Sunday, November 30, 2014

More problems for bees: we’ve wiped out their favorite plants

Ars Technica reports on More problems for bees: we’ve wiped out their favorite plants.

"The scientists concluded that loss of preferred host plants is one of the main factors responsible for wild bee decline, along with body size (bigger bees need more food and are more sensitive to its loss). The variety of the bees' diet did not play nearly as large a role. The researchers played with a variant on the chicken-and-egg idea; just because bees and their favorite flowers declined in tandem the loss of the flowers did not necessarily cause the loss of the bees, as the flowers rely on the bees for pollination. So perhaps the loss of bees caused a subsequent decline in the flowers. But circumstantial evidence—the fact that these plants can be pollinated by a number of different insects, and plants pollinated by water and wind have also decreased dramatically due to agriculture—suggests that the loss of the flowers led to a loss of the bees."

The Fegusson Discision

Ezra Klein says Officer Darren Wilson's story is unbelievable. Literally. "I mean that in the literal sense of the term: 'difficult or impossible to believe.' But I want to be clear here. I'm not saying Wilson is lying. I'm not saying his testimony is false. I am saying that the events, as he describes them, are simply bizarre. His story is difficult to believe."

So Brown is punching inside the car. Wilson is scrambling to deflect the blows, to protect his face, to regain control of the situation. And then Brown stops, turns to his left, says to his friend, "Here, hold these," and hands him the cigarillos stolen from Ferguson Market. Then he turns back to Wilson and, with his left hand now freed from holding the contraband goods, throws a haymaker at Wilson.

Every bullshit detector in me went off when I read that passage. Which doesn't mean that it didn't happen exactly the way Wilson describes. But it is, again, hard to imagine. Brown, an 18-year-old kid holding stolen goods, decides to attack a cop and, while attacking him, stops, hands his stolen goods to his friend, and then returns to the beatdown. It reads less like something a human would do and more like a moment meant to connect Brown to the robbery.

Later Klein wrote about What Dorian Johnson Saw.

While the officer is grabbing ahold of Big Mike, he kind loses grip around his neck, that's how I knew he had a good grip. He never fully let Big Mike go, now he has a good grasp on his shirt. So now Big Mike's able to turn different angles while he is trying to pull away. And at a point he turned, now we are face-to-face, and he put his hands like, grab these, Bro. And in shock, I'm so not unconsciously, my hands open to where he could put the rillos in my hand.

So Johnson and Wilson agree: there is a moment when Brown turns to Johnson and hands over the stolen cigarillos. But Wilson tells it as Brown freeing his hands to more effectively pummel Wilson, and Johnson tells it as Brown freeing his hands to better escape Wilson.

He ends with, "Indeed, we might never get to the truth of what happened in those two minutes on August. But the point of a trial would have been to get us closer. We would have found out if everything we thought we knew about Brown was wrong, or if Wilson's story was flawed in important ways, or if key witnesses completely broke under pressure. We would have heard real cross-examination. We would have seen the strongest case that could be mounted by both the prosecution and the defense. But now we're not going to get that chance. We're just left with these Rashomon-like testimonies, a dead 18-year-old, and a shattered family."

The Atlantic shows The Photos of Darren Wilson's Injury. "I felt another one of those punches in my face would knock me out or worse. I mean, it was, he's obviously bigger than I was, and stronger, and the—I've already taken two to the face, and I don't think I would—the third one could be fatal if he hit me right."


Dara Lind at Vox says Prosecutors grossly mishandled the Darren Wilson investigation "The fundamental problem with the Wilson grand jury investigation was that jurors were given far more evidence than is typical and asked to do far more with it. That makes it easy for the prosecutor's office to deflect accusations of misconduct: they were just giving the grand jury all the facts. And while a good grand jury investigation could have given grand jurors all the facts, it wouldn't have done it in the way St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch's team did." Later she wrote a nice summary, Darren Wilson's grand jury: too much evidence, too little supervision.

A prominent legal expert eviscerates the Darren Wilson prosecution, in 8 tweets . Eviscerates is a bit much, but she makes good points like "Key to cross-exam would be requiring Wilson to explain how Brown's allegedly taking one step toward Wilson is "charging" him."

Eric Citron writes in SCOTUSblog, this was Not your typical grand jury investigation. "What’s missing from this discussion – and the rest of the coverage I’ve seen – is that this grand jury result may have been different from almost any other because the process was unlike almost any other. And that’s because of a contentious Supreme Court decision from two decades ago."

"The question in United States v. Williams was whether it is prosecutorial misconduct, requiring the dismissal of an indictment, for the prosecutor to withhold from the grand jury “substantial exculpatory evidence” in his possession that might lead the grand jury to reject the indictment. The Supreme Court said no. Justice Scalia, joined by four other Justices, held that the Constitution does not require exculpatory evidence to be disclosed, even when it is directly contrary to the prosecutor’s theory of guilt. That is partly because the grand jury’s role is not to determine guilt or innocence, but rather to decide whether there is enough evidence of a crime that a conviction is possible."

