Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Cybersecurity Bill Loathed By Tech Companies Is Now Law

A Cybersecurity Bill Loathed By Tech Companies Is Now Law "Yesterday, Congress and President Obama approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a measure that lets private companies turn over consumers’ personal data to Homeland Security, as long as that data meets some broad and vague criteria of relevance to cybersecurity investigations. Homeland Security can then pass said data directly the NSA, the Department of Defense, and the FBI.

Tech companies, civil liberties groups and security experts have all decried this bill. How did it become law? Simple. House Speaker Paul Ryan attached CISA as a rider to the omnibus budget bill, a $1.15 trillion federal spending plan. If Congress and the President hadn’t approved the measure, we would be on the brink of another government shutdown right now."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

‘Star Wars,’ if it were directed by Ken Burns

The Washington Post shows us ‘Star Wars,’ if it were directed by Ken Burns

Genius.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson secretly bought newspaper, ordered all hands to investigate judges he hated

This story from Boing Boing is crazy, Billionaire Sheldon Adelson secretly bought newspaper, ordered all hands to investigate judges he hated

No one knew who the mystery buyer of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was, just that $140m had changed hands under mysterious circumstances. But every reporter on the paper was ordered to drop everything and try to dig up dirt on three Clark County judges.

No one in management at any of the newspapers would admit that anything fishy was going on to the reporters who broke this story, James DeHaven, Jennifer Robison and Eric Hartley, who all write for the Review-Journal and were therefore investigating corruption on the part of their new bosses, which is a ballsy fucking move, given that the paper seems to have been purchased for the purpose of pursuing a personal vendetta against a local judge.

For more details see the source story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Judge in Adelson lawsuit subject to unusual scrutiny amid Review-Journal sale.

How the super-secret Apple Industrial Design group works

Cult of Mac has a long, detailed and fascinating article How the super-secret Apple Industrial Design group works. It's based on Leander Kahney's book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products.

Secret Code Found in Juniper's Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors

Wired reports Secret Code Found in Juniper's Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors

On Thursday, tech giant Juniper Networks revealed in a startling announcement that it had found ‘unauthorized’ code embedded in an operating system running on some of its firewalls.

The code, which appears to have been in multiple versions of the company’s ScreenOS software going back to at least August 2012, would have allowed attackers to take complete control of Juniper NetScreen firewalls running the affected software. It also would allow attackers, if they had ample resources and skills, to separately decrypt encrypted traffic running through the Virtual Private Network, or VPN, on the firewalls.

“The weakness in the VPN itself that enables passive decryption is only of benefit to a national surveillance agency like the British, the US, the Chinese, or the Israelis,” says Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and UC Berkeley. “You need to have wiretaps on the internet for that to be a valuable change to make [in the software].”

But the backdoors are also a concern because one of them—a hardcoded master password left behind in Juniper’s software by the attackers—will now allow anyone else to take command of Juniper firewalls that administrators have not yet patched, once the attackers have figured out the password by examining Juniper’s code.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This whole review is filled with spoilers. Go see the movie first, it's great, and know as little as you can going into it. Then read this.

SPOILERS

First, go read Devin Faraci's review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review. He's right about virtually everything.

Unordered Thoughts

BB-8 is fantastic. You immediately feel a lot for this little droid even without a companion droid to talk to. The design is so expressive it reminded me of what Pixar was able to do with Wall-E and what Aardman was able to do with Grommit. I'm guessing the chirps are sampled from R2 but all the body expression is unique. He's my new favorite droid.

While the story was a little derivative, it didn't really bother me during the movie. And I had been warned by a few "non-spoiler" reviews I glanced at beforehand in that they said it was kind of a remake. It's true, many of the story beats are the same, but it worked. The Star Wars films broke so many grounds visually and this one really didn't do much new, it just did it well. A few new environments would have added a sense of awe, but it's just nitpicking and I'm so thrilled they didn't get lost in the effects the way the prequels did. The best location was the crashed star destroyer and we saw that in the trailer, still Rey's line about not knowing there was so much green in the galaxy was cute.

