Thursday, August 29, 2013

Kim Jong-un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot by Firing Squad'

Kim Jong-un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot by Firing Squad'. "Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend was among a dozen well-known North Korean performers who were executed by firing squad on Aug. 20, reports said Wednesday."

"'They were executed with machine guns while the key members of the Unhasu Orchestra, Wangjaesan Light Band and Moranbong Band as well as the families of the victims looked on,' the source said. The source added that all of the families of the executed appear to have been sent to prison camps under North Korea's barbaric principle of guilt by association."

It's amazing to me that this still goes on in the world.

So, What’s It Going To Be?

The Onion on Syria, a fake op-ed by Bashar Al-Assad, So, What’s It Going To Be?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Give Yourself Vertigo Plunging Into Hitchcock's Cinematic Obsessions

Give Yourself Vertigo Plunging Into Hitchcock's Cinematic Obsessions. "To celebrate Alfred Hitchcock’s 114th birthday, two guardian designers come up with an infographic inspired by the iconic credit sequences of Saul Bass."

Infants remember speech heard in the womb

Ars Technica writes Infants remember speech heard in the womb.

"Partanen wanted to explore this on a more detailed level. ‘Can babies learn from the music, speech, stories that they hear from the womb?’ he said. ‘We were interested in looking at this from a neurophysiological angle.’

In order to find out, Partanen and his colleagues used basic sounds. The fetuses in their studies were not played opera or told fairy tales: instead, participating families played multiple recordings of a sound several times a week during pregnancy. This sound was the pseudoword ‘tatata.’ Occasionally this sound was varied with a subtle pitch increment in the middle syllable.

Very soon after birth, researchers compared responses to these sounds when they were played to infants who had been exposed to it while in the womb, as well as those who had not. When recording the electrical activity of the brains of the infants using EEG, they found that the infants who had been exposed to the sounds previously reacted much more strongly to them. Furthermore, these infants were capable of discriminating the small pitch differences between the two versions."

The Shape of Spectacular Speech: A Visual Analysis of MLK's "I Have a Dream"

The Shape of Spectacular Speech: A Visual Analysis of MLK's "I Have a Dream" | Brain Pickings "Duarte notes the Dr. King spoke in short bursts more reminiscent of poetry than of long-winded lecture-speak and highlights his most powerful rhetorical devices — repetition, metaphors, visual words, references to political documents, citations from sacred texts and spiritual songs — in a fascinating visualization of the speech, demonstrating how it embodies the core principles of her book."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech analyzed by Nancy Duarte from Duarte on Vimeo.

Also, The Copyright Battle Behind 'I Have a Dream'. "As Washington gears up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 'I Have a Dream' speech later this month, one thing might be missing from the celebrations: the speech itself. A full, unedited video clip of the speech is tougher to find than you might think, because of copyright disputes that date back almost as far as the speech itself."

Virtual currency: Following the Bitcoin trail

Virtual currency: Following the Bitcoin trail "The fact that many Bitcoin users want to convert their digital currencies into the more traditional sort, and the fact that most transactions now pass among a handful of major exchanges and electronic wallets, mean that it is possible to track the movements of large numbers of Bitcoins. Ms Meiklejohn says that the details aren’t enough, by themselves, to identify users. But they could conceivably provide the police with enough information to obtain subpoenas and would reveal who owns an account associated with a transaction."

I Forgot My Phone

Revisiting Martin Luther King's 1963 Dream speech

The Big Picture on Revisiting Martin Luther King's 1963 Dream speech "As people gather today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech, we look at images from that event in 1963 and from tumultuous times during the civil rights movement.  King's pivotal speech addressing racism in this country was a crucial event in the history of civil rights and one that will always be remembered, not just on this milestone anniversary. -Leanne Burden Seidel ( 20 photos total)"

The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person

The Racial Dot Map

Racial Dot Map of Boston Area

"This map is an American snapshot; it provides an accessible visualization of geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the entire country. The map displays 308,745,538 dots, one for each person residing in the United States at the location they were counted during the 2010 Census. Each dot is color-coded by the individual's race and ethnicity. The map is presented in both black and white and full color versions. In the color version, each dot is color-coded by race."

Here's some of the processing methodology: "Python was used to read the 50 state shapefiles (with the merged SF1 data). The GDAL and Shapely libraries were used to read the data and create the point objects. The code retrieves the population data for each census block, creates the appropriate number of geographic points randomly distributed within each census block, and outputs the point information to a database file. The resulting file has x-y coordinates for each point, a quadkey reference to the Google Maps tile system, and a categorical variable for race. The final database file has 308,745,538 observations and is about 21 GB in size. The processing time was about five hours for the entire nation."

Bacevich Has Questions for President Obama

Andrew Bacevich has Questions for President Obama -- Before He Pulls the Trigger on Syria

First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose ‘crime’ was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?

Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?

Third, what is the legal basis for military action? Neither Russia nor China is likely to agree to an attack on Syria, so authorization by the U.N. Security Council won’t be forthcoming. Will Obama ask Congress for the authority to act? Or will he, as so many of his recent predecessors have done, employ some dodge to circumvent the Constitution? With what justification?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To make journalism harder, slower, less secure » Pressthink

Jay Rosen wrote a good essay, To make journalism harder, slower, less secure "That’s what the surveillance state is trying to do. It has the means, the will and the latitude to go after journalism the way it went after terrorism. Only a more activist press, working together, stands a chance of resisting this."

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions "Using data from the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, programmer Daniel G. Taylor created this encyclopedic visualization of 463 of the Bible's major contradictions. Here's how to read it: Each vertical blue line represents a different chapter, ordered chronologically. The red arcs trace each represent a question about a specific person or concept. These range from incredibly mundane ('Is it OK to use perfume?') to the monumental ('Is God the creator of evil?'). Clicking on one of the red lines takes you to a list of every relevant quote from both Old and New Testaments."