"What does this mean? It means that when a prosecutor really wants an indictment, you would not expect the grand jury process to look anything like what happened in Darren Wilson’s case. The prosecutor would have no obligation to put forward the conflicting eyewitness testimony, or introduce pictures of Officer Wilson’s injuries – although grand jury members could ask for them if they somehow knew they existed. Instead, the prosecutor could put forward only the first few witnesses corroborating his own theory, along with the evidence that Wilson fired ten shots from a substantial distance away."

Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West say Prosecutors in Ferguson violated our right to an open criminal justice system. "This right of open trials belongs not just to the accused but to all of us. It is, the Supreme Court said in the 1986 case Press Enterprise v. Superior Court, “a shared right of the accused and the public, the common concern being the assurance of fairness.” And while those accused of crimes have a constitutional right to a “speedy and open trial,” they do not, the court has said, have a right to a private trial."

My sense is that there should have been an indictment. There's clearly enough inconsistencies to give probable cause (a very low standard) and warrant a trial. My guess is the trial would probably find Wilson innocent as there probably isn't enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt (a higher standard). The prosecutor probably didn't want to indict a cop which I'm guessing in many cases could be a career limiting move. I also would like to see more cameras on police cars and officers to provide more evidence in future cases.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Everyday Things You Didn't Know Were Invented By NASA

io9 lists Everyday Things You Didn't Know Were Invented By NASA.

  • Cordless battery-powered tools
  • Space Blanket (really? you didn't know these came from NASA?)
  • Scratch-resistant lenses
  • Improved radial tires
  • Memory foam mattresses
  • Smoke detectors
  • Shock absorbing sneakers

and some more. Just another lesson in "you don't always know what you'll get when you fund science".

Human Spaceflight (everything is to scale)

Posted to Reddit, an infographic showing all (actual) space vehicles to scale.

AvaxgyZ 1

Friday, November 21, 2014

82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea

Libby Nelson in Vox says 82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea. She says using public money to make loans more affordable will just mean more money to schools which are already charging too much. She'd rather the public money be spend better, such as on Pell grants which go to needier students or on incentives to states to spend their money on public colleges. These kind of trade offs sound good to me, but they're also the area of economics I never do well in.

Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics

Kevin Drum thinks Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics. He makes some good points.

Republican leaders are not only fearful of next year's primaries branding the GOP forever as a bunch of xenophobic maniacs, they're afraid it's going to wipe out any chance they have over the next two years of demonstrating to voters that they're a party of adults. Here's the LA Times:

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president's healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they've tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don't want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it's quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it's likely to turn next year's primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand. And that's not even counting the energizing effect this has on Democrats, as well as the benefit they get from keeping a promise to Hispanics and earning their loyalty for the next few election cycles.

He thinks the downside is minimal because GOP leaders weren't going to work with Obama on anything significant (including appointments) and for anything they were willing to work on, Democrats don't want anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong. I don't view it as a failure, this was supposed to be an experiment, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference this time around. I found this to be an informative discussion...

"It was supposed to be the super PAC to end all super PACs. The brainchild of Harvard professor Larry Lessig, Mayday PAC aimed to get money out of politics by wielding it against candidates who didn't support campaign finance reform. After amassing $10 million in a matter of weeks, Mayday started pouring it into congressional races around the country.

But the ambitious plot didn't pan out. Rather than send a wave of pro-reform politicians to Congress, Mayday was rewarded with mostly defeats. Now it's back to the drawing board. Two weeks out from Election Day, Mayday ally Ben Wikler explains what went wrong (and what went right). Wikler, a staffer at and a friend of Lessig's who helped Mayday gain steam on his left-leaning podcast, 'The Good Fight,' sat down with me Wednesday at Fusion's Washington conference for social change."

Update: See also, The Learned Helplessness of the American Voter.

RIP Mike Nichols

I believe I've seen all of his films but two: What Planet Are You From? (2000) and The Fortune(1975).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Cosby Show

Ta-Nehisi Coates' first big article was on Bill Cosby. Now The Atlantic he writes The Cosby Show, "I don't have many writing regrets. But this is one of them. I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away."

"Lacking physical evidence, adjudicating rape accusations is a murky business for journalists. But believing Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person's word over another—it requires you take one person's word over 15 others.

At the time I wrote the piece, it was 13 peoples’ word—and I believed them. Put differently, I believed that Bill Cosby was a rapist.

