Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Five Year Old's View of L.A. Burdick

I really liked this, Morning chat with my five year old by bijan sabet:

"James: what’s the name of that hot chocolate place I love

Me: do you mean Burdicks?

James: they should change the name

Me: what should they call it?

James: the best place in the world"

Social Media in the 16th Century: How Luther Went Viral

The Economist draws an interesting comparison, Social media in the 16th Century: How Luther went viral "Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation"

"Although they were written in Latin, the “95 Theses” caused an immediate stir, first within academic circles in Wittenberg and then farther afield. In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”

The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses. But writing in scholarly Latin and then translating it into German was not the best way to address the wider public. Luther wrote that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” For the publication later that month of his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, he switched to German, avoiding regional vocabulary to ensure that his words were intelligible from the Rhineland to Saxony. The pamphlet, an instant hit, is regarded by many as the true starting point of the Reformation."

This is crony capitalism.

This is crony capitalism. is an infographic showing people who have switched between government and industry in a series of venn diagrams by industry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Congress Really Is As Bad As You Think, Scholars Say

NPR says Congress Really Is As Bad As You Think, Scholars Say ""I think you'd have to go back to the 1850s to find a period of congressional dysfunction like the one we're in today," says Daniel Feller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Tennessee.

Feller, who specializes in the Jacksonian, Antebellum and Civil War periods, points specifically to 1849-1860 when Congress sometimes struggled for months to even elect a speaker of the House.

Other periods of governmental deadlock include Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction presidency, Woodrow Wilson's conflict with Congress over the League of Nations and the fights between President Truman and the "do-nothing" 80th Congress in 1947-48.

"None of those involved the level of conflict within Congress itself that we see today," Feller says."

Matt Taibi: A Christmas Message From America's Rich

Matt Taibi provides A Christmas Message From America's Rich.

"People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the "imbeciles" on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don't get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn't even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don't do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn't take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life's savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Year End Photos

The Big Picture presents The year in Pictures: Part II "The second collection of images from 2011 once again brought us nature at its full force with floods, drought, wild fires, tornadoes and spectacular images of volcanic eruptions. The death of Osama bin Laden, the attack on an island in Norway by a lone gunman, continued fighting in Libya, and protests around the globe were a few of the news events dominating the headlines. (45 photos total)"

In Focus presents the Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest 2011. "After receiving more than 20,000 photo submissions from over 130 countries, the National Geographic Photo Contest 2011 concluded last month and the judging began. The winners were announced this week, with the grand prize awarded to Shikhei Goh for his capture of a dragonfly riding out a rainstorm in Indonesia. Goh was awarded $10,000 and a trip to the National Geographic Photography Seminar next year. National Geographic has shared the following winning photos (and honorable mentions) from this year's contest here. All captions and photos are by the individual photographers. [See also this earlier collection of 45 entries from this year's contest.] [15 photos]"

BostInno presents 50 Incredible Photos of Boston in 2011: Year in Review. "As 2011 comes to a close, BostInno takes a look back at the ups, the downs and beautiful moments from the past 12 months. From Hurricane Irene and tornadoes in the west, to the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup and Boston remembering 9/11, to Whitey Bulger’s capture and Occupy Boston, it’s been an incredible year filled with joy, sadness, anger, resilience and even fear for New Englanders. Below are 50 of Boston’s best moments captured in awe-inspiring photos."

In Focus shows Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. "With only three days left until Christmas, Santa Claus appears to be just about everywhere - assisted by armies of Santa's Helpers. Photographers have captured images of people dressed as jolly old Saint Nick in the United Kingdom, Japan, India, Australia, the United States, and other countries throughout the world. People everywhere are observing the season of giving not only by donning red and white apparel but by participating in charitable events, passing out gifts, listening to Christmas wishes, and simply having fun. Collected below are recent images of Santa Claus and his many helpers around the world. (Disclaimer: At least one of them may not be the Real Santa Claus.) [28 photos]"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GOP Fractures Further Over Payroll Tax Mess

TPM writes GOP Fractures Further Over Payroll Tax Mess "House GOP aides basically admitted this to reporters yesterday, but it bears repeating. The reason they fashioned a Rube Goldberg-esque procedural device to kill the Senate payroll tax cut compromise is that they know they’re now in political free fall on the issue. By doing things the way they did, at least vulnerable House Republicans can say that they didn’t vote against a tax cut for the middle class."

"By the same token, seven Republicans — Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Walter Jones (R-NC), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Tim Johnson (R-IL), and Frank Wolf (R-VA) — defected from leadership on the payroll vote. Five of those — Bass, Herrera Beutler, Gibson, Johnson, and Wolf — are Democratic targets. One, Flake, is a conservative who has opposed the payroll cut from the beginning but — and this is key — he is running statewide to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl in a state Democrats are trying to turn competitive. Jones is the only outlier, and he’s famously contrarian."

The Five Most Bizarre Terror Plots Hatched Under The FBI’s Watch

TPM writes The Five Most Bizarre Terror Plots Hatched Under The FBI’s Watch "Undercover FBI agents have helped and informants have watched as alleged wanna-be terrorists form some pretty bizarre and improbable terror plots in the years since Sept. 11. But the plot 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus allegedly hatched to fly model airplanes loaded with C-4 into the Pentagon and the dome of the Capitol might be the most unlikely yet."

"“It fits completely with the pattern that we’ve seen in other cases, where the target of the investigation is first approached by the informant, they talk about some sort of plot, the target — from what evidence shows — has little to no capacity to actually commit the act of terrorism that he aspires to commit, and the FBI in turn provides him with the means to prove the terrorist conspiracy that they need for the indictment,” Aaronson said."

The Supercommittee's Failure Was 2 Decades in the Making

A month ago James Kwak wrote The Supercommittee's Failure Was 2 Decades in the Making. "In short, if Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Grover Norquist had a master plan to turn the United States into a low-tax, small-government society back in 1994, it's safe to say they are ahead of schedule. If they split the difference with Obama -- say, eliminating some tax expenditures to increase revenues and, in exchange, getting the 35 percent tax rate made permanent for the over-$250,000 set -- they could probably get some more entitlement cuts out of the current round of negotiations, like the lower cost-of-living adjustment they want for Social Security. And they would get credit from independent voters for compromising and combining tax increases with spending cuts."

"Which means there's still an outside chance that no one will agree to anything, December 31, 2012 will roll around, and all of the Bush tax cuts will expire. Which is the only thing that has any chance of increasing taxes on the rich and reducing the deficit."

Anatomy of a Bad Confession

Anatomy of a Bad Confession by WBUR is really a screaming indictment. "WBUR detailed the 2008 interrogation of a teenager by Worcester police that led to her arrest on the charge of murdering her baby. The interrogation raises troubling questions about the coercive power of detectives who are driven to extract confessions. It suggests how people might admit to crimes they may have not committed." Part 1 and Part 2

Christopher Hitchens and the Protocol For Public Figure Deaths

Christopher Hitchens and the protocol for public figure deaths is Glenn Greenwald's obit. As usual it's a long diatribe but I found it interesting. it starts with an article length screed about the hagiography of Reagan's funeral and then relates that to what happened with Hitchens (with a few mentions of Tim Russert for good measure). As many have pointed out, Hitchens never held back in his obituaries. There are a lot of Hitchens' views I didn't agree with and I wasn't that interested in his book reviews in The Atlantic, but I enjoyed him on TV and appreciated his wit (though I thought it was often a little too filtered through scotch).

Lawrence Lessig: The Great Promise of Super-PACs

Lawrence Lessig has a interesting Huffington Post piece, The Great Promise of Super-PACs.