The site: BibViz Project

Update: An Interactive Map Of Every Stream In The U.S.

BILL WATTERSON: A cartoonist's advice

BILL WATTERSON: A cartoonist's advice.

I so miss Calvin and Hobbes. Here's another Watterson article, Searching for Bill Watterson

A Visual History of US State Boundaries

A Visual History of US State Boundaries. "This poster is a gorgeous visualization of the history of US state boundaries. On a 36''x24'' poster, you get an overview of current and past US state boundaries throughout the country's entire history."

StateBoundaries Watermark BIG 500

Monday, August 26, 2013

Latest measles outbreak tied to Texas megachurch

Latest measles outbreak tied to Texas megachurch

"Measles is making a worrisome resurgence across the U.S., with at least 135 documented cases this year — most recently at a Texas megachurch."

"Those sickened by measles include nine children and six adults, ranging in age from 4 months old to 44 years old. At least 12 of those infected were not fully immunized against measles, Roy said. The other patients have no record of being vaccinated. The 4-month-old is too young to have been received the measles vaccine, which is typically given at 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Greenwalds Partner Detained By British Officers, Dumb

Glenn Greenwald explains Detaining my partner: a failed attempt at intimidation "The detention of my partner, David Miranda, by UK authorities will have the opposite effect of the one intended."

Ars Technica summarizes "David Miranda—partner of The Guardian's lead NSA-leaks reporter Glenn Greenwald—was detained under local terrorism laws for nearly nine hours on Sunday at London's Heathrow airport. Miranda was eventually released without any charges, but authorities confiscated property such as Miranda's phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs, and games consoles, according to The Guardian."

and adds...

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald told the website two months ago. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

Amnesty International adds some details, UK: Detention of Guardian employee at Heathrow unlawful and unwarranted.

Andrew Sullivan concludes Cameron Proves Greenwald Right.

Since then, I’ve watched the debate closely and almost all the checks I supported have been proven illusory. The spying is vastly more extensive than anyone fully comprehended before; the FISA court has been revealed as toothless and crippled; and many civilians have had their privacy accidentally violated over 3000 times. The president, in defending the indefensible, has damaged himself and his core reputation for honesty and candor. These cumulative revelations have exposed this program as, at a minimum, dangerous to core liberties and vulnerable to rank abuse. I’ve found myself moving further and further to Glenn’s position.

What has kept me from embracing it entirely has been the absence of any real proof than any deliberate abuse has taken place and arguments that it has helped prevent terror attacks. This may be too forgiving a standard. If a system is ripe for abuse, history tells us the only question is not if such abuse will occur, but when. So it is a strange and awful irony that the Coalition government in Britain has today clinched the case for Glenn.

Not All Industrial Food Is Evil

Nice Mark Bittman article, Not All Industrial Food Is Evil

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How to trap a whistleblower

Jesselyn Radack wrote in Salon How to trap a whistleblower "Last week, President Obama misled the public when he told a comedian Jay Leno that protected legal channels exist that Edward Snowden could have used to challenge government misconduct. This message is false."

"Despite being treated unmercifully by the government, that fall, Drake and two of the same NSA colleagues with whom he blew the whistle, briefed Senators Wyden and Udall on the secret interpretation of 215. One of them, William Binney, had written the algorithm that was bastardized for use in a number of the secret surveillance programs. The result: Nothing.

Not only did going through proper channels provide no meaningful redress to the five whistleblowers’ complaints, it gravely injured them. Drake lost his job, security clearance, and income stream, while simultaneously incurring half a million dollars in legal debt. And that was just during the investigatory phase. By the time of his indictment, he was declared indigent. Today, he works as a wage-grade employee at an Apple computer store, a far cry from his six-figure job at NSA."

Remotely Assembled Malware Blows Past Apple’s Screening Process

MIT's Tech Review explains Remotely Assembled Malware Blows Past Apple’s Screening Process.

"Mystery has long shrouded how Apple vets iPhone, iPad, and iPod apps for safety. Now, researchers who managed to get a malicious app up for sale in the App Store have determined that the company’s review process runs at least some programs for only a few seconds before giving the green light. This wasn’t long enough for Apple to notice that an app that purported to offer news from Georgia Tech contained code fragments that later assembled themselves into a malicious digital creature. "

"'The app did a phone-home when it was installed, asking for commands. This gave us the ability to generate new behavior of the logic of that app which was nonexistent when it was installed,' says Long Lu, a Stony Brook University researcher who was part of the team at Georgia Tech, led by Tielei Wang, that wrote the Apple-fooling app."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Even as Administration Changes Tune, NSA Revelations Just "Tip of a Larger Iceburg"

Ari Melber did something usually only The Daily Show does, but he wasn't funny. He shows clips demonstrating how the administration has changed it's tune on the surveillance programs as more information has been released.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And to make us all feel even worse (but not surprised), Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall say NSA revelations of privacy breaches 'the tip of the iceberg'

"We have previously said that the violations of these laws and rules were more serious than had been acknowledged, and we believe Americans should know that this confirmation is just the tip of a larger iceberg."

What Happens When the N.S.A. Gets Sloppy

The New York Times puts the Washington Post NSA story in perspective, What Happens When the N.S.A. Gets Sloppy

"The article, based largely on an internal agency audit leaked by Edward Snowden, said the agency breaks privacy rules and the limits on its authority thousands of times a year — specifically, in 2,776 incidents between May of 2011 and 2012, with each ‘incident’ compromising the privacy of multiple people, often thousands of people. Though most of the mistakes were unintentional, the N.S.A. wound up collecting data it was not supposed to obtain on people who should not have been spied upon."

"If the N.S.A. were operating on a more reasonable sense of scale — collecting phone records only on people who are terror suspects, for example, rather than on every American — mistakes would not be as costly. But it has taken on powers that it was not granted by Congress, and it is not clear whether it fully briefs lawmakers and outside officials on its own mistakes. One top-secret memo instructed the agency’s internal auditors not to reveal certain details to the Justice Department.