Rape constitutes the loss of your body, which is all you are, to someone else. I have never been raped. But I have, several times as a child, been punched/stomped/kicked/bumrushed while walking home from school, and thus lost my body. The worst part for me was not the experience, but the humiliation of being unable to protect my body, which is all I am, from predators. Even now as I sketch this out for you publicly, I am humiliated all again. And this happened when I was a child. If recounting a physical assault causes me humiliation, how might recounting a sexual assault feel? And what would cause me to willingly stand up and relive that humiliation before a national audience? And why would I fake my way through such a thing? Cosby's accusers—who have no hope of criminal charges, nor civil damages—are courting the scrutiny of Cosby-lovers and rape-deniers. To what end?

The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn't just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history."

Kickstarter: Lunar Mission One

I find this remarkable. LUNAR MISSION ONE: A new lunar mission for everyone. by Lunar Missions Ltd — Kickstarter "Now is your chance to participate in this global project from the start, by pledging a donation at this early stage and helping us to move the project into the next phase of development."

Seriously. They're trying to fund a 10 year robotic mission to the moon, ON KICKSTARTER! For only $940,000! And they're already a third of the way there. Amazing.

Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow Talk Buckaroo Banzai

"The Film Society's new bi-monthly series curated and hosted by award-winning filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) returns for a special NYFF edition with writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W. D. Richter's gonzo, Pynchon-esque cult favorite, starring the incomparable Peter Weller as Japanese-American particle physicist, neurosurgeon and all-around renaissance man Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. Fighting to save planet Earth from an invasion of interstellar aliens—unleashed from another dimension by the insane Dr. Emilio Lazardo (John Lithgow) and now posing as defense contractors—Banzai joins forces with a volunteer army and his wife's suicidal twin sister (Ellen Barkin), and the outlandish merriment begins. Just remember: no matter where you go, there you are. In person: Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow."

I'm going to have to rewatch it tonight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site

Freedom to Tinker describes Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site. Sounds like a great idea.

First Flight with the Wright Brothers

Last August In Focus covered the First Flight with the Wright Brothers "Yesterday was National Aviation Day, a holiday established by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate developments in aviation. The date selected was the birth date of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who, along with his older brother Wilbur, is credited with inventing and building the world's first practical fixed-wing aircraft and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight more than a hundred years ago. The Wright brothers documented much of their early progress in photographs made on glass negatives. Today, the Library of Congress holds many of these historic images, some of which are presented below. [18 photos]"

Wright 1

The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision

Last May, Professor Marci A. Hamilton wrote about The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision "When the Supreme Court releases a decision like the one it issued this week in Town of Greece v. Galloway, it is tempting to assume this area of the law is a mess. In fact, the doctrine is more solid than it first appears, even if its application is fact-intensive."

Terrorism in Sinai

The Middle East Institute created a Special Feature: Terrorism in Sinai "The recent escalation of terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has received widespread international attention, but is not a new phenomenon. MEI’s History of Terrorism in Sinai, which includes an interactive timeline and map, follows terrorist activity - by location, method, target, and associated group - in this geopolitical hotspot over the last decade.  Because of the nature of the security crisis in Sinai, this is not a comprehensive record, but a curated account of the most relevant attacks and events that have been reported to date."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Terraform: A New Home for Future Fiction

Vice's Motherboard has a new site publishing short science fiction. Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction.

"Meet Terraform: a new section of Motherboard, where we'll be publishing original speculative fiction every week. You'll find established voices here—the kinds of writers whose imaginations have already made a dent on the world—as well as emerging talents, bright new brains we love and can't wait to share. 

The aim is for Terraform to seize upon and play off of the zeitgeist; if drones are the news this week, we'll try to run our best piece on autonomous machines. If it's climate change that's making waves, perhaps we'll have fiction that takes place in the not-too-distant sweltering future. "

New York City unveils the pay phone of the future

The Washington Post reports New York City unveils the pay phone of the future—and it does a whole lot more than make phone calls "The city announced Monday that it had selected a consortium of advertising, technology and telecom companies to deploy throughout the city thousands of modern-day pay phones that will offer 24-hour, free gigabit WiFi connections, free calls to anywhere in the U.S., touch-screen displays with direct access to city services, maps and directions for tourists, and charging stations (for the cellphones you'd rather use). The devices will also be capable of connecting people straight to emergency responders, and broadcasting alerts from the city during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy."

The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

The Atlantic reports on The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

"The world is running out of chocolate. In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. And now, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut—two of the world's biggest manufacturers of chocolate goods—are warning that by 2020, that consumption-over-production number could increase to 1 million metric tons (a fourteen-fold bump)."