Stephen Marche makes a good point, The Force Awakens Is the Biggest Movie of the Year. But Is It Great?:

The Force Awakens is easily the best written, and in some ways the most sophisticated, of all the films. But while it verges on greatness, it doesn;t quite reach it. Perhaps that was inevitable. The original Star Wars was influenced by science fiction, samurai movies, Westerns, opera, serial radio, racing car movies, cross-talk misfit couple comedies, Lawrence of Arabia, the Muppets and World War II documentaries. The influence of The Force Awakens was Star Wars.

In other words, The Force Awakens is Star Wars made by people who grew up on Star Wars, and that's its biggest weakness. But it's also a real strength. The movie plugs deep down into the joys of childhood, and Abrams knows to milk that source of joy. It is a story told by someone who grew up, like me, playing with Star Wars figurines, imagining Tatooine in the sandbox and Hoth on an aunt's white sofa.

J.J. Abrams was definitely a good choice to base VII on previous Star Wars films. It's a skill he demonstrated in the Star Trek films, rebooting a franchise being true to the characters and to the aesthetic of Star Wars (not Trek). Now that that's been done and VII has wiped away the memories of the prequels, I hope Rian Johnson goes back to Lucas's source roots in A New Hope. He's not a student of film like Lucas, Scorsese or Spielberg, but Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper all show he can bring fresh takes to well worn genres.

It's the funniest Star Wars. Shots and lines could have come from a Robot Chicken episode. I loved when Ren was having a fit and destroying the room with his lightsaber and the storm troopers walk by, stop, and go back the way they came. I'm sure some will argue that it was too tongue-in-cheek or referential, but I think they got it right and it just worked.

Farachi said the characters are great and he's right, but also the lines and acting are way better than in the other films. The new characters all outshone the originals. Except for one, they did a great job with Chewbacca. He finally felt like a capable lead character instead of just a side-kick. I was really concerned when he got shot.

Farachi is also right about this: "Kylo Ren has a depth to him that George Lucas wanted to get at with Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels, but failed. Kylo Ren is Anakin done right." Nevertheless I'm not an Adam Driver fan and think Kylo should be referred to as Darth Emo.

That wasn't the only tragedy in the film, the big spoiler event in this was Han dying. I was upset at seeing one of the iconic characters of movies die but I think I'm ok with it. Han dying was probably a condition of Harrison Ford being in the film. They did it well with lots of foreshadow and tension. Leia told Han to bring back their son and Han looked like that wasn't going to happen. He told Finn that they wouldn't leave the station without Rey and he didn't. Kylo's line about being conflicted and needing help and Han offering any he could so obviously had double meaning and of course the camera zooming in on the saber was Hitchcockian. That seen on the (so ridiculous it could only be in Star Wars) bridge felt so long and I just kept saying to myself "Don't kill Han. Don't kill Han. Don't kill Han." Maybe it was a little cheap, but it worked. I've seen comments of people complaining that there was no tension because they knew it would happen; but these people need to learn from Hitchcock the difference between surprise and suspense.

None of the minor characters were stereotypes. The prequels were filled with dim or offensive caricatures like Jar Jar, Boss Nass, Watto, dumb droid soldiers, trade federation buffoons, and a droid general who coughs. They did seem to underwrite Captain Phasma. For a supposedly menacing figure she gave up information way too easily when threatened by a gun. She can't be a rebellion double agent because then they would have know about the base. Apparently she'll be expanded on in future movies so I'll reserve judgement.

The opening crawl, first line, explains Luke has gone missing. The big Internet mystery about the trailer, where is Luke? is right there at the start. We're supposed to be wondering that and the trailer made us a part of the film months before we got into the theater. The end of the film gives us the mystery from the end of Empire. What will Luke say to Rey? Welcome back padawan? Hello daughter? Who are you?

I saw it in regular 3D and it was very pretty. I got a tilt-shift miniature effect a few times but nothing like I did with Mad Max: Fury Road which mostly seemed like miniatures to me. While it wasn't filmed in 3D there are a few shots, particularly of ships flying, where it really worked. It would be fine in 2D and I think it would be really fun in IMAX 3D.

Apparently the stormtrooper that Rey mind tricked was played by Daniel Craig. I will refer to him as 00-Trooper.

