewed in size so that the left one is much larger than the right. ‘It’s quite striking,’ Cooperrider says.

On both sides of her brain, Grandin has an abnormally large amygdala, a deep brain region that processes emotion. Her brain also shows differences in white matter, the bundles of nerve fibers that connect one region to another. The volume of white matter on the left side of her brain is higher than that in controls, the study found."

Robots at Work and Play

Robots at Work and Play "Advancements in robotics are continually taking place in the fields of space exploration, health care, public safety, entertainment, defense, and more. These machines -- some fully autonomous, some requiring human input -- extend our grasp, enhance our capabilities, and travel as our surrogates to places too dangerous for us to go. NASA currently has dozens of robotic missions underway, with satellites now in orbit around our moon and four planets -- and two more on the way to Ceres and Pluto. Gathered here are recent images of robotic technology at the beginning of the 21st century."

Most are less ridiculous than this:

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Jon Stewart on Paul Ryan Photo Op

I love how Stewarts cynicism just goes deeper and deeper.

Made me Laugh


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Future IgNobel

This seems like a contender for an IgNobel prize. I had never heard this, "There is an old wives' tale that a duck's quack has no echo." Apparently, because of The best duck experiment ever conducted by physicists this isn't true.

"Researchers at Salford University's Acoustics Research Center brought a duck into both a reverberation chamber, which emphasizes echoes, and an anechoic chamber, which so masks any sound that it has been said to make people inside of it ill. They recorded the duck's quacks and found soon enough that it echoes just like any other sound."

Quick Reaction to Second Presidential Debate

Obama showed up and mopped the floor with Romney. He almost always in his answer said what he did what he wants to do, and what Romney has done and said he'll do. He had lots of specifics and didn't stumble on words as he often does. This was what Bill Clinton did in his convention speech.

I think both were a little aggressive with the moderator and with going over but it worked ok, and more so for Obama. While it violated the rules they agreed to before, some of the best moments were when they directly addressed each other. The best moment was when the moderator fact checked Romney as being wrong that Obama didn't call the Libya attack terrorism the day after the attack.

Last time the only memorable line was about big bird, this time it was Romney referring to "binders full of women" when trying to hire more at Bain Capital. I've seen tweets already pointing out that while Romney was there there were not female partners, there are now after he left.

Chris Hayes has pointed out that while they talked about the debt being an issue for future generations, yet again, no one mentioned climate change.

Again I'm curious what the fact checkers will find (here's some early stuff). I though Obama was mostly (if not completely) accurate and Romney mostly not (even about his own freaking plans).

Update: So much for Romney asking for a binder full of women. Mind The Binder

Alpha Centauri Has a Planet!

Alpha Centauri Has a Planet!.

"Alpha Centauri is triple-star system, composed of a binary star, two stars much like the Sun – one slightly larger and hotter, called Alpha Centauri A, and the other slightly smaller and cooler, called Alpha Centauri B – orbited themselves by a red dwarf (called Proxima Centauri) much farther out.

The planet orbits close in to Alpha Cen B, and is technically called Alpha Centauri Bb – planets have lower case letters assigned to them, starting at b. Its mass is only 1.13 times the Earth’s mass, making this one of the lower mass planets yet found! But don’t get your hopes up of visiting it – its period is only 3.24 days, meaning it must be only about 6 million kilometers (less than 4 million miles) from its star. Even though Alpha Cen B is a bit cooler than the Sun, this still means the planet is baking hot, far too hot to sustain any kind of life as we know it, or even liquid water."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Partysaurus Rex

If (like me) you see no need to see Toy Story in 3D but are curious about the new short Pixar put at the front, you can watch Partysaurus Rex. It's just ok, not one of their inspired shorts, but it did (literally) make me smile.

Game of Life in Game of Life

I didn't really get this until after the one minute mark. Crazy. If you're lost, see Conways Game of Life.

The 50 Best Films of the 1990s

The AV Club has compiled a list of the 50 best films of the 1990s. Here's part one, part two, and part three. (via Kottke)

They include a nice description of each but there isn't just a list of all 50 titles on one page. So here they are. I've seen all but the ten marked with an asterisk.