"So why can't the world's chocolate supply keep up with its chocolate demand? Part of the problem—besides the combination of drought and disease mentioned above—involves the cacao plants themselves. Chocolate trees take an exceptionally long time to yield fruit. That doesn't just make for slow production; it also means that genetically selecting for high-performance plants can be a challenge. 'A corn breeder,' Bloomberg points out, 'can raise three new generations of corn in a single year—three opportunities to select for desirable traits. A new cacao seedling, by comparison, won’t produce fruit for two years at the earliest, and it takes 10 years to reveal traits worth perpetuating.'"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Law in the Raw

Linda Greenhouse is not happy about the Supreme Court's latest Obamacare case, Law in the Raw "So this case is rich in almost every possible dimension. Its arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

Vox reports The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

"The US pledge: As part of the bargain, the US government has pledged to reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is a new and significant extension of the Obama administration's existing goal to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020.

The biggest question here is whether US policymakers will actually follow through on this pledge. The country's carbon-dioxide emissions are currently 10 percent below 2005 levels, but they've started to rise again of late. The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules to curb emissions from existing power plants, but that's unlikely to be enough to achieve a 28 percent cut. So where will additional policies come from? Note that Congress is deadlocked on climate, with many Republicans furious about this new deal.

The China pledge: For the first time ever, China has set a goal of having emissions stop growing by 'around' 2030 — and possibly earlier. China will also aim to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030. (China isn't reducing its emissions as quickly as the US; the logic is that this is fair since China is still poorer.)"

John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show

Matt Zoller Seitz in the Vulture says John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show. "Last Week is doing what media watchdogs (including the Peabody Awards) keep saying that The Daily Show does — practicing real journalism in comedy form — but it's doing it better, and in a simpler, yet more ambitious, ultimately more useful way. If Stewart's show is doing what might be called a reported feature, augmenting opinions with facts, Oliver's show is doing something closer to pure reporting, or what the era of web journalism calls an "explainer," often without a hook, or the barest wisp of a hook."

I agree though I think he failed to mention the main reason. The fact that his show is weekly, not daily, means he has more time to investigate an issue. Like actual journalism. It's the thing that Jon Stewart complains about cable news networks, they're on for 24 hours a day and they don't have time to cover anything in depth. Stewart has to crank out a half hour a day (well kind of since it's only on four days a week) and basically covers the days events. Oliver can pick something important that being lost to constant harping on the Ebola scare of the day or celebrity/athlete/politician embarrassment of the moment. So he can dive into net neutrality, drone strike rules, the death penalty, Iraqi translators, and we can all learn something while laughing. Stewart could do it too but does so only rarely (e.g., with vet benefits) and cable news channels could, but that would take money away from new holographic systems or something.

The PBS News Hour manages to take deep dives often and Bill Moyers can have a calm 20+ minute conversation with someone with something interesting to say, but I can't say I've found much else on TV that manages to do so.

Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home

The NY Times has amazing photos (from today and the last few months) of Comet 67P and the Philae lander, Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court

Richard L. Hasen writes in Slate, Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court: Did legislators redraw district lines to hurt Democrats or to disenfranchise black voters? "In the end, the Supreme Court has an impossible task in front of it: figuring out whether the Alabama Legislature’s predominant motive in redistricting was about race or about party. It was surely about both, and trying to pretend that packing black Democratic voters into districts is about just one or the other is a fool’s errand. But it is the task of the court under the rules it has set up for itself, and it could have real consequences for not just black Democrats in Alabama, but all Americans."

Tomorrow ESA's Philae Will Land on a Comet

Nature reports Landing on a comet: A guide to Rosetta’s perilous mission "Never before has a space mission put a lander on a comet. But the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to change that. Its Rosetta craft has been orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko since August and is set to release the washing-machine-sized lander, Philae, on 12 November. This would set in motion a nail-biting seven-hour fall designed to deliver Philae to a landing site called Agilkia on the comet’s surface. Philae is programmed to beam data and images back to Earth to help scientists to understand comets, including whether these conglomerations of ice, rock and dust supplied our planet with water and other building blocks of life when they smashed into it billions of years ago. Our step-by-step guide identifies the biggest obstacles to a successful landing — although even if the landing fails, it will go down as one of the most ambitious feats attempted in space."

They have nice infographics explaining the mission. The Planetary Society has a rundown of What to expect on landing day. What it all on ESA TV (touchdown is at 11am ET).

King v. Burwell: Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act.

Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick explain Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act. "In the end, SCOTUS may deal this blow to the ACA come spring. But we would caution against placing such an uncertain bet. If we learned anything from the 1.0 version of the Obamacare fight, it’s that judicial outcomes can be hard to predict, and that months of preemptive panicking don’t necessarily foretell the final result."

Pley: Netflix for Lego

Pley lets you rent Lego sets like Netflix does for movies. Clever idea given the cost of the sets I'd be interested in (Simpsons, Star Wars).

