Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Patent life: how the Supreme Court fell short

Patent life: how the Supreme Court fell short - Boing Boing "You can't patent the building blocks of life, but you can patent a type of synthetic DNA that contains all the same information. Maggie Koerth-Baker explains how the Justices misunderstood the science and the effect that their verdict could have on future research.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia admitted he doesn’t really understand it. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an entire court opinion implying—unconvincingly, to scientists—that he does. And, as of right now, there’s still nothing stopping you from filing patents on it. Meet complementary DNA (cDNA), the confusing molecule at the heart of the recent Supreme Court ruling on DNA patents.

The case, ruled upon in june, was hailed as a victory over efforts to turn the human genome into corporate property. But the ruling may not be the smackdown of gene patents that it appeared to be, and cDNA is where much of the uncertainly lies. Big questions remain: What is cDNA actually being used to do? Why does it matter who owns it? And what do scientists think this debate is really about?"

The case for Larry Summers

Ezra Klein makes The case for Larry Summers and Brad DeLong follows up On Larry Summers....

Both good reads.

Trusting iPhones plugged into bogus chargers get a dose of malware

Trusting iPhones plugged into bogus chargers get a dose of malware "Plugging your phone into a charger should be pretty safe to do. It should fill your phone with electricity, not malware. But researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology have produced fake chargers they've named Mactans that do more than just charge your phone: they install custom, malicious applications onto iPhones."

Kind of a clever attack using a vulnerability that probably shouldn't have been in there first place. To be fair, this is yet another attack against an Apple product that isn't in the wild and the hole will be closed by Apple before you have to care.

Watch this German village get trounced by a freak hail storm

Watch this German village get trounced by a freak hail storm " This past weekend, a Germany town in Lower Saxony was absolutely pummelled by hail stones the size of tennis balls. Damage is estimated to be in the millions."

More videos at the io9 link.

Pwned again: An exclusive look at Pwnie Express’ newest hack-in-a-box

Pwned again: An exclusive look at Pwnie Express’ newest hack-in-a-box

"The new Pwn Plug looks less like a DC power supply plug—the form factor of its predecessor—and more like a small Wi-Fi access point or router. But inside, it's really a Linux-powered NSA-in-a-box, providing white hat hackers and corporate network security professionals a 'drop box' system that can be remotely controlled over a covert Internet channel or a cellular data connection."

"Once a Pwn Plug R2 is deployed and turned on, it will start trying to find a way to call home to establish a persistent SSH connection between the device and its operator's server—including a GSM-based 4G cellular data connection compatible with AT&T and TMobile. "Out of the box you can configure it to try six different covert channels," Porcello said. "It'll automatically tunnel out of whatever network it's plugged into over a bunch of differently used covert channels that attackers usually use, such as tunneling over a trusted protocol like HTTP, SSL, DNS, and ICMP. And then if none of those works, you can always access over 4G. Or if your test is to try to avoid detection, than 4g is the way to go, because none of your control traffic will hit the target network.""

Pretty crazy stuff.

Tax what? New software tax leaves tech executives dazed and confused

Tax what? New software tax leaves tech executives dazed and confused "The tax, passed as part of a bigger transportation bill, compels businesses around the state to collect 6.25 percent sales tax on software design services, which the Department of Revenue defined as the ‘modification, integration, enhancement, installation, or configuration of standardized or prewritten software.’"

First I've heard of it.

Corporate sell-outs exploit a secret new gimmick

Corporate sell-outs exploit a secret new gimmick

"As The Hill reports, the U.S. Senate’s ‘top tax writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve’ in a tax ‘reform’ bill that aims to overhaul the tax code from scratch. The system, reports the newspaper, allows only 10 congressional staff members to have ‘direct access to a senator’s written suggestions’ and ‘each submission will be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes’ in the National Archives until the end of 2064.

The architects of this scheme, Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggest that secrecy is the best way to facilitate input from all senators, as lawmakers will know they can make substantive suggestions without the fear of political retribution."

Ridiculous. I wonder if the votes will be secret too?

Is Natural Gas More Climate-Friendly? Researchers Map Thousands of Leaks in Washington, D.C.

Scientific American reports Is Natural Gas More Climate-Friendly? Researchers Map Thousands of Leaks in Washington, D.C.

"Bob Ackley may be the only person who has driven up and down every single street -- 1,500 miles total -- in Washington, D.C. While Ackley, a plain-speaking New Englander, enjoyed exploring the nation's capital, which he described as 'beautiful,' this was serious business. He was measuring leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is also the main component of natural gas. Measured in terms of warming the atmosphere, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide."

"Although the results for the District of Columbia are not final, preliminary numbers indicate that the nation's capital has thousands of leaks from its natural gas distribution system. It has a number of leaks per road mile similar to that of Boston, but has about twice as many miles of road, said Jackson. The district also appears to have bigger leaks than Boston's, he said. In Boston, the researchers counted 3,356 leaks. They also determined whether leaks were from natural gas pipes or more natural sources, such as landfills, where it is created by decaying garbage."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

15 Over-Used Movie Poster Clichés

15 Over-Used Movie Poster Clichés is pretty amusing.

Stanley Kubrick's Favorite Films

Stanley Kubrick, cinephile | British Film Institute "On the occasion of Stanley Kubrick’s 85th birthday, Nick Wrigley explores the director’s favourite films and viewing habits with the help of Kubrick’s right-hand man, Jan Harlan."

The Ten Greatest Space Achievements Nobody Knows About

io9 lists The Ten Greatest Space Achievements Nobody Knows About. I knew about half of them. I think it's worth it for the story of Aleksey Leonov and this video alone.

Greenland: A Global Warming Laboratory

Greenland: A Global Warming Laboratory - In Focus - The Atlantic "As the sea levels around the globe rise, researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of melting glaciers and the long-term ramifications. Rapid warming at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet has caused year after year of record melting at the surface, raising concern, even as recent research indicates the ice sheet has endured warmer periods. The warmer temperatures that have had an effect on the glaciers in Greenland also have altered the ways in which the local populace farm, fish, hunt and even travel across land. Getty Images photojournalist Joe Raedle traveled north recently, spending two weeks documenting the scientists tracking Greenland's transformation, as well as some of the spectacular scenery and residents engaged in their daily lives. [34 photos]"

I didn't read any of this, I just looked at the gorgeous photos

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Spy agencies ban Lenovo PCs on security concerns

Spy agencies ban Lenovo PCs on security concerns

"Computers manufactured by the world’s biggest personal computer maker, Lenovo, have been banned from the ‘secret’ and ‘‘top secret’ ­networks of the intelligence and defence services of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, because of concerns they are vulnerable to being hacked."

"The ban was introduced in the mid-2000s after intensive laboratory testing of its equipment allegedly documented ‘back-door’ hardware and ‘firmware’ vulnerabilities in Lenovo chips."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yellen vs. Summers: Who would be a better Fed chair?

Neil Irwin breaks down Yellen vs. Summers: Who would be a better Fed chair?.

digby explains, Uhm no: why progressives don't want Larry Summers as Fed Chair by Chris Hayes.

I'm not really sure. From what I've read lately, Summers was during the crisis more for stimulus than we initially thought. Yellen is certainly qualified and policies will be like Bernanke's. My understanding is that the Fed chairperson is the head of a voting body and has to convince other fed chairs to vote for policies. I have no idea if Yellen's quieter or Summer's abrasive demeanor is more likely to be able to get votes for more stimulus.