50. Dead Man (1995)*
49. American Movie (1999)
48. Ed Wood (1994)
47. Starship Troopers (1997)
46. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
45. The Limey (1999)
44. Metropolitan (1990)*
43. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
42. All About My Mother (1999)*
41. Raise The Red Lantern (1991)
40. Trainspotting (1996)
39. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
38. Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control (1997)
37. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
36. L.A. Confidential (1997)
35. Naked (1993)*
34. Seven (1995)
33. The Matrix (1999)
32. Close-Up (1990)*
31. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills (1996)
30. The Thin Red Line (1998)
29. Irma Vep (1996)*
28. Election (1999)
27. Short Cuts (1993)
26. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
25. Fight Club (1999)
24. Crumb (1994)
23. Carlito’s Way (1993)
22. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)*
21. Fargo (1995)
20. Red (1994)*
19. Exotica (1994)
18. Schindler’s List (1993)
17. Safe (1995)*
16. The Big Lebowski (1998)
15. Groundhog Day (1993)
14. Hoop Dreams (1994)
13. Boogie Nights (1997)
12. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
11. Barton Fink (1991)
10. Being John Malkovich (1999)
9. Rushmore (1998)
8. Unforgiven (1992)
7. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
6. Out Of Sight (1998)
5. Chungking Express (1994)*
4. Dazed And Confused (1993)
3. Toy Story 2 (1999)
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
1. Goodfellas (1990)

The Matrix and Terminator 2 would be higher on my list, and Blair Witch wouldn't be on it all (among others). I haven't thought about films they didn't include that should be on it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

If you saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which I recommend and wanted to see or know more about the food, then follow the various links in this kottke article, The sushi of Jiro's dreams will run you $20/minute. Particularly Sukiyabashi Jiro and Tokyo Tales: $300 of sushi in 30 minutes.

My Favorite Thing of the Week: Live Simpsons Opening

America's stockmarket has gained more under Democratic than Republican presidents

I really don't think this means much, but I remember when Obama was elected and the market fell (because of the financial crisis) the right was touting that as a sign about the market's opinion of Obama. To counter that, this is kinda useful. It's also an infographic. :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

VP Debates

Just watched them. Biden won. He wasn't as crisp as Clinton but he had the facts and unlike Obama, he didn't let his opponent get away with crap. Ryan supporters will be able to say he was talked over and like Obama he didn't make any particularly bad gaffs. Martha Raddatz was much better than Jim Lehrer.

Your VP-Debate Prep Sheet

James Fallows provides Your VP-Debate Prep Sheet. I agree with all three of his tips for Biden.

Chinese Author, Mo Yan, Awarded 2012 Nobel Prize In Literature

Chinese Author, Mo Yan, Awarded 2012 Nobel Prize In Literature "Mo Yan, the Chinese author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature this morning.

Mo Yan, the Nobel committee wrote, uses his 'hallucinatory realism' to merge 'folk tales, history and the contemporary.'

'Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition,' the committee explained in its citation."

I'm sad to say I've never even heard of him.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What about the Snuffleupagus in the room?

Dana Milbank wrote Forget Big Bird. What about the Snuffleupagus in the room?.

"As if to remind us of this, Rep. Darrell Issa, the indefatigable Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called a hearing for noon Wednesday even though Congress is in a weeks-long recess. The emergency cause for the hearing? Probing ‘The Security Failures of Benghazi’ — lapses in diplomatic security that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.

The purpose of the pre-election hearing, presumably, is to embarrass the administration for inadequate diplomatic security. But Issa seems unaware of the irony that diplomatic security is inadequate partly because of budget cuts forced by his fellow Republicans in Congress.

For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be ‘detrimental to America’s national security’ — a charge Republicans rejected.

Ryan, Issa and other House Republicans voted for an amendment in 2009 to cut $1.2 billion from State operations, including funds for 300 more diplomatic security positions. Under Ryan’s budget, non-defense discretionary spending, which includes State Department funding, would be slashed nearly 20 percent in 2014, which would translate to more than $400 million in additional cuts to embassy security.

The Romney campaign argues that such extrapolations are unfair, because Romney and Ryan haven’t specified which programs they would cut and by how much. And that’s the problem: The danger in Romney’s plan is not in the few cuts he has detailed but in the many he has not."

Romney Debating Himself

I wish I heard more about this from both the Obama campaign and the news media:

And there's this, How Romney Is Obscuring His Upper Income Tax Cuts

Daily Show on Romney

I have no idea why it's in three parts on the web.

As a bonus from Monday there was this bit of brilliance:

Nobels in Physics and Chemistry

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics.

"Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland have independently invented and developed methods for measuring and manipulating individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature, in ways that were previously thought unattainable.