A Game of Thrones Family Tree

All Leather Must Be Boiled has posted a family tree of EVERY HOUSE in A Song of Iron and Fire combined by El-Daddy. It's a giant png and looks like it's a single tree though it's in a format that can be deceiving or at least a little hard to follow (look for Walder Frey for an example). Still it's very impressive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

iOS ‘Masque Attack’

Cult of Mac writes iOS ‘Masque Attack’ vulnerability could be more dangerous than WireLurker "To keep yourself protected from Masque Attack, iOS users should not install any apps unless they’re coming directly from the App Store. Do no click on ‘Install’ if a pop-up from a website appears on your iPhone, no matter what it says. And if you open an app and iOS displays an alert that it’s from an ‘Untrusted App Developer’ you should tap Don’t Trust and uninstall immediately."

So to be susceptible you have to install an app not from the app store. It's pretty easy to avoid that. Yes many naive users might be fooled (and many legitimate web sites pop open page or window asking if you want to install their app) but the App Store is so central to the iOS experience I think many people are scared if they aren't installing from the App Store.

Obama's Plan for Net Neutrality

Today Obama made a strong statement on Net Neutrality. President Obama's Plan for a Free and Open Internet. "So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies."

I totally agree.

Kottke has collected a few comments on the statement, Obama's plan for "a free and open internet".

Symposium articles on King v. Burwell

SCOTUSblog posted a Symposium: Seven myths about King v. Burwell by Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute. It's not unbiased but it's interesting on the details. Patrick Wyrick, Solicitor General of Oklahoma agrees, Symposium: King v. Burwell – a simple case.

Robert Weiner makes the other case, Symposium: King v. Burwell – getting it right (as in correct).

Aurora, Flyover in High Definition, International Space Station

Dear Washington Press Corps: Please STFU

I don't know who Shant Mesrobian is, but he does a great job channeling an inner Matt Taibbi in a piece on Medium, Dear Washington Press Corps: Please STFU.

First, the obvious. Asking the President to “man up,” admit defeat, and submit to a Republican mandate could only be the product of a waking up from a six-year coma. Are Milbank and Fournier really unaware of what exactly has been happening these past six years? The fact that President Obama won both of his elections resoundingly, only to immediately face a totally intransigent, obstructionist Republican party in Congress? One hell bent on not allowing the President to exercise any election-derived mandate, whatsoever? And now, they’re instructing the President to do exactly the opposite of that. And why? Because Republicans just scored a resounding victory of their own — one that is largely due to their strategy of denying the President the slightest hint of legislative achievement by obstructing his agenda at every turn for the past six years.

I’m pretty sure that by the age of five, we’re all endowed with enough cognitive ability to see through this line of logic. If anything, the lesson President Obama should draw from this is to ignore any theoretical “mandate” Republicans may have derived from this election, and just do whatever he wants. (Yes, one could plausibly argue that the President has more of an interest in compromising than Congress, because he might stand to suffer more politically from Washington’s “gridlock.” Besides the obvious fact that surrendering the presidency into a political hostage and puppet of the Congressional opposition might not be such a great idea for the republic, we’ll get to the deeper reason why this makes no sense in a moment.) But again, this is all stating the obvious. So rather than going any further with this, it’s important to ask how such an absurd notion —such a plainly obvious double standard—could even come to be.

Read the whole thing. I learned that of the votes cast for the next Senate (from 2010, 2012 and 2014), Democrat senators got roughly 5.2 million more votes.

General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost

General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost "On Tuesday, Bolger will publish his 500-page attempt to make sense of both the wars in which he served. Its blunt title pre-emptively maneuvers conversation over the book on to Bolger’s terrain: Why We Lost."

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

5 reasons why it will be really tough for Democrats to retake the Senate in 2016

Vox explains 5 reasons why it will be really tough for Democrats to retake the Senate in 2016 "In 2016, the GOP will have far more seats up — 24, compared to the Democrats' 10. Furthermore, seven of these Republican-held seats are in states that Obama won twice, and they'll have to be defended amid presidential-year turnout. But Democrats shouldn't get too confident. Here are five reasons why, despite the favorable map, they might not be able to retake the Senate in 2016:"

But then Matthew Yglesias also explains why American politics is descending into a meaningless, demographically driven seesaw.

Here’s who should have won Oscars 10, 25, and 80 years ago

Gotta say, I mostly agree with Todd VanDerWerff on Here’s who should have won Oscars 10, 25, and 80 years ago.

New Clock May End Time As We Know It

NPR reports New Clock May End Time As We Know It

"At the heart of this new clock is the element strontium. Inside a small chamber, the strontium atoms are suspended in a lattice of crisscrossing laser beams. Researchers then give them a little ping, like ringing a bell. The strontium vibrates at an incredibly fast frequency. It's a natural atomic metronome ticking out teeny, teeny fractions of a second. This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years."