Issues

Two things bothered me in the film. Some things happen by coincidence particularly Chewie showing up at the end to rescue Rey and Finn. I was expecting her to at least have to wave the lightsaber to get his attention but he somehow knew where she was. I still don't know how Poe survived the crash so far from Finn and his own jacket.

Second was that they screwed up some distances and technologies. Starkiller base could apparently fire energy bolts to distant star systems, which seems way out of bounds of Star Wars (the death star had to move to the planets to destroy them). Also the rebellion had interstellar communications. They monitored the final battle from their base in real time and we know it was distant because (a) they didn't know where it was without Finn and (b) the Falcon had to go through hyperspace to get to it. They didn't seem to have interstellar communications in Star Wars which is why they were always currying messages in droids. If they could communicate these distances why did Poe have to pick up the map from Jakku in the first place?

Theories

I’m going with Rey was a Jedi in training under Luke. Ren turned dark and killed people and Luke hid her on Jakku and mind wiped her to keep her safe (and maybe Max von Sydow was there to look after her from afar like Obi-Wan did with Luke and it would explain why he had a map piece to find Luke). She was too good with the force (resistance to mind probes, mind trick, lightsaber) to be completely untrained. I don’t remember all the stuff in her vision, but she was waiting on Jakku for someone to return and Maz told her that to continue on her journey she needed to move forward not back. So instead of waiting for Luke she needed to go find Luke.

Maybe she's Luke's daughter and maybe Rey killed her mom, but I'm guessing Luke had been chatting with Yoda and Obi-Wan and reinstated the Jedi chastity thing. Since breaking that didn't work out so well for his father. I missed it but apparently Luke was standing next to a grave at the end, perhaps that's his wife in which case it would probably be Rey's mom just based on dramatic themes of the closing shot. Or it could be the grave of anyone close to him that Kylo killed.

People are also pointing out that Luke's lightsaber called out to her, but that's the saber Anakin made and Luke lost on Bespin in Empire, so Maz probably scavenged it somehow and Luke probably never saw it again. I'm not taking it as she's a lost Skywalker and Luke's old lightsaber recognized her, I think touching a lightsaber triggered her repressed memories. Also, I think R2 woke up because a Jedi (in training) was near him (not because Luke's lost lightsaber or daughter was near him).

The other fan theory is that she's Ren's twin which I guess is possible. But Han and Leia didn't recognize her and they didn't speak of any other children let alone losing one. Maybe Leia kept her secret from Han but I don't see an obvious explanation for that. It would be nice that she got to meet her father, and there is a history of twins in Leia's family, but the parallels of her fight with Kylo being a fight between siblings seems too obvious with Luke/Vader or even Obi-Wan/Anakin ("You were my brother Anakin!"). Though Abrams copied so much from the previous stories, maybe he copied this too.

Add VanDerWerff has his own theory, Let's try to solve the new trilogy’s biggest mystery.

Who is Snoke? His projection was giant sized and I'm guessing that's a misdirection. Maybe he's Yoda sized. :)

Update: Devin Faraci answers some questions with What The Hell Is The Story With The Resistance And The First Order In The Force Awakens?

If you need to hear smart people talking about this for 45 minutes in a way NSFW or children, Half in the Bag Episode 100: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

io9 has a good list of 33 Questions We Desperately Want Answered After Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thursday, December 17, 2015

John Cleese Picks the Most Gut-Busting Monty Python Sketches

John Cleese Picks the Most Gut-Busting Monty Python Sketches . Go have fun, there are clips embedded for each of his picks.

The Antidote To Trump

Matthew Yglesias says Trumpism is a natural consequence of the GOP refusing to moderate on taxes or immigration.

Republican leaders sweated as the Summer of Trump became the Autumn of Trump, and now are in full panic as we enter the Winter of Trump. But this year of Trump is the direct result of their own preferred political strategy — by refusing to tack to the center on either taxes or immigration, they are left with an amped-up form of white identity politics as the preferred path to a majority.

He cites how they did not follow the prescription of the RNC 2012 election post-mortem. Romney got much less of minority (hispanic and asian) votes than Bush did.