The Nobel Laureates have opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum particles without destroying them. For single particles of light or matter the laws of classical physics cease to apply and quantum physics takes over. But single particles are not easily isolated from their surrounding environment and they lose their mysterious quantum properties as soon as they interact with the outside world. Thus many seemingly bizarre phenomena predicted by quantum physics could not be directly observed, and researchers could only carry out thought experiments that might in principle manifest these bizarre phenomena.

Through their ingenious laboratory methods Haroche and Wineland together with their research groups have managed to measure and control very fragile quantum states, which were previously thought inaccessible for direct observation. The new methods allow them to examine, control and count the particles.

Their methods have many things in common. David Wineland traps electrically charged atoms, or ions, controlling and measuring them with light, or photons.

Serge Haroche takes the opposite approach: he controls and measures trapped photons, or particles of light, by sending atoms through a trap."

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

"Your body is a fine-tuned system of interactions between billions of cells. Each cell has tiny receptors that enable it to sense its environment, so it can adapt to new situtations. Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka are awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for groundbreaking discoveries that reveal the inner workings of an important family of such receptors: G-protein–coupled receptors.

For a long time, it remained a mystery how cells could sense their environment. Scientists knew that hormones such as adrenalin had powerful effects: increasing blood pressure and making the heart beat faster. They suspected that cell surfaces contained some kind of recipient for hormones. But what these receptors actually consisted of and how they worked remained obscured for most of the 20th Century.

Lefkowitz started to use radioactivity in 1968 in order to trace cells' receptors. He attached an iodine isotope to various hormones, and thanks to the radiation, he managed to unveil several receptors, among those a receptor for adrenalin: β-adrenergic receptor. His team of researchers extracted the receptor from its hiding place in the cell wall and gained an initial understanding of how it works.

The team achieved its next big step during the 1980s. The newly recruited Kobilka accepted the challenge to isolate the gene that codes for the β-adrenergic receptor from the gigantic human genome. His creative approach allowed him to attain his goal. When the researchers analyzed the gene, they discovered that the receptor was similar to one in the eye that captures light. They realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike and function in the same manner.

Today this family is referred to as G-protein–coupled receptors. About a thousand genes code for such receptors, for example, for light, flavour, odour, adrenalin, histamine, dopamine and serotonin. About half of all medications achieve their effect through G-protein–coupled receptors."

Monday, October 08, 2012

3 Years in, Bitcoin Digital Money Gains Momentum

Scientific American reports 3 Years in, Bitcoin Digital Money Gains Momentum "Nowadays Bitcoin adopters are providing some clues about the benefits of a decentralized, anonymous, digital currency. For instance, independent merchants use it to receive online payments directly from customers, WikiLeaks uses it to dodge financial barricades, and drug users use Bitcoin to shop anonymously on the Internet's black market. But not everything works smoothly. The system lacks a quick way for people to trade in their physical cash for Bitcoins. Foreign currency exchanges don't deal in Bitcoins, and finding someone to sell them in person remains a huge challenge. A few of the online exchanges that do exist have lost huge amounts of their customers' Bitcoins to hackers—a combined sum now worth over one million dollars—whereas the more stable ones require users to self-identify in a way that undermines the network's anonymity. And although the number of merchants using Bitcoin is growing, one still can't find very many places to spend them. At a conference this month in London, Bitcoin's core developers and many of those who are building applications to make it more user-friendly confronted the currency's setbacks of the past year and planned a course forward intended to elevate it from a niche technophile currency into one that competes with physical money on all levels."

Anyone have any experience using bitcoins? I haven't bothered playing with them.

2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Scientific American reports on the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

"The Nobel Prize recognizes two scientists who discovered that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body. Their findings have revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

John B. Gurdon discovered in 1962 that the specialisation of cells is reversible. In a classic experiment, he replaced the immature cell nucleus in an egg cell of a frog with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell. This modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole. The DNA of the mature cell still had all the information needed to develop all cells in the frog.

Shinya Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. Surprisingly, by introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, i.e. immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialisation. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialised state. Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Funniest Thing I've Seen in a While

Honest Trailers - Transformers

An Uzi Walks into a Guitar Shop

Last night Jon Stewart had Senator Rand Paul on The Daily Show. Of course the interview was extended on the web. The segments are below, just the first was aired.