The lack of oversight revealed in The Post’s report is staggering. The agency improperly diverted foreign data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States for months before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that practice unconstitutional in 2011. The chief judge of the court, Reggie Walton, admitted to the newspaper that the court cannot independently verify what the agency is doing, or whether the agency’s accounting of its own mistakes is accurate, except based on information from the agency itself. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance,” Mr. Walton said."

Hard to Crack: The Government's Encryption Conundrum

The New Yorker has a piece that's a good summary of the legal state of encryption. Hard to Crack: The Government's Encryption Conundrum

Death and Taxes Poster 2014

Timeplots presents Death and Taxes Poster 2014

"Since 2004, Death and Taxes has been depicting the federal budget and has grown into a powerhouse of information. For the FY2014 budget, this poster contains over 500 departments, agencies, programs and just about everything else the government can spend money on. It is still the single most open and accessible record of government spending ever created. All in six square feet. "

Screen Shot 2013 08 16 at 10 55 59 AM

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Glasses That Solve Colorblindness, for a Big Price Tag

David Pogue reviews Glasses That Solve Colorblindness, for a Big Price Tag. Seems pretty miraculous and $600 doesn't sound like that much to me.

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

Virtually every sentence in this Washington Post story is damning, NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds.

Here's just one of the more unobvious ones, "Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until The Post asked her staff about it". Feinstein is on the committee that is supposed to provide oversight over the NSA and she didn't have a copy of the audit yet?!?

The ACLU's comments on the story, "“The number of ‘compliance incidents’ is jaw-dropping. The rules around government surveillance are so permissive that it is difficult to comprehend how the intelligence community could possibly have managed to violate them so often,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director."

And Andrea Peterson points out Remember when Obama said the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its powers? He was wrong.

So How's that Inflation Fear Working Out For You?

Krugman: Hawks, Doves, and Ostriches "More than four years ago Allan Meltzer issued a dire prediction: the Fed’s policy of expanding its balance sheet will lead to high inflation. We’re still waiting for that to happen. So it might behoove Meltzer to admit that he was wrong and ask where his analysis went wrong."

The NSA is Commandeering the Internet

Bruce Schneier The NSA is Commandeering the Internet

"It turns out that the NSA's domestic and world-wide surveillance apparatus is even more extensive than we thought. Bluntly: The government has commandeered the Internet. Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we've learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it's easier that way. I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight."

Bonus from Gizmodo: Things the Authorities Say to Mislead You About NSA Surveillance

The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss

Liza Mundy wrote in The Atlantic The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss. It's a bit long and wordy but there were some interesting points.

But what if the critics are correct, just not in the way they suppose? What if same-sex marriage does change marriage, but primarily for the better? For one thing, there is reason to think that, rather than making marriage more fragile, the boom of publicity around same-sex weddings could awaken among heterosexuals a new interest in the institution, at least for a time. But the larger change might be this: by providing a new model of how two people can live together equitably, same-sex marriage could help haul matrimony more fully into the 21st century. Although marriage is in many ways fairer and more pleasurable for both men and women than it once was, it hasn’t entirely thrown off old notions and habits. As a result, many men and women enter into it burdened with assumptions and stereotypes that create stress and resentment. Others, confronted with these increasingly anachronistic expectations—expectations at odds with the economic and practical realities of their own lives—don’t enter into it at all.

Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples. Critics warn of an institution rendered ‘genderless.’ But if a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and child care and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry ‘Bring it on!’

Beyond that, gay marriage can function as a controlled experiment, helping us see which aspects of marital difficulty are truly rooted in gender and which are not. A growing body of social science has begun to compare straight and same-sex couples in an attempt to get at the question of what is female, what is male. Some of the findings are surprising. For instance: we know that heterosexual wives are more likely than husbands to initiate divorce. Social scientists have struggled to explain the discrepancy, variously attributing it to the sexual revolution; to women’s financial independence; to men’s failure to keep modern wives happy. Intriguingly, in Norway and Sweden, where registered partnerships for same-sex couples have been in place for about two decades (full-fledged marriage was introduced several years ago), research has found that lesbians are twice as likely as gay men to split up. If women become dissatisfied even when married to other women, maybe the problem with marriage isn’t men. Maybe women are too particular. Maybe even women don’t know what women want. These are the kinds of things that we will be able to tease out.

Tipless Restaurants

Jay Porter wrote in Slate, Tipless restaurants: The Linkery’s owner explains why abolishing tipping made service better

"When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved, probably because our cooks were being paid more and didn't feel taken for granted. In turn, business improved, and within a couple of months, our server team was making more money than it had under the tipped system. The quality of our service also improved. In my observation, however, that wasn't mainly because the servers were making more money (although that helped, too). Instead, our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service."

Meet the olinguito

Meet the olinguito, the shy 'bear-cat' that's the first new carnivore to be discovered in the West for 35 years

"Researchers said that despite the animal's cat feline and bear-like appearance, the olinguito is actually a member of the Procyonidae family, along with raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos. Weighing 2lb and with woolly orange brown fur, it lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador but for more than a century it was mistaken for its larger close cousin, the olingo."


Mosh: the mobile shell

Hadn't heard of Mosh: the mobile shell.

Remote-shell protocols traditionally work by conveying a byte-stream from the server to the client, to be interpreted by the client's terminal. (This includes TELNET, RLOGIN, and SSH.) Mosh works differently and at a different layer. With Mosh, the server and client both maintain a snapshot of the current screen state. The problem becomes one of state-synchronization: getting the client to the most recent server-side screen as efficiently as possible.

This is accomplished using a new protocol called the State Synchronization Protocol, for which Mosh is the first application. SSP runs over UDP, synchronizing the state of any object from one host to another. Datagrams are encrypted and authenticated using AES-128 in OCB mode. While SSP takes care of the networking protocol, it is the implementation of the object being synchronized that defines the ultimate semantics of the protocol.