"So the incumbent has but one obvious insurance policy: super-PACs on her own side. To secure the protection the incumbent needs, the incumbent cozies up to the large but independent funders on his or her side, so that if a bomb gets dropped, there's a ready supply of bombs to support the incumbent.

And how do you cozy up to a super-PAC, to guarantee they'll defend you -- "independently," of course -- if terror raises its ugly head? By behaving in the way that super-PAC demands. "We'd love to be able to help you, Senator, but our charter requires that we only support candidates who get 80% or better on our score card." Incumbents thus work hard for good (super-PAC) grades. And like superpowers in a cold war, allegiance is secured with a simple understanding of defense."

"So Sarbanes has done something that possibly no one else in the history of politics has ever done: He has formally and voluntarily tied himself to a funding structure that forces him to raise small dollar contributions. Sarbanes has established two "challenge funds," both now fully funded. The first fund (worth $500,000) can be drawn upon only when Sarbanes recruits 1,000 small contributors. The second (with $250,000) can be drawn upon only when those contributors have given at least $50,000. Until he hits the 1,000 contributor, and $50,0000 in contributions mark, he can't touch the $750,000 in the funds. But once he does, his campaign will be fully funded -- with super-PAC insurance bundled in for free."

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Year in Pictures: Part I

The Big Picture presents The Year in Pictures: Part I. "Any "best of" list must surely be subjective. This one is no different. Choosing the best photographs of the year is an enormously difficult task, with many terrific photographs slipping through the cracks. But with major news events as a guide, and with single images I fell in love with throughout the year forcing their way into the edit, I look at my favorite pictures from the first four months of the year. Two main stories dominated headlines in the first part of the year: the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the rising of the Arab Spring. The protests in the Middle East would spread to Greece, Spain, and eventually inspire the Occupy movement in Western nations. Other stories included a historic wave of tornados in the U.S., a Royal wedding in London, and the creation of the world's newest nation in South Sudan. Images from the rest of the year will follow in posts later this week. -- Lane Turner (36 photos total)"

Critics blast Rick Perry's retirement pay

And now Rick Perry is done, Critics blast Rick Perry's retirement pay.

"Gov. Rick Perry has set off a wave of criticism and left some questions unanswered after filing paperwork Thursday revealing that he is collecting both a salary and a pension from Texas.

The Republican presidential candidate, who is trying to pull off an electoral surprise in Iowa, disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that he earns a gross monthly retirement annuity of $7,698, or about $92,000 a year.

Aides said the governor officially retired as a state employee in January but continues to draw his $150,000-a-year salary. He expects to retire again with a higher pension as a member of the "elected class" when he leaves office.

Aides cited an obscure provision of the Texas Government Code, Chapter 813.503, that they say allows him to legally draw full-time pay and then retire twice."

""I would be surprised why someone would not take a retirement that they were eligible for. It's just kind of good estate planning, in my opinion," Perry said."

Friday, December 16, 2011

The causes of cancer you can control

The causes of cancer you can control. "Can cancer be prevented? Decades of research have shown that a person’s chances of getting cancer depends on a mishmash of their genes and their environment, but also certain aspects of their lives, many of which they can control. Today saw the publication of a landmark Cancer Research UK-funded review by Professor Max Parkin, outlining the latest evidence behind the preventable causes of UK cancers."

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How Our Primary Forecasts Work

FiveThirtyEight explains How Our Primary Forecasts Work

"One hugely mistaken assumption would be to look at the margin of error associated with the poll. FiveThirtyEight has a database consisting of thousands of primary and caucus polls dating back to the 1970s. Each poll contains numbers for several candidates, so there are a total of about 17,000 observations. How often does a candidate’s actual vote total fall within the theoretical margin of error?

The answer is, not very often. In theory, a candidate’s actual vote total should fall outside the margin of error only 5 percent of the time. In reality, the candidate’s vote total was outside the margin of error 65 percent of the time! Part of this is because the database includes some polls conducted months before the actual voting took place. But even if you restrict the analysis to polls conducted within the final week of the campaign, about 40 percent of the vote totals fell outside the margin of error — eight times more often than is supposed to happen if you could take the margin of error at face value."

A can of worms

A can of worms is Steve Benen's thoughts on Newt Gingrich saying he wants to issue subpoenas against out of control judges. The point is, that this means it's about rulings he doesn't like.

Artificial Photosynthesis: Twice as Efficient as the Real Thing

io9 reports Artificial Photosynthesis: Twice as Efficient as the Real Thing "And now researchers have created a bionanodevice that not only mimics the mechanism of photosynthesis, but is twice as efficient. They modified the photosynthetic proteins found in cyanobacteria — bacteria which gain their energy through photosynthesis. They frankensteined together proteins from Synechococcus sp. with those from Clostridium acetobutylicum using molecular wire to create a "hybrid biological/organic nanoconstruct" that was more efficient than either on their own."

New Mobile Obsession: U.S. Teens Triple Data Usage

Nielsen Wire reports New Mobile Obsession: U.S. Teens Triple Data Usage "Messaging remains the centerpiece of mobile teen behavior.  The number of messages exchanged monthly (SMS and MMS) hit 3,417 per teen in Q3 2011, averaging seven messages per waking hour.  Teen females are holding the messaging front, sending and receiving 3,952 messages per month versus 2,815 from males.  Aside from messaging, data heavy activities such as mobile internet, social networking, email, app downloads, and app usage are the most popular mobile activities."

I really can't comprehend this.

In Group Decision-Making, Ignorance Promotes Democracy

Ars Technica wrote In group decision-making, ignorance promotes democracy

"Some evidence suggests that those who are ignorant or naïve are subject to manipulation by a loud, opinionated minority. If this is true, uninformed individuals are detrimental to democratic decision-making, since they can turn over power to a minority. However, a new study in this week's Science shows that, under certain conditions, uninformed individuals actually shift the balance toward the majority, enabling a democratic process where the majority rules."

Before you get all worked up...

"Clearly, these experiments are simplistic compared to the conditions under which many collective decisions are actually made in nature (or in our electoral system). Additionally, in this study, only two options were being considered. In real life, there are often multiple possibilities. In other words, it’s probably not realistic to predict or explain our upcoming elections with these results. But they're a good start to understanding the dynamics of collective decision-making."

The Homeland Security Snow-Cone Machine

I saw this a bit ago but somehow didn't blog it. Lowering the Bar wrote about The Homeland Security Snow-Cone Machine.

"Still, it is something special when a homeland-security grant is used to buy a snow-cone machine. Actually, thirteen snow-cone machines, one for every county in Michigan Homeland Security Region 6."

“It is used to attract people so they can be educated and prepared for homeland security,” [Sandeep] Dey said from his office in Muskegon. “More importantly, they (homeland security officials) felt in a medical emergency the machine was capable of making ice packs which could be used for medical purposes.”

So look, in giant programs stupid things happen. They (hopefully) get found out and fixed; hopefully the individual case and people involved, but more likely with more bureaucracy. My question is this, shouldn't the Republican solution to this incident be to get rid of the Department of Homeland Security?

I mean that mostly seriously. They dislike the mandate so they want to get rid of the entire Affordable Care Act. They want to get rid of the CFPB and all of Dodd-Frank. Rick Perry wants to get rid of three complete executive branch departments. I'm not sure what specific thing he has against each of them but since he can't even name them he probably doesn't either. Ron Paul wants to return us to the gold standard and wants to get rid of the Fed (among other things). I could be glib and say that all want to get rid of science and all regulations the previous list are I think all actual policy positions.