Here's a transcript from 3:38 in the second clip:

"We have 38 federal agencies that are armed. The fish and wild life have uzis and are going into gibson guitar with automatic weapons and shutting them down. We have people with automatic weapons raiding organic food stores to confiscate their raw milk."

So I've heard the bit about too many armed agencies recently but I don't' get it as an argument from the right. Don't they want everyone to be armed? And notice he shifted from Uzis to automatic weapons.

A year ago NPR explained, Why Gibson Guitar Was Raided By The Justice Department.

"Last week federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar Corporation in Tennessee. It wasn't the first time. The government appears to be preparing to charge the famous builder of instruments with trafficking in illegally obtained wood. It's a rare collision of music and environmental regulation… 'We had a raid,' [Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz ] said, 'with federal marshals that were armed, that came in, evacuated our factory, shut down production, sent our employees home and confiscated wood.' The raids at two Nashville facilities and one in Memphis recalled a similar raid in Nashville in November 2009, when agents seized a shipment of ebony from Madagascar. They were enforcing the Lacey Act, a century-old endangered species law that was amended in 2008 to include plants as well as animals. But Juszkiewicz says the government won't tell him exactly how — or if — his company has violated that law."

I'm not sure what weapons the federal marshals were carrying, but notice we're now talking about us federal marshals on a raid and not "fish and wild life with uzi's". I also see a bunch of conservative articles complaining about the raid and how dumb this law is and how no charges were brought. But it turns out there was something to it all. This is from this past August, almost a year after the raid. Gibson Guitar Logging Bust Demonstrates Lacey Act’s Effectiveness

"On August 6, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it reached a criminal enforcement agreement with Gibson Guitar Corp., resolving two investigations into allegations that Gibson violated the Lacey Act by purchasing and importing illegally harvested wood materials into the United States from Madagascar and India. Because this is the first major set of investigations to be publicly resolved under the new amendments to the Lacey Act, the agreement will help set precedents important to the U.S. and the global wood products industry. The announcement puts to rest nearly three years of investigation and speculation, and it has significant implications for future implementation of the Lacey Act and forest legality regulations across the world."

"The Department of Justice and Gibson Guitar agreed on significant facts related to Gibson’s purchase of ebony from Madagascar and established penalties. The company must:

- Pay a penalty of $300,000.
- Further pay a community service payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used “to promote the conservation, identification and propagation of protected tree species used in the musical instrument industry and the forests where those species are found.”
- Implement a detailed compliance program designed to strengthen its compliance controls and procedures.
- Relinquish its civil claims to wood seized by the Government during the course of the criminal investigation, including Madagascar ebony valued at $261,844.

The government will not pursue criminal charges against Gibson or its employees in the two cases (Madagascar and India), provided that Gibson fully carries out its obligations under the agreement and commits no future violations.

Importantly, Gibson accepted responsibility for its actions. The company acknowledged that it did not act on prior knowledge that legal ebony was difficult or impossible to source from Madagascar, that the investigation into the harvest and export of these woods “served important environmental and law enforcement objectives,” and that its duties under the amended Lacey Act include “reasonable corroboration of the circumstances” of the harvest and export of musical instrument parts from foreign countries."

So here's the problem I see time and again on these interviews. To bolster some general claim the interviewee mentions specifics about a little known incident, the interviewer accepts them on face value and they turn out to be misleading or false and are never followed up. Meanwhile the interviewee came across well in the interview.

Basically the same thing happened in the presidential debates last night. I wish Ezra Klein would host one and would be allowed to correct the misleading statements on the fly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Quick Reaction to Debate

I watched the presidential debates tonight. There were more details than I expected and more back and forth, that was a pleasant surprise. Both were well prepared but they also actually engaged. I think Romney did a little better though I think some of his facts (particularly about his own plans) were wrong. I'm curious to see what says. Obama did well towards the end when he made the point that a lot of Romney's answers were that he would keep the good stuff of various policies but wasn't describing details. But I think Obama paused a little too much and didn't connect with the audience as much as I would have hoped.

This whole bipartisan thing really annoyed me. Am I the only person that remembers that healthcare was a national debate for over a year? That Obama spent months and months trying not to dictate a plan to congress but trying to get them to produce one of their own that met the goals. I'm sure Obama didn't want to blame Republicans in Congress for blocking too many things but he needed to do more to say that that's just what they did. Obama should have said that the $716 billion from medicare is an example of his bipartisanship because it's in Romney's and Ryan's budget but he uses the savings to pay for better healthcare.