The Millennial Stimulus Plan

This is from May's Atlantic magazine The Millennial Stimulus Plan. "Millennials got a bad rap during the recession. They have been working less, earning less, and, as I’ve pointed out in this magazine before, buying far fewer houses and cars than their parents did—or than the economy needs them to in order to move forward. But all of this is poised to change. In the near future, these same young people may be the very ones to supercharge the recovery. How? By growing up."

He then makes his case in 6 simple charts.

No Edge: The Shape of the Universe. (Part 1: Flat Models)

ZoggFromBetelgeuse explains some possible mathematical models of the shape of the universe in 10 mins. I learned a few things from it. So far parts 2 and 3 don't exist yet.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Slow motion video of an AK47 being shot underwater

Slow motion video of an AK47 being shot underwater "Here's slow motion video from Smarter Every Day of what it looks like when an AK47 is shot underwater. Not only is the slow motion footage beautiful (best shots at 2:40, 4:30, 7:20), the science behind why the bubbles do what they do is explained. Science!" (thanks kottke)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Signed Mac Malware Using Right-to-Left Override Trick

Signed Mac Malware Using Right-to-Left Override Trick "Right-to-left override (RLO) is a special character used in bi-directional text encoding system to mark the start of text that are to be displayed from right to left. It is commonly used by Windows malware such as Bredolab and the high-profile Mahdi trojan from last year to hide the real extension of executable files. Check out this Krebs on Security post for more details on the trick."

I would hope there will be some OS X update to turn off unicode for filenames for systems that don't typically need it, or that perhaps checks for .app used in this way.

2013: The Year PG-13 Broke

I agree 2013: The Year PG-13 Broke

Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought

Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought

"Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples."

David Simon | The Koch brothers and The Baltimore Sun

David Simon | The Koch brothers and The Baltimore Sun

"The second criteria is one that I would apply — and do apply — as well to the national newspaper corporation who decades ago began scarfing up America’s locally owed newspapers and stringing them into corporate chains, congealing the nuance and idiosyncracy of various American cities into a generic product.  And then, armed with an economy of scale, they took their monopolistic creations to Wall Street, where the analysts explained to them that by cutting costs — reporters, news hole, coverage — they could actually make more money putting out a weaker, shittier newspaper than a good one.  Wall Street was right in the short term.  Wall Street is always right in the short term.  The long-term health of an industry?  The future beyond the next fiscal quarter?  Sustained economic growth?  Not really the Street’s problem anymore.

No, for the long term, print journalism was showing contempt for its own product — and for its connection to the cities and regions that it claimed to serve.  And when the internet then arrived, and newspapers needed to demand a real revenue stream from within the new delivery model, they had already eviscerated themselves.  Unsure of their own product, they gave it away, and foolishly so.  And now, it is a long hard fight to maintain and restore that weakened product through the obvious, inevitable and belated advent of the newspaper paywall.

You would have to look long and hard to find an industry in which the captains so thoroughly butchered their own future.  Not even the American auto industry in the 1970s, with its Gremlin- and Pacer-adorned contempt for the American consumer fully on display, did as poorly.  After all, Detroit lost out to the Japanese and Germans, and lets face it, to the better cars that were actually being built overseas.  The newspaper industry took a beating from the internet, which, while democratizing commentary, has proven itself thus far incapable of providing much in the way of first-generation beat reporting and high-end journalism, save for what it leaches from mainstream media.  If only the newspapers themselves had, in the run-up to digitization, maintained the substance and validity of their actual product."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How An "Impossible" Aviation Challenge Led To An Innovation Breakthrough

How An "Impossible" Aviation Challenge Led To An Innovation Breakthrough "On June 13, an enormous, ridiculous-looking pedal-powered contraption wafted itself into midair and made history. The helicopter, called Atlas, was designed to win an aviation challenge--the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition--that had defeated scores of aircraft designers and engineers for 33 years. The task sounds simple: Create a human-powered aircraft that can hover three meters in the air for at least a minute without drifting outside a 10-meter square. But satisfying those constraints meant designing an aircraft like nothing you’ve ever seen:"

"This kind of innovation strategy often goes by clichéd names like "lateral thinking" or "thinking outside the box." But according to Robertson, "the box" was actually the key to succeeding where 33 years’ worth of other designs had failed. Atlas won the Sikorsky prize by zeroing in on the right box to think inside--and then rigorously, intensely, and persistently analyzing it. "Achieving the so-called 'impossible,'" he says, "is a matter of removing unnecessary constraints, and understanding what’s in the box.""

Supermarkets’ solution to patent trolls: fight it out at the USPTO

Supermarkets’ solution to patent trolls: fight it out at the USPTO "Lieberman explained why the supermarket industry was getting heavily involved with patent reform: in growing numbers, supermarkets are being accused of patent infringement for using basic website functions. In recent years, supermarkets have been hit with patents claiming rights to 'store locator' features on websites, having a clickable menu on a website, rendering JPEG graphics, and sending out text messages with embedded links, said Lieberman."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Movie Reviews *Spoilers*

I've been disappointed with all the summer blockbusters thus far and I've been remiss in reviewing them. Here are some thoughts. Maybe I'm getting old and cranky or maybe I've just seen too many movies but I find they're all making the same mistakes. They're either mindless action sequences riddled with inconsistencies strung together with a moronic plot delivered by bad writing or they just fail to get the the tone right.

Iron Man 3

I already reviewed it here Movie Review: Iron Man 3 Spoilers

Star Trek Into Darkness

I think I enjoyed myself in this film better than I did the first one, but I'm not sure why. I thought the first had captured the characters well but had a dumb plot centered around an underdeveloped villian and had horrible visuals based on shaky-cam and lens flares. The creators might have actually read my complaints and tried to address them in this film. The villian is well developed, there's a plot which is a metaphor for our response to 9/11 and there's less shaky-cam and lensflare. Win! Right?

Well not quite. This film made the choice to focus on the Kirk-Spock relationship at the expense of the other characters. It's a valid choice but they have less of those interesting characters they had in the first film. Second they get Kirk wrong. All that maturing that happened in the first film, gone. In the original Kirk was the middle between Spock's logic and McCoy's emotion. Now he's just the Stephen Colbert persona, doing everything based on his gut, and they contrast that with Spock.

Everyone else is stupid too. Remember in Star Trek when Khan quoted Moby Dick (which the plot also referenced). In this film there's literally a scene where Kirk yells "What was I supposed to do!" and the Admiral yells back "I'm not listening to you, you don't listen to me!". No he didn't have his hands covering his ears while saying "nah nah nah I'm not listening to you" but it was remarkably close.

Kirk fires Scotty in this because Scotty has some morals. Then this happens and I don't think the stupidity needs to be explained:

  • Kirk: "Chekov, you were once in engineering right?"
  • Chekov: "Yes, sir"
  • Kirk: "You're now chief engineer, get a red shirt"

There's another scene where Spock literally calls Old Spock to ask what to do.

But really, overall it just makes no sense. The villian's scheme is overly-complex to the point of being ridiculous. Apparently there are no security forces anywhere on or near earth, let alone at Star Fleet. And then you get to the end. They need Khan's wonder-blood to save Kirk so Spock has to chase him, alone, on foot over flying cars throughout San Francisco. Meanwhile McCoy, having discovered wonder-blood, takes another person with said wonder-blood out of a cryo-unit to put Kirk in it. I just don't understand how anyone could watch (let alone write) this and not moan at the stupidity.