Boston's Traffic Has Always Been Bad

Turning to traffic, Kenmore Square is at a complete standstill outbound. "Even in the 1920s, news photographer Leslie Jones was capturing local traffic jams - and the accidents that often caused them. Here are some from the Boston Public Library's Leslie Jones collection"


The Year in Volcanic Activity

It turns out nature isn't all cute animals, In Focus presents The Year in Volcanic Activity. "Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2011, active volcanoes included Chile's Puyehue, Japan's Shinmoedake, Indonesia's Lokon, Iceland's Grímsvötn, Italy's Etna, and recently Nyamulagira in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Hawaii, Kilauea continues to send lava flowing toward the sea, and the ocean floor has been erupting near the Canary Islands. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [36 photos]" And each and every one is amazing.

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Dear Congress, It's No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works

Joshua Kopstein declares Dear Congress, It's No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works "We get it. You think you can be cute and old-fashioned by openly admitting that you don’t know what a DNS server is. You relish in the opportunity to put on a half-cocked smile and ask to skip over the techno-jargon, conveniently masking your ignorance by making yourselves seem better aligned with the average American joe or jane — the “non-nerds” among us. But to anyone of moderate intelligence that tuned in to yesterday’s Congressional mark-up of SOPA, the legislation that seeks to fundamentally change how the internet works, you kind of just looked like a bunch of jack-asses."

"Later, Iowa Representative Steve King tweeted, somewhat ironically, about surfing the internet on his phone because he was bored listening to his colleague Shiela Jackson speak about the bill. Then, even more ironically, another representative’s comments calling him out for it were asked to be stricken from the record."

50 best photos from The Natural World

The Big Picture picks the 50 best photos from The Natural World "We share our world with many other species and live in an ever-changing environment. Fortunately, photographers around the world have captured the moments and beauty that allow us to see amazing views of this awe-inspiring planet. This is a collection of favorite photos from The Natural World gallery in 2011, a showcase of images of animals and environment that runs on throughout the year. Next week posts will take a look at the year in photos, so stay tuned. -Leanne Burden Seidel (50 photos total)" Every single one is amazing.

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Death of U.S. Postal Service: Many Jobs, Locations at Risk

Last month Time had an interesting article on Death of U.S. Postal Service: Many Jobs, Locations at Risk. I particularly like the history section.

"It wouldn't be far-fetched to argue that the postal service has been the most important institution in our country's history. For decades, the postal service was the largest public-sector employer in the U.S. At one point in the 19th century, three-quarters of all government employees were postal workers. The Founding Fathers considered the postal service so important that they put it in the Constitution, mandating that Congress have the power to establish and regulate post offices...In the country's early days, the postal service held together the far-flung populations of the U.S. by delivering newspapers — the only real source for information about the new nation — throughout the country. "

"For decades, this massive operation ran fairly smoothly, expanding along with the country and taking advantage of the new technologies brought about by railroad and flight. Mail volume increased from 50 billion pieces in 1953 to 75 billion in '66. Even so, the postal service often ran deficits. Its mandate of universal mail access almost ensured that it would go in the red. By the middle of the 20th century, the postal service was losing $600 million a year, and that's when the system starting breaking down. On the brink of the holiday season in 1966, a sudden influx of advertising mail hit the enormous Chicago main post office (13 stories high, covering 60 acres and billed at the time as the world's largest postal facility). What happened? The mail simply stopped. Stopped. For almost three weeks, 1 million lb. of mail — 10 million pieces — barely moved. It was a confluence of employee hours' being cut, inexperienced workers' attempting to sort the mail, a postmaster position left empty for too long and improved pensions that led to a high number of retirements."

"A few years later in New York City, a wildcat strike (one in which workers defy their union leadership) broke out, primarily over low wages. TIME called it "the Strike that Stunned the Country." At the time, postal workers were making less than sanitation workers, according to Philip Rubio, an assistant professor of history at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. "A postal worker with a family of four could qualify for food stamps," he said.

When the workers walked out, President Richard Nixon sent in National Guard and U.S. Army troops to try to sort the mail. But it didn't help. "They rapidly realized what a failure that was," Rubio said. "They just couldn't get up to speed, and the mail kept stacking up. Within eight days, the Nixon Administration signaled it was willing to negotiate.""

"These incidents led to the Kappel Commission, a presidential advisory group made up of corporate leaders who had, admittedly, little knowledge about mail-delivery operations. By 1970, they were at work on proposals to reform the postal service, which eventually became the Postal Reorganization Act, turning the U.S. Post Office Department into the U.S. Postal Service. It was more than just a name change. Congress essentially turned the postal service into a quasi-governmental organization — not really a business but not really part of the government either. It was being forced to run more like a corporation or a private entity, to be self-supporting, even as it was still tasked to maintain service to every home in the country.

For the next several decades, the USPS was successful by most measures, surviving the occasional disgruntled worker's becoming violent — incidents that brought the phrase going postal into our consciousness. And, of course, there were some perennially angry customers fed up with long lines at the post office. But in general, the USPS was doing well enough that Congress decided it should start prefunding its retiree accounts — for the next 75 years. So in 2006, Congress passed a law requiring an annual prepayment of retiree health benefits, to the tune of $5.5 billion a year for 10 years. Except Washington didn't see the recession coming two years later. "That act has left such a devastating legacy that it threatens to drive our nation's postal service off the rails," Rubio said."

McConnell Demands Keystone XL In Any Payroll Tax Agreement

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, McConnell Demands Keystone XL In Any Payroll Tax Agreement. (Well probably not.)

"It’s gut check time for Congressional Democrats on the payroll tax cut bill.

Regarding that legislation, Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell emails me with the following statement: “The Leader will not support any bill without the Keystone XL language as part of the agreement.”

House Speaker John Boehner is also insisting that he’ll amend any Senate-passed payroll tax cut bill to add the Keystone provision to it, if it’s not already in there. So Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama now have a choice: stick to their guns and object to the provision — at the risk of allowing the payroll tax cut (and unemployment insurance and the Medicare “doc fix”) to expire? Or give in to the GOP."

Update: More here. "But it doesn’t really matter why they voted no, or whether McConnell got embarrassed by his members. The effect was to turn the payroll tax cut into something Republicans would only be able to sign off on reluctantly — and at a steep price. In other words, after they’d accepted that allowing it to lapse would turn into a political catastrophe, they turned it into a bargaining chip instead of a direct concession. That’s why they now have leverage, and can make steep demands in these last minute negotiations."

Update: Keystone XL or else, "Note, as of a few days ago, both parties were pushing for measures in the payroll fight the other party found objectionable — Democrats wanted a surtax on millionaires and billionaires; Republicans wanted Keystone. Democrats, hoping to reach a deal, effectively said yesterday, “We’re willing to drop our demand.” To which Republicans responded, “Give us what we want or else.”"

Carrier IQ: Which wireless carrier is the biggest user?

The Washington Post writes Carrier IQ: Which wireless carrier is the biggest user? "In response to a request for more information from Senator Al Franken, AT&T, Sprint, Samsung, HTC, and Carrier IQ have responded with letters detailing their use of Carrier IQ's software on their handsets. Sprint is by far the biggest user of the software, admitting to installations on 26 million devices. Additionally, HTC has, for the first time, directly and publicly addressed the fact that Carrier IQ blames it for the insecure log files found on its devices — though not in a way that's likely to satisfy unhappy users. Another surprise: AT&T's network and dropped calls reporting app, Mark the Spot, utilizes Carrier IQ (though not on the iPhone).

All told, it's safe to estimate that Carrier IQ's software is installed on over 30 million US devices and now, for the first time, the companies involved are publicly naming them. We break it all down for you below."