The point is that many white Americans don't like the presence of a large Hispanic population in the United States (they complain about the Spanish-language signs, about the "press one for English" option on phone trees, etc.), and Latinos know it. The RNC's view was that Romney's self-deportation policy communicated that he is one of those white people, and that was toxic.

He then goes into the "missing white voter" thesis (of Romney's defeat) which apparently is also wrong. Those missing voters actually correspond to Perot voters and aren't in the deep south (though a Democrat isn't going to win in the south regardless) and apparently line up with Trump supporters pretty well.

So then another possibility (suggested by Ross Douthat):

Rather than move to the center on immigration in the hopes of wooing affluent Latinos and Asians, move to the center on economics to woo secular working-class whites. But given the aging of the population and the natural demand that creates for more spending on highly popular retirement programs, there's simply no way to move to the center on economics without showing some restraint on the tax-cutting front.

But of course "Indeed, the entire party is moving in the opposite direction of moderation on taxes. Jeb Bush, the most electability-oriented candidate in the race, is offering a tax cut that is four times as big as his brother's, while more conservative contenders like Ted Cruz offer plans that are even more extreme."

So amazingly he points out "Trumpism as the only viable strategy" and "Republicans, in other words, are disagreeing with Trump about how to leverage voter fear of Muslim immigrants into electoral advantage, not whether to do so." As evidence:

  • Jeb Bush is talking about anchor babies.
  • Marco Rubio wants the government to be more aggressive about shutting down certain mosques and other gathering places.
  • Chris Christie thinks we need to track immigrants like FedEx packages.
  • Ben Carson has analogized Syrian refugees to dogs.
  • Ted Cruz ups the ante on the Syrian refugee issue by repeatedly referring to "Syrian Muslim refugees" as the problem.
  • Rand Paul says Trump's proposal to bar all Muslim immigrants is a mistake, but that he's "called for something similar" that could accomplish the same goals.

Which fits with my perception of the GOP, every candidate is spouting batshit crazy talk. The New York Times has a nice break down of Where the Candidates Stand on 2016’s Biggest Issues. They all seem crazy to me on gun control, refugees and obamacare (it's not perfect but it's helping) and most on immigration, climate change, abortion (I'm fine if you're pro-life but even in the cases rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother?), and cutting taxes enormously without cutting defense and magically balancing the budget. And at least four of them don't believe in evolution. I said "most" for those last few points, only Bush, Christy, Kasich, and Pataki don't fall into that list. Pataki has missed the filing deadline for 9 states including FL, OH, TX and VA so he's out. Kasich stands no chance of winning the nomination. Maybe I wouldn't describe Bush and Christy as batshit crazy but I wouldn't vote for them either.

Adam Sewer says The Antidote To Trump is diversity.

Trump’s attacks are aimed, consistently, at groups that have no influence in the Republican race. There are vanishingly few black Republicans to check Trump’s generalizations about black people. There are not enough Republican Latinos to take umbrage at his demonization of Latinos. And there are not enough American Muslims, either within the Republican Party or outside of it, to make him pay for vowing to strip them of their basic rights.

The answer for why Trump perseveres is simple: As conservative intellectuals are painfully realizing, there is a large constituency within, and adjacent to the Republican Party whose presence reflects not a commitment to traditional conservative philosophical principles, but to protecting the cultural and political prerogatives of a shrinking, white Christian majority.

A few weeks ago Nate Silver wrote, Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls.

Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).

The Monkey Cage said a month ago, Republican voters actually aren’t divided into ‘establishment’ and ‘outsider’ camps. " There is no clear contest between the “establishment” candidates, such as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, and “outsiders,” such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. The campaign isn’t creating polarized camps of Republican voters."

They also plotted second choices among voters to see who benefits from various candidates dropping out.

Carson, Cruz, Trump, and Rubio are all tied together in the center of the plot. If any one of them were to drop out, most of their supporters would shift to another of the front-runners. But Cruz seems particularly well positioned to pick up support if both Carson and Trump exit--Rubio, on the other hand, stands to gain a significant number of supporters if Carson’s campaign ends, but fewer if Trump drops out--What’s striking in the graph is how few arrows run to Trump. In fact, the exits of only two candidates — Carson and Cruz — are likely to benefit Trump. No other candidate’s supporters list Trump as a second choice.

Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish on the Right

David Roberts explains Why conspiracy theories flourish on the right (and not so much on the left). "A [new] study identifies the sorts of people susceptible to conspiracy theories"

The researchers found, after examining two large data sets (details in the paper), that the effect of trust is as expected, across the political spectrum. Lower-trust conservatives and liberals are both more likely to endorse ideologically congenial CTs (i.e., CTs that make the other side look bad).

But beyond that, there are interesting asymmetries. For liberals, more knowledge reduces endorsement of CTs, no matter the level of trust, and more trust reduces endorsement of CTs, no matter the level of knowledge — "knowledge and trust are both independently negatively related to liberals’ endorsement of liberal conspiracies."

For conservatives, on the other hand, more knowledge increases endorsement of CTs among those with low trust; for high-trust conservatives, knowledge seems to have no effect — it neither increases nor decreases tendency to endorse CTs.

In other words, the high-info/low-trust dynamic is in fact the conspiracy theory sweet spot, but primarily for conservatives.

as a result:

[C]onservative politicians and pundits can more readily rely on conspiracies as an effective means to activate their base than liberals. And to the extent that ideologically motivated endorsement is most evident among the least trusting of the knowledgeable conservatives, there is all the more incentive for conservative elites to stoke the fires of distrust.

and in conclusion:

And that's exactly what we're seeing unfold, as illustrated by the horror comedy that is the GOP primary race. Low-trust, high-knowledge conservatives — a.k.a. the conservative base — are bending the political system to their will on the basis of fever dreams that neither the media nor politicians can afford to ignore. Lacking the language or institutional means to dismiss popular conspiracy theories for what they are, feckless US political and media elites are instead normalizing them, "defining deviancy down" as the old phrase goes.

The research suggests that there is only one way to mitigate or reverse this process: restore some level of trust in the US political system. But conservative elites — who have the ear of their base — have no incentive to do so, and it's not clear that anyone else has ability to do so. Declining trust in institutions is broad and deep in America; it may very well be unstoppable. As long as it continues, conspiracy theories will play a larger and larger role in public life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 National Film Registry

The 25 films selected for the 2015 National Film Registry. I've seen the ones in bold (the shorts just now). It's good to know Shawshank made it.

  • Being There (1979)
  • Black and Tan (1929) - YouTube
  • Dracula (Spanish language version) (1931)
  • Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906) - YouTube
  • Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975) - YouTube
  • Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894) - YouTube
  • A Fool There Was (1915) - YouTube
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
  • Humoresque (1920) - YouTube
  • Imitation of Life (1959)
  • The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) - YouTube
  • John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) - YouTube
  • L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • The Mark of Zorro (1920) - YouTube
  • The Old Mill (1937) - YouTube
  • Our Daily Bread (1934) - YouTube
  • Portrait of Jason (1967)
  • Seconds (1966)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Sink or Swim (1990)
  • The Story of Menstruation (1946) - YouTube
  • Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) - YouTube
  • Top Gun (1986)
  • Winchester ’73 (1950)

The Best Twitter Bots of 2015

Quartz lists The best Twitter bots of 2015 "Last year we picked 17 top Twitter bots from among hundreds of great candidates. For this year’s list, we focused on bots that were created in 2015. Those tended to be more interesting and complex than bots that came before them, suggesting a new era in programming Twitter accounts. But they are all still pretty simple, alternating between nonsense and profundity, which is the beauty of a great Twitter bot."

2015: The Year in Volcanic Activity

In Focus, 2015: The Year in Volcanic Activity "Once again, it has been a particularly eventful year for the world's volcanoes. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2015, erupting volcanoes included Mount Etna in Italy, Wolf volcano in the Galapagos Islands, Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Villarrica in Chile, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai in Tonga, Mount Sinabung in Indonesia, Piton de la Fournaise on RĂ©union Island, Kilauea on Hawaii, Momotombo in Nicaragua, Colima in Mexico, and Calbuco in Chile. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year."