Roaming with SSP becomes easy: the client sends datagrams to the server with increasing sequence numbers, including a "heartbeat" at least once every three seconds. Every time the server receives an authentic packet from the client with a sequence number higher than any it has previously received, the IP source address of that packet becomes the server's new target for its outgoing packets. By doing roaming “statelessly” in this manner, roaming works in and out of NATs, even ones that may themselves be roaming. Roaming works even when the client is not aware that its Internet-visible IP address has changed. The heartbeats allow Mosh to inform the user when it hasn't heard from the server in a while (unlike SSH, where users may be unaware of a dropped connection until they try to type).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom

I remember seeing these color thumbnails a bit ago and thought they were cute but not all that interesting. This Wolfram Blog post by Theodore Gray makes me want to buy the $14 app. A Visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

The Act of Killing Director on The Daily Show

The extended interview is worth watching in full.

Daily Show on Stop and Frisk

The Daily Show last night was really good. Here's their take on NY's stop and frisk

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Samuel Whittemore

I hadn't heard of Samuel Whittemore before. He was 80 years old ...

"On April 19, 1775, British forces were returning to Boston from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the opening engagements of the war. On their march they were continually shot at by colonial militiamen. Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98."

Emoji Major No. 1: The "Breaking Bad" Premiere

Emoji Major No. 1: The "Breaking Bad" Premiere "Zoe Mendelson, master of long-form emoji, turns her talent to 'Blood Money' as Walter White nears his end." Yes, it is the latest episode of Breaking Bad, retold in Emoji.

Improving Star Wars Episodes I-II

This guy has thought about Star Wars more than you (or at least me). These were pretty entertaining and would be better movies than I and II were.

Orbital Speed

Orbital Speed is the latest What If and as usually is really fun.

"Is it possible for a spacecraft to control its reentry in such a way that it avoids the atmospheric compression and thus would not require the expensive (and relatively fragile) heat shield on the outside?"

Be sure to read the footnotes.

Dr. Who Easter Egg in Google Maps

View Larger Map

The Moment When Science Fiction Split off From Competence Porn

The Moment When Science Fiction Split off From Competence Porn "Science fiction used to be almost synonymous with 'competence porn,' stories about smart people who solve challenges by knowing what they're doing. But lately when it comes to movies and TV, it seems like Americans love competence porn, and they love science fiction... they just don't love them together. What happened?"

I completely agree with the examples in this article. E.g.,

"Nothing exposes the shift from competence porn to "heroes out of their depth" as sharply as a comparison of Ridley Scott's Prometheus to the original Alien. In Alien, Ripley doesn't survive because she's a nice person — she survives because she's the one person who is good at her job and keeps reminding the others about things like quarantine and safety procedures. In Prometheus, absolutely nobody is good at his or her job."

How the Government Killed a Secure E-mail Company

Michael Phillips wrote in The New Yorker about How the Government Killed a Secure E-mail Company

"Which secret surveillance scheme is involved in the Lavabit case? The company may have received a national-security letter, which is a demand issued by a federal agency (typically the F.B.I.) that the recipient turn over data about other individuals. These letters often forbid recipients from discussing it with anyone. Another possibility is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court may have issued a warrant ordering Lavabit to participate in ongoing e-mail surveillance. We can’t be completely sure: as Judge Reggie Walton, the presiding judge of the FISA court, explained to Senator Patrick Leahy in a letter dated July 29th, FISA proceedings, decisions, and legal rationales are typically secret. America’s surveillance programs are secret, as are the court proceedings that enable them and the legal rationales that justify them; informed dissents, like those by Levison or Senator Ron Wyden, must be kept secret. The reasons for all this secrecy are also secret. That some of the secrets are out has not deterred the Obama Administration from prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act for disclosure of classified information. Call it meta-secrecy."

I really think the secrecy part is crazy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Everything you know about immigration is wrong

Ezra Klein explains how Everything you know about immigration is wrong. It begins with a nice history that I didn't really know about...

Massey slices the history of Mexico-to-U.S. migration in five periods. Early in the 20th century, there was the era of “the hook,” when Japan stopped sending workers to the U.S. and the mining, agriculture and railroad industries begged Mexican laborers to replace them. It’s called “the hook” because laborers were recruited with promises of high wages, signing bonuses, transportation and lodging, most of which either never materialized or were deducted from their paychecks.

Then, during the Roaring Twenties, came “flood tide” — almost 650,000 Mexican workers came legally, causing the number of Mexicans in the U.S. to rocket to almost 750,000 in 1929 from 100,000 in 1900.

The Great Depression ended all that. Jobless Americans took out their anger on jobless Mexicans, and thus began the “era of deportations.” From 1929 to 1939, 469,000 Mexicans were expelled from the U.S.; by 1940, the Mexican-born population had fallen to 377,000.

Enter World War II. With so many American men fighting overseas, Mexican labor was once again in high demand. The U.S. and Mexico negotiated the Bracero Program, which gave Mexican workers access to temporary U.S. visas. That kicked off the “Bracero era.” In 1945, the program brought in 50,000 Mexican guest workers. By 1956, it was up to 445,000. Mexico was also freed from quota limitations on legal immigration, so by 1963, more than 50,000 Mexicans were immigrating each year. With so many legal ways to enter the country, illegal immigration was virtually unknown.

In 1965, the U.S. ended the Bracero program and began to limit Mexican immigration. The number of guest-worker permits dropped to 1,725 in 1979 from more than 400,000 in 1959. The number of residence visas declined to 20,000 after previously being unlimited. But the demand for Mexican labor remained strong. And so the “era of undocumented migration” began. Border apprehensions rose to 1.7 million in 1986 from 55,000 in 1965. But even as millions of Mexicans entered the U.S. illegally, millions also returned. About 85 percent of new entries were offset by departures. Consequently, the growth of the undocumented population was slow.