"The relative nature of time isn't just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, "the time will speed up by about one part in 1016. That is a sliver of a second. But this isn't some effect of gravity on the clock's machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn't really matter until now. But this new clock is so sensitive, little changes in height throw it way off. Lift it just a couple of centimeters, Ye says, "and you will start to see that difference.""

"Tiny shifts in the earth's crust can throw it off, even when it's sitting still. Even if two of them are synchronized, their different rates of ticking mean they will soon be out of synch. They will never agree."

9 takeaways from the 2014 election

Ezra Klein has 9 takeaways from the 2014 election (I wish he'd stop with the buzzfeed-like headlines). I'm not too surprised by the results. I guess governors faired worse than I thought, but I didn't think much about it and voted for a GOP governor myself. I only hope Democrats learned to not run away from their policies, but I doubt they did.

Update: The 7 most important midterm election results you might have missed

Monday, November 03, 2014

Political Email and Money, Why I'm Burnt Out

This year I've received 2520 political email messages.

Political Emails

Last week USA Today reported "Forty-two of the nation's superwealthy have donated nearly $200 million to super PACs to shape next week's midterm elections, according to a USA TODAY analysis of contributions of $1 million or more. In all, this relatively small group has provided nearly a third of the more than $615 million raised by all super PACs in the 2014 election, the analysis of newly filed campaign reports shows."

"In all, super PACs have out-spent the national parties by more than $107 million through midday Tuesday, a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics shows."

Zoë Carpenter in The Nation points out, Who’s Buying the Midterm Elections? A Bunch of Old White Guys. "Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they're almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color."

"Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people's voices over others' in an election is one of them."

This is Super PAC spending and it's hard to follow the difference between candidate spending, party spending, Super PACs, political nonprofits, any anyone else that spends on elections. Sunlight foundation has a bunch of charts showing the breakdown of several of these kinds of spending, Contest for the Senate in charts: Outspent Dems lean on super PAC donors in homestretch. I wish they'd show total spending. I find this stuff like comparing state taxes. States that don't have income taxes have higher fees and sales taxes so it's difficult. The Democrats and Republicans seem to get their money from different sources, so it's hard to compare.

The Internet Arcade

The Internet Arcade "The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade."

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: State Legislatures and ALEC

If John Oliver can spend 17 minutes on state legislatures and ALEC when he only has 30 minutes a week, why can't a real news program that airs daily or a 24 hour news network that runs 7 days a week? I just don't understand.

I watched Steve Kornacki and Melissa Harris-Perry this weekend as well as Meet the Press and George Stephanopolis (well more like had on in the background or fast forwarded through) and they just covered the horse race, the polls. Not once did they cover any issue any of the candidates were running on. Though a few times they mentioned that the GOP is just running against Obama and not for anything. But if they're really not running on anything (and I could believe that) imagine what would happen if the press was constantly pointing that out.

RIP Click

NPR reports. "Tom Magliozzi, one of public radio's most popular personalities, died on Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 77 years old. Tom and his brother, Ray, became famous as "Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers" on the weekly NPR show Car Talk. They bantered, told jokes, laughed and sometimes even gave pretty good advice to listeners who called in with their car troubles."

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The takeaway from six years of economic troubles? Keynes was right.

Anatole Kaletsky writes in Reuters, The takeaway from six years of economic troubles? Keynes was right.

Thus the six years since 2008 have provided strong empirical support for the supposedly outmoded Keynesian view that government borrowing is more powerful than monetary policy in stimulating severely depressed economies and pulling them out of recession. In a sense, it is odd that the power of fiscal policy has come as a surprise – or that it continues to be categorically denied by the German government and the U.S. Tea Party. The underlying reason why fiscal policy is so important in recessions, and has now come to dominate over monetary policy, is a matter of simple arithmetic that should not be open to debate.

Recessions generally occur when private business and households decide to spend less than their incomes in order to reduce their debts or increase their savings. If this process of “deleveraging” is happening in the private sector, which it clearly has been, then simple arithmetic shows that economic balance can only be restored if some other sector of the economy spends more than its income – and such excess spending is only possible if that “other sector” is willing to increase its debts. Disregarding the role of exports and imports, which must sum to zero for the world as a whole, the government is the only possible candidate to play the crucial balancing role as the “other sector.” It is therefore a mathematical certainty that governments must increase their borrowing whenever businesses and households decide to boost their savings by spending less than they earn.

How Boston is rethinking its relationship with the sea

The BBC shows How Boston is rethinking its relationship with the sea "Sea levels are rising, the land is sinking. It's going to become a big problem for some cities on the US East Coast, so in Boston people are thinking the unthinkable - copying Venice and Amsterdam, and becoming a city of canals."

"The canal idea was floated when architects, developers, real estate experts and business owners were brought together in May to discuss ways of preserving the city's buildings in this watery cityscape of the future."