Main 1500 1 500

Monday, December 14, 2015

Voting in Florida - Bad and Good

Thanks to Republicans, Nearly a Quarter of Florida’s Black Citizens Can’t Vote. "No other state has a larger number of disenfranchised citizens than Florida, where more than 1.5 million people have lost the right to cast a ballot on Election Day, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit prison reform group."

"Nationwide, nearly 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to felony convictions. Although most states restrict the voting rights of imprisoned felons, Iowa currently is the only one that joins Florida in imposing a lifelong disenfranchisement on ex-felons. Until three weeks ago, Kentucky also had such a ban, but on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving the state’s outgoing Democratic governor issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of 140,000 nonviolent ex-felons in the state. The incoming Republican governor has signaled that he may uphold the order."

Florida's Supreme Court has struck another blow against gerrymandering. "Five of the state Supreme Court's seven justices essentially told the legislature: If you can't agree on a proper map, we'll pick one for you. They approved a trial judge's ruling accepting the Florida House of Representatives' plan for 19 of Florida's 27 districts — but rejected its proposal for the other eight, which cover South Florida. For the remaining eight districts, the courts instead approved a map proposed by those groups that had sued — including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause."

As the majority put it in this week's ruling, they concluded that "Republican political operatives successfully infiltrated the redistricting process with the coordination and cooperation of the Legislature, resulting in a redistricting plan that was tainted with improper partisan intent."

All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.

Fact-checker Angie Drobnic Holan wrote in the NY Times All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others..

Screen Shot 2015 12 14 at 8 26 24 PM

I found the following two paragraphs kind of depressing:

Today’s TV journalists — anchors like Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulos — have picked up the torch of fact-checking and now grill candidates on issues of accuracy during live interviews. Most voters don’t think it’s biased to question people about whether their seemingly fact-based statements are accurate. Research published earlier this year by the American Press Institute showed that more than eight in 10 Americans have a positive view of political fact-checking.

In fact, journalists regularly tell me their media organizations have started highlighting fact-checking in their reporting because so many people click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news event. Many readers now want fact-checking as part of traditional news stories as well; they will vocally complain to ombudsmen and readers’ representatives when they see news stories repeating discredited factual claims.

Really? "Most voters don’t think it’s biased to question people about whether their seemingly fact-based statements are accurate." Isn't that what reporting is? And journalists are starting to do fact-checking because of click-throughs? Sigh, if that's what it takes.

As Krugman points out, the facts have a well-known liberal bias. I think this chart would have been clearer if the names had been color coded by party; lots of red up top and lots of blue down below.

Gun Stuff

Before we knew much about the San Bernardino shooters Vox explained How fixing America’s mental health system might catch future mass shooters.

A bill proposed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), the only clinical psychologist in Congress, wants to close many of the fissures in the country’s mental health system that have allowed those shooters to slip through. The bill, first proposed in 2013 and reintroduced in June, is a transparent effort by Murphy — who maintains an A rating from the NRA — to divert the conversation away from limiting potential shooters’ access to guns. But politics aside, the bill is chock full of proposals that are as likely as any to catch and treat mass shooters before they snap.

  • Increase access to inpatient mental health treatment
  • Compel patients to accept early treatment — before they reach a crisis point
  • Allow families to know what’s going on with relatives receiving treatment
  • It doesn't prevent individuals with serious mental illness from obtaining guns.

Dylan Matthews explains whether There have been 353 mass shootings this year — or just 4?

How gun control works in America, compared with 4 other rich countries Compares the US, Canada, UK, Switzerland and Japan gun laws.

A shocking statistic about gun deaths in the US is that "Of all children aged 0-14 killed by guns in developed countries...87% are US children".

Mother Jones answers, Do Armed Civilians Stop Mass Shooters? Actually, No.. "As I reported recently in our in-depth investigation, not one of 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped this way. More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to intervene in shooting rampages are rare—and are successful even more rarely. (Two people who tried it in recent years were gravely wounded or killed.) And law enforcement overwhelmingly hates the idea of armed citizens getting involved." He goes on to debunk five commonly cited examples by gun rights activists.

If you want a funnier examination of the issue, The Daily Show tests if a "good guy with a gun" can stop a mass shooting

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

The Star Trek Beyond trailer leaked and then was released by Paramount.