This was also the point in the campaign where Romney finally moved to the center away from the far right of the party. I'm wondering how happy the tea party will be with how many times Romney agreed with parts of the president's policies.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Deep Sea Mystery Circle – a love story

The Deep Sea Mystery Circle – a love story "Underwater cameras showed that the artist was a small puffer fish who, using only his flapping fin, tirelessly worked day and night to carve the circular ridges. The unlikely artist – best known in Japan as a delicacy, albeit a potentially poisonous one – even takes small shells, cracks them, and lines the inner grooves of his sculpture as if decorating his piece. Further observation revealed that this ‘mysterious circle’ was not just there to make the ocean floor look pretty. Attracted by the grooves and ridges, female puffer fish would find their way along the dark seabed to the male puffer fish where they would mate and lay eggs in the center of the circle. In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male. The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either. The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns."


Best Word Ever

Apparently there was a long contest and the winner is: Dipthong.

How Critics of Obama's Libya Response Profoundly Misunderstand Intelligence

How Critics of Obama's Libya Response Profoundly Misunderstand Intelligence "High-profile Republican politicians and their media surrogates are accusing President Obama and other top White House staff of 'lying' to the public about last month's deadly assault on America's diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

This accusation not only misses the mark but also demonstrates how profoundly the accusers misunderstand how intelligence works. In fact, the White House's evolving timeline for what happened in Benghazi is proof of precisely the opposite of what the breathless accusers suggest -- it is a sign of a normal, healthy intelligence process."

This spectacular image is the deepest view of the Universe ever captured

This spectacular image is the deepest view of the Universe ever captured. "Astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope have just released the most detailed view of the early Universe ever captured. It's called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF for short. The image combines over ten years' worth of photographs by Hubble. It required 2-million seconds of exposure time to produce, and contains over 5,500 of the Universe's most ancient galaxies."

Hs 2012 37 a web

I should be a little more in awe than I am, but we've seen similar images before. Still there's more info at io9 and the Hubblesite.

Meet the hexaflexagon. It’s about to blow your mind.

In this, her latest video, fast-thinking, faster-talking YouTube-maths-wizard Vi Hart presents us with the topologically fascinating hexaflexagon. First discovered in the 1930s by a daydreaming student named Arthur H. Stone, flexagons have attracted the curiosity of great scientists for decades, including Stone's friend and colleague Richard Feynman. Here, the ever-capable Hart introduces the folding, pinching, rotating, multifaceted geometric oddity with her signature brand of rapid-fire wit and exposition. She even shows you how to make your own. (via io9)

Amazon and State Sales Tax

Amazon's 'No Sales Tax' Advantage Could Soon End in Massachusetts. "Gov. Deval Patrick said the state hopes to soon seal a deal with that will have the online giant collect and pass on sales taxes from online purchases made by Bay State residents -- one of many recent efforts to strip Internet merchants' of the unfair price advantage they gain by not charging those sales taxes."

I do buy a lot of things from Amazon so this will cost me directly but I think it's a good thing.

A 1992 Supreme Court decision, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, decided that states can't impose sales tax unless the business has some physical presence in the state. The idea was that complying with the tax codes of 50 states and and more localities would be too much of a burden on the young commercial Internet. As a result, internet companies had an unfair price advantage over traditional local shops, particularly as shipping costs came down. As more and more commerce moved online, it meant that states were collecting fewer and fewer taxes. That and the recession have really hurt state and local budgets and has meant more layoffs of public workers.

There have been movements towards collecting sales tax on internet sales for a while and companies like Amazon have fought hard to resist it, since it is a big price advantage for them. But Amazon Sees Silver Lining With Sales Tax Collections. "Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has figured out that if the company is going to be subject to sales tax anyway for having a presence, why not have a bigger presence? And so the building begins. The result of all of these centers? You guessed it: faster delivery."

So now there will be more warehouses and that does mean more jobs, even if they aren't that great.

Morning Call wrote Inside Amazon's Warehouse a year ago, describing "brutal heat, dizzying pace at online retailer". Mother Jones published I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave this March. Though in May Amazon promised to improve working conditions. "Jeff Bezos, CEO of the online retail giant, said at the annual shareholders meeting on Thursday that Amazon would be spending $52 million to retrofit its warehouses with air conditioners." And then in July they said they would offer "full-time employees up to $2,000 a year in college and vocational training tuition assistance -- even if they plan to leave the company".

Anyway, I better go order those items on wish lists I was putting off for a little bit...