But the worst sceen was just before and was worse not because it was dumber plotwise, but because it was horrible movie making. They copy the most famous scene in all of Star Trek and have no idea what emotion they want or how to get it. In Star Trek II they kill Spock in act of self-sacrifice and friendship and it's topped off with an over-acted scream that's been parodied countless times. This film copies the scene and oh look, they swapped roles, how clever and ironic or something. But the death was obviously not real because they had just shown McCoy bringing the tribble back to life. Kirk and Spock are barely friends in this reboot so there's much less resonnance. And moments before dying Kirk was realigning the warp core by literally swinging from rafters and kicking it with both feet like a gorilla. I honestly didn't know if I was supposed to be crying or laughing.

Someone please call Ronald D. Moore to write the next Star Trek film.

Man of Steel

Superman was exactly what I feared it would be once I heard Christopher Nolan was involved. While he did a great job on the Batman films, he used the same tone for his Superman movie and Superman has always been a different character and the contrast between him and Batman has been a staple of the comics for decades. If you accept the film on it's own terms, and I realize that you're supposed to, it's not bad. But I had a hard time doing that, it just wasn't Superman to me.

In my world, Pa Kent doesn't tell Clark to let a bus of school kids (his friends!) die in order to keep his secret. And in my world, Superman tries to save innocent people whenever he can and he doesn't kill his enemies no matter how bad they are.

It did the effects pretty well even it did copy the alien designs from other films. I thought the 3D view screens were pretty neat. The fights between Kryptonians never looked better and the destruction they would cause was spectacular. I also liked that Lois was smarter than she's ever been, but while I love Amy Adams there wasn't much chemistry between them (the script didn't develop it) and the kiss was completely unearned.

A few weeks after seeing it, i barely remember it. How Man Of Steel Should Have Ended is pretty good.

A few days after I wrote the above I saw Film Critic Hulk's analysis and it's long (19,000 words!) but good, THE IMPORTANCE OF DRAMATIZING CHARACTER and has a 6,000 word followup A FEW CLARIFICATIONS ON HULK’S MAN OF STEEL ARTICLE

World War Z

I've not read the book but I kind of want to. It apparently treats the notion of a zombie apocalypse very seriously but it separate oral narratives so it's hard to adapt to a film. The movie added a main character and a bunch of quests to send him around the globe.

That's all fine but I hated the way it looked. Lots of shaky-cam running with lots of closeups. I was unfortunately sitting in the second row so that might have influenced what I thought, friends sitting further back really liked it. Shaky-cam has it's place to give a scene a sense of confusion and immediacy, but I don't see the point in a whole film being that way. It gets redundant. I was thinking about walking out but it turns out I'm glad I didn't. The last set piece was the best part of the film. It's also the ending added at the last minute, and filmed differently so that it was about tension and suspense.

It did start with stupidity. It was one of those scenes where otherwise thoughtful characters meet and are suspicious of each and barely talk so they just become more suspicious. I actually said out loud "Just use full sentences and be done with this". It's just bad writing, forcing an emotion for no logical reason. And the ending was just groan inducing, though better than the original one planned. Honestly, they just should have written the family out of the film and it would have been much better.

Pacific Rim

This was the best of big action flicks I've seen. Guillermo del Toro is remarkably gifted at bringing something improbable to life and making it look good (e.g., Hellboy and Pan's Labrynth). Pacific Rim is giant robots vs giant monsters and it definitely delivers that. I wish at least one of the fights was in sunshine so you could see things better, but it's easier to hide things in the dark and rain. Still it wasn't shaky-cam and you could see what was going on.

I didn't watch any trailers for it beforehand and didn't know much about it other than it was taking its premise seriously. I had heard there was a plot and real characters. I was a little disappointed that it was a cartoon plot and anime characters. The governments just shut down the robot program for an ineffective wall so the marshall has to go it alone. Soldiers with daddy issues and needing a retired soldier because there's an old robot. The worst are the scientists, breathlessly getting out as many words as they can very Speed Racer style and acting completly unlike real scientists and for some reason without any government backing. There's a lot about the soldiers bonding via a neural connection, but I think the relationships in Top Gun look like Hamlet in comparison.

Ron Perlman is fun, as always. There's an extra scene in the middle of the credits, stay for it (though I was expecting it to happen earlier in the film).

I want a T-shirt that says "The kaiju want the little dude"

Update: Drift Compatible goes into some details of the genres that Pacific Rim was maneuvering.

This is the End

How would Hollywood celebrities faces the apocalypse? Some of this was funny, particularly the various cameos and some of the (what I hope are fake) characterizations, particular Michael Cera. Some bits went on way too long, but if you inclined to see the film, it will probably deliver enough so that you'll enjoy it.

20 Feet from Stardom

So far this is the best film I've seen this summer. A documentary about backup singers. Great music and interesting stories. It seems that like 5 woman have sung every song you've ever heard. And you'll never listen to Gimme Shelter the same way again.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight Blog Is to Join ESPN Staff

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight Blog Is to Join ESPN Staff "At ESPN, Mr. Silver is expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio. Along with his writing and number-crunching, he will most likely be a regular contributor to ‘Olbermann,’ the late-night ESPN2 talk show hosted by Keith Olbermann that will have its debut at the end of August. In political years, he will also have a role at ABC News, which is owned by Disney."

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin

I just read Obama's statement today, Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin. It's good and worth a read.

"There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case."

I do think there's a disconnect between someone who can say this, "And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain." and also consider nominating NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (of stop and frisk fame) to head the Department of Homeland Security.

I also agree with Experiences and History by Ed Kilgore "Not being African-American or a conservative, Obama’s statement struck me as squarely identifying what’s wrong with the Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case, what’s wrong with claims that affirmative action is useless and morally tainted, and what’s wrong with the belief that with slavery and Jim Crow gone, the only genuine civil rights cause is to protect white people from the injustice of continued African-American grievances. People still alive remember Jim Crow. Still more know something about history. And anyone paying attention understands the connection between those ‘experiences and history’ and contemporary phenomena ranging from mass incarceration of non-violent offenders, to ‘Stand Your Ground’ and concealed-carry laws, to attacks on ‘looters’ and ‘parasites,’ and to the undermining of public schools and the social safety net."

There’s a good reason Republicans hate Obama’s labor board nominees

There’s a good reason Republicans hate Obama’s labor board nominees "Indeed, it is precisely this politicization of what is supposed to be an independent agency with quasi-judicial powers that has led to the partisan politicization of the confirmation process in the Senate.  In terms of NLRB appointments, it is now standard practice for Democratic presidents to nominate top lawyers for labor unions and for Republican presidents to nominate officials from the virulently anti-union National Right to Work Committee or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In other cases, they name Senate staffers from their respective parties who have proven track records of protecting union or employer interests."