I am not impressed. It looks like a Fast & Furious movie, which isn't surprising given the director is Justin Lin.

  • Idris Elba looks like G'Kar from Babylon 5.
  • Apparently they go to the planet of Thunderdome.
  • Continuing the Star Trek movie tradition of destroying the Enterprise.
  • At least I didn't notice many lens flares.
  • Imagine if Paramount hired people that understood Star Trek to make their ultra expensive movies.

Update: This gives me some hope, 'Star Trek Beyond's' Justin Lin Reveals Details About Idris Elba's Villain.

Update: And this helps too, Simon Pegg ‘Didn’t Love’ the ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Trailer, Asks Fans to ‘Hang in There’.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What it's like to be black at Princeton

Brittney Winters explains What it's like to be black at Princeton. I found it a fascinating read. This is just from the start of it:

I tend to chalk up my ambivalence about Princeton to my experience as a lower-middle-class black woman on campus. It felt like the expectations of the university were constantly shifting goalposts that I could never hope to meet. My introductory-level science instructors would grant me extensions when I was sick from stress, but then my freshman adviser would admit that he purposely told me to sign up for too many classes in a semester because he wanted to weed me out of premedical studies. I shared that adviser with many students, and from what I heard the only ones who received such treatment were minorities.

The university paid for me to go home during an internship to attend my uncle's funeral, but then my department head essentially told me to get over it when I told him that grieving the deaths of my pastor, uncle, and aunt in one year was making it difficult to cope. Based on his response, it seemed impossible for him to believe that a student could have a pastor gunned down in a robbery, an uncle murdered, and an aunt who died of untreated cancer all in one year. He seemed to think that I was making up tragedies in order to get out of classwork or to cover up academic inadequacies. To me, it seemed that since he had never experienced a life that was so frequently beset by setbacks, he couldn't empathize with a student who came from a background where these things happen, maybe not with regularity, but with relative frequency.

Debunking Ted Cruz Lies At His Climate Change Hearing

Ted Cruz Challenged Science At His Climate Change Hearing. Science Won. Emily Atkin debunks Cruz's scientific points one by one. She points out that he mixed up the Arctic and Antarctic; while CO2 has been higher it was before the time of humans; that while 2011 was the low of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic we're still in a downward trend; and pointing out that people before the scientific method thought the sun revolved around the earth doesn't mean anything.

Cruz is a smart man, smart enough to understand these arguments. It leaves me with only one conclusion that he's deliberately lying about climate change. I honestly don't know why anyone would do that, we're talking about dramatically affecting all human life.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases

The Independent lists The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases "Whether you're trying to sound sophisticated or simply repeating what you've heard, word fails are all too common and can make smart people sound dumb. In his latest book, 'The Sense of Style,' Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker explores the most common words and phrases that people stumble over."

I knew most (including "irregardless") but learned a few. I have misused "hone" and "disinterested" and learned about "enormity". A few I never use so I'm not sure how "commonly misused" they are.

Reinventing Cancer Surgery--By Designing A Better Hospital Experience

Co.Design writes Reinventing Cancer Surgery--By Designing A Better Hospital Experience "Memorial Sloan Kettering’s new $300 million cancer center focuses on the well-being of the patient—even as they move you through the process as quickly as possible."

Inside the nearly finished Josie Robertson Surgery Center (JRSC), the waiting room feels more like a fancy co-working space for families to camp out, play games, get work done, and grab a bite to eat. The patient rooms—all private, with private bathrooms—have floor-to-ceiling windows; the floors have unique art and poetry, central gathering places for a buffet breakfast and socializing; the figure-eight hallways double as walking paths for post-surgery exercise. Even the 550-person staff will get a well-thought out space that goes far beyond the usual hospital cafeteria. If cancer wasn't involved, it’s a place you could imagine wanting to hang out.

Other health care trends may also help explain JRSC’s unique, patient-friendly setup. The hospital, a nationally leading cancer center, is facing more competition, as many hospitals build fancy facilities to attract business from aging baby boomers. And in the Obamacare era, both patient satisfaction and cost efficiency are important metrics for insurance reimbursement. So a one-night stay will obviously cost less than two, especially if a patient leaves without feeling rushed. "While it might not be that hard, medically, to get someone out the door, having them emotionally and spiritually happy and feeling supported is really a big deal," says Simon.