Republicans Blocking Appointments and Breaking Government

One of the most annoying thing the Republican minority in the Senate has done is to prevent confirmation of qualified Obama appointees. As near as I can tell Obama has been slow to nominate for many positions as he's going through an extensive vetting process and trying to find uncontroversial people. That doesn't matter, lately Republicans are blocking just about everyone. Peter Diamond for the Fed was perhaps the most egregious.

Last Thursday, "Forty-five Republican senators voted to block a confirmation vote for Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau." It's not that they didn't like him or think him qualified, they didn't like the new CFPB even though it was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. "Republicans said that until the Obama administration agrees to changes at the agency, they will keep blocking the president’s pick from taking charge."

Dr. Don Berwick was a recess appointment as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Steven Benen wrote about Berwick’s brilliant tenure cut short. "Republicans crushed Berwick’s chances without a credible reason, and it limited his CMS tenure to a year and a half. But these were a very productive 17 months, during which Berwick did some incredibly important and worthwhile work. He should have been confirmed and encouraged to serve indefinitely, but if 17 months of Berwick is the best we can do due to Republican recklessness, it’s much better than nothing." Berwick wasn't happy about what happened to him.

Obama's choice as Berwick's replacement is Marilyn Tavenner. She's been Principal Deputy Administrator of CMS since Feb 2010, a few months before Berwick got there, though apparently they have similar views. You'd think that Republicans would be opposed to her too, but "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was resolute in his support for" her. They've known each other for 15 years. We'll see how good his relationship with the Senate is.

Mari Carmen Aponte was a recess appointment in 2010 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. Steven Benen explains that "GOP senators are balking, however, because they don’t like her ex-boyfriend from 20 years ago."

Caitlin J. Halligan was a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which has three of eleven seats vacant. Her appointment was filibustered on party-line votes, except for Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Linda Greenhouse explains that this isn't unusual now.

"Across the federal judiciary, confirmation has been proceeding at a slow crawl. This week, the Judiciary Committee held a scheduled confirmation hearing that could have accommodated five nominees. But because Republican senators claimed not to be finished reading the F.B.I. files of four of the nominees, only one, Paul J. Watford, nominated for the Ninth Circuit, was able to appear for his hearing. Nominees who clear the committee without opposition have to wait months for a floor vote because the Republicans won’t agree to a speedier schedule. Of 21 nominees now awaiting floor votes, 18 had no committee opposition, but only a handful, at most, will get a vote before the Senate recesses for the year."

Each year, in his report, Chief Justice John Roberts begs the President and Senate to appoint federal judges as there have been too many vacant seats for too long. Of the 179 seats in the 13 circuit Court of Appeals there are 14 vacancies. 86 seated judges were appointed by Republicans and 79 by Democrats. Wikipedia has some good tables. The separate D.C. Circuit has 3 vacancies and is otherwise 5-3 Republican-Democrat appointees.

I don't know the stats for the 678 authorized district judges (in 94 districts) but here's a fun fact from 2008, "All along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, courts are clogged with immigration-related cases. As a result, the region's courtrooms handle a disproportionate amount of the country's crime. Just five of the country's 94 districts -- South California, New Mexico, Arizona, West Texas and South Texas -- handle 75 percent of all the criminal cases in federal district courts around the country."

Sure the minority party can complain and can block some appointments. Republicans are mad at Democrats for blocking two of Bush's judicial appointments and threatening to filibuster. They cried foul since that hadn't be done before and we had the whole nuclear option debate until the gang of whatever agreed to end it. Bush got most of his nominees through, just a few of the more ideological ones did Democrats oppose. Now Republicans are blocking most appointments and I think for the second time, Congress Won't Recess To Block Obama Appointments. "Ever since late May, Congress has remained in permanent session, mainly because Republican lawmakers want to prevent any more recess appointments."

I like this approach, "Betty Koed, an associate Senate historian, says that in 1903, Teddy Roosevelt used an almost nonexistent congressional break to make recess appointments. "When the presiding officer brought the gavel down to end one session, he simultaneously began the next session," Koed says, "And in that split second it took the gavel to go down, Roosevelt appointed 193 people." Catholic University law professor Victor Williams says President Obama should show similar audacity. "He should not ignore the pro-forma sessions," Williams says. "He should explicitly, deliberately challenge them." If he doesn't, Williams says, a pattern of pro-forma sessions shutting off recess appointments that began late in the Clinton administration will only continue, leaving key posts in the administration vacant."

The Nightmarish SOPA Hearings

Surprisingly I haven't followed the SOPA debate much. This is a bill in Congress meant to deter online piracy that is badly written and will break the Internet. Here's a good post from the Washington Post on The nightmarish SOPA hearings.

Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi David Wolpe: The Great God Debate

I was sorry to hear that Christopher Hitchens passed away last night. I saw him in Boston almost two years ago just before he announced his cancer. I had taken notes but never managed to get a blog post up. Here's a video of the event.

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A Very Calvin & Hobbes Christmas

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Google Zeitgeist 2011

I remember when Google Zeitgeist used to be interesting. I'm not sure what it means when under fastest-rising we get Ryan Dunn, who's name I didn't know but was in the Jackass films and died in June. He's third and Steve Jobs is ninth. The other lists I find equally uninteresting and the graphics annoying. It's a 2.5d grid with height showing the value and a slider you must use to traverse the year. They break the year down into months, but if you click on one item they change to weeks. While the slider moves across a linear scale, the bars in the chart recycle the twelve bars, just relabeling the weeks. It took me too long to figure that out.

It's also too difficult to navigate the different sections, once I found the US part.

And get off of my lawn!

Tea Party Leader Mark Meckler Arrested With Handgun At Airport

TPM reports Tea Party Leader Mark Meckler Arrested With Handgun At Airport. The headline is a little misleading.

"According to the Queens District Attorney’s office, Meckler arrived at the airport with the gun, a Glock 27, and ammunition locked in a safe and presented it to the flight attendant at the Delta counter. He allegedly told authorities that he needed the gun for protection after receiving threats, but did not have a New York State license to carry the weapon. He’s being charged with second degree possession of an illegal weapon, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

“Before leaving home, passengers should acquaint themselves with the weapon laws of the jurisdiction that they are visiting and comply with any and all legal requirements if they choose to travel with a weapon,” Queens DA Richard Brown said in a statement. “Otherwise, they may find themselves being arrested and charged with a felony - as is what occurred in this case.”"

The Wall Street Journal has a little more info. It wasn't just a connecting flight, he had been in New York from Sunday to Thursday, with the gun, in violation of New York state law.

"Spokesman Kevin Ryan said the Queens District Attorney's Office, which has jurisdiction over both the city's major airports, handles approximate 50 to 60 cases of airline passengers transporting weapons licensed in places other than New York a year. The gun charge is a Class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. However, "if the weapon is not illegal and the person can prove that they are duly licensed to possess the weapon in their state, then they could walk away with just a violation [a non-criminal offense with a fine]. But in all cases the weapons are confiscated and destroyed," Mr. Ryan said."

I wonder if it's any different if he carried it in NYC as opposed to just leaving it in his hotel room. It will also be interesting to see if and how he fights this. The tea party is all about states' rights so New York should be free to have different laws. Any effort to standardize them among the states would I would think be viewed as over-reaching federalism. But then there's the second amendment which in Heller the Supreme Court said is an individual right and in McDonald said it's incorporated to the states, meaning that neither the federal government nor state governments can infringe the right to keep and bear arms. There's debate, since Heller, about NYC's gun laws, this might be a test case. The specifics in this case make the law seem kinda dumb. He was trying to leave the state, wasn't resisting or hiding the gun in any way, and was carrying it responsibly. New York felt the need to arrest him and then let him go, but according to the WSJ report, felt the need to keep and destroy the weapon. I don't in any way see how this action in this case is supposed to limit gun violence.