Parkour Goat jumps 5 foot fence

This Tom Toles cartoon on Obamacare is perfect

I agree with Ezra, This Tom Toles cartoon on Obamacare is perfect


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paris From Above

In Focus shows us amazing views of Paris From Above "Last Sunday, France celebrated Bastille Day, commemorating the start of the French Revolution in 1789 -- the end of monarchy and the beginning of modern France. Reuters photographers Charles Platiau and Gonzalo Fuentes took to the skies above Paris for the occasion, capturing images of the capital city, its unique blend of historic and modern architecture, and some of its residents and visitors enjoying the sunny day. [27 photos]"

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Jahar's World

I really don't understand all the controversy. Janet Reitman's piece in Rolling Stone, Jahar's World is really good and worth reading.

My first thought was hasn't Tsarneaev on the cover of every magazine, but when I looked, apparently not. Yes on some newspapers but the only other magazine cover I could find was a caricature from The Week which doesn't strike me as better. I haven't read a music article in Rolling Stone in forever. Matt Taibbi's pieces are usually must-reads. If you don't know this about Rolling Stone, you're missing out. And there's no reason not to put a big story on the cover. The photo wasn't taken for the article and is in line with the way most Rolling Stone covers are, a face staring at the camera.

Tweets I've liked on the subject:

  • Adam Burke: New York Post Outraged as Rolling Stone Recklessly Splashes Picture of Correct Suspect on Front Page
  • Victor LaValle: That Rolling Stone cover doesn't romanticizes a terrorist. It romanticizes a time when people gave a damn about the cover of Rolling Stone.
  • Sean Graham: All of this Rolling Stone controversy is dumb. The only writing left to enjoy in RS is the politics and world affairs. Don’t take that away
  • Sean Graham: I didn’t realize the slogan was “Boston Strong except when it comes to magazine covers”….

Lewis Black: NY v TX

Lewis Black was hilarious on The Daily Show last night.

I think it's hilarious that #NYmiddlefingerTX already exists as a site.

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld

I just mainlined Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld. It's a web series of 15 min shorts of Seinfeld driving one of his many cars, picking up a comedian and getting coffee. Oh and they talk. It's not hilarious but it's entertaining.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Netflix Does

What Netflix Does "Netflix does not always respect the original aspect ratio of films." A Tumblr showing the original frame and the cropped frame from what I assume is Netflix streaming. I really don't have patience for cropping (though stretching a 4:3 image to fill a 16:9 screen is worse).

Update: Netflix Responds to Crop Controversy

‘Orange is the New Black’ is the best TV show about prison ever made

I've got it queued up but ‘Orange is the New Black’ is the best TV show about prison ever made makes me want to watch it immediately.

Bachmann Makes Shit Up Again was too kind titling this Bachmann Cries Wolf "Bachmann based her fantastical claim on another false premise, that Obama had done something similar in 2012 when he decided ‘anyone who was here as a Latina under age 30 … you get to vote.’ In reality, Obama announced in 2012 that he would not seek to deport those under 31 who were brought to the U.S. as children by immigrant parents. His action had nothing to do with voting rights — and none were given."

It's amazing to me that anyone takes her seriously.

Movie Trailer: 12 Years A Slave

I think this is the film I'm most looking forward to (it opens Christmas). It's directed by Steve McQueen (no not that one) who made Shame (and Hunger which I haven't seen yet). The cast is amazing: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, and Quvenzhané Wallis.

OpenCorporates | How complex are corporate structures?

OpenCorporates has a nice visualization showing "How complex are corporate structures?"

I'm not sure where jwz got this text from but...

These maps show the corporate networks of the top six banks in the USA. Each dot represents a company, and each line shows where a company controls another company. A "corporate network", therefore, is a network of control, with a single corporation at the top of the tree, ultimately controlling all the companies beneath it. We have grouped together companies that are in the same country, in the shape of that country. This gives you an idea of the size of the corporate network, and how it is structured. By comparing different corporate networks, you can see where and how different companies operate. If you want to understand how complex multinational companies are, consider this. In Hong Kong, there's a company called Goldman Sachs Structured Products (Asia) Limited. It's controlled by another company called Goldman Sachs (Asia) Finance, registered in Mauritius. That's controlled by a company in Hong Kong, which is controlled by a company in New York, which is controlled by a company in Delaware, and that company is controlled by another company in Delaware called GS Holdings (Delaware) L.L.C. II. ...Which itself is a subsidiary of the only Goldman you're likely to have heard of, The Goldman Sachs Group in New York City. That's only one of hundreds of such chains. All told, Goldman Sachs consists of more than 4000 separate corporate entities all over the world, some of which are around ten layers of control below the New York HQ. Of those companies approximately a third are registered in nations that might be described as tax havens.Indeed, in the world of Goldman Sachs, the Cayman Islands are bigger than South America, and Mauritius is bigger than Africa.

How Experts Think

How Experts Think "Advanced thinkers think in advance. The expert’s first impression is not a first impression at all. It is the latest in a series of millions. The more we learn from our experience and the experience of others — whether in chess, radiography, football or anything else — the more selective our attention will become, and the faster we will think."

Here’s why health insurance premiums are tumbling in New York

First I see a headline in the NYT like this Health Plan Cost for New Yorkers Set to Fall 50% then I go to WonkBlog for Here’s why health insurance premiums are tumbling in New York

"A headline about the health care law driving down premiums, by this level of magnitude, is a rarity. But it shouldn’t be shocking: New York has, for two decades now, had the highest individual market premiums in the country. A lot of it seems to trace back to a law passed in 1993, which required insurance plans to accept all applicants, regardless of how sick or healthy they were. That law did not, however, require everyone to sign up, as the Affordable Care Act does.

New York has, for 20 years now, been a long-running experiment in what happens to universal coverage without an individual mandate. It’s the type of law the country would have if House Republicans succeeded in delaying the individual mandate, as they will vote to do this afternoon. The result: a small insurance market with very high insurance premiums.

For years New York has had one of the most heavily regulated insurance markets in the country. The 1993 reforms not only required insurers to accept all customers; they also mandated that insurers charge everyone the exact same price. Young or old, healthy or sick, it doesn’t matter in New York: Everyone gets the same deal."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


So I haven't said much about the Zimmerman verdict because I don't think I have much new to say. I don't think there was enough evidence to convict him (beyond a reasonable doubt) for murder but I also think it's clear that his actions and history instigated the whole incident if not necessarily the shooting (we'll never know how the fight was going or who threw the first punch).

From Martin's point of view a creepy guy followed him, got out of his car and approached him, and it turns out was armed. What society teaches kids is to not talk to strangers, particularly ones like this. Whether Martin could have avoided Zimmerman or choose to confront him we'll never know.

From Zimmerman's point of view he shouldn't have been involved. He called the police which could be considered civic duty if he suspected something (in the previous year the development had eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting). But after getting the information the dispatcher told him to not follow Martin. It was Zimmerman's decision to get out of his car and look for Martin and while he said Martin approached him from behind, we'll never be able to confirm that.

Still there's no question that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin and that it seems to have been avoidable. It seems wrong that Zimmerman faces no punishment. I've always been dubious of a second murder trial under federal civil rights rules and that burden seems equally hard to prove here.

Still, Amanda Marcotte makes an interesting point, George Zimmerman Shouldn’t Have Had A Gun. "With Zimmerman’s history of violence, the fact that he had access to a gun and a right to concealed carry in the first place is beyond the pale...Here is some of Zimmerman’s past that has been covered up in the racist bloviating from wingnuts over this case:

In July 2005, he was arrested for “resisting officer with violence.” The neighborhood watch volunteer who wanted to be a cop got into a scuffle with cops who were questioning a friend for alleged underage drinking. The charges were reduced and then waived after he entered an alcohol education program. Then in August 2005, Zimmerman’s former fiance sought a restraining order against him because of domestic violence. Zimmerman sought a restraining order against her in return. Both were granted. Meanwhile, over the course of eight years, Zimmerman made at least 46 calls to the Sanford (Fla.) Police Department reporting suspicious activity involving black males.