They describe lots of changes. "Everyone in the hospital—doctors, staff, and most importantly, patients, and their family—will wear a real-time location badges, which, says Ohayon, 'changes the whole notion of what a hospital serves to do.'". Less pagers and phone calls and more hospital staff going directly to patients. Also the rooms are designed so the patient can stay in them and nurses and equipment can come to them.

Mitch McConnell Boxes in Wingnuts to Get a Budget

Politico reported Obamacare repeal: Mitch McConnell boxes in Cruz, Rubio.

Kevin Drum puts it all in perspective, Mitch McConnell Has Met The Enemy, and It Is Him.

Politico has a fascinating story today. It's all about Mitch McConnell's months of LBJ-worthy maneuvering to get legislation passed that would repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, thus paving the way for a clean budget bill later this year. But here's the kicker: he wasn't engaged in Herculean negotiations with Democrats. He was engaged in Herculean negotiations with his own party. The goal was to somehow trick them into supporting the Obamacare/PP bill, which was entirely symbolic since President Obama would veto it instantly, paving the way for a budget bill later this month that Obama could sign.

Since the summer, the Senate majority leader had spoken with influential organizations opposing abortion such as National Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List to ensure they would back his move to link the Obamacare repeal with a measure to defund Planned Parenthood....Anti-abortion groups vowed to score against any senator who rejected the anti-Planned Parenthood provision, exerting additional pressure on conservative lawmakers who would have seen their sterling pro-life ratings tarnished if the defunding language was dropped.

Apparently McConnell persuaded the anti-abortion folks that their cause was better served by electing a Republican president in 2016, and the best way to do that was to avoid a protracted government shutdown over a budget bill that Democrats would fight if it included the PP defunding language. Instead, he proposed a symbolic standalone bill that allows everyone to vote against Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. Obama will veto it; everyone will shrug and say "we tried"; and then a clean budget bill will be negotiated and signed.

And that's that. In today's Washington, passing bills isn't a matter of getting Republicans and Democrats to agree. They can usually manage that. The trick is somehow neutering the wingnut faction of the Republican Party. Once that's done, negotiations between the two parties are (relatively speaking) a piece of cake. Welcome to 2015.

Why Negative Interest Rates Are Becoming the New Normal

Neil Irwin writes in The NY Times, Why Negative Interest Rates Are Becoming the New Normal "The flaw in the old concept of the ‘zero lower bound’ seems to have been this: There are a lot of benefits to keeping money in a bank besides the interest you earn. If you keep $10,000 in savings in a bank, and the bank gets robbed, you’re unaffected; the bank is on the hook for the losses. If you keep it in your freezer, theft is your problem. The peace of mind of having your $10,000 in a federally insured bank account and the ability to write a check to make a purchase or wire money to a family member are valuable. More valuable, it seems likely, than the $30 in annual costs that would apply if the Fed put in place the E.C.B.’s new negative 0.3 percent rate."

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Make Shortlist

Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Make Shortlist. The Academy announced the 15 films that have been shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature of 2015. The list is below. I've seen the ones in bold:

  • Amy - Really good doc about Amy Winehouse 4/5
  • Best of Enemies - about the Buckley/Vidal debates and I feel like I saw something about that on cable recently, but I can't figure out if it was this.
  • Cartel Land - The half about a doctor in Mexico leading uprising against the cartels is really great, the other half about US citizens patroling the US border looking for smugglers isn't as strong. 4/5
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - Exposing the cult for what it is 4/5
  • He Named Me Malala
  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Hunting Ground
  • Listen to Me Marlon
  • The Look of Silence - Astounding companion piece to The Act of Killing 5/5
  • Meru
  • 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets - This is on HBO this month
  • We Come As Friends
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Where to Invade Next - Michael Moore picks successful policy ideas from European countries to bring back to the US 3/5
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Also, there's no doubt that Call Me Lucky was robbed. It's one of the best films I've seen this year. I also really liked Finders Keepers and Welcome to Leith.