The GOP's Two Conversations Over Taxes

Ezra Klein talked about The GOP's two conversations over taxes "There are two very different tax-policy conversations playing out in the Republican Party right now. In Washington, House Republicans are arguing with each other over how small of a temporary tax cut to give the middle class. Out on the primary trail, the Republican presidential candidates are arguing over how huge of a permanent tax cut to give the wealthy."

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"In other words, Romney, who began the primary by looking toward the general, has an unexciting tax plan that, insofar as it does anything, cuts a few taxes for the middle class. The other Republican candidates, who have plans aimed at winning the primary, have proposed plans that massively cut taxes on the rich and, in most cases, raise them on the middle class. And in Washington, congressional Republicans are fighting Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the rich in order to finance a larger middle-class tax cut."

Daniel Craig Interview

Daniel Craig exclusive interview – with Time Out Film talks about The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo but also explains why Quantum of Solace sucked:

"On “Quantum”, we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’"

Analyzing The Primary

At the beginning of December there were a few articles about how this primary race is different than expected.

This is in Bloomberg but I think it's the same as was widely cited in the Washington Post but is now offline: Cheapest Primary in Decade Defies Forecast "Even as experts predict that the 2012 presidential race will be the most expensive in U.S. history, a funny thing is happening on the way to the Republican nomination: It’s becoming one of the cheapest primaries in a more than a decade."

One big reason they give is that all the debates are obviating the need for expensive TV commercials. That makes sense and is I think, an improvement. They also say: "Most new political action committees that are officially independent and can take unlimited contributions to help a candidate won’t report spending until January. Their ad spending accounted for less than $700,000 of the total $2.5 million through Nov. 27."

The Week had an article, The 'cheapest' primary in a decade: 5 theories. In addition to debates they point out that viral videos are free to distribute via social media. Follow a link and Jazz Shaw points out that Hermain Cain spent zero dollars to distribute his "smoking man" ad. It didn't run on TV, it was on the web and then all the news shows played it for free.

Kevin Drum wonders Where Have All the GOP Donors Gone? Maybe they haven't liked any of the contenders or don't see a difference between them or they're giving all their money to Super PACs.

Finally, Paul Waldman wants us to Let Elections Be Elections Again. "But the 2012 Republican primaries have made that script seem outdated. Oh, we have our boring establishment candidate and his temporarily interesting rivals. But the fact that this race has been led at one time or another by no fewer than six candidates has made it less a coherent plot than a cacophonous muddle. And that's hardly the only thing different about 2012. This race has upended a whole series of things we thought we knew about contemporary presidential campaigns—so many, in fact, that it's worth arranging them in a list."

In addition to money and debates he points out that it ain't over til it's over. Gingrich came back from no where and Pawlenty probably would be doing very well if he stayed in. He also downplays the tea party because "When everyone is a Tea Party candidate, no one can be the Tea Party candidate." Also everyone is using social media and no one so far is using it in a new way.

Epic Tantrum Thrown By 30 Octillion Ton Baby Star

Bad Astronomer goes into some surprising detail explaining this image, Epic tantrum thrown by 30 octillion ton baby.

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"This devastatingly beautiful image shows the birth pangs of a massive star. Called IRS 4 (for Infrared Source 4; it was first seen in IR images), it’s the really bright star just below center where the two blue lobes come together. It’s a bruiser, an O-type star with at least 15 times the Sun’s mass — 30 octillion tons! — and is a staggering 10,000 times as bright. It’s still in the process of forming, but it’s nearly there.

Located about 2000 light years away, IRS 4 is surrounded by an enormous cloud of gas and dust that may have a mass as high as 25,000 times the mass of the Sun. When the star first ignited, fusing hydrogen into helium in its core, the vast amount of energy it started pouring out lit up the cloud in the immediate vicinity around it. Most of the cloud is still dark and cannot be seen here, but everything within a few light years of the star is being illuminated, if not ionized, by the fierce ultraviolet light from the star."

There's more interesting stuff in the article.

Galaxy cluster collision makes a splash… a million light years long

Bad Astronomy writes Galaxy cluster collision makes a splash… a million light years long! "What you’re looking at is a collision on a massive scale: not just two galaxies, but two clusters of galaxies slamming into each other, forming this object, called Abell 2052. The total mass of this combined cluster is almost beyond imagining: something like a quadrillion times the mass of the Sun — 1,000,000,000,000,000 Suns! Note that our galaxy has about a hundred billion stars in it, so Abell 2052 is about 10,000 more massive. "

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"As the clusters approached each other prior to the collision, gas in one cluster was drawn off and headed toward the other. Once the clusters passed, the gas got whipped around by gravity, reversing direction, and essentially, well, sloshed. The analogy the astronomers used was wine in a wineglass as you swirl it; if you suddenly whip the glass a bit faster the wine will slosh up the side in a wave.

That long blue curved streamer? That’s the wave: extraordinarily hot gas (30 million degrees C!) that got sloshed around by the cluster’s gravity. The scale of it is simply epic; that streamer is over a million light years long! Again, for comparison, the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across, 1/10th as big as that wave."

The 25 Most Beautiful College Libraries in the World

Flavorwire » The 25 Most Beautiful College Libraries in the World "The college library, whether ornate or modern, digital or dusty, is in many ways the epicenter of the college experience — at least for some students. It is at once a shining emblem of vast, acquirable knowledge, a place for deep discussions and meetings of the mind, and of course, a big building full of books, which, as far as we’re concerned, is exciting enough. Colleges and universities are understandably quite proud of their libraries, which can be a selling point for prospective students and donating alumni alike, and they often become the most well-designed and beautifully adorned buildings on campus. To that end, and perhaps to inspire your studies a bit, we’ve collected a few of the most beautiful college and university libraries in the world, from Portugal to France to Boston."

For-Profit College Rules Scaled Back After Lobbying

A week ago the New York Times explained how For-Profit College Rules Scaled Back After Lobbying. "The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case."

"In all, industry advocates met more than two dozen times with White House and Education Department officials, including senior officials like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, records show, even as Mr. Obama has vowed to reduce the “outsize” influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington. The result was a plan, completed in June, that imposes new regulations on for-profit schools to ensure they adequately train their students for work, but does so on a much less ambitious scale than the administration first intended, relaxing the initial standards for determining which schools would be stripped of federal financing."

Astronomers Find Evidence of a Special Direction in Space

Scientific American writes Astronomers Find Evidence of a Special Direction in Space. "The universe has no center and no edge, no special regions tucked in among the galaxies and light. No matter where you look, it’s the same—or so physicists thought. This cosmological principle—one of the foundations of the modern understanding of the universe—has come into question recently as astronomers find evidence, subtle but growing, of a special direction in space."

Thomas Friedman’s Confusions

Belén Fernández in the London Review of Books documents Thomas Friedman’s Confusions. He uses Friedman's own positions from the last decade to shred any credibility he might have had.

The Mystery of Darrell Issa's Low Profile

A week ago Kevin Drum wondered about The Mystery of Darrell Issa's Low Profile. "When Darrell Issa took over the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, everyone expected a tsunami of scandal investigations. But it hasn't really happened. Why? Jonathan Bernstein says it might be because Obama just runs a really clean shop, but he doesn't find that convincing. Or maybe Issa is just incompetent. But that's not very convincing either." He then poses a few theories.

Is Your Cell Phone Listening in on You?

Time asks

Is Your Cell Phone Listening in on You?.