Under common sense gun regulation, Zimmerman would have permanently lost his right to concealed carry when he assaulted a cop. If not then, then when the state granted a restraining order. (His retaliatory restraining order is further evidence of his paranoid mind set that should be taken into consideration when evaluating this case.) If a case is serious enough that the state can force you into an alcohol education program, then it should be serious enough to take your gun away from you. If, as the gun lobby claims, they are only protecting the rights of responsible gun owners, people who have a colorful history of irresponsibility should absolutely not have the right to own guns."

Of course, this is exaggerated too. I tried to find details of the "resisting officer with violence" arrest. I found, Zimmerman accused of domestic violence, fighting with a police officer. "In 2005, Zimmerman, then 20, was arrested and charged with “resisting officer with violence” and “battery of law enforcement officer,” both which are third-degree felonies. The charge was reduced to “resisting officer without violence” and then waived when he entered an alcohol education program. Contemporaneous accounts indicate he shoved an officer who was questioning a friend for alleged underage drinking at an Orange County bar."

I'm not sure that qualifies as something to take away his gun permit, or if it was taken away, if he probably should have been able to get it back some time after completing the program. It's the same with a lot in this case. The 46 calls Zimmerman made to report suspicious black people, not exactly: 46 Calls.

Can fracking cause bigger, more frequent earthquakes?

Can fracking cause bigger, more frequent earthquakes? "New reports show growing data on causal links between fluid injections and earthquakes."

So yes, fraking causes earthquakes and ever since Fukashima I wonder about the seismic assumptions of areas where we placed nuclear reactors and if those assumptions need to be changed.

At Sears, Eddie Lampert's Warring Divisions Model Adds to the Troubles

I'm not a Sears shopper but I hadn't heard about this before, At Sears, Eddie Lampert's Warring Divisions Model Adds to the Troubles.

"Plagued by the realities threatening many retail stores, Sears also faces a unique problem: Lampert. Many of its troubles can be traced to an organizational model the chairman implemented five years ago, an idea he has said will save the company. Lampert runs Sears like a hedge fund portfolio, with dozens of autonomous businesses competing for his attention and money. An outspoken advocate of free-market economics and fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, he created the model because he expected the invisible hand of the market to drive better results. If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.

Instead, the divisions turned against each other—and Sears and Kmart, the overarching brands, suffered. Interviews with more than 40 former executives, many of whom sat at the highest levels of the company, paint a picture of a business that’s ravaged by infighting as its divisions battle over fewer resources. (Many declined to go on the record for a variety of reasons, including fear of angering Lampert.) Shaunak Dave, a former executive who left in 2012 and is now at sports marketing agency Revolution, says the model created a “warring tribes” culture. “If you were in a different business unit, we were in two competing companies,” he says. “Cooperation and collaboration aren’t there.”"

Daily Show on Zimmerman Verdict

I'm really glad The Daily Show came back Monday after being on vacation two weeks, it was the perfect day and I needed them to help make sense (well deal with) the Zimmerman verdict. John Oliver proved he's up to the task of substituting for Jon Stewart.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The feds are finally cracking down on ratings agencies. What took so long?

The feds are finally cracking down on ratings agencies. What took so long?

"It’s worth taking a step back to understand why the ratings agencies occupy such a crucial place in the financial landscape. And the real action happened during the creation of the private-label securitization market in the early 1980s, and during Alan Greenspan’s efforts to let the financial sector self-regulate its capital ratios in the late 1990s."

"To put that a different way, libertarians often argue that restaurant health codes are unnecessary because a restaurant would never want to poison their customers. As we’ve seen with Wall Street’s behavior, not only did they poison their customers, they took out life insurance on their customers when they did get sick. Wall Street trying to void future reps and warranties is the equivalent of a restaurant that had poisoned its customers hanging a sign that said “if you get sick here, you won’t get a refund.”"

Antonin Scalia’s gay marriage mystery

Antonin Scalia’s gay marriage mystery "The alliances were unusual. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 decision, joined by Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer and Elena Kagan. The dissenters, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonya Sotomayor, thought the Court should decide the issue, though they surely would have split on the result.

So here’s the puzzle. Why did Scalia, who has angrily dissented from every gay rights victory in the Supreme Court, join Roberts’ decision without protest? And why are conservatives not screaming at him for doing that?

Scalia’s vote is the most mysterious of the nine. Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan are liberal justices who are probably friendly to same-sex marriage, though Ginsburg’s publicly expressed doubts about Roe v. Wade suggest that she may be reluctant to try to resolve that issue for the whole country. Roberts is a pro-business conservative whose views on gay rights are unknown. But why didn’t Scalia at least write a separate opinion, pointing out that the district court’s order was improperly broad?"

Werner Herzog And Errol Morris Discuss The Importance of THE ACT OF KILLING

Badass Digest presents Werner Herzog And Errol Morris Discuss The Importance of THE ACT OF KILLING, it's a 12 min video that's too big to embed here.

I saw The Act of Killing at IFFBoston. I'm still thinking about it. Constantly. It's one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. It's a documentary following people in Indonesia making a film about their experiences operating a death squad 40 years ago. Their side won, so they were never punished for their actions and don't even hide it. The whole society is experiencing PTSD or something. If it were fiction I'd never believe it. It's real and I don't understand it. It was riveting the whole two hours and each scene was more uncomfortable than the last.

It's not for everyone, but it's not (really) violent. At least it's not bloody, there isn't footage of the acts, just of people talking about them, and reenacting them with the makeup of a grade C horror film. There are also inexplicable water falls, dancing girls and a guy in drag, in a giant fish.

It opens in NY this weekend and in various US cities this summer. It plays in Boston at the Kendall August 2-8.

See it. I don't often feel this strongly about a film. It's probably the best documentary I've ever seen and one of the best movies. See it.

NASA Hubble Finds New Neptune Moon

NASA Hubble Finds New Neptune Moon | NASA

"The moon, designated S/2004 N 1, is estimated to be no more than 12 miles across, making it the smallest known moon in the Neptunian system. It is so small and dim that it is roughly 100 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye. It even escaped detection by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew past Neptune in 1989 and surveyed the planet's system of moons and rings.

Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., found the moon July 1, while studying the faint arcs, or segments of rings, around Neptune. 'The moons and arcs orbit very quickly, so we had to devise a way to follow their motion in order to bring out the details of the system,' he said. 'It's the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete -- the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.'

The method involved tracking the movement of a white dot that appears over and over again in more than 150 archival Neptune photographs taken by Hubble from 2004 to 2009."

FYI, Neptune's moons are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology.

Ice Sheets Melting at Rate of 300 Billion Tonnes a Year

The Independent reports Massive ice sheets melting 'at rate of 300bn tonnes a year', climate satellite shows. It's your average science reporting saying that scientists say it's far to early to draw conclusions from the data and it will take years more study to know. But it included these two paragraphs with some details I didn't know.