78515827 canal graphic urbanlandinst 500

The 10 greatest changes of the past 1,000 years

The Guardian presents The 10 greatest changes of the past 1,000 years "In Europe, the last millennium has been shaped by successive waves of change, but which shifts, in which centuries, have really shaped the modern world? Historian Ian Mortimer identifies the 10 leading drivers of change"

Nice list, with a number of items that completely surprised me.

The video of Sharyl Attkisson getting "hacked" actually just shows a stuck delete key

Vox writes The video of Sharyl Attkisson getting "hacked" actually just shows a stuck delete key.

Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson has become something of a hero among segments of the right ever since she was pushed out from the network this spring over concerns that her reporting had taken an anti-Obama bias. In the view of Attkisson and her supporters, CBS had silenced her for telling the truth on Benghazi and other scandals. (She also drew heat for reporting a link between vaccines and autism, an idea that has been widely debunked.)

On Tuesday, Attkisson will publish her book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington. It reiterates her criticisms of the Obama administration and alleges a campaign to silence such dissent.

The book is in the news this week because it details what Attkisson describes as hacking attacks on her computer. She presents the evidence in such a way as to strongly imply that the Obama administration ordered her computer hacked as retribution for her critical reporting. On Friday, Attkisson released a video of the central allegation in her book. But it turns out that what the video actually appears to show is not sophisticated US government hacking, but a stuck delete key, and a former reporter with breathtakingly poor computer literacy."

I didn't know the name Sheryl Attkisson and I'm glad about that. This stuff just amazes me and I can't take any of these people seriously.

The video has taken the right-leaning web by storm, and is widely seen as proof of Attkisson's unstated-but-clear implication. The Blaze called the video "what could be evidence of the government taking over her computer." TownHall ran it with the headline: "Watch Someone in The Government Take Over Sharyl Attkisson's Computer." Fox News columnist Howard Kurtz called it "highly sophisticated hacking" and "chilling stuff." Breitbart News deemed it "More Evidence the Government Hacked Sharyl Attkisson's Computer."

Old Masters at the Top of Their Game

The NY Times has a feature, Old Masters at the Top of Their Game. "After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign." They profile several octogenarians and nonagenarians including Betty White, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Edward O. Wilson, Frank Gehry and Carl Reiner.

OK Go - I Won't Let You Down

Nice use of drones.

Lava Flow Threatens Pahoa, Hawaii

In Focus shows Lava Flow Threatens Pahoa, Hawaii "On June 27, a new lava flow emerged from Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano, flowing to the northeast at a rate varying from 2 meters per hour up to 15 meters per hour. In the months since, the 'June 27 breakout' lava flow has crossed more than 12 miles and now threatens the small town of Pahoa. The molten rock has already claimed acres of forest, several roads, and small farm buildings, and buried the Pahoa Cemetery. Dozens of Pahoa residents have been evacuated ahead of the slow-moving disaster, as state and federal officials work to protect what they can and plan for the worst. If the flow continues as projected, dozens more houses and businesses are threatened, and a large section of Pahoa may be cut off from the rest of the island if the flow remains active and reaches the sea. [26 photos]"

P25 00000915 500

The Living New Deal

Living New Deal is a site that records the projects of the New Deal.

No city, town, or rural area was untouched by the New Deal. Hundreds of thousands of roads, schools, theaters, libraries, hospitals, post offices, courthouses, airports, parks, forests, gardens, and artworks—created in only one decade by our parents and grandparents—are still in use today. The long-term payoff from this public investment helped propel American economic growth after the world war and is still working for the American people today.

Because these public works were rarely marked, the New Deal’s ongoing contribution to American life goes largely unseen. Given the scale and impact of the Roosevelt years across America, it seems inconceivable that no national register exists of what the New Deal built. The Living New Deal is making visible that enduring legacy.

There are lists of projects by state and categories, but there's also this interactive New Deal Project Map. Turns out that a senior center a few blocks from me was originally a local branch library funded by the New Deal. Also a small bridge I pass over a few times a week was a project.

Terms of Service

Al Jazeera America has posted a non-fiction graphic novella, Terms of Service by reporter Michael Keller and cartoonist Josh Neufeld (who drew Brooke Gladstone's comic The Influencing Machine). The subtitle is "Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data" and it does a nice job balancing the issues of privacy, social media, and new forms of data tracking.

Astronomers Observe An Expanding Nova Fireball For The First Time

io9 reported Astronomers Observe An Expanding Nova Fireball For The First Time "An international team of astronomers have finally caught a glimpse of an expanding thermonuclear fireball from an exploding white dwarf. It's the first time this kind of data has ever been captured, allowing the researchers to study how the fireball evolves and rapidly expands into space."