After passage of a comprehensive immigration law in 1986, the U.S. began militarizing the border with Mexico even as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, later, the North American Free Trade Agreement strengthened economic ties with Mexico. From 1986 to 2000, trade with Mexico increased eightfold.

Until this point, there isn’t much to dispute in Massey’s narrative. But here his immigration story takes a turn that confounds Washington’s conventional wisdom and makes a mockery of the current political debate.

According to Massey, the rise of America’s large undocumented population is a direct result of the militarization of the border. While undocumented workers once traveled back and forth from Mexico with relative ease, after the border was garrisoned, immigrants from Mexico crossed the border and stayed.

It then goes on to talk about now. There's one thing that has been bothering me about similar stories lately. They all mention how "net inflow" is zero and then switch to say immigration is zero. But those aren't the same thing and I'd like to know what both (in and out) numbers are (because if I'm going to use this argument, it's the first question I would get).

What’s different about today’s conservatives?

Kathleen Geier answers What’s different about today’s conservatives? "The main difference between the conservative movement then and now is that elites like Buckley have lost the ability to define the movement. Today, conservatism is less hierarchical, and more diffuse. It’s not that conservative elites don’t wield considerable power in the movement, of course. But within conservatism, there is no longer anyone of Buckley’s stature who has the power to define the boundaries of the respectable right, and to purge certain individuals or tendencies. The closest thing to a leader today’s conservative movement has is Rush Limbaugh, who delights in voicing extremist opinions and trafficking in the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that many voters find repellent."

The Star Trek Movies Ranked

Badass Digest lists The STAR TREK Movies, As Ranked By STAR TREK Con-Goers "All of the TREK movies, in order of worst to best, as chosen by the hardest core STAR TREK fans in the universe. You won't believe what came in at #7."

Some good comments in there on their choices. Here's my ranking from best to worst (with just a little thought):

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  3. Star Trek: First Contact
  4. Galaxy Quest
  5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  6. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
  7. Star Trek Generations
  8. Star Trek Nemesis
  9. Star Trek Into Darkness
  10. Star Trek (2009)
  11. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  12. Star Trek Insurrection
  13. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Children’s Menu History

Children’s menu history: How Prohibition and Emmett Holt gave rise to kid cuisine.

"At the age of 4, children of the near-extinct Kawésqar tribe of Chilean Patagonia spear and roast their own shellfish."

"Prohibition spelled the end for 5-year-old epicures. Taking effect in January 1920, the dry laws forced the hospitality industry to rethink its policy on children: Could it be that this untapped market could help offset all that lost liquor revenue? The Waldorf-Astoria in New York thought so, and in 1921 it became one of the first establishments to beckon to children with a menu of their very own. But even as restaurants began to invite children in, it was with a new limitation: They could no longer eat what their parents ate.

The earliest children’s menus didn’t look so different from the playful ones we know today. The Waldorf-Astoria put Little Jack Horner on the cover of their pink-and-cream booklet; as he brandishes his plummy thumb, a dish runs away with a spoon. But then there was the food—the bland, practically monastic food, appearing all the more austere for the teddy bear picnic taking place overleaf. Here was flaked chicken over boiled rice; here were mixed green vegetables in butter; here was a splat of prune whip. And the one dish that appeared without exception—the chicken nugget of the Jazz Age—was a plain broiled lamb chop."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wither Comedies 3

It's time to update my previous post Wither Comedies (and the related Wither Comedies 2.

The thesis was that there have not been as many really great, truly 5 star comedies in the 2000s as in the previous three decades. See the first post for a quick attempt at listing 5 star comedies from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I'm not including stand-up performances or animation. I love animation but I'm trying to remove Disney/Pixar from the running.

Here's what I consider the best comedies of the 2000s in order of release:

  • Best in Show (2000)
  • Meet the Parents (2000)
  • The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
  • Old School (2003)
  • Elf (2003)
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
  • Wedding Crashers (2005)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  • Death at a Funeral (2007)
  • Superbad (2007)
  • Hot Fuzz (2007)
  • Knocked Up (2007)
  • Juno (2007)
  • The Hangover (2009)
  • In the Loop (2009) - this is one of my all-time favorite films

The decade definitely improved at the end. Here are some others that deserve consideration though I'm not a fan of some of them:

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - Coen brothers but didn't do a lot for me
  • Zoolander (2001) - I'm not a fan of this or really Ben Stiller
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) - I know some would include this
  • Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
  • Mean Girls (2004)
  • Napoleon Dynamite (2004) - I'm not a big fan
  • Borat (2006) - Has some moments but goes way too far most of the time
  • The Simpsons Movie (2007) - violated my no animation rule but it's not Disneyesque and was hilarious
  • Tropic Thunder (2008) - Has some great work by Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise but still, Ben Stiller
  • I Love You, Man (2009) - I enjoyed this, but had forgotten it
  • World's Greatest Dad (2009) - Very dark comedy by Bobcat Goldthwait with Robin Williams
  • Zombieland (2009) - Lots of fun, not sure it's really hilarious

And so far, here's what I consider the best comedies of the 2010s:

  • Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) - trying to call back to the 80s and mostly succeeds
  • Horrible Bosses (2011) - really fun once the heist kicks in
  • The Guard (2011) - small british crime story, very fun
  • Ted (2012) - finally saw it, very fun, would have been better without the homophobia
  • Sightseers (2013) - very fun, very dark, serial killer comedy

And some more worth consideration:

  • Kick-Ass (2010)
  • The Trip (2011) - I didn't like but many did
  • Bridesmaids (2011) - I didn't like but many did
  • Our Idiot Brother (2011)
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2011)
  • A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)
  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - more darling than funny
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
  • In a World... (2013) - Saw this at IFFBoston, it's opening soon and is very fun
  • This Is the End (2013) - some fun scenes, but the biggest comedy of the year so far

How'd I do? What did I miss?