"The melting of the world’s two great ice sheets is one of the greatest unknowns in climate-change science. Together, the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain about 99.5 per cent of the Earth’s glacier ice, which could increase average sea levels by 63 metres if they were ever to melt completely – an event that would in any case take many centuries."

"An estimate published earlier this year suggested that the ice sheets together, combined with mountain glaciers, could contribute anywhere between 3.5cm and 36.8cm to average sea levels by the year 2100, which would be in addition to the smaller sea-level rise due to the thermal expansion of the warmer oceans."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

This American Life: Best episodes in honor of Episode 500.

This American Life: Best episodes in honor of Episode 500. (AUDIO) "But if you have never given the series a try, you have missed out on a lot of great storytelling. So, in advance of Episode 500, which airs this weekend, here are the 10 installments you should listen to first if you’re tempted to dive in."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Our Solar System Has a Tail

Elizabeth Warren and John McCain want Glass-Steagall back. Should you?

Dylan Matthews writes in WonkBlogElizabeth Warren and John McCain want Glass-Steagall back. Should you?.

"So it really matters what problem Warren-McCain is meant to solve. If its intent is to break up the big banks, then there’s a question of whether or not we should just cap the size of them, rather than dictating what kind of banking the now-smaller banks can and can’t engage in. If the intent is to split up investment and commercial banking, regardless of scale, then it’s worth considering whether the privacy and other benefits of that are outweighed by the diversification advantages of merging different kinds of financial businesses.

Those are difficult, technical questions. There are sound arguments to be made that the breaking up the big banks wouldn’t do all that much, or that its effects would actually be harmful; Canada, after all, had a very mild crisis despite having a very concentrated banking sector. Many of the companies that proved most fragile in the 2008 financial crisis were not mergers of commercial banking and investment banking: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were pure securities firms, and AIG was an insurance company. .And maybe, as Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and David Vitter (R-La.) have proposed, setting higher capital requirements is better than enforcing size restrictions."

From what I know it's true that the repeal of Glass Steagall didn't contribute all that much directly to the crash. It did makes banks bigger and did add to the greed and risk taking on Wall Street, but it also allowed stronger banks to buy weaker banks when things went bad. No one else could cover the loses. But I think it makes absolute sense that we shouldn't be offering public insurance (FDIC) or subsides (Fed loans) to firms that do high risk financial business (what used to be called investment banks).

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Drain the Oceans

In Drain the Oceans What If answers "How quickly would the ocean's drain if a circular portal 10 meters in radius leading into space was created at the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean? How would the Earth change as the water is being drained?"

Reflections on "standing"

Sandy Levinson writes Why isn't declining a grant of certiorari sufficient as a "passive virtue": Reflections on "standing" "The Court has managed to liberate itself from almost all mandatory jurisdiction; almost all of their docket is the result of entirely discretionary grants of certiorari.  If they want to duck hard issues, they simply say 'no thank you,' as they've done consistently, say, with the 'state secrets' cases or other cases involving the use of torture by the United States, sometimes as the result of 'rendition' to friendly countries.    So, once the Court is liberated, why bother to maintain what appears to all  many of us, independent of our disagreements on a host of issues, to be an incoherent, basically intellectually corrupt set of cases.  This term alone there were Clapper (no standing of journalists who were clearly 'chilled' by fear of NSA surveillance to challenge an aspect of the national surveillance state); Fisher (standing on the part of someone who had already graduated from LSU who had no conceivable remedy for her injury, assuming one thinks she suffered one, beyond return of her admissions fee, which the University, by all accounts, was willing to give her);  Windsor (standing, even though the Obama Administration in fact was not challenging the rulings below that ruled DOMA unconstitutional), Perry (no standing. even though California Supreme Court ruled that an important way of maintaining the integrity of the initiative-and-referendum system was allowing organizations that successfully prevailed to defend their position against recalcitrant state officials resisting it).  I doubt that anyone disagrees that clever justices and the oh-so-clever clerks could easily have written opinions demonstrating standing in Clapper and Perry and rejecting it in Windsor and Fisher if that’s what the justices wanted to do.  Why continue to going through this charade whose consequence is simply to feed the already fairly widespread contempt of court? "

Of the opinions I've read recently a lot of time is spent on standing, it's a big issue for Roberts and it always strikes me as fairly ridiculous. It is easy to see how both sides of the standing argument can be made for a case, so why bother at all, just decide the case.

Could the Supreme Court stop the NSA?

Could the Supreme Court stop the NSA? "Every few months, the Obama administration asks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon (and, presumably, other phone companies) to continue turning phone calling records over to the National Security Agency. Under the rules of the FISC, Verizon’s customers—the people whose private information is being disclosed—are not allowed to challenge the orders.

But the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group, has a plan to challenge the spying program: Ask the Supreme Court to step in. Ordinarily, it takes years of litigation in lower courts before an issue can reach the nation’s highest court. But EPIC has gone straight to the top, arguing in a Monday filing that the unusual structure of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court gives victims of the NSA’s program no other choice."

S&P Admits in Court That Its Ratings Are Ridiculous and No One Should Ever Take Them Seriously

Kevin Drum points out S&P Admits in Court That Its Ratings Are Ridiculous and No One Should Ever Take Them Seriously "It's true that courts have long allowed sellers to engage in what's called 'puffery.' If McDonald's says they make the world's best hamburgers, that's OK. It may be a ridiculous claim, but what do you expect them to say? 'Our burgers are pretty good if nothing else is available'? Basically, you're allowed to make vague claims about your greatness without inviting lawsuits from folks who don't like your burgers.

So when S&P says they use 'market leading software,' they're probably on firm ground. That's standard puffery. Unfortunately, 'transparent,' 'independent,' and 'objective' are a little trickier. Those words have actual meaning, and there's only so far you're allowed to stretch them. When your bond ratings are secretly based on the fact that bond issuers are paying you heaps of money for inflated scores, your claims of mere puffery are a lot less likely to succeed."


I went to the supermarket today and while checking out I got my total and said to the cashier "it adds up quickly". She nodded and said "hyperinflation, everything's going up." Having just last night commented on a friend's Facebook post about a flat tax, I couldn't let this go. I said "Actually inflation is low, that's the problem with a recession". She looked puzzled and said "prices are going up". I said maybe in this store, and that's why they stopped their loyalty card program (she nodded at that too), but overall in the economy inflation is low."

So I had to look. Here I tried using FRED to get a graph going back 10 years. My problem with FRED is that as an economics layman it's always hard to find the right series for the concept I want. I typed in "inflation and got back a bunch of CPI variants, which I've heard of. I looked at a recent Krugman op-ed, Not Enough Inflation and he pointed me at PCE, "And, at this point, inflation — at barely above 1 percent by the Fed’s favored measure — is dangerously low." So I included PCE in the graph. I also know that both of these have two versions, one that includes everything and one that excludes food and energy prices. The rationale is these two items fluctuate in price a lot (due to oil spills, droughts, bees dying off, wars in the middle east, etc.), so it's easy to get false readings on short terms. I graphed CPI in blue and PCE in red and put the excluding food and energy versions in solid and bold and the all item variants in dotted lines. You can see the fluctuations but the means come through.

What about food prices? In one of many posts, Krugman recently included graphs of the price of a gallon of milk and a loaf white bread over ten years. Milk went from $2.70 to $3.45 and bread from $1.05 to $1.40. That is a 10 year increase of 28% and 33% respectively.