"The federal Wiretap Act makes it illegal to intercept communications and intentionally disclose or use them. That law seems to be the perfect avenue for thwarting the companies that surreptitiously collect information from smartphones. But the Wiretap Act also contains a major loophole. Courts have held that if only one party consents to the wiretapping, then it’s legal. So if your wireless carrier says that it’s okay for a marketing company to collect and transmit your personal information, your consent is not required. Laws pending in Congress deal only with narrow slices of the problem by placing limits on monitoring of phones’ GPS data (Senate bills 1212 and 1223) or expanding the Federal Trade Commission’s power to go after data aggregators that surreptitiously collect personal information about people (Senate bill 913). But even if piecemeal laws were passed, there’s no guarantee that judges would give sufficient weight to digital privacy in interpreting them. In 2010, a New York judge likened digital communications (in that case, an email) to “postcards” that anyone could see — thus gutting privacy protections altogether."

Fox News Graphics

Apparently they really suck at them, or like inserting mistakes to make a point. Here are two see if you can spot the mistakes (both images are links to articles about them):


The Dolphin Jetpack That Lets You Swim Like One

I think I've seen (and posted) something at least like this before. The dolphin jetpack that lets you swim like one - YouTube "Franky Zapata uses a flyboard to zoom in and out of the water and leap through the air."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Milky Way's black hole may spring to life in 2013

The Milky Way's black hole may spring to life in 2013.

"In the nearly 20 years we've been observing Sgr A*, only two stars have ever come closer to it. But stars are held together by gravity; this cloud is too diffuse to have that sort of coherence. As a result, the authors expect that it will undergo dramatic changes as it blasts in to the neighborhood of the black hole. The shock of hitting the low-density, high-temperature gas will compress the cloud even as the black hole's gravity starts to stretch it out along the direction of its orbit. This could eventually split the cloud into multiple fragments, each of which may take a slightly different path around the black hole. As these fragments reach the point in the orbit closest to black hole, its temperatures may reach 10106K, hot enough for it to start emitting X-rays."

A Petition to Support the Saving American Democracy Amendment

Petition - A Petition to Support the Saving American Democracy Amendment "Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court decision in a case called Citizens United vs. FEC.  "

Lessig on The Daily Show

Lawrence Lessig was on The Daily Show last night talking about his book Republic Lost, here's the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stanley Kubrick’s Fear And Desire on TCM Wed at 8pm

Ain't It Cool News has the press release I couldn't find on TCM's website, Stanley Kubrick’s FEAR AND DESIRE To Be Televised 8pm Wednesday For The First Time Ever!! "Stanley Kubrick hated his first feature, 1953’s “Fear and Desire,” so much he actively sought out and bought old prints to keep it from the public’s eyes."

One Trillion Frames Per Second

Capturing video at the speed of light — one trillion frames per second "We have built a virtual slow-motion camera where we can see photons, or light particles, moving through space."

Inside Up With Chris Hayes

Tommy Christopher explains Inside Up With Chris Hayes: The Best (And Worst) Part Of Waking Up Weekends. It's definitely one of my favorite news shows. I TiVo it on weekends and turn it on when I wake up, usually part way through the show (it airs Sat 7-9a and Sun 8-10a).

Matt Langer wrote, "Have you been watching “Up” with Chris Hayes? You should be! It’s really, really wonderful. Though honestly kind of creepy? Because that man is smart. Freakishly so. As in: he does this weird thing where whenever one of his guests brings up some random new topic he’ll just recap it for everyone watching. Like, just off the top of his head? Without a teleprompter? And it’s crazy! Who let this man with a perfectly healthy frontal cortex on television?!"

I agree that his recaps are great and impressive, but I don't think its freakishly smart. I think all journalists should be able to do this on topics they cover but so few do (or can). In that sense, yeah, him doing it is freakish, but also really appreciated.

Romney Is Done

ThinkProgress: Romney In 2002: 'My Views Are Progressive' "It’s well known by now that Mitt Romney is having a hard time convincing GOP primary voters that he’s a true conservative, as he used to hold more liberal views during his time in politics in Massachusetts. A new video uncovered by Andrew Kaczynski shows just how much Romney’s views have shifted. While campaigning for governor against Shannon O’Brien in 2002, Romney told a local TV news station, “I’m not a partisan Republican…my views are progressive.” Watch it:"

I'm pretty sure this will be the nail in the coffin of him getting the Republican nomination.

Update: Here's more on the 22 year-old who dug this up.

Higgs Boson May Have Been Glimpsed

The BBC writes, LHC: Higgs boson 'may have been glimpsed' "Scientists say that two experiments at the LHC see hints of the Higgs at the same mass, fuelling huge excitement. But the LHC does not yet have enough data to claim a discovery."

"At a seminar at Cern (the organisation that operates the LHC) on Tuesday, the heads of Atlas and CMS said they see "spikes" in their data at roughly the same mass: 124-125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). "The excess may be due to a fluctuation, but it could also be something more interesting. We cannot exclude anything at this stage," said Fabiola Gianotti, spokesperson for the Atlas experiment."

"None of the spikes seen by the experiments is at much more than the "two sigma" level of certainty."

Correlation or Causation?

Business Week has some fun examples of Correlation or Causation? "Need to prove something you already believe? Statistics are easy: All you need are two graphs and a leading question"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Mad Solution To An Imaginary Problem

Steve Benen gives an example of why I think the GOP is completely disingenuous, A mad solution to an imaginary problem.

"The House on Thursday afternoon approved legislation Republicans said was aimed at ensuring that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot regulate so-called “farm dust.”"

"Just to refresh some memories, the legislation intends to stop proposed regulation that hasn’t, in reality, been proposed.

As Tim Noah explained this week, “It’s political bullshit. There is no pending farm-dust regulation. What there is, is an attempt by Republicans to persuade everybody that there is a pending farm-dust regulation so they can pass a new law exempting the agricultural industry … from an existing clean-air regulation that hardly ever affects farms (but, when it does, addresses a legitimate health issue).”

In other words, with plenty of real-world solutions in need of policymakers’ attention, the House yesterday approved legislation to address a problem that doesn’t exist."

Combine this with two stories I tweeted.

The truth at Crossroads. "The Republican attack operation, Crossroads GPS, led in part by Karl Rove, has had a difficult time over the last month or so. A few weeks ago, for example, a Montana station pulled a Crossroads ad that misled the public. Rove’s outfit was also caught blatantly lying about former President Bill Clinton, then got caught pushing obviously bogus claims in Massachusetts, then got caught making even more demonstrably false claims about former Gov. Tim Kaine (D), running in a competitive U.S. Senate race in Virginia." And now of course they're running a new ad saying Elizabeth Warren sides with the banks against the middle class. Karl Rove, still a liar.

Then in This year belongs to the Republicans, which was stated by a former GOP aide and reflected by Republicans in a poll by The National Journal. I agree with Benen, "The year has been so miserable, it’s tough to imagine what the GOP finds satisfying. Republicans’ approval rating dropped to levels unseen since Watergate; Congress’ approval rating dropped to a level unseen since the dawn of modern polling. Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, on purpose, and caused the first-ever downgrade of the nation’s debt. Neither party has been able to pass any of its major legislative priorities, and thanks to Republican intransigence, compromise between the parties has become a laughable pipedream."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Dylan Ratigan Loses It On Air

I can quibble with some of this (particularly the first part) but there's a lot to like here in a Network kind of way.

EPA: Natural Gas Fracking Linked to Water Contamination

Natural Gas Fracking Linked to Water Contamination by Federal Agency: Scientific American "In a first, federal environment officials today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process."

"In the report released today, the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits 2013 which are the subject of a separate cleanup program 2013 are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground. That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking."