Friday, August 09, 2013

Browser Wars

The Economist posts, Daily chart: Browse beaten "COMPUTING in the 1990s was dominated by a fight between Netscape and Microsoft over who would control people's online experience via the web browser on their computers. Yet the battle that got Microsoft into so much antitrust trouble didn't end but faded away: its browser market share has plummeted, first because of competition from Mozilla Firefox, and over the past five years from Google Chrome. The dramatic change is apparent when mapped over time with the most popular browser by country, presented in the interactive infographic above. Chrome has even pulled away users from Firefox, as the chart below shows. Yet like all empires in technology, Google's too shall pass."

Chrome has the largest (world-wide) market share at about 45%, IE is next at about 25%. I'm not sure if this chart helps or harms understanding.

Screen Shot 2013 08 09 at 11 10 43 AM

Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Breathing Earth

UXBlog did something pretty amazing. A Breathing Earth "Here's a view looking at one year of seasonal transformations on Earth.  Made possible by the tremendous folks of the NASA Visible Earth team, I downloaded the twelve cloud-free satellite imagery mosaics of Earth ('Blue Marble Next Generation') at each month of the year.  I wrapped them into some fun projections then stitched them together into a couple animated gifs..."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding)

A month ago, Oliver Sacks wrote about being 80. The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

"My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together."

A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold

This is the big NY Times story from a couple of weeks ago about investment banks manipulating the aluminum markets A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold "The inflated aluminum pricing is just one way that Wall Street is flexing its financial muscle and capitalizing on loosened federal regulations to sway a variety of commodities markets, according to financial records, regulatory documents and interviews with people involved in the activities.

The maneuvering in markets for oil, wheat, cotton, coffee and more have brought billions in profits to investment banks like Goldman, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, while forcing consumers to pay more every time they fill up a gas tank, flick on a light switch, open a beer or buy a cellphone. In the last year, federal authorities have accused three banks, including JPMorgan, of rigging electricity prices, and last week JPMorgan was trying to reach a settlement that could cost it $500 million."

Kevin Drum followed up a little, Goldman Sachs and the Aluminum Warehouses: Part 3.

"This condition is commonly called contango, and it's not unusual in commodities markets. Goldman was able to profit from this—their financing costs were already low, and buying the warehouse business provided them with low storage costs—but that's not the whole story. It turns out that lots of Goldman customers wanted to get in on this action too, but they were limited by the fact that contango plays were a big drain on their balance sheets. To help out, Goldman "created a business in freeing up the balance sheets of those firms which were encumbered by large but clearly profitable contango trades, by financing these trades and taking them off-balance sheet in return for some of the contango margin." In other words, Goldman helped its customers expand their trading positions in return for a cut of the profits. Owning the warehouses was key to this."

Groundswell: The New Right-Wing Strategy Group

Mother Jones reports Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a "30 Front War" "Ginni Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative activists and journalists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives—and Karl Rove."

At first I was concerned. Then I thought, isn't this what parties are supposed to do? Then as I read it I was struck with how amateurish they sound.

"In response, Tapscott suggested, "How about 'Election Integrity'?" And Gaffney weighed in: "I like it." Fitton noted that Judicial Watch had an "Election Integrity Project." Boyle proposed, "Fair and equal elections," explaining, "Terms 'fair' and 'equal' connect with most people. It's why the left uses them." Then came True the Vote's Anita MonCrief: "We do a lot under the Election Integrity Banner. Does not resonate with the people. Voter Rights may be better. We really have been trying to get the messaging right." "

In June Molly Ball wrote in The Atlantic, How to Save the GOP. It's mostly a history of the Democrats and how by the late 80s they were screwed and how a group of outsiders formed the Democratic Leadership Council and fixed things.

Mars Curiosity rover sings 'Happy Birthday,' dares Earth to collect royalties

Mars Curiosity rover sings 'Happy Birthday,' dares Earth to collect royalties "Though the analysis system doesn't include a loudspeaker, it does include a motor that can loudly vibrate at very specific frequencies. Normally, the motor is used to help move soil through the analysis system, but it's been modified for the day to produce the exact frequencies that make up 'Happy Birthday.' Such a performance of the ubiquitous jingle would usually require a license from Warner Music, but the recording group is likely to have trouble collecting any royalties on Mars."


This won the oscar in 1958 for best short documentary film. It's 10 minutes of beautiful Jazz music with shots of men and machines blowing glass. Makes me want to take another class.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an 'emergency'

Reuters reports Exclusive: Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an 'emergency' "Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an 'emergency' that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country's nuclear watchdog said on Monday."

Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post

Nil Irwin wrote on WonkBlog, Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post. Here’s what that means. "Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is buying The Washington Post. He’s paying $250 million, of his personal funds (we aren’t becoming part of Amazon, in other words, but rather employees of a stand-alone company that Bezos owns)."

One Year on Mars: The Curiosity Rover

In Focus shows One Year on Mars: The Curiosity Rover "Later tonight NASA will mark the one year anniversary of the safe landing of its Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars. In the days (or sols, as they are called on Mars) since its complex sky-crane touchdown, Curiosity has made discoveries that show the existence of favorable conditions for microbial life billions of years ago, including evidence of an ancient streambed. It's also made significant measurements of the dangerous levels of radioactivity, which will help designers prepare for future manned missions to Mars. By the numbers: Curiosity has sent us more than 190 gigabits of data, returned more than 72,000 images, and fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets. The rover is now making its way to the base of Mount Sharp, where it will investigate lower layers of a mountain that rises three miles from the floor of Gale Crater. See also How Curiosity Became an Astronaut. [26 photos]"

S m17 PIA16453 500

Doh! Official Lego Simpsons Sets Coming in 2014

Doh! Official Lego Simpsons Sets Coming in 2014. Nice.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic

Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic "After more than four months of hourly updates, the journey finally came to an end last week, and the final product is 3,099 panels long–so long that the Youtube video compiling them (above) runs more than 40 minutes from start to finish. Even better, Munroe is finally talking about the elaborate backstory behind the minimalistic and seemingly ancient world of ‘Time,’ which he reveals was set not in the past, but 11,000 years in the future."