So yeah, inflation is at about 1%. Horrors! So what's hyperinflation and are we anywhere close to it? Graeme Wood wrote in The Atlantic My Hyperinflation Vacation. He went to Kish an Iranian resort on the Persian Gulf on vacation because by using a hard currency like the UAE's dirhams he could enjoy a luxury vacation on the cheap. He begins with a good description of what hyperinflation is.

"Economists’ name for truly berserk runaway inflation is hyperinflation. America’s most nightmarish bout of inflation—in recent memory, at least—came and went at the end of the Carter administration, when prices rose by about 14 percent in 1980, the peak year. Hyperinflation, by contrast, is beyond nightmarish: a rise in prices of at least 50 percent a month, according to the generally accepted definition. Thankfully, it is rare. Steve Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, has documented 56 instances since 1795, ranging from a comparatively benign monthlong burst in Taiwan in 1947 (prices rose by a little more than half in that month, then the increase slowed), to a truly surreal year in Hungary in 1945–46, when at one point prices doubled every 15 hours. In Slobodan Milošević’s Yugoslavia in 1994, hyperinflation stopped only when the presses at the national mint, in Topčider, overheated to their breaking point.

The most famous recent case of sustained hyperinflation is Zimbabwe in 2007–08, when prices, at the peak, doubled every 24 hours. ‘It was the only case where the inflation completely ran its course, and the government just printed money until people just no longer used it,’ says William Masters, an economist at Tufts University. Eventually, after the inflation rate reached 80,000,000,000 percent a month, folks simply stopped showing up at the central bank to pick up Zimbabwean dollars, and the U.S. dollar and South African rand spontaneously became the country’s primary currencies."

Matthew O'Brien also in The Atlantic explains, The Hyperinflation Hype: Why the U.S. Can Never Be Weimar. "U.S. government finances might look Zimbabwe-esque, but a look back at some of history's worst hyperinflation episodes show why goldbugs' fears are completely unfounded now."

So hyperinflation is a completely different thing.

Watertown, Mass., police who stopped Boston Marathon bombers from attacking NYC

Watertown, Mass., police who stopped Boston Marathon bombers from attacking NYC "In an exclusive interview, the heroes of the 68-officer Watertown Mass. Police Department sat down with The Post to describe, blow-by-harrowing blow, their takedown of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev."

I just don't know why they gave the exclusive to the NY Post.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Knowing When to Take off the Robe: Who Should Decide?

The Monkey Cage writes Knowing When to Take off the Robe: Who Should Decide?

"The broader point is that the whims of one unaccountable person, whatever their age, abilities or ideology should NOT matter so much in a democracy. Term limits for the Supreme Court would address the much discussed possibility of strategic retirement, in which a Justice chooses to leave the bench at a time when there is a President likely to appoint a replacement with similar views, reduce the variation in the number of appointments each President gets, reduce the likelihood of Justices serving into their dotage and keep the Court from becoming too out of touch with society. This is an issue that Monkey Cagers have addressed in the past, without reaching consensus, but it is again timely.

Such a reform could be structured in various ways, but if, for example, Justices knew that if they retired during the term of a President with similar views he or she would only be able to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of their term, their incentive to retire strategically would disappear. At the same time the term limit would keep Justices from staying on the Court beyond the time when they could serve effectively, as Justice Thurgood Marshall and others did, in hopes of waiting out a Chief Executive they disliked."

"A mandatory retirement age would be an improvement on the status quo, but would still encourage Presidents to nominate young Justices, to maximize their long-term impact ,e.g. Clarence Thomas. An 18 year term would greatly reduce that incentive. Our system is backward. We limit the terms of the elected President, but not those of the unelected Judges."

World’s first floating nuclear power plant to begin operating in Russia in 2016

World’s first floating nuclear power plant to begin operating in Russia in 2016

"In three years, Russia will have the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, capable of providing energy and heat to hard-to-get areas as well as drinking water to arid regions.

The unique vessel should be operational by 2016, the general director of Russia’s biggest shipbuilders, the Baltic Plant, Aleksandr Voznesensky told reporters at the 6th International Naval Show in St. Petersburg.

The Akademik Lomonosov is to become the spearhead of a series of floating nuclear power plants, which Russia plans to put into mass-production.

The floating power-generating unit, aimed at providing energy to large industrial enterprises, port cities and offshore gas and oil-extracting platforms, was designed on the basis of nuclear reactors which are equipped on the icebreakers ships. The technology has proved itself for over 50 years of successful operation in extreme Arctic conditions.   "

"Like every atomic station the floating power plant is designed with a safety margin, exceeding any possible threats, which makes the reactors invulnerable to tsunami waves or crashes with other ships or on-land structures."

I'm not sure how it's tsunami safe. Sure it could just avoid those areas, but otherwise if it was near shore, it would get washed up just like any other debris. There probably isn't enough warning time to tow it out of the area. I would expect the reactor would have a lot of shielding to maybe the plan is to protect it in such an event, but I'd think a permanent land-based building would be capable of having better shielding.

Freight Train Derails and Explodes in Lac-Megantic, Quebec

In Focus on the Freight Train Derailment and Explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec "Early Saturday, a locomotive pulling a 72-car freight train full of crude oil from North Dakota was parked for the night 11 km west of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the engineer checking into a nearby hotel. Sometime shortly after, the unattended train began to roll away, toward Lac-Megantic -- investigators are still looking for the cause. The crude oil cars, rolling downhill, broke free of the locomotives and picked up speed, derailing at a curve in the center of Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of about 6,000 people. Six massive explosions followed, sending up huge fireballs and setting dozens of buildings ablaze. Thousands were evacuated, and so far, five deaths have been confirmed. Authorities worry the toll will climb much higher, as more than 40 residents are still listed as missing. [25 photos]"

S m11 RTX11F4A 500

Watch the Simpsons’ amazing Game of Thrones intro

I think I missed this, Watch the Simpsons’ amazing Game of Thrones intro "Tonight's [March 4th, 2012] episode of The Simpsons opens with a couch gag that warms our fantasy-loving hearts. Watch as Springfield is transformed into Westeros, with King Burns overlooking his nuclear-powered domain — and eying the Iron Couch. It's not the real thing, but it will have to hold us until April. Hat tip to Ross for the heads up!"

I'd embed the video here but it wasn't obvious how to an the versions I saw on YouTube suck.

Who Would Win? Star Trek vs. The Empire

Now this is how to have an geeky sci-fi argument, Who Would Win? Star Trek vs. The Empire.

Yesterday was 10 year Anniversary of Opportunity Rover

Opportunity rover marks Magic Moment on 10th Year since Launch with Mountain Goal in View

"Today, NASA’s Opportunity rover marks a magical moment celebrating 10 years since launching to Mars on July 7, 2003 and with her impending Mountain destination filling the camera’s eye view. The now legendary robot has vastly exceeded everyone’s expectations. Back in 2003 the science team promised us a mere 90 day ‘warranty’ following the suspenseful airbag landing on Jan. 24, 2004 at Meridiani Planum."

"As you read this, the now decade old rover Opportunity is blazing a trail toward’s the oldest geological deposits she has ever explored – at a place called Solander Point, a raised ridge along the eroded rim of huge Endeavour Crater."