"The agency's findings could be a turning point in the heated national debate about whether contamination from fracking is happening, and are likely to shape how the country regulates and develops natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale and across the Eastern Appalachian states.

Some of the findings in the report also directly contradict longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren't connected to fracking."

GOP Objects To 'Millionaires Surtax'; Millionaires We Found? Not So Much

NPR has a fun piece GOP Objects To 'Millionaires Surtax'; Millionaires We Found? Not So Much.

"For the second week in a row, the Senate on Thursday voted down proposals to extend the payroll tax holiday through next year. In the case of the Democrats' proposal, Republicans objected to the "millionaires surtax" that would be used to pay for it...The argument is that many small-business owners report company profits on their individual taxes because of the way their businesses are structured. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., says the surtax would hurt their ability to hire."

"We wanted to talk to business owners who would be affected. So, NPR requested help from numerous Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership. They were unable to produce a single millionaire job creator for us to interview.

So we went to the business groups that have been lobbying against the surtax. Again, three days after putting in a request, none of them was able to find someone for us to talk to. A group called the Tax Relief Coalition said the problem was finding someone willing to talk about their personal taxes on national radio.

So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded."

And each of them said the marginal tax rate had no bearing on their decision to hire more people or not. Shocker. And which businesses are these that aren't incorporated in some way for limited liability protection? This is just like the myth of all those farmers who would lose the family farm because of the estate tax.

My Occupy LA Arrest, by Patrick Meighan

My Occupy LA Arrest, by Patrick Meighan. "My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica. I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cern to Announce Higgs Boson Next Tue?

The BBC says Cern scientist expects 'first glimpse' of Higgs boson. "The teams are sworn to secrecy, but various physics blogs, and the canteens at Cern, are alive with talk of a possible sighting of the Higgs, and with a mass inline with what many physicists would expect."

"Next Tuesday, two separate teams will each reveal the outcome of trawling through their latest data from LHC collisions. A spokesman for one of these teams told us that this year alone they've searched the remains of some 350 trillion collisions, with only ten or so producing candidates for a reliable sign of the Higgs."

"The teams at Cern will not claim next week's result as an official "discovery" - a so-called 5-sigma event. This is because they have not yet produced enough experimental data to make that claim. That will come next year, probably by the summer."

Khan Academy ponders what it can teach the higher education establishment

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article, Khan Academy ponders what it can teach the higher education establishment.

"“I think too much conversation about Khan Academy is about cute little videos," Khan said in an interview last week. “Most of our resources, almost two-thirds of [the staff], are engineers working on the exercises and analytics platform. That, I think, is what we’re most excited about.”"

"Using math and computer science concepts decidedly more advanced than most of those in Khan’s video library, the Khan engineers have trained the website’s exercise platform how to predict, with startling accuracy, how likely it is that a student will correctly answer the next practice problem -- and whether that student will be able to solve the same type of problem a week, two weeks, and a month later."

"“If [a user is] logged in, then we have the entire history of every problem they’ve done, and how long it took them, and how they did,” says Ben Kamens, the lead developer at Khan Academy. “So whenever anybody does a problem, we see whether they got it right or wrong, how many tries it took them, what their guess was, what the problem was, how many hints they used, and how long they took between each hint.”"

No, the Payroll Tax Cut Doesn't Hurt the Trust Fund

Kevin Drum explains No, the Payroll Tax Cut Doesn't Hurt the Trust Fund "Normally, a reduction in the payroll tax would indeed reduce contributions to the Social Security trust fund, but last year's bill specifically made up for this loss from the general fund. The trust fund got every penny it normally would have, and all the proposals on the table this year do the same."

Would shifting regulatory power to Congress usher in a lobbying bonanza?

Ezra Klein wrote Would shifting regulatory power to Congress usher in a lobbying bonanza?.

"Republicans are trying to shift regulatory power from the executive branch to Congress in a bill that’s expected to pass the House today. The REINS Act would send any “major rule” that’s estimated to cost the economy more than $100 million to Congress — or have adverse effects on consumers, the business climate and individual industries — for an up-or-down vote. If Congress doesn’t approve the regulation in 70 days, it won’t take effect. The bill is dead-on-arrival in the Senate, but it underscores some of the GOP’s biggest anti-regulatory talking points."

"But federal regulators heading up that process don’t have campaign coffers to fill. Shifting the approval of such rules to Congress would, accordingly, shift their lobbying over to elected lawmakers who rely on campaign contributions. So although Republicans argue that the status quo lets “major decisions to be made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats,” their alternative accordingly makes more regulations vulnerable to deep-pocketed contributors who shape the electoral cycle."

Based on the conversation with Jack Abramoff I saw the other day, this would be a complete disaster. It also makes complete sense that Congress would want this new source of income. Republicans at work.

Other Than That, Mr. Cain, How Was the Campaign?

Nate Silver wrote Other Than That, Mr. Cain, How Was the Campaign?.


"Mr. Cain’s polls were headed on a sharp upward trajectory until Oct. 31, when Politico first reported on accusations that he had sexually harassed two women. They then reversed course and embarked upon an equally sharp downward trajectory. Not a whole lot more complicated than that."

It turns out the Onion was completely correct.

Daily Show on Indefinite Detentions of Citizens

Stewart did a pretty good job on this topic. It seems ridiculous to me that this could happen. You can't just make a law that trumps a constitutional protected right, particularly such a significant one. It seems clear that the Supreme Court would overturn this though I suspect Roberts in particular would be a stickler on standing which would mean someone would need to be (indefinitely?) detained without charges. And how would we know about it? And could he (or she) bring a case? Well I think they've already decided that even Guantanamo detainees can bring habeus petitions so this is exactly that. But seriously, any Representative, Senator or President who voted for this should be impeached.

Here's the ACLU on it Nov. 29. Senate Rejects Amendment Banning Indefinite Detention and this from yesterday, Behind Closed Doors: Congress Trying to Force Indefinite Detention Bill on Americans.

Update: The administration's position is here. While what Stewart described is kinda right, the real issue is this, "The Administration strongly objects to the military custody provision of section 1032, which would appear to mandate military custody for a certain class of terrorism suspects." So they want the flexibility to use civil courts (like with the Times Square bomber) which is a good thing.

Can Occupy and the Tea Party team up?

Salon wrote Can Occupy and the Tea Party team up?. "In a Virginia art gallery, supporters of the two movements quietly explore the possibilities."

"But once in the same room, any discomfort members of the two groups might have felt seemed to melt away. The discussion proceeded straight toward questions of constitutional theory — whether the 220-year-old foundational document is best salvaged or scrapped after having been so pillaged by elected officials and corporate interests in the intervening years."

"And listening to their hopes and fears, another delineation emerges. The Tea Party members rely on their early American history classes, exhibiting an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Federalist Papers and obscure letters exchanged between the Founding Fathers as they make arguments to return to what they believe are strict interpretations of the Constitution’s intent. Their Occupy counterparts know plenty about applied constitutional theory, but they really only perk up when it comes to 20th century history. The occupiers paint the rise of the middle class after World War II, aided by the strength of unions, high taxes on the wealthy and a robust manufacturing-based economy, with vivid imagery that evokes memories of Rosie the Riveter. The movements emerge from two very different conceptions of what is important in American history."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

BP Says Halliburton 'Intentionally Destroyed Evidence' After Gulf Oil Spill

CNN reports BP says Halliburton 'intentionally destroyed evidence' after Gulf oil spill. Shocker!

"BP alleges in its filing that Halliburton destroyed evidence on cement testing and violated court orders by not bringing forth "inexplicably missing" computer modeling results.