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Structural Humbug

Krugman, Structural Humbug

"In short, the data strongly point toward a cyclical, not a structural story — and there is broad agreement, for once, among economists on this point. Yet somehow, it’s clear, Beltway groupthink has arrived at the opposite conclusion — so much so that the actual economic consensus on this issue wasn’t even represented on the Newshour."

And a followup Is There Any Point To Economic Analysis?

And another, The Year of Living Stupidly

Fixing Hubble

I heard Michael J. Massimino on The Moth today. I highly recommend it. "An astronaut details his high stakes mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope."

Friday, August 02, 2013

RIP Michael Ansara

Michael Ansara Dead: 'Star Trek' Actor Dies At 91 "Michael Ansara, the actor who played the 'Star Trek' Klingon commander Kang in the franchise's TV show, died on Wednesday, July 31. He was 91."

I didn't realize he was the first Klingon. I saw his Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, though I'm not sure I saw the Voyager one. "He is known as one of the only seven "Star Trek" actors to play the same character on three different versions of the beloved series." I am not going to start guessing who the other six are. I also didn't know he was married to Barbara Eden for 18 years.

What Neocon Revival?

What Neocon Revival? by Ed Kilgore "In this as in other respects, Brooks resembles other ‘conservative reformers’ (notably his New York Times colleague Ross Douthat) who regularly lay out policy prescriptions that would get them tarred and feathered in any gathering of rank-and-file Republicans, but then more or less loyally follow the party line anyway, creating the illusion of ideological diversity."

"The trouble is that the conservative movement and Republican Party that Brooks and Douthat like to talk about has never existed in living memory, and isn’t likely to exist in the foreseeable future. Perhaps they have other reasons for affiliating with a political movement that so routinely ignores their advice."

I feel this way whenever I see Brooks or Douthat or Reihen Salam on TV.

Gone in 30 seconds: New attack plucks secrets from HTTPS-protected pages

Gone in 30 seconds: New attack plucks secrets from HTTPS-protected pages

"The technique, scheduled to be demonstrated Thursday at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, decodes encrypted data that online banks and e-commerce sites send in responses that are protected by the widely used transport layer security (TLS) and secure sockets layer (SSL) protocols. The attack can extract specific pieces of data, such as social security numbers, e-mail addresses, certain types of security tokens, and password-reset links. It works against all versions of TLS and SSL regardless of the encryption algorithm or cipher that's used."

"It requires that the attacker have the ability to passively monitor the traffic traveling between the end user and website. The attack also requires the attacker to force the victim to visit a malicious link. This can be done by injecting an iframe tag in a website the victim normally visits or, alternatively, by tricking the victim into viewing an e-mail with hidden images that automatically download and generate HTTP requests. The malicious link causes the victim's computer to make multiple requests to the HTTPS server that's being targeted. These requests are used to make "probing guesses" that will be explained shortly."

"It's the latest attack to chip away at the HTTPS encryption scheme, which forms the cornerstone of virtually all security involving the Web, e-mail, and other Internet services. It joins a pantheon of other hacks introduced over the past few years that bear names such as CRIME, BEAST, Lucky 13, and SSLStrip. While none of the attacks have completely undermined the security afforded by HTTPS, they highlight the fragility of the two-decade-old SSL and TLS protocols. The latest attack has been dubbed BREACH, short for Browser Reconnaissance and Exfiltration via Adaptive Compression of Hypertext."

Crypto experts issue a call to arms to avert the cryptopocalypse

Crypto experts issue a call to arms to avert the cryptopocalypse "At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a quartet of researchers, Alex Stamos, Tom Ritter, Thomas Ptacek, and Javed Samuel, implored everyone involved in cryptography, from software developers to certificate authorities to companies buying SSL certificates, to switch to newer algorithms and protocols, lest they wake up one day to find that all of their crypto infrastructure is rendered useless and insecure by mathematical advances."

How to Bake a Planetary Structural Layer Cake

I don't often get to use both the food and astronomy tags on one post. For the Weekend: How to Bake a Planetary Structural Layer Cake

"'Our knowledge is mostly theoretical of course,' she writes, 'but the gas giants are thought to have a core comprised mostly of rock and ice,' depicted here with mudcake. 'This is surrounded by a layer liquid metallic hydrogen [using almond butter cake, naturally], and the outer layer is composed of molecular hydrogen [vanilla cake, dyed blue].' The cake, she admits, 'is totally not to scale.' I think we can give her a pass. Because planet cake."


Winners of the 2013 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

In Focus presents Winners of the 2013 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest "The winning entries in the 25th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced. First prize winner Wagner Araujo will receive a 10-day Galapagos expedition for two for his image of competitors in the Brazilian Aquathlon. Collected here are the ten 2013 prize winning photos, plus the Viewers' Choice selection. Photos and captions by the photographers. Also, be sure to see Part 1 and Part 2, earlier on In Focus. [11 photos]"

There are longer descriptions at the National Geographic site, but I prefer the image presentation at In Focus.

S n02 digmeriv 500

The End of Antibiotics?

Rebecca Kreston writes in Discover, The End of Antibiotics?

"Carbapenem antibiotics are a class of heavy duty antibiotics that treat a broad spectrum of bacterial infections. These antibiotics to be used as a ‘last resort,’ when nothing else works to dislodge a serious infection, and are now joining the rest of our failed antibiotics as microbes become increasingly drug resistant to our best and last options. These carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, termed CRE, are alarming for three important reasons: they are resistant to nearly all antibiotics, they are frightfully deadly and kill nearly 50% of infected patients, and they can spread their resistance to other bacteria by swapping the plasmid containing the resistant gene."