"This particular nova is located about 14,800 light-years from here in the constellation of Delphinus (the Dolphin), so technically speaking it exploded some 15,000 years ago. The astronomers observed the event on August 14th, 2013."

"The data showed that the ferocity of the initial expansion was intense, engulfing a region the size of the Earth's orbit within a day, and passing Jupiter's orbit in less than two weeks. At the 43-day mark, the fireball had expanded to the size of Neptune's orbit."

"We found the initial nova explosion wasn't spherical, giving the fireball a slightly elliptical shape," noted Australian National University's Michael Ireland in an ABC News article. "This happens because the white dwarf's atmosphere is spinning, and there's a disk of accreted material falling onto it from the companion star, so there's a lot happening to prevent the system from being spherical when it goes bang."

"What's more, mysterious multiple shells were seen as the nova exploded. A main shell expanded at about 600 kilometers per second, but there were also semi-transparent shells further out going even faster. The astronomers observed the optically thick inner shell and the transparent outer shells expanding at the same time — and they're not entirely sure what they are."

Talks I've Been To Recently

I saw Melissa Harris-Perry give a talk at the Radcliffe Institute, Who's Choosin' Who? Race, Gender, and the New American Politics. This was one of the most entertaining talks I've been to. She spoke much more quickly and candidly than on her TV show with a lot of amusing asides. The main point was that in our government the winners don't take all, they take some, but lately it's been closer to all. Which is odd, because even as more minorities get elected they seem to have less and less influence. While there were nice graphs and things, it still seemed more about the asides. She doesn't seem to be a fan of Hilary (anyone who loses to a black guy named Hussein who just a year prior was a school board president, you've had your chance). She's less against Sarah Palin than I would have expected. Egalitarian incompetence should exist for women as it does for men, see John Edwards and Palin caused many woman GOP women to run in the next election. She also pointed out that Rick Perry and Justice Scalia favor repeal of 17th Amendment, allowing direct election of Senators.

I saw Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston's Wordless! at the ICA. Spiegelman spoke about and read from early wordless (often woodcut) comics while Johnston led a jazz sextet providing a soundtrack. I'd read some of the works in the collection, Graphic Witness. I enjoyed the presentation but I didn't learn all that much.

I saw Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick at the Harvard Kennedy School talk about how the Supreme Court Is Increasingly Wary of the Media and Internet (full audio at that link). Justice Stewart gave Bob Woodward a lot of insider information for his 1979 book The Brethren, that's not going to happen again. The court has no press arm and believes everything that anyone needs to know is in the opinions. It seems lost on them that the average person isn't going to read (or necessarily understand) an opinion that journalism could be a useful tool to them. Court reporters are allowed to bring into the court one piece of paper and one pen. No video of the arguments is taken. While audio of arguments is released, it's made available after 5pm on Friday, "when news goes to die". She said that for the Obamacare ruling a reporter had three options:

  • They could be in the chamber and see and hear the ruling, but were not allowed to take notes and couldn't leave early
  • They could be in an overflow room where they couldn't see but hear, take notes and leave (but not come back)
  • They could be in another room where they couldn't see or hear the ruling but could read the opinion.

The court doesn't get modern journalism. When asked about the difficulties of getting several rulings in one day and having to write about them, Justices say to write articles on different days. Journalists don't understand this, though I think I might be on the Justices side on this one. There's enough time to read the court summaries and write a quick article and they could write more detailed articles after having time to read the opinions. We wait for months between arguments and rulings, what's a few more days?.

I saw Jill Lepore explain How Wonder Woman Got into Harvard also at the Radcliffe Institute. I knew some of the history, that Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, who invented the lie detector (hence her magic lasso) and lived with his wife and girlfriend and there was a lot of bondage in the early comics. It turns out there was a lot more I didn't know. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, was as accomplished as he, at a time when that wasn't common. She had a law degree from BU and a masters in psychology from Radcliffe and was an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica. The girlfriend was his student Olive Byrne. He came home and told Elizabeth that Olive was moving in and if she objected he'd leave her, she said ok if Olive would raise the kids so she could have a career. Elizabeth and Olive continue to live together long after William's death. This arrangement damaged his academic career which had some questionable issues anyway. Olive's aunt was Margaret Sanger who was a famous birth control activist and founded organizations that became Planned Parenthood. Marston was surrounded by feminists and conceived Wonder Woman to teach kids that woman could be the equal (or better) of men. The bondage stuff was using the iconography of suffrage and feminist movements (editorial cartoons often had women breaking chains). Many of the plots were modeled on events from Marton's past. When he was at Harvard, women weren't allowed; some Wonder Woman stories had her breaking into colleges. A psychology professor of his didn't believe in educating women (even though he also taught at Radcliffe for the money) and was the model for the villain Dr. Psycho. It was a really interesting talk and I'm curious about her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.