"Halliburton has steadfastly refused to provide these critical testing and modeling results in discovery. Halliburton's refusal has been unwavering, despite repeated BP discovery requests and a specific order from this Court," the documents state.

"BP has now learned the reason for Halliburton's intransigence -- Halliburton destroyed the results of physical slurry testing, and it has, at best, lost the computer modeling outputs that showed no channeling. More egregious still, Halliburton intentionally destroyed the evidence related to its nonprivileged cement testing, in part because it wanted to eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial," the BP papers say."

2011: The Year in Photos

In Focus presents 2011: The Year in Photos, Part 1 of 3 "2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 1 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's first several months. Part 2 is now live, and Part 3 of the series will go up tomorrow - totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos + 1 more]"

And part 2.

and part 3.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I Saw Lawrence Lessig Interview Jack Abramoff

When I woke up today I had no idea I'd ask Jack Abramoff a question.

I follow Lawrence Lessig on twitter and saw this tweet so I went. It was the start of a new lecture series In the Dock, Lawrence Lessig interviews Jack Abramoff about corruption, what's not to like?


I had seen Abramoff on 60 Minutes recently so I knew he had written a book about corruption in Washington and at least seemed repentent. I haven't read his book yet and in fact still haven't read Lessig's latest, though I own it and got it signed tonight.

So Lessig started by describing two stories from Abramoff's book. First how he worked on getting the MX Missle program passed Congress and how one Congressman in particular said I will vote for this bill if you do this thing in my district (I missed the details). The other story was him trying to get into a particularly popular entertainment law class at Georgetown. He got the professor sports tickets and a lunch at the white house via a friend (again, I'm not sure on the details). Both worked. He learned to bring extraordinary means and often irrelevant benefits to achieve a goal.

He said (and I agree) "Not all politics is corrupt and not all lobbying is corrupt" but Lessig followed up on the irrelevant part, particularly when it's money in the form of cash or contributions. Abramoff told a story about Tom DeLay. He wanted some money from Walmart but they said they didn't want to sully themselves with politics. They came one day wanting help with a road access issue and he said he didn't want to sully himself with it. Microsoft was in DeLay's office wanting something and DeLay told this story and said "and they'll never get anything from him". The next day Microsoft gave $100,000 to the party (or something).

DeLay isn't the only one doing this but he was nicknamed The Hammer. Lessig asked if it was always like this and Abramoff said it wasn't always this subtle. LBJ would way where's your $100,000 in cash? Now a Congress member will say "I'm having a fundraiser tomorrow night..." and that's code that they want a donation.

There are also non-money things they do. Now interests will use leverage to set up a congressional hearing for their enemy. Hearings take weeks to prepare for and this can cost a million dollars or more. They're always designed to achieve something that's never expressed. They can destroy your reputation or put you in jail for perjury or contempt (there's even a cell in building).

It's more important for a lobbyist to have influence on the staffers than the Congressman. This goes back to Lessig's point that Congress is a farm league for K Street (lobbyists). Daniel Webster had no staff. They wrote their own bills. Now the ones that make the decision or give you access are the staff. Most members are lazy, they don't want to do the work or read the bills, and they want to be on TV. Abramoff didn't hire members (only once as a favor and the guy was useless) but hired staff. At first he would say can you start tomorrow, then he learned to say "I want to hire you when do you want to leave the hill?" Even if they said in two years, Abramoff now owned him in the mean time and the guy had more access to things during that time than Abramoff's own staff.

He said he didn’t innovate his techniques, he learned everything he did though he may have pushed boundaries. His conviction had nothing to do with these things, they weren't illegal. It's not what’s illegal that’s the problem it's what’s legal that's the problem.

His suggested reforms in the book are:
- Eliminate entirely any contribution by lobbyists or contractors, anyone who gets a specialized benefit from government.
- eliminate the revolving door for members or staff (they can't become lobbyists)
- term limits (three House terms, two Senate terms)
- He wants to repeal the 17th amendment (direct election of senators)
- all laws need to apply to congressmen (now exempt from some but I'm not sure which though see this note from

The important ones are the first two which take the money out of the system and the promise of future employment. Abramoff figures that with these reforms, lobbyists would be forced to lobby on the merits and philosophy of the issues.

Lessig wondered about the details of such a system. How do you determine what is a specialized benefit and could someone still get around that? Abramoff cited examples of legalizing pot which would affect everyone equally. Lessig mentioned cutting taxes on the rich and would the rich be banned from contributing for that and Abramoff said the current debate is about lowering taxes for all it's just the rich that benefit the most from that. But Abramoff wasn't firm on these, he said he wasn't a law crafter and would be find leaving such details to others, the point was to take away money from a lobbyist's arsenal. He was also open to Lessig's idea of a voucher system for small campaign contributions.

He then took questions from the audience, I only got notes on a few of them.

Someone asked that since MA just legalized casino gambling, what should we be on the look out for from the lobbyists? He didn't know anything about the MA law but he said all gambling is political and it's easier to stop than pass so it's remarkable it got through. We should probably be trying to pass a law that prevents the industry from donating money to any political level. That seems unlikely but otherwise the gambling industry will own the state. They will probably want to consolidate regulation, make it so it can't be undone, allow expansion, but never allow a fourth casino.

Another good question was how do Congressmen determine the prices they want? Lessig followed up saying it's an important question because the price seems far too low and it's an argument that money really isn't corrupting the system because the ROI is so high. Abramoff said they ask for what they think they can get and it's low because they're dealing in stolen goods.

Someone else asked how do you corrupt a new member? Congressman first meet their leadership who say your seat is important to us. You must first retire your debt, meet these lobbyists who can help you do that. Maybe they avoid it for a few years but after a few years they are in. They sell their vote for a glass of water. If someone does something nice to you it's natural instinct to do something nice for them.

In response to some question he told the story of when his story first broke. He was in such denial, in such another world that he didn't even realize it as a problem. Previous stories talked about how he charged his clients a lot and they put it on their web site as advertising. Their initial response to the first Washington Post story was asking if they should put it on the website too! Then his process was that it would blow over, or it wasn't a big deal, that everyone was doing it, just not as well, etc. It took him a long time to come to terms with the fact that his actions and the system were completely corrupt and being inside he had no idea.

Based I that I asked my question. I asked if members of Congress and their staff are as in denial as he was. He said absolutely. They see someone go to jail for insider trading, exactly what they're doing and they make connection and are happy that the guy is going to jail. It's just a completely different world. He said he's still occasionally talks to a few congress members though they don't want it known that they're talking to him. I wondered how after his conviction and jail term he still has so much more access than an average citizen.

Why @PayPal is wrong regarding @Regretsy, according to their own policies

Geek Girl explains Why @PayPal is wrong regarding @Regretsy, according to their own policies in yet another ridiculous online customer service screw up that's well documented on the Internet and goes viral.

Monday, December 05, 2011

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress at MFA in Dec

If you haven't see it, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is showing El Bulli: Cooking in Progress Dec 21-30. It's one of my favorite films of the year.

"El Bulli: Cooking in Progress by Gereon Wetzel (Germany, 2010, 108 min.). “A treat for chefs and foodies,” (The New York Times) and a sold-out success at the MFA in August, the film program brings back this behind-the-scenes documentary that witnesses the tasting, smelling, and designing of new culinary delights for heralded chef Ferran Adrià’s world famous El Bulli Restaurant. Adrià closed El Bulli on July 30, 2011 to set up an academy of culinary arts. After Adrià made this announcement, more than two million people applied for a last chance to eat there. In Spanish with English subtitles."

I saw Ferran Adria talk at Harvard last night as part of the Science and Cooking series which he helped start two years ago.