New FBI pick condoned waterboarding, indefinite detention

New FBI pick condoned waterboarding, indefinite detention "An Inspector General’s report recently reviewed by The Guardian shows that even with warrantless surveillance, legal changes to the basis for secret bulk Internet metadata collection by the National Security Agency were enough to satisfy Comey, who stayed on as a Justice Department official for almost a year as the program continued as an exercise of unilateral power by the president."

"Democrats harshly criticized the Bush administration over torture, indefinite detention of American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, and warrantless surveillance. Whatever his differences with the Bush White House, Comey ultimately signed on to all three."

Bonus from the ACLU: The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11

The secret surveillance court is making secret surveillance laws

Wonkbook: The secret surveillance court is making secret surveillance laws

"But here’s the thing: When judges make the laws, Congress can always go back and remake the laws. The changes the court makes are public, and so is their reasoning. Both the voters and Congress know what the court has done, and can choose to revisit it. Well, usually.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) that governs the national surveillance state is also remaking the law. But it’s remaking the law in secret. The public has no opportunity to weigh in, and Congress can’t really make changes, because few know what the court is deciding, and almost no one can discuss the decisions without endangering themselves."

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Douglas Engelbart, Developer of the Early Computer Mouse, Dead at 88

Douglas Engelbart, Developer of the Early Computer Mouse, Dead at 88

"Douglas Engelbart, an internet pioneer and developer of the early computer mouse, passed away early this morning at the age of 88. Engelbart was involved in the development of the ARPANET—the precursor to the modern internet—and showed off hypertext long before most people had interacted with a computer, let alone touched a networked computer. On December 9, 1968 Douglas Engelbart's 'Mother of All Demos' from Menlo Park, California showcased what was considered incredibly futuristic technology for the time, including his mouse. You can watch the demo on YouTube."

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Obamacare’s employer mandate shouldn’t be delayed. It should be repealed.

I was surprised to see Ezra Klein write Obamacare’s employer mandate shouldn’t be delayed. It should be repealed. He's not talking about the individual mandate, but the employer one.

"The Affordable Care Act includes a provision penalizing employers with more than 50 full-time workers who either don’t offer health insurance or whose employees who can’t afford insurance without taxpayer help. Those penalties begin in 2014."

"By tying the penalties to how many full-time workers an employer has, and how many of them qualify for subsidies, the mandate gives employers a reason to have fewer full-time workers, and fewer low-income workers. There are other kinds of mandates that don’t fall afoul of the same problems. “The employer mandate in the House bill was much better constructed from a policy point of view,” says Topher Spiro, director of health-care policy at the Center for American Progress. ”It was based on the percentage of payroll you spent on health care rather than on how many workers you had, so there’s not this weird disincentive related to part-time workers. But it didn’t have the political support to pass.”"

He does include these useful stats. There are 5.7 million businesses in the US, only 210,000 have more than 50 employees, that's 3.7% and 95% of them offer health insurance already. So about 10,000 businesses and at least half a million employees are affected by the mandate.

To address some of the problems (including complex reporting) Obama directed the IRS to delay implementing the penalty one year (to 2015). The law still says 2014, but the IRS just won't enforce it, which is weird.

"Be that as it may, the regulatory solution reflects the fact that the legislative process around the health-care law is completely broken. Republicans won’t pass any legislation that makes the law work better. Improving the law, they fear, will weaken the arguments for repeal. But Democrats, of course, won’t permit repeal. So Congress is at a standstill, with no viable process for reforming or repairing the Affordable Care Act as problems arise. And so the White House is acting on its own."

The Secret to Cutting Government Waste: Savings by a Thousand Cuts

Eric Schnurer writes in the Atlantic, The Secret to Cutting Government Waste: Savings by a Thousand Cuts "Let me give a few favorite examples: By unscrewing the tiny light bulb behind the big plastic display that covers almost the entire front of most soda machines -- which serves no purpose but to make the can of Coke look more delicious -- Texas saved about $200,000 a year in energy costs. (There are a lot of soda machines on state property!) Colorado used three different entities to deliver mail on the state office campus, including two government agencies and a private firm (proving that privatization alone isn't always the answer). You could literally stand outside the capitol and photograph three mail trucks following each other around from building to building. And West Virginia had never properly calibrated the salt-spreaders on its snowplows, so that whenever it snowed it was dumping far more salt on the highways than needed. Simply adjusting these devices saved the state about $3 million a year. None of these make a significant dent in structural deficits -- but put together 100 small changes like that and, as the saying goes, pretty soon you're talking real money. It's hard for anyone to be against that (well, except salt companies)."

The above is just the hook, the rest is a pretty good read.

Dishonor in High Places: Sandbagging the Intelligence Chief—Again

Joel Brenner writes Dishonor in High Places: Sandbagging the Intelligence Chief—Again "Wyden is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and had long known about the court-approved metadata program that has since become public knowledge. He knew Clapper’s answer was incorrect. But Wyden, like Clapper, was also under an oath not to divulge the story. In posing this question, he knew Clapper would have to breach his oath of secrecy, lie, prevaricate, or decline to reply except in executive session—a tactic that would implicitly have divulged the secret. The committee chairman, Senator Diane Feinstein, may have known what Wyden had in mind. In opening the hearing she reminded senators it would be followed by a closed session and said,  ‘I’ll ask that members refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.’ Not dissuaded, Wyden sandbagged he director.

This was a vicious tactic, regardless of what you think of the later Snowden disclosures. Wyden learned nothing, the public learned nothing, and an honest and unusually forthright public servant has had his credibility trashed. Unfortunately the tactic has a pedigree, but for that, we’ve got to wind the clock back forty years."

Interesting take and some history I didn't know. There's definitely something wrong when a Congressional witness is under a catch-22 and can't answer without breaking an oath.

"The Senate intelligence committee has nineteen members. Only one other member shared his view. The house intelligence committee has twenty-three members. None of them appeared to share his view." I'm not sure this is really true. Did all the members know? I know that during the Bush years some classified information was shared with only the leadership of the committee which put them in the position of knowing but being able to do nothing since they couldn't divulge the classified information to the rest of the committee. I don't know if that's the case here or not.

Brenner's two options for Wyden are interesting. Proposing a bill limiting the NSA is a good idea (anyway) but I agree it will probably go nowhere. Releasing the information as an act of civil disobedience is interesting too. I had forgotten about the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause. It's true that Congress members can't be arrested or even questioned about stuff they bring up on the floor, though Brenner doesn't mention the beginning of the clause "They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace" and I've certainly heard the term treason brought up in connection with Edward Snowden. I'd suspect that Wyden's experience would probably be different than Mike Gravel's with the Pentagon Papers.

Russian rocket failure: Proton M rocket explodes after takeoff.

Russian rocket failure: Proton M rocket explodes after takeoff. "Early this morning local time, at 02:38 UTC on July 2, 2013, an uncrewed Russian Proton M rocket crashed and exploded just seconds after takeoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a spaceport in Kazakhstan."

"The rocket was carrying three navigation satellites called GLONASS, similar to GPS satellites. These were upgrades to the currently operating fleet of satellites that have been in place for a few years now."

How are sequester predictions faring?

How are sequester predictions faring? "While the sequester's budget cuts have brought real hardship to many people, they have not triggered widespread breakdowns in crucial services. The Washington Post recently surveyed 48 of the administration’s predictions across 14 federal agencies about the cuts' dire consequences. Previously, we analyzed the sequesters's effects on the federal workforce and public services."