"In her article “Antibiotic resistance: The last resort,” McKenna sketches out the the origins of this new pandemic, where we went wrong in surveilling its presence in our hospitals and long-term care facilities, and ways to tackle its spread. The article is a must-read, kick-in-the-pants take on what we must do before we are completely at a loss to treat bacterial infections. With continuing spread of this gene among a population of pathogens and without this vital class of antibiotics, there may soon be a point in which we can do little to treat sepsis, urinary tract infections, or catheter-borne infections. We do not have any alternatives, we do not have adequate tools that work as effectively to treat these very serious, often deadly infections."

Ikea Has a Good Use for Augmented Reality

1 | Ikea's New Catalog Magically Transforms Into Furniture

"But now, Ikea has developed a killer app for AR. After using any smartphone or tablet to scan select pages out of its 2014 catalog, you can place the catalog anywhere in your home to make it appear as if it’s an actual piece of furniture. Watch the video above to see what we mean."

Daily Show on Fast Food Strike and Fox News Analysis

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Disintegration Of Android, Visualized

The Disintegration Of Android, Visualized. There are some graphs but these three paragraphs say most of it.

"On iOS, for example, an app developer doesn’t need to account for too many variables. Apple has only ever made 15 iOS devices, with a handful of resolutions, clock speeds, and screen sizes to support. Not only that, but an overwhelming majority of iOS users--95%!--is running the latest version of the operating system, iOS 6. It’s this internal cohesion to iOS that makes it so attractive to devs. Most app developers either fly solo or are part of very small teams, so just by testing their app on a small handful of devices running the latest version of iOS, they can reach 95% of the App Store market.

But look at Open Signal’s Android charts. Android’s cohesion hasn’t just been shattered, more than a quarter of it has been blasted to atoms. There are literally thousands of devices any prospective Android developer has to account for. Nearly a third of those devices are still running a two-and-a-half-year-old operating system riddled with bugs and security holes. In fact, only 5.6% of all Android devices are running the most recent and stable version of the operating system, Jelly Bean.

But it gets even worse. Apple only asks iOS developers to support four screen sizes and four resolutions. But take a gander at Android! Any developer who wants to make an app for the Google Play store needs to test their UI across dozens upon dozens of different screen sizes and resolutions. And unbelievably, it’s even more complicated than that, because many of the major Android device makers like Samsung and HTC slap their own custom skins on top of Android. "

Why the House GOP’s cuts to housing and transportation were so unpopular

Why the House GOP’s cuts to housing and transportation were so unpopular

"On Wednesday, House Republicans caused a ruckus by abruptly yanking their $44.1 billion transportation and housing budget off the floor. The leadership couldn’t find enough votes for the bill, in part because the proposed spending cuts were too deep for virtually all Democrats and even some Republicans. Combine that with the fact that a certain number of conservatives will oppose most spending bills, period, and that spelled doom for the so-called THUD bill. But what did those spending cuts actually look like? And why were they too sharp even for many Republicans?"

He then goes through some of the numbers and the programs affected. In a follow up post he explains Republicans need a budget deal. They need a budget deal bad.

"But amidst all these failures, something actually is changing, and very much for the better: Republicans are coming to realize that sequestration is both a political and policy disaster for them, and they need a deal that replaces it. ‘Sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end,’ said Hal Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee, after THUD’s failure."

The Effects of the Voting Rights Act Decision

This is really just amazing. I wonder what the SCOTUS conservatives think? I'd guess they'd say this stuff and wrong but it should be fixed by the states not the federal government.

Balkinization: And the Shenanigans Begin

"As of today it has been a month since Shelby County, and we’re starting to find out. In short, it looks like the voting rights advocates knew what they were talking about.  (As did Justice Ginsburg, who told the AP today, ‘I didn't want to be right, but sadly I am.’)  With impressive speed, formerly-covered jurisdictions are enacting and implementing major voting changes that will negatively affect minority voters—as well as the poor, elderly, and young voters who were the indirect beneficiaries of Section 5’s protections. Some of these changes are getting a lot of attention, such as the fusillade of statewide changes in North Carolina, where things have now escalated to the point of sit-ins and protests. In Florida, aggressive voter roll purges are set to resume—a story that will undoubtedly get some national attention because of memories of the Florida voter purge in 2000 that removed from the rolls a number of eligible voters many times larger than Bush’s margin of victory.  (And indeed, the architect of the purge set to begin now in 2013 is the very same guy who orchestrated that infamous 2000 purge effort.) North Carolina and Florida were only ever partially covered by the formula the Court struck down in Shelby County, but that was enough to prevent changes like these. In the absence of Section 5, we’re off to the races.

However, the greatest impact of Shelby County will likely be at the local level—in places where media scrutiny is minimal, and litigation resources meager.  You will hear less about these local cases.  But I think that's a problem; they are really where the action is.  And so, via the excellent Texas Redistricting blog (which has links to all the filings and so on), today I bring you the following report from Beaumont, Texas, a small city of about 120,000 in the southeast corner of the state, on the Gulf Coast south of the piney woods. The population is about 45% black; four out of seven school board members are black.  Voting is pretty racially polarized.  This is a convoluted tale, as these tales often are. But in brief, three candidates who lost in the last election to three of the four black school board members are trying to get a state court to oust those three black incumbents and install them (the losing candidates) instead. The losing candidates pulled off a sneaky, and rather brazen, subterfuge: they filed candidate papers for a special election that had not yet been announced, and then subsequently convinced a state court that state law required ordering the election, with a retroactive filing deadline that had already passed. Since the three black incumbents did not file candidate papers—understandably, since no election had been called for their seats, and they are only halfway through their terms—the non-black challengers say the court should just install them, the challengers, as winners by default.  The Beaumont situation provides a particularly clear case of a local shenanigan that could occur only because of the demise of Section 5, for reasons I'll explain below the fold."